“I think I love you.” I blurted out the words.

“No, you don’t.” She replied in her usual confident way.
“And why do you think that I don’t love you? I am entitled to my own feelings.” I was confused, a feeling that would stir up every time I was around Grace.
“Well, you said you think that you love me. If you did love me, you wouldn’t have added that.” She said. Her eyes focused on me, she was always so clear about everything, I had no idea what made her so intriguing.
I chuckled,”Lets order shall we?”. She looked so beautiful, the black dress she was wearing, it highlighted her curves in the perfect manner. But just as always she just wore a watch as an accessory. Her appearance fitted her personality well, simple yet strong.
“I will have the dark chocolate mud cake.” The waiter looked at her with confusion. “Miss what will you have in the main course?”
“The cake will be fine for now. We’ll order the rest in a bit.” She replied with a smile.
All I could do was stare. Soon the waiter arrived with her dessert. A smile appeared on her lips as she took a bite. ‘Damn that lucky cake.’ I thought to myself.
“Would you like a bite, Aaron?” She asked, handing me the spoon.
“I would actually, that does look tempting, but when will you tell me why is it that you always eat the dessert first. We have been on four dates by now, and I still don’t know the mystery behind it.”
She smiled. Ah that smile, it wasn’t like the smiles that she generally forced at work.
“So you say we have been on four dates?”
“Well, this is the fifth one.” I replied. Her whole personality changed when she ate any kind of dessert. The mature lady that I worked with, would transform into an almost childlike person.
We enjoyed our meal, by now I knew Chinese was her favourite cuisine hence I had picked out the China Garden for our latest date. She never once mentioned work or our latest deals, it was comforting that way.
Soon after the evening was coming to an end, we slowly walked towards the parking area.
“Do you smoke?” She asked me.
“No, I don’t.” I slowly replied.
“Mind if I do? I have been feeling a bit edgy.”
“Sure go ahead.” We stood by the car as I watched her. Her smile completely disappeared. We stood there in silence as she looked up at the moon and I continued to look at her.
A busy week befell and I continued obsessing over Grace more and more. Finally, I texted her up after the week was over.
‘Hey, The president wants to meet you tomorrow, something about needing two new paintings within the next month. A client is keenly interested in your work.’ I texted her.
‘Will be there at five if that’s okay? I also have the armour painting ready so I’ll get it with me.’ She replied.
Grace was too much of a mystery. Having met her about six months back, she still appeared to be a different person every time I met her.
We met at the office next day when she brought along another one of her masterpieces.
“You never cease to amaze me. I’m glad I discovered the new budding artist of our company.” I joked.
“Well, you did not discover me at my best, that day. If I had known I would be getting into business with such big shots then I would have dressed better.” She laughed.
The first time I met her? She looked dazzling even then, wearing full sleeves top and denim. Although she didn’t appear to be the enthusiastic woman as she seems to be now.
“Let’s go on a date again.” I said, knowing full well that I had no time for a personal life.
“No, I don’t think that would be a good idea. I can’t have you thinking that you are falling in love with me.”She said.
“Grace, you might never know of another person’s true feelings.”
“While that might be true, Mr Vice President, you are my boss and plus, how can you love someone you barely know?”
To that, I had no reply. I was attracted to her, maybe love wasn’t the exact feeling, but I knew that there was something about her that drew to me.
“Why don’t you come by my apartment this Saturday? I have a couple of friends coming over. But I must warn you, your handsome-stiff-shirt-business-aura won’t come in handy.” Stiff shirt? Me? That was kind of offending but then again I might as well admit it.
I decided to go for the party, I finished my work early and headed for her house. The music was notably loud, but when I entered I saw her dancing, she was wearing a short red dress.
“Aaron! You came!” I could sense that she was drunk. I handed over to her the bottle of scotch that I got as a gift. She introduced me to her friends and handed me a drink.
“Come on dance with us.” She insisted.
I couldn’t dance obviously, dancing was not something I really liked. I stood there, watching for some time, Grace danced in the most arousing way, it was as though she danced for no one but herself, like no one was watching.
I soon went over to the open air balcony to the living room and stood there watching the cars drive by.
Grace came over and stood beside me. She grabbed a cigarette and lit it. Her smile disappeared again as she exhaled.
“Why do you smoke if it makes you unhappy?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“I think I just need my moments where I release all the pain in one smoke.” She said, her voice soft and crisp.
“You shouldn’t smoke you know.”
She looked at me with annoyance. “I didn’t ask you to smoke, and I don’t think a few smokes will kill me.”
“They can…..such a habit did….kill my mother.” I had said something unnecessary, maybe it was the alcohol.
“I’m sorry. When did she die?” She said. Ugh, I didn’t want her pity, but I did want her to know about it.
“Two weeks after I turned twenty-three. Its been four years now, but I guess some scars never do fade.”
“Yes.” We stood there in silence, both of us hurt in that moment, but there was an odd feeling of comfort in the silence we shared.
“I am attracted to you.” She said.
I looked at her with surprise. “Grace, you are drunk.”
“No, I wouldn’t let alcohol win against me, ever again. But yes, I wouldn’t have said it if we weren’t in such a non-pretentious environment.”
“Ever again?” I had no idea what letting alcohol win meant, but at least I knew now that it wasn’t a one-sided feeling that I had towards her.
We got back to talking in the usual way. But that night, again I experienced a side of Grace that I had never witnessed before.
Over the couple of months, we continued to talk and meet at times. Her paintings were being acknowledged by many clients. I, on the other hand, was slowly catching up to her phases, the person she was at work, on dates, on casual outings but I still wondered who Grace Sullivan really was.
On one particular date, I had decided on telling her that I loved her. I had thought about everything, we would eventually go on a drive when I had planned on asking her to be my girlfriend. The date did go well, but the drive….
She was turning up the music and singing along. I turned off the stereo when her song ended.
“Grace, I want to tell you something, as well as ask you.”
“Do you love me?” She asked looking quite angry.
My face couldn’t resist smiling but I said,”I do love you, Grace. I know that I do.”
She pulled down the window and took out a smoke.
“Don’t, I’m trying to talk to you, Grace.”
“You don’t even know me!” She yelled. After her sudden act, she realised how loud she had been. “I’m sorry, can you please drop me home?” She looked down and asked me.
“Grace, I might not know you that well but I want to, I know how different you are with different people but I want to know all parts of you, even the parts that are hurting you right now.” I looked, I tried to analyse her reaction but it almost seemed as though she was about to cry.
“Aaron, if you knew me, you wouldn’t say that. And I don’t trust you, I can’t.”
“You do trust me. I have been friends with you for months now Grace, and I know you wouldn’t let me be around as much, I have never seen you get close to anyone, but you are getting close to me and you know it.”
She just looked at me for a second and looked away. For some reason she started pulling up her sleeves, she wore a causal full sleeves shirt.
“This is how much of a coward I actually am.” She showed me her wrists. That moment I just didn’t know what to say, she had so many cuts on her wrist. I just looked at her in shock.
“Grace…when? Why?” That’s all I could say.
“Do you love me?” She asked.
“Yes, I do. I love you.” I was shocked but in no way could she scare me away. I didn’t know everything about her, but I knew she was a strong a good and strong person.
She started unbuttoning her shirt, skin as fair as the moon.
“Grace what are you…?” Before I could completely understand, she took down the shirt from her left shoulder. A large wound was covering almost her entire left side of her shoulder, it seemed old, but what could have happened to cause such a damage.
“I was twenty-one, me and a couple of friends went for a small trip in the wildlife sanctuary near by. My friend asked a couple of other groupies to join us and all of us drank. I got so intoxicated that I had no clue as to what was happening and one of the guys took me to his room, he continued to pour alcohol in my mouth and started taking off my clothes. He touched me everywhere, but as he was about to reach inside of me I somehow protested, he tried to put some more alcohol in my mouth but I pushed the bottle. In the whole struggle, the bottle broke and a piece got struck on my shoulder. He got scared and left me there, it wasn’t until some time when my friend found me, we had no idea how serious the cut was until the next morning. I was taken into surgery immediately after that. We reported the guys but they were bailed out. After that, I couldn’t stay in my hometown any longer so I shifted here.” I looked at her as she finished, her eyes were hollow, not a single tear, just numbness.
Suddenly I became aware of the uncomfortable driving seat, I wanted to embrace her so badly, but I didn’t know what to do.
“Grace….I don’t know what to say….”
“I don’t want you to say anything, but I wanted to tell you the truth, also the reason why I can’t just accept your ‘I love you.’” She buttoned her shirt back up, got out of the car to light a cigarette. I got out and stood there beside her.
“Can you still love me?”
I did love her, why would I stop loving her for something that wasn’t her fault. “Grace I love you. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Yes, it was! I got careless with such low lives!” She snapped at me.
“You were just a young girl grace, everybody gets careless at that age. You shouldn’t have to hurt so much all the time.” Everything about her started making sense to me, all the times that I had wondered why her smile would suddenly vanish, her always wearing sleeved clothing and also her personality in front of the world, it all made sense. She had been protecting herself all this time, trying to survive from the pain that she felt.
I took her by her hand and rolled up her sleeves. “Aaron…?”
I kissed her cuts. “It must have been hard grace, it still is, isn’t it?” Tears flooded her eyes, I felt so powerless that time, I could feel her hurting but I couldn’t do a thing about it. If I could I would have healed all her scars and taken away everything that hurt her.
“Grace, I love you.” But instead of asking the question I had planned on asking, I asked,”Won’t you share your pain with me? The burden of the past, let me help you carry it.”
“It’s not so simple Aaron. Will you be able to accept this? Every time that you are gonna see my scars, won’t you get hurt as well?”
“Grace, listen to me, yes it will take time for me to understand everything, I will get hurt every time that I see you’re hurting, but in no way will I ever blame you. It wasn’t your fault, you hear me?”
“Aaron I can’t do this to you.”
“Grace, I am here for you. You don’t have to hurt on your own anymore. Please give me a chance.”
I held her hand and kissed her. She clung onto me and I hugged her tightly. “It’s okay. You are a strong lady. But you don’t have to pretend anymore, share your pain with me, I can take it all.”
She kissed me and I kissed her back. I had finally unravelled a big part of who she was, and in that moment I promised myself, I would make sure to be the one who would restore her trust in life and love.