“Hi,” I say to the woman waiting.
“Your store says that you’re open from ten to seven. It’s ten fifteen.”
“My apologies,” I say.
But when the woman heads right to the bestseller section and is no longer in my line of sight, I can’t stop a smile from erupting, pulling my cheeks as wide as my ears.
My dad comes into the store around eleven. He is here to grab some books that he ordered for my mom, but I pull him aside to discuss the idea of my leaving for Maine.
“What do you mean you’re going to Maine with Jesse?”
“Uh . . .” I say, unsure which part my dad is confused about. “I think I mean that I am going to Maine with Jesse?”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
That is such a stupid thing to say. There are about twenty thousand reasons why it might not be.
“Emma, I just . . .” He stops there and doesn’t finish his sentence. I see him rethink his entire train of thought. “I read you loud and clear. Of course Mom and I can cover. We’d love to, actually. I’m bored stiff at home now that I have finished watching all five seasons of Friday Night Lights.”
“Great!” I say. “Thank you.”
“Certainly,” he says. “My pleasure. Will we see you tonight, then? To get your things?”
“Yeah,” I say, nodding. “I’ll come by to get some clothes and stuff.”
“OK, great,” he says.
And then he heads out. “Mom’s making BLTs for lunch and you know I can’t miss that.”
“I know,” I say.
My mom makes him BLTs multiple times a week and he loves them so much you’d think he would learn to make them himself. He’s tried, a number of times. I’ve tried for him and Marie’s tried for him. He swears it tastes different when she makes them. Something about the bacon being hot and the lettuce being sweet. I honestly have no idea. All I know is that my parents have always made love seem easy and sometimes I wish they’d prepared me for how truly complicated it can be.
Later on in the afternoon, as I’m picking up a very late lunch, I get a text message from Sam.
You forgot your allergy meds and phone charger. I left them on your desk.
The first thing I think when I see the message isn’t how sweet he is or that I’m glad to be able to charge my phone. My first thought is that there’s a chance he’s still at the store. So I rush to my car, sandwich in hand, hoping that I can get back to the parking lot before he leaves.
I hit absolutely no red lights and I turn right into the parking lot just as Sam is in his car with his blinker ready to turn left. I wave him down.
I don’t know what I’m doing, what good I think will come of this. I just know that there is nothing like thinking that you might lose your fiancé to make you realize how much you ache to see your fiancé. That remains true even if you think it’s you who might be leaving, you who might be messing it all up.
Sam backs up and rolls down his window. I park my car and walk over to him.
“Hi,” I say.
He is wearing his black wool coat with a white oxford button-down and a navy chambray tie. I bought him that tie. He liked the tiny anchors printed on it and I said I wanted to treat him to something he’d get excited to wear at work.
“Thank you for my meds,” I say. “And the charger. That was really nice of you.”
Sam nods. “Yeah, well . . .”
I wait for him to finish and then realize that he’s not going to.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Been better,” he responds. He looks sad but also distant. It feels as if the two of us can’t reach each other. I find myself moving physically closer to him, trying to connect. “I will be fine. It’s just weird sleeping in our bed alone,” he says. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” I say, and then—I don’t know what possesses me—before I know it, I have bent down and kissed him. He kisses me back but then pulls away. I wonder if it’s because he can tell I’ve kissed someone else.
“Sorry,” I say. “Force of habit.”
“It’s OK,” he says.
“How were the cats this morning?” I ask. I love talking to Sam about our cats. I love inventing silly names for them and making up stories about what they do when we’re not around.
“Homer slept in the bathtub,” Sam says.
Before I had a cat, before I loved those two little furballs, I would have thought someone saying, “Homer slept in the bathtub,” was boring enough to put me to sleep. But now it’s as fascinating as if you’d told me he’d landed on Mars.
“He wasn’t under the piano?”
Sam shakes his head. “Nope, he won’t leave the bathroom. When I tried to take a shower this morning, I had to pick him up and lock him out of the room.”
I should be back in that house. I should be with Sam and Mozart and Homer. I don’t know why Homer’s in the bathtub or what it means. But I know it wouldn’t happen if I was there.
There is so much guilt lying around here, just waiting for me to pick it up and carry it with me. There is so much I can torture myself about.
Maybe I deserve to.
But I resolve, right now, to leave it waiting. I’m not taking it on. Even if I should. It does no one any good, least of all me, to have it clawing at my back.
“I love you,” I tell him. It just slips out. I don’t know what I mean by it. I just know that it’s true.
“I know,” he says. “I have never once doubted that.”
We are quiet for a moment and I fear that he might leave. “Will you play ‘Piano Man’?” I ask him.
“What?” he says.
“Will you play ‘Piano Man’? On the steering wheel? And I can do the harmonica?”
I always ask him to do it when I want to fall a little bit more in love with him. I like remembering the first time he did it. I love watching how skilled he truly is. Now, it’s become so familiar that I can hear the notes when he plays it, even though he’s always playing in silence.
But instead of pushing up his sleeves and positioning his fingers like he has always done in the past, he shakes his head. “I’m not gonna do that.”
“You always do it.”
“I’m not going to perform for you,” he says. “I hope you change your mind and realize that you love me and that we should be together for the rest of our lives, but . . . I’m not going to audition for the part.”
It’s one thing to break a heart. It’s an entirely different thing to break someone’s pride.
And I think I have done both to him.
“You’re right,” I say. “I’m sorry.”
“Listen, you’ve been through something I can’t even imagine. I know it’s shaken you to your core. I love you enough to wait for a little while until you figure it out.”
I grab his hand and squeeze it—as though if I could just squeeze enough, hold it the right way, the gratitude I feel in my heart might run through my arms, out my hands, and straight into his soul. But it doesn’t work that way. I know it doesn’t.
“Thank you,” I say. “I don’t know how to thank you. But thank you.”
Sam takes his hand away. “But you can’t have both of us,” he continues. “I can’t pretend things are OK until they’re actually OK. OK?”
“OK,” I say, nodding my head.
He smiles. “That was a lot of ‘OKs’ at one time, huh?”
“I’m gonna go,” Sam says, putting his car in drive. “Otherwise, I’ll be late for rehearsal. And then, you know, I suppose I’ll just go home, eat some dinner, and watch ESPN Classic. A rousing good time.”
“Sounds like quite a night,” I say.
“I’m sure you’ve got big plans, too,” he says, and then I watch as his face freezes. It’s clear he wasn’t thinking when he spoke. He doesn’t want to know what I’m doing tonight. But now that he’s said it, I can’t get out of this without in some way acknowledging whether I do have plans. “I just meant . . . uh, you know what? Just don’t say anything.”