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the arrangement

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It was 3 months before Grace found the courage to ask.

Or rather, 3 months before she found it unbearable to watch him go through the motions with her. Smiling at the appropriate times, courteous as ever, laughing at the appropriate moments and yet it all never quite reached his eyes. And yet, several times she had caught him, when he thought she was asleep, speaking to someone over the phone, and he seemed truly alive only then. Laughing like he used to. That quiet, little laugh of his, fond and private.

So now, they were at a familiar cafe, and she waited for his tea to arrive, warm in his hands. There was no need to make this harder than it had to be.

“Harold, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for some time.”

He waited for her to continue, a slight furrow between his eyebrows.

“Do you have someone else in your life?”

Harold recoiled as if he had been struck. Grace looked away. “I don’t hear from you for days - And when you’re here, you’re not really here - and I just. I just don’t know what to do.”

“Grace -”

“I don’t need to know her name. Or who she is, I just need to know if - I would understand, it’s been 5 years. Just-”

“Please, be honest with me Harold. I think you owe me that much.”

Grace could see the consternation warring on his face, but he didn’t answer the question. It answered itself.

Her heart sank, though she had mentally prepared herself for this possibility. Grace tried to work herself into anger, anger at this man who had left her for 6 years and suddenly reappeared in her life. This man that she was beginning to discover she barely knew. But he was sitting there with such a pained expression on his face she had to look away.

“I think I would like to be alone for a while,” Harold said, paid for both of their teas, and walked out of the cafe.