Beneath an Orange Sky
Written for An Edward to Remember—Classic Hollywood romance one shot contest
To view the other stories in the contest, please visit: www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/~anedwardtoremember
Summary: Two people try to find their way back to each other over a ten-year time span. Inspired by An Affair to Remember.
A/N: Please note that this story was inspired by the movie, and not based on it, so it will not follow the movie storyline. There are a few lines taken from "Orange Sky" by Alexi Murdoch, and a few lines at the end taken from Sleepless in Seattle (a film that was also inspired by An Affair to Remember). Thank you for reading!
Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters that may appear in this story. The remainder is my original work. Copyright 2010 by april09. No copying or reproduction of this work is permitted without my express written authorization.
(Note: I re-posted this story on 5/22/11 to fix the line breaks.)
Beneath an Orange Sky
And I had a dream
I stood beneath an orange sky
With my sister standing by
With my sister standing by
I said Sister, here is what I know now
Here is what I know now
Goes like this…
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, my salvation lies
In your love, in your love, in your love
But sister you know I'm so weary
And you know sister
My heart's been broken
My mind is too strong to carry on
Too strong to carry on
When I am alone
When I've thrown off the weight of this crazy stone
When I've lost all care for the things I own
That's when I miss you, that's when I miss you, that's when I miss you
You who are my home
"Orange Sky"—Alexi Murdoch
Year 1/2: Seattle/San Francisco
Thin orange flames dance along the horizon in front of me. They're stretching their crimson-tinged arms up towards the sky as the sun steps down lower into the ocean waves. The bright orange light blinds me momentarily as I sit down on my blanket on the sand. My eyes consumed by the fire. Slowly the predictable purple and pink hues will start to blend with the abnormal orange of the sun.
"Hey," a voice calls behind me, one almost more familiar to me than my own. I turn to look over my shoulder. I'm half-lying, half-sitting down on my faded red flannel blanket, my body propped up on my elbows.
"How did you know I'd be here?" I ask, simultaneously surprised and not surprised that he is here. He knows me so well.
"Who do you think you're talking to, love?" he responds with a smile. "Besides, it's not raining..."
"For once," I interrupt.
"For once," he concedes. "So I figured you'd be watching the sunset."
He's the only person who knows that this beach is my sanctuary. That I come here when I want to be alone. Or to write. He is the only person I have brought here with me.
"I just got back," I say as he flops his body next to mine, mirroring my pose.
"I know," he pauses and turns to face the setting sun. "Your dad told me you were driving yourself home from the airport. That you rented a car. Where's your boyfriend?"
"At work. I'll see Jake later on." He doesn't turn back to face me. I study his face as he stares straight ahead, eyes protected by dark shades, to see his expression. To see if his words are accusatory. I can't decipher his mood with his eyes hidden. The beams of orange dancers reflect and sparkle on his face.
"I could have picked you up."
"I know. I didn't know if you'd be back yet."
We continue in silence for a few minutes as the sun finishes its descent and the sky turns a lavender-orange. I sit up then to face him and arrange my legs cross-legged before leaning over to give him a hug. "Hi, love" I say, squeezing him tight for a brief moment.
"Haven't we already covered that?" he smirks and sits up as well, again mirroring my position. Our knees are touching and I run my hands through his slightly wind blown hair.
"But I didn't give you a proper hello...I missed you these past few months."
"I missed you too."
The sky darkens quickly as we catch up with each other. Finally I start to shiver and we pack up my blanket and head back to the parking lot. I dawdle for a bit then say, "I really have to go. I want to see my dad before I go out with Jake later."
"Okay. See you at New Year's?"
"Yeah...Mike's having a mini reunion, right? I'm surprised you're going.".
"Only if you are," he says. "Or we could do something else?"
"I think Jake really wants to go," I say quietly. I'd rather not go—I'd prefer a quiet ringing in of the new year, but I've been gone for four months. There's no one I really want to see from high school, anyway, except for him and Jake. But, I also would rather not have to choose between the two of them for the evening. The party is an easy way out.
"I'll be there."
"Hey," I call out as he starts to walk towards his car. "Thanks for meeting me here. For finding me here."
"Anytime, love. I knew it might be my only time alone with you," he says softly. Somehow he always knows the right thing to say.
I think about our relationship on the drive to my dad's house. He can be described as the one who got away, except for the fact that we were still in contact. We parted ways four months ago; he left for New Haven to study biology—possibly pre-med—at Yale, while I decided to save money and start off at a community college before transferring somewhere else. I'd received a scholarship for NYU and one to go to school in state in Washington, but neither scholarship went far enough to cover everything. I didn't want to go to U Dub anyway. I was ready to be on my own for a while and take care of myself for a change. So I left for San Francisco while he moved three thousand miles away. I guess you can say that we missed our moment.
Except the moment was always ours.
We became friends during our junior year in high school. We had the same chemistry class, had had other classes together before, but had different groups of friends. Midway through the school year, there was some kind of drama between two of the lab partners—I think that there was a romantic break-up and a special request from the parents—and we ended up together in the massive switch-over.
Chemistry confused me. I understood the basics, the formulas, but the experiments in lab always seemed the same to me. "Why does everything always end up blue or green?" I asked him one day, while scraping the substance we created at the bottom of my lab dish.
"Because we're using copper," he said.
"It matches your eyes." Except I lied. His eyes were darker, more brilliant than the specks and crumbles in front of me. We ended up working on our lab reports together, meeting after school, and we found that we had similar tastes in music. Soon we were going to shows in Seattle together all the time. It's sort of how he discovered my beach—or rather, how I brought him to my haven.
One summer day before our senior year, I picked him up at 4am and we drove to one of the local radio stations. One of our favorite bands was scheduled for a morning interview and acoustic set. We joined about a hundred other die-hard fans—in the end they only let in half of us. Instead of sitting in the studio, we listened to the interview on the radio while driving aimlessly. Eventually I led us to my beach. The early morning fog had not melted yet, creating an eerie cloud around my car. We stayed there for a moment before exiting.
"This is my favorite spot," I confided as he handed me one of his ear buds so we could listen to the rest of the set while on the beach. We wandered through the fog, sauntering so that we could listen at the same time, his arm around my shoulder for the first time. At some point we stopped at the water's edge and each pulled out our ear buds. The fog had faded to mist, but still had that surreal quality to it, especially with the loud quiet surrounding us, only sounds of the waves crashing on the shore.
"Do you mind?" he asked me, gesturing with his free hand to the one draped around me.
"No," I answered honestly. "We're friends, right? Besides, I think holding hands is much more intimate." He didn't answer me, just left his arm where it was, and turned his face to look away in the other direction.
After a quiet Christmas morning with my dad, Jake comes over to join us for dinner. "Merry Christmas, love," he says as he walks in and kisses me quickly on the lips before coming in to greet my dad. I freeze for a moment as they exchange hellos.
"Don't call me that," I say gently. He scowls.
"That's my welcome?"
"Come on, you know I missed you, Jake. Merry Christmas," I say, and then peck him on the cheek in a conciliatory gesture. My dad walks into the living room to continue watching t.v. and leaves us in the entryway.
"It's because of him, isn't it?" he asks.
"Jake, you know it doesn't mean anything...it's just what we call each other." Even to me, my words sound false. But I can't explain it. I just can't hear that term of endearment from anyone else. "Call me anything else."
"You're my girlfriend, not his," he says, then leads the way into the living room to sit with my dad while I finish making dinner. I roll my eyes behind him. We went out to dinner a few nights ago and I realized how much I missed him. But something felt strained; different than when we saw each other last. And after I told him about catching the sunset earlier that day, he dropped me off early at my dad's house. He didn't like my company at the beach.
Dinner is quiet. We occupy ourselves with the roast chicken, twice-baked potatoes and lemon-sautéed spinach. It's similar to Thanksgiving, except Jake flew out to San Francisco instead, and my dad stayed in Seattle. My dad excuses himself to go back out to the living room, giving us some privacy to exchange gifts in the dining room.
"I can't take this," I say to Jake as I open his gift for me.
"Come on, it wasn't that expensive." He pushes the small box back to me. He thinks that that is what is upsetting me.
"Thank you, Jake. It is beautiful. But I don't really wear jewelry anyway, and I'm sure it did cost a lot and-"
"It's a gift, sweetheart," he interrupts me. He doesn't call me "love" like earlier—at my request—but I do notice the sarcasm in his voice. I take the box back, say thank you once again, then give him his gift.
After Jake leaves, I join my dad in the living room and flop down on the couch. He glances away from the television at me, then silently picks up a box from under the tree and awkwardly puts his arm around my shoulder as he sits down next to me. "This is from your mom, kiddo. It just got here yesterday."
I rip open the packaging tape on the plain brown box. Nestled inside a mountain of packing peanuts is a smaller box that has crushed silver wrapping on it, looking like it's barely survived the shipping from wherever my mom is living now. I peek at the return address—a P.O. box in San Diego. I gasp after tearing open the thick shiny paper. Looking up at me is a framed black and white photo of my mom and me at my favorite beach. All you can see is the outline of our silhouettes against the dimming sky—we're sitting side by side with our backs to the camera, her arm around me, and my head tilted against her shoulder.
"I took that picture," my dad says quietly after he peers in at the photograph. "That was the summer before—" he stops speaking then fingers the outline of our blackened bodies and the intricate metalwork of the frame. He doesn't have to finish his sentence. It's the summer before I turned nine years old. The summer before she left.
After our junior year in chemistry together, we somehow ended up in the same physics class. When Mrs. Gaucher paired us with other people, he managed to convince her that we had to be lab partners for the year.
"Are you sure?" I asked him, feeling bad. "You know I never understood Chemistry."
He dismissed my statement with the wave of a hand. "We make a good team," he said simply.
A few months before graduation, our class went on a field trip to the Pacific Science Center. I held onto our worksheets for the both of us, while waiting outside the bus for him. Eventually Mrs. Gaucher called the remaining stragglers to board, and I ended up in the very back row, the one with five seats across. He never made it on the bus.
I felt disappointed until our bus pulled up to the museum. He was sitting on the concrete steps just outside, and stood up just as the bus came to a stop. I waved at him through the windows and he waited for me to exit the bus. I was the last one out.
"Hey," he said as he put his arm around me. "Did you get my message? Sorry I was running late. I had to drive myself here."
"Message?" I asked, checking my cell phone at the same time. The battery was dead.
"Don't worry, man," one of the guys in our class said to him as he passed us. "We were all looking after your lab partner on the bus." I rolled my eyes.
"What's that about?" he asked me quietly, tightening his grip on my shoulder slightly.
"Nothing," I shrugged. "Some of the guys were just bugging me on the bus."
"Really?" he paused. "You want me to help you out with that?" We smiled at each other in agreement.
For the rest of the field trip, he never left my side. As lab partners, we didn't really have to do the worksheets together, but somehow we both assumed we would. He kept his arm draped over my shoulder—like he usually did when we were alone together, but never at school.
In the butterfly house, he sidled us up to the group of guys who had been relentlessly flirting with me on the bus—despite my obvious disinterest—and said loudly, "Which species do you think that yellow one is, kid?"
"I don't know," I responded, then lowered my voice so only he could hear me. "Kid? That's not romantic, that's what you call a friend."
"Okay, kid," he whispered back.
"Besides, it makes me feel like a kid, when you say that."
In the Science Playground, as we tested how fast we could throw a baseball, he teased me mercilessly, "You can do better than that, darling."
"Too cheesy," I whispered back.
When he rode the High Rail Bicycle outside—balancing on a thin track with a pendulum underneath the bike, I said, "Good job, honey!"
"Too sweet," he said after he climbed down.
As we battled each other with the water cannons, I said, "Take that, sweetheart!"
"You suck at this, baby," he responded, thoroughly soaking me. We dried off with paper towels he grabbed from the bathroom, and he said, "Too common" as I said "Baby makes me feel younger than kid" at the same time.
"What about 'babe'," he countered.
"Just as common as 'sweetheart'," I replied.
We made our way to the Planetarium five minutes late and had to step over a few people to get to two empty seats together, trying not to drip water on anyone. "There's not much Physics on this field trip," he said.
"I think it's just an excuse to get away," I agreed.
"I haven't seen those guys around all day," he smiled.
"Me neither." It was true. They had left me alone after seeing us at the butterfly house together, yet we still continued the game. We spread our worksheets out on the floor in front of us to dry out.
Finally as we settled in our seats, he moved his arm from around my shoulder and laced his fingers with mine instead. "Is this okay, love?" he asked.
I looked into his bright green eyes in the darkening theater. "It's perfect."
I fly back to San Francisco two days earlier than planned. It's spur of the moment, but my dad understands since we weren't going to spend New Year's together anyway. I'd just be missing Mike's party.
I take out the picture from my mom and set it on my dresser. Who knew that we were finally living in the same state? Albeit five hundred miles away. I hadn't seen her in a few years—not since we vacationed together in Cabo for my sixteenth birthday. I think she went back to live there for a while afterwards since I received some post cards here and there. Before the picture, the last I had heard from her was when she sent me a tiny blue bikini for my high school graduation, and an invitation to join her for the summer. I declined, deciding to work before moving to San Francisco. In reality, I couldn't imagine spending my last summer at home away from him. Though Jake and I were dating throughout the summer, it was always him. But he was moving three thousand miles away for college. And we were just friends.
I've arrived the night before New Year's Eve, and figure that I'll be ringing in the new year alone. Most of my friends here are still out of town for the holidays, or going to parties that I'm not interested in. Last year I'd spent the evening with him, watching old movies and eating inordinate amounts of popcorn. Last year I made a promise to meet him at my beach—our beach—in ten years time. It was an alcohol-induced idea; inspired by one of the movies we were watching. Inspired by the fact that we were friends.
I stay up writing descriptions of the various sunsets on Alki Beach in Seattle, recalling my solitary times there, and the first time I brought him there. I picture the sunset from the week prior and how he knew to find me there. By the time I remember that I need to call him to tell him that I won't be at the party, it's three a.m. I putter around my kitchen, debating how early is too early to go for a run at the beach. Ocean Beach is not my beach, but it's close enough that I can jog there without waiting for an early morning bus. And it's my substitute for while I'm living in this city. Finally I decide that it's still too early, and I kill time by baking cinnamon rolls and ginger snaps from scratch.
A few hours later, I change into my running gear, and head out the door. It's still dark outside, but sleep evades me. As I close the outer door to the building, I almost stumble against someone sitting sideways at the top of the steps, head leaning against the wall. He pulls off his hood as I gasp in surprise.
"I had a dream," he says, smiling as he stands up and grabs his duffel bag. "I stood beneath an orange sky..."
"I love that song," I respond. I cannot help smiling back. "Come on in, love."
"Were you going for a run?" he asks as we head back into my building.
"What are you doing here?" I ask instead of answering his question.
"Um…I thought we had plans for New Year's," he says simply. I laugh and shake my head at his answer.
"How long have you been waiting out there?"
"A long time," he admits. "I didn't want to wake you."
"I've been up all night, anyway," I say as we reach my apartment and let us in. I close the door and add, "I was headed to the beach."
"Oh. We can go together, if you want."
"You must be tired." I look at the bags under his eyes, his bronze hair a delicious mess. "Do you want to shower first?"
I lay down on the couch after showing him to my bathroom. I laugh again to myself at my complete nonchalance at him showing up at my door unexpectedly. He must have spoken with my dad again. My eyes drift as I hear the steady sounds of the shower. The bright sunshine streaming through my thin curtains wakes me up hours later. I am fully dressed in my running gear on top of the quilt on my bed, and I wonder if I just imagined his appearance at my front door. I run a hand through my hair, and then wander into my living room.
He is lying down on his side on the couch where I fell asleep, a throw pillow tucked under his head and one of my blankets tucked around him. I lift up the blanket carefully so I don't wake him, then tuck myself into his side and fall asleep a little longer.
"Jake gave me a ring," I say nonchalantly to him, as I wave my hand in the direction of my dresser.
"He proposed to you?" he asks, his voice rising slightly as his head whips around towards where I was gesturing.
"No," I answer. "Not exactly. It's kind of like a promise ring." He picks up the light blue box and studies the contents. "It's a knot design," I explain. "It signifies-"
"Eternity," he finishes. His brow furrows. "What does that mean? Are you guys—"
"Nothing, it means nothing," I interrupt. What does it mean for us? I answer his spoken and unspoken question in succession. "I broke up with him. He won't take it back. "
"Love," he hesitates, then asks a question different from the one I am expecting. "Are you running away again?"
Again? Running away? I know my dad would agree with him about the running away part. He would say it was inevitable because of my mother. Because my mom ran out on him. On us.
"I am not running away," I answer, keeping my voice even. I grab the box from his hands and place it back on the dresser, then wrap my arms around him. "I'm not in love with him."
"Chemistry always confused you," he quips, laughing, but his laughter falls short.
We watch the sunset at Ocean Beach, as much as the fog allows us, then grab some takeout on the way back to my place. "Movie?" he asks as I set up al the Styrofoam boxes on the coffee table. I nod before heading to the kitchen to get us drinks.
"Same as last year?" he asks after placing a DVD in my player. He holds up the plastic DVD case with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant on the cover. An Affair to Remember.
We are mostly silent as the movie plays and we hungrily eat our only meal of the day. Midway through the movie he turns to me and asks, "Why are we waiting ten years again?"
"Hmm?" I say, hesitating. I'm simultaneously surprised yet not surprised that he remembers our pact to meet at our beach. I don't believe in forever. I want to say. If we're meant to be, we're meant to be. I imagine an older version of us, finding each other again.
"Why are we waiting so long? Our plans for New Year's?"
I shrug my shoulders. I have no answer to give him. I am afraid.
The morning after New Year's I feel uncharacteristically warm in my bed. While I am half-asleep, I realize it is because our legs are tangled as we face each other on our sides. My head is tucked into his neck and shoulder area, and I don't resist the urge to place a small kiss there. One kiss turns into three or four, and he starts to wake up and I can feel the heat of his hands trailing lightly on my back.
"Morning, love," he whispers as he returns my kisses, soft and light on my forehead. "Is this okay?"
"Mmm," I answer as I close my eyes. "Happy New Year." I can feel—rather than see—his face hovering closer to mine, and he finally closes the gap as his lips touch mine for the first time. The sweetness, the warmth, and the inimitable everything that is him encompasses me, and I wonder why we hadn't kissed before. Softly, lightly, then a burst of urgency surges between us as his lips and tongue continue to tangle with mine. Soon we are breathing heavily and we scramble to take off our shirts before he lays me on my back and the partial weight of him on my body feels like nothing I have experienced before.
"Is this okay?" I repeat his words from earlier, unsure where we stand.
He smiles down at me, his bronze hair flopping down slightly in his eyes. "More than okay, love." His hands wander down my body…before I know it, there are no longer any barriers between us.
He pauses for a moment, and I nod my head, then I'm lost to a million different sensations. I close my eyes to memorize the feeling, his touch, his back muscles underneath my hands, the feel of his lips on my neck, the slight dampness of our bodies as we move together. When I open my eyes again, he is smiling down at me, almost a smirk, except for the look of…fear, hope, and something indescribable all merging into one. The seaweed green of his eyes.
I want say something, but am afraid of disturbing the ephemeral quality of the moment. Instead I focus on the physicality of us together, the warmth of his breath against mine as he captures my lips again, sweetly and languidly, until there is no other sensation but us as we crash one after the other over the edge.
I fall asleep, perhaps briefly, perhaps infinitely, in his arms, and when I wake again, he is stroking my arms as my head is buried in his chest. I don't dare look up at him, just study the funny particles of air visible in the rays of sun coming through my windows.
"I can't stay," he whispers, almost as a lament, almost an apology.
"I'm not asking you to." I can only answer him truthfully.
The week before his spring break, before he is scheduled to fly back here and visit me, he calls me as I'm heading out the door for a run. I end up wishing I never answered the phone as it spurs our first and only fight.
"Hello?" I answer quickly, throwing my shoes on at the same time. I gesture my running partner in the door and hold up one finger.
"Ready to go?" Felix asks as he walks in the door.
"Who's there, love?" he asks over the phone.
"I'm just about to go for a run…" I say, distracted as I grab a water bottle. "Can I call you back?"
"Why is there another guy there this early?" he demands angrily.
"You're not my boyfriend, love," I say, irritated. It's the wrong thing to say, but I don't understand his jealousy in light of our undefined relationship.
"Then why am I flying out there?" he retorts.
I never end up going for that run. We argue back and forth for almost an hour before clarifying our misunderstanding. When he visits the following week, things are tense between us, and not in a good way. In the end, we try to define what we are to each other, but the fact that I am moving to San Diego to live with my mom instead of transferring to a community college near him doesn't sit well with him. I am unwilling to move anywhere else, even for him.
Year 3: San Diego
I am taping up the last box of my books, and search around for a sharpie to write the contents on the side. Most of my things are packed, most of my kitchen gear boxed away to donate. I don't want to lug too much across the country and am unsure how much would fit in my car anyway. I spot the sharpie amidst packing paper on the coffee table and grab it when I hear the knock. The new tenants aren't moving in for another week so I wonder idly who it could be.
As I open the door, I drop the sharpie to the ground when I realize who it is. "Hey, love," he says casually, as if it hasn't been more than a year since we have seen each other. His hands are in his pockets and he glances around him and behind me…nervously as he greets me. "It's been a while…"
I squeal and throw my arms around him, putting him slightly off balance for a moment before he tugs his hands out of his pockets and wraps them around my waist. "I've missed you," I confess in a whisper, then add in a louder voice, "What are you doing here, love?"
"I'm here to help you move," he answers with a shrug of his shoulders as we let go of each other.
"How did you—"
"Your dad told me you were driving by yourself from here to New York," he interrupts nonchalantly.
"Yeah…he couldn't get time off work, but I don't mind driving by myself," I answer. "You're just in time, actually, I'm pretty much done packing. There's not much left to do—"
"I'm not here to help you pack," he says firmly. "I'm driving with you."
"Oh. Do you need a ride to New Haven?" I ask, confused. How did he get here? Why wouldn't he just fly there?
"No. Um…well, I guess I do now. I changed my flight from Seattle to here," he sounds uncertain, a quick change from his earlier statement. "My classes start next week."
"You could have called," I say, slightly irritated. My semester at NYU doesn't start for a few weeks, so I was expecting to drive leisurely across the country, especially since I was going to be clocking all the miles on my own. You could have called to ask me. You could have called me once since our argument over a year ago. But, he hasn't. He has sent me letters, texts and emails, all brief, most slightly impersonal, none discussing his plans. Because his plans don't involve me.
"You could have called too," he counters. I step back and glare at him. We are still standing on the steps leading to my small cottage.
"I did call you," I say tersely, throwing my arms in the air and walking in to my living room, waiting for him to follow me. I dash back to grab the sharpie from the floor and finish labeling my boxes as he sits down on my couch, amongst bubble wrap and tape. "Several times. You never called me back."
"I didn't want to…interrupt anything," he says, mindlessly running his hands through his hair. "Look, I didn't come here to argue with you. I...I missed you too." I walk to the kitchen and carry back my last box of dishes and set it on the coffee table in front of him without acknowledging his last statement. I'm looking down at the box and taping it up when his hand comes up to stop me. "And…I am sorry, love."
I roll my eyes at him and toss him the tape so he can help me finish packing. I am not sure what he is sorry for, and even more uncertain if I want to ask. Does he regret the way we left things? Does he regret letting us drift apart? Or, does he regret everything?
We say goodbye to my cottage together, and I fill him in on what it was like living with my mother for the first time in ten years. Of course, we only lasted about eight months together as she moved out several months ago to find herself a new adventure, another strip of ocean. It was like living with an older sister, and—while I cherished the time we had together—it truly made me appreciate my dad even more.
"I'm going to miss this place," I tell him as we watch my last sunset on Mission Beach. "This is the closest I've lived to the beach."
"Yeah, I wish I came out earlier," he says. The sky is turning into the burnt orange color that I am always yearning for and dreaming about. He reaches over and intertwines his hands with mine and we finish watching the sun climb down the remainder of its ladder rungs in silence.
On the third night of our road trip, I am drifting off to sleep in his arms in a hotel somewhere in Iowa. The streetlights are streaming in through the sheer curtains, providing the only light for us. It is only nine or so, but I am tired from our long hours of driving and we have an early start ahead of us. We are compromising—hurrying a little to get to New York so he won't miss too many classes, yet trying to enjoy ourselves along the way as well. His arm is wrapped protectively around me and my head is tucked into the crook of his shoulder and neck. It's how we've slept for the past five nights since he showed up on my doorstep, since the first two nights we had to share the sofa bed at my cottage. I had sold my bed the week before and the new tenants wanted to keep the living room furniture. It is the best sleep I've had in years. Just as my mind starts to fall off into slumber, he says something that jolts me awake. At first I am uncertain if it's a dream, and I turn towards him as he repeats his words.
"I've met someone," he says softly as he plays with my hair.
"Oh?" I whisper back, unsure exactly of what he is saying.
"She goes to Yale, too. Her name's Tanya. You'd like her."
"We've been together since last January."
Seven months. My brain does the calculation quickly. My heart is still pounding, confused. I try to say something, anything, that would sound detached, but I can't. Is this why he hasn't called me? Is she why?
"Are you happy?" he asks when my silence fills the void for too long.
I pause, again uncertain how to answer. "Are you?" I respond.
"Then, yes, I am." I find that I can answer that question truthfully as his happiness was always important to me. How could I begrudge him love? He deserves that and so much more. "Um…does she know you're here? With me?" It sounds silly to say out loud, as we have done nothing to betray her trust. Why didn't he tell me about her five days ago?
"Um…maybe I should sleep on the other bed?" He disagrees and tries to gently stop me, but I scramble onto the other double bed in the hotel room. It doesn't feel fair to his girlfriend, otherwise, much less myself. I turn on my side, facing away from him and try to breathe evenly to fall asleep, but the bed feels cold. Inside, my mind and heart are going a mile a minute, filled with words left unsaid.
Year 4: New York City/Barcelona
I take the long way through the park, dodging tourists as I pound the pavement. Truthfully, Park Guell likely isn't the best place for running as the pathways are mostly made of stone rather than dirt, but it has been my track during my six-month stay in Barcelona. I left a few things behind in my cramped apartment in New York, but not much as I sublet it out. I trace along the pathways, trying to see it as I had six months ago, as I'm sure he'll see it when I bring him here later this week. The organic looking pillars and plant holders that look like trunks of palm trees and remind me of my time in California. The views of the spectacular city. The constant stream of locals and tourists, the warmth of the Spaniards a welcome change from the coldness of Manhattan. The eclectic mosaic pieces and sculptures of Gaudi. The contrast of the vibrant colors with the earthy brown dirt. And the open-air café where I would work on my next story or write him postcards filled with musings of my day.
After my morning run through Park Guell, I head back to the hotel. Most of my classmates have left, off to travel through other parts of Europe after our classes have ended, but I opted to stay a few more days in Barcelona.
I dash in towards the elevator anxious for a shower, when I notice a familiar head of bronze hair, half asleep in one of the lobby armchairs. He's not showing up on my doorstep this time, but is still—somewhat—unexpected. Two days early, at least. I break into a wide smile at the surprise, then plop myself next to him as I gently shake him awake.
"Hey, love," I say placing an arm around him in a hug. "Did I mix up dates?"
"Mmm," he says sleepily, opening his eyes lazily to meet mine. "No, decided to come early. That okay?"
"Of course. What happened to spending the weekend with Tanya's family first?" We planned this trip so that he would fly out almost immediately after his semester ended.
"We broke up," he says simply. "She wasn't…what I was looking for."
"I'm sorry…are you okay?" I refrain from asking what I really want to ask—when did they break up, and why did it take him more than a year to figure it out?
He shrugs his shoulders. "I'm jet-lagged…can we go to your room?"
Later that evening after plates of tapas and a pitcher of sangria, we are a mixture of lips and limbs, stumbling into bed. The messy heat between us feels good, feels like coming home again, and I wonder once more why I waited to tell him how I felt. In my inebriated state, the words spill from my lips between kisses, "I love you, love."
"Me too," he replies after pulling back to look me in the eyes. "So much."
I giggle nervously as it seems too easy, but the sangria makes me not care. The hunger inside me gives in to the emotion and feeling and the whole encounter feels…lighter, blurrier than last time.
In the morning we are a sticky mess of tangled legs and arms, but we are blissfully together. I sleepily lift my head from his chest and place a quick kiss there. "Why did you and Tanya break up?" I ask in a whisper to his heart.
"She wasn't you," he says softly back.
From Barcelona, we follow the coast up through the south of France, holding hands lazily in trains. On one long stretch, we gaze at the French countryside together, fingers intertwined, a silly smile plastered on my face. I glance at the sharpness of his profile and back to the window outside.
"It's like we're on a honeymoon," he says, laughing before lifting our joined hands to place a kiss on the back of mine. I tense at his use of words and look down at the dirty train floor in front of me.
"Hey…it's okay, love…I was just teasing," he says sincerely, but I know what he's thinking as he scrutinizes me worriedly. He's afraid that he's said too much; I know that we have said too little. It's not our honeymoon, I think. It will never be ours.
Our bubble has burst, and I wonder if this is how my dad felt when my mom walked out on him. That he couldn't hold on to the fleeting moments, couldn't find the words to say what he wanted to say. Or if this is how my mom felt at that same moment: alone, just brave enough to walk away from what isn't hers.
The fields and trees pass by us in a blur as we reach towards our next destination.
Year 5: New York City
From one train to another. That's what I recall about our trip last spring through Europe, as I ride a different train in a different country. Somewhere in the south of France, I left behind my heart. It was better that way, I say to myself. We finished the rest of our trip as friends, laughing easily and still holding hands. The tension palpable—but it always was—the lost look in his green eyes haunting me. I didn't know what to say. He didn't fight me either.
"If this is what you really want," he had said. I had simply nodded.
Earlier today—after discussing another failed relationship that didn't bother me, that did leave me wanting more but from someone else—I thought of him again. The only thing that ever bothered me was being apart from him. My last relationship had ended several weeks ago, and I never mentioned him to my dad, hardly ever to my friends. For once, there was no one else for me or for him. For once we weren't sleeping together just after a break up or drunk as hell, clouding all feelings, making me doubt everything. For once I would show up on his doorstep unexpectedly, just to say hello.
So I hopped on a train from NYC to New Haven. My plan seemed easy enough.
As I disembark in New Haven, I climb into a taxi and resist the urge to head to a bar first. Instead, I give the driver his address and settle in for the short drive. Why can I only be truthful with him while intoxicated? Since I am determined to do things differently, I approach his house sober.
I knock nervously on his door, fidgeting with my handbag as I wait. The door opens quickly, and I ask his roommate if he's home. Of course he isn't. It suddenly dawns on me why I never show up without calling him first.
"Was he expecting you?" he quirks his head to one side, pondering my appearance at the door. We've hung out previously on several occasions when I've visited New Haven, but, again, I always called first.
"No. Um…do you know where he is?"
"At Toad's Place…I think he wanted to see one of the opening bands tonight. I'm sure he'd want to see you."
I walk the few streets down to the bar, a place I've come to know well in the past few years since moving to the east coast. As I look up to cross the street, I see him leaning against the outside wall of Toad's, a blonde girl standing close next to him as they chat. My face falls, and I'm stuck in mid-stride, uncertain what to do. The terror I tried hard to bury surges and I think about my options. Run; run home as fast as I can. Say hi, and then run. Stay and face him, like the good friend that I am.
In the end he chooses for me. He looks up from the blonde and spots me in my uncertainty, still deciding whether or not to cross the street. His face breaks out into a wide smile and I can see him excuse himself from his…date…new girlfriend…whatever as he strides quickly over to meet me.
"What are you doing here, love?"
I steal one of his signature moves and shrug my shoulders in answer. "Um…looking for you? I should go…"
"Wait," he laughs. "What do you mean? You just got here."
I shake my head, furiously, feeling stupid, but not wanting to meet another one of his girlfriends. Not tonight. "I'm sorry," I say and start to walk towards the main street to find a cab back to the train station.
He tugs me back towards him just as I'm climbing into a cab. "Where are you going, love?"
"Home," I say, but I mean New York. I have no idea where home is anymore.
"Why? Come on, let's head back to my place." He wraps his arm around me before I can get back in the cab. We walk the few blocks back to his apartment and watch old movies until the early hours of the morning. In the morning, I take the train back to New York by myself.
Year 6: Boston
My dad and I have a quick lunch together at the diner, the day after his simple wedding to Sue, a widow and family friend he has been seeing for a few years. Sue makes up some excuse about needing to finish packing for their honeymoon trip so that we can have some alone time together. I am thrilled for my dad that he has found someone so unlike my mother—stable, committed and willing to stay in Seattle. Truthfully I am also happy that I don't have to worry about him as much, but I wonder what the family merger means for me. My conflicting feelings, however, didn't stop huge, joyous tears from trickling down my face as my dad and Sue exchanged vows at city hall, and I sat in between Sue's two adult children, my new stepsister and stepbrother.
As I muse about my feelings of wanting things to stay the same—especially amongst the whirlwind happening in my life at the moment—I think about my one constant in my life. Then, as if by magnetic pull, I toss my head over my shoulder and I spot him walking in the restaurant. It just takes one glance, and my lips pull into a wide smile. He looks older—of course he does. I've seen him more recently, but in my mind I compare him to how he looked five years ago when I first moved away from here. He's lost the slight roundness to his face, his jaw is more defined, his eyes a darker green. He's even more beautiful now than then, just as I knew he would be.
I bite my lower lip, subconsciously, and even this motion doesn't quell the brightness of my smile. Despite the turmoil that I've been hiding since I've been home, I feel a shift in the air as he walks in. I can feel it—my happiness bubbling at the surface. At that moment, his green eyes make contact with mine and he lights up as well as he motions to the woman he's walking with towards the table where we are sitting.
"Congratulations, Chief Swan," he greets sincerely after introducing his girlfriend to my father and I. She is a grad student at UW, where he is going to med school. "I would have thought that you'd be on your honeymoon by now."
"We leave later this evening," my dad replies. "Going to Hawaii."
"A typical honeymoon," I tease as I roll my eyes. "I'm dropping them off at the airport later."
"Then going to your beach?" he asks, and I nod my head in answer. They settle at a table on the other end of the diner, and my dad and I finish our food.
"You've hardly eaten," my dad says, pointing to my barely touched burger.
"Not much of an appetite, I guess," I respond, shrugging my shoulders. In reality I am nauseous beyond belief and am gripping the table to avoid vomiting.
"When are you heading back to Boston, love," he asks as he flops down on my blanket next to me, facing the water, much like we have multiple times before.
"Tomorrow. I just came out for the wedding." My thin orange flames are dancing along the horizon again, along my horizon. It is comforting and sad all at once. "I haven't been back in a while."
"I know. I miss our New Year's Eve's together," he responds quietly.
I laugh. "We haven't spent New Year's together in years," I say, teasing. I want to add more, want to ask him if he remembers our pact, want to see if he remembers anything about me at all. But the damn nausea returns, and I turn away from him and throw up in the small plastic bag next to me. He rubs my back in circles as I catch my breath. "Sorry," I say. "I should head back-"
"You're pregnant," he interrupts.
"I'm not." My eyes tear up as I answer him. "I'm having a miscarriage." The words sound strange coming from me. I stare straight ahead of me at the crashing surf, rather than look him in the eyes. My words recede with the ocean waters, following the flow out to sea. "It started a few days before I got here, and I…I couldn't tell my dad. I took the medicine to make it faster, but all it does is make me throw up."
"Let me take you to the hospital."
"No, love. It's okay. I already spoke with my doctor…I have a…surgery scheduled for when I get back."
"Where's the…who's the father?"
"Jared. He…he doesn't know."
"He doesn't know you're pregnant?" he asks, in disbelief, as he turns my face gently to face him.
"He knows…he doesn't know I'm having a miscarriage," I say carefully. How do I explain? How do I tell him that I am devastated but wonder if it's better this way? That my boyfriend likely couldn't take time off work to go with me to the surgery, that I made sure to schedule it at a different hospital than the one he works at, that he'd likely be relieved because I can go on that medical mission with him to Costa Rica? Or that I wasn't planning on going on the mission, but changed my mind, knowing that I need something to keep my mind off of my due date?
In the end, I tell him everything as the darkness descends on us at my sanctuary. He holds me and rocks us back and forth as I grieve for the baby I'll never meet.
He drives as I direct him on the empty stretch of the road towards Good Harbor Beach at Cape Ann. When we arrive, the gate for the parking lot is still closed, so we park next to it and clamber out of the car. He takes my arm gingerly and guides me across the short boardwalk and bumpy sand, as if I'm fragile. It's just minor surgery, I think. But the warmth of his arm feels good so I don't say anything. He spreads my flannel blanket on the location I indicate, then helps to set me down, glancing at my face to see if it's okay. It is still dark out, but there is enough light to see where we are.
"Thanks for coming to be with me, love," I say, breaking the silence. "Again."
"How could I do anything else?" he responds, incredulous.
I have no answer to that so I change the subject. "You can't see the sunset here." I gesture towards the rippling water. A lone house—three stories tall—sits to our right on the sand. In front of us to our left is a small lighthouse, its light still flashing as the day dawns. The sand is packed and wet; high tide has come and gone.
"Of course not, love," he laughs. "We're on the east coast. That's why we're up so early, right? To see it rise instead?" I nod. "What is it with you and sunsets, anyway?"
"I don't think it's the sunset—though I love the orange sky..."
"I know." He nods for me to continue.
"I think it's the water, the ocean, the sounds of the surf—crescendo-decrescendo, rise and fall," I pause a moment as I realize I'm babbling. "It's my mother," I add in a whisper.
"The ocean reminds you of your mom?" He turns to face me, and places his arm around my shoulder in a gesture of comfort.
"Yes and no." How do I explain? The ocean reminds me of one of the few things my mom tried to teach me. It also reminds me that I am not like her, that I don't want to be like her, always running. "Do you know that she always lives near the ocean?"
"Like you," he adds. It surprises me a little that he's noticed.
"Yeah. Ever since she left me with my dad, when I was eight, all the places she's lived have been near the coast. She told me once she never wanted to feel land-locked. Trapped."
"Like you again," he says. His tone is soft, not accusatory. Mostly like he's mulling it over in his head.
"No," I respond, shaking my head. "That's not it." I disentangle his arm from around me and slowly stand up. I'm a little sore, but moving around feels freeing. "You've never got me," I say softly.
"You've always confused me," he corrects. "It's part of the mystery, part of the beauty. But," he pauses for a moment. "I have always understood you."
I tilt my head towards him, pondering his last statement, then continue, "I don't see things the way she does...I live on the coast because the ocean is my only constant. The one thing I can count on, the one thing that is always there." Like you.
He stands up next to me and doesn't answer. Instead, he puts my hand in his and intertwines our fingers. Words are unnecessary.
Year 7: Boston/Costa Rica
As I glance out at the water in front of me, I write descriptions of the differences between the coastlines here in Costa Rica from back home. The ocean's smell is the same. My sense of freedom is not.
Yet I was the one who chose companionship over love, mediocrity over fear. I thought that I would find myself, here, in Costa Rica by helping Jared out on his medical mission. Yet I can't help but compare Jared's cold bedside manner, this medical mission done out of a sense of obligation for his resume, rather than…empathy for those in need. Something to further his career. Would he view things the same way once he was done with medical school too? Once he was an attending like Jared?
I think about my one constant in life—him —how are lives are threaded together, but not. I think about how he thought I was always running, just like my mother. My mother who has finally settled—if you could call living in one place for three years settling—in Florida.
He has been there every step of the way. He feels like I am running because he is always chasing me. He's shown up at my doorstep in San Francisco, San Diego, Barcelona…Boston. Why is he always chasing me?
A large swell crashes in front of me. Dark blue waves turning into white foam on the sand, bringing in the surfers and the wet spray. I think of Jared's patient, the young girl crying over her lost baby. The empty look in her eyes, and her husband's hand gripping hers tightly as the other stroked her hair. A piece of paper floats out of my tattered journal. A well-worn sketch of my favorite beach.
I pick it up and place it as my bookmark, and gather up my belongings from the sand. There is only one place I want to be.
Year 8: Seattle
I drive up and park my car quickly, even though I have several hours to spare before midnight. It is drizzling lightly and the light scrape of the windshield wipers against my windows is a welcome sound above the cheerful din of the radio. As I pull up, I spot a silver car in the lot, and my heart soars for second with equal amounts of hope and fear.
The drizzle stops momentarily, leaving behind in its wake a misty grayness that always reminds me of Seattle, of home. I smile as I see his silhouette; he is standing and watching the waves crash in, his bronze hair completely plastered to his face from the rain, the hood of his jacket down. His hands are in his jacket pockets and only his eyes are moving, following the approach and retreat of the surf. I wait to speak until I am almost right next to him on the sand.
"You're here," I say, softly in a whisper to the fog.
"I'm here," he confirms, lips twitching upwards into a smile.
"You're here," I repeat slightly louder.
"Where else would I be? Especially on this night." He remembers—of course he remembers—our agreement. I'm not sure why I thought he would forget. In all the years I have known him, he has never forgotten anything I have told him. He has always been there for me, whether I realized it or not. His words haunted me. Maybe I had been running all along. But not from him. Running to find myself.
"But it hasn't been ten years," I start as he shakes his head slowly. My voice is trembling slightly. "Didn't we agree to meet in ten years? It's only been—" I paused. Seven years?
"Bella," he says, placing each of his hands on my chilled arms and stroking them. "I've been coming here every year, hoping to find you here. It's my New Year's Eve ritual."
"Every year, Edward?"
He nods. "I…I don't want us to be friends anymore. I never have."
"I don't want that either," I say, my voice almost a whisper, as if the words can hide themselves amongst the thickening fog.
"I'm sorry you never knew…how much you mean to me, Bella. How close I've always held you to my heart." His use of my name feels different; I hadn't heard it fall from his lips in years. He steps closer to me, places his warm hands around my cold face.
I don't want my words or feelings to be hidden anymore, so I clear my throat and say the words I've known to be true for a long time. Not blurred under the haze of alcohol. Not whispered, but spoken. "I love you, Edward. I've always loved you."
"I love you too, Bella."
The rain starts picking up slightly, and I can feel my hair start to mat down around my face and jacket. But all I see, all I feel is Edward as he reaches down and kisses me gently on the lips, then more urgently as we grip each other as best we can in the wetness.
Finally I start to pull away. "We should go," I say, holding out my hand to him. "Shall we?"
We run quickly to his car, deciding to leave mine behind, our fingers intertwined, like always. In the back seat of his car, I notice a flannel blanket, glasses and a bottle of champagne. I look back at him and he shrugs his shoulders, as usual. "Just in case you showed up," he explains.
I pick up his hand from the gearshift before he starts to drive, and place a kiss on the back of it before holding it to my heart. "Seven years," I say. "I'm sorry I made you wait so long, Edward."
"You haven't…you are worth it, love," he says sincerely, while brushing a wet strand from my face with his free hand. "Bella, we have a lot to talk about. I'm…I'm not letting you go this time."
"I know," I answer to both of his statements. I am no longer afraid. I let go of his hand to trace the leftover raindrops along his jaw line, and glance one more time at my favorite beach, entrenched in rain and gray mist. There is no orange sky tonight. Just me. Just him.
You who are my home.