“I love you,” he said, and he didn’t know what he meant by that.
Neither did she. “I love you,” she replied automatically, deliberately putting the same emphasis on each of the three words. Perhaps it sounded mechanical, she thought, but he probably wouldn’t notice the difference.
He thought it sounded strange but it was a momentary thought as he was more concerned about what he had said and how he’d said it. He hadn’t said it exactly the way he’d wanted to if in fact that’s what he’d actually wanted to say to her. He could have said it differently, in a way closer to what he actually thought, but he wasn’t sure he knew how.
She thought the silence was awkward and unnecessarily wrong and long, but she couldn’t be positive of that. She had no concept of how long it had been since she’d said, “I love you”, and certainly no idea about how he’d comprehended what she’d said. No idea if he had any thoughts about her having said that. No idea if he thought she’d said it only because he’d said it first. And come to think of it, no idea if he’d even heard her.
He was still pondering why he’d said “I love you”. And then he wondered if he’d even said it out loud. Maybe she’d said “I love you” unprompted. But no, he must have said it first. And she must have responded. That’s why there was this weird silence. Yes, they’d both said it. They would have to proceed from there.
She wondered why she’d answered the way she had, and why she’d answered so quickly. Had her response sounded just involuntary? Did she even mean it, whatever it meant?
Maybe, he thought, “love” wasn’t even the right word. He loved her and his mother and his dog and pizza but in different ways. The uncomfortable pause stretched to a breaking point. So he said, “I love you” again. It wasn’t the best response to “I love you” but he couldn’t think of anything else.
“I love you”, she said, and wondered what they were talking about. Had they just repeated exactly the same things they’d already said? Or had they slipped back in time a couple of minutes and were starting the conversation again? And if that was the case, were they destined to do this forever?
He wasn’t sure where to go from there.
Neither was she.
Their housemate came into the room and said, “I love you”. It was unclear to whom the comment was addressed. They would have to begin again.