The holidays went by and neither mother nor daughter touched the subject of Michael and Noah again. Still and despite her mother’s advice, her enthusiasm during the holidays was barely noticeable. Christmas and the days after passed by in a blur of family gatherings, the occasional dinner out in town, and Noah holding her close while watching some movie on her parents’ living room T.V.
It wasn’t until today as she was watching a Gilmore Girls marathon on the living room T.V., that Olivia realized part of her unhappiness had to do with Emilia. She was mourning the loss of her friend, even if said friend had been dead way before she actually lost her. Still, she missed her. The worst part of it all was Emilia was something not even her caring mother would understand. One thing was sleeping with some guy, another was talking to a ghost while watching T.V. with her.
Not that she felt particularly proud of this, but Olivia had been going around her house during the middle of the night, whispering Emilia’s name, expecting the ghost to just pop out of thin air with her narrowed eyes and some rude remark about Olivia’s life.
Today, was the first day of January and as with Christmas, Olivia couldn’t help but wonder how was Michael doing. How had his trip with Camie gone? Had he told his mother he’d met a woman who rivaled her in the Christmas decoration department? Did he still love her or had he realized it had been just some fling, something not meant to last? An infatuation?
The questions were starting to make her edgy. She glanced to where Noah sat on the small desk right next to the sliding window that led to the garden, working on his laptop. Although he’d stayed here the entire time, his parents had decided to go to his brother Nate’s for the holidays, Noah sat most of the afternoons after lunch in front of his laptop and worked. Under another circumstances it would’ve annoyed Olivia, but seeing as she had issues of her own to work through, she’d welcomed Noah’s focused attention on other issues than her and their wedding.
Noah felt her staring at him and looked up from his work and smiled at her. Before she realized it, she was suggesting they take a walk outside. Ten minutes later, they were walking alongside her street heading for the docks, their feet disturbing the white blanket that had managed to cover most of the street. It was so quiet and peaceful with the water lapping against the docks. It was the first time Olivia felt truly at ease and glad that she was back home.
On impulse, she bent down. Oblivious, Noah kept his slow pace. She made a small ball and threw it at him. The roar of laughter died in her throat when Noah whirled around to look at her.
“Jesus, Olivia, what the hell?”
“Oh, come on. It’s snowing!” She twirled around, mimicking Emilia’s lifted face up to the sky.
“Tell you what, I’ll stay here and let you throw one snowball at me. It’s a perfect day for a snowball fight.”
“If I do what you want then can we head back home?”
However, as he began to bend down to make a snowball of his, Olivia went to him. Taking his hand she laced her fingers with his before letting go.
That was the problem, their problem. She didn’t want Noah to do something just because she wanted but because he, too, wanted the same thing. She would’ve even preferred Noah saying an outright, plain no, just as she’d seen it sketched on his face when he’d turned to face her.
It was like seeing their relationship for what it really was for the very first time. They’d always done what the other wanted or expected. Afraid to hurt each other’s feelings by speaking up what they really wanted.
Passion and love meant not just going along and never speaking up your mind. Olivia hadn’t wanted to see it but it was right there, the big pink elephant in the room waving its ears at both of them. Their high school crush had developed not into a full blown head over heals love, but into something that was comfortable for both of them.
And that was how she knew now what her mother had meant. Noah was her friend but it ended there. It always had.
“Noah, I think we are making a mistake.”
He stopped and craned his neck up to look at her. Puzzled, he rose.
“Well yeah, Ollie. I don’t think getting into a snowball fight would be prudent with your arm and all. But if you want me to toss some balls at you, I don’t mind.”
“No, Noah. What I mean is,” She swallowed back the bitter taste that tinges your throat whenever you are about to do something you’d rather ignore, “us, the wedding. It is a mistake.”
She had brazed herself for the outrage, the hurt pride, but if Olivia hadn’t been paying close attention to Noah’s reaction, she would’ve missed the flicker of relief that passed inside his eyes. It vanished though, and what was left was the man who’d been with her for the past decade, taken aback by her confession.
“I thought it was what you wanted. You said yes at the hospital. I don’t understand.”
“Yes, well. That first part of your answer is one of my reasons and it is not true. I don’t think either of us ever wanted to take that step. Noah, you telling me it was something I wanted confirms that you don’t want to marry me. The same way I know now, I don’t want to marry you.”
God, it was like lifting off a heavy weight off her shoulders. All that heavy baggage, worry, self-doubt, all went away with that simple statement.
“You don`t? Olivia, you were the one who started all this. I know you are probably nervous or maybe worried because we haven’t discussed it. But if you are worried I will chicken out, then don’t. I made a promise to you.”
“And I know you will keep it. Even if it means being miserable, for you and for us. Noah, tell me something. If the accident hadn’t happened, would you have proposed to me before the three years or would you have just let the time go by?”
“It’s okay, I need you to be honest.”
“I was afraid I was going to lose you.” He grabbed his head with both hands and then stretched his arms to hold her in a strong embrace.
“You have no idea what it did to me. Seeing you lying in the middle of the street, as if all life had left you. I was scared. Hell, I have never been so scared in my life before that day. I knew I couldn’t risk losing you like that any time, so I just went out, bought the ring and proposed.”
She held on to him, because she needed him. Not as the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, but as the friend who’d been there for her no matter what. A friend who was willing to risk his own chance at happiness just to make her happy.
“I was scared, too. When I realized we didn’t have it. That spark I saw pass between Tracy and Trevor, or the same one I can feel in my parents’ marriage. I thought us getting married would bring that to our relationship. I wanted the kind of magic present when two people are in love. You were right. If it hadn’t been for Tracy’s wedding, I don’t think I would’ve thought about it at all.”
Noah took a step back and held her at arms length.
“You mean…..you don’t love me?” This time there was hurt in his voice. It killed Olivia to be causing Noah the slightest amount of pain, even if such pain was not a broken heart but a broken ego.
“No, and you know, deep down, you don’t love me, either. Oh Noah, I am so sorry I let this get this far. I…….”
Noah tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and caressed her cheek with his thumb. Such a tender gesture got her eyes to water up and the strings of tears to start rolling down her face.
“I was waiting for that moment when I knew it was right, you know? Even when I gave you the ring,” he lowered his hand and held her hand where she had the ring he gave her, “I kept expecting to feel this, I don’t know, this burst of certainty that said, ‘You idiot, and you wanted to wait three years? Just take her down to city hall and beg her to be your wife!’ But it never came. I must confess I was grateful when you said we could start planning everything after the holidays. I thought that maybe with more time……”
“Me, too. I wouldn’t trade any of the years we spent together, though. But I think we owe it to ourselves to make each our own set of happy memories, but with someone we truly love.”
“I would’ve been honored, you know? To be your husband.”
Olivia kissed him on the lips and used the sleeve of her jacket to rub her face and nose.
“Me, too. And for what is worth, you’ll never lose me Noah. Whenever we are ready to be friends again, I’ll be waiting.”
They held to each other for a while. Finally, Noah spoke over her head.
“So, I think I should head back home. I think it is better if I drive back to D.C. today.”
Olivia slipped the ring off her finger and handed it back to Noah.
“It was weird when the clerk at the jewelry store told me I had a one month return policy. I guess it’s not so weird now.”
“Noah, I am sorry.”
“Don’t be. I think, for the first time we are being honest with each other.”
“Not quite.” Olivia lowered her face and stared at her boots.
“Okay. What else?” Noah’s tone was filled with caution.
“I never really liked you calling me Ollie.”
Instead of bewilderment, Noah’s roar of laughter had his shoulders shaking uncontrollably.
“You mean, every time I called you Ollie you….”
“God, I wanted to shoot myself. I felt like some sort of shepherd dog or something.”
This time they both laughed for quite a while. When Olivia was able to stop, they began walking back to her house.
As her parents’ home came into view, they saw one of the neighbors stepping out of his car with his arms full of grocery bags. Olivia waved her good arm at him as he nodded in her direction. Turning to Noah, she asked.
“Would you mind giving me a ride home?”
“No, not at all. I thought you would want to stay more time with your parents.”
“It’s just….let’s say I have some unfinished work of my own.”