We don’t fuck tonight, or even touch. There’s a gap between us in bed that our bodies can’t seem to warm and a silence I’m unwilling to break first. I’m lying on my back when Daren finally speaks, his own turned to me so his voice sounds softer than usual.

“I wouldn’t stop you,”

 “Stop me?” I’m not sure I want to know what he means but the question comes out before I can think of something better to say. “From leaving,” he supplies. “If you left, I wouldn’t stop you.”

“This is my apartment,” I point out, hoping a little sarcasm can shift the conversation away from what promises to be a wearying discussion. But, “You know what I mean,” Daren sighs, unwilling to honor my attempt at levity. The mattress shifts as he rolls onto his back and whether he means it to or not, his arm comes to rest in the space between our bodies. I resist the urge to trace those fine bones with my fingers as he continues in that flat, steady voice of his, “You can end this any time, Tanim. It’s okay. I’ll honor your choice.”

Okay? It’s okay for me to leave him? It’s okay to abandon this fragile life we’ve forged together simply because things get tough? The thought of returning to the lonely, empty life I barely endured before we met twists my stomach in knots, to say nothing of what Daren would do if he was suddenly on his own again. I’m not sure Daren wants to be touched but I at least need the comfort of warm skin against mine so I lay my hand over his and swear, “You know I wouldn’t. I won’t ever leave you. Why would you even say that?”

“It’s a way out,” he explains, fingers motionless beneath my touch, “that’s all. An easy escape. If the time comes,” though I know he means when the time comes, “just end things. I’ll understand. Don’t feel you have to stay on my account.” Daren’s asking me – no, telling me – to get out before it’s too late to spare myself the heartache. He talks as if I’m only here out of pity or some twisted sense of obligation, as if my love is restricted by caveats and qualifiers. The insinuation would hurt if I thought he actually believed me capable of such disloyalty; instead, it hurts only because it shows how little faith he has in himself.

Fuck this evasive, passive talk. I loop my arms around Daren and drag him into a too tight embrace as I both promise and threaten, “You’re stuck with me, darling. Get used to it.” I expect Daren to twist away at this brazen invasion of his personal space but instead he buries his face against my chest. “I’ll keep pushing,” he mutters, fingers clutching at my body in counterpoint to the feeble warning. “Don’t worry,” I reassure the man I have sworn myself to a hundred times, and would gladly swear so another thousand, “I’m stubborn.” Though it may be my imagination, I think I can feel the curve of a bittersweet smile on Daren’s lips as he replies, “I know you are.”


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