Love isn’t always rainbows and butterflies.
I sat idly at our square dinner table. I watched my hands making little imaginary stick-figures on the surface. The apartment was completely silent, except for the ticking of the clock on the wall right behind me and the sounds of rummaging from the bedroom.
I was waiting for Max.
I snorted somewhat impatiently.
After a few more minutes of sitting and watching my hands, I grew kind of restless, anxious energy building up inside of me. I got up and went to the fridge and took out a beer. After a second’s thought, just before I slammed the fridge door shut, I changed my mind and grabbed another one for Max, too.
I sighed heavily as I placed both our bottles on the linoleum countertop. I stared at the two beers, and I smiled bitterly.
How long has it been? Almost three years? Three years of two of two of everything…just like the two beers on the countertop.
But tonight, I wasn’t even sure if I should have gotten one out for her.
See…tonight, I wasn’t waiting for Max so we could talk about how our days went, and what we were gonna do for tomorrow. No, it’d been a while since we even managed something like that. Tonight, we were talking about…going our separate ways.
And after this week, I wasn’t expecting to see Max anymore.
The thought felt heavy, bitter, and cold in my mind. It made me feel like there was lead in my stomach, or something stuck in my throat that I couldn’t quite get rid of. I grabbed my beer, and after a pause, decided to leave hers on the counter instead of calling out for her. I turned and stared at the clock.
I’d been waiting for her to get out of the bedroom for the last twenty minutes now. She’d come into the apartment, stared at me for a moment, spun around, then went straight into the bedroom and locked herself up.
I couldn’t tell if she was crying in there, or tearing all my stuff apart.
I took a swig of my beer. The sweet bitterness of the brew momentarily eased the dryness of my mouth. I thought about the years we’d been together. The early part had been a series of highs.
Everything was going right in our lives. We were living The Dream and we were high on life.
Then, there was the realizing I was in love with Max. The falling into bed with her. The living together with her. The falling even more in love with her. Everything that she did and said had been totally golden to me.
And then, there was the part where Max loved me back.
I closed my eyes, placing fingers over my eyelids and massaging them tiredly. The constriction in my chest was real. I still felt that tightening in my gut, the extra beats in my heart and the stars in my eyes at the thought of Max loving me back. God, she had really loved me.
My fist closed around my beer bottle until it almost shattered.
But, love, as we’ve found out, sure didn’t make up for reality.
The past year had been tough. It started with little things. Arguing over wet towels on the floor, our schedules, dinner times, and all those quirks. Hell, we even fought over the fact that she’d been spliced with some shark DNA and never slept.
And then Logan had died.
I bit my lip hard until it almost bled. Max and I had fought all night and all day about Logan’s death. See, she’d cried over his death. That had been expected. Except that, she’d cried and cried, and didn’t stop crying for almost three days. At first, I’d tried my damnedest to be there for her. But she just kept pushing me away.
And she cried.
So, I got angry. I got pissed that she cried that much over someone she said she didn’t love anymore. Supposedly didn’t love anymore. I got insecure and I took it out on her. I yelled about how she should be working instead of sulking. I told her that she had to get a grip. I told her that nobody cared. I told her that everyone had problems bigger than the death of the former love of her life.
She’d said that I didn’t understand about Logan.
Damned if I hadn’t felt like she had slapped me in the face.
I remember not coming home for a couple of nights.
I took another long swig of my beer to ease the hotness that was boiling in my blood. See, I remember all the details, except that I don’t recall the reasons behind the extent of my anger. I had raged and punched a couple of holes in the wall. She’d thrown a chair at me, and it had broken against the wall, too. But for the life of me, I couldn’t understand why we were both so angry back then.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I saw Max’s shadow in through the crack at the bottom of the bedroom door. She was pacing back and forth it seemed. Maybe she had a “break-up speech” prepared.
I felt the urge to punch another hole in the wall. It was all so frustrating. This feeling of impending doom. Of watching a train wreck happen…just waiting for it all to end. I just didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to put my hands out and stop it from happening, or just close my eyes and let it all end.
I swallowed past a lump in my throat.
Max had been pregnant, too.
And then she’d lost the baby six months ago.
We should’ve been picking out kid things by now. Not planning on never seeing each other again. But maybe…maybe things all happened for a reason. Maybe, in some twisted way, the universe knew we were gonna end up at this point. A kid would’ve completely messed things up.
I felt tears burn in my eyes. I’d have to visit the baby’s grave before I left. Maybe, I’d leave him a bunch of flowers or something. Hell, I wish I had learned how to pray. Just so I could say something over his grave.
Max had only ever been there once. She never went back.
I remember the look on her face when the Doc had told her that she’d lost the baby. Her pale face—after the struggle, the surgery, the blood loss—had gone stark white. Her dark eyes had looked even darker, and they had stared right at me.
Those brown eyes had looked at me like they were burning through me, and the anguish in those eyes had felt like a black hole.
I remember feeling like the world had closed in on me and all that. I had walked out of the hospital room and puked my guts out halfway down the halls. I shouldn’t have left Max that night. But I had been so damned angry at the world, I was afraid I was gonna be angry with her.
But she sure as hell hadn’t been shy about being angry with me. She blamed me for it. She yelled and screamed and threw jell-o at my hair. I remember that I just stood there and took it all in. I felt colder and colder inside, just trying to numb myself from how much it hurt.
And Max had never cried.
I never understood why she’d never cried for our baby. I guess, it’s something that she has to keep to herself. I could never bear to ask.
I stalked over towards the living room and sat on our couch with a loud huff. Man, I feel like an old man. I feel like I aged ten years in just the last month. I let my beer bottle slip to the floor between my feet. It fell with a thud. I dropped my head into my hands, and ran my fingers through my hair.
There had also been that one little mission that I went on to get information about a new firm that might have been the new Manticore…and to distract some people, I had kissed another woman.
I had come home apology ready on my lips, knowing Max had been watching the whole thing go down on video surveillance. But she’d acted like nothing had happened. Oh, she knew I’d kissed the girl. She’d even joked about it. But it bothered me that she hadn’t seemed to care.
Dumb fool that I was, I did it again on the next heist.
She’d joked again.
I’d gotten pissed. And we’d fought again.
It seemed like there was nothing for us to do but fight. And blame. And yell. And throw things at each other.
All instead of talking and sorting things out.
But damn it, how was I supposed to tell Max that I wanted her to get mad at me for kissing another girl, even if it really had meant nothing? How was I supposed to tell her that I’m so sorry I left her when we lost the baby? Or that it was my insecurity yelling when Logan had died?
How was I supposed to tell her when I can’t seem to find the right moments or words, or feelings to show her how much I loved her?
And, man, did I still love her.
A subtle shuffle just behind the bedroom door alerted me to Max’s exit. She opened the door and came out. She still looked beautiful, even though her eyes were a bit puffy. Guess she’d been crying. I felt guilty at her tears.
The Max I had known before was one tough cookie. She had walked through life like nothing could stop her, and she always had a secret smile-smirk on her face. The Max I fell in love with was full of life. The Max in front of me, was just a broken toy. The thing that hurt me the most was, it was me who broke her. And I just didn’t know how to fix things.
“Hey,” I murmured softly, looking up at her from the couch.
She just nodded silently and went towards the kitchen counter. “This mine?” she asked, pointing towards the beer on the countertop.
“Whose else would it be?” I sighed impatiently.
“I dunno, you tell me.” She griped back. She swiped the beer from the counter and took a long swig from it. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, before replacing it on the counter. She crawled onto one of the bar stools and swiveled around to face me.
There was a long, awkward silence between us. We stared at each other, yet said nothing. She finally shrugged, as if nonchalantly, “So…?”
“I already packed my bags. I think I’ll move back in with Cindy for a while. It’ll give me a chance to figure out where to head to next. Maybe Normal might even give me my old job back. Or maybe that’s not such a good idea. I dunno.”
She was rambling, not looking me in the eye, tracing her finger over the rim of her beer bottle.
She tilted her head slightly to the side, waiting for me to continue. She met my eyes briefly, but quickly looked away. I realized that I had so much to say…but after what we’ve already decided, what was the point? Telling her that I still loved her would only make our separation more difficult. The last thing we needed was “more difficult.”
Max pursed her lips and quirked her brows. “Well? What is it, Alec?” she asked sharply.
“Couple more days, huh?”
There was a stricken look in her eyes, and there was a sour expression on her face. “Yeah.”
“Max…how…how did we get to this point?”
She stared at me with dark, sad eyes. “Guess we just weren’t meant to be.”
I stood up, frustrated. “Is this really it, then?”
“What else do you want, Alec?” she demanded back, also hopping off the stool. Her voice was rising, and we stood facing each other like combatants—enemies.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the two of us. It was this easy to start a fight with her. It was this easy to go from point A to point Z with Max.
I heard her exasperated sigh and saw her down-turned lips. She thought I was laughing at her. I started towards her, stepping sideways to get past the coffee table. But she just matched me and sidestepped the other way.
“Max, I wasn’t laughing at you, okay,” I tried to coax her to calm down. But damn, the look in those eyes, it was like I’d thrown knives at her heart or something.
She frowned and threw her hands up in the air in a gesture of frustration. “I really don’t care, Alec. I just don’t care anymore.” She sighed.
“Why not, Max?” I demanded.
“Because!” she cried back.
“Because it hurts too much to care!” she shot out. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked away from me.
Her words were driven like stakes through my heart. I hated that I hurt her. I just didn’t know how to fix it. Everything was so screwed up, and nothing I said or did fixed anything. It wasn’t like I could turn back time to back when things had been perfect. I sighed in frustration.
There was so much silence and distance between us now that it was almost impossible to bridge the gap. Max looked at the clock and exhaled loudly. “Look, do you have anything more to say? Cuz if not, I’m going to bed. I’ll be gone in the morning.”
I had so much more to say. I just didn’t know exactly what or how. I just ended up shaking my head like some dumb mute. She pursed her lips and looked at me sadly. “Fine.” Then, she disappeared back into the bedroom. She shut the door with an audible click.
I was left standing in our living room, just struggling for breath, feeling like I was falling into some kind of vertigo. I wanted to throw up and scream and punch holes in the wall at the same time.
How could I be a super soldier and not even know how to tell the woman that I loved…how much I still loved her?
I couldn’t stay in our apartment. I felt like I would suffocate from my fears in there. All my dreams and all my nightmares all seemed to be locked up in that one place, and I just couldn’t sort out which ones were which.
I walked out onto the streets. I left Terminal City and just kept walking. I pulled my leather jacket closer around me, popped the collar up against the cold wind, and plowed my way through the streets.
I went into what passed for a Chinatown in the city and grabbed a stool at one of the noodle houses. I ordered soup, thinking that maybe it’d help with the twisted knots in my stomach. I just kept trying to figure out how we had decided that separating was a good idea. The rational part of my head kept telling me that it was for the best. But my heart…well, it just kept breaking at the thought of it.
I got my soup moments later, and was hunched over it, sipping the watery-tasting stuff. Suddenly, another man slumped onto the stool next to mine. He was wearing dark sunglasses, his collar also pulled up. He ordered the same thing I did.
But all the kitchen noise and the bustle of the street behind us couldn’t hide the sound of his sobbing. He really was crying—all out, gut-wrenching sobs—and he was shaking.
“Hey, man…” I said, hesitantly. “You okay?”
He looked at me through his dark glasses. I could see that he was probably middle-aged, his face lined and worn. His nose was red and raw from his crying, and his mouth quivered slightly. I’d never seen anyone as broken up as this guy.
He waved a hand in the air. “Sorry…it’s just that…I thought…” He broke off as fresh tears poured down his face. “It’s the stupid streets.”
I looked around behind me at the ‘stupid streets’. It looked like the normal, everyday variety of Seattle streets. There was trash everywhere, bicycle messengers zooming around, cars stuck in pedestrian traffic…pretty routine, really.
I noticed that he was looking at the streets, too.
“Oh, God…I tried. I really tried.” He burst out, just before fresh tears forced him bend over with a hand over his face.
“Uh…tried to do what?” I asked cautiously.
He looked at me, then carefully took off his sunglasses. I was greeted by red-rimmed pale blue eyes, still swimming in tears. “To be normal. To get out of bed and walk the streets again…”
“Oh. Um…okay.” I was still lost in this strange conversation. But the guy did look like he needed someone to talk to. And it wasn’t like I had to be home any time soon. Max wouldn’t be waiting for me, I was sure.
“No…no…my wife, you see,” he said, before he blew his nose on some tissue paper he shoved back into his jacket. “She died two weeks ago…and…”
“Two weeks!” I cried out. “I couldn’t get out of bed if my wife had died two weeks ago!”
And it hit me.
Max and I had never officially gotten married or anything (why do anything so conventional?), but as far as I was concerned, she was my wife. The One. My life. And it occurred to me that if she got hurt, injured, or died that I would never be okay again for the rest of my life.
I would always know that something was missing from the world. I would always have a hole in my heart. Hell, I’d probably turn out like this weepy old man.
Despite the state of our relationship now, I still loved Max. So much.
The older man nodded. “You know…she was sick for a really long time. But she told me that she would fight her disease until the day she died…just so she could spend one more second with me. Everything you love is worth fighting for.”
I couldn’t believe it. Damn, but I could feel the tears in my eyes. “I…I have somewhere I have to be,” I said hastily. “Are you gonna be okay?”
“Are you going to see your wife?” he asked hopefully.
I nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
“Then, I’ll be fine.”
I ran back to Terminal City as fast as I could. I ran up towards our apartment. I ran straight into our bedroom. And then I stopped.
She looked beautiful, all curled up, her hands tucked neatly underneath the pillow. There were tear stains on her cheeks.
My legs suddenly felt like lead as I walked towards her. I felt like I was seeing Max for the first time in a long time. She had cried herself to sleep so many times lately, but I had been too angry that I learned to ignore the tears and the muffled sounds of her cries. I just didn’t have the energy. All my energy was spent being angry and unhappy with everything.
I knelt down beside her, and reached for her body.
I lifted her off and pulled her into my arms and hugged her. She woke up, startled, but recognizing me instantly. She relaxed in my arms and it felt so good to hold her again. I felt the warm tears slide slowly down my face and onto her shoulder. I held her so tight that I wondered if I would break her. But I realized she was holding me back just as tightly.
“Alec…what’s wrong?” her voice was gentle, holding bare-naked concern for me. Her hands made soothing circles around my back like she used to. She always knew how to It hurt in a good way to know that she still cared about me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered against her hair. “I’m so sorry, Maxie. I’m sorry for everything…about Logan, the baby…the…”
She pulled away and cradled my face in her hands. “Alec?” The quiver, the question in her tone spoke of her truest fears and deepest hopes.
I leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the lips. “I love you, Max. I don’t want us to go our separate ways…I want to stay together.”
“Alec,” she said softly. “I thought…we decided that we fight too much…that it wasn’t working out…”
I cradled her in my arms. “Someone told me that everything I loved is worth the fight.”
She smiled at me, that crooked smile that I hadn’t seen in ages. “So…do you want to fight with me forever?”
“Ha!” I smiled and pulled her closer to me and whispered, “Yes…yes, I do,” just before I kissed her.
Everything wasn’t perfect. We’ll always have rough times, but hell, even if we’ll always be fighting…I’ll be fighting with Max. And that was all that ever mattered.
Inspired by the line from the Wedding Singer: “I’d rather fight with you than make love with anyone else.” -Nick Mercer- Sigh.