“There is never a time or place for true love.
It happens accidentally, in a heartbeat, in a single flashing, throbbing moment.”
― Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever
Sharon felt unsettled, and she had no idea why. Andy had returned to his own home four days earlier after his doctor had pronounced him sufficiently recovered from his surgery to be left unsupervised, and he had just wrapped up his first day back at work. He was still on limited duty and confined to his desk, but he was back, and her Murder Room finally felt right again. They had even managed to have a little welcome back celebration before a major break in their case had sent everyone scrambling to wrap it up. It had been a good day, and yet something wasn’t right. If only she could figure out what it was.
When she opened the door to her condo, the silence hit her like a brick wall. She hadn’t really been home in the last few days, except once to shower and change and catch a quick nap before she headed back to work. She had been too tired then to notice, but now it was impossible to miss the glaring emptiness of her home. Rusty’s absence was no surprise. He had mentioned that he would be staying with a friend, eager to use his freedom from Flynnsitting, as he had called it. It was another absence that hit her with an unexpected intensity.
Sharon had gotten used to being alone after Ricky had left for college. Jack hadn’t lived with her for over a decade, except for a few days here and there over the years when he had needed a place to crash while he breezed through town. She had learned to enjoy her solitude, the freedom that came with it, and a part of her had mourned it when Rusty had entered her life. Now that Rusty was older and no longer in need of constant supervision, she had regained some of that freedom and, with it, a good number of quiet evenings. As much as she loved having Rusty around, she knew it wouldn’t last forever. He would leave eventually.
In the last few weeks, however, it hadn’t just been her son waiting for her when she came home. There had been someone whose greeting hadn’t been mumbled distractedly as his nose was stuck in a laptop or phone. Someone whose face lit up with a bright smile when he saw her, who asked about her day and had the patience to listen to her answer. Someone who held her hand and brushed away her tension with gentle fingers and a tender kiss.
Sharon slowly made her way into her condo, dropping her keys and purse on the hallway table as she passed, the door closing behind her with a quiet thud. She wandered towards the kitchen, pausing at the corner to stare into the empty living room. She took a deep breath and swallowed past the lump that had lodged itself in her throat. Shaking her head at her suddenly maudlin mood, she was just about to resume her path towards the fridge and a well-deserved glass of wine when someone knocked softly at the door, making her jump and roll her eyes at herself.
As she didn’t expect anyone, Sharon suspected that she would find her neighbor on the other side of the door, dropping by to return the electric mixer she had borrowed a few days ago. When it was Andy who greeted her instead, with a broad grin and a bag of takeout, she took a shuddering breath and briefly closed her eyes against the sudden sting of tears. As she opened her eyes again, his smile had melted away, replaced by a concerned frown, and he hesitated when she stepped aside to allow him in.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve called before coming over. I just thought that maybe you didn’t feel like cooking tonight and...” He shrugged, giving her a lopsided smile. “I missed you these last few days.”
Andy’s eyes flicked back and forth between Sharon and the plastic bag in his hand, his shoulders slumping as he took in her wide-eyed expression and the fact that she hadn’t said a word yet.
“You know what, why don’t you take this, and I’ll get out of your hair. I really didn’t mean to mess up your plans for the night.”
He put the bag down on the hallway table when she didn’t take it from him and was about to turn around when Sharon grabbed hold of his arm to make him stop. She closed the distance between them, wrapped her arms around him, and buried her face in the soft folds of his shirt, his familiar scent instantly calming her frazzled nerves. Her reaction to his presence, however, did little to quiet her mind.
They stayed like that for a long moment, both reveling in their closeness and the fact that they were finally free to hug without concern for Andy’s health.
“I missed you, too,” Sharon mumbled into his chest after a while, before she stepped back, tugging on his tie to keep her hands busy a little longer. “And thank you for bringing dinner. You were right. I didn’t feel like cooking, and I’d love your company.”
Taking his hand in hers, she grabbed the takeout with the other and led him into the kitchen. She watched as Andy collected plates, glasses, and cutlery, as he rummaged through her fridge to find the open bottle of Chardonnay that they both knew to be there and the cranberry juice she kept just for him. That sense of unease returned with a vengeance as she noticed how at home he seemed in her kitchen, how much he looked like he belonged there. And why wouldn’t he? He had essentially lived in her condo for the last several weeks. What caused the cold tendrils of fear to wrap around her heart was the realization that she liked it. She liked having him here. She like that he felt at home. It made her happy that he thought he could show up at her door with takeout after nine, that he even considered that she might not feel like cooking after a long day at work. She liked that he knew when she was in the mood for wine and when she preferred tea.
She liked him.
If she was honest with herself, her feelings for Andy had moved beyond like a while ago without her noticing. They had only been dating for four months, and they had moved so slowly. More slowly in fact than she had originally intended, but his health issues had forced them to postpone certain steps. Instead, their recent cohabitation had led to a different kind of intimacy, one that made it difficult for her to imagine her life without him.
Sharon hadn’t realized how long she had been standing at the counter, motionless, a takeout container suspended in mid-air, until Andy gently took it out of her hands and put it aside. He clasped her hands in his and stepped around the counter, gazing down at her with another concerned frown.
“Hey, what’s wrong, babe?”
Sharon slowly raised her eyes to meet his, mesmerized by the warmth and tenderness she found there. She wanted to brush off his concern, to tell him that she was just tired, that she was still thinking about the case. Anything but what was actually on her mind, because it was too soon. She needed to think about it some more, to understand what it would mean, to make peace with the idea that someone would have the power to break her heart again.
“I think I’m in love with you and I’m terrified.”
Silence stretched between them for a long moment as both tried to process what she had just said. Sharon was probably even more shocked by her own words than Andy, and she wished that she could take them back. But then she remembered the bone-crushing fear she had felt when he had told her about the blood clot and how that fear had lingered every day after that, until his doctor gave him a clean bill of health. The fear was still present, muted, but persistent. She could have lost him, and it wouldn’t have mattered that she hadn’t said the words at the time. It would have broken her heart, and no denial would have changed that. There was no point in trying to walk back what she had said. It was the truth, and now he knew.
It felt like forever before Andy shook himself out of his surprise, but when he did, it was like the sun rising on his face. His smile made the corners of his eyes crinkle, and she was helpless to keep her own lips from responding in kind. Warmth spread through her as he cupped her face in his hands and regarded her with such affection and tenderness that it stole her breath. He drew her close, brushing his lips against hers in a soft, undemanding kiss that lingered for endless, heavenly moments.
“I love you,” he rasped against the corner of her mouth, as they paused for breath.
Sharon hummed happily, sneaking her hands behind his head, and drawing him into another kiss. Her fear was still there. It stemmed from decades of getting her heart broken, and it would take more than three words and a kiss to repair that damage. But for the first time in a very long time, she felt truly known and understood, and despite all her baggage, Andy loved her. If all she had to do to be loved by this remarkable man was face her demons and dare to jump, she would do it, knowing that he would catch her.