Melanie shielded her eyes as the computer stirred to life. Just one last e-mail check before calling it a night.
Her fingers tapped the keys. She hadn’t felt like this since high school when Toby Layman waited on the other side of the telephone. Harold never brought on these wild butterflies.
Her fingers stumbled over her new password. The darkened screen reflected her face. No makeup and the middle of the night didn’t do her any favors. There was a day when she would turn a head or two. Oh well, accepting the aging process got easier. “It’s better than the alternative.” Still, sometimes the reflection left her sad.
The screen lit up. Two new emails sat hotly in her inbox.
As she moved the cursor to highlight his name, she caught a smile on the screen. That just made the wrinkles stand out more. But it felt good. It felt good to be wanted, to be interesting to someone.
His short message fiddled with her smile. “You are beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. I’ll be in town next week. I want to see you.”
Scrolling down she reread her last email to him. Tears went into it. She talked about her bucket list. It felt good to share that stuff with someone. Harold never seemed interested.
She read over the message one more time. Where should they meet? What would she wear?
A sound from upstairs snapped her back to reality. The computer fell asleep while she waited for whoever was moving around to settle down. Jessie hadn’t gone to bed yet. Teenagers.
Waking her digital friend up, she checked the other message. It was a reminder for a blog post. “Be Real”
The title made her smile. Those words brought back a forgotten moment sitting in worship with Harold before they were married. She had been so shy and quiet, and he wrote her a note on the bulletin. “Be Real—be loved just the way you are.” That little note was still tucked in her Bible.
“Honey, what are you doing down here?” Harold turned the overhead light on. His black socks made his legs look whiter than his t-shirt. “Are you okay?”
There he stood. Twenty five years, and she couldn’t remember when she had stopped telling him the truth when he asked her that question. She wanted him to care, to want to know. She’d tried a few times, but those talks are hard. It was easier to just keep the status quo.
Melanie turned back to the computer. It had fallen asleep again, back to its dreams and fantasies while reality went on without it. She shook her head and let the tears flow. “Be loved just the way you are.” There’s no “just the way you are” if the other person never knows how you really feel.
“I’m not happy.” Her voice sounded like someone else’s.
Silence filled the room behind her. Was Harold even still there? Maybe he’d snuck back upstairs. That’s what she expected. He didn’t want to talk about any of this stuff. He never did.
She hadn’t heard him approach, so when his hand touched her shoulder, it shook her from her dark thoughts. “Melanie?” He actually sounded concerned. “Let’s talk about it.”
“Nah, that’s all right,” she whispered back. “It’s nothing. Probably just my hormones again.”
He swiveled her chair around and waited til she looked at him. That face was so familiar. The scar above his eye, his pink lips. “I’ve noticed you’ve been down, not been talking much lately. I’m worried. What’s bothering you?”
His concern seemed genuine, but that made her angry. He really had no clue she wasn’t happy with their marriage. “Be real.” She swallowed her fear and blurted it out. “I don’t want to be with you anymore.”
Dropping to his knees in front of her, he looked like he’d just been shot.
“I’m not happy. I haven’t been for a while, but you haven’t noticed, and I don’t want this anymore.”
“What can I do?” he barely spoke.
He stirred, as if coming back to his senses. Melanie braced herself. He would shut down, just like he always did, and try to wait for this all to blow over, but this time it wouldn’t. As he stood, he cleared his throat. “I’m not going to give up without a fight, you know.”
“What? The house? You can have whatever you want.”
“No, Melanie. I’m going to fight for you. I love you. I’m not going to let you just walk away without doing whatever I can to fix this.”
His words knocked the breath out of her next retort. He really hadn’t known how unhappy she had been. His silence wasn’t disregard, just ignorance. Tears pooled in front of his fading blue eyes, and she remembered the last time she’d seen tears there…when he’d held her after her mom had passed.
Reaching around, she exited her email and turned the computer off. “Okay, Harold, let’s talk.”