It was unusually cool for May in the Mediterranean, and Libby and Paul were enjoying a fragrant and gentle sea breeze as they strolled along the Spiaggia Grande hand-in-hand. It occurred to Libby that to the casual observer she and Paul were probably mistaken for lovers; beautiful Americans on a romantic interlude abroad. The thought gave her pause …
They had never been lovers – Paul may have believed otherwise, but she never had. Even when things were right and good between them, sex was never part of what worked as it should. It was never easy for her, and it never satisfied. She couldn’t recall ever feeling more alone than she did after sex with Paul.
Was she comparing Paul to John? Or had she always been deeply dissatisfied and in mourning for what might have been – what should have been? It was the latter, of course, but it took Libby several distracted minutes to reason and conclude …
“You’re thinking of John, Lib” Paul said quietly, his voice tinged with pain.
She looked at him sadly, ashamed of her thoughts. “I’m sorry, I am, but every moment feels false; it’s still very difficult for me.”
“Even now, with him back in your life, I – we, feel less than genuine to you?”
“The girl you fell in love with is an illusion, Paul, and so is the woman she became. I’m so, so sorry.”
He hugged her gently, “I know, I’m sorry, too. Sorry I wasn’t there for you when you could no longer suppress your desire, sorry I hurt you, sorry I can’t be the man you need me to be.”
She closed her eyes and the tears came, but his embrace was warm and comforting and she did not break away. For the first time since the nightmare began, she realized Paul’s remorse was heartfelt – his words spoken in honest feeling and emotion, and in full self-control. He was becoming her friend again, and she was allowing him to.
“Paul, my trip to Stockholm next month … John will be there.”
He softly let her go and looked into her eyes to absorb what he heard.
“It’s OK if you see him, you know that,” Paul said gently.
“I won’t keep secrets from you, I owe you the truth. We didn’t plan to attend the conference together, but I’ve known of the coincidence for several months. I feel ashame …”
Paul cut her off, “Lib, I was falling apart, and worse, when you discovered that you’d both be in Stockholm, or you would have told me – I know that. I’m not sick anymore, you can be honest with me without fear.”
He held her again …
And she was once again aware that he would never let her go.