Fiction Series: Love by the Numbers Part 2
Three years is a long time. When I left Ree, when I got myself caught up, I thought I’d get a few months, a year tops. But they gave me three years; three damn years. I felt like I lost her at that moment. I was sure she wouldn’t wait for me. I mean, she had the whole rest of her life… out there. And I knew there’d be no shortage of men waiting to love her. Ree is beautiful, talented, smart, and loving. She is everything I ever wanted in this life. I knew there was no way she wasn’t everything someone else wanted too. But even though I knew it was a long shot to keep her, I had to try. I’d never written letters before Ree. I never cared enough about anybody, I guess. But I needed to let her know that our love was the only thing on my mind. So three days in, I wrote her a letter. And when she wrote back, I wrote her again. That’s how it started.
Man, she loved those letters; even the first few that were basically one long ass apology. I didn’t know they’d make her so happy… so relieved. I didn’t know writing “I love you” over and over, in handwriting you could barely make out, would give her the joy that it did. But once I found out it did, I knew I had to keep writing. I had to give Ree whatever she needed. After all, she was waiting for me.
The day I got out was the scariest day of my life. Being back in the world wasn’t scary, and neither was reuniting with Ree. What was scary was the thought of losing her if I couldn’t take care of her, because there was no way I could go back to the old way. But I knew I had to try. So I took her home, and loved her until she begged me to stop. I kissed and nibbled and sucked and licked every piece and part of her. Damn, I missed her so much. Not touching her had left me with a hole in my heart, a space so empty it depressed me to think of it. I tried to make up for that. I stroked her relentlessly, lifted and turned her effortlessly, fucked her crazy. Every night. Not only because I missed her and needed her body. But also because I wanted her to know how much she meant to me, even though I wasn’t writing her letters anymore.
Sometimes she brought up the letters, reminded me of what I promised, and what I dreamed. But I just needed to get back on my feet. I never wanted Ree to lift a finger ever again. She held us both for three years. And all she had to show for it was a stack of letters. I wanted & needed, to give her more than that, a family, security, my love and loyalty and dick forever. Ree was mine; her heart was mine. It was my job to earn it again. She’d ask me all the time why I was so sad, so afraid. And the truth was, I was afraid of letting her down… again. The truth was, I was afraid that her family was right, that I wasn’t good enough. And I was afraid to one day look at Ree and see that in her eyes. So I stayed silent, as if not talking about it would dead it. It didn’t. But I pretended. And Ree let me… for a while. But a month passed, and then two.
The night we had the fight, I walked around for hours, just letting the air hit me. I was cold, tired, and ready to be in bed long stroking my woman, but I just could not go home. Ree just didn’t understand what it was like to spend three years with only a sliver of sunshine and no freedom. She didn’t know how hopeless I felt not being able to do anything for her. She didn’t know tiring it was keeping on this brave face, this positive face, and this calm face. And she didn’t know how close I was to going back to what I knew.
“We glad you home, dog,” my man Jay had said as we talked on the phone my first week home, “let me know when you wanna work and I got you.”
“Nah man. I told Ree I’d keep it close to home for a while.”
“Oh aight. I understand. If you change your mind man, let me know.” Jay disconnected the call and I sat there staring at a computer screen full of jobs that would never hire me, feeling as helpless and frustrated as I did the day they brought the cuffs and locked me up. Three years; three long years! And all I had to show for it was a stack of letters, with apologies and empty promises.
When I finally did go home, Ree was asleep. I stood over her, staring, knowing she’d cried herself into exhaustion. And my guilt grew. I knew we needed to talk, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t say anything. So I went to the living room, and I wrote it. I wrote about the first time I saw her, the first time we spoke, the first time we kissed. I told Ree how her voice makes me hard, how I want to grab her hips every time she switches them in my direction; how kissing her rights my world. I told her everything. I had to give Ree what she needed. After all, she’d waited for me.
I slept, and woke up early. I went back to the computer, started the job hunt, and stacked Ree’s letters beside me. No more lamenting like a man on the inside, no more begging Ree to stay. She was already here. I just had to show her why “here” was home. She came downstairs with my new letter in her hand. I looked up, smiled. She smiled back.
“What’s this?’ she said, holding up the envelope. I took my first letter to her, Letter Number One, and put it through the shredder. She gasped, and her eyes widened.
“It’s Letter Number One; the only Number One! And there’s more to come,” I promised. Ree walked over to me, leaned down, kissed me slow. She stood up.
“This is a beautiful letter. But those are beautiful too,” she said, pointing at the stacks beside me. I shook my head.
“I know I can’t give you three years of your life back, Ree. But I don’t want us to keep reliving it. I only want to talk about us being together. These letters are all about us being apart. So every week, I’m going to write you a new one, and shred the old one. I’m going to make it up to you,” I explained. Ree smiled, her eyes patient, soft.
“You don’t have anything to make up to me.”
“Yes, I do. And I will. I promise,” I said. I pushed the chair back and stood up. I pulled Ree to me, capturing her lips with mine. I’d gone a night without making love to her. I was going to make that up first.
The morning I got up to slide Letter Number Six under Ree’s pillow, she was already awake. I found her in the bathroom, throwing up and looking miserable. She looked at me, her eyes tired but happy. And I knew I finally kept Letter 156’s promise, and given her our baby. But I still wasn’t working. So although I wanted to be happy, I found myself feeling as miserable as the morning sickness was making her. Ree flushed the toilet, brushed her teeth and went right into my arms, wrapping herself around me.
“We’ll be okay. I promise we will. I know you’re not happy, but we’ll be okay,” she whispered. I lifted her face, leaned down and kissed her.
“Don’t you say that. I am happy about our baby, Ree. I just… I’m worried,” I explained. She nodded in understanding.
“I know. But we’ll be okay. We will.” Ree grabbed my hand and pulled me back to the bed. She got in, and pulled me in too. She took off her--my--t-shirt and straddled me.
“Ree, your letter--’
“I’ll read it later,” she whispered and fell onto me, kissing me. I didn’t look for a job that day. Ree insisted we stay in bed, “celebrating.” I couldn’t help but feel like it was a distraction. And maybe it was. But I wasn’t gonna turn her down. There was heaven between her thighs and I’d take that glimpse whenever I could get it.
My search remained fruitless. My frustration grew. The morning after I wrote Letter Number 10, I called Jay and told him I needed to “work.” I didn’t know how to tell Ree, or what would happen when she found out. But I knew I had to provide for her, and for our baby. I knew that after getting her pregnant and keeping that promise, that I had to find a way to keep the others as well. I still looked for jobs, but I wasn’t glued to the laptop the way I had been previously. And after she came home a couple of nights that week and I was “out with the fellas” and not waiting for her in front of that laptop, she knew. But I was still afraid to tell her. So I carried on. I left Letter 11 under her pillow and sat down to job search. She came into the living room, waving the letter, which was still unopened.
“Ree? What’s wrong?’ I said. She frowned and came over to me, putting her brand new Letter 11 through the shredder before I could even blink.
“You have to write it again. Letter 11 is a lie, and you have to write it again,” she insisted. Her eyes were wet and I knew she wanted to cry, but was trying to fight it. I stood up, tried to pull her into my arms. She backed away, put her hands up.
“Ree, please. I just--”
“You are not telling me everything; a lie by omission is still a lie to me, you know that. That does not replace the Letter 11 you wrote me before because in that first one, you told me the truth.”
“The truth is I had to do something to stop feeling like a fucking failure! I have to take care of you, and this is the only way I know how to do that. I’ve always been able to take care of you, and it’s killing me that I can’t. You want the truth? That’s it!” I yelled, frustrated. Ree sighed. She reached over and handed me a pen from the desk.
“Then that’s what I want you to write. That’s what I want you to tell me,” she said, handing me the pen. I looked at her, beautiful and angry, tears threatening to spill over, eyes filled with fear.
“Ree, I don’t want to lose you,” I whispered, saying the only thing that mattered to me at the moment. She sighed again, came into my arms.
“I don’t know if I can handle you being away again,” she whispered back. I held her tight, kissed her hair.
“Then I won’t go away again,” I said. I went back to the desk, grabbed a notepad, and started Letter 11 again. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep my promise, to stay home, to not get caught. But I knew that for now, I was here, and so was Ree. My job was to replace all of those letters from the three years. And I was going to try my damnedest to do it.