He stuck the key into the door. He could feel the smooth tension as the ridges slid into their places, unlocking whatever he’d find behind it. With a clammy palm, he readjusted his grip on the key with his right hand while taking a deep breath of what seemed to be the thickest air he has ever come to inhale. His left hand met his brow to whisk away the salty sweat droplets before they could make their way to his eyelid, and then down to his side to blot it on his pant leg. With another deep breath, his left shoulder met the door, his left hand met the knob and the right began to turn the key. ‘Click’

            He looked up from reading his section of the The Town Square local paper and over at her with a smile. ‘Click’. ‘Click’. He admired her from across the room. In nothing but his white Hanes tee she sat with her long legs stretched onto the tabletop. He looked back down. He admired the way it took her all of three seconds to put her chocolate brown hair up in a tangled mess, and yet there was nothing messy about it. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as she adjusted her glasses, which always seemed to sit so perfectly on her face, and grab the mug from table in front of her. As the steam traveled up from the coffee and caressed her cheek, she could feel his eyes on her, and with the sweetest smirk he’d ever seen she brought the round edge up to her lips and he looked away. ‘Click’. ‘Click’. She placed the back of the purple pen in her mouth and continued diligently on the daily crossword puzzle. Most every morning spent together started with this silent banter of admiration. One could call it a playful appreciation of each other’s company. He was a young Neuroscience Professor at Georgetown University and she a real estate agent who handled accounts for the nation’s most wealthy government officials and the secret vacation homes they sought. They had met inside of a little coffee shop around the corner from the University on a brisk Tuesday morning in November. Café le Vie on Bernard Street: a hole in the wall mom and pop kind of place with the best French blend you could smell for miles. It started with lunches in his office on her slower afternoons and dinners at her place on his way home. And not long after start home became the place where they both resided together. Their first Christmas came and went along with the blissful snow and office lunch dates turned into picnics in the park on green grass. The hot days of June brought about a lustful romance as intense as the sun’s rays, and muggy July nights brought warm sheets in a crisp air-conditioned bedroom. Life was pretty damn good as their first summer together approached its end. And before his schedule flooded with students and papers to grade he planned one more special get away. Hopping on the first flight out they headed to an all-inclusive resort on the coast of the Dominican Republic. They spent most days catching sun on towels over on the silky sand just steps outside the resorts gate and when the beaches were crowed they spent their afternoon’s poolside. Relaxing on what had seemed to be the most comfortable lounge chair ever felt, she kept herself occupied reading a trashy celeb magazine she found on the vacant chair to her left while he took some time to work on his lectures for the coming semester on his laptop. She’d look over at him, and then he back at her with a smile and reassurance that in a few minutes he’d run the laptop to the room deeming him all hers. After the 4th read through the magazine she found herself alone at the poolside bar tasting new drinks and making friends with couples all here enjoying their last licks of the summer sun. She’d look over at him now and again during conversation only to see he hadn’t moved a muscle. Although she admired how hard he worked even on vacation, he was so memorized in his screen to even notice the sunburn that had been making its way from his shoulders down his arm. Excusing herself from the conversation for a moment, she swam over to the edge of the pool where he sat and begged him to put the work away. He smiled and nodded as he continued typing, never moving his eyes off the screen. Now taking matters into her own hands she got out of the pool, closed the laptop, grabbed his hand and encouraged him to be done. Playfully laughing he agreed he was done, grabbed his laptop, and started upstairs to lock it in the room. Not believing that he would just leave it in the room and come right back down, she grabbed the computer, put it under his lounge chair in the shade, covered it with a few towels and dragged him to the pool. All day they spent with their new friends laughing, drinking, and enjoying the summer sun. As the sun started to leave the day the group had agreed to meet for dinner at the restaurant in the resort. Carrying clothes in one hand while sipping a margarita in the other they made their way out of the pool and up to the room. The resort was beautiful, the night was warm, the champagne was cold and he knew this was the day. There he sat underneath the cabana with a warm heart, cold feet, and little black box in his jacket pocket just waiting for the right moment. Everything was perfect until he found his heart in stomach mid conversation, jumped from his seat and ran in the direction of the pools. His laptop was gone. Everything he prepped for both semesters: tests, outlines, lectures- all of it gone. The lackadaisical return into the new academic year now flipped upside down. Angry and devastated, the little black box never left his pocket and the flight home was silent. The time he had to spend with her grew small as he became even more immersed in his work. His nights were now spent in his office with his student intern trying to fix the mess before the semester began. Most days she was gone before he woke in the morning after his late nights and he was gone by the time she came home from work in the afternoon. Even just dinner together was few and far between as he grew more and more frustrated with her the longer he was away from his work. She spent the month of August blaming herself for what had happened, resenting him for not being able to look at her the same, jealous of his intern for the time she spent with him, and lonely. From the very beginning their relationship had grown as the seasons changed, but by the time September rolled around it was clear that the air was different. The crisping autumn leaves fell to the ground and the silence between them became deafening. The playful appreciation of each other’s company was now nothing more then a mere acknowledgement of existence. He knew it wasn’t her fault but yet something inside of him blamed her. For the laptop and the silence, and the broken-ness that had grown between them. He knew that he loved her, and the worst part was with every moment he spent with her he was sure she could feel this blame he had but didn’t understand. He was right, she did. By the time he grew up enough to fix what had been damaged, it was too late and she was already gone.

            He let go of the key, placed his right hand in his pocket, and gripped the tiny black box swallowing it in his palm. Opening the door slowly and quietly, he peeked his head around the frame and entered her apartment. He called out her name but there was no response, so with one foot a time he made his way past the kitchen into the living room. He heard the water pipes crack inside the walls and then shower water begin to beat lightly on the porcelain tiles. Peering down the dark hallway the only light reflected on the wood floor came from her bedroom door that was slightly ajar. He took a deep breath and felt his heart in his throat as he tried to swallow. The warm grip on the tiny box tightened. His feet felt like lead slabs as he made his way down the hall. The sound of the shower water became bounding and heavy as if beating down on his body. His hand met the door and he began to push it open. By what was lying there on the floor there was no need for him to go any further. Shoes, a shirt, and pants: items that weren’t his, lying beside a pair of her wedge heels and a dress he’d bought her weeks ago. Through the pounding shower rain audible voices came and went and he couldn’t move. He knew they were damaged. He knew that he had damaged her. That there were things that needed to be fixed, pieces to be put back together. He knew it took him too long to realize how crippling silence had become. Maybe she just didn’t have enough in her anymore to break the silence, or enough in her to save whatever was still there, but he never thought a love so bright would end up here. Never.