Life is, more or less, always a kind of game.
EVERYTHING IS EVERYTHING AWARD
He told Kathleen everything – about him, about her, about them. They were neighbors, living in the same town and on the same street.
“I spent my childhood with her. The only time we were not together was when I was asleep, and even about that I have some doubts.
Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night and the window was half opened. Perhaps, she came in, watched me asleep to make sure I would not leave her alone but would be there the next morning, and then she left. Anyway… I noticed these little sparks of mischief in her eyes. There was not a day she would not dare me to do something silly, such as crack an egg on my forehead or go to the neighbors’ and twerk on their porch. As we were growing up, the dares became more daring and less innocent. It became our addiction. We dared each other and never stopped. The small red card became a proof of it. When one of us pulled the card, it was a sign of the dare.”
“What happened if one of you did not dare?”
“It never happened, Kathleen.”
“What was the hardest dare you had to do?”
“Run away from my own wedding before I had a chance to say ‘I do’. I left my bride by the altar and after that never saw her again… thank, God.”
They were happy together; at least Kathleen felt that way, perhaps, because she had never had a boyfriend before Edward and had no high expectations of the relationship. The only sensation Kathleen wished to feel was happiness and he accomplished that by filling up her days with laughter. She felt genuinely content with only a thought of him, however, now she was afraid that this feeling was about to vanish and be replaced by an invisible terror rooted in the acknowledgment of Edward´s past.
“Does she know about us?” As soon as Kathleen dropped the question, she could feel the tension built. The silence engulfed the room and pushed the happiness of the day into a corner. Her eyes remained fixed on his face watching him intensely as if to remember the little wrinkles by his eyes when he smiled or the sharp contours of his jawline when he gritted his teeth from anger. Now his face was completely emotionless.
“Are you going to tell her about me, Edward?”
“Yes, once she comes back from her world trip.”
“What if she dares you to let me go? Are you going to do that?”
“I don’t know.”
Their eyes still locked on each other now expressed the true emotions encapsulating the room. Hurt and shock showed in Kathleen´s eyes while his gaze held a painfully honest uncertainty.
I thought we were happy. What if his love was not as strong as his infatuation with the game?
Although his eyes were closed, Edward´s facial expression of frustration betrayed his distress. He sighed deeply and ran a hand though his chestnut brown hair. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he leant forward, elbow on knee, his face buried in his palm. Even after Kathleen’s departure, the scent of her perfume still hung in the air. He could not help but feel a sudden sense of loss overcome him. Was she gone forever from his life? If she was, he knew it would be unjust of him to blame her. The words he had said under his breath only a few minutes ago continued to make him nauseous.
“Enough!” His half-loud voice carried through the room and impulsively he got up from the bed. He managed only a couple of steps towards the door when his intention to leave was interrupted by the acknowledgment of a photograph in a silver frame placed on a chest of drawers next to the bedroom door. Without a word, Edward picked up the frame. The photograph captured him next to a ginger haired girl with freckles and an impish smile. The image was a memory of the old days and the closeness of the couple was clearly indicated by the pair’s momentary unintentional touch of the shoulders that suggested a shared fondness of each other and by the ease written on the boy’s face. Now however, there was no trace of ease. Instead, Edward’s stomach clenched and the white knuckles of the hand, in which he was gripping the photograph, revealed his inner battle and anger.
Simultaneously, he could feel the anger morphing into sudden confidence and materializing into coherent thoughts that he longed to express aloud.
“If only you could disappear forever,” he muttered angrily while piercing the figure of the girl with his eyes. He dropped the frame on the floor as if to demonstrate the effortlessness of the gesture of letting someone go. However, as soon as the frame met with the wooden floor, the dull sound reminded him of all the reasons he could not let go. He was a coward affected by her presence in his life. She was the one who had played the main role in his childhood, she was the one who had taught him the meaning of the first kiss, the one who had continually appeared in his dreams until recently, and the one he had to let go because no matter how scared he was to admit it to himself, he knew: he was not in love, he was infatuated with her and with the dare she became a symbol of. She was the game, whilst he was a gambler. And he needed to stop before it was too late and the game ruined his life…again. With these thoughts he glanced at the frame on the floor one last time and left the bedroom.
Sitting on the leather sofa Kathleen hid her hands in her lap as if fearing that their trembling would expose her anxiety and gave him advantage. Following that thought she lowered her eyes from Edward´s face and turned her attention first to the clock on the opposite wall and subsequently to her hands once again. Approximately fifteen minutes had passed since he came, one hour since he phoned her that morning and she still had no idea why he wished to see her. One part of Kathleen desired to show Edward the door, while the better side of her was willing to give him the opportunity to express himself, especially in the light of his phone call. When he had called, she had nearly forgotten to control her emotions and had almost gasped for breath in her concern for him when hearing his voice. Then she remembered that it had been a week since their last confrontation and with no little difficulty, she had brushed her concern about him aside with an attempt to concentrate merely on his words on the phone. Kathleen could not help herself, no matter how hard she tried to reason with herself, she was worried about him. As a consequence of that worry, he was now sitting in front her, but she could not bear no longer.
“When you called me this morning I thought it was urgent,” she stated as a matter of fact, turning her eyes back to him.
“Yes, I wanted to talk to you.”
“Well, you still have not said anything,” Kathleen’s reply was cold, but she knew it was only the result of a great effort to suppress the empathy that silently urged her to be more considerate towards him. The colorless tone that had made her panic this morning continued in his voice and seemed to seep into his appearance. He looked like someone who had not slept for years.
She took a deep breath and urged, “Tell me, what is wrong? What do you want to tell me so badly but cannot bring yourself say?” As soon as she expressed her concern for him, she instantly regretted it as he jumped to his feet and crossed the space that separated them. He dropped to his knees and with a tormented look in his eyes, he asked a question containing four crucial words that Kathleen felt strongly should not be dropped under such circumstances: “Will you marry me
During the forty-five minutes it had taken Edward to get to Kathleen’s place, he had tried to go through all the possible scenarios of how his proposal would turn out, however, one where the living room would be filled with almost hysterical laughter had not been one of them.
“I am dead serious.” Edward’s words, for the first time that day, were marked with emotion.
“You cannot be.”
Once again Kathleen’s voice was set in a-matter-of-fact tone suggesting that if he were not say anything smart at this point he would put her even more on the defensive and as such, not help his situation. Despite that only slightly veiled threat, he was not quick enough to react when she continued:
“Tell me, why that ridiculous question after all you told me? Did you really think I would marry you? You and you alone made it clear that you were not sure of your feelings for me when you expressed your uncertainty regarding the potential dare. By doing that you escalated my own feelings of uncertainty and led me to conclude that I would probably follow in the steps of your first ex-fiancé. Thank you very much for the offer, but I can live without being left at the altar.”
She glared at him and got up from the sofa to break away from the close proximity of their bodies. “Now if you are done…,” the words got stuck in her throat and in order not to show the weakness that temporarily affected her sense, she turned away from him.
“Please, let me explain.”
As swiftly as she had, Edward got up from the floor and turned his attention to her. The fact that she remained silent and did not voice her request for him to leave again, gave him hope and the courage to continue.
“I asked you to marry me because I love you, not as an experiment, not because of the dare or because of a desire to bind you to me forever. I know that once you make up your mind to leave me not even this question will make you stay. I am asking you to marry me because I feel that what we have is threatened so I want to save it at all cost. I truly, madly, deeply love you.”
He did not know the exact effect the words had had on her, but he knew they had at least made some impact when she slowly started turning towards him again to look into his eyes.
“And what about her? Because of her you have already ruined one wedding. What if history repeats itself?”
“It won’t,” the coldness once again sneaked into voice, underlining the determination of his words and clarity of his thoughts, “You are the only one who knows about my ex-fiancé, except for the people who attended the wedding. I told you about her not because I wanted to drive you away, quite the opposite. I wanted to bring you closer to me. I wanted you to know everything about me, about my mistakes, my regrets and my weaknesses. I know what I did is unforgivable, almost as much as what I told you last time. In all sensibility, I know you have reasons to push me away but I wish you would see beyond that event from my past and also beyond those hasty words, because those moments are mere fragments of who I am and not the whole picture.”
“You still have not answered… what about her?”
“She was one of those fragments that made me who I am, but the emphasis here is on the past tense. I admit, when you confronted me bluntly, I panicked. She and I have been partners in crime for all the years of my youth, and the memory of those times became so strong that I forgot to realize that they are only a memory, an obsession driven by nostalgia, an obsession that went too far. I have not even noticed, until now, that I don’t know anything about her anymore. All I know is based on my fantasies. She has become merely a symbol of adventure for me as I was for her. There is nothing real between us only the dares that cannot keep going, but you, Kathleen Abertay, you are very real to me. You are not a game or a symbol, you are you and that is why I want to marry you.”
“Before you declare your vows to one another, I want to hear you confirm that it is indeed your intention to be married today,” the priest paused for a moment to look into Kathleen´s eyes, then continued in an even tone “Do you come here freely and without reservation to give yourself to this man in marriage? If so, answer ‘I do’.”
“I do,” the bride stated with determination and glanced at her soon-to-be husband.
“Do you come here freely and without reservation to give yourself to this woman in marriage? If so, answer ‘I do’.”
While listening to the priest’s words the bride once again looked at the groom with a reassuring look. Soon they would be married; soon starting a new life together and thus drawing a thick line between them and their past: from him and his past. If she had had doubts once, now she completely trusted him and with that she trusted her own judgment, too. Yet these happy thoughts were all of the sudden interrupted by a strange spark in his eyes and a glimpse of panic that subtly spread over his face. Moreover, his chocolate brown eyes were no longer keeping eye contact with his bride; instead, they observed something on the floor next to her. Kathleen turned her attention only to see a small rectangular red card lying on the floor close to the skirts of her wedding gown. It was as if her heart stopped in her chest. She was very well aware of what it meant, and of the person responsible for slipping it on the floor and the incident reminded her of all the reasons why Kathleen had not wished her at the wedding ceremony.
She had been afraid this would happen but she also knew that her prospective mother-in-law of would have had none of her objections as the young woman was a dear family friend. Thus, surrendering all her trust and judgment into the groom’s hands, she agreed. It seemed that, without even realizing it, Kathleen had agreed to ruining her own wedding ceremony when the hall’s silence was disrupted with: “I do, I dare to marry you.”
She was standing there, in a great hall where the wedding reception took place, as nothing had happened. She scanned the room for familiar faces to kill the boredom that shadowed her face, but no one caught her attention. Not until her eyes fixed on Kathleen, magnificently standing in one of the corners of the room, surrounded by her family members.
Edward could not help but smile slightly when he saw the annoyance and silent anger on her face, which had been provoked by his decision to get married. Perhaps the same thought crossed her mind too when she decided to look for him in the busy hall. Despite of the crowds, her eyes found his almost immediately and encouraged by the smile that still hung on his lips she made the needed steps to walk across the room toward him, ending up in the opposite corner of the room to his bride.
“I am sorry, I have not even had time to congratulate you on your lovely bride and that beautiful wedding ceremony,” noting the contrast between the words of pleasantry and her tone, he smiled again. Subsequently, he accepted her hand shake of politeness and used this moment to secretively slip something into her palm. She noticed and wanted to see what was in her palm. However he prolonged the gesture and said: “I dare you to break it up.” A crooked smile settled on his lips.