“I love you.” He’d said it, out loud, and he couldn’t take it back, even if he wanted to.
Which he didn’t. Not at all.
After years of being alone, although rarely lonely, Leo found love in his heart and body as if a switch had been flipped. It had been off, now it was on.
As if the baggage he’d been carrying for so long he did not even feel its weight, its pressure on his back, lifted. And he could stand up straight for the first time in forever.
As if coming out of a dimly lit room into a clear sunny day, blinking cautiously, turning to feel the warmth of the sun on his cheek.
As if tasting the first rich, slightly bitter sip of hot coffee after going days without, the dark liquid sending a charge of energy he hadn’t remembered missing all the way to the core of his being.
As if his toes, numb with decades of cold, tingled back to life, rivulets of ice water soaking his socks.
Actually, he was standing in a puddle. He’d tromped into Franny’s apartment from helping his friend, snow packed into his boots, which had a little rip part way up, he’d meant to duct tape it this morning, but he’d already been running late and then he’d completely forgotten until now, his hands on Franny’s arms, looking her in the eye, saying the words “I love you” while standing in a growing puddle of icy water, wet socks and all.
Leo tried not to laugh. Franny looked so scared, and so vulnerable, and he knew laughing would be just about the worst thing he could do. But his toes were tingling with the warming, and that tickled, and the whole situation seemed so delightfully absurd, a combination of sublime emotion and ridiculous puddles. He tested a smile.
Franny smiled back. “What?” she asked.
“I said I love you, Franny.”
“No, I mean, what’s funny? Why are you laughing?”
Sensing this could be the first test of his ability to manage his new love relationship, Leo stepped back. “My feet are wet,” he said as seriously as he could, “and tingly, and it tickles.”
Franny looked down, took in the puddle at his feet, and regained his gaze.
Then she burst into her hearty, high-pitched laugh, and Leo laughed too, and she leaned on him as she laughed.
“I love you,” he said again, when he caught his breath.