Sum of Its PartsbyAlessia Brio©
Christine dipped her finger into the wine glass and with it drew a large, wet heart on her lover's stomach. "The difference between my love for you and yours for me is, as I see it, that mine IS conditional. I don't want unconditional love. I can't respect it because it's too much like worship. No, I prefer to be loved conditionally. Attach strings to your love. I want there to be lines in the sand of your emotional desert, things I could do that would damage us. Without them, you're just a dog to me. I'm a cat person."
Weekends made her feel pathetic, and the weekdays weren't much better of late. Squeezed into the transitional moments of a well-worn orbit, real change hovered just out of reach, teasing. Ricki asked herself for the umpteeth time why she put up with it; why she allowed another to put her on hold. Where was this love? On what plane did it exist? When she reached for its sustenance, her hands hit... a black hole of promises. The complete lack of any sense of urgency fueled her growing dissatisfaction. Time passed inexorably and with it, the gravity of her hope.
Stepping off the roller coaster, Chloe blinked in an attempt to balance. Her body still swayed with the memories of the excruciatingly slow uphill climbs followed by the inevitable gut-wrenching plunges. How long had she ridden; how many circuits? She couldn't recall when she last felt terra firma beneath her feet. Her first steps were unsteady, tentative, but as she distanced herself from the ride, her confidence grew. It felt good to be moving on her own terms, at her own pace. Leaving the ride behind, she lifted her eyes to the horizon. There, she smiled. I'm going there.
Leah studied the small gift in her hands. A token, really. Inexpensive bordering on cheap. Certainly not a burden to the giver, requiring more thought than coin. Nevertheless, she wanted—needed—it, and she absolutely hated the fact that she had to ask for it. Anyone paying attention, the ultimate gift, would have known. Anyone truly committed to her happiness would—should—have known. She shook it. Its heft felt hollow, contrived, desperate; not fulfilling as it would have been if spontaneous. Sighing, she flung it against the wall. Even its physical impact disappointed her. "Too little. Too late."
There's a difference between being "reserved" and being "deceitful," and regardless how much Tamara rationalized, that difference left a garish, indelible stain on the crisp, white linen of their love. She spread a salve of words around her actions to soothe Justin's burn. Poured excuses into neat, little capsules and dispensed them like medicine. Drowned the voices with sweet wine and sweeter promises. Packaged her precious sacrifice like a gift with a shiny silver bow. At the end of the day, it still hurt him. What purpose did such pain serve if it destroyed the very reason for its existence?
The arguments sounded weak to Jamie's ears, and he knew why: they were weak. No matter how he sliced it, he couldn't rationalize his actions in a way that convincingly justified the hurt they caused. Not just any hurt, either. Oh, no. Jamie had, by persuading himself it was for the best, hurt—deeply—the one person he wanted most to please. He wondered if he'd done irreparable harm to their relationship and prayed not, especially since he knew he was just going to continue to do it. Every day, every moment, was a choice—and Jamie chose to procrastinate.
The process of first recognizing, then accepting, that the relationship was never going to be what she most wanted it to be drove Maria into an emotional abyss. Too tired, too angry, and just too fucking too to haul herself out of the pit, she stretched supine on its floor and wallowed in the muck of ennui. It sucked at her soul, and she knew she should divorce herself from it rather than continue to hope for change. Move on. Alone. Perhaps forever alone, or at least until she could scour the stain of such transient beauty from her skin.
One by one, the gang filled the corner booth. Tamara swallowed her pride as she accepted Justin's kiss. Their ever-changing dynamic made each gathering fresh: sometimes awkward, others invigorating. Friends today might be lovers tomorrow. Through it all, the whole remained surprisingly solid. Jamie held out Chloe's chair, winking as he ignored Maria's glare. Ricki flanked her left, and Leah her right, making Maria's ire evaporate in the heat of their proximity. Girl love, they all knew, existed on a different plane of emotional existence.
Christine raised her glass. "A toast... to love!"
"To love!" they echoed in unison, laughing.
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