His hand passes over his eyes, catching some of the moisture there.
“Alex,” I whisper. I don’t know how to comfort him. I can’t take any of his past pain away or promise it won’t happen again. All I can do is tell him the truth, as I’ve seen it. As I know it: “You already went through that. You lost someone you loved, and you kept getting out of bed. You were there for the people in your life, and you love them, and they love you back. You’ve got all of that in your life still. None of it went away. It didn’t end just because you lost one person.”
“I know,” he says. “I’m just . . .” His voice draws taut, and his huge shoulders shrug. “Scared.”
I reach out for his hands instinctively, and he lets me draw him closer, folding his fingers up between my palms. “Then we’ve found something else to agree on besides hating it when people call boats ‘she,’” I whisper. “It’s fucking terrifying to be in love with each other.”
He sniffs through a laugh, cups my jaw in his hands, and presses his forehead against mine, his eyes closing as his breath syncs with mine, our chests rising and falling like we’re two waves in the same body of water. “I never want to live without this,” he whispers, and I knot my fists into his shirt as if to keep him from slipping through my fingers.
The corners of his mouth twist as he breathes out, “Tiny fighter.”
His eyes slit open, and the flutter in my chest is so strong it almost hurts. I love him so much. I love him more than I did yesterday, and I already know tomorrow I’ll love him even more, because every piece of him he gives me is another to fall in love with.
He locks his arms tight around my back, his damp eyes so clear and open I feel like I could dive into him, swim through his thoughts, float in the brain I love more than any other on the planet.
His hands move into my hair, smoothing it against my neck, his eyes moving back and forth over my face with such beautifully calm Alexian purpose. “You are, you know.”
“A fighter?” I say.
“My home,” he says, and kisses me.
We are, I think. We’re home.
WE TAKE A bus tour of the city. We wear our matching I Heart New York sweatshirts and BeDazzled Big Apple hats. We carry a pair of binoculars and use them to lock onto anyone who bears even a passing resemblance to a celebrity.
So far we’ve spotted Dame Judy Dench, Denzel Washington, and young Jimmy Stewart. Our tour includes ferry passage to the Statue of Liberty, and when we get there, we ask a middle-aged woman to take our picture in front of the base, sun in our eyes and wind in our faces.
She sweetly asks, “Where y’all from?”
“Here,” Alex says at the same time I say, “Ohio.”
Halfway through the tour, we skip out and go to Cafe Lalo instead, determined to sit just where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks did in You’ve Got Mail. It’s cold out, and the city looks its best for us, springy pink and white blossoms skittering across the streets as we sip our cappuccinos. He’s been here full-time for five months now, since the fall semester ended and he found a long-term substitute position here for the spring one.
I didn’t know regular life could feel like this, like a vacation you don’t have to go home from.
Of course, it’s not always like this. Most weekends, Alex is tied up with working on his own writing or grading papers and planning lessons, and on weekdays, I only see him long enough for a groggy morning kiss (I sometimes fall back to sleep so fast I don’t even remember it happening), and there’s laundry and dirty dishes (which Alex insists we wash immediately after dinner) and taxes and dentist appointments and lost MetroCards.
But there are also discoveries, new parts of the man I love introduced to me daily.
For example, it turns out Alex can’t fall asleep if we’re spooning. He has to be wholly on his side of the bed, me on mine. Until the middle of the night, at which point I wake up overheated with his limbs flung over me and have to shove him off so I can cool down.
It’s incredibly annoying, but the second I’m comfortable again, I find myself smiling in the dark, feeling so unbelievably lucky to sleep every night beside my favorite person in the world.
Even being uncomfortably warm is better with him.
Sometimes we put on music in the kitchen while we’re (he’s) cooking, and we dance. Not a sweet, swaying embrace like we’re in some romantic movie, but ridiculous writhing, twirling until we’re dizzy, laughing until we’re snorting or crying. Sometimes we catch each other on camera and text the video to David and Tham, or Parker and Prince.
My brothers send back their own kitchen dancing videos.
David replies with some variation of Love you freaks or Apparently there’s someone for everyone.
We’re happy, and even when we’re not, it’s so much better than it was without him.
The last stop of our night playing tourist is Times Square. We saved the worst for last, but it’s a rite of passage and Alex insists he wants to go.
“If you can still love me there,” he says, “I’ll know this is real.”
“Alex,” I say, “if I can’t love you at Times Square, then I don’t deserve you in a Used Bookstore.”
He slips his hand through mine as we’re coming out of the subway station. I think it has less to do with affection (public displays of which he’s still not wild about) and more to do with a genuine fear of getting separated in the ridiculous crowd we’re moving toward.
We last in the square, surrounded by flashing lights and street performers painted silver and jostling tourists, for all of three minutes. Just long enough to get some unflattering selfies of us looking overwhelmed. Then we do an about-face and march right back to the train platform.
Back at the apartment—our apartment—Alex kicks off his shoes, then arranges them perfectly on the mat (we have a mat; we are adults) next to mine.