art by Seth Alan Bareiss
Oceans of You
by Pam L Wallace
You laughed when you scooped up something from the beach. You brushed off the sand, then offered it in cupped hands. A rock, perfectly heart-shaped--except for a chip on the left side that gave it a lopsided appearance, just like your smile. Here's my heart, you said. It'd been three weeks, four days, seven and a half hours since we met. A lifetime, a second, forever. I took your heart. You pulled me into your arms, fiercely tender. The waves crashed in an iridescent green sheet, rushing to coat our feet with icy froth. And I drowned in the deep ocean blue of your eyes.
You laughed when you pulled me out on the deck, pointing at the stars, your eyes alight with reflected moonlight as you told me about the mission. You were alive with excitement, gleeful at the prospect of traveling beyond our solar system, discovering new worlds, being the first. I was happy for you until I understood what it meant for us. I wanted you to stay. No, what I really wanted was for you to want to stay. I understood then that I'd never mean as much to you as the stars. Oh, I knew you loved me. But you'd loved space and science and exploration your entire life, and me only the last year. You sobered when you saw my sadness, talked about the time we still had, all the things we would do. And I drowned in a tidal wave of longing.
You laughed when I told you I was pregnant. For a moment, I glimpsed that look in your eyes, the one you usually reserved for the stars, and this time, it was when you were looking at me. I basked in that glow, in the feeling of complete and utter joy. Your arms around me, one hand resting on the curve of my belly. Contentment settled around me and stayed all through the pregnancy. Even though your training kept you away for long hours, it was enough that you came home with that look in your eyes, directed at me, at my growing bump--even when my belly button distended. The baby's nubbin, you called it. And you laughed. The baby came, and I saw the look in your eyes, directed into a smaller pair of deep ocean blue eyes. We named him Jason, after his grandfather. And I drowned in a warm sea of contentment.
You laughed when you told me all systems were Go and the mission was approved. Your excitement was tempered by what it would mean for me and Jason. When you found me crying in the bedroom, you held me so tenderly. You told me you'd stay. For me, for Jason. I knew it wasn't what you wanted, but I didn't care. I needed you beside me. For Jason. No, for me. When I said yes, stay, I watched your laughter fade, leaving your eyes a deep dark well. I saw you looking out the window at the stars, and for the first time, your look was filled with sorrow and regret. And I drowned in waves of guilt.
You laughed, subdued and quiet, at Jason's toddling. But your spark was gone. There was no joy hidden in your dark depths. You became more and more withdrawn, sneaking away to peer out the windows at the night sky, lost in dreams that didn't include me. And never had. I knew it. I really did. I didn't want to believe it. I wanted to believe that someday you'd love me more than the stars. I thought that by denying the stars to you, it would force you to see me instead. I finally realized it was only forcing you to accept second-best.