Paul looked like he had been hit by a truck.
He sat slumped in the corner of the room on the armrest of the antique sofa his grandmother had given them, staring out the window, listless. His tie hung loosely around his neck, his shirt untucked and wrinkled now. He had spent the last 45 minutes crying uncontrollably. That was after he threw the crystal vase they had picked up in Venice two years ago during their anniversary trip. He had never done anything like that before.
She sat on the sofa, pondering how much had changed in the last two years.
Shards of crystal reflected the little bits of moonlight filtering through the windows. It was a mess.
The pieces seemed so tiny and fragmented, much like their life now.
She shouldn’t have said anything. Not today. She should’ve waited. All week long she had been working up the nerve to tell him, but the words hadn’t come. Not over dinner, when he talked about the stresses at work, not at night when he wanted to be her blanket and keep her warm. The morning seemed like the worse possible time.
How could she start off their day by blurting out news that would kill him? That would be too selfish. It would gut him if she confessed to him that she was breaking her promise.
He loved her in this complete way that was strange and wonderful.
Their relationship was an equipoise, the literal embodiment of two people actually coming together to accomplish more than they thought possible. She often told him this most nights before they drifted off to sleep, tired and happy, feeling fulfilled. But she hadn’t said it as much lately. A closeted poet, Paul wrote out his feelings on little notes he’d hide in her planner or in her purse, communicating the same with similes and alliteration. She’d find them in the middle of her day when things were the most stressful and aggravating. His words always had a way of putting things into perspective, reminding her of what she had to be grateful for in life.
After their first year of marriage, she thought the notes would stop, that he would get tired of writing such sappy, heartfelt things, but they didn’t. He didn’t.
She’d miss his notes the most.
“You need to tell him,” Riley had sternly and calmly urged her last week, brushing her long bangs away from her eyes to quiet look that screamed “do it now.” But it never seemed like the right time.
Tonight was probably the worst possible time. She had finally gotten her bangs cut and dressed up for what she thought would be a quiet dinner for the two of them. Instead, Paul had surprised her with an anniversary celebration at La Vaca with friends–a little much considering they’d only been married 11 years.
Over tapas, he raised his glass of Perrier and recited a poem he had written in honor of her and their life together. That was the first and only time anyone had ever recited a poem for her. When he got to the part about their love lasting forever, she felt ashamed inside.
It felt like her heart would break. Tears had threatened to ruin her makeup.
Now Paul was the one crying.
Shadows covered his face, but she could still make out his devastated tone.
“You promised me…”
“I know…” She felt helpless.
“Livvie, you promised…” His voice cracked as he approached the sofa, crystal popping beneath his shoes. He looked bewildered.
“I…” She didn’t have the words. He was right.
“You promised me we would grow old together.”
“I’m so sorry…”
Tears blurred her visions, her body shook from the sobs. She had held it in until now.
Paul grabbed her, pulling her in to his arms. He would be her blanket again.
“I wanted to tell you earlier, but I didn’t know how,” she choked out.
He rocked her slowly like a fragile child.
“Just say you won’t give up,” he said, his tone pleading.
“Riley ran several tests…she’s only giving me a year…”
She felt his heart pound an erratic response through his ribcage. The vibrations sent a fresh wave of sadness through her. Riley was her childhood friend and one of the best oncologists in the nation.
“We’ll make it,” he said into her hair. “I promise you.”
Olivia clung to her husband, her tears dampening his soiled dress shirt, fully aware he was desperately making a promise he couldn’t keep.