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Written for prompt 203 over at [livejournal.com profile] tamingthemuse.

Oh, Jess. Your introspective wrist-wringing is a veritable river of quick and dirty story fodder.


Terms (flash, 1064 words)


He stood at the door, quietly, thinking perhaps that I hadn't heard him yet. It might have been true if I'd actually been writing, but I wasn't. The page in front of me contained one line repeated, my mantra for breaking through writer's block:

Promises are easy. Function. Form. Yellow light on a coffee pot, warm. He will never know.

The random phrases and near rhymes were a collection of oddities, things that had come to me as I tried to work through the scene I should have been writing. It was a bad sign if it came to the mantra. It meant that switching tasks hadn't worked - I find that my academic, fiction and journal- writing voices differ enough that picking up a neglected project will shake me out of a block. Rarely I will set everything aside and read to clear my mind, but I couldn't do that today. I was distracted. He had distracted me.

He took in a breath that I was meant to hear, but I didn't want to face him. After a few moments he cleared his throat and I had no choice.

"What is it?"

"Can we talk? Not now, if you're busy, but - "

I crumpled the paper and threw my pen down with a clatter. "Talk."

For a moment he stood there uncertainly. He came in and sat down gingerly on my reading chair next to me. I avoided his gaze.

"Jess..."

"I know it is difficult for you to understand," I said, with considerable venom, "but I simply can't say it. It would be a lie. I can't lie to you, Hazen."

"I know, I - "

"Would you prefer that?"

"No..." He wasn't entirely certain. I knew why. I turned to face him.

"I have only two choices, Hazen. I can tell you the truth. Or I can lie, and resent you for asking it of me. I can't change the truth for you."

"I know that."

"So what is it? What do you want from me?"

"I just want you to understand that I can't change, either."

It was very difficult to see him so upset. Hazen has a very pleasant disposition, rarely taken to foul moods or hard words. It would have been so easy for me to start telling myself that I was the sole cause of unrest, that I was a corrupting force on him, but I am resolved not to let those old patterns of thought take over.

"I know you can't, darling," I said, perhaps to myself as much as to him.

"I wish I could."

"No." I reached for his hands, slid my fingers around his wrists and drew him out of his chair so that I could wrap my arms around his waist. "This is a ridiculous train of thought. Don't start this."

His hands moved into my hair. "It would make things a lot easier," he said.

"The idea of changing myself just to please you makes me slightly ill. I could hardly ask the same of you."

He chuckled and I stood up. There was still hurt in his eyes. Suddenly a thought came to me.

"I think I have a solution for us. But you have to trust me."

It was a moment before he responded, and I could sense that he was bracing himself. "What?"

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes, of course." The words came out of him in a rush. They might have been a surprise to him.

"All right. I need your blessing."

"For?"

I set my steady gaze on him and said, quietly but firmly, "To see other people." I knew it would hurt him, and seeing it that clearly was a blow. But I was determined not to give in.

In all the time we'd been together, I had bent to his need for monogamy. It had never been my plan or my wish to be monogamous; it has simply never made sense to me, on a fundamental level. When I was younger I had been happy to flit about and have very casual relationships, but that was not what this was about. I was happy to settle down with Hazen, to build routines around him, to make him a foundational part of my life. I loved him.

But love, in my understanding, is not a finite thing; I do not have only a certain amount of it that must be doled out to one person. I would love him as much if I had a lover for every day of the week. And I would have been glad to see him find and share with another person the depth of feelings that he had for me.

I knew that asking this of him could be asking more than he was willing to give. But I needed it, as completely has he needed me to be for him alone. I needed him to bend for me.

I could see a hundred questions in his eyes. Was I really serious? Was I holding him hostage with this question? Would I leave if he said no? In truth I had no idea. My palms were moist as I waited for his answer. Silently I begged him to remember what I'd asked first:

Do you trust me?

"You have my blessing."

He said it so quickly that I nearly asked him to repeat himself before the syllables resolved themselves in my mind. For the first time since we had been together I saw some kind of recognition, a sense of the weight that I had carried on my shoulders. It was not quite resignation; a more noble emotion perhaps, a shifting to accomodate. And it was hard - the hardest thing he had ever done. I watched this all in his face and knew how ridiculously this man must love me to go through so much to make me happy. And how ridiculously I must have loved him to shoulder it all myself for so long.

I was suddenly shaking. I couldn't speak. I crushed him to me for a long time.

"I will be exclusive with you," I said, after some minutes. He let out a single, nervous chuckle that I felt as much as heard.

"I thought you said you wouldn't say it."

"It isn't a lie, now."

"Are you sure?" He pulled back and looked at me. "I don't want you to resent me."

"It is a little easier," I said, "knowing that I am not the only one who is severely inconvenienced by the terms of this relationship."

"Misery loves company?"

I smiled and kissed him.

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