They worked together at their adrenaline-fueled jobs. Both were very good at what they did. And they loved it.
They played together when they weren’t working. They played well, too. They laughed and fell into each other’s arms with pure joyous abandonment. They were perfect together. They were envied. They had beauty, skill, and brains. Moreover, they were just right, a powerful, well-matched couple. It was assumed they’d marry someday and raise sturdy, sunny, curly-haired children.
Young, strong, smart, and brave — the people everyone wants to be. The couple who fit together perfectly. They loved and laughed and often just plain showed off. They lived from one peak to the other, whether it was skiing off the tallest mountain, daring the devil, or becoming not two, but one amid the fireworks in their bed. They were meant for each other as sure as anything. Built to fit. Blessed to be a part of a whole. They were right.
Then one night as he was driving, he abruptly pulled off the road. He stopped the car and stared straight ahead, gripping the steering wheel.
It seemed out of the blue — although afterwards she realized he must have been thinking about it for a long while. Still staring blindly into the night, he said, “I want out. I love you. But I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life having to compete with you.”
He didn’t look at her. But in the dashboard lights she saw tears glistening on his face. She was too surprised to react. A part of her ridiculously thought at any moment he’d laugh and say, “gotcha’!” But the tears, his voice. My God, she thought, he’s serious. This is not happening…this cannot be happening…this is not real…all those things and more raced through her mind.
She said nothing and did not cry as her world and everything she’d believed about her life until then shattered and fell on the ground. She was too strong for that. There’d be no pleading and crying. Not now. Not that he could see.
Shock is a strange thing. Her face felt frozen. Her heart had nothing to say that her lips could express. So she sat quietly, her cold hands in her lap.
They went home. To the place they shared.
She woke the next morning to find his key on the table. His clothes gone.
She doesn’t remember, but she fell to the floor and howled and whimpered like a dying thing all day and into the night.
She finally got up, drove to the lake. Gun beside her, ready. But she couldn’t. Not enough guts. So, she thought, I’m not strong after all. She did not want to go on without what they had. But she was too cowardly to end her life. It was him she should shoot, anyway, she suddenly realized. Rage almost strong enough to kill her tore through her body.
He was the coward. Afraid to create a life with a woman as strong and able as himself. Racked with deeply hidden chauvinism that he had hidden so well she never saw it. Afraid, as all male chauvinists are, that he couldn’t keep up his facade of superiority. She loved him so much she had never noticed. Maybe because they’d begun as friends and he’d not needed to own or control her like he would a wife, until it looked like she’d become his wife.
He ruined it all. It could never be saved. Now, she knew. And she would never be able to forget.
He never knew her reaction. He was too cowardly to stay around to hear it.
And she never knew that he thought, as he left their bed, that he may have just made the biggest mistake of his life. But no, he shook his head. He’d never be able to relax, or she’d dominate. His ego, although healthy, couldn’t stand it. His machismo had to stay intact. If she could do all he could, why would she need him?
He had to be head of his house, as his dad had been. She’d never accept that. Partners. That’s how it would always have to be. And that wasn’t his goal. Tradition. He wanted the traditional way. He wanted a submissive wife. Not an equal partner. He hated to admit it to himself, but there it was, lurking and making it impossible for him to ignore it.
So he made his decision, although he wasn’t at all sure he could breath without her and knew he’d forever be plagued with doubts about giving her up. As he looked back once at her sleeping form, something told him he was leaving his own flesh, his kind, his mate, and a huge part of who he was. The best of him. The best of her. Had always been when they were together.
He knew he would be getting drunk a lot for a while.
Almost a year later he married a pretty young girl who worked at a convenience store.
She didn’t get an invitation to the wedding. But it didn’t matter. She could not have gone.
But she held him, and what had been them, in her mind for the rest of her life. Next to her heart. Hidden deeply like his secret sexist ideas. She hoped he sometimes thought of her. Or dreamed about her, as she did him. And of course, he did.
He was right, she guessed. Learning of the existence of that part of him she couldn’t have gone on. Somehow she’d missed it; he hid it very well. From both of them, maybe. For a very long time. But something like that is a powder keg waiting to blow them both to pieces.
And there it was, exploding in her life, burning so hot it left only ashes of the thing they had. And tears. Years of tears whenever something triggered a memory.
They still saw each other often, though. And when they did they were young, happy and in love.
But their meetings were only in their secret dreams, in their separate lives.