From ‘Acceptable Losses’:
“So d’you like it?” Quentin had rolled up his shirtsleeves and was leaning on the table between them as he dug into his dinner of lamb chops, garlic smashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts.
“What? The apartment?”
“Yeah. And Brooklyn. You think you’ll like it here?” He looked up at Lena and paused, waiting for her response.
“Sure. Yeah. From what I’ve seen,” she said vaguely with a shrug.
“You don’t like it,” Quentin said.
“No, I do. But we need furniture …” Lena looked around the almost empty room. “Stuff. We need more stuff.”
“You’ll take care of all that, though,” Quentin said, his mouth full. “You can be like a housewife.”
Smiling, Lena shook her head. “No thank you. I need to find a job.”
“Yeah, but while you’re looking. You can shop for furniture, paint, decorate …”
“I want to do all that with you, though.”
“And we will, baby. On weekends. But during the week, you can get some of it done, right?”
“Yeah, I guess …”
Quentin put down his fork and gave her his full attention. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t have a job yet, Quentin. It wouldn’t feel right going off on my own and spending a bunch of money on furniture and decorations without you being around so we can agree on cost, and …”
Quentin shook his head as though exasperated. “I trust your judgment. And besides, I got a good amount from my share of the sale of the house, so it’s not like we’re hurting for cash.”
“It’s not like you’re hurting for cash. My savings are …”
“Wait. Let’s get something straight. Are we getting married, or not?”
“When you’re ready, when you ask.”
“I’m asking,” he said, his eyes penetrating hers.
“That’s not the most romantic proposal I’ve ever heard,” Lena teased.
“How many have you heard?”
She rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“I’m serious. Have you ever been eng … has anyone ever …?”
Five months. They had only been together for five months, and yet it seemed so much longer. They were living together, talking about furniture-buying, and having conversations like this one. Theirs was the very definition of a whirlwind relationship, and yet it didn’t feel fast. It felt like it had been a long time coming. But occasionally, they stumbled upon an issue like this one, which reminded them of all the things they had yet to learn about each other.
“When I was in college, I had a serious boyfriend sophomore through senior year. We talked about getting married after grad school.” Lena shrugged. “But then we were living in different cities and gradually, we just …” She shrugged again.
Wade. Lena hadn’t thought about him in ages. They were inseparable, the kind of couple that seemed so stable and well-suited that there was no question they would be together over the long-term. In the end, it had only taken them a year to unravel. Wade had grown distant and uncommunicative and then there was that one, last awkward dinner when he let her know exactly why.
I love you, he’d insisted. I always will love you, but …
You’re not in love with me, Lena had finished for him.
And he nodded, his face drawn, sad and a little ashamed. It was that last emotion—shame—that let Lena know that there was probably someone else. But she didn’t ask, and Wade didn’t tell.
That was it. Her four-year relationship ended with lines that could have been written as the screenplay of an unimaginative, low-budget chick flick. It had to have been the most civilized and anticlimactic breakup as ever occurred in the history of human relationships.
“So how did he propose?” Quentin asked.
“He didn’t. Not really. I guess it was just understood or something,” she admitted. Then she shook her head, shaking off the memories and refocusing the conversation. “But anyway, back to us …”
“I’ll give you my card. Buy the furniture. When we get married it won’t matter who paid for what.”
Lena forced herself not to ask whether that was true given his recent, messy divorce. But they tended to steer clear of that topic. Mara, his ex-wife was the one subject guaranteed to change his mood. As much as he liked to pretend he didn’t care, Quentin hated the bad blood that had developed during the dissolution of his marriage.
“But you can’t pay for everything, Q. I want to do my fair share.”
“So get the other stuff.”
“The ‘other stuff’?” she mimicked. “You have no idea what that entails do you?”
Quentin smiled that smile of his. The one that made her feel like she was thirteen again and in the throes of her first crush. His hazel eyes crinkled at the corners and Lena’s stomach did a little flip. For a few moments, they sat there, staring at each other across the table. There were still times—like this one—where Lena looked at him and almost couldn’t believe he was looking back at her with exactly the same hunger in his eyes that she felt for him.
“You ready for me?” he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
She smiled. It was what he asked when they were about to get frisky. He asked that a lot.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m ready.”