Falling in Love at Langley

She slept soundly; every night, whether he was there or not, whether she worried about him or not.  It is a rare ability, but she used it regularly.  She knew not sleeping would just make her anxious.  She never heard him when he slipped in after she’d gone to bed.  For all she knew he came once she was asleep and left before she awoke.  Maybe he spent every night with her; maybe she told herself that sometimes.  Pretending it was true was almost as good as it actually being true.

He watched her sleep.  (He loved watching her sleep.)  The easy rise and fall of her chest as she languorously drew in breath and expelled it again.  How peaceful she looked when she slept.  (As she rarely did awake.)  He knew he couldn’t only love her when she slept, but he hated seeing her upset, sick with worry, or angry with him (with his job) with anything.  If only she could be at peace awake as well as sleeping.

The blanket had fallen off her shoulder, leaving her skin exposed.  The room was not cold, but her skin was cool under the heat of his palm.  He pulled the blanket up over her shoulder, saddened by the thought that she would never know he’d covered her again.  Sometimes he fantasized about her waking up during a gesture like that one.  She would roll over, blink open her eyes, recognize him in the darkness, and smile (that lovely smile).  She would let him under the covers and hold him, snuggle up against his chest and let him hold her in the night.  Moments of tender intimacy happened when they were awake, but never at night.  Never after he returned from a dangerous mission late at night.  How he longed for a spontaneously intimate moment like that.

In the morning she will wake before him, like she always does.  She will not be surprised to see him laying beside her.  She will be relieved that he is safe, that he is sleeping, that he is home.  She will try to leave the bed without waking him.  She hates his job, but she knows, without knowing, that what he does, he does to keep her safe; he deserves the rest.  But every time he wakes as she slips out of bed.  Every time, before she can get out of the room, he opens his eyes, and says, “good morning, love.”  Just once, she wished he would stay asleep.  If he stayed asleep she could make him coffee, bring it with the morning paper to him in bed.  He wouldn’t have to leave the warmth of their duvet to do the crossword, which they do together.  He deserves to sleep in.

She does not know where he’s been for the past forty eight hours; she doesn’t want to know.  She doesn’t want to know which news stories are faked information about things he saw, things he did, things he orchestrated.  She doesn’t want to know who he was with; she doesn’t want to know what she already knows.  She trusts that what he’s done, where he’s gone, has done some good in the world.  She trusts his judgement, even though he tells her nothing about his business.  Instead she rambles on about her days, the things he hasn’t seen her do, the places he hasn’t gone with her.  And he listens, glad she went those places and did those things, sad he wasn’t with her when she did.

He once told someone that falling in love with her was the worst thing he ever did.  He loved his job, he said; he loved knowing that he made a difference.  Right or wrong, his work makes a difference.  A difference that could easily get him killed, or, worse: put her in danger.  If he had never met her, if he had never let her get so attached, let himself, then she would never be in danger.  But because of him, she would never again be free from the shadow that follows her wherever she goes.  She’s never seen this shadow, but he sense it just out of sight, dogging her every move.  He never should have fallen in love with her, he said.

His companion, didn’t answer for a very long time.  It was autumn in Paris and she wasn’t reading the journal she’d laid out before her.  Just like he wasn’t drinking the cafe he’d ordered.  She spoke slowly, deliberately.  Her words startled him; he was scanning the sidewalk.  You’re right; she’s in danger and it’s all your fault.

He finished his visual sweep of the street before looking back at her.  You’re not very comforting.

If you wanted comfort, she said, you should have talked to someone who doesn’t know you as well as I do.  Her eyes remained on the pages of the newspaper.  She turned the page, pretending to scan it.  Then But think about your life before you met her… you were a mess.  You worked too much and slept too little.  You looked like shit most of the time, and you weren’t funny.

I wasn’t fun or I wasn’t funny?

Neither.  I’ve always respected and liked you, you know that; but you were no fun before you met her.

She removed a cigarette from a packet.  He pulled a lighter from his pocket and handed it to her.  She lit her cigarette.

Should people like us be fun? he asked.

It’s not really that we should or shouldn’t be fun; we shouldn’t be obsessed.  Diligent, aware, intelligent, sharp we should be, but obsessed, no.  Obsessed people are no fun.

I wasn’t obsessed.

His protestations give him away.

You weren’t, no.  Not yet.

He had been on his way to obsession.  He was already a workaholic, everyone had said so.  Then she walked into his life.  Quite literally.  Walked right into his living room and into his heart.  She was the guest of a friend of his sister, an accountant with whom she had nothing in common.  It was one of the few times she made the regrettable mistake of accepting a blind date.  Less regrettable after she met him.  And the accountant, who was silently pining for our hero’s sister the entire time, was the first to see the attraction, the first to feel the magnetic pull between them.  He was also the first to suggest they do something about it.

There isn’t a chance there isn’t anything between you two.  I was nearly crushed by the force of you two closing in on me.  he’d told her when she tried to say she didn’t know what he was talking about.  Don’t let an arbitrary obligation to me, a man you hardly know, stop you from pursuing something so very obviously meant to be.  Then the accountant kissed her on the cheek and led her over to him to strike up a conversation that he could, after an appropriate amount of time, bow out of easily.

After that, he stalked her.  They didn’t cover falling in love at Langley.  He knew where she went to yoga, he knew where she bought her groceries, he knew when she collected her mail, he knew what route she took to get to work.  He ran a background check at work.  His sister, who had known her for years, incidentally, vouched for her friend — even though she’d been sure she would hit it off with the accountant (who wouldn’t love the accountant?).  With her help, he soon knew everything about her.  She would never know as much about him as he knew about her.  But she fell in love anyway.  She worried fiercely with every business trip and breathed easiest when she opened her eyes to find him in their bed.

She often imagined that one day she’d open her eyes expecting to see him there, but find his side of the bed cold and unused, but she didn’t believe it.  Not really.  Because that sort of thing didn’t happen to people she knew.  No one else’s spouse was going to die mysteriously while on a business trip with no hope of ever getting an explanation.  It was only her fear, and her’s alone.  She doesn’t know it, but she will never have that experience.  They will continue for many years to come, and for many after the field is no longer his forte.  But they don’t know that yet.  So every trip fills her with fear she tries her best to conceal from  him, and him with dread that this will be the last time they see each other.

Right now, she sleeps.  Easily.  Before going to bed she said a prayer, begging her god to bring him home safely.  Tears escaping down her cheeks, ones she tried so hard to hold in.  Uneasily she extinguished the light and pulled the covers over her shoulders.  Then, she slept.  In her sleep she shrugged the blanket off, unaware of the falling temperature, or the coolness of her skin.  Or the warmth of his hand as he felt her temperature.  Still in his suit and tie from the plane, he kisses her shoulder before he pulls the blanket over it and gets up to change his clothes.

His pajamas were soft and comforting as he pulled them on.  His work clothes looked on from their crumpled heap on the floor with mild jealousy; (they knew he loved those flannels more than them).  And sliding into bed was the ultimate pleasure.  It was warm with her body heat and soon he’d be sleeping as soundly as she.

He looked again at her beautiful, peaceful sleeping face; he was glad to be home.

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