It wasn’t an argument. Henry was very clear about that, and wanted me to be too. It was a discussion, he said.
He was right, it wasn’t an argument; he did most of the talking. Which made it more of a monologue and less of a discussion, but it kinda worked.
“I don’t want you to be afraid,” he said, and, “I want you to be comfortable with me,” and, “we need to make this work,” and, “you can’t keep running away all the time.”
I sat on the couch and listened and looked at my hands. I rubbed my thumb over a scratch on my knuckles until it bled and said nothing, until he reached out and took my hand away and held it still.
“You’re going to be ok, April,” he said.
I shook my head. “It’s not me I’m worried about.”
Then he sat still and kept his hands to himself while I talked.
“I’ll never be comfortable with you,” I said, and, “I don’t want you to be hurt again,” and, “I’m going to try to make this work,” and, “I need you to be patient with me,” and, “I need you to be ok with this.”
He nodded and did those eyes at me, the ones with the dark, wide-blown pupils under knotted brows that make me lose my train of thought, and blinked those long lashes and said he could do that.
And then I kept talking.
“Here’s the thing,” I said, rubbing my hands over and under and over each other until red streaked both sides and Henry bit his lip, nearly vibrating with the desire to reach out and stop me and trying so hard not to, to listen like I’d asked him to.
“I don’t like people. It’s not about you. But I’m going to work on it. And I’m going to let you stay here. And you’re going to do what you need to. That means you go fight when you have to, and I’ll try to let you. You run away when you need to, and you don’t ever come back to me all torn up like this again. And I’ll try not to push you away and to let you stop things before they get out of hand again.”
I said it all very reasonably, and it came out even and strong and only a bit shaky when I got to things. I refused to say monsters, not out loud. I refused to say nightmares.
And Henry furrowed his brows and watched me and didn’t say anything for the longest time. I looked at my hands and drew a wavy pattern through the blood, avoiding the sting of open cuts. Then I went and rinsed them under water in the sink and stood there, letting them drip, and refused to look up again.
“So,” he said, “it’s ok for me to sleep on the couch?”
I nearly choked, darting a glance up to seem him laughing at me. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, it’s ok.”
“Cool. Um,” he paused, stood halfway up, then sat down again, “there’s a bit more ground we need to cover.”
“Hang on, I need to change the wash.”
“Oh, I’ll help-“ he stood up.
“Sit down.” -he sat down- “Speak.”
I inspected the wash while he spoke, sorting it into clean and needs more bleach.
“I kind of need to keep fighting,” Henry said, as I chucked clean laundry into the dryer. “And I definitely need to stick close to you. Like, line-of-sight close.”
He paused meaningfully. I slammed the dryer door and reached for the bleach.
“So…” he said. I poured bleach and started the wash and closed the laundry closet door. Then I stood with my hands braced against it and thought about what he was trying to say.
“You need me to go with you,” I said, flatly. I didn’t turn around to see if it was the correct answer. The sinking feeling in the region of my stomach was positive it was.
“I know it’s not ideal,” Henry started, then stopped, then tried again, “it’s a lot of people time for you, I know. But I’m not leaving you alone to die. And I’d really rather not leave anyone else alone to die either. Which means I need you to stick by me at all times.”
He watched me as I made my way around the table, sat down on the couch again and glared up at him. Then I stood, so I could glare down at him. It worked better that way.
“And how exactly does that fit into my life? I have a job,” I said, ignoring the fact that, with a good number of my coworkers in pieces outside the office, I might, in point of fact, no longer have had a job. “I have places to be. Do you realize what you’re asking?”
Henry seemed less bothered by having to look up at me than I’d hoped for. To be fair, it wasn’t very far up, although he was seated and I was standing. I tried to loom. It just didn’t go very well… but it did made me feel a little better.
“I need you to be with me every moment of the day,” Henry said quietly. He was very still. “I need you to follow me around and give up your life to help me with mine. I need you to sacrifice the way you want to live to help me save the lives of others. I need you to give up what you want for me and for other people, and I know you don’t want to, but I’m asking anyways.”
With him looking up at me like that, the words felt uncomfortably like a proposal, and I had to shake off the creeping heavy feeling that caused. So not feminist, the whole situation. I knew he didn’t mean it like that, knew that none of it was really even about me. I just happened to be the one stuck with him now. It didn’t make it any easier to shake the feeling that my answer would be the sort of lifetime, heart-felt commitment that generally came with a ring attached. I took a deep breath and made my peace with it.
“OK,” I said.