We started over again, in private again. It was a lot harder to get a schedule set having all of the responsibility for Natalie. My parents and Gwen's had been faithful in visiting for extended periods, but that seemed to add as much responsibility to me as it relieved. But this week my parents volunteered to board Natalie at their place for a few weeks, here in the middle of the summer. I took advantage of that schedule to see Annie every day that Erin was with Dennis. It was vary complicated, very modern, very twenty-first century, but we gave it a go.
On Saturday we watched another movie together. It was Annie's turn to select, and she chose "Memento." I had heard of the film and even knew a little bit about how the movie unfolded. Despite that, I was totally blown away by it, especially the ending, which was really the beginning. "Never saw that coming," I muttered as Guy Pearce hopped into his car with no memory of what he had just done.
Along with our eclectic musical tastes, our movie choices gave us a variety of entertainment options. We were not as congruent in all of our tastes. Meals were a bit of a challenge for us, as we had narrow palates that did not often overlap. "If we just went out to a restaurant, this would be much easier," I said. Annie agreed in principle, but was worried about being seen in public. I tried not to take it personally, but it was hard not to. We solved the problem by ordering food for delivery. It gave us a chance to have "dates," without the possibility of being "outed." It gnawed on me, but I was able to let it pass, at least for now.
On Tuesday, I went over to Annie's place with boxes of Chinese food for us. Chicken cashew for m and beef and broccoli for her. Of course it was beef for her. It was amazing she was so slim consuming that much red meat. I suppose her cholesterol and blood pressure were raised, but I never mentioned this. Well, I never mentioned it any more. I smiled at the memory of when I made an offhand remark about the hardening of her arteries from all of the beef she consumed. She was indignant. "Everyone in my family only eats real food, real meat, and we all live long. Don't worry about me, buddy. I'll probably outlive you!" Wow. I had just meant it mostly as a joke, but she certainly had not taken it that way. I don't think anyone in her immediate family was either a rancher or farmer, but she certainly had healthy respect for both professions.
We ate together again on Thursday. This time, she cooked hamburgers and boiled potatoes for us. I brought along a bag of salad. After dinner, I brought up the subject of our relationships. "Annie," I said slowly, "can I talk about the two of us?"
"Of course," she said. I sensed her hesitancy.
"I am so glad we started up this relationship again, and you willingness to do it. Your tolerance and understanding of my situation has been unbelievable."
She took this in with a sigh. "Brian, you needed to do what you needed to do."
I nodded. "But you didn't have to understand that, Annie. You didn't have to hang around for me."
Annie looked at me with piercing eyes. "But I did have to wait for you." She had never seemed as serious as she did this exact moment. It reminded me of that first time she expressed her feelings for me. She stood and walked to me and kissed me on the mouth before kneeling on the kitchen floor. This brought her head below mine. Looking up at me, I said nothing. This was her moment. "I had to wait for you, Brian," she repeated. "Because I love you."
I stared into her lovely face once again, her round eyes awash in vulnerability. "Annie," I started.
She put her hand over my mouth. "Please, don't say anything." I tried to mumble my response to her profession through her fingers, but she pressed in harder, smothering my comments. "Please don't say it," she pleaded, "please don't say anything.
I nodded and Annie tentatively removed her hand from my mouth. She was serious about me not responding to her. It made me wonder what had gone on in her past to bring her to this level of fragility. "Thank you, Annie," I said, kissing her forehead gently. "You honor me with your words." I pulled her up from the floor and she found the chair nearest me. Our knees touched.
"I told you I loved you because I wanted you to know that I love you. I didn't say it to coerce you to say it to me. I don't want you to say it out of some obligation, to put it mildly, or out of emotional blackmail, to put it harshly."
I was impressed. She had obviously thought this through. Annie was certainly an emotional woman, certainly a feeling woman, but she seemed to run her emotions through some sort of internal editor first. The end result was that you knew that what she said was what she felt, and she knew exactly what she felt. Nothing she ever said was said carelessly, nothing was ever just blurted out. It was a cliché, but Annie Bainbridge said what she meant and meant what she said. "It is refreshing," I said, "to be in a relationship with such a clear-thinking woman." I began to speak again, but considered my words carefully. I owed her the same specificity of word choice and clarity that she gave me. "I really respect you, Annie. I want you to know that."
She stood and pulled me to my feet. She buried her face in my chest and I ran m fingers through her flowing red hair. She looked at me, her eyes red. "Men have said a number of things to my in my life, Brian." A tear fell out of her left eye and trailed down her cheek. "But no one has ever said that to me."