I couldn't let the one thing I was sure about, the one thing I knew I wanted, just slip through the cracks of my neurosis, so I went after her, even though I got that terrible pain in my side and my lungs felt hot and sticky and the sweat got so bad I actually took my sweater off and bunched it in my hand, running the entire time.
It was less than a mile to the bus depot, but by the time I got there I decided that running had been a terrible idea.
"Shit," I panted, bracing my hands on my knees, the sweater dangling to the sidewalk. I paced back and forth, hunched over and thinking how much it would suck to drop dead after just finding some clarity, and that Bella would never even know.
"Bella!" I wheezed.
She was straddling a metal bench outside of the building, a few shabby sacks at her feet, tortoise shell sunglasses on her eyes and she was blowing a big, pink bubble, before she snapped it in her teeth.
"What the hell are you doing?" she called.
"Having a heart attack," I told her, breathless.
"You're out. And you took the sweater off," Bella commented, swinging one leg over the bench while I straightened up.
"Listen," I told her, when we were toe to toe. "I totally stalked you down here. I was a dick—"
"That's an understatement. How did you find me?"
"Bree at Aeropostale."
"You went to Aeropostale?"
"I can't let you—is that him?" I asked, looking over Bella's shoulder at some tall bro walking toward us with an obvious agenda.
Bella turned and stepped back, and the guy put his arm around her shoulder, staring at me. I had at least three inches on him, but he was one of those guys. He was one of those guys who had a cool hair cut and an easy smile. He was one of those guys who had a job and confidence and knew people who knew people, he was the kind of guy a girl would see on Facebook and "friend." He looked like one of those assholes who had a million pictures of himself and his fellow bros at the beach or on a boat and wore cowboy hats ironically and drank designer vodka.
And if it were any other girl I was after, I would've walked away, because it made no logical sense that I could possibly be the better choice.
But in my estimation, I was the only choice. I belonged with her, so that had to mean she belonged with me.
"Ty, this is Edward—"
"Oh hell no," Tyler said. "Get lost."
"Suck one, bro."
"No. No way," Bella said, putting her hands up. "No one is doing this."
"Let's go," Tyler said, pulling her away, but she slipped out from underneath his arm.
"Gimme one second," Bella said, turning to me.
"Thank you," I told her. "Look, I'm sorry. I'm…sorry."
Bella lifted her sunglasses to the top of her head and sighed, just as a bus pulled in with a rush and a hiss.
"That's it? You're sorry. Why did you chase me down here, Edward?"
"Bella. Let's go. We're boarding soon," Tyler said, picking up her bags.
"Calm it, dude," I called back.
"Don't do that," Bella hissed.
"I can't believe you ever seriously considered that guy," I told her.
"I can't believe you of all people showed up here just to insult me some more. I have to go."
"Bella," Tyler said, nodding his head, her bags strapped all over him. "We talked about this. You need a fresh start. We need to go away and get right together."
"Is he telling you what to do?" I asked pointedly.
"He's…trying to help. He found me kind of fucked up. Some jerk broke my heart."
"I didn't mean—"
"Bella. Let's go."
There was the squeal and hiss of the bus, the doors opened and Bella flinched.
"Look, guy. You have no idea what this girl needs—
"Excuse me?" Bella interjected, slipping out from his grip. "What this girl needs?"
"Bella. You wanna stay here with this guy? He's got nothing and he tossed you out of his nothing. What're you gonna do? Steal to support him?"
"Fuck you," I laughed, pulling my sweater back on.
"We're leaving now," Tyler said, grabbing her elbow.
"Don't get on that bus, Bella," I said. "Please. Don't."
"Why, though? What's here?" she asked weakly. "You gotta say it."
"Get on that bus, Bella," Tyler said.
"Give me a damn second!" she huffed, then looked at me. "What? Talk."
"I'm trying to just…I didn't mean to be an asshole—"
"Well, you were. And my bus is boarding. So."
"This guy is so wrong for you," I said with a weak laugh.
"And you're right? He never once let me walk out like that. He's uprooting his whole life for me and you didn't even leave your apartment and that was okay. I was okay with what you were going through."
"I don't have anything to…there is no reason you should've wanted me," I said lowly, trying to block Tyler from my periphery.
"There is no reason! Sometimes, people just belong together. It doesn't matter what you have to offer, it matters who you are! And you still don't get it."
She turned around and Tyler stepped toward the bus, so I grabbed her belt loop and twirled her back around, eye to eye, toe to toe.
"I have made so many mistakes, big huge ones that have altered the course of my entire life. I have no idea what I want to do or where I want to be. I've been not moving, not doing a damn thing because I couldn't care and I am sure of nothing," I said, "except for you. You can't leave because I belong with you and you belong with me and whatever else happens or doesn't, whatever else I decide or don't, I know I belong with you. I want you and I need you and I'm sure of you. You make me want to wake up and step out and try to get right and I know that even if I never do, it'll be okay, because no matter what else happens for me or doesn't, you're where I'm headed anyway. So don't get on that bus. It'll all go wrong if you do. Because I can deal with other mistakes and anything else going wrong, but if you get on that bus, everything will be wrong. If you stay here, with me, everything will somehow be okay. And if you do get on that bus, I'm coming, too. Because I do get it, you're my place."
And then Tyler punched me in the face and I saw stars on the concrete, before I saw nothing at all.
I woke up and the bus was gone.
The pain was immediate, though.
"Shit," I hissed, curling up and holding my eye, right there, in front of the bus station.
And it had come to this: I was an unemployed suicide watched loser with a black eye from being sucker punched after pouring my pussy-heart out to a former kleptomaniac Aeropostale employee who had indeed stolen my heart and possibly my argyle socks. All of this in a heap in front of a bus station.
I tossed my head back and laughed, through the throbbing of my eye, my head, my lungs and my heart, I laughed, and decided I'd cry when I got home.
And then two denim covered knees were in front of me and I stopped with a rasp.
Bella plunked down in front of me and then smashed a bag of frozen vegetables on my face.
"For the swelling," she said, holding the bag, not too gentle, on my face. But then she sighed and brushed some sweaty hair from my eye.
I shifted the bag and looked at her looking at me for about five seconds.
"Where did you get these?"
"The store around the corner," she said, shifting her gaze.
"I had no cash! And you're welcome."
"Did you just leave me here knocked out cold?"
"Well. You're really heavy. And I did stop some guy from pissing on you. So. You have to forgive that. I didn't get on the bus."
"You have to forgive me, too."
"I think I just did."
I scooted in closer the same time Bella did, until she put her head on my shoulder and I put rested my chin right there on top of her head, in our spot.
"What now?" I asked her.
"Now I put my twenty percent discount at Aeropostale to use. Tyler just took off with all of my stuff."
"We're so fucked," I laughed, and for once, it was good, to not care.
"I know," Bella said. "Isn't it wild?"
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I hate working construction. It's soul sucking and it's exhausting and my hands are rough and my back is sore and like four days a week I'm required to step foot into Home Depot, but at night, after I shower, Bella stands in the doorway and tells me my body has never looked better.
And then it's okay.
Our new place is smaller, the carpet smells like yogurt and cat pee and the pipes squeal and you can only use the hot water for exactly ten minutes before it turns to ice and this old couple lives across the hall from us and for some reason that Bella and I have yet to figure out despite our best spying efforts, they leave an open jar of pickles in the hallway outside their door. Like, constantly. But sometimes, I'll walk in to the kitchen or the living room also known as the bedroom, and Bella will be standing there wearing only my tool belt and say something so ridiculous, like, "I seem to be missing a screw," or "I hope I have enough caulk for my crack," and that crappy apartment turns into Buckingham Palace.
We play records she insists she didn't steal, she streams music I'm pretty sure she pirated, she sings all of my favorite songs and we share burritos and ideas of the things we want and the places we'd like to go or how we want our first son to turn out, when we get it together enough to actually have a kid. Or maybe we'll just get a dog. It's all up in the air.
We dream, I guess, of things far off and unrealistic, like what we'll do when Alex Trebek knocks on the door and begs Bella to run away with him or meeting Jim Morrison, but also of things we can actually make happen, like new fluffy towels or a vacation to the ocean or a weekend of nothing but sex and crappy television.
Sure, we're this uncertain mess about everything from what cereal to buy to how much do we feed the goldfish; we once gathered nickels and dimes from the couch cushions to buy a bag of Cheetohs and my dad taped a KFC application to our door after I borrowed another hundred bucks from my parents, before the construction job. But when you know you're on the right path, you just keep pushing forward, and if you're lucky, you do it with a silly girl watches Jeopardy for foreplay.
And it's not where I thought I'd be.
I projected a marriage with Tanya and retiring from a record store, and god, I thought I wanted it. Back then, I didn't know I belonged elsewhere, but I'm relieved I got here anyhow.
And ok, so it's a construction job and we live in an area I wouldn't even send Tyler out in alone, but the thing is, none of that actually matters in the long run. Now I know, down to my very bones that cover my heart and even straight through it, I know that this is where I'm going and where I want to be. All of the other crap is just the circumstances, the pitfalls and hoops of life you jump over and through. The actual life part I got right; because where ever we go or don't, where we land or wind up, we'll go there together, and I will always be exactly where I belong.