Playing for Keeps – 1,044 words

“Why did you come?”

“You didn’t pick up the phone.  I couldn’t just sit there.”

Not even a whole minute earlier, Brian had answered the door to his apartment to Rachel, who had thrown her arms around him without a word.  He just held her in the dark, tiny room that he called a living room— left in a stunned, happy silence, pressing kisses against her head.  There wasn’t a person he would have been more happy to see than her, but it was still a surprise.  

“I’m okay,” he said.  “Better now, really.  But you didn’t have to come.”  Brian had a pretty good idea of what had caused her to come.

She scoffed at him.  “You said you were having an anxiety attack.  And you wouldn’t pick up the phone.”

“I’ve dealt with them by myself before you were there to help me,” he pushed, “and you’ve never come when I’ve had one, before, either.”

Rachel leaned back, and he got a full blast of the deep browns that he could sink into like a stone in a pond.  “You shouldn’t have to deal with them alone anymore.  And come on, five months together and I can’t come see you?”

“Five months together and you’ve never driven half an hour in the middle of the night to see me.”

“Should I not have?”

“That’s not—“ he closed his eyes with a sigh, leaning his forehead against hers.  “I’m sorry.  That’s not what I meant.  I’m not trying to grill you.  Nobody’s ever done anything like that for me before.  I’m just a little surprised, I guess.”

“It isn’t that big of a deal,” she murmured, and he could feel her eyes flutter close near his.

He pulled her closer.  “It is to me.  I’ve done it before.  Just being willing to do that for someone feels good.”

“It does,” she said.  Her hand pressed against his cheek, and Brian couldn’t stop himself from leaning into the soft warmth of it.  “I guess I just missed you.  And thinking about you here in this shitty, tiny place alone when you’re like that just got to me.”

“I was scared,” he said suddenly, the words tumbling free without him really thinking about them.  In that moment, he loved her too much to be scared of talking about it.

“When you had the anxiety attack?  Of what?”

His breath was shaky, and he tightened his grip on her like she was at risk of slipping between his fingers.  “Of losing you.”

“Brian…”

At this point he was scared to open his eyes.  “And I know that it’s not like I can ask for promises or a decision at five months.  I know you don’t know yet or anything.  But you’re just amazing, Rachel, and you make me happy and honestly I didn’t know how out of place I felt before you.  You just feel so right and I’m—“

Rachel cut him off with a kiss.  It was quick and chaste but in that moment he just found himself leaning into it.  He wanted, or, he needed more of her.  Kissing Rachel was safe and familiar.  Like coming home.  He pulled away reluctantly, opening his eyes.

“You’re not going to lose me,” she said, meeting his gaze with a steely confidence.  “And yeah, I know you’ve heard that before.  But goddammit, I can’t stand the thought of you being unhappy.  I want to be there for you.”

Brian looked down.  “I’m sorry, I know I should just trust you…”

She tilted his head up.  “No, I get it.  You’ve heard those words before.  But you’ve never felt them.  I’ll prove it to you for real, this time.  Nobody’s ever come to help you before, right?”

“Right,” he whispered, “but I don’t want you to have to go out of your way to make outstanding gestures just for me to feel comfortable.  It should be enough for me to know that you love me.”

“That’s bullshit.  Words are empty by themselves.  And you shouldn’t think that way.  I’m willing to do what I have to to make you believe me.  Because I want to.  Because I need you.  I’m playing for keeps, here.  I’m not letting you go.”

She was nearly out of breath, but instead of breathing she yanked him into another kiss.  They melted together, swaying in the dark.  He was smiling too hard to kiss her properly but neither of them really cared.  She was soft and warm in a world that had always felt so hard and cold to him.

“I love you so much,” she said as soon as they parted again.

It wasn’t their first time saying it to each other, but the words felt like they carried something new to them as he replied, “I love you so much more.”

“Nope.”

“Yep.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Yes, and if you think you’re going to win this, prepare to be wrong.”

“I always win,” she smiled, burying her face in his shoulder to breathe him in.  “But I guess I should let you get to bed.  It’s late and I don’t want to keep you up.”

Brian didn’t let go of her.  “You’re welcome to keep me up whenever you like.”

“Yeah,” she said, “but I have to drive home and you probably want me awake out there.”

“Do you have to go?”

Rachel looked up at him.  The want in his eyes didn’t miss her.  Anxiety attacks left him shaken for hours afterward.  Being able to be with the girl he loved would do wonders to help him there.  And she seemed to know that.

“Alright,” she relented, “but we have to go to sleep.  I have work in the morning.”

“Rachel,” he exclaimed with mock disgust.  “What terrible thoughts were you having about my bedroom?”

She rolled her eyes at him.  “Dork.  You’re worse than me.”

Brian grinned at her.  He didn’t rise to the debate, just gave her a soft kiss on her forehead.  “Thank you.”  With her there, he really doubted that he would have any trouble getting to sleep.  Nights spent holding her were the nights his anxiety really couldn’t reach him.

“It’s what I’m here for,” she said, reaching down to take his hand into hers.

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