“Oh, God, I was so scared I’d lost you,” Sam says. “I was capsizing over here. Worried I’d lose the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.”
“You didn’t lose me,” I say. “I’m here. I’m right here.”
I kiss him.
The two of us are sitting awkwardly half over the console with cricked necks and the stick shift digging into my knee. I just want to be as close to him as possible. Sam kisses my temple and I can smell our laundry detergent on his shirt.
“Take me home?” I ask.
Sam smiles. It is the sort of smile that any minute might turn to tears. “Absolutely.”
I move away from him, putting myself firmly in the passenger seat as he puts the car in reverse and backs out.
My phone and my wallet are in my car, as well as my weekend bag with all of my things. But I don’t stop him. I don’t ask him to wait just a minute while I grab them. Because I don’t need them. Not right now. I don’t need anything that I don’t have right this minute.
Sam holds my left hand with his right. He does so the entire way home except for a twenty-second period when I lean forward and dig through his glove compartment for his favorite Charles Mingus CD that he keeps buried in the dash. I still can’t stand jazz and he still loves it. In both important and unimportant ways, Sam and I are the same to each other that we were back then. When the music begins, Sam looks at me, impressed.
“You hate Mingus,” he says.
“I love you, though, so . . .”
This seems like a good enough explanation for him and so he grabs my hand again. There is no tension, no pressure. We are at peace simply being next to each other. A deep calm comes over me as I watch the snowplowed streets of Acton turn to those of Concord, as the evergreens that hug the highway leading us through Lexington and Belmont turn to brick sidewalks and brownstones in Cambridge. The world feels like a mirror, in that what I see in front of me is finally in perfect synchronicity with what I am made of.
I feel like myself on these streets, with this man.
We park and head up to our apartment. I am tucked into the crook of his arm, using his body as a shield against the cold.
Sam turns the key and when the door shuts behind us, it feels like we’ve locked the whole world out. When he kisses me, his lips are still chilled and I feel them warm up with my touch.
“Hi,” he says, smiling. It is the kind of “hi” that means everything except hello.
“Hi,” I say back.
The smell of our apartment, a scent I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before, is spicy and fresh, like cinnamon toothpaste. I spot both of the cats under the piano. They are OK. Everything is OK.
Sam pushes himself against me as I rest against the back of our front door. He puts his hand to my cheek, his fingers slip into my hair as his thumb grazes under my eye.
“I was afraid I’d lost these freckles of yours forever,” he says as he looks right at me. His gaze feels comforting, safe. I find myself moving my head toward his hand, pressing against it.
“You didn’t,” I say. “I’m here. And I will do anything for you. Anything. For the rest of our lives.”
“I don’t need anything from you,” Sam says. “Just you. I just want you.”
My arms reach up around his shoulders and I pull him close to me. The weight of his body against mine is both stirring and soothing. I can smell the drugstore pomade in his hair. I can feel the short stubble of his cheeks. “You’re it for me,” I say. “Forever. Me and you.”
I was wrong before, when I said there’s nothing more romantic than the end of a relationship.
It is this.
There is nothing more romantic than this. Holding the very person that you thought you lost, and knowing you’ll never lose them again.
I don’t think that true love means your only love.
I think true love means loving truly.
Loving purely. Loving wholly.
Maybe, if you’re the kind of person who’s willing to give all of yourself, the kind of person who is willing to love with all of your heart even though you’ve experienced just how much it can hurt . . . maybe you get lots of true loves, then. Maybe that’s the gift you get for being brave.
I am a woman who dares to love again.
I finally love that about myself.
It’s messy to love after heartbreak. It’s painful and it forces you to be honest with yourself about who you are. You have to work harder to find the words for your feelings, because they don’t fit into any prefabricated boxes.
But it’s worth it.
Because look what you get:
I wear a pale lavender dress at my second wedding. It is sleek and ornate. It feels like the wedding dress of a woman who has lived a full life before getting married. A dress that signals a strong, well-rounded person making a beautiful decision. Marie is my maid of honor. Ava is our flower girl; Sophie is our ring bearer. Olive gives a speech that leaves half the room in tears. Sam and I honeymoon in Montreal.
And then eight months and nine days after Sam and I say our vows in front of all of our friends and family, I am talking to Olive on the phone as I close up Blair Books on a balmy summer night.
Marie left early to pick up the girls from our parents’. We are all meeting up for dinner at Marie and Mike’s house. Mike is grilling steaks and Sam promised Sophia and Ava he’d make them grilled cheese.
Olive is talking about the first birthday party that she is throwing for her baby, Piper, when I hear the familiar beep of call-waiting.
“You know what?” I say. “Someone’s on the other line. I gotta go.”
“OK,” she says. “Oh, I wanted to ask you what you think about sea animals as a theme for—”
“Olive!” I say. “I gotta go.”
“OK, but just . . . do you like sea animals as a theme or not?”
“I think it depends on what animals but I have to go.”
“I mean, like, whales and dolphins, maybe some fish,” Olive explains as I groan. “Fine!” she says. “We can FaceTime tomorrow.”
I hang up and look at my phone to see who is calling me.
I don’t recognize the number. But I recognize the area code.
Santa Monica, California.
“Emma?” The voice is instantly familiar. One I could never forget.
“How are you?” he asks me casually, as if we talk all the time. I have gotten postcards from California a few times, even one from Lisbon. They are short and sweet, simple updates on how he is, where he’s headed. I always know he’s OK. But we don’t text that often. And we never talk on the phone.
“I’m good,” I say. “Really good. How about you?”
“I’m doing well, yeah,” he says. “Miss you guys in Acton, obviously.”
“Obviously,” I say.
“But I’m good. I’m . . . I’m really happy here.”
I don’t know what else to say to him. I can’t quite tell why he’s calling. My silence stalls us. And so he just comes out with it.
“I met someone,” he says.
Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me—that he met someone, that he wants to tell me. But both things do.
“You did? That’s wonderful.”
“Yeah, she’s . . . she’s really incredible. Just very unique. She’s a professional surfer. Isn’t that crazy? I never thought I’d fall in love with a surfer girl.”
I laugh. “I don’t know,” I say, locking up the shop, walking out to my car. It’s still bright out even though the evening is fully under way. I will miss this come October. I make a point to appreciate it now. “It kind of makes perfect sense to me that you’d fall in love with a surfer girl. I mean, it doesn’t get much more California than that.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.” Jesse laughs.
“What’s her name?”
“Britt,” Jesse says.
“Jesse and Britt,” I say. “That has a nice ring to it.”