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The International Writers Magazine: True Fiction

Three Little Words
Lauren Almey

llen shivered, the coldness of the wall seeping through her thin t-shirt and making her neck chilly and arms goose pimpled. It was an unpleasant contrast to the warmth smothering her bare legs which were sealed inside wave after wave of thick green duvet.

His toes were touching her ankle.
She hadn't drawn the curtains properly and trespassing through their unchecked off-centre gap were incongruous streams of moonlight, delicate silver beams that spilled onto the double bed as if in some divine bid to create a romantic air in the cramped bedroom. She placed her palms down either side of her and slowly shunted her body further upwards so that she was sitting up even straighter, and so that her lower limbs would move and be untouched. His heat ebbed away from Ellen almost instantly.

She wished she'd pulled those stupid drapes together right so that she could just stare into the nothingness of night and be lost in the black, halt her stampeding thought processes, maybe even get close to sleepiness if she was really lucky. She hadn't slept properly in days, not since he'd harpooned her with his announcement of "being in love".

He moved his lower leg back against hers so slowly and deliberately that Ellen thought he must be awake, he must be looking up at her through the gloom, sensing her insomnia and assuming arrogantly that just his touch could comfort her. A flash of almost-hate streaked through Ellen but then simultaneously she twinged and thought his simple gesture would make her heart crack. I have never known this kind of fear, she realised. I've never had any reason to be this scared of anything in all my life.

His breathing had, in one exhalation, completely altered and Ellen knew he was definitely not asleep. She pressed her eyelids shut. She thought that damned moonlight would be enough to display her red-rimmed eyes and the tightness of her mouth caused by the continuous suppression of her tears. She actually felt sure that those lunar shards might just be bright enough to dispel all the strength of her exterior and spotlight her pessimism, highlight finally for him her absolute fear, stripping her of her midnight veneer and brandishing the truth nakedly before him without any hope of him mistaking it for a dream.

"Hey," he coughed, trying to clear his whispers of the slurs of sleep, "Ccmmm...mmm. You're still awake?"
"I didn't mean to wake you up, sorry."
"No, no problem..." He coughed again and shifted downwards. Ellen could sense him lifting himself off his front and kneeling, sinking awkwardly into the softness beneath him. As he groggily manoeuvred into a more comfortable position, Ellen rolled her eyes and coughed herself, irritated. Why did he have to join her in the darkness, distracting her further, making her have to keep thinking? She felt like the night was the only space she had to herself now, now that he had decided to love her.
"You don't have to..."
"Go back to sleep, please."
"You didn't wake me I don't think, I'm just...stirring."
"No it was me, I'm sorry..."
"Ellen," he spoke more forcefully, low and smoother now, "I'm awake alright?"

He had backed into the moonlight, and it draped flirtatiously across his shoulders as he sat in the corner of the big bed, the covers now in uncomfortable disarray. As Ellen pulled them back over her cold body, he realised what his position was doing and began moving again.
"Oh for God's sake can't you just lie back where you were!?" She lost patience with him like she always did and her tone became like that of someone who wanted to be anywhere other than where she was there and then, and it wasn't lost on him.
"Can't you just go to sleep, Ellen, for once, for one of these nights when we stay together can't you just rest and lay and be at peace for Christ's sake..."
"I didn't ask you to come round tonight did I!? Bloody hell, you're such a selfish guest!"
"Oh God..."
"Guest is what I am to you? So I should have rung and fucking booked the night's accommodation in advance, should I?"
"Oh don't be so fucking facetious."
"What..." He gave up, his question or exclamation or whatever it was going to be fading into the black.

Ellen gripped the top of the duvet as it curved round her belly, finding it harder and harder not to openly cry. She couldn't see his face, which made her feel relieved because then she had confirmation that he couldn't see hers, but she could see the majority of his broad bare shoulders in the moonlight, slumped and motionless. She heard him inhale and then exhale in a sigh so unforced and sad, that her chest tightened and one rebellious tear burst its way from its weak duct and slid past her nose.
"Why have we been like this for so long now?" She heard him ask the shadows.
"Its just...its just been a few days."
"Days? Since what? What are you counting from? Is it the same point as me?"
"Probably. No. I don't know. We're just having a bad few days."
"Right. Right. I'll go back to sleep then, and hopefully tomorrow will be the start of some better days, huh?"

He slid back into the exact position he had been in before waking, except this time he remained on top of the covers, and had his head turned away from her.

Ellen despised herself for making him feel as alone as she wished she could be, but she was not a tactile person (he knew that, he'd known that since he met her) and she didn't know what to do. She just didn't know what to do, she was too afraid and angry. Minutes passed in the darkness and both of them remained still as corpses. Ellen had re-steeled herself and there was no longer any burning behind her eyeballs. She never asked him to be here, after all. She never asked him for anything, ever. He couldn't blame her for how he felt.

But she blamed him. Ellen poured responsibility over her boyfriend's head, wanted it to wash him away sometimes and solve the entire problem. If he hadn't said what he'd said, she wouldn't be feeling how she felt, and she wouldn't be here, in her own bed, shivering despite its' warmth and telling her him he was being facetious whilst he was trying to cocoon her back in the sheets.

A faint, alien noise beside her made her look down at his shape, his feet and calves now lit up in pale sections by the moonbeams. Curious, and slowly more and more horrified, Ellen bent closer, and realised he was crying. She had never, ever seen him cry in all the time they'd known each other. Not when the football in that Sunday game had been hoofed into his nether regions, not when his grandmother had died, not when his older sister had moved to Denmark with her fiance, and not when he and Ellen had broken up that first time. She had seen every other emotion dance or flash across his breath-taking face but never a sorrow enough to do this to him.

It was her. And her inability to tell him she loved him back.
"I'm sorry..." She said pleadingly towards his ear, "I'm so sorry, I know you only wanted to check I was alright, its not your fault I can't sleep I am so, so sorry..." Now it was her turn for the voice to fade.
"I don't want you to say you love me if you don't, but if all this is going to be is you pushing me further and further away until I leave, then I'd rather cut out the middle man and just leave. It's not what I want to do, but I also don't want to do this anymore."

He had only sounded so final and conclusive once before, and that had been almost a month ago, when he had cupped her hot cheek in his ludicrous, enormous, wonderful hand and told her he loved her. Maybe I should tell him to go, Ellen thought, maybe that really would be for the best after all.

She stared back at the particles of dust visible in the early morning air, and just didn't know how to answer him. She didn't want him here because he was in love with her and that made her afraid, but she didn't want him to leave either, because then her true fear would be realised. It hit her, in awful simplicity, that either way, she was going to end up on her own.
"I don't want...I don't want..." she began, knowing she owed him more than her evening's behaviour had allowed. "I don't mean to be, well, mean..."

At her softly spoken words, he began moving again, she noticed his toes rotate towards her and the blonde hairs on his legs glint in the fading moonlight. But he didn't say anything, meaning that Ellen had to continue.
"I don't mean to be cruel...but I suppose I know now that I have being."
Silence. He's said all he can say, I suppose.
"I just don't think that I'm going to give you what you want. I'm not...where you are."
"You're afraid," there came the truth, stark and inescapable, uttered from the wrong mouth, shaming her, "You're afraid and I'm not. I'm just not. What's the point?"
"No. I'm not."
"No. I'm not where you are. Please listen to what I'm trying to tell you, instead of assuming you know just because..."
"Just because what!?"
"You can't make me rush things just because you decided to."
"I love you."
"I'm in love with you, that's all."
"Oh don't...stop trying're a bully, you can't bully me into this!"
"I'm not trying to make you do anything or say anything or feel anything, I'm just telling you I love you, its up to you what you do with it."
"Oh...fucking...what am I supposed to do with it!? Say it back, yeah, say it like it's so fucking flippant and easy, and it doesn't matter that you can't take it back?"
"I won't take it back, Ellen."
"Like it doesn't mean everything's going to mean something totally different because of what you've said!"
"I won't take it back."

His voice was almost a whisper compared to her hysterical cry. Ellen could feel the warmth of his breath on her cheek and then the kindness and sincerity of his hand, fumbling in the dark to find hers. He grazed her thigh, then her elbow, then her wrist, and then finally clutched her tense hands, and with each misplacement Ellen heard her insides screaming because she believed him, because she wanted it to be forever, because she loved him back.
"I'm so sorry," she gulped, refusing to sob even in the shadows, "I think you should leave."

The night thickened and the dust seemed to freeze, as if caught in it. The ghostly rays had shrunk away from the pair of them, rejected, their ambience denied, not even catching him as he clambered out of the bed, searched the bedroom for his top and shoes and then left, just as she had asked.

Ellen blinked. She pushed herself fully under the duvet and spread her limbs wide and freely. Her feet kicked nothing but sheets, and the hot patch where'd he'd been lying faded before she'd even gotten herself into her old, favourite, single-person position.
Now I'm without him, she thought. Which is what I was terrified of in the first place.
Ellen tugged the covers up over her head, and loudly began to sob.

© Lauren Almey September 2006

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