She moved a bowl to fit the last plate in the dishwasher and turned it on. The ancient grumbling had changed somewhat. He would never replace it before it died.
“You want to sit on the balcony and finish this wine?” she called.
He stood behind her and kissed her neck, hands on her hips. “Sounds great.” He set the last pan in the sink and said, “We’ll just let that one soak.”
She choked down the smirky laugh growing in her belly. Of course he would let it soak. A healthy squirt of dish soap and some water and the kitchen was clean. Well, Felix clean. He picked up the bottle and their wine glasses and they settled to watch the fading sunset.
“God, that pizza was amazing,” he groaned, stretching.
“Still can’t believe you wanted to make the whole thing from scratch,” she laughed.
He picked up her laugh and said, “Nah, it was worth it.”
They moved to the shared balcony between the two units of the duplex. There was no way they’d ever live in the same shared space. She’d decided long ago. She loved him, but she needed her own space. More importantly, she needed her own space without his junk in it. And he needed his space without her scolding him about it.
He took a sip as she settled next to him on the wicker loveseat and pulled the blanket around her legs. The sun was on the horizon, throwing orange and red through the clouds. The edge of twilight chill crept up on her. Not to mention mosquitoes. The lake caught the late summer sun and turned the water gold.
The pan in the sink niggled at her, but it wasn’t her sink and it wasn’t her pan. How would this be, to marry this man and keep their households separate? Children? How would they raise children like this? Perhaps they’d find a bigger duplex and sell this one. She drowned her groan with a sip of spicy rioja.
“Thea, can I tell you something?”
The sudden scared, tired tone in his voice hit like a sack of wet cement.
“What is it, Felix?” She set down her glass of wine and took his hand. Whatever was coming was big.
“I can’t marry you without telling you about this.”
Her forehead creased. He was going to put off marrying her indefinitely anyway. But, here was the why finally.
She braced herself and held his hand with both of hers. “What is it?”
“There was a girl.” Her eyebrows raised, and he said, “No, before I’d even met you. But, I have to tell you about her.”
She nodded and wiped a hand over her face.
“I met her at a party and there was something about her. She—I dunno, we started talking and it was like I’d known her my whole life. We moved onto the deck and talked until the party wound down. Then she said, ‘I’m going home with you and we’ll eat pancakes in the morning and then I’m going to leave. And you won’t know my name and I won’t know yours. And that will be that.’”
“Why are you telling me this, Felix?” As bad as she expected; he was completely in love with her.
“Just… I can’t marry you with this inside of me.”
She bit her lip, and said, “Continue.” She downed her glass and refilled it. Another sip for strength, then she wrapped her arms inside the blanket.
“We went back to my place. In the morning, we made pancakes and bacon. I was…” He ran both hands through his hair, then pulled out a salinity test strip out of his pocket and twisted it through his fingers. “I was so sad she was going to leave. It was killing me. But we ate, talking and laughing. I went to the bathroom, and she left me a note saying thanks for breakfast and the night and wished me a long and happy life.”
“You love her,” she whispered. She was certain. “You love her and you don’t even know her name.”
He ran a hand through his hair, standing it all up on end and whispered, staring at his knees, “Like I said. I couldn’t marry you without you knowing this. You should have a choice.”
She pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. He didn’t deny it. How was she supposed to feel about this? And more importantly, what would she do about it? She snaked an arm out of her blankets for her wine glass and took another fortifying drink.
“Why would you ask me to marry you if you felt this way about someone else?” she whispered.
“We’re right together. We just go together.”
“Not if I’m some consolation prize. Not if you’re pining after a mystery girl, Felix!” She stood up, holding her blanket around her shoulders and clutching her glass of wine. “I’m going to bed.”
He stood and moved to follow her. “Can I join you?”
She turned to him, naked rage across her face. He took a step back.
“I’ll see you in the morning, then.”
She turned and huffed away, blanket trailing behind her. She shut the door to their shared balcony and went to bed, setting her glass of rioja on the nightstand and falling into bed, crying. No matter what they had or did, he would never be hers. She was certain of it.