He doesn't tell her when he leaves, he just goes. Max disappears from Naomi's world without a single word, without any real indication what went wrong. Sure, there had been that whole scene after they found out she wasn't pregnant, but the situation had lacked closure. She probably should have seen it coming but didn't. She was still wrapped up in the heartache of finding out that she wasn't pregnant. It was a strange thing to be sad about, especially given her age and just how glad it had made Max. Still
She hears it through word of mouth from a kid they went to high school with, one of the people that had been on the academic bowl team with him. Naomi runs into him at the beach club over the last weekend of the summer. After everything she'd been through – the almost-pregnany and ensuing breakup, it was the last nail in the heartbreak coffin for her. That's when the letter comes.
In the midst of the heartache, she can't even find the strength to read the words he spent so much time carefully constructing. All she knows is that he is gone, on the other side of the country, pursuing his dreams without her. It's funny how Naomi had changed in those few precious months with him. There had been a time when her only dream was attending California University. After Max, her dream had become attending CU with him. She wanted to share the next step in her life with him. Given the examples she had growing up, it said a lot that she could see any kind of real future with a boy at the young age of eighteen. She had found all that and so much more in a pair of chocolate brown eyes hidden behind a pair of dark glasses.
But things like that didn't happen to girls like Naomi. They didn't fall in love with boys like Max, and if they did, it sure wasn't meant to last. That's why she thinks she is better suited for a guy like Austin, whom she meets in the strangest of situations just before the fall semester begins. She takes up residence in his old house and finds out a few days later that he is going to be living with Dixon. Naomi pretends to hate him because it's easier than admitting she is attracted to him. Besides, she still isn't over Max.
Austin was cute and fun and wealthy and pretty much the male version of her. Eventually, she gives into temptation and hangs out with him. They have fun and it's not serious, at least not for awhile. That all changed one weekend when she came down with a serious bout of the flu and he spent three full days taking care of her. It's then that she sees a glimpse of the good guy that he is inside, the part that he mostly hides from the world. It's then that she knows that they're more than friends, more than just a passing fling. Maybe they have something real, and that's when she starts to let herself like him a little more.
Naomi does good for awhile. She focuses on Austin and forgets about Max and just lets herself be happy. Thoughts of him don't haunt her as often anymore. He isn't part of her life every day like he once was. He's just someone that she used to know, another ghost of relationship's past. But that doesn't stop the dreams from coming. He appears to her there in ebbs and flows, haunting her sleepless nights. She could have probably dealt with it if they were bad dreams, angry and hateful, but they weren't. They were happy memories, reminding her of the things she loved and the reasons they'd worked so well together.
She thinks about telling Austin. She wants to be honest with him and knows that she probably should. But she also knows that she can't. He'd never understand. Maybe he wasn't exactly the jealous type, but no guy wants to be compared to the person their girlfriend used to love.
Max wasn't even Naomi's first love. No, that position belonged solely to Ethan. But he was the first person to ever really understand who she was and love her anyways. She didn't have to pretend with Max. She could be complicated and flawed. She became unafraid of letting her imperfections show, her freak flag waving proudly in the air. She could also be simple with Max and that made her undeniably beautiful in his eyes.
And so, she forces herself to deal with it. It's an internal struggle that infiltrates its way into every aspect of her life. She finds herself thinking about him while driving across town or looking for him in crowds even when there is no way he'll be around. She hears his favorite songs on the radio and wonders if it's a sign. She thinks the whole thing is a terrible joke fate must be playing on her. This kind of cruelty should be a crime.
Finally, one day, Naomi can't take it anymore. She thinks about telling Annie but knows her friend will never understand. She could talk to Ivy, but the blonde surfer had enough on her mind with Raj and the whole cancer thing. So she turns to Silver, confiding in her oldest friend that she still thought of Max often.
"I want to contact him," she tells Silver. She had to have the courage to do this, she had to know.
"But remember how he broke your heart?" she asks. "Look, Naomi, I love you and I don't want to see you get hurt. It took you a long time to bounce back from Max, and you're just now finally happy again with Austin. Are you sure you really want to put yourself through that again? Do you want to risk everything you have with Austin just to find out?"
Naomi thought for a moment before replying with a shrug. "Yeah. I mean, yes, of course. I have to find out. I have to know that he's okay and that he's happy. I need to know that whatever we had mattered."
Silver tells her that she won't judge her but makes her promise to be careful with her heart. Naomi makes the promise but knows it's useless. Even trying to find Max was undeniably throwing caution to the wind. She decides to start out simple enough. She writes a short, one-word message on his Facebook. It's the only thing she can think of to say, just a quick and easy, "Hi."
She waits for a week, forcing herself to check only once per day to see if there is a response. After seven days and still no word, Naomi decides that maybe it's time to close the book on Max for good. "If he cared, he would have found me by now. If he cared, he would have said goodbye," she reasoned with herself. "If he really cared, he wouldn't have left in the first place. If he cared, he would have at least responded back somehow." Naomi doesn't want to think that maybe he's hurting, too. She doesn't want to consider the fact that maybe it was as difficult for him as it was for her. She just needed to be able to put it behind her.
It's then that the letter, the one that came so long ago, reappears in her life. Annie finds it in her room when she's moving out of the sorority house, tucked in a long-forgotten poetry book from a class she dropped the first week of school. "I thought maybe you'd want this now," Annie tells her. "I thought maybe you were ready."
Naomi looks at the faded envelope, her name written across the front carefully in his concise handwriting. She takes it home with her and heads straight into the sitting room, curling up with a warm blanket in her favorite armchair. The house is eerily quiet, the only sound the fire crackling beside her. It's finally time to read it. She has to know what he needed to tell her.
Courage is a funny thing. It takes many different forms at many different times in our lives. I know that I could use some right now, and not the kind that comes in the form of an amber bottle at a random fraternity party. The kind of courage I need now is something I've only recently found after getting to know, getting to love a girl like you.
You were unexpected in my life but also the most natural thing I've ever found. In the face of being a parent, I struggled with how I would handle it all. I was on the brink of getting all my dreams and making my parents proud. In the next breath, I found out that I was free of all that. Only later, after I was on an airplane somewhere over a corn field in Iowa, did I realize what that meant. It was only then that I understood what I had given up.
I dreamt about our life together after you first told me that you were pregnant. The thing that stuck with me was that it was far from a nightmare. We were actually happy. I shouldn't have been so surprised, huh? That's all we ever were together – utterly, completely and totally happy. I miss that feeling. It's something I've only felt when I was with you.
Back to that courage thing… The thing that I should have told you…what I should have done…was stand up to my parents. I should have refused to go, should have embraced the opportunities I could get at CU and the life that we could have lived together. I realize that maybe it's too late. I am kind of hoping it's not. And if you think it is, can you give me a second chance? I don't really deserve it, but I have to ask. I have to pray.
What do you think?
Memories of Max came flooding back to her, these mental snapshots of moments they'd shared during their time together. Naomi knew that she would never be able to put him behind her. Great loves were like that. They don't just go away. She didn't want to let go.
It's four days later, after Austin gets home from a ski trip, that she thinks maybe she needs to break up with him. He's changed his entire life for her, and she knows that it's selfish to do it. He's changed his entire life for her. Naomi knows that it's selfish to do it, but she can't imagine staying with him, not after everything she felt. She has to know.
She has to hear from Max and know it's the right thing, so she tries one more time to contact him. This time, she sends an email to an old address. It's not one she even knows if he uses anymore. She tells herself that he has 48 hours, two days to respond, and if she doesn't hear back, it will be time to let go for good.
Exactly 46 hours later, Naomi is holed up in the house, sitting in front of her laptop in anticipation. Refreshing the screen for the millionth time, she prays yet again that she'll find an email in her inbox this time. She should be out with her friends, enjoying a Greek party with her sorority sisters or hanging out at Liam's new bar. Instead, she's here, praying for words that might never come. It's Saturday night and she's staring at her stupid computer.
She flips on the radio and hears his old favorite song and hates herself for feeling hopeful. After the song fades away and the deejay's voice fills the speakers, she snaps off the stereo and heads outside. It's raining but she doesn't care. Maybe the cool drops will wash away all of her sin. Maybe it will cleanse her of these feelings and bring her back to life. She let's go of all that hope when she sees what's waiting for her at the end of the sidewalk.
"Naomi." It's pouring rain and he's soaked to the core. His luggage is sitting at his feet, and she just takes off running. Her heels click against the stone driveway as she rushes into his arms. They wrap around her tightly, holding her close.
"Hey," she whispers, tucking her head into the crook of his arm.
Max smiles as he pulls back, reaching up to tuck a wayward strand of blonde hair behind her ear. "I had to come back," he says softly. "I missed you so much."
Her entire face lit up from the inside out and she was left with only the single word she had used all those weeks ago when she first tried to find him, a simple but heartfelt, "Hi" and then a singular "I missed you, too."