Despite the fact that it is nearly ten a.m. on a Saturday, the loft is impossibly still when he wakes.
There is no soccer ball rolling across the painted concrete floor, no sound of pancakes being made by small, inexperienced hands, no hurry up grandma, we’re always late being called by his daughter. He wakes alone, his hands painfully empty of her, and if he hadn’t heard the soft sounds of a Springsteen song drifting between the walls, he’d have felt a loss.
But everyone has found someplace else to be, and as he slips on sweatpants and a t-shirt, by the music alone he knows she’s somewhere near, somewhere here.
She is music these days.
Most days, she’s gentle melodies and acoustic covers of the old greats and sometimes she is classic rock. The Christmas carols had started last November and lasted two months, and now – as spring eases into early summer – she listens to some of the pop country the kids tell her about. When he teases her about a city girl listening to songs about backwoods living, she grins up at him. They make music out of loving the right girl at the wrong time, she tells him and laughs.
He is always quiet when she laughs.
She is his music these days.
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The loft is big, it’s four bedrooms and it’s got an urban greenspace.
It’s got high ceilings and brick walls and huge windows with industrial panes that overlook the patio. It’s private and safe and it might be just outside of the city, but it’s close enough and far enough all at once. He’d made good money during the years in private security, no use not making his mom and Eli comfortable now. But there’s an extra room, too. There would be plenty of room.
He’d told her all of this when he’d asked her to move in almost a year ago.
She’d given him a small smile and whispered it’s only been four months. He’d held her head in his palms, fingers in her hair, pulled her half onto him as they had tangled in her bed.
Four months and twenty-four years, he’d said quietly.
When Noah and she had moved in not long after, she’d done all the little things.
These days, the fridge is usually full, the candles are lit most nights. They have a fancy wine rack, throw rugs. She’d bought new comforters for both the boys, decorated the other room in pale green florals for the weekends his mom stays here. She has a fondness for diffusing peach essential oils in the spring, lemon in the summer. The pumpkin starts in September, the cinnamon in November. Her closet is too full, she collects jackets like trading cards.
She tries, almost every day, to get him to drink green juice.
He pours himself a cup of coffee now, leans back against the kitchen counter. The sun casts shadows all around him in here, but it illuminates her.
She stands on the other side of the glass doors, in the middle of their patio.
It now holds a table for eight, canopied with the stringer lights she’d made him hang last fall. It has a small outdoor couch at one end, a heavy bench. It’s covered in pots and trees, the usually half-dead things she finds and drags home on the weekends. The corners hold lanterns, a worn trellis, she’s fitted in a small coffee table. Some days she sits out there, blanket over her legs, and she reads things that have nothing to do with work and no one disturbs her.
But today, today she’s busy out there.
She stands in front of her potting table, frowning at the plant she is pruning. Her hair falls into her eyes, the ponytail too loose and messy to do its job. Her fingers are pushed deep into the pot, and like a child her tongue peeks slightly out as she digs in, fully concentrating on the task at hand.
She has no idea how perfectly the light finds her. How it streams down around her shoulders, envelops the soft curve of her hips, the bare skin of her feet.
She has no idea how her light finds him. How it wraps around the darkest parts within him, the parts where he thinks he’s failed, and it tells him he hasn’t failed at all.
The ferocity with which he loves her is overwhelming sometimes. She is a woman who once went undercover in a prison, who faced down her own assault, who cheated her own death at the hands of a monster with a vehemence that roared out of her. She’s a fighter and an advocate, both legend and rogue. She is someone who pushes boundaries, maintains the line, burns the bridge somedays and builds it on others. He’s watched her take down men twice her size with her fists, watched her make them drop their weapons with her words. She outranks almost everyone who had come up with them, her career makes both headlines and shatters ceilings.
And yet, right now, she’s trying desperately to save a cucumber plant. She will try and save everything she touches.
He could lose himself to how he needs her, loves her, the haunt of the days living without her. Instead, he takes a deep breath, lets his lips lift, lets her soften the edges of him. Of all of them.
She is unfailingly her, even out there. Defiant, because she is the only woman he knows who would irreverently wear a soft, flowing cream colored sweater to play in the dirt. He knows what she is doing.
With every breath of her, day after day, she keeps going.
She’s built all of them a garden, and she keeps the life within it growing.
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