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You do understand, don't you?" he asked, his voice pleading, and she could hear the subtext: "don't make this difficult for me, please, just let me off the hook, one last time."

She nodded, once, a brisk inclination of her head,then looked at the floor, her teeth gripping her lower lip. Anything rather than look into his face and see that open, big-eyed, little boy innocence.

"It wasn't a choice, really," he went on, "with the situation the way it is..." his voice faded away.

"I understand," she said, her tone calm and level. She was quite proud of that, managing to keep any emotion out of her voice. But nonetheless, she couldn't prevent her eyes filling with tears, however hard she tried to hold them back.

He put a hand on her shoulder and used the other to tip up her chin, to look at her.

"I'm sorry Honey," he said, his face so sincere and sad. "I never wanted to hurt you, you know that. This is hard for me too. You know how I feel about you."

And he leaned forward.

"Don't kiss me," she told him, quietly.

He straightened, stiffly, his face taking on the look of a wounded puppy. He opened his mouth to speak again, but she interrupted, silencing him.

"Don't tell me that you wish things could be different, or that if things had been different, you would be saying this to her instead." The voice was still, calm, remarkably, but she no longer tried to hide the tears spilling down her cheeks.

"I..." he started. She shook her head sharply and covered his mouth with her hand.

"Don't explain anything, don't excuse anything. I don't want to hear it. It doesn't matter and it doesn't help. You've made your decision and you've said everything that needed to be said. You have chosen her, and you and I are over."

She turned her back to him, walked to the sofa and sat down, before speaking again.

"And don't, please, say you love me."

"What can I do?" he asked, distraught, helpless.

"Just hold me, and let me weep, and when the crying is over, dry my tears. Then go."

"I....."

"Do it. Or leave now, if you would prefer. You asked what you could do, and that's all you can do."

Relieved, as always, to have his decisions made for him, he gathered her into his arms, holding her tight. Quietly, he rocked her, stroking her back, knowing that he owed her this, and far more. "I could stay tonight," he whispered, "I'd like to..." as slowly her sobs quietened, and finally, stilled.

For a moment, just a moment, she was tempted. To feel him again, one last time, to have him close, and loving, and to store one last memory. But she wasn't sure she could do that and not beg him to stay when it was finished. And she had always been far too proud to beg.

"No. Go. Go now.." Her voice was firm and unyeilding.

She didn't look up as he stood, and walked to the door, nor did she raise her eyes as he called her name softly while he opened it. But when at last she heard it close, she lifted her head and gazed at the blank rectangle of wood, and murmured "Goodbye."

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