Just The Way You Are

“Hey sleepy head, wake up.”

Dani felt lips on her mouth and hands on her naked body. Her eyes slowly opened and she stared dreamily at Abe.

“Hey,” she whispered.

He smiled and kissed her softly.

“You sleep too much, you know that? It’s past 11am.”

“Dude, you kept me up for hours,” she murmured, trailing her finger down his bare chest.

He chuckled and stood up from the bed. As he walked around picking his clothes up, Dani marveled at his body. Abe was gorgeous.

“Can I ask you something, Abe?”

She hated to get deep now, but her heart was heavy. She needed to ask him. He pulled on his pants and stared questioningly at her.

“What is it, babe?”

“Why not me? Why has it never been me?” Dani whispered, almost wishing he hadn’t heard her.

Abe stood still and looked at her.

“What exactly are you asking, Dani?”

“There’s never been a me and you, not even close. Why? Why has it never been me? Please be honest.” she choked on the last word but she fought against the tears.

“I don’t know, Dani, I don’t know.”

“Abe, please, come on, you know. Please, tell me. We’ve known each other for so long. Why not me? We’ve gone from Achimota to Columbia to Wharton. Fourteen years! Why has it never, ever been me? Am I not pretty enough? Sexy enough? Tall enough?”

“Stop it, Dani, please, just stop that. You’re incredibly beautiful. Maybe you can’t see it, but you’re stunning.”

Dani sat upright in the bed and pulled the covers up. She wanted to get up but she was even more self conscious that normal.

“So if not looks, what is it, Abe? There has to be a reason why I’ve never been good enough. Tell me!”

“Fine,” he snapped, “It’s because you don’t need me. You never need me. You never allow me to be there for you. You’re like some freaking superwoman, Dani. Yeah, I make waffles for you, pick you up from the airport and we talk all the time, but you don’t let me in. You have all these walls up and you don’t let down your guard, not even with me, not for a minute. I’ve seen you cry twice in 14 years, twice! When your dad died and yesterday, that’s it. You’re never sad and you’re never depressed. How can I love someone who won’t let me in?!”

Dani was taken aback. What?

“You want me to be weak, Abe? Is that it?”

“God, Dani, please don’t twist this, please. I’m a man, damn it. And I just want to be a man. I want to feel like someone needs me, even if it’s for little things. I love your strength. I really do, but I just never felt like I was needed. Last night, last night I was so proud of you and I didn’t respect you less because you cried. There’s nothing wrong with being strong and still vulnerable.”

“I can cry. I can cry every year if that’s what you want, Abe. I can cry for you. Tell me what you want, Abe. I can cry and I can whine and I can nag. I will be whatever you want me to be. Just tell me,” Dani screamed.

Abe shook his head and picked up the rest of his clothes.

“Just be you, Dani. This was a mistake. I really can’t do this. I’m sorry,” he muttered.

Dani felt the tears streaming down her face. The floodgates were wide open now weren’t they? Three times in 14 years, he should be happy. He avoided looking at her as he finished dressing. She pulled her knees up, buried her face in the covers and wept. After a few minutes she felt his hand on her bare shoulder but she didn’t look up. She felt him kiss her hair, and still she didn’t look up.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and then he was gone.

Dani lay curled up on her bed crying. How foolish could she possibly be? How could she let this happen? She had such unwavering will power so how could she even let last night happen? In her heart, Dani knew why it happened. There was no lying to herself anymore. She was in love with Abe, and acknowledging that seemed even more tragic than pretending. She loved him so deeply and so completely that she didn’t even know how to show him. And now he was gone, and she wished he had stayed so she could tell him, that she did love him, but she didn’t know how to show it, and she needed him, needed him so bad that she was certain she could never, ever love anyone else like this again.

Abe sat in his car in her driveway for a while. His eyes were fixated on her door. He loved Dani deeply but she was just too hard to unravel. He wasn’t being a superficial SOB, but he couldn’t imagine spending the rest of his life with her. He really loved her more than anything, but she just didn’t know how to let go, not even a little. She was wound so tight that she couldn’t see what was right in front of her. He didn’t want her to be weak. He just wanted to know, to see, to feel that he meant something to her, that she needed him as much as he needed her. On the other hand, Rayne was incredible. There were no extra layers to peel away. She was smart, but she wasn’t consistently sarcastic like Dani was. Rayne understood him. How do you know? How do you know what’s right for you, he wondered. Abe turned the engine on and gripped the steering wheel. He knew the minute he drove away, that would be it, the friendship would be over. Dani would never let him in, not if he drove away. Upstairs, all that waited for him were tiring arguments. If he attempted to make it work with them he would need patience, tons of it. He and Dani worked perfectly as friends, but anything more he knew would be like pulling teeth. She was like someone else’s child that you were glad to hand away at the end of the day. The thought made him laugh but he knew it wasn’t true. He’d spent the best and worst moments of his life with Dani. She was a handful, but she was truly something else.

Abe’s cell started to beep and he stared at it. It was Rayne. He held the phone in his hands and stared at the front door and then back at the phone. He was about to make a monumental decision, he knew that. He couldn’t have both of them so what was it going to be? The unpredictable, difficult, emotional rollercoaster upstairs or the young, nubile woman calling him who was everything he’d pictured his wife to be? Abe slammed his hand against the steering wheel. The angst he felt was because he knew what the answer was and it frightened him to his very core. Abe opened his glove compartment and threw his phone into it. He stepped out of the car slowly and walked up to the front door. As he turned the key in the lock, a sense of calm and conviction came over him. He couldn’t wait to tell her he loved her – just the way she was. Just the way she was…