the second ending
When they tell the story of you, how will it end?

In a room full of paintings, you in your armor, clutching your bag against your hips. Him. Across the way. Both of you eyeing each other. Waiting for one of you to cross.

Which of you took the first step?

Does it matter?

Who extended their hand. Who said, enough. Who said, I can live without you. I can be happy without you, but I don't want to be. Which one of you crossed the room first?

Imagine it was you. You saw him, there, among the pastoral oil paintings, farmers tilling fields, romantic women floating in rivers, and you crossed the room first. What happens next? You talk. Simple. You listen. You say, if we do this again, things have to be different.

He says, They will be. They already are.

You say, We can't be friends.

He says, I know.

When you remember it, you will reel through the lists of reasons, and none of them will matter. Schedules, momentum, priorities. They all contributed to crushing you so spectacularly and now what? Now you make a promise? And that's all it takes?

No. That's not it. That's not all it is.

You go to dinner. You let him walk you home.

In the morning, he's in your bed and you aren't hungover. Which means you were clear headed when you opened the door. When you kissed him. When you peeled your jacket off. You understood the consequences. You knew you were burning your bridges.

Once upon a time, you hit pause. Things between you settled into a deep freeze, maintaining their shape, but remaining latent. It shouldn't be so easy to hit play again.

You spend the first month waiting for the cracks to show themselves again. Little sneaking weeds to peek up from the ground. The signs of something too long neglected. You wait.

You wait.

You're sitting in the backseat of a town car, he has his hands up against the side of your face. You feel panicked. Relax, he says. He's untangling a loose piece of your hair that's wound its way through your very expensive earring. You can feel his fingers moving steady and slow. Out of the corner of your eye, you see him focused, serious. Don't move. I've got it, he says, and you feel the tension loosen. Something else inside of you flies open.

There is no other foot to drop. There are no cracks to show. The weeds are tilled.

You are both here, both steady, both willing.

There, he says, pulling the loose piece back against your head, tucking it almost expertly away with a pin. It's as if it never happened. You rub your fingers at the shell of your ear. When you look up at him, he's grinning, expectant. The car stops. There are cameras outside, aiming expertly, a flurry of people. The world is big and terrifying, but it cannot, will not break you.

You fling your arms around him, maybe too hard, maybe it startles him.

Thank you, you gasp against his neck. For saving your earring. For finding you again in that space between moments. For refusing to be afraid of making promises. You hold him too hard. You make the people outside wait too long, but you can't let go, not yet, just another moment, just another second. Thank you.