The dinner was lovely, accompanied by the piano in the corner, and the fireplace producing more light than heat. It was a perfect evening for lovers, one I had enjoyed with Steven more times than I could count. Steven was always the romantic type, calling just to say hello, breakfast in bed, and notes left in my glove compartment as I reached for my sunglasses. I’d never known a man to be as attentive as he was, and not ask for anything in return. I was surely a lucky woman, the envy of all my girlfriends, and my older sister. All of them wonder why I don’t smile more.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized my true love. The feeling of love, those feelings that leave you catching your breath when he enters the room, or quicken your heart when the phone rings and it’s him; the feeling of love was always present. I knew it when his cart touched mine in the supermarket. I only went for salad ingredients for my dinner party that evening, but his eyes melted me immediately.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.” He said, smiling his big smile, never leaving the eye contact we had formed.
“No that’s quite alright.” I responded. I wasn’t sure if I was blushing but I knew I had been propelled back to my teenage years wanting desperately for Eric Michaels, captain of the football team, to ask me to the school dance.
I didn’t know why it stopped there, but our apologizes were done and we parted ways. It wasn’t until I decided my usual jog in the park would be so much better as a sunrise jog on the beach for a little variety when fate stepped in. I stretched my body, making sure I was loose, as the crashing waves and cool breeze brought serenity and loosen my mind as well. I’d gone a half a mile, taking in the salty ocean air, the orange skyline, and moist breeze when a faint voice interrupted my IPod’s music.
“Nice to see you again.”
I turned to the side to see him running alongside me, my grocery store accident victim. “Wow, hello again.” I said, pulling my ear pieced from my ears.
“I run here every morning and I’ve never seen you along this route.” He commented. He still looked amazing with his medium length dirty blond hair, slightly sticking to his forehead and around the hairline due to the sweat. The rest of his hair moved a bit as he bounced up and down while we continued our run. . Like in the supermarket, the eye contact I made with his emerald eyes, forced me to digress back to childhood.
“This is my first time. I wanted to try something new, something different from running my usual route at the park.”
I’d managed to break free of his stare to focus back on my running. I didn’t want to become too light-headed, already winded from morning exercise.
“Well I’m glad you did. It gives me the chance to ask you out like I should have the other day.” He smiled. I couldn’t have built a more perfect man.
I only smiled back initially, but by the time I’d made it back to my car, names were exchanged, and numbers were soon after with the plan to have dinner later in the week. I drove away with an inner smile that was bigger than the one I was broadcasting to the world. I was elated, and the dates that came to follow only cemented that feeling in my heart.
But I sit here now, across from Steven, knowing what a good man he is, thinking only of love, true love. I was in love. It was a love that songs were written about, movies were produced to illustrate, and wars were started over. It was the essence of love, the weak knees, the anticipation of what’s the come, and the warm blanket it covered me with, that I had to tell Steven all about.
I should have loved Steven, but I didn’t. In this moment with the candle on the dinner table, the waiters being so attentive to our needs, the champagne, oysters, and Steven smiling the way only he could, I couldn’t help but want it all the end. It wasn’t my heart that was lying to me, but my head was picking up on how wrong the moment was.
I’d had this feeling before, once at a dinner with friends, as the drinks were flowing and the conversation was stimulating, I sat with Steven’s hand holding mine and wanted nothing more than to escape. I loved his touch. As outdoorsy as he was from kayaking to fishing, and all the hours he spent at the gym, he never let his hands get coarse. It was always a soft and smooth touch, strong and endearing, but I wanted it to end.
I can remember a car ride up to the mountains to go skiing. Steven never at a loss for words, talked about the cabin we would be staying in with such vibrancy and romance I could smell the hot cocoa and hear the crackling fire in my mind. He looked over from time to time, piercing my soul with those amazing green eyes, smiling with his flawless white teeth, God he always looked amazing, but for a moment I wanted out of the car.
How could this be? I’d been in relationships that weren’t half this good but never had these feelings. It was a combination of drowning and entrapment I couldn’t shake. When I tried to analyze how and why my emotions turned sour, I couldn’t find a rational explanation. Never one to air my dirty laundry, I bottled it in, hoping for the best, and always receiving Steven’s best whenever he was around. The one thing I knew was it wasn’t for lack of trying on Steven’s part. He was the perfect man: charming, sexy, honorable, and romantic. With all that, I wasn’t in love with him.
It was the difference between loving someone and being in love. I loved Steven, how could I not? I never had to ask for his attention, he gave that willingly from the beginning. He remembered birthdays of my friends and family, and key dates in our relationship. Steven could always be found making surprise reservation if he couldn’t make a surprise dinner. And somehow, he always knew when to give me my space, just by reading my body language, or hearing my voice on the phone. He’d give me space and only later ask if there was anything he could do. But I wasn’t in love with Steven.
So across from me I had the perfect man. I had been playing the role of the perfect girlfriend for a month, after realizing I had to end things. One good rule of thumb I’d adopted after several over-dramatic break ups, a public place was always a wonderful idea. But the situation was anything but wonderful or ideal.
“Rosa, you’ve been extra quiet tonight. Rough day at work?” He asked, as if to suggest yet again he was reading my mind.
I couldn’t help but pause. We’d only had appetizers, which only slightly settled my stomach. I had dirty work to do, and my nerves were getting the best of me.
“Oh Steven I’m fine. Just something on my mind.” I responded, intentionally vague, but knowingly not enough to stop him from persisting even more.
“Is there anything I could do to ease your mind?” He asked, sliding his hand over to mine. On reflex I pulled back, causing a puzzled look to appear on Steven’s face. “Rosa?”
What could I do? There was no way for the evening to be called a success. We both were going to leave with our hearts broken. I had to come to grips with the situation.
Just before I could speak, the waiter arrived with our entrees. Steven sat back in his chair to allow the waiter to place his salmon on the table. He gave a half smile and nod of approval, acknowledging he was pleased. When it was my turn, I could only continue to stare down at the table. To look up meant to catch Steven’s eyes, and I wouldn’t be able to do what was needed being held captive in those eyes of his.
After placing my seared tuna salad on the table, the waiter left, but neither of us had begun eating. I brought my head up to notice Steven looking perplexed over my behavior. The romantic evening he had envisioned for the two of us, had turned sour and I was to blame.
“Baby tell me what’s wrong. I hate to see you unhappy.” He stated trying to comfort me with his words. It was so Steven. It was so wonderful. It was time.
“Steven I don’t know how to do this.”
“Do what?” He asked, leaning back towards the table, extending his hands out for mine to hold on to. I didn’t.
“This is crazy. I’ve never been in a healthier and more stable relationship. I’ve never been romanced and made to feel so at ease as I have been with you.”
“Well this doesn’t sound so bad. Rosa, what’s wrong?”
“Steven, you have to know I love you. If you don’t believe anything else, please believe that because I truly do love you.”
“I love you too.”
“But I’ve realized I’m not in love with you. And I just don’t think I ever well be.” I confessed.
There was nothing but silence at the table. I kept my head down through most of my statement, knowing I wouldn’t have the strength to follow through with me seeing him looking back at me. I didn’t want to see the hurt after he processed my last statement that would crush even the strongest of men, especially if they had opened up and given their heart away.
Men didn’t give their hearts away easily. They like the sure thing because it’s hard for men to appear vulnerable, hence the struggle for attention and showing of affection that is pervasive in even the strongest relationships. For a man to get to that level, he must be convinced its right and the pay off will be big and long-lasting. Steven was a man who was free with his emotions from the beginning. He was secure with himself enough to never shy away from his increased feelings for me, and never was afraid to convey the correct emotion for the situation. And this situation was no different.
I looked up to see confusion and disbelief on his face. It had his eyes slightly squinted, but I could still see they were glassy and filled with hurt.
“Steven I’m so sorry. You are so amazing. I can’t explain why it’s turned out this way but we’re here and I had to be honest with you.” I told him, trying to focus him back to me and invoke a response, whatever it would be. But Steven remained shocked and wounded. He was clearly caught off guard since we’d never had so much as a yelling match or huge disagreement to indicate this was coming.
“Please Steven, say something. Yell at me, throw water in my face, but say something.” I pleaded, but I didn’t get what I asked for. Steven shook his head to snap out of the trance he was in. He reached in his pocket to retrieve his wallet. Once he had it in his hands, he throw down two hundred dollars and began to stand from his chair.
“Steven wait, let’s please talk about this.” I begged him. I stood up to stop him, and just then got a glimpse into his eyes. I had crushed a good man on this day.
He looked into my eyes, now also glassy, filling up with water over the pain I’d inflicted on him. He came in close to me, somber and still caring. He pulled me in close, and I turned to the side, placing my head on his chest, no longer being able to hold back the tears from my eyes. Steven placed his chin on my head, holding me tight knowing it was the last time he would ever be in love with me and have the embrace of love that went along with it. He pulled back and looked down at me. As I looked up I couldn’t believe what had to happen today. He gave me a kiss on my forehead and abruptly left me standing alone at the table. I watched as the perfect man, exited the restaurant and my life forever.
When Steven was no longer in sight, I collapsed back into my seat. I’d let go of a good man but I had no choice. It wasn’t Steven I loved but love. The loving feelings I had when I was around Steven. He knew love and showed me love every day we were together. He made love to me, and made love out of me but all that remained was love. I never saw Steven. I don’t really know if he was able to truly reveal himself. Steven know how to love and show love for all it was worth. I had to thank him for that.
“Steven it wasn’t you I loved, but love.”