The weather was still looking iffy and we decided to take one of the shorter trails that was interspersed with views of the ocean and rocky, tree-lined sections where the water filtered through. The path was paved and well-maintained that make the hike easier. Gene walked just ahead of me and he was decidedly quieter than he normally was. We were surrounded by gorgeous green views, chirping birds, scrambling porcupines, and the occasional dozy deer ambling in the forest beyond the trail, and I felt like they were all tainted with my stupidity. I’d wanted to take loads of pictures of him amid the flora and fauna, but if I tried to take any now, even if he let me, they’d be stained mementos.
The overcast sky was drizzling us with a fine mist, making our hair frizzy. Gene stopped to lean on a metal rail and view the rolling rancor of the ocean. I sidled up to him and tucked my arm around the bend of his elbow, watching his face. He wouldn’t look at me.
“Are you mad at me, Gene?” I asked him, checking for hints in his expression.
He turned to me and I could see that the twinkle in his eye from earlier in the morning was replaced with dark pools of broodiness. But his face was soft, and he shook his head, saying “no” so quietly I barely heard it. I kissed the corner of his mouth, squeezing his arm, and I felt him press his lips against me, but he didn’t try to kiss me more.
“I just don’t know why you never tell me anything. Just like when I told you I like what I see but you didn’t say anything back. And then I tell you how I feel, and you won’t even be straight with me,” he explained, his fingers fidgeting along the rail before he continued. “I never know where I stand with you. Being tired wasn’t the only reason I hesitated last night. I hesitated because I was afraid of this exact scenario, but then today I thought, no, I’m just gonna say it. I thought maybe it would make you see I’m not just dicking around here, and you would finally open up to me,” his eyes were getting a little red rimmed as he spoke and he paused. “But I guess I was wrong about that.”
My heart dropped into my stomach. I’m such an ass, I thought to myself. But it wasn’t going to do any good to keep telling him that I was completely infantile—I knew he didn’t want to hear any more excuses from me. He pushed off the rail and tucked his hands into his front pockets. I moved close to him and put my arms around his waist, but he left his hands where they were and didn’t touch me back.
“But I did say that I have feelings for you,” I complained quietly.
“I mean, you implied that you feel something, but you didn’t actually say it,” he said, sighing. He wasn’t angry, but I could see the hurt in his eyes. “Kittie, I was afraid to tell you what I feel, too, but I did it anyway. Why don’t you feel comfortable enough with me to tell me what your feelings are?”
“Um, I don’t know.” I did know even though I said I didn’t. I knew it was because of what had happened to me before. I just didn’t know why I couldn’t be different when he was so completely different from the last man I let in my life.
“Have I ever done or said anything to make you feel like you can’t trust me?” He asked.
I shook my head. He’d never been anything other than perfect to me so far. I wished that I weren’t so incapable of being perfect for him, too.
“I never know if you really wanna be with me or not. Sometimes I feel like you’re just waiting to see which way the wind blows. And I’m afraid if the winds aren’t in your favor, you’ll…sail away from me,” Gene whispered, each word quieter than the one before.
My mouth was slightly agape as I looked at him with wanting to protest, but I realized there was some truth in what he said. I did always have a little thought at the back of my mind that if things with him got too hairy for me, I could abandon ship and then I wouldn’t have to deal with challenges or make comprises. Even as I held on to him, I was conflicted by the urge to run away from this confessional confrontation and the desire to tell him everything I felt for him. I could see he wasn’t just sharing how he felt about me, but that he was also asking me to make a commitment to him. My stomach was in knots and all I could do was stand there in silence.
My face must have been distraught because Gene sighed and pressed his lips together, glancing away and then back at me. He said, “I didn’t really mean to upset you. I’m just kind of frustrated.” He took his hands out of his pockets and put them on my back, leaning his forehead on mine. I was afraid he was only saying that because he could read me like an open book and that he was afraid he had pushed me too far.
“No, you’re right, I’m not being fair to you,” I said, finally finding some words to give him. “I’m sorry if I’m screwing this up.”
“No, I’m the one screwing shit up by not leaving things alone,” Gene’s voice was full of regret but tinged with a need that I knew wasn’t going to disappear.
“You’re not,” I whispered. “I do want to tell you things, and how I feel, but I never do because I’m a complete idiot.”
I put my head into the curve of his neck and shoulder, and he dropped his head down next to mine. “You can tell me anything,” he whispered back to me. “I want to hear whatever it is you’re thinking. Like what’s on your mind right now. What are you thinking about right now?”
Sucking in a breath to summon up my courage, I said, “I’m thinking that if I don’t say the things you need to hear right now, I might not get a chance to say them later.”
Gene tsked at me. “You don’t have to say something you don’t feel just because you think I want to hear it.”
“No, but that’s the thing, Gene. I do feel it. I just can’t say it because I’m a big baby,” I told him.
He thought about it for a second. “What do you think will happen if you say it? Are you going to fall apart?”
“I might.” My voice sounded whinier than I meant it to.
He squeezed me tight, pressing his face against my head. “Don’t worry about falling apart. I’ll be right here to catch you and keep you together.”
“What if I disappoint you and you don’t like me anymore?” Even those simple words burned my eyes. I was glad he couldn’t see my face.
He sighed into my hair. “You’re worrying about things neither of us can control,” he countered, stroking my back, trying to soothe my fears. “Just try to focus on right now.”
“I want to tell you those special words, and other things, too, all the time, but I can’t, and I wait too long and then it’s too late,” I blubbered, sniffling more because my nose was leaking faster than my eyes.
“I’d love to hear those things. I want to hear what you have to say, whatever it is. I want you to see that you can trust me,” his voice was low and soft as he spoke into my ear.
Swallowing down my fears, I leaned my forehead against the side of his head. I didn’t want to let this opportunity slip away or keep evading him. I tried to steady my breathing, feeling slightly disconnected from myself and light-headed. I put my face close to his ear, so he could hear my whispers, but it took a few more strained swallows before I could speak.
“I want to tell you…that I love you, Gene, and that I have for a while now,” I finally spilled out the words, though they were barely audible and my voice trembled with each one. My eyes began pouring out droplets bigger than the ones dripping down on us from the sky.
He moved a hand to my face and tucked his fingers beneath my chin, lifting my face to his. I made myself raise my eyes to meet his and found them gazing at me with a heavy warmth. I could only think that I must’ve had the appearance of a terrified and wet, green-eyed cat.
“I love you, Kittie,” he whispered to me, placing his lips over mine and holding them there for a moment before pulling away to inspect my face again. “Look at these big tears,” he said as he wiped them away with his thumb and kissed my forehead.