Thank you to everyone for your patience and all your words of encouragement. They meant the world to me.
I don't own it.
"Try it again."
A ticking sound is my reply, and I wave my hand in a cutting motion off to the side. The noise ceases, and I wait for Rose to exit the front seat and come around to the front of the car with me.
"Well, hopefully it's the battery and not the starter or alternator. I'll pull it out and run it down to the shop to have it tested."
"If you had listened to me rather than insisting on trying to figure it out yourself, we could already have been there and back by now."
"Well, if you already knew what was wrong with it, why didn't you just take it down yourself?"
"How, jackass? My car won't start."
I bite back a sharp retort, because Rose is right. She didn't ask me to go fooling around under the hood of her car, all she wanted was a ride to the electrical shop so she could have the battery checked. It's not her fault I'm in a pissy mood.
"Whatever. It'll just take me a couple of minutes to get this pulled. Are you coming or staying?"
"I'll stay here with Bree. The shop's only open until 1:00, and you'll be faster without us."
"It's not even noon yet, Rose."
"Yeah, but if it turns out not to be the battery, we won't have very long to get the other things pulled and taken in for testing. I thought you'd be here sooner—" I finish unhooking the battery and pull it out, slamming the hood and cutting off the rest of what she was going to say.
I spend the ten-minute drive telling myself to get a grip and quit being such an ass.
When I show back up at the house, it's with a new battery and a new attitude. Rose and Bree are in the front yard when I pull into the driveway, and my sister walks over to meet me when I open the car door.
"I'm sorry for being a bitch."
"I'm sorry for being a jerk."
"You okay?" Now that the crisis of how she's going to get back and forth to work next week has been averted, she's probably noticing the pale skin and puffy eyes. I'm not as young as I used to be, and a late night doesn't just disappear the next morning anymore.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just paying the price for too much fun." She looks doubtful, but thankfully lets the subject drop. I spend the rest of the day helping with one project after another, repairing the ravages of last winter and getting ready for the next. As competent and self-sufficient as Rose would like to be, there are just some things that go better with two people working. And some that are just easier for a man than a woman, although I would never dare tell her that. Finally night comes, and I crawl into bed exhausted and grateful to see the end of yet another Saturday.
I don't count the days.
Sometimes I curse myself for an idiot, calling when I did. If I had just waited until Monday—or, even better, Wednesday or Thursday—then time wouldn't have a way of marking itself. Weekdays are generic and monotonous, one blending into another until it's easy to forget where and when you are. But everybody counts down to the weekend. Saturdays are like little weekly holidays, the reason we get up in the morning and push ourselves through another day at the salt mines. Friday nights are like the mini-celebrations of our upcoming mini-vacations. Saturdays are inescapable.
So even though I don't count the days, the weeks make sure they count themselves.
Sunday morning breakfast is always pancakes, and this week Bree wants Mickey Mouse. Last week she asked for My Little Pony, and ended up with something that looked kind of like a deformed puppy. I guess she's trying to play it a little safer today.
Or maybe not, because she's insisting that Mickey Mouse has to be black, and Rose is arguing back that chocolate pudding is not a breakfast food. Neither is chocolate syrup. Just when it looks as if full-scale war is about to break out, a compromise is reached. Blackberry jelly is deemed acceptable by both parties, and breakfast is allowed to commence. When I make a comment that none of these things are in fact black, two perfectly-shaped eyebrows raise in my direction, four blue eyes roll, and everybody goes back to eating without a word.
It feels like family, like home, and I have to swallow hard to get the bite of syrupy pancake past the lump in my throat.
There's a joke that you can always tell when it's summer in Seattle, because the rain is warmer. It may not be very funny, but it is true. The skies can open up and start pouring water down on you at any given moment of any given day, and Seattleites seem to be split into two separate rules of thought on how to adapt. Some carry umbrellas with them everywhere they go, rain or shine. Others take pride in not even owning an umbrella. Let the rain come.
Angela is a member of the second camp. Transplanted from Arizona less than a year ago, she still looks on summertime rain as some kind of small miracle of nature—laughing as she spreads her arms and slowly twirls around, face pointed up into the fading sunlight. She doesn't even care that her hair is starting to drip or that the rain is washing the carefully applied color off of her face.
We met a few months back when the computers at the nurses' station in the pediatric ward got a new software update. She was friendly and attractive, competent and sympathetic, and by the end of the day I had seen enough to know that I wanted to see more. We exchanged numbers, and over the next couple of weeks played a game of phone tag while we tried to find space in our conflicting schedules to see each other. It never panned out, and eventually we quit trying.
Two weeks ago I called her up again, completely out of the blue as far as she was concerned. That was probably a mistake, but I was staring down the approach of yet another Saturday, and suddenly couldn't bear the thought of one more Friday night at the corner tavern, drinking beer and watching ball and trying to pretend that tomorrow would never come.
I didn't make the drive to Port Angeles that Saturday. Instead there was coffee and lunch and a walk in the park. Instead of pancakes and bickering and reminders of what I can be part of but never have for myself, there was laughter and conversation and stories from someone else's life. There was moving forward, even if there can't be any moving on. And it was…nice.
Just like Angela. Nice. Sweet. In the moment. And over.
Tonight I showed up at her door to pick her up, and her eyes were just a little bit brighter than usual, her smile wider. Over dinner I kept having the nagging feeling that my distraction was just a little too happy to see me, and both the thought and my reaction to it made me feel sick.
The first few drops started falling soon after we left the restaurant, and now, standing in front of her building, we're both soaked through. I know, standing there watching her smile up into the rain—I know that she's going to invite me in to dry off. She'll make something hot to drink—coffee or tea, or maybe even hot chocolate—and we'll sit on the couch and watch a movie or maybe just talk. She'll keep looking at me the way she's been looking at me all night, and I'll let her.
I'll let her because tomorrow is Saturday, and I don't want to be alone anymore, and I've finally realized that I'm never going to have what I've spent so many years looking for. I'll let her because it's easy to say you'll never settle when you have the hope of something more, but when that hope is gone settling suddenly doesn't seem so bad. I'll let her because I want Saturday mornings at the lake with a little girl who looks at me like I'm her hero, and Saturday afternoons spent cleaning out the gutters and fixing the porch swing. I'll let her because I want Sunday morning pancakes and arguments over whether or not chocolate is a breakfast food, and I want them to be mine.
She slows to a stop facing me, lowering her face until she's once more smiling at me instead of into the rain. She's wet and bedraggled, her short brown hair limp and falling out of the pins she used to hold it back from her face, streaks of black around her eyes from waterproof mascara that apparently wasn't waterproof enough, and she's never been prettier.
I walk toward her, and reach out to take her hands. I tell her she's beautiful, and she blushes even as her smile widens even farther. Then I keep talking, and it begins to dim. As I say what has to be said, I watch that pretty smile fall away completely and the brighter-than-usual light in her eyes fade. She doesn't cry. She doesn't yell or call me names or stomp off in a temper. She doesn't even say something witty and offhand, trying to act like what I just did doesn't hurt. Instead she looks down for a few seconds before once again meeting my eyes. She thanks me for being honest. Then she gently pulls her hands from mine and walks past me. I turn to watch her until she disappears through the doorway, and even though I think she hesitates for just a moment, she doesn't look back.
I don't count the days, and even though the weeks may mark themselves, that doesn't mean that I have to count them, either.
At first it couldn't be helped. That first Saturday, it was impossible not to think about the fact that a week had passed. I thought about calling again, told myself that she may not have even gotten the message. I knew it was still Charlie's number because of the voice on the answering machine, but there was the possibility that he erased it before she even got there.
I knew better, though. Unless he's changed drastically in the last dozen years, Charlie never has been one to make somebody else's decisions for them. He's always been big on personal responsibility and facing the consequences of your actions. The Charlie I remember might have a few choice words to say about the person leaving that message, but he would never prevent his daughter from hearing it.
So I didn't call. I didn't sit around the apartment waiting for the phone to ring. I drove to PA, and I spent the weekend with my sister and her little girl, and I did my best not to think about the fact that I may never hear her voice again.
The second Saturday might have been the worst. There was no getting around the fact that two weeks had passed, and that if she hadn't called by now she wasn't going to. I spent Friday night at the bar getting drunk, doing my best not to think. Saturday I vacillated back and forth—one minute wanting to call and beg for another chance, the next telling myself that I'd screwed up her life enough, and if she didn't want anything to do with me I needed to respect that.
The third Saturday was the last one with a number. After that it was just another, and another, and another.
I don't know—I refuse to know—how much time has actually gone by. All I know as I walk down the hallway toward my apartment is that it's after nine o'clock on a Friday night, just hours until yet another week marks itself off.
I round the corner, bringing my front door into view—along with the small figure sitting against it. Somehow my feet keep moving forward, even as the rest of me freezes up in shock.
It never occurs to me to wonder who it is. I just know. Even before she looks up and sees me, I know it's her.
Her back slides slowly up the door as she rises to her feet.
She's thin. Thinner than the last time I saw her. As I draw nearer I can see that her features are pale and finely drawn, and that there are deep shadows under her eyes. It all comes together to create an almost fragile appearance, and yet there's an aura of strength surrounding her as well. A kind of calm resolution straightening her spine as she steps away from the door, at the same moment that my legs finally stop working.
For a long time, neither of us moves. I feel paralyzed, unable to process the fact that she's here. Why is she here? How is she here?
My mouth finally opens—to say what, I'll never know, because she speaks before I have a chance to.
"It wasn't just you." The words come out in a rush, followed by a short pause. My heart beats, and I think I may still be breathing, but nothing else works. I still can't move, can't speak.
"It's not just you." Another pause. Maybe she's waiting for some kind of a response, but I'm still incapable of giving one. She doesn't waver in the face of my silence. Her chin comes up, her shoulders straighten, and she takes yet another step toward me, away from the doorway.
"It will never be just you."
I'm not certain how I start moving again, but when I do, I'm on some kind of autopilot. My feet carry me forward, past Bella, finishing the pathway to my door. My hands feel strange, and I'm sure I'll drop the key before getting it into the lock…but somehow I don't. It's not until I'm standing in front of the open door that I finally manage to turn and look at Bella again. She hasn't moved, still stands with her back to me and the door, her narrow shoulders rigid and head held high.
"Would—" my voice catches, and I have to clear my throat before starting again. "Would you like to come in?"
The tension in her body releases in a slow wave, and she turns to face me. Looks at the open door, then back to me.
Her smile is like the sun.