I'm not sure how long I plan to stay on Sunshine Islands.
At first glance, they seemed like a nice enough place, with kind people, and a happy atmosphere. There is only one thing wrong with my home. It is drop-dead boring. Sure, there are people to talk to, and my number one, absolutely glorious hero – Lanna, the pop star – lives here. I have Charlie, and I have my dad. But still . . . there is nothing to truly keep me occupied. Most of the time I feel like I'm only wasting time here; it feels wrong to keep my talents cooped up here and not show them to the rest of the world.
I lived with my mother for most of my life, so her abrupt decision to move me to my dad's was and shocking and unexpected. I think I know why she did it, though, now that I really consider it. My mother has very recently gotten engaged to a handsome man with lots of money – the exact kind that I dream about marrying one day.
I was ecstatic when I first met him, because I knew he had both the power and the money to allow me to really shine the way I was supposed to. I am a very pretty girl – prettier than anyone else I've ever met – with big blue eyes and long blonde curls. Everywhere I go, people tell me how lovely I am. Well, at least they did when I lived in the city. Here, I see the same old boring people every day, and they aren't always as frequent with their compliments.
In the city, I would bump into random people and they would stop whatever they were doing to stare and praise me. I miss the city. I miss the towering buildings, the masses of people, the beauty salons and the malls. I miss being adored. My face wrinkles up in what is probably an unattractive grimace.
Of course, I won't be going back to the city – at least to live – any time soon. The man my mom is marrying has two boys about my age – Jackson and Timothy - and now she is going to be their mom. She is going to leave me with dad and start her prestigious and glamorous life. I can't say I blamed her.
My mother looks almost exactly like me, except her hair is straighter and her eyes and more almond-shaped. She's very tall, and has a demanding, superior aura. She's always dreamed about a life of money and power, just like me. So how I can I blame her for leaving me behind and jumping on the opportunity when I'll do the exact same thing? I know I am going to be huge. I am going to learn how to sing like Lanna, and becoming a famous pop star.
Everyone will love and adore me.
They will send me flowers, chocolates and love notes. Everyone will know who I am. I look forward to that day with an exceeding amount of anticipation. I sigh and stare out at the waves, crashing against the sand in an endless cycle. My mother loves me. I know she does. She loved my dad at one point, too, but things didn't work out between them.
How could they?
She was beautiful and social. He wasn't. My father looks nothing like me – a fact I am proud of – but be loves and admires the same amount as Mother. He gives me whatever I want, and he is always saying he loves me, and that he knows I will make it big someday. I still hope that I might be helped by my mother's fiancé's wallet in the future, but I haven't seen either of them in almost a year now. A year I've lived on these remote little Islands, with no one around to truly appreciate me beside my father.
And of course, there's Charlie.
My lips curl up into a small – and breathtakingly sweet – smile. Charlie is the son of the Islands' only merchant, an elderly man named Chen. Charlie is always following me around and playing with me, like a best friend should. When I first came here, distraught at having to leave a place I loved so much, he was the one to comfort me and tell me everything would be alright. He played games with me and listened whenever I needed to talk.
I am truly fond of Charlie, but the thought of being anything more than friends with him makes me want to laugh. To me, Charlie is just a friend, always acting goofy and joking. When I marry, it'll be to someone of high importance and prestige. He will be perfect, more perfect than Mom's fiancé – and he most certainly won't ship little daughters away from their homes. I feel that familiar rage bubbling up in my chest at that thought.
As soon as I can legally go – which is the beautiful age of eighteen – I will pack up and move to the city once more. It won't take long to get money once people see how wonderful I truly am. I sigh again and close my eyes, imagining exactly the kind of future I wanted for myself. And why shouldn't I get it?
The high-pitched, happy voice tears me away from my thoughts. Annoyed, I whirl around to face who I know the voice belongs to. "Can't you see I'm busy?" I snap.
Charlie blushes and begins to kick sand around, averting his eyes. "Sorry, Eliza. But I finally got away from my Dad's aerobics – we can play now!" He sounds so happy.
"Stop kicking sand; it's getting on my dress!" I say, stepping backwards and brushing it from my dress.
Charlie blushes even more noticeably and reaches out to take my hand. "C'mon, Eliza, I saw Lanna outside her house today."
I brighten up almost immediately at that. Charlie knows that – whatever mood I may be in – I will always be cheered up when talking to my favorite pop star. Charlie leads me to Sprout Island, where we find Lanna sitting on the sand, next her dark-skinned boyfriend, Denny.
"Hey, kids," he says good-naturedly.
"Hey, Denny!" Charlie plops by him almost immediately, and Denny hands him the fishing pole, explaining a few basic techniques Charlie is very eager to learn. I roll my eyes at his immaturity and sit down next to Lanna.
"Good morning," I say politely.
"Hi, Eliza! You look very lovely this morning," Lanna replies, smiling warmly. Her line twitches and she hurriedly jerks it, reeling in a good-sized fish.
"Thanks," I say happily, "Mom send me another box of beauty products." Although Mom doesn't necessarily want to see me, she has no problem with sending me lots of gifts. It confused me at first, but then I dismissed it, because most of the time I love what she sends.
"Cool. We should get together sometime and you can show them to me."
Denny's line jerks, and Charlie is the one to reel it in. It takes a good portion of his energy and strength, but he manages in the end. I smile. Though Charlie is too juvenile for my liking, I have to admire his determination.
"Look, Eliza!" Charlie almost shouts, determined to impress me. "Look what I caught."
"Very nice, Charlie," I say, because I have to throw him a bone once in a while.
His eyes light up at my praise, and then he plops down in the sand to wait for the next fish.
I turn to Lanna again excitedly. "I've been working on my singing skills," I say proudly.
"Have you? That's great, Eliza. I was about your age when I starting singing, you know. If you work hard and train your voice right, you could be an excellent singer."
"You were nine years old?" My eyes widen in surprise.
"Yes." Lanna nods, amused.
A short silence falls over us while I contemplate that. I think about how Lanna did so well with her one hit, and then afterwards everything seemed to get worse. I'd prodded her for a long time, in the past, for why she didn't stay and continue to make albums in the city. She avoided the subject at first, but eventually she caved and confessed that she didn't do well after that one song.
"Lanna?" I say softly.
She tenses almost immediately at my tone. "Yes?"
"I'm going to move back to the city when I grow up," I tell her, "Would you come with me? We could sing and record together – it'd be a great comeback?"
Lanna laughs, though I can tell it's a little forced. "I've thought about going back, Eliza. Of course I have. Maybe I'll go back with you, but I might just stay here for a long time yet."
"Why?" I ask, confused. "Why would you just give up on a life where you're famous and you get everything you want?"
Lanna smiles, and her pretty hazel eyes flicker over to Denny, who is still talking animatedly to Charlie. When she looks back at me, I can easily see the love in her expression.
She leans forward and whispers in my ear. "I love Denny, Eliza. I think I might marry him soon. And I can't take him away from Sunshine Islands. This is his home, and mine." She leans back with a satisfied grin.
My eyebrows furrow together. "Everyone on this Island loves it here. I don't get it!" I resist the urge to stomp my foot. "What's so great about here?"
"It's awesome here, Eliza!" Charlie pipes up, getting to his feet. "The people are great, and there's no chance of it going under any time soon, not with Chelsea's ranch." He smiles widely. "Plus, when Dad passes on the store to me, I'll be a successful merchant."
"That's your future, though, Charlie," I sigh, wishing he would understand. "Mine is a bit more . . . exciting."
Denny shrugs. "To each her own, I guess." He wraps an arm around Lanna's shoulders and laughs.
"You should stay on these Islands, Eliza," Denny continues "The Islands need something pretty to look at."
Lanna glares and smacks him upside the head.
Denny pretends to look horrified, but of course he can't manage it for long. He chuckles and kisses Lanna full on the mouth. "Just kidding, baby."
"Yuck!" Charlie complains, backing slowly away. "C'mon, Eliza. Let's go visit Chelsea's ranch."
I shrug and agree. "Bye, Lanna. Bye, Denny," I call to them as we leave.
"So long, kids!" Denny yells back.
"Morning, Chelsea!" Charlie calls when we reach her humungous fields.
Chelsea whirls around quickly and grins. "Good morning, Charlie. Hello, Eliza."
I smile at Sunshine Islands' farmer. I have always liked her, and I thought she could be very beautiful, with the right amount of attention. I wondered many times what had drawn her to ranching when she could probably be modeling or something. But, of course I have to be grateful to her because, without her, the Islands would still be desolate.
"My mom sent me some new beauty products," I spout off, "You should come over and see them."
Chelsea smiles politely, but I know she really isn't interested in that sort of thing. "Maybe sometime later," she agrees pleasantly.
"Can we go see your horse?" Charlie asks excitedly.
"Sure. Let's go." Chelsea leads us to her stable, which is to the north of the field.
As soon as we get inside, Charlie races to the horse and begins to pet it. I've never understood some people's fascination with animals – they didn't seem all that special to me. But Charlie enjoyed it, so I could bear it without much complaint.
"He really likes you," Chelsea comments, her eyes adoring.
"What's his name again?" I wonder aloud.
"Buck," says a deep, gruff voice from behind me.
I turn, at first surprised to see the tall, amethyst-eyed man standing in the door way. But then I remember that it's Monday. Of course Vaughn would be coming to see Chelsea today. They are together like Denny and Lanna are, but they are less showy about it. I suspect that's only because the Islands' animal dealer was quiet and anti-social. Chelsea seemed to disregard that for the moment, because she laughed and almost threw herself into his arms.
She kisses him for a full five seconds before finally pulling away, smirking. Vaughn usually seems silent and strong to me, but now he blushes and refuses to meet anyone's eyes. I think it's cute, but, like Denny's and Lanna's show of affection, Charlie proceeds to show his less mature side.
"Ew," he grumbles, hiding behind the horse.
"Stay as long as you like," Chelsea tells us, her voice happy and light, the way it always is when she is around Vaughn, "We're going for a walk." "We are?" he asks, amused. "Mmm-hmm." Chelsea grins, takes his hand, and pulls him out the door, out of our sight.
I invite Charlie back to my house for lunch. My Dad is out and about today, working on expanding Taro's house, the elderly man who lives north of my house with his daughter and grandkids.
Charlie tries to make sandwiches for us both, but somehow the whole thing goes horribly wrong and he ends up with Miracle Whip and bits of cheese all over him. Even though it's slightly disturbing, I can't help but laugh at how ridiculous he looks. Charlie isn't even offended – he laughs openly with me. When he stops, he gives me a look that I've long since learned to recognize.
"Charlie," I warn.
He sighs, and looks away. "I love being around you so much, Eliza. I wish you would be my girlfriend."
"I've already told you – if you can make me a princess, you can be my boyfriend," I reply. Being a princess is even better than being a famous pop star, in my book.
He makes a face and hands me an orange soda. "You know I can't do that," he says solemnly.
I smile. Even though I know this is a sore conversation to have with him, I enjoy seeing that it is possible for Charlie to be calm and serious.
He misunderstands my smile and frowns. "You don't have to be mean."
"I'm not," I say quickly. I take a deep breath and continue, "I like you, Charlie. You're my friend. But you just don't fit into my plan."
"Plan?" Charlie blinks, bewildered.
"Yes. I have a plan. A this-is-how-my-life-will-go plan," I explain.
Charlie's arms fold over his chest, and he looks doubtful. "Tell me about it."
"I'm going to become a famous singer. I'm going to buy a big house and have lots of butlers and maids. Everyone will know and love me. After that, I'm going to marry someone."
Charlie opens his mouth to interrupt, but I hold up my hands to stop him.
"Someone important. Someone with money and power. And someone who loves me," I added.
"I could be important. I could make lots of money and give you things. I could love you," Charlie huffs.
I groan and sip the soda. "You don't understand."
"Nope," says Charlie, popping the 'p', "But, hey, you're not leaving for another nine years, right? I've got loads of time to change your mind. And I totally will."
I stare into his sincere eyes dubiously, and grumble under my breath. "We'll see."
Nine Years Later
I have loved Eliza since the very first day she came to the Island nine years ago. How could I not? She was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. When I first met her, I asked my father if she was an angel. Chen had laughed and told me no.
But ever since then, I have always been by her side. We have always been best friends. She always knew I wanted something more, but she always told me she had different plans in mind. It hurt me deeper than I admitted to anyone, but I hid it well, I thought. There was one time I had gotten to what I wanted.
Two years ago, on Meadow Island, the day of some Animal Festival in the Spring. She'd been particularly lovely that day, in a long white dress her mother had sent her. We'd sat together by the huge, pearly white shrine set at the northern most point of the Island. The winner had just been announced – Chelsea, predictably – the challengers had gone home, and the Islanders were taking a bit of time to socialize.
Gannon, Eliza's intimidating father, was far away, chatting with my father about business, probably. Eliza had been using a file to work on her nails. I adored watching her face as she worked; sometimes she would smile slightly, and sometimes she would frown at whatever she'd done wrong. Everything about her was absolutely mesmerizing. And this day, more than any other day for whatever reason, I wanted to kiss her. So badly.
But I knew it would not be received well, so I could merely tell her how lovely I thought she was, in a million different ways. She smiled and laughed every compliment I gave her.
"You're always flattering me, Charlie," Eliza sighed, her blue eyes twinkling. "Sometimes I feel like I don't do anything for you in return."
I shrugged and looked away. It would be corny to tell her that it was enough payment for her to simply be around me. When I turned my head back, she was smiling at me, so beautifully. Her hair had been done up in a particularly alluring way, and the makeup she wore highlighted her best features. So entranced and captivated, I didn't even notice that my head was leaning towards her before it was too late.
My lips landed on hers, and I froze, waiting to see what she would do. After an agonizingly long second, she began to kiss me back. I almost went incoherent with joy. But when she pulled away, she wasn't smiling like I'd hoped. Instead, her eyes were wide in something that might be described as horror, like she couldn't believe what she'd done.
She had returned home after that abruptly, and I went after her, after about an hour of sulking. When she finally left me in the house, I spent fifteen minutes or more telling her sorry I was. She left me go through my little speech without interruption, but when I was done, I fell silent, looking at her with pleading eyes.
"I know you're sorry, Charlie. And it was a very lovely kiss." Eliza blushed and looked away.
I braced myself, knowing the worst was coming.
When she looked at me again, her voice was resolved. "But I've already told you what I want. None of that has changed."
I nodded slowly. "I understand," I lied. Before I turned to exit her house, I couldn't help but stop and look over my shoulder. "But the kiss was good, huh?"
I checked. She smirked, looking almost devious now. "Yes."
But that was a long time ago now, it seemed.
And I couldn't have mattered less because today was the day she was leaving. Eliza was leaving Sunshine Islands to pursue her dreams of becoming a pop star. And she was leaving me behind. Of course, I had good reason to say; I co-ran the shop with my Dad now, and he was about ready to step down and retire anyway. It had always been my dream to make him proud and take over the business. But, as I walked with her to the dock in the very early hours of morning, I couldn't help but wish I was going too.
Or better yet, that she would stay. For me.
But I had been trying to change her mind for nine years, and nothing had happened. If you looked at the word 'stubborn' in the dictionary, no doubt you would find a pretty picture of Eliza. I didn't think my efforts where entirely in vain, however. Occasionally I caught her staring at me, almost wistfully, and she'd told me she loved me before. As a friend, but still. Another part of me was deathly terrified that she would meet a man and marry him.
A famous, rich, loving one. I snorted, thinking how likely the odds were of her finding someone else who loved her like I did. It was futile to tell her this, though – I would only waste my breath. I also feared that she would fail, however. Lanna had full confidence in Eliza's singing abilities, but I'd heard her sing before.
Everyone on the Island had. And, though I hate to be mean to her in any way, she can't sing. Eliza simply cannot sing. Her voice was much too high and weak, but I'd never had the courage to tell her that. It was a bit of a double standard, though, because part of me wanted her to fail and part of me wanted her to succeed. To fail because, if she did, she would return to Sunshine Islands and possibly be with me. My more noble side recognized, though, that if she succeeded it would make her immensely happy.
And I wanted her happiness much more deeply than I wanted mine.
So, pushing aside my selfish thoughts, I took her hand as we walked to the dock. She had already said goodbye her to her father and the other Islanders, but I couldn't bear not seeing her up until the very last minute. We got closer and closer to the boat that was already alongside the dock, waiting for us. I glared at menacingly, as if trying to intimidate it into leaving.
"Charlie, I'm scared," Eliza confessed to me.
So don't go, my mind whispered selfishly. But I knew that wasn't what she wanted – or needed – to hear right now. "You'll do great, Eliza. I know you will," I said. Even if she couldn't sing, maybe she could get a job in modeling or acting – those things paid pretty well, didn't they?
Her expression softened at my words, became so unbearably sad that my heart ached. "I'll miss you, Charlie. You've always been there for me, and I'll miss that. I love you, you know." She leaned up on her toes to kiss my cheek.
I sighed and smiled. "I know you do. You know I love you more. Call me when you get there – Chen just got a phone."
"I will," she promised, letting go of my hand and stepping away, her other hand clutching a black suitcase. I watched her board with expressionless eyes. I stood on the dock for a long time, even after the boat disappeared.
Even after it started to rain and I was standing all alone.
Four months later
Four months is a very long time.
I've learned that because that's how long Eliza's been gone. And I am so unhappy. I've been moping around the Island these days, not my happy cheerful self. People have started to notice.
"Charlie, are you alright?" Chelsea has asked on numerous different occasions, "You look so sad."
Chelsea is still very pretty, even though she's thirty now with two little kids and a husband. I would look at her with an unfathomable expression and reply, "I'm fine, Chelsea." My voice sounded distant, even to me.
So after people started commenting on my sadness I stayed inside a lot more often. Dad was always nagging me about it, but I told him to leave me alone most of the time. The only bits of people I got anymore was when Eliza called. She always assured me that she was doing alright, but at times I could hear a bit of panic in her voice, so I knew she was lying. I questioned her about it sometimes, but she would always snap at me for worrying too much. So, to add to the depression, I now had to worry.
Finally, during the first week of Summer, I received the phone call my subconscious had been anticipating.
"Charlie?" Eliza said, her voice broken and sad.
"Yes? What is it, Eliza?" I asked anxiously.
I heard her take a deep breath to calm herself on the other line, but when she spoke again, she was still crying. "Charlie, I haven't been exactly honest about the past four months. I'm not doing so great."
"Come home," I pleaded, "Everything will be alright here."
"No," she insisted, "I can work things out here. I just . . . I don't know anyone here, Charlie. I wish you were here with me. Would you come visit me, if only for a few days?"
Instant joy clouded my mind for a second as I considered that. Chen could run the shop while I was gone; he had a fair amount of energy still, considering his age . . .
"Yes," I agreed, "I'll come as soon as I can."
"Great," she sniffed. Eliza gave me her home address.
And just like that, life was good again.
My dreams seem to be shattering in pieces. I was so sure everything would work out here in the city, that I would almost effortlessly sweep people off their feet. But it hadn't turned out that way. People told me I didn't sing as well I thought I did, and they weren't exactly polite about it. I was running out of the money Dad and Lanna had given me, and I was sort of resigned to the fact that I would probably have to find a job, or else try to find my Mother, who still sent me letters and gifts occasionally.
I won't go back to Sunshine Islands. Honestly, it more to do with shame than actually not wanting to go back. Even though I'd made such a fuss about disliking my home back then, secretly I enjoyed the peace and serenity of it. I have to admit the city is much more bustling and rude than I was otherwise used to. One night when I was out walking someone tried to steal my purse, and I only just managed to get away. I cried that night because there was no one around to talk to.
I call Charlie about once a week, sometimes more, and I am often surprised at how happy it made me feel to make those calls. I guess I was just happy to speak with my friend, and generally touched that he listened so intently to everything I had to say. I lie often about my current situation a lot out of shame, though. Most of the time I think he believed my fibs, but occasionally I caught a certain tone of his voice that made me certain he didn't believe me.
Now, just hours earlier, I had called and finally confessed how much trouble I was in. I want to see him. I want him to comfort me. I want him to tell me I am beautiful and lovely, the way he used to. It is surprising how strong that longing actually was. Whenever I think about how awful things have been going lately, I panic. But then my mind calls up a picture of Charlie's face without my permission and I almost immediately calm down. This baffles me even more. I am beginning to think about Charlie more and more, in ways that were foreign to me. And now I am angry.
Why didn't I see it before I left Sunshine Islands? Why didn't I see how much he cared for me, and I him, in a way that just might transcend friendship? Why have I been so freakishly sightless all nine years of knowing him? Turning my head slowly and catching my beautiful reflection in the mirror makes me understand the answer.
The reason I have been so blind is because I was so focused on what I wanted, so determined and sure that I would get it, that I didn't even stop to think about all the wonderful things and people I already had. I always had to have more. I had to have an exceedingly rich, powerful man to marry. I had to have a famous, singing career. I had to have a glamorous, over-the-top lifestyle, just like my mother now did with her husband. It almost seems petty to me now.
Of course I still wanted those things; you can't just wave away a dream you've had for most of your life. You can't just say "Oops, I was wrong" and forget it. I just know now how very hard I'd have to work to get it. But do I really want to do all that work? No. And besides, my voice was nothing good, according to most people in this overpopulated city. Exhausted and sad, I sink down onto my small bed and cry for a very long time.
Charlie arrives at my door in the early afternoon of the next day. I happily throw my arms around him almost immediately, so overjoyed to see his face. I haven't realized how much I actually missed him. Of course, there are a lot of things I hadn't realized for so long.
Charlie seems delighted to see me, too. He hugs me as hard as he can, and then I invite him inside. We sit down and make small talk for a while before just stopping and move on to more important things.
"I've missed you so much, Eliza," he says wistfully.
I sit down next to him on the little bed and lean against his chest. "I missed you, too, Charlie," I sigh.
He hugs me to him for a long time, content to simply rock me back and forth. The peace couldn't last forever, of course. "Eliza, you have to come back home with me," he whisperers after a while.
I jerk away from him and snap immediately, "I can't. Everything will still be fine here." But it is mere force of habit that made me say this. Hurt came into his eyes and I feel overwhelmingly guilty. A part of me actually wanted to go back with him, but I can't. I wasn't strong enough to face the shame. I will never look Lanna straight in the eyes again.
Charlie sighs. "I know it would work for you, Eliza, but come back. Please. For me."
My heart aches and I smile at him sadly. "I can't."
Charlie frowns, stands up, stomps down the hall and goes into a room without looking back.
Charlie only stays for the rest of the day. Maybe he is too disappointed and hurt by me to bear.
I can't blame him. "Charlie, I wish you would stay," I tell him sincerely the next morning.
We both stand next to my door, and he has his hand on the knob. He sighs and closes his eyes. "There's no reason to stay, Eliza." When he opens them again, they were pained. "Just promise me you'll call and let me help you if you need it. I would give you anything."
I knew it was true. "Yes," I agree, "You're so selfless to me."
"I love you," he answers, shrugging.
He pulls the door open and steps out onto the landing of the stairway without waiting for a response. "Goodbye, Eliza," he murmurs once before disappearing from view.
A single tear drops from one of my eyes, and I reach up to wipe it away. I feel so terrible. And hurt. Like I have just lost something irreplaceable. And, in a way, I have. I haven't actually lost Charlie in the way of friendship, of course, but we would no longer be as close as before. We would always have hundreds of miles separating us. I would only hear his voice over phone calls. I knew he was busy with the shop, so he wouldn't visit often.
He would probably meet a girl, and get married in the future. The violent wave of emotion that crashes over me after that thought is so vivid it was almost choking. Jealously. I know that was what I was feeling because I'd felt it so often in my life it was as easily recognizable as the basic human emotions: happy, sad, and angry. But why was I jealous? I don't love Charlie, not in that way. I always told myself that I didn't, that he wasn't the one for me.
I toy with the idea of him standing at the altar in Sunshine Islands' magnificent church, marrying some pretty girl. Accompanying the jealousy with this thought is also anger. I don't want him to marry someone else. The idea is completely repulsive to me. So, what then? I wondered. What did this mean? I continue to examine my emotions closely. When I thought of Charlie, what do I feel? Fondness, happiness, joy . . . love.
The last emotion comes crashing down over me as hard as the jealousy had. Because it isn't the kind of love I expected to feel. Charlie is just my friend, my life-long friend who would always be there for me. Wasn't he? The ache in my heart was telling me otherwise. So I can only come to one conclusion. I am in love with Charlie. Maybe I had been for a very long time. But of course I hadn't acted on it, blinded by my hopes and dreams. The only time on the Island I have even remotely allowed myself to feel it was when we briefly kissed during a festival on Meadow Island in the spring. But afterwards I refocused on what I wanted, and I told him so. Now that I saw what I truly wanted, I needed to go after it.
I needed to go after Charlie.
For the first time in the history of the world, I go out in public in clothes that did not match. I had throw on whatever I had first encountered in my dresser, and I had yanked a brush through my hair, not even pausing to glance in the mirror. That must have showed how much of a hurry I was in to get to the docks, where Charlie's boat would be leaving any minute now. I have to stop him and tell him how I felt. He had to know. I very well knew I could do this over the phone, but something about that just didn't seem right. I run as fast as my legs can carry me until I manage to hail a taxi and climb in.
"The docks," I gasp, out of breath.
The driver seems a bit surprised by my condition, but then he shrugs and starts to drive at an infuriatingly slow pace.
"Could you please go faster?" I urge.
"Gonna cost you extra," he says hotly. But he speeds up to a more comfortable pace.
I don't even wait for the car to come to a complete stop before I throw the door open. I toss the driver some amount of money and race away from the car without looking back. There are three boats lined up at three different docks now – so which one is Charlie's? Panicked, I scan the long lines of people waiting to board the boats. I become even more afraid when they begin to get on. Frantically, I continue searching.
Finally, my eyes zero in on the face I know so well. "Charlie!" I call loudly.
A few people glance at me in irritation at the noise, but I don't care. Charlie's head doesn't turn in my direction; he's too far away to hear me. I tear through the crowds as quickly as I can, getting even faster when I see that he's close to boarding. Soon, though, I am close enough for him to hear me. He turns, surprise written all over his face. I reach out and grab his wrist, trying to pull him away from the boat.
Confused, he lets me drag him along until we are out of the mobs of people, standing on the sidewalk next to a busy street.
"Eliza," he says, "What are you doing here?"
I take a deep breath and close my eyes. My hesitant frustrates him; he glances over his shoulder worriedly.
"Eliza, the boat's leaving soon," he tells me nervously, "I've got to go."
I grab both his hands. "No. No, stay just a minute. If you still want to go after what I have to say . . . then you can." My statement immediately gets his attention, and a spark of hope flares in his eyes.
"Charlie, I . . ." I look away, tongue-tied and embarrassed. "I don't know how to say this."
"Take all the time you need," he encourages, suddenly forgetting all about the stupid boat.
"I . . ." I trail off again, but then I steel my resolve. I am strong. I can do this. I look into his and say, clear and surely, "I love you."
He nods. "Yeah, I love you too."
"No, you don't understand," I groan, throwing my hands up, exasperated.
"Please enlighten me," he says, irritated, "Because obviously I'm too stupid to understand."
"No," I snap, "You're not stupid. You're smart, and loving and patient."
Finally, there seems like nothing else to do. I can't say the words yet, because I am not strong. I would be nothing with him. I reach my hands up to place them on both sides of his face, and he freezes, reading the resolve in my eyes. He doesn't move as I lean forward and kiss him softly. It takes him another second to register the movement, but then he responds eagerly, almost crushing my lips with his enthusiastic force. His lips are zealous, triumphant; he's been waiting for this for so long. We've kissed before, but that didn't really count. The results afterward were so disastrous; it was better for both of us if we forget the whole thing. I clutch him close, again surprised by another wave of emotion.
This feels so right.
Like we should have been together all along. I finally understand why Lanna wanted to stay with Denny all those years ago, even when she could have reclaimed her popularity as a pop star. She loved him too much to leave him. Just like I will love Charlie too much to come back to the city and try again. When we pull away from each other, we are both breathing hard. "I'm in love with you," I whisper, leaning my forehead against his, "I was . . . just too blinded by other things to see it." So jubilant, Charlie wraps his arms around my waist and spins me around in a circle, and I'm laughing, too. He takes my hand and grins.
"Let's go home."
A/N: So I've had this idea in my head for a while. What do you think? Please excuse any mistakes I may have made in Eliza's POV – it's my first time writing in present tense. For some reason I thought Eliza would think like that.
This story is a one-shot, just so you know.