It's Not Love
Jack moved through his silent apartment, unbuttoning his jacket as he entered the bedroom, sliding it off his shoulders and hanging it carefully before he sat down to take off his boots. They would need to be polished again, especially if he was to see the governor at the social in two days. He had only just leaned down to take off his boots when he saw a faint sparkle from the shadow beside the leg of the bed frame. He paused a little, staring at the spot and moving his head slightly back and forth, trying to identify the source of the spark of light. It was reflecting off of something, but... what? At length, he leaned to the side and stretched to reach the spot. It was difficult, since the space was very small and his hand was... not. But he managed to squeeze his fingers into the gap and scoot the shiny thing out into the open.
It was a bracelet. At least, he thought it was. The chain was short and gold (maybe brass?) and the clasp was bent. He had it in his hand, curled in his palm like a tiny gold snake, before he remembered here he'd seen it. On her wrist. She had been on his bed (unwise, that) with her hair all tousled, her eyes red from crying, hugging his pillow - and the glint of gold on her wrist as she reached for him, for comfort.
The memory hit him like a 2x4 to the back of the head. He had a hard time breathing as his heart attempted to explode. It hurt to remember a time when he had been so... so close to her. Elbows on his knees, he cupped his face in both hands. The bracelet fell to the floor with a soft, tinkling clatter.
It wasn't love. It had never been. Love didn't die like that. Love didn't leave him feeling empty and hurt when she was standing there reaching out to him, trying to help. Love wouldn't do that. Love wouldn't feel like this.
But it hurt.
He had hurt her, and he hated to look of confusion and pain in her eyes.
"Are you saying you don't love me anymore?"
"I'm afraid so."
He had only said so two days ago. It felt like an eternity. But in his mind's eye, he saw the fire roaring up around the house - the fire he hadn't seen until it was too late. The screams of the children being held back by their father. Mommy, come out. Mommy, the house is burning. Mommy, please don't die. He felt the pain in his chest spasm, then turn to ice. He wouldn't let it happen again. If he'd been faster, if he'd been more observant, if he'd done something different. It had been so hard being away from her. All his spare time had gone into figuring out how to ask her father for her hand in marriage.
No more. He wouldn't let it happen. It all hurt too much, anyway. He didn't love her anymore, if he ever had. It hadn't been real love. It had died too quickly. It hurt too much.
Heavily, eyes aching with unshed tears, he moved over to his desk. A fresh sheet of paper. A new fountain pen.
I'm sorry. I don't think I can say that enough.
I hate that I hurt you. I hate seeing the look in your eyes every time I think about you.
I hate knowing that I put that look there.
It's not your fault. It never was. I didn't know what I was doing. Didn't know what I felt.
It was wonderful, what we had. I enjoyed being with you. I wanted to stay with you forever.
I see that Edmund has been walking you home from the school at night.
I hope you find someone to be happy with again. You deserve to be happy.
I can't imagine a world in which I don't care for you as much as I do right now. I want you to be happy, and I want you to know that you will never be any less important to me than you are right now.
That will never change. Not as long as I am me.
Please smile again. Please find a reason to be happy.
The world is not right without your smile.
What else could he say? Would he ever even send this one? Probably not. With a sigh, Jack folded the paper and slid it quietly into the box with the letter to her father that he would also never send. Everything hurt. Now, more than ever. He left the bracelet on the floor and made his way into the kitchen in his stocking feet. The whiskey bottle was half empty. Not a good sign. But what else could he do? He poured himself a glass and popped the cork back into place, putting it away for the night. At least it would take the edge off.
"I hope this doesn't become a habit." Jack tipped his head back, draining his glass in one go and hardly tasting the alcohol at all. Setting the empty glass on the counter, he retreated to the bedroom again and did his best to forget about everything until tomorrow, when work would start all over again. The world would keep going, whether he wanted it to or not. It was best to be ready for it. Whether he wanted to be or not.
He took off his trousers and pulled on sleeping clothes, crawling into bed without another word. But he thought about a heart-shaped face, framed with red hair, and fell asleep looking into sad, confused green eyes.