The box is plain, nondescript, no features to indicate that its contents are at all important. It had been under their bed ( her bed now, she has to remind herself), shoved all the way to the back, where Tessa would never have found it if she hadn’t been struck with the sudden urge to rearrange the bedroom furniture at 9pm. When she pulls the bed away from the wall, there it sits, a flat white rectangle with a couple of dust bunnies clinging to the corners.
She almost throws it away without opening it but when she picks it up she feels something shift inside; it weighs more than she’d been expecting and the flimsy cardboard warps in her hand, the bottom coming apart from the lid and sending a mess of folded papers cascading to the floor. Tessa picks up and unfolds the one on top, and her eyes zero in on the first line. Dear Tess, it says, and she immediately drops the paper as her hands begin to shake. Quickly she walks to the bed that is now by the window and sits down so she doesn’t pass out.
She sits for five minutes, ten minutes, her mind churning over what she’s just found as she stares at the pile of papers on the floor. It’s an amalgamation of lined notebook paper and printer paper and what seems to be hotel stationery, inert and innocent, but she regards it with a wary eye as though it were a nest of venomous snakes. There’s only one person who could have written that letter and left it in a box under the bed, and he didn’t live there anymore. Should she read it? Could she?
In the end her curiosity wins out and she picks the letter back up, her trembling hands carefully unfolding the crisp white paper, and she reads.
You’ve been away for three days now and I miss you so damn much. That’s why I sounded irritated. I told you I wasn’t upset with you, but I don’t think you believed me. If I had to change one thing about you - and I would never change anything about you, let’s be honest, but if I HAD to - that would be it, your tendency to feel like you’re somehow to blame for whatever is upsetting me, even if it’s me. I think especially when it’s me.
I’m so sorry I snapped at you. I said it earlier over the phone, and I’ll tell you again when you get home, of course, because you seem to take my apologies more seriously when I deliver them while my arms are wrapped around you.
I love you so fucking much, T. I’ll do better. You deserve to chase all your dreams.
All my love,
The letter isn’t dated, but she vaguely remembers that trip. She’d been in Toronto for something press related - a photoshoot? Funny how she can’t remember why she was there, but she remembers the phone conversation that sparked the letter she’s holding. It was their nightly ritual when one of them was away to call before either of them went to bed, and they’d chat like a couple of teenagers until somebody fell asleep (usually her, if she’s being honest with herself).
There were a lot of trips during that time, she recalls; she’d been working on a collaboration for a new jewelry line, and got a couple of endorsement deals. Scott, on the other hand, was settling into domesticity. That’s what he wanted, so that’s what she wanted, and for the most part they supported each other. There were just a handful of times they ever got short with one another, and that Toronto trip had been one of them - A pipe had burst, and so he’d been the one to deal with the ensuing mess, and really he was just frustrated. But she’d taken his harsh words to heart, like she always did, and though the scar was faint and healed it was still there.
She picks up another letter. This one doesn’t seem to be about any one incident. I don’t even have words for how much you mean to me, it reads. I’ve always loved you, even before I really understood what love was. I think that was why it took me so long to realize, because it was big and it was scary and I was in so deep I couldn’t see a way out of it. I know now it’s because I didn’t want a way out of it.
His words take her breath away. The way they felt for one another was no secret, god knows they’d discussed it at length between themselves and with therapists and probably any family member and friend who would listen. But to see it in writing, in a place she was obviously never intended to see it - it hits her just how much he meant it. A part of her always wondered if he was just telling her what she wanted to hear, and neatly printed on the piece of lined loose leaf in her hand is proof that he wasn’t.
She picks up another. You are perfect for me, in every way. I can only hope you feel the same. Another. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with the knowledge that we’ve shaped each other in ways that no other person can understand. Some of them are dated - she steps through their history in longhand form, his words from their first “official” date, their anniversaries, the day they moved in together.
Tears well in her eyes, and guilt begins to settle in her stomach. These were never meant for her to see, she knows, but here they are, his soul laid bare in paper and ink. She picks up one more despite herself and from the first line she regrets it, but still she reads.
Things are falling apart, I can feel it, but for once I don’t know what to do to fix it.
We fought again this morning. The same fight we’ve been having for the last three months, even though we said it was about something else. You’ve basically been a part of me for the last twenty-five years, and it feels like an insult to know you’re trying to keep something from me.
Tess, we both know this isn’t about how often you travel, or how much work I do around the house, or even whether or not we’re communicating. It’s about what happened to your parents. It’s about knowing I want kids. It’s about how cagey you get when I tell you this is it for me. I used to think we wanted the same things, but I can tell you’re not so sure anymore. And it hurts, it really does, when I try to tell you how that makes me feel and you just retreat further.
I wish I knew when things changed for you. I wish I knew what you want. But most of all, I wish I could make you understand that what I want from you is you. Just you. We can figure out the rest together.
I’d do anything for you, T. I love you.
It’s 2:30am and rain has begun to fall outside, pattering on the window next to her in a rhythm that urges her to do something.
She carefully gathers all of the letters, puts them back in the box, picks it up and takes it downstairs to put on her coat and shoes.
It’s ridiculous of her, she knows, to be on his doorstep in the middle of the night, but she also knows she’s making the right call. She taps on the door once, twice, finally rings the doorbell and hears a slow shuffle to the door.
“Tess? Is everything okay?” The grumpy expression he’d had when he first opened the door immediately turns to concern when he realizes it’s her, and she realizes she must look a mess, no makeup, hair in a soggy topknot with stray pieces plastered to the sides of her face from the rain. He’d clearly been in bed, his hair is a mess and all he’s wearing is a pair of jeans.
“Yeah, no, I’m okay, just…” wordlessly she holds up the box and sees all the color drain from his face.
“You...uh...where did you find those?” he asks.
“They were under the bed,” she says simply.
“Oh,” he says softly. “DId you, um–did you read them?”
“Some of them,” she answers truthfully. They stare at each other for a beat, then she asks only, “Why?”
He runs an anxious hand through his hair, making it stand up and she feels a surge of endearance. “I just–you made me feel so much, Tess, so strongly, and I needed someplace to put it all. It was…my version of journaling, I guess.”
Tessa smiles faintly, remembering how often she’d told him he should try journaling to help quiet his restless mind. “You should have told me, I would have stopped bugging you about it.”
“You would have thought I was secretly complaining about you all the time,” he says, giving her a faint smile of his own.
She ducks her head a little. “You’re right, I would have. And you did complain about me, a little.”
His eyes are so soft, his tone so gentle, it makes her heart twist. “I only ever complained that you didn’t know how much I loved you.”
His use of the past tense makes her breath catch, something deep inside her stirs. “Loved?”
“Love,” he corrects himself quickly. “Still nothing but love, T.”
They stand on his front porch just watching each other for a moment as the rain falls in sheets behind her, and she tries to read him for some sign of what he’s thinking, waiting for some cue to tell her what to do next. She doesn’t like this uncertainty between them. It’s new and it makes her feel helpless, bereft.
Finally Scott shakes his head as though coming out of a trance. “You need to come in. Look at you, you’re shivering.”
She is shivering, cold and soaked to the bone, so she acquiesces and lets him lead her into the house. When he closes the door behind her she hands him the box and he disappears down the front hall with it as she strips off her jacket and shoes and socks. Scott returns with a pair of sweatpants and she takes them wordlessly, changing into them right there in the front hallway and trying not to feel smug about how his eyes move along her legs in the dim light.
“Come sit down,” he murmurs, but she’s already walking into the living room and plopping down onto his new couch, trying to mask the jumble of emotions in her stomach.
“I like how you’ve decorated,” she says lightly.
He sits next to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as she tucks herself into his side. “I might’ve learned a thing or two when I was with you.”
Tessa leans her head into his shoulder and he rests his cheek on the top of her head. “I’m glad you got something out of it,” she jokes, and hears him inhale sharply.
“Tess,” he says, voice husky, “being with you was the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
She doesn’t realize she’s crying until she feels her tears drip onto her folded arms, quiet and steady like the tapering rain outside. Scott notices, because of course he notices, and tips her head up with his free hand to wipe the wetness from her cheeks.
“I didn’t say that to upset you,” he says, and she shakes her head.
“I know,” she tells him, “I’m just crying because being with you was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I messed it all up.”
“No, Tess, no,” he protests, trying to comfort her, but her body is already wracked with sobs and all he can do is hold her like he’s trying to keep her pieces from flying apart.
When it passes she’s taking slow shuddering breaths as he cradles her against his chest, her legs across his lap and hands clutching tissues that he’s been passing her from the box on the coffee table. She waits until she’s recovered enough to speak, and then tilts her head back to look at him. “Did you mean it?” she asks.
“Did I mean...what?” he replies, puzzled.
Tessa gestures at the box that Scott had set on the table. “When you said you’d do anything for me. Did you mean it?”
His brow furrows, and his eyes are shining with unshed tears. “Of course I did, Tess.”
“Good,” she says, “because I would do anything for you.” And almost before she’s done saying the words her mouth finds his and they’re kissing, deep and hard and desperate.
Her body has missed this, she realizes as she feels parts of her relax and blossom under his touch. He knows her body so intimately it’s like she was only ever made for him.
He pulls away and she looks at him numbly, shocked at the sudden break of contact. “Tess, don’t…” and now he sounds like he’s choking back a sob, “don’t open this door unless you’re actually going to walk through it. Please.”
Tessa reaches up and wipes a tear from his cheek, then takes his hand. “I would never play with your feelings, Scott,” she says, looking up at him. “I was so wrong to let go of what we had. I did it because it was easy, because then we wouldn’t have to work out who was giving up what, because I didn’t want to feel responsible for making you change what you wanted. But I know now,” she continues, and her chest is starting to hurt, “I know that it was your choice, and you wanted to choose me. And that means everything.”
He gazes at her with an inscrutable expression for what is likely only seconds but for Tessa it lasts an eternity, as his eyes move from hers down her face, settling on her lips for just a moment, and then he exhales with an almost-laugh.
“You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear you say that,” he says finally, and the last of the wall between them crumbles to dust as they reach for each other.
His hands are everywhere and she’s filled with delirious joy as she turns her body to face him so she can straddle his lap, and before she can settle down to eye level Scott lifts his head to look at her with wonder.
“You’re so beautiful,” he says, and despite her rain-soaked hair and lack of makeup Tessa has never felt more desirable in her life.
Scott runs his hands up her back, and Tessa lifts her arms so he can remove her shirt. He takes his own off as she reaches back to unhook her bra, and both bra and shirt are tossed to the side so Tessa can press herself to Scott’s bare chest. She pauses, her face only inches from his, savoring in the feel of skin to skin before she kisses him again, and he moans softly against her mouth.
She’s vaguely aware of the rain still beating on the window, the ticking of the clock on the mantel loud in the otherwise silent room, save for their movements and Tessa’s fevered gasps as Scott lifts her gently and maneuvers her onto her back on the couch, her legs still around his waist and his body weight pressing her into the cushions.
He moves down her body to take a nipple in his mouth, flicking his tongue over it the way he knows she likes, and she rewards him by arching into him with a moan. Scott’s hands are already tugging at the waistband of her sweatpants, and she’s matching his speed, her fingers already busy trying to unbutton his jeans.
Tessa finishes tugging off her sweatpants while Scott stands to deposit his pants on the floor and then he’s on top of her again, one hand tangled in her hair while the other slides down her stomach to rub the hood of her clit with a delicious friction.
He’s always known how to get her off, and tonight is no exception–the hand in her hair tugs gently to tilt her face up while his mouth continues to lavish attention on her breasts, other hand keeping rhythm as he brings her to the edge. “Please,” she breathes, and just as she’s tumbling into an orgasm he enters her, hot and hard, and Tessa loses all sense of self control.
Her back is arching and she’s making small keening noises as he thrusts into her, bringing her back to the precipice, and he’s still pulling her hair with that perfect amount of pressure and murmuring words of love and adoration into her ear, her hips bucking against his, and then Scott says “Oh god, Tess,” and she comes again, panting against him as he’s consumed by his own orgasm, wrapping both arms around her so they’re pressed together, and Tessa’s not sure where her pleasure ends and his begins.
They’re left panting on the couch, slowly emerging back into reality, Scott still wrapped around her, Tessa with one leg thrown around his waist and her other leg over the edge of the couch, one foot on the floor.
Still shaking from the effort and their shared orgasm, Scott carefully pulls out of her and they sit up, neither quite sure what to say. Tessa clears her throat. “So does this...does it mean you’d be willing to give me another chance?”
His eyes are so tender it’s almost painful “Tess...do you really think you could run out of chances with me?”
She doesn’t reply, only covers his arms with hers and threads her fingers through his.
It’s the morning of our wedding, and I’m terrified.
Don’t worry, I’ll still be walking down the aisle in a couple of hours, straight towards you and our future. It’s the same terror I’ve always had, only now it’s being kept in check because I know you’re standing with me to face it, together.
Even as I write this, I know–when I give it to you, you’ll be my husband. Of all the things you are and have been to me, this is the title that means the most, because it means I’m not moving through this world alone. I’ve got you by my side and nothing could give me more strength.
I love you, so much. I promise to keep chasing my dreams, I just want you there when I make them come true.
Your loving wife,
“Tessa?” Jordan pokes her head through the door. “Kelly’s here, come get your hair done. What are you doing?”
“Oh, nothing,” Tessa says, “I was just putting some thoughts on paper.” She folds up the little rectangle of paper and tucks it into her bra, then follows her sister through the door.
Kelly is already set up in the master bath, and Tessa sits in the dining room chair that’s been set in front of the mirror. “So...shave it all off?” she jokes, and Tessa laughs.
“Go for it,” she says. “Scott would marry me anyway.”
Kelly grins. “That’s how you know you’ve got a good one.”
Tessa smiles at herself in the mirror. “I’ve got the best one.”