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Snowflakes fell from the sky like gentle, crystallized stars. They filled in the footsteps that had already broken the fresh snow, giving the sidewalk a frosted shine. As far as the eye could see, the footsteps wandered, intertwining with each other like a dizzy dancer’s steps.
In the frigid air, Ethan and Anna were warm in each other’s embrace. Anna’s cheekbones were speckled pink; Ethan’s ears burned crimson with exuberance. Under her wool cap, Anna’s curly hair, the color of the hot chocolate that neither of them needed any more, framed her angelic face. The couple looked back at the glittering footprints that Ethan had made into the snow as he carried his sweetheart to their favorite park bench. He spun around in circles, holding her so close to his chest, he could almost feel her heartbeat match his.
“Don’t drop me,” she giggled.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he whispered, kissing one of the curls that had fell in front of her face.
They had met each other on February 14th, 2008; Valentine’s Day, how cliché, Anna would always be quick to point out. They had been set up by their happily married best friends, who had wed in Italy earlier that year. Ethan and Anna hated each other at first; they bickered like little kids to say the least. They spent their entire first date purely arguing, except for the last few moments where Ethan had kissed her, completely stealing her argument away. Now, they could be considered the perfect couple, comparable only to a fairytale ending. The only thing missing to their fairytale was the wedding band that belonged on Anna’s finger, symbolizing their eternal love. They both knew they were soul mates, and Ethan pushed for the official title. Ethan was determined to hear her whisper into his heart “I do.”
Anna loved Ethan, he was perfect for her. He was the kind of man who would always be there for her, to protect and love her, but she was afraid of getting married. The idea of surrendering her life to Ethan seemed bittersweet: both pleasant and cruel all at the same time. Why get married, she thought, can’t we just be together without the ceremonial tradition of marriage? Who needs a title? Who needs vows? All I need to know is that you love me, and you know I already love you completely; that should be enough.
As her thoughts continued, she realized that what she wanted, what she needed, was Ethan in her arms forever. But, she just couldn’t get married for him. She had called him earlier to this spot, the spot where he had proposed. When he had sat down, pulling her safely into his arms, she expressed her thoughts; she had no intent of ever getting married. Ethan looked down, and continued to stare in silence for a few moments.
“Whatever you wish, my love,” Ethan said, solemnly. It was hard for him to hold back the tears that had welled up in his eyes and the pain that had begun to decay his heart.
She leaned into his ear, her cold nose softly rubbing against his soft, warm cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered. The words, those two simple words, shattered his heart.
“So, what do we do now? Where does that leave us?” he choked out.
“Well, we could...” she began, sliding off of his lap and into the cold seat next to him. Her voice trailed off as she averted Ethan’s gaze, swallowing hard. He could tell she was doubting her decision. What was she doing? What was she about to say? Ethan’s eagerness poured all over her, and as she struggled to find the right words to tell him. He interrupted her thoughts.
“You don’t want to marry me, do you?”
Anna cringed at the question. She didn’t want to answer him, because she knew it wouldn’t be the answer he was looking for. All she could manage was a stiff shake of the head. “You know how much I care about you, Ethan. It’s just that...” Anna paused. Ethan had placed his head in his hands. Though he didn’t make a sound, she could see the teardrops falling like rain, melting the snow wherever they fell. Nothing could have ever prepared her for his reaction.
Her own eyes had begun to sting. She licked her lips and tasted the salty tears that had rolled down her face. No matter how many times she wiped with her sleeve, more tears followed. Be strong, Anna, she thought, the worst of this is over. She attempted to comfort the man, her lover, by rubbing his back. She leaned in and whispered soothing words, but he only jerked himself away from her.
“Just... give me a minute,”
Ethan was desperately trying to pull himself together, but he just couldn’t. He couldn’t comprehend the fact that the girl he loved with his entire existence didn’t want to marry him. He wanted to spend his life with Anna. He wanted to raise a family with her; he wanted to grow old with her. She was his everything, and a life without her wasn’t much of a life at all.
Minutes raced by in silence. Anna didn’t dare touch him again. She felt alone with the thoughts that crowded her mind. After the agonizing wait for him to begin to speak, or to even recognize she was still there, Anna had come to a decision. She rose from the bench; Ethan did not even bother to look up. She looked down at the engagement ring that garnished her petite hand. Out of nervousness, she was twisting it back and forth. Biting back the tears that were finally under control, she twisted the ring off of her finger. She took the ring, the ring he had given her out of love, and set it on his lap. She saw him remove a hand from his face to see what was going on. His eyes were swollen and bloodshot, tears still quietly streaming down his cheeks.
“I don’t want to hurt you anymore,” Anna took a breath to attempt to calm herself, but it was no use. “I... I love you too much.”
Anna turned away. She knew she would completely crumble if she saw his expression. She couldn’t handle that. Inside her mind, a war was raging. She knew she couldn’t go on without him, but she wasn’t about to be tied down at the same time. She loved her freedom too much for something like that to happen. Across the icy sidewalk, she attempted to run. She ran to their shared apartment, packing up her few precious belongings into a backpack. She had to get out, out of this city, out of this state, out of anywhere he could possibly find her.
Anna immediately left for the airport. She knew this was not rational thinking, but she had no choice. She couldn’t bear to ever see him again. “Give me the first flight out of here,” she demanded at nearby ticket desk.
“That would be to... it leaves at... Are you sure, ma’am?” The man behind the counter asked.
She shakily nodded, digging through her backpack for some sort of payment. She mumbled a line of profanities under her breath when she realized that she hadn’t grabbed her wallet; she had grabbed Ethan’s.
“Ma’am, are you alright?”
No, I’m not alright, she thought.
“You’re holding up the line you know.” Anna looked up in surprise; she felt familiar arms wrap around her waist in a tight embrace.
“Ethan,” she said as her heart pounded against her chest. “Ethan, I can’t believe-“
“I know I’m probably the last person you want to see right now,” Ethan said, interrupting her, “but love, I can’t let you go like that. Anna, you are the most important person in my life and you always will be. I want to spend the rest of my life with you; whether we are married or not doesn’t matter. I love you, Anna; please don’t leave.”
Anna turned around to face Ethan. His boyish face looked at her with hopeful eyes, eyes that were begging her to never leave again. She felt her knees become weak gazing into his golden eyes as she stood up on her tippy toes. Once she was at the height his face was at, she softly pressed her lips against his. With the surge of emotion that ran through Anna during that simple kiss, she knew she would never leave again.