It wasn't because they loved each other. On the contrary, they seemed to be indifferent to one another. No one could quite understand what had brought them together as a couple, not even the two persons themselves.
This convinced both sides of the family to object to the marriage. That, and such a couple as them, who barely knew each other, could not possibly be paired up. And so the couple solved the problem: they eloped.
Very shortly afterwards, the husband left for the war. The wife didn't mind. She often preferred to be left alone. It only gave her more freedom to pursue her dreams of entering the workforce.
No fancy wedding. No honeymoon.
No first night together.
The husband returned to the country. He had received an injury in the battlefield, said the letter.
And so she cared for him. Provided him with the necessities: bandaging, food, and so on. She also made certain he was assisted in his healing, and she helped him learn to walk again.
It was the first time she had truly held him in her arms. It was the first time she truly realized that they were a married couple living under the same roof. Surely he felt the same way.
The year passed quickly. When he was able to walk again, she then decided to leave by herself, and she told him so. She would be traveling to Africa as a missionary. He had had his chance to get away. Now it was her turn.
It was when she was departing that she realized they had still not shared their first night together.
She returned home by boat. She was greeted by a man carrying a bouquet.
Because that was what married couples did. The husband would greet the wife with a bouquet. Especially after such a long trip.
She approached him, took the bouquet, and gave him a hug. They hadn't kissed since the day they had eloped.
But he spoke to her, told her how his new publishing house was going. She, in turn, shared how her life as a missionary was: an exploration of a new place, a new life of its own, and an adventure to cherish. Maybe she didn't promote her religion as much as she was informed to, but the new place was enough to excite her.
Once she arrived at home, she noticed that they now had a king-sized bed. Not two separate beds. She took one side, he took another.
They shared the bed, but not the night.
After a few weeks of sharing the same bed, her husband finally asked her, "Are you sure you don't want to?"
She shook her head. "I'm sure."
Opposite sides of the same bed. A married couple bound by day.
But not by night.
One night, months later, she finally crawled to his side. "Can we do it?"
A pause. Then he nodded. "Sure."
The first night they shared together ended in their falling asleep in each other's arms.
Their first night felt like their last. Afterwards, they shared the same bed, but not each other.
The husband's business grew, reaching thousands of customers daily. The wife began studying for a new degree. Their days were often so occupied that they rarely saw one another. One of the only times they truly saw each other was at the dinner table, when they sat across from each other slowly munching on their food. And then the bed came shortly afterward, when they shared the same bed but not the night.
It was then he announced he would have to make a lengthy business trip to another country. He would return soon, he assured her. She nodded in consent.
He left again.
She found out he had been arrested on the accusation that he was a spy.
She did not know what to make of it. She only inquired to see if it was true. Most said, "no."
It took months to recover him, but soon he was finally freed. It was then she took up the courage to ask, "Is it true?"
It took him a moment. Then he nodded.
She placed her hands on either cheek. He smiled at her, tears in his eyes. She smiled a sad one in return, indicating understanding.
She was invited to her father's funeral. She and her husband came. The priest blessed the empty carcass her father had left behind. She and her husband bowed their heads in response.
It was after the funeral that her mother asked them, "Why did you defy our wishes?"
"It was our choice," the wife protested.
"It was your act of defiance that killed him."
"How could that be? We married twenty years ago. If he had died then, I would believe that," the husband retorted.
Her mother huffed and waltzed away, leaving the wife to her own thoughts.
Twenty years. How could so much time have passed? Was this how all married couples were like? Did it feel as strange to them as it did to her? Twenty years had come and gone, yet she still did not know whether or not she even loved her husband. Or if he loved her at all.
They returned home, holding hands.
As if their love was true.
But was it?
He prepared her a special dinner. He shifted uneasily between his feet, saying, "Thank you for being with me all of these years."
She smiled in return. "Thank you too."
They ate together. They shared the bed together.
They shared the night together.
It was cancer.
He didn't have much longer to live, the doctor said, so live it well.
Their fingers curled in each other's, hands intertwined as the wife responded, "He will be well cared for. He will live a joyous life till the end."
She prepared one last vacation for them, this time to South America.
He grew far more ill shortly after their return home over a year later. She continued to care for him in his illness.
Things got worse one day. The couple found themselves at the hospital.
The doctor said he didn't have much longer.
While lying in his bed one day, he finally asked her the question the two of them had pondered their whole lives, "Do you love me?"
She smiled and clasped his hands in her own. She replied, "I love you.” Pause. Then, “But not in the way you may think."
A small smile grew on his lips.
"Do you love me too?"
But he didn't answer.
His eyes had closed for the last time.
Maribel C. Pagan has appeared or is forthcoming in Every Day Fiction, The Stray Branch, Moledro, and others. She has received the Junior Reading Giants Award, has made the President's List in Mohawk Valley Community College, and others. Additionally, she is the host of The Maddie Show on WLMU Radio, and a singer and musician for The Angelic Family Choir, a family singing group that has appeared on EWTN Global Radio Network. You can find out more about Maribel at http://therollinghills.wordpress.com/