We lay naked on the bed, a little sticky. His eyes grey and serious in the dim light. He was normally so silly, but there was no humour in his face now.
"Do you want to be with me, or not?"
There was a sense of coming to the end of something. A pathway, not ending, but splitting in two. My life turning on a ten-pence piece. I could feel it.
We hadn't been serious, you see. It was just a bit of fun. Both of us had just split up with someone else. You were supposed to be single a while first, right?
But we weren't single. Not really.
As somebody's grandad probably said, we were neither one thing nor t'other.
Not really single, and not really together.
But it was easy this way. Not committed, not really. But all the niceties of being in a couple. Particularly a couple in the honeymoon phase.
How much do you let yourself invest in someone if they don't feel the same way? If they don't want the same from this thing that you do?
So here he was, asking me to shit or get off the pot. Be together, properly. No more hedging my bets. No more keeping him at arm's length with I'm just not ready for another relationship. Jump in with both feet. Or cut ties and go cold turkey.
It was sensible. Brave. Healthy. It was a gamble, I guess. Putting the pressure on like that could have ended it all right there. But it was the right thing to do. It took guts and self-respect. This is it. Decide whether to keep investing in this thing, and if not, step away.
It all comes down to this. It is up to me. Childish, I don't want it to be. Selfish, I want to whine, Why can't we just carry on like this?
I look at his face, and I know why.
Do you want to be with me or not? I was not ready for this. The question hung. Oppressively, I think. Thickening the air. Spinning tension from it. Eating away at the seconds. You don't have long to answer something like that. Awkwardness blossoms in this type of soil. Very soon, the silence becomes an answer all by itself.
The world held it's breath.
I don't know.
I like him a lot (obviously) but do I love him? I think I do. Am I ready though? I don't think I am. But am I ready to let him go and miss this chance? I think I am even less ready for that.
Did Time hold still for that moment, while my brain raced? Split into a tree, branches spidering off into the different futures?
I try one on. Like a pair of jeans. See how it fits.
In this one, this stops. No more late nights drinking wine and watching TV. No more syrupy Sunday mornings unwinding softly 'til lunchtime. This easy closeness. The life together we might have had, a home shared, a family... Pops into non-existence. Someone else is lying on my bed. My ex. Or someone else. Someone OK, or someone horrible. Or it's empty. What's it like? Do I remember him? Miss him? Wish for the life I turned my back on?
In the space of a breath, I test this version of my future. Imagine it strongly for these few brief heartbeats. Make it real. What does it feel like? Is this what I want? Is it fun? To be free? Or does it hurt? Does it taste like regret?
The world unfreezes and keeps turning. Time breathes again.
"Yes. Yes, I want to be with you."
It's so many years later, now. In this version of my life, I have a home and a family, and a job I love.
Sometimes - not very often, just every now and then - I stop, and reach back across the years to test that other branch. I can hardly even find it. It's a long way away now, in another world. I imagine what it would have been like to stay free and only worry about myself. Would it have been better?
I dreamed about it once. That's the realest it's ever been to me, and it was more of a nightmare. There was a persistent sense of wrongness. On that branch - the dream one - I'd married some other person, and I hated it. I realised two things when I woke up. The first was that I was very relieved to wake. The second was that the whole time I'd been dreaming, I'd been trying to find my way back to the other branch - this one.
It's good. Sturdy. Comfortable. Pretty. Fruit and whatnot, you know. I like it. I am happy.
This is right where I am supposed to be. Hard to wrap my mind around the fact I so nearly let it all slip away. I hesitated. I teetered on the ten-pence piece. I could have tipped in either direction. My life could have careened off down a completely different path. I hardly even knew I was going to say Yes until I heard the whisper coming from my own mouth.
It was one of those moments when the world splits in two by the sheer force of Possibility. Like a cell duplicating itself. But one cells develops one way, and one turns into something different. I still maintain that I could feel it - the other version of the world crowding next to and on top of this one. Only a membrane's thickness away, and ready to break off. Like a soap bubble. The potential coalescing around me, crystalising into this one moment that was going to nudge me along one road or another.
Me, I came this way. And another, stupider, selfisher, unbrave version of me went that way.
My Yes echoes down the years, reverberating more strongly.
How silly I was to hesitate. How stupid I was not to know what I was gambling with, what I could have lost. How dangerous a game I was playing.
Yes, I want to be with you. Yes, this is what I want.
Yes, yes, yes.
Edit - I guess I never wrote my usual little "thank you" on this one originally, because I didn't expect hardly anyone to lay eyes on it. I didn't share it in many places. Truth be told, I hated it a little. This helps explain why. All the same, I am delighted that my little scribble resonated with someone, or several someones. Thank you for reading!
Happy trails, fellow scribbler 😁
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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