I nodded and drank coffee. "Yes."
"Why did you want him to move in with you? I thought you liked your independence as much as I do."
"I'm still independent, Ronnie. Micah moving in didn't change that."
"He doesn't try to order you around?"
I just looked at her.
"I'm sorry, Anita, but my dad was such a bastard to my mother. I've seen pictures of her on stage in college. She wanted so much, but he wouldn't have a wife that worked. She had to be the perfect little homemaker. She hated it, and she hated him."
"You aren't your mother," I said, "and Louie isn't your father." Sometimes in these heart-to-heart talks you have to state the obvious.
"You weren't there, Anita, you didn't see it. She fell into a bottle, and he never noticed, because on the outside she was perfect. She never got roaring drunk, or falling down drunk. It was just like she needed this constant buzz to see her through the day, and the night. A functioning alcoholic is what they call it."
I didn't know what to say to that. We'd both told each other our sad stories years ago. She knew all about my mother's death, my father marrying the ice princess stepmother, and my perfect stepsister. We'd shared our bitterness toward our families long ago. I knew all this, so why tell it again? Because something about the proposal had brought it up.
"You told me months ago that Louie is nothing like your dad."
"Yeah, but he still wants to own me."
"Own you," I said, "what does that mean, own you?"
"We date, we have great sex, we enjoy each other's company, why does he have to move in, or make me marry him?" There was something like real fear in her face.
I touched her hand where it lay clenched on the tabletop. "Ronnie, he can't make you marry him."
"But if I don't agree to something, he'll leave. We either move forward, or he's gone. That's him trying to force me to marry him."
I felt like I wasn't qualified for this talk, because her logic wasn't bad, but it wasn't like that. I knew Louie, and he'd have been horrified that she saw his proposal and his need to finalize things as ownership. I was almost a hundred-percent certain he didn't mean it that way. I squeezed her hand and tried to think of what to say that would help things instead of hurt. Nothing came to mind.
"I don't know what to say, Ronnie, except that I don't believe Louie meant to hurt you like this. He loves you, and thought you loved him, and when people love each other, they tend to want to get married."
She took her hand back. "How do I know this is love? I mean the love, like till-death-do-you-part love?"
Finally something I could answer. "You don't."
"What do you mean, you don't? Isn't there supposed to be a test, or a sign, or something? I thought if I ever fell in love that this panic wouldn't be here. That I would be totally sure and unafraid, but I'm not. I'm terrified. Doesn't that mean that Louie isn't the one? That it would be a terrible mistake? Aren't you supposed to be sure?"
Now I knew I was unqualified for this conversation. I needed like a pinch hitter to offer better advice than I had. "I don't know."
"Were you sure when you let Micah move in, sure that it was the right thing to do?"
I thought about it, then shrugged. "It wasn't like that. He moved in almost before we'd dated, I..." How do you put into words things that you only feel, things that have no words attached to them? "I don't know why I didn't panic when he moved in, it just happened. One day I walk into the bathroom, and there's a razor and a shaving kit. Then, when the clean clothes got put away, his T-shirts got mixed in with mine, and since they're the same size, we left it that way. I've never dated anyone before who can wear the same clothes I can, it's kind of neat to wear his jeans sometimes, or his shirt, especially if it smells like his cologne."
"God, you love him," she said in despair, almost a wail.
I shrugged and drank coffee, because talking was making it worse. "Maybe," I said.
She shook her head. "No, no, your face goes all soft when you talk about him. You love him." She crossed her arms over her chest and looked at me like I'd betrayed her somehow.
"Look, Micah moved in gradually, but I didn't feel crowded the way you did with Louie. I like having his things in the bathroom. I like having a his and her side of the closet. Seeing his stuff with my stuff gives me a full cupboard feeling."
"A what?" she asked.
"Getting a T-shirt out and realizing that it's one I bought for him because it brings out the green in his eyes gives me that I've got my favorite foods in the cupboard and it's a winter night, and I don't have to go out in it feeling. I've got everything I need at home."
She looked at me in soft horror.
Hearing myself say it out loud was a little frightening, but mostly it was thrilling. Because I'd answered my question, in trying to answer hers, I'd answered my own. I was smiling, even as she looked at me in shock. I couldn't help the smile, I was feeling better than I'd felt in days. But another thought occurred to me. I wasn't smiling when I said, "Remember how you couldn't understand why I didn't just jump at Richard when he asked me to marry him?"
"I didn't say marry him, I just said dump the vampire and keep the werewolf."
That made me smile. "I remember coming home, and Richard had used his key to get in to cook me dinner without asking, and I hated it. I felt all grumpy and like my privacy had been invaded."
She nodded. "That's it, it's like putting on a new sweater that's just the right color and fits perfectly, but the next time you wear it, you realize it's scratchy, and unless you wear a shirt under it, it itches you. It's a great sweater, but you need a little distance between it and your skin."
I thought about it and had to agree. "That's pretty good, scratchy, yeah."
"But you didn't feel that way when Micah moved in?" she asked in a voice that had gone soft and small.
I shook my head. "It was very weird. I knew nothing about him, really, but it just... clicked."
"Love at first sight," she said, softly.
"'Marry in haste, repent at leisure,' they say."
"But you didn't marry him," she said, "why not?"
"One, neither of us has asked, and two, I don't think either of us feels the need." There was also the matter of Jean-Claude and Asher, and Nathaniel, but I didn't want to muddy the waters, so I didn't bring them up.
"Then why does Louie want to get married?"
"You'd have to ask him, Ronnie. He did say he'd offered to just live together, but you didn't want that either."
"I like my space," she said.
"Then tell him that," I said.
"I'll lose him if I tell him that."
"Then you've got to decide whether you like your space or him more."
"Just like that," she said.
I nodded. "Just like that."
"You make it sound simple."
"I don't mean to," I said, "but Louie wants the two of you to go to bed together every night and to wake up beside you every morning. That doesn't sound so bad."
She laid her head on her arms, so that all I could see was the back of her head. As far as I could tell, she wasn't crying, but... "Ronnie, did I say something wrong?"
She said something I couldn't understand.
"Sorry, I didn't hear that."
She raised her head enough to say, "I don't want to go to bed every night and wake up every morning with him."
"You want separate bedrooms?" I asked before my brain could tell me it was a stupid question.
"No," she said and sat up, brushing at the tears that had just started. She seemed more angry or impatient than tearful. "What if I meet a cute guy? What if I meet someone I want to sleep with, and it isn't Louie?" The tears were gone. She was just looking at me with that appeal on her face. That, Don't you understand? look.
"You mean, you don't want to be monogamous," I said.
"No, I mean I'm not sure I'm ready to be monogamous."
I wasn't sure what to say to that one, because it wasn't something I'd had to give up. "Most people want to be monogamous, Ronnie. I mean how would you feel if Louie slept with someone else?"
"Relieved," she said, "because then I could be mad and kick his ass out. It'd be over."