"I love you."
He pulled my face up to his, wiped tears (and mascara) from under my eyes, and I could see how blown his pupils were. He had these big, beautiful brown eyes. With the pupils dilated the way they were, his eyes looked almost black.
I could feel his hands shaking, and I thought to myself "Good job, genius, you really fucked this up."
He looked at me for so long, I felt uncomfortable. His eyes on me felt like weight.
Finally, he cleared his throat, and said "I need to get up early tomorrow. We can talk about this tomorrow, if you want."
I smiled, even though his words had cut me in places I didn't know I could be cut.
My chest felt like it was torn open, but I smiled at him, gave him my keys and told him to take my car.
As he left, I locked the door behind him. When I was sure he was gone, I felt the first tears slipping slowly down my cheeks.
I thought of me just blurting out "I love you" and his reaction, and my face grew hot.
Embarassment didn't kill me that night, but it came close.
When I woke up the next day, the shame of what I had said was enough to make me groan and try to bury myself in the blankets on my bed.
I kept hearing myself say "I love you" like it was on a loop inside my head.
Even better, he took my car, so I was stuck at home.
When I finished feeling sorry for myself an hour or so later, I took a long hot bath.
It didn't wash the shame off, but it was a start.
As soon as I got out of the tub, I heard my phone ringing.
When you thinking 'ringing phone' you're probably picturing some normal phone. Not so, in my house.
My phone was this harley davidson motorcycle phone. (totally my roommate's--don't judge me).
It honked and the headlights flashed when someone was calling.
I had a feeling it might be Sumner, so I stood in the hallway, wrapped in a towel, listening to the idiotic honking, and decided to let the answering machine get it. Take that!
"Hey, Sal, it's Sumner...I'm pretty sure you're there, since I have your car. I'll be over soon."
I ran into my bedroom, threw on some jeans and a t-shirt. I stared at myself in the mirror, debated about putting on makeup, decided against it. Debated about brushing my hair, and decided against that, too. Take that, Sumner!
I looked at myself, willing myself to not show so much as one bit of chick flick fuckery, at least until after Sumner was gone.
I was still having a conversation with my reflection when Sumner knocked. My heart rate doubled, and I took a deep breath.
I walked to the door, unlocked it, and opened the door a crack.
"Jesus, Sal, aren't you gonna let me in?" he teased. "Yeah, come in," I mumbled.
I couldn't bring myself to look at him, and had my back to him.
I told him to just leave my keys on the couch, as I walked toward my bedroom.
"Sal." I heard him say my name softly. I wanted to keep walking, to not look at him.
Worse, I could feel my stupid eyes filling up again.
I turned around, and somehow managed to bring my eyes up to meet his.
He was holding a bouquet of lilies. When I looked into his eyes, he held them out.
I walked over to him, took the flowers with one hand, and smelled them. They were amazing. They smelled like what I imagine love smells like, if love had a fragrance. Like hope, and happiness, and joy all mixed up together.
"I love them."
I sat on the couch, flowers in my lap, and Sumner joined me.
As we sat down, I looked at him, started to say I was sorry, but decided against it. I wasn't sorry. I did love him, and sorry would take the sincerity out of something I meant.
He shifted on the couch, settling in, and said "Sal, there's something I need to say to you, but it's hard for me to say. I need you to just listen to me, okay?"
I nodded. He continued, "What you said to me last night, that surprised the hell out of me. I didn't know what to do. I know I left pretty quick after that, and I'm sorry."
I felt the first of my tears start, and nodded. "You're my best friend. I can say anything to you. I love that. You're the coolest girl I know. I don't have to worry about pissing you off, because you're you."
I felt worse after this little speech. The friend speech, which is something I'd never gotten before. And it felt horrible. My stomach shriveled up, and I wished I had never learned to speak.
"So, what I'm trying to say is that I like you a lot. And I've liked you for a long time. I-- I just have to tell you this, and you can decide if you still want to be with me."
He took a deep breath, and I thought of all the bad things that could possibly be. Gay? No. Married? Probably not. Serial killer? No. Herpes? Please not that one...
"I have a son. He lives out of state, but I see him every chance I get. I'm trying to get custody of him. That's the biggest reason why I ended it with Julie. She didn't want to raise someone else's son."
I stared at him, sure that somehow I'd twisted his words in my mind to make them what I wanted to hear.
"That would never make me love you any less," I whispered to him. I felt his arms crush me to his chest, and he whispered, "I've loved you from the first time I saw you smile, Sal."
Sumner. He was probably the best boyfriend I ever had. He made me feel beautiful, he made me laugh, and I was happy.
We were together about nine months, before we broke up.
After that, I missed him. I missed the way he laughed, the way he smiled at me, I missed the way he kissed me like I was something to be savored, treasured, loved.
A few months later, I was working at the gaming center.
One afternoon, as I was ringing up a soda for one of my regular customers, I looked up and saw Sumner.
One minute, I was breathing just fine, and the next minute, all the oxygen was gone.
He smiled at me in that way he had, making me feel it all over. He said, "I came up here to see how you were doing. Mark told me you worked here."
I smiled, feeling wooden and mute and stupid.
He kept talking, said with deceptive casualness, "I also heard that you're single. Are you?"
I opened my mouth to talk, but at that minute, my new boyfriend happened by. We always ate dinner together, and tonight he was bringing takeout. My new bf walked past the register, gave me a kiss on the forehead and said, "I got you fajitas, babe. Do you want a coke?"
I nodded to him.
Which him? I'm still not sure.
Sumner looked at me, slowly nodded his head, and said to me, "You're as beautiful as you always were. Tell him to take care of my baby." And he walked away.
I haven't seen Sumner since that day.
As soon as he was out of sight, I walked into the office where my new boyfriend was setting up our meal, and I burst into tears. For the past. For me. And for Sumner.