He dried my tears as we hailed a cab. He held my hand as we rode back to our apartment. He brushed the hair out of my face as we walked in.
He helped me unzip my dress. We made love on our bed, parallel to the headboard, as if there wasn’t any time to lie right. We lost ourselves in each other, the last vestige of a wall between us had been knocked down.
Afterward, Sam opened a bottle of champagne. He got his phone and held it in his hand as we called everyone on speakerphone to tell them the good news.
When we were done, we walked into the living room and played “Heart and Soul” together, half-naked, drunk, and swooning.
As I sat next to him on the piano bench, I said, “What if I’d never walked into the music store . . .”
Sam smiled gently and looked at me as he played the keys on the piano ever so softly. And then he said, “But you did.”
I decided that was my answer to questions of fate. I could go around asking myself what if x hadn’t happened, and the answer would always be, “But it did.”
What if Jesse hadn’t gotten on that helicopter?
But he did.
I decided to no longer wonder what would have happened if things had worked out differently. And instead, I would focus on what was in front of me. I would focus on reality instead of asking myself questions about fictions.
I kissed Sam’s temple. “Take me to bed!” I said.
Sam laughed and took his hands off the piano. “OK, but most of the time when women say that, they mean it sexually.”
I laughed. “I mean it sleep-ually,” I said.
And then I let out a yelp as Sam stood up and lifted me into his arms.
“Sleep-ually it is,” he said as he laid me down on my side of our bed and tucked me in. I fell asleep in the crook of his arm just as he said, “I’m going to find you the perfect diamond ring. I promise.”
I was joyful that night.
I felt as if I was moving forward.
I thought that if Jesse could see me from wherever he was, he’d be smiling.
What I was not thinking was, Jesse is alive. He’ll be home in two months. Look what I’ve done.
Or, how to put everything you love at risk
I am lying awake in bed next to Sam, staring at the ceiling. Our gray cat, Mozart, is lying on my feet. Homer, his brother, is black and white and never leaves his spot underneath the piano in the living room except to eat.
It’s almost nine a.m. on Wednesday, one of my days off and the day Sam doesn’t have to be at school until eleven. On these late mornings, I have illusions about the two of us going out for breakfast, but Sam always refuses to open his eyes until the very last second. This school year so far we have gone to breakfast on a Wednesday exactly zero times. Right now, Sam is sound asleep beside me.
It’s been seven weeks since I found out that Jesse was alive. Our initial conversation was kept brief, and due to concerns of Jesse’s well-being, contact has been limited. I have been getting most of my updates via e-mail from his mother, Francine.
All I know is that he’s been at risk for refeeding syndrome and complications from hypoglycemia.
The doctors did not clear him to be released until yesterday.
That means that he is coming home tomorrow.
When I told Sam about this last night, he said, “OK. How are you feeling?”
I told him the God’s honest truth. “I have no idea.”
I am very confused right now. In fact, I’m so confused that I’m confused about how confused I am.
What Sam and I have . . . it’s love. Pure and simple and true.
But I’m no longer feeling pure, nothing is simple, and I’m no longer sure what’s true.
“What’s on your mind?” Sam asks me.
I look over at him. I didn’t realize he had woken up yet.
“Oh,” I say, turning back to the ceiling. “Nothing. Really. Nothing and everything.”
“Jesse?” he asks.
“I guess, yeah.”
Sam swallows and stays silent and then he turns away from me, getting up and going into the bathroom. I can hear the faucet start and then the water splash as he brushes his teeth. I hear the familiar squeak and rumble of the shower.
My phone rings and I reach onto my bedside table to see who it is. I do not recognize the number. I should put it through to voice mail but I don’t. Lately, I can’t stand to miss a single call.
“Is this Emma Lerner?” It is the voice of a young woman.
“It’s Emma Blair,” I say. “But yes, speaking.”
“Mrs. . . .” The woman stops herself. “Ms. Blair, my name is Elizabeth Ivan. I’m calling from the Beacon.”
I close my eyes, cursing myself for answering.
“We are doing a piece on the rescue of Jesse Lerner of Acton.”
“And we wanted to give you an opportunity to comment.”
I can feel myself shaking my head, as if she could pick up on any of my nonverbal clues. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I’d like to publicly comment.”
“Are you sure? The Lerners are contributing.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I hear you. I just don’t think I’m comfortable, but thank you very much for the opportunity.”
“Thank you, Ms. Ivan. Have a great day.”
I hang up the phone before she can speak again. I double-check twice that my phone is off and I throw myself back down onto my pillows, covering my face with my hands, wondering if I will ever feel only one emotion again in my life.
Because lately it’s happiness and fear, joy and sorrow, guilt and validation.
It is not simply happiness. Simply fear. Simply joy. Simply sorrow.
The deafening silence in the room means that my ears can only focus on the sound of the water spraying from the shower in the bathroom.
I think of the steam building up.
I think of how warm it must be.
I think of the way the hot water must feel soothing and comfortable. I think of Sam. The way he looks when he’s wet. I think of the hot water running down his shoulders. The shoulders that carried my obscenely large desk up four flights of stairs when we moved in together. The shoulders that brought up two boxes of books at a time as he teased me that I should stop hoarding books, knowing full well that would never happen.
Sam is my life. My new, beautiful, wonderful, magical life.
I get up out of bed and I open the bathroom door. It’s just as steamy in here as I imagined. The mirror is too fogged up to see myself as I take off my shirt and slide out of my underwear. But I know what I’d see if I could: I’d see a short, blond, pear-shaped thirtysomething woman with a pixie cut and a smattering of freckles under her right eye.
I slide the curtain open just barely and I step into the shower. Sam opens his eyes. I can tell he is relieved to see me. He puts his arms around me and holds me tight. The warmth of his skin warms me up exactly as I knew it would.
His chin is nestled into my shoulder.
“I know everything is really complicated right now,” he says to me. “I’ll do whatever you want. I just . . . I need to know what you’re thinking.”
“I love you,” I say into his shoulders as the hot water hits my face and pastes my hair to my forehead. “I love you so much.”
“I know,” he says, and then he pulls himself away from me and turns toward the water.
He washes the shampoo out of his hair.
With his back to me, I grab the bar of soap and lather it up in my hands. I rub it across his shoulders and down his back. I reach forward and soap up his chest. As the water washes it away, I put my cheek on his back. I put my arms around him. I’d glue myself to him if I could. For the past three nights, I’ve had dreams of wrapping the two of us together in one rope. I’ve dreamed of tying it tight so neither of us can escape. I’ve dreamed of knots so taut they can’t be undone. Rope so thick it can’t be cut.
Sam puts his arms forward onto the shower wall to steady himself. And then he says, “Just . . . just do me a favor.”
“Don’t stay with me if you want to be with him,” he says. “Don’t do that to me.”