Siobhan knocked on the door, the sound feeling far away as her mind was still stuck on what just happened a moment ago. The door opened after a while and she stared into her older sister’s face, and without warning, burst into tears. Her sister scrunched up her face in empathy and shock and took Siobhan in her arms. Mumbling calming words she lead her younger sister inside and sat her down in the living room. Siobhan knew she was busy studying for her exams. She was finally studying to become a doctor, having been a nurse for most of her adult life. She was proud of her for taking a step forward in her life. Seeing her text books on the table made Siobhan feel even more ashamed for how much steps backwards she’d taken today. Her sister knew what happened before she could tell her. It wasn’t the first time. They’d been through this before. But Siobhan said it still, through sobs and tears.

“He did it again,” she touched her face. It wasn’t needed for her to point it out though, her sister could see the swollen purple mangled face of hers where Brian had hit her and punched her.

Sobs escaped her throat again and she struggled to calm down. Lindy, her beautiful sister, rubbed her back and then held her close in an embrace. She was scared for her, Siobhan knew. She never listened to her warnings, her pleading for Siobhan to leave. But how could she? She loved Brian, he was everything to her. She spent four years with this man, she gave part of her life, herself to him.

Brian wasn’t a bad person. He was misunderstood. He had a troubled past. He couldn’t be held responsible for the abuse he suffered as a young child. She knew that he was worried and scared right now too. A part of her wished she could be there for him now. It might have seemed crazy to anyone else but she wasn’t mad at him for hitting her. He didn’t mean it like people thought he did.

Her sister picked up the phone.

“What are you doing?” Siobhan asked.

“I’m calling the police. Is he still at home?”she said.

“Lindy, please, don’t do that. I don’t want him to get in trouble.”

“You don’t want him to get into trouble! Siobhan did you see your face? Look in the mirror if you have to. This is not right! This should have stopped years ago but you never listened to me.”

She stopped suddenly, sighed and tightly hugged Siobhan.

“I’m sorry, I’m worried for you. What if the next time you won’t be knocking on my door? What if the next time I won’t have you anymore?”

Lindy had tears in her eyes, her voice shaking as she spoke.

Siobhan honestly couldn’t give her an answer. She knew there was a possibility that the next hit would be the last, having landed in hospital so many times already. She couldn’t comfort her, tell her not to worry.

So instead they sat in silence on the couch, feeling helpless.

She returned later to his apartment. After Siobhan opened the door with her key, she looked around for him. It looked silent, no sign of him visibly. But she found him in the bedroom, an empty beer bottle on the nightstand and a pack of cigarettes half empty next to him on the mattress. He noticed her only after a minute in the doorway.

“Baby!” he said, happiness filling his face.

He stood up from the bed and walked over to her, cupping her face gently.

“Oh look at you. Let me fix that up for you.”

He lead her to the bathroom, She stayed silent, and watched him doctor her face, wincing at the stinging. When done he took her hand and like so many times before she thought he was going to promise her, promise her that he would never do it again.

But instead foreign words left his mouth, and she was dazed at first.

“I can’t do this anymore. We need a break, maybe permanent.”

She begged with him.

“You can’t leave me now. What will I do without you. What about us?”

“We’re poison for each other,” he said “To tell the truth I feel smothered.”

She knew she should’ve felt anger. She knew she should’ve left at that moment and never looked back. The audacity to reject her as she came to him broken.

But she didn’t. She cried, not even worrying about how messed up she looked. He sat there in silence and let her have her cry. Then he stood up and walked to his bed and Siobhan left his apartment a moment later. For the last time. She looked back, thinking about the sandy blonde haired man, with the tall frame and the easy lazy smiling mouth she had fallen in love with that first time she had met him at university among the medical books, and she knew she couldn’t leave it this way. she was drawn to him. He was oil to her fire, setting her ablaze. She felt like an abandoned child, thrown away by their irresponsible parent. He would love her again, he would need her again. She wouldn’t give up.

Alex pinched the fatty skin between his fingers, staring at the reflection in disgust. He hardly fit in his work clothes anymore. He didn’t have a problem with buying more. He could buy Versace with the amount of money he had. What bothered him was the terrible roles at the side of his body and the podgy belly that started growing from a few months ago. He didn’t know the breakup was hitting him that hard until he caught his colleagues making jokes about his weight. It hurt, even though he wasn’t a person to show how things made him feel in the workplace. But it did affect him enough that he made an appointment at a Dietitian after work. He felt guilty at the meal he just ate. He didn’t understand his relationship with food. He wasn’t hungry but he’d eat. He didn’t know why. Everything in his brain told him to stop but he’d be back in the kitchen snacking again until it turned into a whole pack of crisps and a gulped down energy drink.

He buttoned up his shirt again and walked away from the mirror. The breakup was very sudden. He thought, in his silly mind, that they were happy. He never admitted it to anyone but he thought Calista was his dream woman. They were going to get married and have that normal boring life that everyone goes through. But it didn’t happen and Calista called him one day after work. Called him, how cowardly! And told him it was over. She felt suffocated by how he treated her. She was tired of his constant baby talk and tender love and care routine. She hated flowers and she didn’t like pet names. She never said a word to him about this in all the time they were together. But he didn’t beg her to stay. She wanted the space, he wasn’t going to make a nuisance of himself yet again. He was used to it anyway.

His best friend thought he was over it. He told Alex he admired him for being so chilled about it. Alex nodded his head but inside he knew he was lying to him. Alex wasn’t giving up. He was going to get her back. But he couldn’t face her this way. Looking this way, acting this way. He needed to get himself together. He needed to learn to stop being a needy, fat bloke and become the man she needs instead. He was going to stop overeating and going to start exercising. He made a last stop to the kitchen. One slice of pie couldn’t hurt.

She wasn’t planning on having her past catch up with her today at work. But in her consulting room, on the bed, sat a very familiar person. A person she’d rather never see again, and never thought she would have to. Could she refuse a patient?

She greeted him warmly, a fake smile plastered on her face. His hand was cold and for some reason that put her off as well. This man was always a bit of a lizard. Definitely a snake.

He looked just as nervous as her for some reason. Not something she was used to in all the time she had worked for him. She remembered him as a terrible boss. He gave her hell most days, something he did to everyone at the office. It got to the point where he literally accused her of doing something, something she obviously didn’t do, and ended up firing her from her job. She couldn’t even use that job on her CV, too afraid to have to explain and defend herself about getting fired.

But yet he didn’t look smug, he still had on his fancy suits, no instead he looked like more than anything he wanted to run away from this place.

For some reason that didn’t make her feel better.

He soon stuttered over his sentences as he had to explain why he was there. He said chubby instead of fat, something a lot of her clients did. She didn’t judge them for it. She was a podgy kid as a youngster and after she shed the pounds after going to a Dietitian, like herself, she promised herself she would be that hero for other people that sees them through their insecurities to become a confident person. It helped that she loved her job and the constant learning. She responded to him professionally, and for any stranger it would look as if they had just met. He didn’t mention the old job and after the weigh in and the blood test they made another appointment to meet up again later in the week. She was more than relieved when he finally left the room and relaxed at the click of the closed door.

Alex felt nervous as he waited for the Dietitian to arrive. He wasn’t one for doctor’s appointments and the room he was waiting in smelled like disinfectant and rubber gloves. His skin crawled at the thought of doctors. He didn’t calm down when the Dietitian finally arrived. Instead his heart started racing even more. The woman standing in front of him wasn’t a stranger. They had a bad history. He had fired her from her job a few years ago. But it wasn’t out of shame for firing her that he felt like running away. It was the fact that she more than anyone would be able to see the obvious difference in his size. What did she think? She probably thought it was payback for firing her back then. He didn’t like the idea of someone basking in his depressing situation.

She asked him about his weight and his eating habits. She did some blood test and weighed him. The whole process was a nightmare. He felt exposed as if naked in front of a crowd. But it was only this woman, she wasn’t important. She was just another part of the job. But yet he felt nervous and off balance around her. She wasn’t even that attractive. She didn’t look like Calista at all. Her hair was bright red curly hair, where his Calista had dark black straight hair. Her face was more rounded than Calista and her height was noticeably short. Alex wasn’t the tallest man and Calista always towered over him but he preferred that in woman he dated. It wasn’t because of her attractiveness that this woman had him on edge. And he silently hated himself for getting fat. He made another appointment. He wished he didn’t have to. But he was desperate and besides she came well recommended. Alex would just have to remind himself that she wasn’t important. What did her opinion matter to him? Yet on the drive back to work, he still felt those curious calculated eyes on him, studying him as if trying to find out his secrets. That woman had quite a stare.

Alex laughed, a bit too enthusiastically.

“You’re mad. That woman is a typical control freak. You should have seen her back then when she was still working for me. Everyone hated her.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just you,” Tim said, giving him a knowing stare.

Well he didn’t know anything. Tim had been his friend since Alex started in business. He was the most business-savvy man Alex knew but more importantly he was a great friend. He could keep personal stuff to himself better than the government.

“She’s not my type anyway, I told you already.”

They were barbecuing late afternoon after work. They always came together on Wednesdays. Alex usually did the grilling while his friend kept him company. An important part, he always liked saying. Even though Alex knew it was because the man was allergic to cooking.

“But you didn’t exactly say she was ugly, though.”

“No, she’s not ugly. I’m not looking for anyone now anyway. You know Calista is still a big part of my life.”

“I know, something I don’t agree on, but who am I to stop you.” He moved his glass in the air slightly as he spoke, the liquid swinging from side to side.

“Besides,” Alex said, flipping the patties on the grill. “If I had to choose anyone it would be anyone but her. She’s a rock, no feelings, no emotions. Not something I’m interested in being around.”

“You never know, perhaps she’s just waiting for someone to melt that icy heart,” he said.

“I’ll give you her number.”

Siobhan was eating dinner with her sister. Her sister had never married even at the age of thirty seven, nearing her forties, which scared her sister a lot. She had been so caught up with caring for Siobhan, at least that’s what Siobhan always thought, that she never spent time doing things for herself, other than finally studying what she always dreamt of, and never found a special love because of that. Siobhan hoped her sister would one day realize she didn’t always have to care for everyone and sacrifice her own well being and that she too deserved love and happiness. Siobhan was lost in thought when she suddenly remembered of her old boss waiting for her in her consulting room. She mentioned it to her Lindy, who couldn’t recall the old boss. Siobhan didn’t have a good history with keeping jobs back then. Mostly because of having to cover up being blue and purple in the face so much. She even struggled now when Brian hit her last because she had to take sick leave just a bit after taking sick leave earlier when she had a bad flu. It didn’t look good to her boss. But she didn’t have to worry about that any more. Brian wouldn’t hit her again after all. She pushed the thought of Brian out of her mind and told her sister about how much she despised the man. Her sister told her not to judge people so quickly but she assured her that her judgment was correct this time. Siobhan also mentioned the embarrassment on his face when seeing her and that she hoped he finally felt bad for firing her back then after his stupid allegations. Her sister asked how overweight he was and if he had struggled with weight back then as well. She realized suddenly that she hadn’t thought of that. He did look completely different than he had back then. He used to be a really skinny bloke, never ate regularly back then, which wasn’t healthier than he was eating now. She mentioned this to her sister who sat quiet for a moment before answer after chewing her food, that perhaps he felt embarrassed because of his weight and about looking so different in front of someone that knew him. “Remember after summer when you had picked up more weight, and having to go back to school? You felt so bad because you knew everyone was going to be able to see the changes in your body.” Siobhan realized that Lindy was right and she did feel that way back then. She suddenly felt a connection with the man she hated so much and it made her feel weird inside. Like she was almost feeling sorry for him. “I think you should help him as best as you can. You’re a good person, no matter what he did. I know you’ll make the right choice,” her sister said. Siobhan didn’t know what to say in return to that but she finally made her decision after dinner while they were washing up. She would help him, especially now that his embarrassed facial expression was ingrained in her mind so much. It’s the same emotions she felt when she used to be overweight. She didn’t like seeing over people feel less motivated and secure in themselves and she wanted him to feel good about himself. He might have done her wrong in the past, but she wasn’t like him. She was a good person and she’d show him that.

Siobhan offered to help Alex personally in losing weight the next time she saw him. She found out how regularly he exercised and when he told her he didn’t, she decided to help him by gradually getting him to exercise more.

“I don’t really know how to get started. What to do,” he said.

“I’ve never done this for any client but I’m offering you a chance to work out personally with me. I’d leave my normal exercise routine for now and do a more slow beginning routine with you just to get you started.”

To her surprise he said yes and they decided to do it that afternoon. For some reason she felt excited. She hadn’t had the pleasure of having someone else’s conversation and company while exercising in a while. Her sister was more of a book nerd than active nature person like herself.

They met up early and at first there was a bit of nervousness hanging in the air. But it soon disappeared when she started showing him the ropes on the stretches and warm up exercises he needed to do. They took a short run, having to stop a lot since he wasn’t really fit at all. She didn’t get mad at him or irritated. It would take awhile for him to be up to her level. Instead she waiting patiently for his breathing to calm down and the dizziness to fade and talked to him while waiting. She found out that he was working for a different company now, with a higher position and more responsibilities that made him more tired these days. He didn’t have a wife and cooking for one always seemed like too much work so he basically ordered in most of the time. She felt bad for him and shocked because she hadn’t realized he wasn’t married. While working for him she had heard a lot of rumors of an ex wife and always assumed he had remarried again because he often wore a beautiful golden ring on his finger. She looked down to his hand and noticed he still wore it. She wondered if that was his old wedding ring. It suddenly made her wonder why he still kept it on? Did he still love his old wife? She pushed the thought away, thinking the hot weather was getting to her and they continued their run before stopping and doing a few other exercises. He thanked her afterwards and she waved it off, feeling a little embarrassed and modest. It was around eight at night when they were done and it had gotten darker sooner than she thought. She had jogged over to where they exercised and didn’t think about how she was going to get back home. She wanted to call her sister but could mentally slap herself when she realized she had forgotten her phone at work. She didn’t even tell her sister about her plans for the day so she must have been worried about her being late as well. She panicked silently but he seemed not to notice. She said good bye to him and he was about to walk to his car, leaving her in her worried state, when he turned around. “I was wondering if I could give you a ride home? It’s not safe for you to be here alone.”

She was quite shocked yet again and surely blushed. She refused him even though she didn’t want to. But yet he didn’t give up and she accepted his offer for a ride. It was genuinely the nicest thing a man had ever done for her. She tried to think back to an act of kindness one of her past boyfriends had done that matched up to this. And realized she couldn’t think of any that wasn’t out of selfish reason or followed by yet a terrible blow by them. It felt different to have experience that kindness and it was like dipping your toes in the water and realizing you wanted to feel it forever. She wasn’t searching for that kindness, she didn’t know to search for it because she had never known it existed.

Alex went into his next consultation with Siobhan, the woman he had fired back then who was now a successful Dietitian. He felt just as nervous this time around, maybe even more. But those nerves soon calmed down the minute Siobhan offered to exercise with him. He couldn’t believe she had offered to do that. And he wanted to say no but it was the strangest thing, everything of him wanted to say yes more. He did in the end, to his own surprise. But for some reason didn’t mind and felt kind of happy about his decision. He was nervous to meet up with her that afternoon, fussing over his exercise clothes and if it looked good on him. No one knows why that was important to him all of a sudden. But he didn’t want her to think badly about him for some reason. It went well even though he did feel embarrassed for having to stop regularly to take a breather after the exercise got too much for him. But he was surprised about how good she made him feel and at ease about it. She didn’t judge him one bit. And he couldn’t help but notice in her eyes no judgement, unlike his co-workers. He was quite shocked when she told him during the waiting period that he tried to get his breath back, that she too had been overweight when she was younger. For some reason he never imagined that would be the case. She was always so together, it didn’t look like any normal human problems would affect her. But for some reason that made him feel a different feeling towards her. Her attitude towards him and the fact that she told him something so personal, basically saying “You’re not alone”, that made him like her as a person suddenly. He realized perhaps she wasn’t that bad after all.

Siobhan had been working out with Alex for quite a while and she was proud of him for sticking with it. He had started to be more relaxed around her and she quite enjoyed their conversations. He was quite an interesting character to her. She had offered an even more silly suggestion to him. He told her he wasn’t good with shopping and didn’t know what was healthy and unhealthy. She couldn’t help but tell him she’d do the shopping for him then, more as joke really. He was so excited and somehow they ended up at the supermarket, him carrying the basket, while she got all the best food items that were healthy yet delicious for him. He was a bit skeptical about some but soon got interested in the different food choices. Somehow in the middle of this they started having fun, acting a little like young kids in the mall, ending up in game stores and somehow ending up at a nice vegetarian restaurant, the first he’d ever been to and soon his favorite according to him. Somehow she had forgotten she had ever hated him. Until the moment they were saying their goodbyes and going to their separate cars and he dropped a line that shook her out of her sudden dream state.

“I need a wife like you to do my shopping,” he joked.

She guessed he realized how weird that sounded and suddenly looked very embarrassed. She didn’t want him to feel too bad so mentioned, “You wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. It would be up every morning at before dawn to go for a long run. Remember I exercise more intensely than what we’re doing now.”

He laughed.

“I would just stay at home and wait until you’re back to support you emotionally and cheer you on,” he joked.

“Well then, I guess I always wanted a personal cheerleader of my own,” she joked back.

It got her thinking though as she was in her car driving home. How crazy would it have been if they were a married couple. The thought made her laugh and she drove home with a smile on her face.

Siobhan had mentioned to him where she lived. Somehow it had come up in conversation. But she was quite surprised when he showed up on a Saturday with healthy food for an early afternoon picnic in her living room. At first it bothered her. That was quite a stalker move. But she remembered the person she had started to get to know was quite an impulsive person. Introverts seemed to be that way. They had so much fun and talked long conversations, from school to university to somehow ending up talking about future plans and the perils of singlehood. She told him about her sister’s studying and soon her asked her how she had gotten into being a Dietitian. She told him about her weight problems as a child and even mentioned some of the worse bullying she had gone through. He was very sympathetic towards her, even going as far as to tell her she should be proud of how brave she was to go through that and still come out on top.

“I admire you actually,” he said. “for the ability you had to lose weight. It’s hard.”

“The weight loss isn’t the most important thing, “ Siobhan said. “The most important thing is being able to accept yourself. After then self love is easier and something like putting in time to exercise becomes an act of love towards yourself.”

He was taken aback by her words. He had never thought of it that way but she was right. He realized he didn’t much like himself as a person. He wondered if she liked herself as well. He couldn’t help but ask her anyway. Siobhan became quite silent and he knew something was bothering her, holding her back.

Siobhan felt tears form in her eyes and fought to keep them from coming out, showing a side of her she never showed to anyone. She did end up managing to look up and gather a smile. But he still looked at her with much concern. Somehow she did end up telling him what bothered her. She told him about her now ex boyfriend, Brian. About being hit by him but that it wasn’t his fault. That she understood why he did it. She waited for him to tell her she was crazy like her sister had told her so many times. But it never came. Instead he nodded and listened as she told him about how she met Brian, how she had fallen in love. How a part of her knew that he was bad for her, but that she didn’t know what was left without him.

“I don’t deserve better. I don’t even know if better is out there.”

He held her hand and told her, “You deserve more than what is better. You deserve someone to love you and protect you, not to have to protect yourself from them.”

She told him about her troubled past. Her father had been an abusive absent father, not a good example of how men should act. But yet he told her constantly that he loved her and she couldn’t help but believe him.

“I know it’s stupid, he most likely didn’t love me after all.”

“I don’t believe he did love you,” he said. “He loved you. Sometimes people don’t know how to show it.”

He looked a bit far away in thought.

“I guess it is something I have to learn myself. I have dated many women that have truthfully pushed me away. Always the reason was that I showed them too much love. It seemed to put them off.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,”she said.

“You kind of made me realize tonight that it’s not my fault and it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t love someone in my way, by giving them as much love as humanly possible. That maybe something happened in their life, someone once taught them that they didn’t deserve to be loved that way. And when they felt it they felt something must be wrong.”

He looked at her, his eyes focusing in on her. She honestly didn’t think anyone ever looked at her quite that way.

“I don’t want you to feel that way ever again. You deserve to be loved until all those wounds heal inside.”

She was speechless. And she knew he meant it. She didn’t think anyone would ever say anything like that to her. She could feel her heart hurting. But it was a different hurt. It was hurting from happiness. That someone could look at her suddenly with such genuine love. It was breathtaking.

They stared at each other for a while, a nice quiet silence filling the moment.

He finally broke the silence when he joked, “You already have me acting like a husband on you.”

She laughed.

“You’d make a good one.”

He shrugged modestly.

“Want some coffee?”

“Isn’t that unhealthy,” he asked.

“A little bit of unhealthy eating can’t hurt tonight.”

“Sure. Everyone knows coffee heals everything.”

She knew inside love did.