He held her close, closer than he should have. He needed to feel her skin and how it feels against his own. Just being this close to her sent shivers down his spine.
Unable to say anything, with words stuck in his throat, he felt like he was suffocating. Whatever he’d say would hurt her more, and he wasn’t sure he could bare that.
Sometime soon, she broke the silence:
– I want you to be happy, whether it’s with your wife, with me, someone else entirely or even by yourself. I just want you to be happy.
He pulled her closer, like he wanted to imprint her upon himself. Ridiculous move, really, cause she was already imprinted. Two souls intertwined, wandering the world alone, blessed to find each other for that one moment of peace, cursed to lose each other until another life.
– And what about your happiness?
– Your happiness will be my happiness. I will be at peace knowing we didn’t hurt anyone, knowing that we avoided devastation and destruction. Love can’t grow from ashes. Nothing can.
– Except for the phoenix – he was trying to alleviate the pain in her voice with his poor sense of humor.
– Except for the phoenix – she smiled, but didn’t say anything more. She just held him like that, for what could have been seconds, minutes or hours. When they were together, time didn’t exist anyway. It was always too short and never enough.
Eventually, she spoke again.
– Not choosing you means hurting only one person.
– Two – he whispered into her ear, trying to hold back the tears.
– Two – she repeated and added – haunted by the occasional whatifs. Whatifs that will appear in the night when you are trying to fall asleep, on an idle Tuesday when you’re taking a shower, or on a lazy Sunday when you are looking out of the window at that happy elderly couple on the street. There is no escape from whatifs.
Eventually, he let loose of her and kissed her on the forehead. Then he made his way to the door, gently but firmly. He didn’t look back; he couldn’t, although he knew exactly what he would find if he did. She would be crying, shivering, standing there alone in the middle of her living room. What if this was the last time he was leaving her like this? What if, the next time he would come here, he’d come here to stay?
As he put his hand on doorknob, his eyes stopped on his wedding ring. He hesitated for a second, then pulled the door open. He knew she was right – there will be no escape from whatifs.