She had never believed in love, but that was the only thing her feelings could be called. She had to admit that she had always noticed him, glancing at him occasionally through her long brownish-red hair with her hazel eyes over the top of whatever book she was reading at the time, but he was hard not to notice. He was tall, broad, and muscular. His spikey blond hair, shiny blue eyes, and charming dimpled smile made him the perfect all-American boy that she had always thought (until now) were highly overrated.
He was tall, athletic, and funny. Captain of the basketball team. Not someone she would've even consider an option, not that the guys were exactly lining up at her door. She lived in various novels, going through the paper like normal kids went through soda or videogames. She had never socialized much. She always felt that the fictional characters in the books she was so fond of reading were more real than the living people around her could ever be. She didn't lift her eyes from the comforting pages of the romance she was reading long enough to notice him notice her, or to have any idea of the real romance that was on the horizon.
Every day he saw her come in, hidden behind a blue hoodie and whatever book she was reading. She was forced to put it down during classes, but even then she stayed hidden behind the hood and her long, soft looking locks of burgundy hair. Her eyes were hardly ever visible, but every once in a while something would interest her, and she would look up. He found that her eyes were the most gorgeous he had ever seen. They were so expressive, easily showing her disgust when one of their classmates made an exceptionally stupid comment, or her rapt attention and wonder at something a teacher said that she seemed to somehow turn into something profound. He caught himself wondering what those eyes would say about him. He was sure he could get lost in them and never find the way out again if they surfaced long enough for him to.
Months passed the same way all the previous years of them being in the same class in the same school had; neither of them saying anything to the other. Sometimes he thought he saw her watching him out of the corner of her eye, but then again she seemed to be observing everyone silently. Not in a judgmental way. More like she was an outside observer that was not a part of their high school community. In a way she wasn't. He never saw her talking to anyone else. As far as he knew she wasn't a part of any clubs, and he never saw her at any of his games. That thought saddened him a bit.
More strands of time stretched on with the only development in their relationship being a few instances of eye-contact. Her eyes had always seemed so expressive to him, but when they were trained on his own they seemed to be the most indecipherable puzzles in the world, which in a way made sense to him, as she herself was such a puzzle. No one in their school really knew her. He wanted to know her. But he contented himself with the second-long eye contact they made and the few-word exchanges they had when he asked to borrow a pencil even though he already had one simply because he wanted to hear her voice.
It was mid-November when they finally had a real conversation. It was late after school, about five thirty. He had just gotten out of basketball practice when he found her sitting outside the school on the steps, shaking like a leaf in the chilled air of the November evening. He was shocked to see her there. She had never been after school to the best of his knowledge, but then again, he noted sadly, he didn't really know her very well. The next thing he noticed with a slight bit of worry was that beyond her normal blue hoodie, she didn't have a jacket, and it was much too cold for the thin material to do her much good. He sat down on the step next to her. They sat in silence for what felt like an eternity before he finally said something. "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting." The answer was much too simple and it only raised more questions for him, but he refrained from asking them. He didn't want to offend her or scare her off. It still seemed surreal to him that she was even there, sitting by his side.
He watched as her breath made a small white puff in the air and her petite frame shook again with cold. "Why don't you have a jacket?" He couldn't help but ask. He was a bit worried about her, if he admitted it to himself.
"I wasn't expecting to be here this late," she explained in her quiet voice. "I missed my bus. It's not too cold yet when I usually leave."
Well, at least that answered a few questions, but he still frowned. Her soft-spoken manner made her seem even more fragile than she obviously was, and he couldn't stop himself from worrying about how freezing she must be. He shrugged off his letter jacket. He didn't really need it. He was still sweating from his practice, and he was sure that at that moment he was producing much more heat than she was. He wrapped his jacket around her shoulders. "Here. You look freezing."
She looked up at him, eyes wide, and he felt himself falling into their depths until she spoke. Her beautiful voice pulled him back to the surface. "What? I couldn't possibly take this! You must be cold too."
The fact that she seemed concerned for him too brought a smile to his face, but he knew it could only stem from her feeling guilty for him trying to take care of her. His smile was absolutely charming, and it disarmed her a bit as she really examined him for the first time. "Don't worry about it. I'm still hot from practice anyways. You can give it back to me tomorrow."
Not really seeing any way to argue, she nodded. "Thanks."
They sat in a comfortable silence for a while until a car pulled into the school parking lot. He got up before glancing back down at her, concerned. "That's my mom. You need a ride?"
"No thanks," she replied quietly. "My ride will be here any minute now."
He was glad that she was taken care of, but he couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed. "Alright. I'll see you tomorrow."
After he left, she couldn't help but feel comforted by the slight weight of his jacket on her shoulders; the comfortable way it hung around her small frame, completely dwarfing her; the warmth from his body that still filled it; and his sent that still clung to it tenaciously. She didn't take it off even when she entered the relative warmth of her own home. For the rest of the evening all she could think about was him. Her homework which was usually completely with ease took hours. When she retreated to her room to read, she couldn't help but imagine him as the main romantic interest in her novel, but she clung with a bull-headed stubbornness to her belief that love only existed in books and fairytales. The "love" between her parents certainly proved that. She couldn't see how their constant arguments and verbal abuse to each other (and their subsequent neglect of her) could be considered love, but they claimed to love each other every day.
Still, he was all she could think about when she went to bed that night.
After she returned his jacket, they went back to their standard non-communication, and it was driving them both crazy. She still clung to her firm belief that love was nothing but a lie, but she still couldn't get him off of her mind. And he just plain admitted to himself that he wanted her. That he always had. That he always wanted to be the one to give her his jacket when she was cold, and to hold her in his arms and tell her he loved her. And he was a man who went after what he wanted.
It took two weeks for the imperceptible tension between the two of them to snap. Two weeks for him to have had enough. Two weeks before he cornered her at her locker and made her late for history class. Two weeks for him to admit that he cared deeply for her. Two weeks for him to ask her to be his.
She still couldn't comprehend it. He was the captain of the basketball team and the whole school was his friend. She was an anti-social girl who's only friends were characters in books. He was tall and athletic and handsome. She was small and weak. And for whatever reason, he wanted her. He wanted her and he wasn't going to stay quiet about it. And finally she admitted, both to him and herself, that she wanted him too.
Thus began the best months of her life. The shift in their relationship was subtle at first, almost imperceptible. At first she would sit with him instead of off by herself somewhere. Occasionally their hands would brush, or their fingers would lace together underneath the desk. Her nose spent a little less time in books as her attention shifted to him. The whole equilibrium had shifted, and rather than orbit around each other at a carefully calculated distance they were at the center together.
Eventually whispers started making their way around the school, which when she thought about it was inevitable. He was one of the most popular, well-liked guys at the school, and there were definitely plenty of girls around the school vying for his attention. That made her a little nervous at times, but she forgot about everything when he looked at her in that special way; or when he brushed his fingers gently and lovingly across her knuckles when they held hands; or when he gently brushed her hair behind her ear while she was reading, caressing her face as he did so.
Finally, he made an announcement. He stood up during lunch from the table they sat at with his friends, some of which were slowly starting to become her friends. He announced to the whole cafeteria that they were together. That there wasn't anyone else in the world he would rather be with. That he thought she was perfect in every way. That he thought she was the best thing that ever happened to him. News of that spread quickly through the school, and there was no longer any doubt in anyone's mind whatsoever that they were a couple.
Not long after that, they had their first kiss as a couple, and her first kiss ever. Her perfect little bubble of happiness had been encroached upon slightly by the disdainful looks she received every day from jealous girls and the not-so-nice rumors that had been started about her in retribution for her relationship with the star basketball player. She had never much cared what others thought of her. It had seemed like an unspoken agreement. She didn't interact with them and they didn't pay any attention to her. But she had broken her end of that tacit bargain the day she had begun her relationship with him. She sat on the steps where they had their first conversation near tears. It wasn't so much what they thought about her that bothered her. It was the fact that they could be so cruel to her simply for caring about someone.
He found her, his personal angel, sitting on the steps at the brink of tears. He knew what it was about, and he felt bad about the fact that she had to undergo abuse from their peers for their relationship, but he would never give her up. He walked around and crouched in front of her and wiped the first tears to fall from underneath her eyes. Those eyes that he loved so much looked so saddened, and just plain disappointed in the world. He felt a tug at his heart. He stood up on the stair in front of her and grabbed her hands to pull her up with him. She fell forward into his chest a little and wrapped her tiny arms gently around his neck. He was once again completely lost in her eyes. His hands gently cupped both sides of her face and before he knew what he was doing he was kissing her.
That first kiss was the most magical moment either of them had ever experienced. It was sweet and gentle and slow. They completely lost themselves in each other. Time and space seemed to stand still. The only things that existed were the two of them. Everything else just melted away. It was as if the entire universe just stopped and everything else waited, caught up in the moment, not moving until they were done. They both knew they would go through any trial or ridicule as long as they could stay together like that for the rest of time.
Only two days after that kiss he told her he loved her for the first time. They were cuddled up on the couch at his house watching her favorite Disney movie when the words slipped out of his mouth like the most casual thing in the world, as if he had been saying them forever. She didn't know what to do. She was almost certain she loved him too, but she couldn't bring herself to say it. She was still too afraid of the idea of love. Things had only worsened between her parents as of late, and love seemed like a curse. The words, "I love you" seemed like some sort of evil incantation designed specifically to end relationships and ruin lives.
Her reluctance to return the sentiment did not deter him in the least. He reminded her at least once a day how much he loved her, if not more. She felt bad that she couldn't bring herself to return the sentiment, to utter the three simple yet meaningful words, but he didn't mind in the least. He said he knew he loved her, and he knew she loved him, even if she couldn't say it yet. He promised that he would just say it enough for both of them, which was a vow he readily kept.
A few weeks later the small comfort she had about her home life was shattered. She opened the front door of her house just in time to see her father hit her mother. She didn't know whether he had ever done it before, but it was the first time she had seen it, and it shook her to the core. As usual, they didn't take any notice of her as she stood there while her world was torn asunder. The fight continued on late into the night as she locked herself in her room and sobbed brokenly throughout the night. That was one in which she didn't get any sleep. She comforted herself in the fact that she would be eighteen soon and heading off to college, but it was a small comfort that didn't really do anything for her.
Witnessing her mother be knocked to the floor by her father did do one thing for her, though. It showed her how what her parents had could never even be compared to what she had with him. What her parents had wasn't love. It was loath. What should've been a mutual attraction for each other was a mutual attraction for causing suffering. It could never be like that with him. He loved her, and she loved him, and she couldn't think of anything in the world more pure than that.
The next morning at school she threw herself into his arms the second she saw him. He caught her with ease, and she kissed him passionately. He returned it with just as much fire. They pulled away from each other a little too quickly and he looked at her questioningly. She knew right there that she was ready to admit what they both already knew. "I love you. No, I don't just love you. I'm in love with you. And I wouldn't want to live any other way."
He held her to him tightly, rocking her back and forth. "I love you too," he murmured. "I love you too."
Every moment she had ever spent with him had been perfect, but every moment after her admission seemed to be even more perfect. She was finally emerging from her shell. She joked with his friends, who had long since became their friends. Her strong opinions had become known, and when she felt it was necessary, which wasn't very often, she fought for them with a fiery passion that gave him an even more intense feeling of pride in her than ever before.
The year moved fast, and he was now to his final game of the season, the final basketball game he would ever play for his high school. He managed to convince her to come. She never had before, not because she didn't want to see him play, but because she didn't feel comfortable enough around other kids without him there to go. That wasn't a problem anymore, and she cheered loudly for him the entire game, shouting encouragements every time the other team would gain the upper hand.
It was a close game. The two teams were neck and neck the entire time. There were two minutes left in the game with the opponent in the lead. It would either take two shots or a three pointer to win the game for them. He got possession of the ball at the three point line, and looked directly at her before turning his attention back to the hoop before throwing the ball up and into the net just before the buzzer sounded. The entire gym cheered as the band started playing their victory song.
She leapt down from the bleachers and flew through the crowd, pushing past people before jumping into his arms. Her legs wrapped around his waist and his arms snaked around her body to support her. She kissed him, trying to convey the pride she felt. "That was amazing," she whispered with her forehead resting against his. "I'm so proud of you."
"I did it for you," was his whispered response before he kissed her again.
It seemed inevitable that the dark reality of life would once again encroach upon her happiness. She finally decided she had enough. When she returned home from the game to see her mother slap her father this time, something inside of her snapped. She was sick and tired of the fighting, and as far as she was concerned it was time for her to fight back. She screamed at them to stop, and in that moment the entire world froze. Things seemed to move in slow motion as her father brought his hand back before it connected with her face, sending her sailing into the wall. And then the usual chaos that was her home erupted with her at the center for a change as her mother started shouting at her about minding her own business like she usually did her father. As soon as she was sure nothing had broken and she could stand, she escaped to her bedroom. She just sat with her knees curled up to her chest, staring at her door. She couldn't managed to yell, or cry, or do anything. Only stare at the door, in shock she supposed.
The next morning he greeted her with one of his gorgeous smiles as per usual, and as he lifted her up and spun her around in a giant hug she laughed, forgetting all of the problems in the world. He loved to hear her laugh, and in that brief moment, neither of them could be happier. But reality set in the second he set her feet back on the ground and noticed the large bruise on the side of her face. He caressed her cheek softly, as if she was made of some delicate substance like porcelain, and looked at her with a worried, questioning gaze.
As the first tears started falling down her face, followed by a rapid succession of more that turned into unreserved, broken sobs, he realized how serious this was. He carefully slid his arm behind her knees, unsure if she had any other injuries, and lifted her up. He carried her somewhere away from everything and everyone else and sat down with her in his lap. The pure anguish he saw in the diamonds that were her eyes, now sparkling with tears, broke his heart in two. He gently placed a kiss on the nasty bruise she wore, followed by each of her eyelids, then the tip of her nose, then finally her lips. "What's wrong, angel?"
She trembled in his arms as she told him all about her home life leading up to her yelling at her parents and being hit the night before. By the end of her tale, he was trembling too. He was enraged. Infuriated. There were not enough words in the world to convey how much pure rage he felt. He was livid. Murderous even. He wanted to go to her house and fight her father. To take her away from them forever. He said they would run away if they had to, that he would run forever as long as she was with him.
It was an offer of a lifetime, she knew. One of the sweetest ones he would ever make. One of the sweetest offers anyone could ever make. And she knew she couldn't agree to it. She made him see reason. He had a family who loved him who he loved. They both had to finish school, and they were so close to graduating. He understood, but then he tried to convince her to come live with his family. She refused him. There were only a few months left until graduation, and as long as she just kept her head down like she always had before, she would be fine. He hated it. He loathed it almost as intensely as he loathed her parents. But he knew he couldn't force her into anything, so he just made her promise to tell him if they ever did anything to her again. He knew that if they did he couldn't be held responsible for his actions.
As she had predicted, she kept her head down and things went back to normal. They even started to look up a little more. They were wrapping up all their classes, and the two of them got into the same college, a fact that they couldn't be more thrilled with. Before they knew it they were in line wearing graduation robes, her baring the mark of valedictorian, waiting to get their diplomas. The farewell speech she gave was unique. It didn't sugar coat school life. It didn't gush about how much they would all miss each other. It was short, sweet, and hopeful, and it focused less on what was ending and more on what was beginning. At the end of it the entire auditorium cheered loudly. The principal announced their class, and they all threw their graduation caps into the air, watching as they rained back down, somehow seeming to symbolize the fall of the ties the school and the town and their lives had on them up to this point. They were all free.
Just a week before they were ready to head off to college, he did something crazy. It was completely insane, and so was she for agreeing to it. He asked her to move in with him. His parents first apartment was in the same area as their college, and they still owned it. They offered it to their son, and he accepted. But he knew he didn't want to live there if he had to do it without her. She felt completely crazy while she moved her stuff into their apartment, but she also felt completely happy, and they both knew without a doubt that this was what they wanted.
College life suited them well, and so did living together. She went in to get a teaching degree, hoping to get a job at an elementary school. He got in on a basketball scholarship, but he was taking his business degree very seriously. They spent many long nights sitting on the couch together doing homework, studying, quizzing, and tutoring each other. She didn't miss a single one of his basketball games, and they both got close with the entire team. She had managed to make a close friend or two of her own in her teaching classes as well. She didn't think her life could ever get any more perfect, and of course when she thought that was always when it did.
They were spending a lazy Friday evening locked in their apartment together, wrapped up in nothing but each other. They cuddled while she read one of her favorite novels, The Princess Bride, aloud to him. When the book was finished and it was getting late into the evening, she asked him to make dinner with her, his reply being, "As you wish," making her grin like crazy. Not much focus went into making the food though. More focus went into the closeness they shared, or the way their fingers brushed when they reached for two things that were right next to each other. It didn't take long for the food to be forgotten completely. He had her pushed against their kitchen counter, arms pinned to her sides, while he kissed he like never before. They both felt the shift in the tension and the charge in the air, and they searched each other's eyes for anything that could turn into regret later. All either of them found was love, and they resumed what they were doing. After they were together that night, they knew that they never wanted to be apart again.
A month later he proposed. It was the most perfect thing she ever could've imagined. They had been at their favorite diner, chatting as usual, when he got down on one knee and pulled out the ring. He told her how she meant the world to him. How she was the center of his universe. How he couldn't even imagine anyone half as perfect as her, and how he didn't want to have to even think about a life where she wasn't his wife. How he wanted so badly for her to marry him. And, of course, she said yes.
So began the flurry of wedding planning. They wouldn't be getting married until the summer so that it wouldn't interfere with school, but his family members started flying out as soon as the announcement was made. Her parents had been invited, but they declined. No one was particularly bothered by that fact. Their lives were swept into a whirlwind of smelling flowers and tasting cakes and trying to find the perfect dress. Her best friend from one of her teaching classes was going to be her maid of honor, as well as her only bridesmaid. His little brother was going to be his best man. She had thought she would have to walk down the aisle alone, but that didn't end up being the case. She really hit it of with his uncle, his father's brother, and after a few months of knowing him, she asked him to be the one to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. Tears of joy had sprung to his eyes and he readily accepted, proclaiming how honored he would be.
Following the quickest six months of their lives, he was waiting at the alter and she was preparing to walk down the aisle behind her best friend, arm in arm with his, soon to be their, uncle. She had been told over and over again by friends and relatives that it was okay to be nervous. That it was perfectly normal. But she wasn't nervous at all. She had never been more sure of anything in her life. Nothing felt more right than him. So it was that she met him at the alter wearing a flowey white gown and the largest most genuine smile of her life. They lost themselves in each other's eyes once again as the officiator spoke, saying their vows in a sort of trance-like state. They kissed, and as if by magic they were suddenly married.
The years passed with nothing but pure bliss. It was perfect, and everything seemed like it always would be. They were the happiest they had ever been when their son was born, and they were even happier two years later at the birth of their daughter. Their lives were complete. They had each other. They had two healthy, beautiful children. They had everything they could ever wish for. She thought back to when she was younger, when she didn't believe in love, and she couldn't believe how foolish she had been. Love was not only for books and fairytales. It was just extremely rare, and true love was even rarer. As she sat with her husband watching their children run around and play together, she reveled in the fact that she had been one of the few lucky enough to find it.