- the act of loving in return.
It had been approximately two weeks, four days, 10 hours, and 15 minutes since Jacob had said those precious three words, and Jane had not said them back.
In the first three days, Jacob had been so stunned by the lack of reciprocity that he had not called Jane for their regularly planned good night's and good morning's and talk soon's. Jane noticed, but was too nervous to pick up the phone herself. She could not stop replaying the moment in her head, again and again, a tape caught in a bad loop, different pieces of the moment becoming fuzzier and clearer with each round through her head. So she had not called him either.
In the next three days, Jacob decided it wasn't worth fretting over, and picked up the phone. Jane wasn't sitting staring at it for the past hour waiting and hoping and dreading for it to ring, no, not at all. She didn't answer on the third ring specifically in order to seem nonchalant, that also would have been childish. And her casual “Hey” was simply because she hadn't yet glanced down at the screen to see who could possibly have been calling her, and not because she worried any more words would get caught like a knot in her tongue and tumble out in a fumbled, garbled mess, that would have just been silly.
“Hey yourself,” said Jacob.
A pause on both ends. Jane cleared her throat. Jacob coughed.
“It's not-” “Can we-”
Both of them paused again, caught in the age old trap of dancing around who would allow the other to speak first.
And Jacob, ever the gentleman, gave Jane five seconds to break the silence before he continued.
“Jane, I'm sorry how I acted, I was just taken for surprise, that's all, really, it's okay,” he said hurriedly through a single breath.
“It's okay,” he continued. “It's okay if you don't feel that way, I'm okay, we're okay. This is new, I know, we're new, so if you need to take your time we can take the time. It doesn't mean I don't still-”
Pause. The most pregnant of pauses.
“What.” It was a question made a statement.
“I found out a couple days before you, before you said you, well...?” Jane's voice was tentative, a statement made a question.
It was probably the most inopportune time in the universe that Jacob's phone died at that very moment.
“Jacob?” Jane asked a dial tone. “Jacob?”
“Shit, shit shit shit,” Jacob swore to a blank screen before chucking his phone across the room. It hit his bed moments before he did, smashing his face to a pillow. When he turned his head, he saw the unopened box of condoms mocking him from atop his dresser, the yellow post-it he stuck to it reading “For my love, for our love” in a sprawling scribble.
When Jacob called back thirty-six minutes later, Jane did not pick up her phone. And oh, yes, she saw it ringing.
The next day, Jane woke from a restless half-sleep, rubbing the crust of the night and the residue of tears from her eyes. She glanced at her phone, at the brightly lit screen displaying a certain someone whose ringtone was the cause of her premature awakening.
Too weary to care or feign otherwise, Jane answered her phone.
“Jane, Jane, I'm so sorry, my phone died yesterday and I can't believe how stupid that was, I was so stupid, I'm sorry, really, I swear that I didn't mean to hang up. Jane?”
His confusion made sense. She was laughing. A tired laugh, surrendering to the situation and the silliness of it all.
“Jane?” He was worried. She needed to reassure him.
“I can't believe I actually thought you'd hang up on me like that! Your phone died? Of course it did, of course, because what else would make a disastrous situation go even worse?”
“Yes, disaster! I'm pregnant, your phone has a vengeful battery, probably because you spend more time with me than with the phone, and now I'm going to fret over whether you have enough chargers along with whether my parents are going to kill me or not!”
“Your parents love you.” He was being serious. No humor in his tone. “And so do I. So there's gonna be a baby. We'll get through this, I'll be with you.”
Now Jane felt everything she'd kept in for the past week bubbling to the surface, every conflicting emotion aiming unfairly at him.
“Why? Why be with me? We're young, you have your whole life ahead of you, and we barely know each other! We've been together what, a couple months?”
“But I know how I feel. And, and, and if you're pregnant, then I'll make myself ready to be a parent with you.”
Why was he so damn calm about this? “You don't get it. I don't want it!”
That pregnant pause again. Nine months in nine seconds.
“No,” Jane spit out. The tears had come back, she hadn't even noticed until she felt the wetness in her voice. “No, I don't.”
“Shouldn't we talk about this?”
“What's there to talk about? I don't want to be a mom, not right now. And how can you be a father, you're thousands of miles away!”
He glanced over to his kitchen window and the setting sun. He'd called as soon as it was a reasonable hour in the morning for Jane.
“I can be there.”
“How? It was expensive enough as-is for you to have just visited me. How could we possibly make this work?”
“I will. We will.”
“I just...I can't...I don't want this.” She was sobbing now, and it reminded Jacob how she had cried when they met in the arrival terminal of the airport, her fretting over being what she called “a blubbering mess” while he shushed her and felt his own vision go foggy. But the sob now sounded defeated, while her sob then sounded out with joy.
“I don't want this,” she repeated. “Forget what my parents will think, I don't want this for myself.”
“Okay.” And that was that.
Six days later, he sat in a meeting with his manager, requesting time off and reassuring that he would make up for it and then some when he got back.
Two days later, he was on a plane, sandwiched between an older man and a younger girl, each carrying unique scents.
Three days after that, they stood together outside a brownstone, one-story building, the alliterative name on the sign above the door staring them down. Her hand was in his, clasped tight.
“I'm here for you.”
“You are.” She turned her head upward and looked at him, really looked at him. “You really are.”
“I'm going to keep being here for you.”
She squeezed his hand. He said those three powerful words.
She said them back, felt them like a surge of electricity through their clasped hands, and they stepped towards the entrance, together.