I almost didn't hear the knock at the door. At first I wasn't sure that there had been one, but I went to open the door just to make sure. I mean it wasn't like I had anything better to do. As I approached the door I heard it at once, tentative but the cadence was familiar; I felt my heart beat faster and my hopes rise. I'd lost count of the times this had happened to me though and I ruthlessly suppressed the hopefulness and quelled the incipient joy; too often it had lead to disappointment and pain. I waited for the familiar emptiness to descend and when I felt my equilibrium return I opened the door.
And there she was.
I felt my jaw drop; I tried to speak but no words would come, I gave up and just drank her in. A thirst in my soul that I had all but forgotten was suddenly apparent by its disappearance. I felt the tears on my cheeks but all volition was denied me as the object of my denial stood before me as I'd often imagined, but long given up any hope of seeing.
She looked spectacular; her hair was dishevelled; she wore no make up and her eyes and nose were red from the biting north wind, but a more wonderful sight I had never seen. She was manna, ambrosia and a warm summer's day all rolled into one.
"Are you going to keep my out here all night?"
I stumbled over the words; my throat seemed tight and every utterance had to be forced past an obstruction.
"Oh. Yeah. Right. Um. Come in. Come in." I stepped back and automatically took her coat from her as she removed it. I held it as she shut the door behind us; the noise of the wind was muted once more. The silence was deafening - such a cliché - but it was; eventually I noticed the small sounds: the tick of a clock, the crackle of the fire; and all the time all I could think was, 'She's here, she's really here.'
"Hang up the coat and let's get out of this hallway and into the sitting room. If that's a fire I can hear I will love you forever, 'cause I'm freezing."
My tears, which had largely stopped, started anew at her use of the 'l'-word, but I did as she suggested and led her into my sitting room. When she saw the settee she dragged me over to it and sat us down pulling me into a kiss and hug. It was the final straw and I started to sob, years of pain and sadness flowed from me as I held her in my arms.
Eventually it had to end and I lifted my head to look at her again. I could see that she had been crying too.
"You're here? You're really here? How long?" I steeled myself for the answer; knowing that the respite from anguish was only temporary, but needing to know so I could prepare myself.
"As long as you'll have me, if you still do, that is."
"There's never been anyone else."
"I know that now; why didn't you tell me that you loved me."
"Because I did love you."
"That has to be the most ridiculous reason I have ever heard." She smiled as she said this and cuddled me again.
"You needed to get away; I could see that; you were like a caged wild bird; I could see that you were dying inside. If I'd told you that I loved you, you would have stayed and then that would have been the end of you and eventually the end of me."
"So you let me go and you 'died inside' instead."
"It wasn't so bad; I knew you were happy; I hoped that you would come back to me, one day."
I remembered the day that she had left to take up her new job as coordinator for some charity or other in Africa. The details were unimportant; this was something that she needed to do; something that she felt had purpose. I'd been amazed at the change in her; gone was the morose and barely functioning women that I'd despaired over and in her stead was the girl that I'd loved. We'd been roommates for years by then; occasionally we'd go out; sometimes when we were drunk we'd end up in bed. When I'd accepted her as a tenant I'd loved her almost from the first, but I didn't let her know; it didn't seem right.
Over the years our relationship had grown in comfort, but neither of us had made a commitment to the other and she'd seemed happy with that. It had seemed too late to say anything especially as her depression grew. One evening we'd got totally drunk and she told me that she was contemplating suicide. The next day she was seriously hung over and we affected not to know what she'd told me; that day I cleared out the medicine cabinet of old, half-used prescriptions and began to consider the problem of Amy.
The solution, when it came, was absurdly simple; like all brilliant ideas, it was obvious once it was spelt out; of course, everyone's hindsight is 20/20. We'd been watching the news and there'd been an item on a famine in Africa, made worse by the fact that a civil war was also in progress. She had commented that she'd have to find out what charities were involved and organise some fundraising in the office. I could see a glimmer of the old Amy in her eyes as she'd said that and in a flash the solution to the problem of Amy was obvious.
"No you won't."
Her eyes had flashed dangerously; she'd always been diligent in her charity work. "What do you mean 'I won't'? When have I ever failed to raise funds when I said I would?"
"I didn't mean that. I meant that you won't be raising funds any more; you need to give up your job and volunteer to work there." I'd waved my hand vaguely in the direction of the TV that was still showing pictures of starvation; sanitised no doubt for the delicate sensibilities of the viewing public.
"Why not? You have no dependents; you have no ties. There's nothing to keep you here, and you need to do this."
I'd seen the wheels turning and then she'd turned to me and hugged me fiercely. I could see that she had changed; years of depression had fallen away and like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, I'd seen the return of the girl that I'd fallen in love with. I'd known then that I wouldn't tell her I loved her and so had begun the weeks of storing up happy memories. And they were happy because she was happy and each day my decision to remain quiet about my love for her had been rewarded by her joyousness. The nights alone were the times that I gave myself up to future despair; however, lonely nights were fairly infrequent as I was the happy recipient of the physical expression of her delight in her new life.
And then, all too soon, she was going, off to a dangerous and fulfilling job with a joy bordering on ecstasy on her part.
"Calm down Amy; if they see you like this at the airport they'll suspect that you're on drugs or something and refuse to let you fly!"
"I need something." She looked at her watch. "I know." We had an hour before the taxi was due. So she had grabbed my hand and dragged me off to bed. By the time we'd finished I could barely stand and her excess energy was reduced to the point where she wouldn't automatically be carted off to a prison cell to 'dry out'. Our goodbyes were cut short by the peremptory sound of a horn.
"Taxi's here." I'd said unnecessarily. She'd shouldered her rucksack and left the house without a backward glance.