They meet secretly so their boss won't find out. They meet secretly so mutual friends won't find out. No one can interfere with this. Their relationship is a cake that won't rise if everyone keeps opening the oven door. They think they're clever but you can't hide infatuation and sometimes secrets spill out from the edges of words, especially words that end with y or s or x. The inflection of those words can mean everything.
They hold hands. They press their bodies together on a couch that's too short so their legs hang over the armrest. It's uncomfortable but you don't want to shift because when you're so close to someone every centimeter of skin that touches is important.
They share secrets. They share history. They confess. He once had sex with a co-worker's wife while the co-worker watched. She tells him she once was pregnant and got an abortion while her mother sat in the waiting room and helped a volunteer demonstrate for the teenage girls in the waiting room the proper way to put on a condom. Her mother had held up two fingers while the nurse rolled the condom over. When he was young, he used to masturbate on his bed sheets. When she was young, she bought a vibrator that ended up being recalled.
After moving in together, they argue. Why aren't you talking? Why do we keep going to that one restaurant with the bad pasta that tastes like it's missing salt? We don't need a new toaster. We can't afford a new stove. You were mad first! Please stop going out with work friends so often. Please stop singing in the morning.
Sometimes, they don't talk to each other after a fight. Sometimes, they make up quickly but only if she's the one who takes the high road. Sometimes, a week goes by where they ignore one another. Sometimes, neither of them remembers who's to blame and neither of them wants to keep going but they don't know how to talk to one another, not truly, and so they languish in despair until days later they sit down and watch TV and one of them makes fun of someone on TV and then the other laughs and adds another joke and then this is the sign that everything is okay again.
One night she makes dinner and spells out "LUV U" with rigatoni noodles drizzled with mushroom sauce. He eats the "U" and then she stops him and once he notices he can't stop laughing. The sauce was just so delicious, a hint of sweet, and the mushrooms tasted so rich. The next morning he spells out "LUV U" on the tiny kitchen table with ten full carrots.
They learn to let fights go. They learn to pick their battles. He learns to give her space when her head is elsewhere, and she learns to nudge him to clean when he's being a slob. The fights become less frequent than a new moon.
His father dies. Her grandmother. The dog. Each death feels different and new, like they've opened a map and they can't read the key in the corner so they can only guess where to go, what to eat, how to avoid the sea monster whose snake-like body splashes into the Atlantic Ocean. Every time, they find a way through it.
They think: We love each other.
They think: We will make it.
She gets pregnant. They decide to have the baby but in the second trimester, something goes wrong. They have to abort.
They feel lost. He can't get it out of his head long enough to console her, and she needs him to console her. She needs to feel his familiar fingerprints on the skin of her arms. She needs to hear his breathing at night, so close to her ear that she can imagine words carrying on the warm air, secrets to all of life's mysteries. She feels like this is karma for having an abortion. He feels he's to blame. His mother miscarried. It's in his genes. It's a rotten parasite that lives inside his DNA and he's to blame for their misery.
They can't get through this. Nothing is working. They see a therapist. They meet other couples who have miscarried. They try drugs. They take down the sonogram from the refrigerator and forbid anyone from mentioning it, but the ghost lingers. It cries at night, waking them. It presses against their chests when they sit down to eat together. It lives in the spare room that has walls lined with blue whale wallpaper.
Time turns the wound into an itchy scab that feels good to scratch. They fight more often. They cry but they cry alone, into pillows and during showers and sitting in the car in the garage. They think there's no way through this and maybe being around each other is part of the problem. The epiphany hits him while he's outside resealing the driveway. The epiphany hits her while she's repotting the basil plant.
But something happens. Neither one brings it up. They're both too afraid that the other will agree and that's not what they want. He wants to tell her so she will grab him and hold him tight, so tight that it sends a chill down his spine. He wants her to say, "We're going to get through this." She wants to tell him so he will touch her bare shoulders and look in her eyes in that serious way he sometimes does when he's ready to put his foot down. She wants him to say, "No. We are not breaking up."
Instead, they imagine these scenarios have happened. In the morning, he starts making coffee instead of going out to buy it. He sits with her for a few minutes before going to work. They stare at the lawn outside and talk about a big wooden swing that would look good under the maple tree, but not the kind of swing you buy in a big box store. This swing should be handcrafted, imperfect, the wood so light brown that its knots and burls all proudly stand out. In the evenings, she sits with him on the couch and squeezes a coin of lotion onto her palm and grabs his bare feet and massages them one at a time, slipping her silky fingers between his toes.
Autumn comes. They go for a hike around a lake and stop at the empty beach. He turns to her and says he doesn't want to hike. She tells him she hates hiking. They both laugh, at the incredulity that they were both hiking for each other for years, years, and now they don't have to anymore, and there's something beautiful about the fact that it took so long to uncover this secret. They take off most of their clothes and jump in the lake. It's freezing cold. Their screams echo in the pine trees surrounding the lake. Their wet underwear clings loosely to their bodies. The water tastes clean.
The orange setting sun descends onto the sharp tips of the pine trees, a balloon losing helium. They both hold their breath, expecting the sun to pop. An orange glow skims the surface of the lake like fire. They watch the sun disappear between two pines that have bent over as if trying to reach one another, so close that there's only a needle's worth of space between them.
He pulls back to where he can stand. He wraps his arm around her, feeling the warmth of her body stave off the cold lake water. She sighs, feeling his familiar fingerprints press into the bare skin of her back. The light hanging from the beach's old lifeguard tower blinks on. Mosquitoes gather and eddy like snowflakes.
They think: We love each other.
They think: We will make it.
Title graphic "Wabbit Wuv" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2015.