|20| - "Being with you feels perfect." -
One step forwards, two steps back.
That seemed to be the pattern. As I kicked off my heels and collapsed onto the sofa, massaging my aching feet, I replayed the incident outside the door.
Of course Nathan hadn't taken kindly to my suggestion. The last time we'd gone to bed together, we'd argued afterwards because I claimed we shouldn't have sex when there were issues between us that needed solving. He'd been hurt, and now he was hurt again, assuming I only wanted sex because of Marie's goading.
I thought about it so much that I almost didn't notice the gentle knocking at the door until it became so persistent that I couldn't miss it.
"Bella? It's me."
Nathan's voice was quiet, but it carried through the silence, urging me to stumble to my feet and reach for the handle.
"I shouldn't have walked off," he said as soon as I'd pulled the door open. "That was stupid. And I almost don't want to explain why I did it because I feel like I'm just giving you excuse after excuse these days..."
I sighed and stepped to the side, inviting him in. Nathan's sense of hesitation as he crossed the threshold seemed completely misplaced. This was still his flat, too. Perhaps he was just respecting the boundaries, but I hated to think he no longer felt at home.
"Do you want a drink?" I asked.
"Water would be nice."
He hovered by the sofa while I filled up a glass from the water jug in the fridge. He preferred that to tap water.
When I handed it over, he let out a nervous laugh. "Weird, isn't it? I feel like a guest."
"You shouldn't feel that way," I said, sitting down on the sofa and gesturing for him to do the same. "You're paying half the rent."
Nathan smiled but it didn't quite reach his eyes. He looked exhausted, and I felt a rush of compassion.
"We've spent three months waiting for this moment," he said. "And now that we're here, we're not even enjoying it."
It was the harsh truth that I hadn't allowed myself to admit. During my time in Italy, I'd been counting down the days to the Christmas break when I could wake up next to Nathan every day for three weeks. It had finally arrived, and we weren't even in the same flat, never mind the same bed.
"I know," I said. "But it is how it is. I'd rather we were honest about the situation than pretend everything's perfect."
"I just want it to be perfect. Being with you feels perfect. I hate that it doesn't feel that way at the moment."
One hand held the glass of water at a risky angle against his leg, while the other rubbed at his forehead. Over the years, I'd come to notice it as a subconscious reaction to him being stressed, as if massaging his head would cause the unwanted thoughts within it to disappear.
"But we've never done this before, Nathan. Going from living in the same flat to living in different countries... It was always going to be a shock."
I didn't miss the irony of the situation. Usually I was the one upset at being apart, with Nathan trying to comfort me by rationalising it. When had things shifted?
"I just feel like I'm constantly causing you so much pain."
His voice cracked, and my stomach lurched at the realisation of what was happening. Still covering his face, Nathan's hand trembled as his fingers rubbed at his eyes. For a moment, I was frozen. Nathan had never cried in front of me. He was always the positive, upbeat half of the two of us. Nothing brought him down. Nothing was too bad it couldn't be fixed.