February 26th. 7PM.

“Hey, babe,” The familiar voice, carried through space by radio waves, greeted him like a much needed pinhole in the ceiling of a dark room.

“Hey,” said Morde, his greeting manifesting itself in a heavy sigh. He was seated at the breakfast nook in the kitchen of his childhood home, waiting for his father’s tea kettle. The phone call, while unexpected, was a welcome distraction from the noise that overtook him whenever he sat in silence alone. “How are you?”

“Better than you, I’m guessing.”

“Tell me something real,” Morde replied, leaning forward to rest his bare elbows against the cool surface of the granite countertop, closing his eyes and willing his muscles to relax. If he concentrated hard enough, he could put himself in the hospital hallway his friend was calling him from — safe, sterile, and white. “You know I give a shit.”

“I got one of the nurses to let me use Spotify.”

“Cool. Anything good?”

“The new Death Cab has promise. You should give it a listen.”

“Okay, I will. Any luck with the room change?”

“They’re just keeping your bed empty now.”

“That’s kind of a cop out,” said Morde cautiously, opening his eyes and running a hand through his hair.

“It is, but I’ve learned to manage my expectations. At least now I won’t have to share… and if you start ogling cake knives again in the next few weeks, you can move back in.”

Though it shouldn’t have amused him, Morde couldn’t help but smile. “That’s comforting.”

“So, how’s life on the outside? Tell me something real.”

“It’s been a rough week,” Morde admitted, shifting his eyes toward the stairs. It had been less than a week since she had come back into his life, and Alex was waiting for him in his bedroom one floor above, curled up like a cat in his sheets. “After we spoke last, I screwed up my Lunesta and smoked a fuckton of weed because I got into a fight with my wife. Then, I got into a fight with my best friend about my wife, and I guess— I think I might be in that one for a while.”

“Well, I don’t envy you.”

“I asked her who she slept with and how many times she slept with them,” Morde explained, words escaping him before he could give much thought to what he was saying, before he could sugarcoat the truth. “She told me she fucked one of my friends twice and a few other guys I don’t know an indeterminate number of times. I was stuck with you in the cuckoo’s nest on the verge of killing myself — no offense — and she was fucking Andy Dabrowski.”

His friend snorted. “None taken.”

“She’s hurt me more than anyone else in the world ever has and she was one of the only people I thought never would. I feel so betrayed. Pissed off. Disgusted, if I think about it long enough. But it’s like… mostly I just feel sad, you know? I hate how things are and I want to fix them. I want us to fix them, because as much as she hurt me and made me feel like shit, I can see how sorry she is. And I still love her. I love her with every fiber of my being even though I’m surrounded by people who think I shouldn’t — people I love just as much who were there for me when I needed her to be. People who love me and are still supporting me despite how wrong they think it is for me to stay with her. I just— I don’t know. I want things to be better. I want to forgive her and I want the world to forgive her and I want us to grow old together without any enemies between us. I just wish we didn’t have to live in a fucking fiction for that kind of happily ever after shit to happen.”

Morde’s friend fell silent after he finished, presumably digesting all of what he had said.

“Do you think it’s a bad idea, staying with her?”

“I think,” his friend began, hesitant. “I think a lot of people, maybe most people, aren’t equipped to deal with crazy.”

“What does that mean?”

“What it means is that, as much as you don’t deserve it, you have to live with your mental illness. Your mania, your depression, going up and down — you have to live with that until you die, whether it’s by your own hand or not, and if she wants to be with you, she has to live with it, too. I think she knows that. I think she’s scared shitless of it. And she might not be strong enough to handle it.

“I’m not saying it’s your fault. None of it is your fault, babe. It wasn’t okay for her to abandon you and screw a handful of people because she was scared. I guess, what I’m getting at is… I understand why she’s scared and I think it’s unlikely she ever won’t be. Even if you work out your shit and forgive her, her leaving — fucking off, fucking other people, fucking you over — is always going to be in the realm of possibility. If she did it once, she could do it again. No matter how good it gets, it’ll always be dangerous. You’ll always be vulnerable. And I don’t want to think about all the horrible shit going through that again could do to you.”

“She doesn’t care about me being bipolar,” Morde protested, ignoring how much it hurt to be reminded that the odds were against them. “She just doesn’t think she’s good enough for me.”

“You know her better than I do. If you know she’s really sorry and you both want to fix it, I’m not going to tell you not to try.”

“Do you think I’m pathetic?”

“No,” his friend answered. “I think you’re naïve, surprisingly naïve, and your childlike naïveté both inspires and bewilders me.”

“Okay.”

“No one should underestimate how mentally disturbed you are.”

“Is that meant to be a compliment?”

“No, babe. It’s just the truth.”

March 12th. 3AM.

She had told him that when her nightmares startled her awake, she could comfort herself by reaching out and feeling the warmth of him in bed beside her, by finding the ring on his finger and running her thumb over it, knowing he was hers and hers forever.

In the months before her leaving, when his nightmares had startled him awake, he had been able to comfort himself by pulling her sleeping form in closer, by breathing in the scent of her cotton candy hair and feeling the soft contours of her body against him, knowing she was with him — and with him forever.

That night, when he woke, it was into a reality more nightmarish than any dream world he could have woken from. He could smell her on his sheets, but the space she had occupied was empty again — not because she had been unwilling to stay, but because, this time, he had told her to go.