I think that's been the case for a while now, but for some reason, I wasn't able to recognize it until recently. And even then, it took me a while before I finally allowed myself to believe it.
I felt like I had failed you. But even knowing that, I never would have made the decision to leave you. I knew that about myself. Even if I believed that you might be happier after I left, I was too selfish to give that to you. I knew what it would do to me if I left you and that terrified me. My fear of not having you in my life sometimes overpowered my desire to see you happy.
I think that's why I did what I did. Because I knew I would never be selfless enough to leave you. I allowed myself to do something completely out of character for me because if I felt I was no longer worthy of you, it would be easier to convince myself that you deserved better.
It's so fucked up.
I don't even know how it got to this point. I can't look back on our marriage and pinpoint the day that my love for you became something you resented and not something you cherished.
I used to believe if you loved someone enough, that love could withstand anything. As long as two people remained in love, then nothing could tear them apart. Not even tragedy.
But now I realize that tragedy can tear down even the strongest of things.
You could have one of the greatest singing voices of all time, but one injury to the throat could end your entire career. You could be the fastest runner in the world, but one back injury could change all of that. You could be the most intelligent professor at Harvard, but one stroke could send you into early retirement.
You could love your wife more than any man has ever loved a wife, but one harrowing battle with infertility could turn a couple's love into resentment.
But even after years of tragedy wearing us down, I refuse to give in just yet. I don't know if flying to Europe with the box we closed on our wedding night will make it better or worse. I don't know that a grandiose gesture will convince you of how incomplete my life is without you. But I can't go another day without trying to prove to you how inconsequential children are when it comes to the fate of my future with you. I don't need children, Quinn. I only need you. I don't know how I can stress that enough.
But even still, no matter how content I am with this life, it doesn't mean you are content with yours.
When I get to Europe, a final decision will be made and I have a feeling I'm not going to want to agree to that decision. If I could avoid the conversation with you forever just to keep you from deciding to open the box, I would. But that's where we went wrong. We stopped talking about all the things that should never have been silenced.
I have no idea what's best for us anymore. I want to be with you, but I don't want to be with you when my presence causes you so much pain. So much has changed between us in the time since we closed the box on our wedding night to now. Our circumstances changed. Our dreams changed. Our expectations changed. But the most important thing between us never changed. We lost a lot of ourselves in this marriage, but we have never stopped loving each other. It's the one thing that stood strong against those Category 5 moments. I realize now that sometimes two people can lose their hope or their desire or their happiness, but losing all those things doesn't mean you've lost.
We haven't lost yet, Quinn.
And no matter what has happened since we closed this box or what will happen after we open it, I promise to love you through it all.
I promise to love you more when you're hurting than when you're happy.
I promise to love you more when we're poor than when we're swimming in riches.
I promise to love you more when you're crying than when you're laughing.
I promise to love you more when you're sick than when you're healthy.
I promise to love you more when you hate me than when you love me.
I promise to love you more as a childless woman than I would love you as a mother.
And I promise . . . I swear . . . that if you choose to end things between us, I will love you more as you're walking out the door than on the day you walked down the aisle.
I hope you choose the road that will make you the happiest. Even if it's not a choice I'll love, I will still always love you. Whether I'm a part of your life or not. You deserve happiness more than anyone I know.
I love you. Forever.
I don't know how long I cry after reading the final letter. Long enough that my head hurts and my stomach aches and I've gone through half a box of Kleenex. I cry for so long, I get lost in the grief.
Graham is holding me.
I don't know when he walked into the room, or when he knelt on the bed, or when he pulled me to his chest.
He has no idea what I've even decided. He has no idea if the words about to come out of my mouth are going to be nice ones or hateful ones. Yet here he is, holding me as I cry, simply because it hurts him to see me cry.
I press a kiss to his chest, right over his heart. And I don't know if it takes five minutes or half an hour, but when I finally stop crying long enough to speak, I lift my head from his chest and look at him.
"Graham," I whisper. "I love you more in this moment than any moment that has come before it."
As soon as the words are out of my mouth, the tears begin to fall from his eyes. "Quinn," he says, holding my face. "Quinn . . ."
It's all he can say. He's crying too hard to say anything else. He kisses me and I kiss him back with everything in me in an attempt to make up for all the kisses I denied him.
I close my eyes, repeating the words from his letter that reached me the deepest.
We haven't lost yet, Quinn.
He's right. We might have finally given up at the same time, but that doesn't mean we can't get back that hope. I want to fight for him. I want to fight for him as hard as he's been fighting for me.
"I'm so sorry, Quinn," he whispers against my cheek. "For everything."
I shake my head, not even wanting an apology. But I know he needs my forgiveness, so I give it to him. "I forgive you. With everything I am, Graham. I forgive you and I don't blame you and I am so sorry, too."
Graham wraps his arms around me and holds me. We remain in the same position for so long, my tears have dried, but I'm still clinging to him with everything in me. And I'll do everything I can to make sure I never let go of him again.
* * *
I couldn't imagine a better way to end our first anniversary--wrapped up in a blanket outside, listening to the waves crash against the shore. It's the perfect moment for the perfect gift.
"I have something for you," I say to Graham.
He's the one who usually surprises me with gifts, so the fact that I have one for him grabs his attention. He looks at me with anticipation and pulls the blanket away from me, pushing me out of the chair. I run inside and then return with his package. It's wrapped in Christmas paper, even though it's not even close to Christmas.
"It's all I could find," I say. "I didn't have time to wrap it before I left, so I had to wrap it with what was in the closet here."
He begins to open it, but before he even has the wrapping paper off, I blurt out, "It's a blanket. I made it."
He laughs. "You are so terrible at surprises." He pulls away the tissue paper and reveals the blanket I made out of ripped pieces of our clothing. "Are these . . ." He lifts up one of his ripped work shirts and laughs.
We sometimes have issues with keeping our clothing intact when we're pulling them off each other. I think I've ripped a half dozen of Graham's shirts, at least. Graham has ripped several of mine. Sometimes I do it because I love the dramatics of the buttons popping off. I don't remember when it started, but it's become a game to us. A pricey game. Which is why I decided to put some of the discarded clothing to good use.
"This is the best gift anyone has ever given me." He throws the blanket over his shoulder and then picks me up. He carries me inside and lays
me on the bed. He rips my nightgown off of me and then he rips his own shirt for show. The whole scene has me laughing until he climbs on top of me and smothers my laugh with his tongue.
Graham lifts my knee and starts to push himself inside me, but I press against his chest. "We need a condom," I whisper breathlessly.
I was on antibiotics last week for a cold I was trying to get over so I haven't been taking my pill. We've had to use condoms all week as a preventative measure.
Graham rolls off me and walks to his duffel bag. He grabs a condom, but he doesn't immediately come back to the bed. He just stares at it. Then he tosses it back onto the bag.
"What are you doing?"
With a heavy amount of assuredness, he says, "I don't want to use one tonight."
I don't respond. He doesn't want to use a condom? Am I reading his intent wrong?
Graham walks back to the bed and lowers himself on top of me again. He kisses me, then pulls back. "I think about it sometimes. About you getting pregnant."
"You do?" I was not expecting that. I hesitate a moment before saying, "Just because you think about it doesn't mean you're ready for it."
"But I am. When I think about it, I get excited." He rolls onto his side and puts his hand on my stomach. "I don't think you should get back on the pill."
I grip the top of his hand, shocked at how much I want to kiss him and laugh and take him inside me. But as sure as I am about having children, I don't want to make that choice unless he's just as certain as I am. "Are you positive?"
The thought of us becoming parents fills me with an overwhelming amount of love for him. So much, I feel a tear fall down my cheek.
Graham sees the tear and he smiles as he brushes it away with his thumb. "I love that you love me so much, it sometimes makes you cry. And I love that the idea of us having a baby makes you cry. I love how full of love you are, Quinn."
He kisses me. I don't think I tell him enough what a great kisser he is. He's the best I've ever had. I don't know what makes his kisses different from the men I've kissed in the past, but it's so much better. Sometimes I'm scared he'll get tired of kissing me someday because of how much I kiss him. I just can't be near him without tasting him. "You're a really good kisser," I whisper.
Graham laughs. "Only because it's you I'm kissing."
We kiss even more than we usually do when we make love. And I know we've made love a hundred times before tonight. Maybe even a thousand times. But this time feels different. It's the first time we don't have some kind of barrier preventing us from creating a new life together. It's like we're making love with a purpose.
Graham finishes inside of me and it's the most incredible feeling, knowing that our love for each other might be creating something even bigger than our love for each other. I don't know how that can even be possible. How can I possibly love anyone as much or even more than I love Graham?
It's been such a perfect day.
I've experienced a lot of perfect moments, but entire perfect days are hard to come by. You need the perfect weather, the perfect company, the perfect food, the perfect itinerary, the perfect mood.
I wonder if things will always be this perfect. Now that we've decided to start a family, part of me wonders if there's a level of perfection that we haven't even reached yet. What will things be like next year when we're possibly parents? Or five years from now? Ten? Sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball that could actually see into the future. I'd want to know everything.
I'm tracing my fingers in an invisible pattern over his chest when I look up at him. "Where do you think we'll be ten years from now?"
Graham smiles. He loves talking about the future. "Hopefully we'll have our own house in ten years," he says. "Not too big, not too small. But the yard will be huge and we'll play outside with the kids all the time. We'll have two--a boy and a girl. And you'll be pregnant with the third."
I smile at that thought. He reacts to the smile on my face and he continues to talk.
"You'll still write, but you'll work from home and you'll only work when you feel like it. I'll own my own accounting firm. You'll drive a minivan because we're totally gonna be those parents who take the kids to soccer games and gymnastics." Graham grins at me. "And we'll make love all the time. Probably not as often as we do now, but more than all of our friends."
I press my hand over his heart. "That sounds like the perfect life, Graham."
Because it does. But any life with Graham sounds perfect.
"Or . . ." he adds. "Maybe nothing will change. Maybe we'll still live in an apartment. Maybe we'll be struggling financially because we keep moving from job to job. We might not even be able to have kids, so we won't have a big yard or even a minivan. We'll be driving our same, shitty cars ten years from now. Maybe absolutely nothing will change and ten years from now, our lives will be the same as they are now. And all we'll have is each other."
Just like after he described the first scenario, a serene smile spreads across my face. "That sounds like the perfect life, too." And it does. As long as I have Graham, I don't know that this life could be anything less than what it is now. And right now, it's wonderful.
I relax against his chest and fall asleep with the most peaceful feeling in my heart.
* * *
His voice is raspy against my ear. It's the first morning in a long time that I've been able to wake up with a smile on my face. I open my eyes and Graham looks like a completely different person than the broken man who walked through Ava and Reid's front door last night. He presses his lips to my cheek and then pulls back, pushing my hair off my face. "What did I miss while you were sleeping?"
I've missed those words so much. It's one of the things I've missed the most about us. It means even more to me now, knowing he only stopped asking me because he didn't want me to hurt. I reach my hand out to his face and brush my thumb across his mouth. "I dreamt about us."
He kisses the pad of my thumb. "Was it a good dream or a bad dream?"
"It was good," I say. "It wasn't a typical weird dream, though. It was more of a memory."
Graham slips a hand between his head and the pillow. "I want to know every detail."
I mirror his position, smiling when I begin telling him about the dream. "It was our first anniversary. The night we decided to start a family. I asked you where you thought we'd be ten years from now. Do you remember?"
Graham shakes his head. "Vaguely. Where did I think we'd be?"
"You said we'd have kids and I'd drive a minivan and we'd live in a house with a big yard where we played with our children." Graham's smile falters. I brush his frown away with my thumb, wanting his smile back. "It's strange, because I forgot all about that conversation until I dreamt about it last night. But it didn't make me sad, Graham. Because then you said we might not have any of that. You said there was a chance that we'd be moving from job to job and that we wouldn't be able to have kids. And that maybe nothing between us would change after ten years, and all we'd have was each other."
"I remember that," he whispers.
"Do you remember what I said to you?"
He shakes his head.
"I said, 'That sounds like the perfect life, too.' "
Graham blows out a breath, like he's been waiting a lifetime for the words I'm giving him.
"I'm sorry I lost sight of that," I whisper. "Of us. You've always been enough for me. Always."
He looks at me like he's missed my dreams as much as he's missed me. "I love you, Quinn."
"I love you, too."
He presses his lips to my forehead, then my nose. I kiss him on the chin and we lie snuggled together.
At least until the moment is ruined by the growl from my stomach.
"Does your sister have anything to eat around here?" Graham pulls me out of the bed and we quietly make our way to the kitchen. It's not even eight in the morning yet and Ava and Reid are still asleep. Graham a
nd I scour the kitchen for all the food we need to make pancakes and eggs. He turns on the stove and I'm mixing the batter when I notice the wooden box he made me still sitting at the end of the counter.
I put down the mixer and walk over to the box. I run my hand over it, wondering if things would be different today had he not made this gift for us to close on our wedding night. I still remember writing him the love letter. I also remember slipping the nude pic inside the envelope. I wonder how different I look now than when I snapped that picture.
I open the box to pull out his letter, but when I pick it up, I notice a few scraps of paper at the bottom of the box. One of them is the yellow Post-it note I left stuck to my wall for six months. The other two are our fortunes.
I pick them up and read them. "I can't believe you kept these all this time. It's so cute."
Graham walks over to me. "Cute?" He pulls one of the fortunes out of my hands. "This isn't cute. It's proof that fate exists."
I shake my head and point to his fortune. "Your fortune says you would succeed in a business endeavor that day, but you didn't even go to work. How is that proof that we're soul mates?"
His lips curl up into a grin. "If I had been at work I never would have met you, Quinn. I'd say that's the biggest work-related success I've ever had."
I tilt my head, wondering why I never thought of his fortune from that point-of-view.
"Also . . . there's this." Graham flips his fortune over and holds it up, pointing at the number eight on the back.
I look down and also read the number on the back of mine. An eight.
Two number eights. The date we reconnected all those years ago.
"You lied to me," I say, looking back up at him. "You said you were kidding about these having eights on the back."
Graham takes the fortune out of my hand and carefully places both of them back in the box. "I didn't want you to fall in love with me because of fate," he says, closing the box. "I wanted you to fall in love with me simply because you couldn't help yourself."
I smile as I stare up at him with appreciation. I love that he's sentimental. I love that he believes in fate more than he believes in coincidences. I love that he believes I'm his fate.