What does love mean to you?

Is it the love of where you are?

Who you're with?

Or is it the love of something intangible?

Love appears in many forms.
No matter who you are,
you've sung the song.

Eight stories explore the pain and
anguish and beauty of love.
Read sample pages of this book  
WHAT BECOMES A GIRL MOST

I'm standing behind the counter when he walks in. I’m last in the row, far left, no business transactions please, just old ladies and their savings books, a dollar-eighty-eight in interest, imagine that. He’s tall. Nothing about him stands out and yet there he is and I can’t stop watching him. It’s how solid he looks. He’s secure in himself. I’m all angles and elbows, a mere suggestion of a woman. He’s subtle and almost fades away. But he doesn’t fade and he isn’t subtle—he’s the only real thing in the room.

He meets my eyes. Careful, look away, no, I wasn’t looking, we just happened to… chance another look and he’s staring ahead now. Who is he? My lips are dry. I lick them, look away. The old woman is finished and she gathers up her savings account book, slips it into the catacomb that is her purse. She’s part of the room, furniture maybe or even one of those pens they keep tied to the counter. Real, but not important. Another one takes her place. It could even be the same woman, I can’t see a difference. All I can see is the radiance of this man.

He’s a Scorpio. His birthday is in November, the fourteenth. A Sunday this year. He likes purple. I’ll bake him a cake and decorate it with purple frosting. He has a big family. He’s close to his mother. Not clingy close, but he’s good to her. He calls her because he wants to talk to her. When he likes you, he smiles when he talks to you. That’s how you know. His smile always starts in his eyes. He won’t smile unless he feels it. He’s honest that way. He has no need to impress. He’s subtle and he’s solid. It’s the kind of subtle that comes from confidence. He has nothing to prove.

It’s his ease that draws you in. It’s the way he doesn’t pry when you’re upset. He waits until you’re ready. You’ll talk and he’ll listen, and then, if you need it, he’ll throw you a curveball of insight that will blow the hair up off the back of your neck. He internalizes. I chide him about that. Really it concerns me, but that’s how I deal with fear. When I joke I’m really telling him how vulnerable I am. He knows all of this without me telling him—that’s where his gift with me begins. He’s a better friend to me than I am to him. He knows it and he doesn’t care. His pleasure is to give. I can’t give. He doesn’t want it, but I want it. When I chide him about how he keeps things inside, what I really want to do is make him bring it all out. I don’t know his secrets. I know he has them. He’s dark but without the requisite sharp edge that comes with too much of it. He doesn’t wallow.

He’s in the habit of waking up early. I never hear him but I miss him. He leaves our warmth and goes out to find something colder. He likes to walk. It doesn’t matter where. And he won’t walk the same road twice. He says there’s no point in retracing your steps. And although he’s walked a million miles he always comes back. Sometimes it will be an hour, sometimes all day but I know he’ll come back. He’s true north. I know the impetus for his heart. It beats for me.

I don’t know why he loves me. I’m all angles, after all, angles and elbows, a mere suggestion of a woman. His quiet determination is the type of steadfast that so many women try to impose. He possesses it naturally, and I don’t know if I appreciate it. I argue with him. Sometimes he likes it. I think it amuses him. Sometimes I frustrate him. He knows my chemical makeup, after all. He doesn’t always remember that I don’t.

He talks softly. I have to listen carefully. Attentively. I will miss what he says, and I like to hang on every word. He has a magnetic voice. I listen for and hear every word, every syllable because it has meaning. He has meaning. I attach myself to that. I try to have meaning, too, but even if I could resonate like him I would only replicate. His ability to hear and to interpret are inborn. I can’t learn them. I keep trying.

When the children come, he is as good to them as he is to me. Better sometimes, and that makes me jealous. But only for a little while, and then I see how much he loves our children, John and Sarah and little Drew. Through midnight changings and three a.m. feedings and pulling out loose teeth and learning to ride a bike and telling them stories he is as solid as he ever was. He doesn’t waver. Only I waver.

I don’t even know the other man very well, he’s a friend of a friend, someone who is dangerous and slick and everything he isn’t. It happens once and I feel so awful I do it again because I want to feel depraved and I want to really understand what it means to be a terrible person. Then I confess it all. I want to hurt him, I think, or maybe sink even farther down from where he is. I make him cry. I’ve never seen that before. I don’t know how he can love me. I ask him that, I ask him, how can you love me? And he tells me that no matter how hard I push, we’ll always be bound to each other. Those words are comfortable and I wear them like a blanket.

Through school and childhood and then into the world, we watch our children take their own steps and I realize we’ve all been standing on his shoulders. He has been true north and bedrock solid and it’s only by this that we have been able to fly. Then we’re alone again, and he takes his walks. I walk with him now. I begin to understand why they’re important. It’s only after so much time that I begin to understand him. His secrets are simple—he is a man caught in the wrong time, a Renaissance man in an Industrial age. I’m his complication. He likes that about me. Or maybe I’m simpler than I know. He sends me wisdom through his silence. There are greater things that any man can say. In our twilight, I see his frailty. Time and age and the rewards of a life well lived have chiseled themselves into his faded features. He moves slowly. He’s always done things in his own time, but now he’s following another timetable. He walks less. He talks to himself. When he smiles at me, his eyes still light up. His smile starts in his eyes. If he loves you, you know it. I know it. I always have.

He leaves content. There isn’t anything more he could do. It happens in the morning—he always said he doesn’t want to miss the morning. The children come home and we bury him down a path he’d never traveled, hoping that it will be a good place to start. Those who gather with us smile when they think of him. He brings out the best in everyone he touches. He brought it out in me.

He steps forward to the teller window and I’ll miss him at my window—the old lady in front of me is counting out ten dollars in pennies, no wrappers at home, and he has gone to Chloe’s lane. I need to crane my neck now to see him. Too obvious. I sigh deeply and the old lady asks if everything’s all right.

He’s in line behind the UPS man. Short, but not too short. A little stocky, too. His socks don’t match. He doesn’t have anyone to tell him. I start by organizing his socks, an intimate thing to do but he needs me to do it. He has a small family and doesn’t see them often. He has lots of friends. They gather at our place on weekends and during special occasions. I sit at his arm and he tells his stories. I’ve heard them all, everyone has, but it doesn’t matter. No one tells a story like he does.
excerpt from the short story collection "Midwestern Love Songs" ©2015 Jeff Rosenplot
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