I am in love with brothers. My unwinnable situation is more f**ked up than original perception would lead you to believe. I still love them just as much, my attraction almost more understandable now that the reasons for their similarities are known. I swallow, and try to speak, try to say something that this woman will respect.
“What do you suggest I do?”
It wasn’t the reaction she expects, her visible reaction one of surprise. “Me? I’m not involved in your relationships. I just wanted you to know the reason... Stewart—”
“...is leaving me.” I finish the sentence for her, laying back onto the bed, looking up at the ceiling. It’s not a surprise. Circumstances dictated him to choose between a full-time relationship and a full-time commitment to work, and work won. It is his obsession, his passion. I was his release, his outlet. I know he loves me. I never doubted that fact. And I was okay being second, because I had Paul. Paul, who has never placed anything before me. Paul, who would put down his surfboard in a moment if I asked him. And I wonder, briefly, if Paul played a role in Stewart’s decision to walk away. If I lost purely to his drive, or if his family was also a factor. And I hope, for whatever reason, that Paul was part of the reason that Stewart backed off.
“Yes. It’s not that he doesn’t care for you—”
I turn to her, stopping her rushed words, her worried eyes. “I know. You don’t have to explain. Stewart’s work is who he is. Paul being brought into the situation makes the decision easy for him.”
She looks at me carefully. I can see the confusion in her eyes. “So...you’re fine with this.”
I swallow, folding over the hem of the blanket. “This situation...it’s always had an expiration date on it. In a way I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. The fact that they’re brothers...” my voice fails for a moment, the rasp too strong, and I reach for the glass of water, taking a sip before continuing. “Stewart’s relationship with Paul is more important. Have they spoken?”
She nods. “They haven’t reconciled, but I think it is possible. They’ve both held a lot of anger toward each other for the last ten years and I think this situation... it’s caused them to let that go. Not that Stewart really has time for family, but...” she smiles. “Paul is feeling very grateful to Stewart right now.”
“Yes.” She looks at me head-on, with the same direct stare that Stewart uses, one that seems to peer into my soul and strangle the truth from me. “Is that who you want? Paul?”
I sigh. “I’ve asked myself for two years which one of them I would choose—if put in that situation. I love Paul. I love our life together. We fit...in a way that is easy. Seamless. Stewart is the opposite of me. He gives me a different side to life. I will miss that part; I will miss his intensity, his fire. But just because I’ll miss it doesn’t mean it is meant to be my everyday. I don’t know if I could handle him every day. And I would never be happy with being second to his work. And I could never ask him to work less. You know him. His work... it is his breath. He has a fire for it, it is what makes him tick.” I fidget with my hands. “I don’t know if I would have ever willingly walked away from Stewart—but this is what’s best. I know that. I love Paul. It wasn’t really ever fair for any of us—what was going on.” I blink, realizing suddenly, that tears are welling, embarrassment seeping through me at the weakness. I wipe at my eyes, avoiding her gaze. “I just want him to be happy.” I whisper. “I hate the thought of him being alone.”
I feel her arms, they wrap around me, the strength of them comforting. And I relax in her embrace and let the tears, and the guilt, flow.
Stewart never came back to the hospital. Every time the door opened, or I heard a voice in the hall, I expected it to be him. But he never returned.
They release me three days later, when I had reached a point of bitchiness, trying to rip the IV from my arm and biting the heads off anyone but Paul or Dana.
Dana. I finally realized where I knew her from, her face turning bright red when I brought it up. It was then, over hospital Jello and shit coffee, that she told me. How she watched me. Suspected me of some master plan, one that would destroy her brothers. How she hated me from afar. She apologized, though none was needed, and we hugged. And she paid me the nicest compliment I have ever gotten.
“I see why they love you. It is hard, while in your presence—not to love you.”
I blushed, taking a sip of coffee to disguise the reaction, and thought about how vile I had been since waking up chained to this bed. How she was able to see any redeeming qualities was a shock.
Then, finally, they put me in a wheelchair and take me out, Paul’s Jeep parked at the curb. The wheelchair is unnecessary; I could have cartwheeled out of there. But some hospital policy requires it, and I am only too happy to oblige. Anything to speed my exit. Anything to get me out of the sterile environment and back into beach air and sun.
Paul lifts me from the chair despite my protests, taking advantage of the act and brushing his lips over mine, his eyes examining me, filled with emotion. “I love you, Maddy.”
I grin at him. “I love you, too.”
“I’m so happy you are coming home.”
I don’t know if he is referring to my near-death experience, or the fact that I am now fully his, without a second man hovering over our relationship. But either way, I am happy, too. More than happy, I am anxious, ready, for our new life together. And yet, there it is. Guilt. Leaning onto my shoulder, whispering in my ear. Every smile, every burst of happiness accompanied by a twinge of guilt. I am coming home to Paul; I am making a life with him. And Stewart will be alone. Twinge.
Paul sets me into the front seat and buckles the belt around me, his normal scent—one of ocean and sunscreen—gone. Replaced by hand sanitizer and ivory soap. I’m suddenly anxious for us to swim. To wash away all of the last four days and literally dive back into our old world.
“Paul,” I say softly, his head turning quickly at the words.
“Yes, baby? What is it, are you in pain?” his eyes are concerned, and I smile to appease his worry.
“No. When we get home... I want to go in the water. Just for a quick swim.”
He studies my face, leaning forward and giving me another kiss. “If that’s what you want, baby. I’ll do anything you want.”
Anything. It is true. The last two years have taught me that. Anything. It is a heavy word when used correctly. It is a word that can hold unknown possibilities.