The flat was immaculately clean, and strangely empty. She must have gotten started almost as soon as he’d headed out for work. He imagined her doing one last load of laundry, stuffing her things into her suitcases, desperate to leave not even a ghost of her presence behind.
He felt nothing but regret. This was all his fault – he wasn’t enough, he had never been enough. Nothing in him was capable of giving anyone what they needed, no matter how hard he worked at it.
Time and again, he’d tried. He had a mental list of the things of the things people needed from him: questions to ask, small acts to perform, the need to be actively concerned, the need to allow others their space, the reminders to communicate.
But somehow, it wasn’t enough. He never timed it right, or the way he phrased things was wrong, or else they all saw through him and knew that it was just a list, a set of chores he had been instructed to perform.
And they all, to a man and woman, eventually walked out to find someone for whom these things came naturally. Someone who knew, instinctively, how to care for them.
It was a shock, therefore, when he heard the key turn in the lock of the door behind him, heard that door open, and, when he turned, to see her dancing into the front hallway, carrying a tiny evergreen tree in a gold-foil-covered pot, and wearing a happy, open-hearted smile of greeting.
“Look!” she said. “Isn’t it adorable? I found teeny-tiny ornaments, too. We’re going to have the most amazing Christmas – just you wait and see!”