Sleep On It Tonight
contemporary m/f tiny romance
She sat at what had been their table at Ernie’s, shaded by the big pink umbrella that used to be the rich, real red of blood, of meat, of Valentine roses. It was too cold to be out here, nearly November, and Cate’s sweater didn’t keep her from shivering as she sipped her chai, pushed the beans around and around in the thick minestrone. Especially when she could still see the van parked a block and a half down, the logo bright orange against the white panels of the trailer.
The movers had arrived, right on time – two big coarse men hauling down her boxes of books, her music, her paintings. She watched her Gran’s divan – a deep rich purple with the most hideous orchids… Vic had hated it, but sometimes, when she was stretched out on it? She swore she could smell Gran’s vanilla perfume and it made her smile.
Vic had made her smile, once upon a time.
Cate could feel the tears threaten again and she blinked hard, refusing to go there again, refusing to be a middle-aged blonde crying over hot tea in an outdoor cafe. Vic was… She was…
Over. It was over.
The truck was there and she’d stayed just long enough to make sure her big four-poster bed had gone in safely, her little handmade trunk filled with hundreds of wrapped up butterfly knick-knacks and her mother’s crystal and her portfolio tucked away, filled with the years of sketches from art school, her first jobs.
It was supposed to be easy. The men would come, take the stuff; she’d get into her Honda and leave her keys in a little envelope on the end table in the foyer and head out of town, head to the coast.
It was supposed to be easy, but it hadn’t been. Not with Vic coming up the stairs, still in his uniform, still looking so fine, still looking like everything she’d ever wanted.
“The bed. They’ve already taken the bed, haven’t they?” His dark eyes searched hers, and for the first time in a long time she saw something that went beyond the wall between them.
“Why does it matter?” Her heart felt like it was never going to beat evenly again, like the break was too deep to heal.
“I don’t know. I… it does.” Vic turned his hat round and round in his hands, giving her something to focus on. “It hurts, Cate. Worse than I ever thought.”
The wind picked up and she shuddered, tears making her eyes burn. Why here? Why now, when it was too late? She opened her mouth to tell him to go away, to leave her alone, to let her heal. What came out was, “I know.”
He sat down across from her, laying his hat aside, and even through the blur of the tears she could see the lines around his mouth, the new ones cut into his cheeks. When he reached for her hand, she didn’t pull away.
“Let’s sleep on this tonight, Cate.”
God help her, his hand was warm and her fingers curled into it like they were made to be held. “The movers are almost done.”
“I’ll tell them to leave the truck. I can pay them. I just… please. Can we sleep on it?” His thumb stroked the back of her hand, his dark eyes serious as they looked right into hers. “I’m willing to admit I made a mistake, Cate. Give me a chance to prove it?”
Six years she’d loved him, been his wife, his other half and she couldn’t remember him ever looking so serious, so sure and scared all at once. If she could just look away, she could resist him, but she didn’t want to and didn’t manage. “I haven’t seen them take the mattresses down.”
“I’ll go tell them to stop.” Vic popped up out of his seat, leaning to kiss her cheek, all rough whiskers and musky aftershave. “Don’t run off,” he said as he headed down the stairs. “We have some talking to do.”
She nodded, watching him run off before sending the soup back and ordering another tea, a cup of strong coffee for Vic. What in the world was she doing? She rubbed the pale spot on her finger where that gold ring had been for so long. She’d taken it off almost a month ago and she still missed it.
By the time the coffee arrived, Vic was halfway back, hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the cold. He smiled at her as he climbed back up the steps, a little out of breath as he sat down.
“I’m to call them in the morning. I told them I’d pay their fee one way or the other.”
“I ordered you a coffee.” She pulled her sweater tighter, watching the scalloped edge of the umbrella move as the wind blew.
“Thank you.” Cradling the cup in his hands, Vic blew on the coffee, steam rising in front of his face. She could see he wanted to say more, but he stopped, just… looking at her. Searching her face.
She didn’t know what he was seeing, what he was looking for. Cate resisted the urge to smooth her hair down, brush her sweater off.
“I guess you’re wondering why I. Cate, I was driving by, saw them load your stuff and it nearly killed me. I want you to come home with me tonight, and sleep on it. Let me… let me try to just prove to both of us that it feels wrong to leave because it is wrong.”
“I’ve tried so hard to let you go. This is supposed to be easy, just turn around and walk away.” She turned her cup around and around. “It hasn’t been easy. I… My heart hurts.”
“I know, Cate. I know. Let’s go home.” Vic stood, held out his hand, his heart in his eyes like she’d never seen it before, all of his hopes and fears wrapped in whether or not she agreed.
The late afternoon sun fell on his tanned, square hand, the gold, plain wedding ring that had been his grandfather’s catching the light and glowing. He’d never taken it off. Not once.
Her hand slipped into his and she nodded. He tucked her into the curve of his body and helped her down the stairs, took her home. And as he started humming her favorite song, the sound vibrating against her ribs, she knew they really didn’t need to sleep on it tonight.
They’d find their way home. Together.