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I love him.

How can I possibly tell him that?

He sits on my sofa and drinks my beer and swears he'll never fall in love again. Just like that stupid Burt Bacharach song. And I listen and I listen and I don't say anything. I can't. All I can do is wait for him to get drunk enough to cry. It's the only way he can shed the tears he needs to shed. And I'll have to pretend I don't notice his tears.

It's the only way he can share them.

I'll hold him like I always do and when he's done, I'll put him to bed. I'll endure his hangover in the morning and his next few days of self-disgust. And I'll feed him aspirin and I'll shield him from the world 'til he can cope with it again. And I'll love him even more than I do right now.

Like I always do.

Because it's worth it. He's worth it. And because once in awhile . . .

Once in awhile, when I put my arms around him to give him the comfort he needs, he hangs on tight and hugs me back. These rare times, he snuggles close and cries himself to sleep and I dare to hold him until dawn. Then I slip away like the coward that I am, because I want him and don't want him to know.

Because I'm afraid.

Afraid I'll hurt him, or he'll hurt me. Afraid he'll leave me. Afraid he'll let me.

He would, I think. If I could tell him. He would study me with those ice blue eyes that others find so cold. He would think it over and he would nod to himself and maybe he would walk away.

But if he stayed, he'd let me and he wouldn't be indifferent. He's an all-or-nothing kind of guy. He would let me take him, use him, throw him away when I was finished with him if I wanted to. Like all the others have.

And I would take him and use him—hard. I've wanted him too long to be casual or restrained. I want him to know he was made for me, for my pleasure. I've had a lot of time to think about it. Years to think about it. I would be ruthless and demanding. I already have his friendship. I want his love and passion, too. I want instant, gentle kisses. I want the freedom to explore his body when I'm curious or want the comfort of his touch. I want him to whisper sweet nothings whenever I need to hear them. I want him to scream his darkest secrets for me and I want him on his knees, begging for me to fuck him raw.

And it would be my pleasure to do the same for him. God, I want him.

But throw him away? Not in this or any other lifetime. He's mine. Mine. I just haven't told him. Maybe someday . . .

Ahhhhh! Tonight is one of the rare times. The good times, when I can hold him all night because he won't let go. But it bothers me. What made this love lost so special? How can he hurt so badly and I not know? What kind of a partner does that make me? He's still crying softly in his sleep and once I thought I heard my name. But I've got him now and I'll watch him tonight. I think he knows. He's snuggled so close and holding so tight. It gave me the courage to stroke his cheek and hide soft kisses in his hair . . .

Shhhh . . . I'm sorry, babe . . . go back to sleep. It'll be all right . . .

But will it? His dreams have hurt us both tonight. He whispered a secret not meant to be heard. And I have a decision to make before dawn.

. . . can't tell you I love you . . . can't . . . I can't . . .

His whisper was filled with such pain. And he said my name with sorrow and cried new tears and wouldn't let go.

What did he mean? Is he like me? In love, but too afraid to speak? Or can he not return my love? I need to ask. I need to know. But I am so afraid . . .

It's late. I've decided to slink away early and let him face another dawn alone. I'm still a coward. But I'll still have his friendship in the morning if I go.

But when I move, he opens knowing, pain-filled eyes. He's been awake and, fortified with liquid courage still, whispers brokenly, "Stay . . . please?"

I stiffen in shock. He misunderstands and the rest of his words are rushed and ashamed. "I know. I'm sorry. I'm ruining everything. But I can't live like this anymore—in love with you and pretending I'm not. It hurts too much. Please? I'll do anything you want. I'll take anything you have to give. Hurt me if you need to. Just don't leave. Will you do that for me? Can you? Just 'til dawn. Then, swear to God, I'll go away. I won't cause any trouble. I won't tell anyone. Please . . . please . . ."

I thought I wanted this man to beg. And maybe I do. But not for this. Not for scraps when he deserves to be cherished, when he deserves everything a lover can give—and more. Trouble! God! Who did this to him?

Go away? NO! That would kill us both. I'll never let him leave my side. He belongs to me and I to him and no one, nothing will ever come between us.

How can I tell him his courage has freed me? That I'm through with hiding how I feel? I want him. I need him. He can tell anyone who'll listen how lucky I am to have him.

How can I possibly tell him that?

I can because I love him.