LilacMermaid prompt: Elizabeth thought Henry said "I love you" for the first time, but she had only misheard what he actually said.
"Sometimes I feel like there are three of me," Elizabeth said into the phone.
"What do you mean?" Henry asked. She could hear the smile in his voice, and wished she could see it in person. He'd only been in Pittsburgh for three days, but it was too long.
"Well, when I'm in class, I'm this…uptight teacher's pet who answers all the professor's questions but doesn't talk to anyone else. I'm kind of a nerd," she said, looking at the book still open on the couch from her recent studying session for Non-Euclidean Geometry.
"I don't think of you that way."
"That's what I'm saying. When I'm with you or my friends, I'm so much more outgoing and carefree. And then when I talk to Will, I turn into a monster."
"You're not a monster."
"Well you don't think I'm a monster. But you haven't seen Big Sister Elizabeth. She's a jerk."
"Did something happen between you and Will?"
"Maybe." He said nothing, knowing she would talk if she wanted to. "I called him just to check in, and somehow it turned into an argument. It always happens. He just gets under my skin."
"I'm sorry," said Henry. "But you're not a monster just because you had a fight with Will. And there's nothing wrong with being a nerd."
"Well, you speak from experience," she teased.
"Damn right I do," he said, making her laugh.
She fidgeted with the hem of her UVA sweatshirt, marveling at how much better she felt after one conversation with him. Actually, it was Henry' sweatshirt, but he'd left it with her because he knew how much she liked it. It smelled like him, and she liked the way it was a size too big and enveloped her in its softness. Just like he did. "I miss you," she said.
"I miss you too. All three of you." she laughed again. "But I'll be back in…" he looked at the clock on the wall. "About 9 hours. I'm leaving right after lunch."
"I can't wait," she said softly. Her eyes fell back on her textbook. "I should probably get back to studying."
"Yeah, I'm supposed to help Mom in the kitchen."
"Okay. Bye, Henry. I'll see you in 9 hours."
"I'll see you then. All of you," he joked, before hanging up the phone and letting out a sigh. It was nice to hear her voice, but he wished he could see her face. He forced himself to stand up and walk into the dining room to see how he could help his mother.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, sat stock-still on her couch, his words echoing in her head. "I'll see you then. I love you." Her hand had tightened around the phone when she heard the words, and she still clutched it against her ear. Finally, she put it back on the cradle, fingers trembling.
She slumped against the back of the couch, allowing a wide, beaming smile to spread across her face. Henry loved her! But why would he tell her like that? Was he afraid of the moment? Afraid she wouldn't say it back?
Would she have said it back? She worried her lip with her teeth, replaying the words and finding nothing hesitant in his tone. Unconsciously, she allowed her fingers to fidget again with her sweatshirt. Henry's sweatshirt. The one she wore when she was missing him. Of course I love him, she thought. She wrapped her arms around herself, leaning into the familiar scent of him.
"I love you," she dared to whisper into the empty air. She couldn't wait to tell him in person.
Not an ounce of studying was done that afternoon. After staring at the same page for 10 minutes, she decided it could wait until the next day; her inner turmoil would be resolved by then. Instead she put herself to good use preparing for Henry's return. She tidied up her apartment, which she'd allowed to get a bit messy over the long weekend, finally washed the clothes in her hamper, and emptied the dishwasher.
She tried to decide what they would eat. Her instinct was to order takeout, but it didn't feel special enough. Should she cook? Then again, a burnt or undercooked meal wasn't the right way to set the mood. She resolved to pick up a meal from his favorite restaurant. It was on the pricier side, so they didn't get it every night.
She got home from the restaurant 15 minutes before Henry was supposed to arrive. She set the table, but left the food in its containers so it would stay warm. On a whim, she lit a candle, then blew it out and put it away. Staring at the little kitchen table, she wondered if she should have chosen the coffee table instead; more often than not, that was where they ate when they were in her apartment.
It was too late to change her mind though, because just then she heard the doorbell ring. She took a deep breath. "Stay calm," Elizabeth told herself, and made her way to the door, looking through the peephole just to be sure. The minute she saw his beautiful face, calm went out the window. She threw the door open and leapt into his arms.
"Woah, hey," he said, laughing at her enthusiasm but returning her embrace as soon as he got his bearings. "Miss me?" he asked, pulling back to look her in the face.
"So much," she said. She was ready to tell him, but not in the hallway. "Please, come in," she said, releasing him so he could follow her inside. "I took the liberty of ordering your favorite meal from your favorite restaurant. I was thinking maybe we could watch a movie afterward if you wanted? Or we could move the food in here and eat while we watch."
He raised his eyebrows. "What?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said, shaking his head. "You just seem a little frazzled?"
"No, I'm not frazzled," she assured, hoping he didn't think he'd freaked her out earlier. Well, he had freaked her out, but it was okay. "I'm good. I'm happy. I'm excited."
"Excited about what?"
Okay, she was doing this now. She stepped forward, taking one of her hands in his. "I'm excited about this," she said, "about you. About us."
Henry didn't say anything. He was a little confused, and didn't want to say the wrong thing.
Unfazed, she continued. "I mean," with her free hand, she rubbed her neck nervously. "About what-what you said to me today."
His eyes widened. "What I said today?"
She mistook his confusion for surprise. "On the phone. You didn't think we were gonna talk about it?"
"I don't know what we're talking about," he confessed.
"Then let me be very clear," she said, grinning. "I love you, Henry."
The smile slid off of her face, replaced by an expression of hurt. "I said I love you," she said, searching his face. What was wrong? Had he changed his mind?
He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand, slowly growing in certainty. "I love you too," he said, and it almost took her breath away.
Almost. She shook her head, letting go of his hand. "This doesn't feel right."
"No," he agreed. "What did I say to you on the phone?"
"You told me you loved me," she said, but she no longer sounded sure.
He shook his head slowly, apologetically. "I didn't. I'm sorry, you-you must have misheard me."
She took in a big breath, walking around him, facing the wall so she didn't have to keep looking at him. "I ruined this, didn't I?"
"No," he whispered, coming up behind her.
"I feel like an idiot."
"I'm the idiot," he said, curling his body into hers. Willingly, she leaned her head back on his chest. "I wasn't expecting it, Elizabeth. But, look at me," he took her by the shoulders and shifted her a bit so he could look her in the eye, "I do love you. With every fibre of my being. I didn't realize it until you said it first," he admitted.
"But I didn't realize it until you said it. Doesn't that make it somehow...not real?"
"No. It just means we needed a little push." Dipping his head down, he kissed her shoulder. "I love you," he said, moving his kisses to the base of her neck and up. "I love you. I love you. I love you." A kiss for each one.
She looked up at his beautiful brown eyes and could see the honesty. Turning to face him completely, she wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and pulled him down for a kiss. Their lips broke apart after a moment, but she wanted to stay as close as possible, not moving an inch. He took her cue, wrapping his arms around the small of her back and pulling her close.
She smiled into his chest, feeling warm and safe and happy like she hadn't the whole time he'd been gone. "I love you too," she said, silently thanking the universe for giving them just the push they'd needed.