The concept of unconditional love wasn’t something that she felt she completely grasped, or at the very least, it took her longer than she suspected it should have. As long as she could remember, love and affection – and everything that came with them – had a price. Behaving, or smiling when she didn’t want to, or making herself look presentable enough – “Pull your stocking up!” – could buy her a measure of love and gentleness as a child. As she got older, she found it took considerably more effort for much less reward. Hold still. Don’t cry out. Slip out without waking your mother and don’t breathe a word to that boy who trails after you. The conditions were endless and stifling, but while she doubted, so much of her found it hard to believe that there was ever such a thing between people as love that didn’t come with stipulations.
With Pasha, things had started to change, and the doubts that had been there all along gained some measure of footing in her mind. If anything, the only conditions and stipulations were the ones that he placed on himself and that, for a time, she placed on herself as well. But there was no reservation in his willingness to love her, nothing he asked of her that she hadn’t offered herself. If she asked him to stay for hours and stroke her hair, and he was able, he did. If she wanted him to leave her alone for days at a time, he didn’t question her – even if some part of her wanted him to. So some form of unconditional love, she decided, did exist, and so for the better part of a year, the only thing keeping her trapped was a sense of uncertainty and fear that had been carefully instilled in her for the better part of a decade. She could, she thought, bear it for as long as she had to, provided that it kept their relationship safe from harm, but should anything threaten that – she didn’t have a plan, but she would form one.