He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”
You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”
He meets your eyes, exposed conviction in his gaze, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?
Surely he knew this was the end.
You hear the others through the open door, laughing over their share-house dinner. They know you’re both out here, they know why. Your time is up and you have to decide.
The door is open but this grip of his feels like the most intimate you’ve ever been. The weight of the simple gesture makes it real, terrifying. He waits and you can’t speak.
What did you think would happen? Maybe you hoped that when the moment finally came you’d both laugh and agree it could never work.
Or maybe you wished through the descending seasons that your heart would shed a layer and this would suddenly be right.
The question was there from the moment you met, knowing you were his type and he was yours. He took you to the old hall on campus and you stared up at the tiny stained glass windows, portraits of legendary writers. You were breathless, in awe, like he knew you would be.
His careful approach to life was a relic from his childhood, from his infamous neighbourhood and absent father perhaps. A determination to make the right decisions, avoid hurting others. This was the first commandment of his life, despite the subtle, contained wildness in him: an irresistible conflict of impulse and hesitation.
Were you completely honest with each other? Not really, not with the deeper stuff, the hidden places. You showed him most of who you were: not everything, but more than usual. The rest you dropped in hints, hoping he would catch them, hoping he would show some sign of awareness, acceptance.
But if you lost your security or your strength or your resolve or your temper it would surprise him. He would try to re-strategise, to deal with this new antagonist in you, full of tense dissatisfaction.
You didn’t want to be dealt with (even thought he didn’t mean it that way). You needed someone who would push back, who would put you in your place or be moved by your conviction or slam the door in your face or thrust you against a wall. He would be slow and considerate and that would make you push further, irrationally scratching for that true impulse, the indication that you were both alive to the same humanity.
Perhaps you’ve known all along that he couldn’t be that person. But still you wanted to be with him, to see what would emerge, hoping he would prove you wrong. All the passing seasons have faded into this inevitable parting and all you’ve thought about is this moment, forming your heart around the possibility of a future.
Perhaps it’s your fault for letting your heart go because now the memories are too real and they won’t go away, wedged in your mind, forever shadowing the years of your life.
Time is up and you have to decide, and here he is on the step with his earnest eyes telling you he’ll move, he’ll follow you, he’ll make it work, and you know he believes it.
So, you see? No one wins. Both of you cautiously following the path of possibility, neither willing to make the first mistake, and this where it ends. Surely he knew that?
But no, he never did, and for that you blame him. Now you have to be the one to admit reality, to open his eyes to the truth. You must be the one who does this awful thing and it’s not fair. You gave him your heart, you tried, and yet he still doesn’t know you, not really.
The laughter grows louder in your ears and your hand trembles in his grip, under his waiting gaze. He has broken your heart, and now you must break his.