Three Years Later


I'm toying with my glass as I read, pushing it idly back and forth until it catches in one of the deeply carved letters in the wooden table. I glance over with a slight smile.

Darla '89. She either had a sharp knife or a little too much enthusiasm. I've knocked over two Cokes and a Seven and Seven on her account since the semester started.

This pub is called Jameson's, which Cali took as a sign that she needed to apply here for a job when we first moved to Richmond. The way things have worked out, I'm inclined to agree it was fate. The bar has been here for the last forty years and if I had my way, Cali and I would be here for the next forty and keep Darla '89 and friends for the whole run of it.

I nudge my drink to a smoother section of table and kick my feet up onto the bench across from me. My well-doodled notebook rustles as I add a note before flipping to the next chapter in my book, which is a biography of Peter the Great. He was a major asshole, and I'm still not sure if he was also a vampire, but I'm on the case. This book is for class but it's also a hobby of mine, ferreting out historical figures who were vamps. Sometimes, Stefan and Damon can verify, sometimes not. If Katherine was still around, I bet she could have told me a lot more.

Despite Damon's best efforts, I know she's not dead. I'd like to find her on the internet, just to see how she's doing with her new, human life. Unfortunately, Damon refuses to give me the name on the fake ID he planted when he dropped her off with a concussion and no memories at a hospital in California.

I just hope her second chance is working out for her and she's not so busy protecting herself this time around that she forgets to let a few people close. My pencil sags, and as if she knows I need cheering up, I hear Cali's smoky, relaxed voice from behind the bar.

"Do we want drinks or music, people?"

A cheer goes up and I chuckle, tipping my head back against my booth to watch as she settles herself on a stool behind the bar and pulls her guitar up into her lap. It is the one Damon and I bought her when we were all on the run. Her "bar guitar," she calls it now. She has another for shows, for the acoustic songs when her band coaxes her out from behind the drums, and an electric for special occasions, but she still has a soft spot for this one.

"Music it is, so y'all can go thirsty," she says, pointing threateningly out at the crowd.

There are no detractors.

When she begins to sing, I close my eyes and let the sound stroke down my spine, easing the tension of the week out of my shoulders.

Jameson's is a chill kind of pub, with thickly padded booths and hammocks hung around the edges of the room, couches and fat wingbacks scattered through the center; pool tables in the back.

When Cali started as bartender, she used to play the guitar when it got slow. But the more she played, the more business picked up until receipts were running twice as much as before she started and she had to put the patrons on a schedule. Song, then drinks, then song, then drinks for a while longer before she would play again. Pat, the owner, offered to hire more help so she could just be the entertainment, but Cali actually turned him down. She has plenty of time to play these days, and she's a natural born bartender.

She busts everybody's balls and then sings to them so sweetly that all the men are in love with her and all the women want to be her. Within months of hiring her, Jameson's went from being a low-key fixture in the Irish pub circuit to being a quirky must-see for tourists and music buffs alike.

Of course, Aperture's growing fame doesn't hurt any. They are turning down two or three gigs for every one they accept, they just headlined a huge regional music festival and they are in talks with two different record companies right now. They'll be signed to the big leagues before the end of the year and their second, self-released album already hit the iTunes top 100. Three magazines and about twelve different music blogs have done articles on them as an up-and-coming indie band and every single one boosts sales even more.

A frown tugs at my lips as I think about the most recent one. The last magazine reporter came during the music festival, which also happened to be during the week of The Incident. Which means between the pictures for the article and all the exposure for the festival, Cali got way more attention than she'd bargained for and as her boyfriend, I got nearly as much.

After the pictures came out, they had to give me two paragraphs in the article just to dispel the rumors of abuse.

My head comes up as a sound catches my ear. It is the first chord of my sound, Cali's musical interpretation of my personality. She dropped it right into the song like a whistle and when I quirk an eyebrow at her, she smiles and tips her head toward table seven in a gentle request without missing a syllable.

I drop my pen and shove a hand through my hair as I get to my feet. It's too long, way overdue for Cali to cut it again, but she takes symmetry a little less seriously than I wished she would, and so I'm still a little traumatized from the last time. Caroline used to do a better job, but she and Stefan are in Milan for a semester abroad that's already stretched to eight months. Elena doesn't think they're coming back for a couple years, but Damon said he gives them until Thanksgiving.

Caroline loves Italy, so I don't know why they'd come back so soon, but whenever Damon puts his money on something, that's where my bet goes. There's no point in doing anything else.

At table seven, I stop and pick up new drink orders from the out of towners who are indeed looking annoyed because the only waitress in the place is busy on the guitar instead of the taps. I'm not technically employed at Jameson's, but now that I'm of age, Pat doesn't mind if I help out, Cali and I share her tips, and I kind of like it. It's not like a job, it's more just like…my home.

The pass-through creaks as I flip it up and I swing through and take down a pair of pint glasses. I jerk my chin in greeting at Dave, who tilts his bottle in my direction without looking away from my girlfriend.

I pull both taps and leave them to fill while I pop the top on a Corona and garnish it with a lemon, not a lime. The chilled bottle slides smoothly down the bar to Dave, and even though he is still a song and a half from needing a refill, he catches it and gives me one of his gruff smiles that looks more like a glare.

"Heading out to work tonight, are you?" he asks.

Cali cuts the song off one verse early with a discordant twang and gives me a pointed look that could etch stainless steel. I turn off both taps and use one of the fresh bar rags to wipe the bottoms of the glasses dry before I turn to bring them to table seven. Cali kicks one foot out in front of her, propping it on the bar and blocking my way.

"Breaking my heart tonight is what he's doing," she drawls, her voice an octave lower than usual and husky, still riding the sexy little whisper of the song she was just drumming up tips with. Another one like that and we'll pay the electric off a week early this month.

"It's a modeling job, Cali, not an escort service," I remind her, risking a glance down at her shoes to check her mood. High heels, red as sin, peeking out from under dark skinny jeans.

I relax. I'm safe enough for now. With those heels, she'll flirt and tease and pout and probably fuck me right on the bar after closing. If they were the ballet flats, I'd be in trouble. For so many reasons.

She drops her foot, letting the sharp heel skim the seam of my jeans on the way down as she gives me a dark look from underneath her eyelashes.

"If he's breaking your heart, honey, I'd be happy to mend it," Tom chimes in from the other end of the bar. I sidle around the pass-through, and roll my eyes.

Behind me, there's a thump of glass against old wood as Cali makes her high-speed, low-stress round down the bar, refilling for everyone with half the time and twice the panache it might have taken someone else. She only has to stop to take orders twice because if you sit at the bar at Jameson's, it means you're a regular and Cali has a memory like a spreadsheet when it comes to drinks.

"Tom, you're lucky I haven't yanked your heart out of your chest yet," I call across the room, giving a quick, friendly smile to table seven to take the edge off my threat and save Cali's tip.

Tom is the owner's cousin or I'd have kicked his ass all the way to Louisiana by now for his relentless flirting with Cali, and the threat is only half in jest. Damon taught me how to rip a heart out of a chest last September, on a bet. Turns out you don't quite have to have vampire strength to do it.

Though an iron stomach doesn't hurt.

Cali is at the cash register when I come back; bills and cards filed neatly between each of her fingers as she separates out tabs, opening some and closing others.

"What time are you leaving?" she asks me.

I fold my arms and give her a level look. "Fifteen minutes."

She groans, though her fingers don't pause on the keyboard. "A double shift? There better be roses and at least two orgasms in it for me, Gilbert, or you're sleeping downstairs in the hammock again."

I roll my eyes and sling an arm around her waist, dragging her away from the cash register and back into my chest.

She squeaks in protest, squirming against my hold, but I press a kiss into her hair anyway, inhaling the scent of her shampoo before I let her go. I used to be more circumspect when she was at work, but our romance is kind of part of the atmosphere of Jameson's now. Plus, Cali gets better tips from the ladies on nights when I let myself get away with a little PDA behind the bar.

God only knows why. I don't ask, I just call it a win/win.

I shut off the taps over three beers and deliver them while Cali's busy at the cash register, then knock my knuckle on the bar. Without looking up, she shakes her head no, that she doesn't need anything from the apartment, and I exit the pass-through on the other end, flipping it back down as I go.

Dave ticks an eyebrow up at me and I pause, waiting to see what he has to say. He props his beefy forearms on the bar, old Marine tattoos snaking across his hairy wrists as he digs a five out of his wallet to pay for the beer I passed him earlier.

"Don't have to bribe me," he says stiffly, looking straight at the wall.

I smile. "Not a bribe. Just one on the house because I can."

"We'd look after her anyway," he mutters, glaring down at his fresh beer. "It was bowling night, is all."

"I know," I tell him, my smile fading but my chest warming for the old guy. "No worries."

The door into the back stairway is unlocked, as always, and I take the steps two at a time up to our apartment where we live rent-free ever since Pat did the math on how much new business Cali was bringing him.

It's tiny, barely more than a studio. A minuscule kitchen with counter space hardly wider than Cali's hips, plus a bedroom an archway away from the living room with just a queen sized mattress on the floor with way too many pillows and a soft blue comforter pulled crookedly up over the sheets.

Most of the space is in the living room, and we skipped a couch in favor of a piano and racks for my bass and guitar, and Cali's acoustic and her electric. There's a breakfast nook, but it has incredible acoustics and she keeps her practice set of old Pearls in there instead of a table. Her real drums, which I swear to God she'd sell both my kidneys for, live at her bassist's house where the band practices.

The only furniture is a giant memory foam beanbag chair that is mostly mine because Cali doesn't seem to have any interest in sitting on anything but my lap. We've fallen asleep curled together on it way too many times to count and no matter what she said downstairs, I've never spent a single night in the hammocks down there.

When Elena and Damon are over, my sister always steals the beanbag chair and swears she's moving in. Personally, I think she does it because it only leaves the piano bench for Damon. If he sits there long enough, he'll start messing around on the keys, and he'll even play a whole song or two if I don't tease him.

One night when he was a few whiskeys deeper than usual, he and Cali played an improvised duet that is still hands-down my favorite piece of piano music I've ever heard.

I can't figure out why a vampire would care, but for some reason Damon always bitches about the lack of a table. I don't miss it, because I used to do my homework in the bar or the library on campus. Now, it's always in the bar.

Jameson's doesn't have a bouncer and mostly they don't need one because I'm usually around and when I'm not, Dave and Cali's other regulars would rip the arms off anyone who gave her trouble. If that fails, Ric is half a block and a phone call away.

It was almost a month ago now when it happened.

She saw a guy slip something into the vodka tonic of the girl next to him and Cali didn't ask questions. She didn't call the police or go for the mace she keeps by the taps or the Taser I stashed at the register.

She just went over the bar for the guy's throat and they both hit the floor in an explosion of screaming and fists. By the time the other customers dragged them apart, Roofie Guy was spitting out blood and teeth. Cali ended up with a black eye that covered the entire left half of her face with furious, night-dark swelling, two days before the biggest music festival of the year and an in-depth article from Rocked! Magazine.

I don't study on campus anymore. In fact, this is the first time I've picked up a shift at my own job since it happened and I made damn sure it wasn't on Dave's bowling night.

She didn't get why I was so upset, but every time I looked at her face, it made me feel sick that I hadn't been there to keep her from getting hurt. Damon understood, though. He never said a word, but he invited me along three times that week when he and Ric went to hunt rogue vampires. Normally they only go out once every couple of months, a little less now that Ric has a steady girlfriend.

I grab a jacket and run a comb through my hair, plucking Cali's soft black wrap-around sweater out of the closet. Judging by the shoes, she's more in a leather frame of mind, but if I give her the sweater instead, she'll be the perfect combination of cuddly and seductive when I get home.

I don't bother with my keys because the bar will still be open when I get home and the campus is close enough to walk, or ride my longboard if I'm in a hurry.

I close the apartment door behind me without locking it and trot downstairs, checking the New Belgium Brewing clock above the bar.

"Back by eleven," I say aloud, though I'm talking to Dave more than Cali.

I hang Cali's sweater on the hook under the bar, even though she didn't ask for it. She leaves the door open for the fresh air and she'll start to get chilled about nine, like clockwork, but by then it'll be too busy for her to run upstairs and get it so she'd end up freezing for two hours until I came home.

She smiles when she catches sight of the sweater, and swings around me with an armload of empty pint glasses, popping up onto her toes to press a kiss into my cheek.

"You can leave your books in the booth for when you get back. I don't think it'll get busy enough tonight to need the space, and if we do, they can improve their minds with a little Russian history." She starts stacking the glasses behind the bar into neat, sparkling pyramids. "You gonna take that last Civil War seminar?"

I snort. "I know more about the Civil War than the professor does."

"Yeah, but you're only three credits away from a history major," she points out. "Why not have something to show for all those just-for-fun classes?"

"I've already got Art and Business, I don't need a dang triple major."

She grins. "Come on, show those sluts you have a brain to go with that tight ass." She pats my butt on the way back down the bar and Allison wolf-whistles in approval. I pinch the stem of a maraschino cherry between my fingers and take two steps down to drop it into Allison's Mojito.

"Don't encourage her," I say with a faux-weary lift of my eyebrows, and Allison lifts her drink in thanks. She's a therapist/music junkie who would eat every fake-red cherry between here and Vermont if we'd let her, and she swears she'd pay me by the hour just to put together playlists for her.

"So what's the mystery job she's always complaining about?" Allison asks, biting into her ill-gotten garnish.

"Jer's a stripper," Cali says, tossing a bar towel into the hamper with a quick flick of her wrist. Nothing but net.

I give Cali a narrow-eyed look. "I model for figure drawing at the University," I correct.

"Figure? Like geometry?" asks the man next to Allison. Not sure if he's her date tonight, but considering that he's also drinking a Mojito, I don't have enough respect for him to bother learning his name.

"More like the geometry of the six pack," Cali says. "Also known as the geometry of how many seven-digit numbers my naked boyfriend can collect from drooling art students in an hour while they sketch every little nook of his body."

I roll my eyes and catch her fingers below the level of the bar. "I have to go."

"Don't stay out too late," she teases. "Or Dave'll fall asleep at the bar."

I squeeze her hand, rubbing my thumb over her ring with the thorny vines on it before I let her go and head out, dropping the pass-through with a clang behind me.

Shit. Her comment sounded like a joke, but it was probably a hint that I'm getting a lecture on being overprotective when I get home. I pull out my phone and text Damon a single number to cheer myself up. He zaps back right away:

I'm already sitting at five overprotective and two jealousy-is-unattractives for October, sucker. Elena's got Cali beat on nagging four to one on a slow month.

I snicker and step out onto the street.

"I expect at least ten phone numbers or I'm sending you back to the gym for an extra helping of crunches," Cali calls after me and I just flash her a wave over my shoulder.

She hates figure drawing with a fiery passion. Well, not figure drawing in general. I came out of the class with straight A's for how many times I'd practiced on her before I ever took a day of instruction. She just hates the idea of people seeing me nude, which is weird for someone as unselfconscious as she is. But it's good money, I don't mind being naked, and I'd never tell her this, but it's a great way to make friends.

After class when the teacher and his be-professional scowl are nowhere to be found, the girls (and some of the guys) find me and then it's maybe coffee sometime or let's grab a beer, sometimes a straight phone number or even a wink and a promise of no strings attached. I tell them I've got a girl I'm crazy for and one and all, they melt at that and I've made a friend for life. It's made the art department a hell of a lot more cozy, and actually less people hit on me now than they did when I was a freshman.

Damon says it works the opposite for him when he picks up a shift, but I'm fairly sure he only models to find willing snack food, and it's not like he leaves any of the girls with a memory of having approached him, anyway. Compulsion is not the best way to make friends.

But then again, Damon doesn't really seem to want new friends, and I don't know why he'd need them considering how attached at the hip he and Ric are. With as often as vampires move, I wonder how many times they'll share a U-Haul before they'll admit it's not just an accident that they live in the same town all the time.

After the Augustine bullshit, we all moved back to Mystic Falls together and got apartments. I was the first to head to Richmond, as soon as I could scrounge the right test results to shrug off the rest of high school. Caroline and Elena tried to go back to Whitmore that spring, which meant Stefan and Damon went along and Ric "just happened" to rent a room down the street. The next semester Elena broke down and transferred up to Richmond, at the same time as Ric "decided" he needed his Ph.D. in history so he could teach college instead of high school, and enrolled right alongside Elena. I'm betting when Stefan and Caroline come back this Thanksgiving, Caroline will decide to finish up her degree here, too.

There was a time in my life when I would have been pissed that my whole family basically followed me to college but that time is absolutely not now. I missed them all like crazy for the few months we spent apart and yeah, I can call Elena and Ric when I feel like talking, but Damon's not exactly the type of guy you dial just to "catch up." If his phone rings and nobody's dying, he thinks you're weird.

It's much easier to hang out now since we live only a couple miles from each other. Plus, I think it helped Cali a lot to have family close by when she lost her grandma. And yeah, they're technically my family and friends, not hers, but at this point there's not much of a difference.

After Stefan healed Gram, she had perfect health, which she used to go to all of Aperture's concerts, no matter how out of place she looked. She also had a great time with her second-favorite hobby: making me blush, however she could manage it. But after six months, she had another stroke, this one permanent. Sometimes, I think I miss her as much as Cali does.

Gram would have had way too much fun with the idea of me modeling nude, though, so I'm glad I didn't do it when she was still around.

Tonight I modeled for two art classes, so by the time I'm loping out of the dressing room, happy to be free to scratch my balls again, it's pushing the time I told Dave I'd be back.

The bar is filling up when I get there and I slide a keen eye over the crowd, watching for anybody who is a little too tipsy or anyone with the smooth reflexes of the inhuman. The patrons mostly look calm and unthreateningly mortal, so I relax, smiling when I see a familiar set of hunched shoulders lined up next to Dave.

I take the long way around the bar, clapping the old Marine on the back on my way by.

"Dave, thought I told you to keep the riffraff out of the bar?"

Dave grunts. "Shit, I thought this riffraff grew up out of the bar. Little like a fungus."

"Ha ha," Ric says dryly, not looking up from his notes. He's got a stack of professional journals half a foot high in front of him, and his bourbon is going watery as the ice cubes melt.

"How's your advisor this week?" I ask him while I hang up my jacket.

"Sadistic, know-it-all son of a bitch, as usual," he grouses.

Ric's on the Ph.D. fast track to a teaching position at the University, and all the faculty members already adore him. Which means the academic ballbusting is out of control and they keep him busy as hell.

In a normal week, Ric and I can spend upwards of thirty or forty hours studying together with nothing to break the silence but Cali's teasing when she brings him a fresh bourbon and me a Coke or a beer. But lately, he's seemed happier and he's been skipping more and more of our study sessions. I think things are getting serious with his girlfriend, which is awesome, because Ric deserves somebody really special.

Cali whistles a little five note song, and I smile in return, even though she doesn't look up, just scoops ice into a highball, squeezes a lime over it, lines up two more with her right hand, flips a bottle of gin up into her left hand, hitches a whiskey into her right and upends them over the glasses, cutting them off less than a half second past a level ounce. She sprinkles sugar over the whiskeys, drops in two twists of lemon then one of lime for the gin, splashes in some tonic and deals the drinks like a pro, flipping back around just in time to turn off the taps before a Guinness overflows.

She's down the bar and back up to me with empties in the time it takes me to shake my hair out of my eyes and enter the pass-through. She's fast but there's a stiffness to her stride I recognize and even though my libido is relieved she wasn't wearing the ballet flats tonight, her feet definitely aren't.

She sets the dirty pint glasses down, slides a longneck of Bud out of the fridge and cracks the lid off in one smooth motion, turning to serve it with a sly smile that means she's about to drop a dirty joke on the ex-Jesuit priest it belongs to. I interrupt, taking her by the hips and lifting her as soon as she sets the bottle down. She squeaks and I spin her up onto the barstool she keeps tucked behind the bar.

"How long since the last song, Allie?" I call out.

"Fifty minutes too long, Jer. And she was bitching about your exhibitionism the whole time."

I frown at Cali and she sticks her tongue out at me. I bend to brush a kiss on the tiny jewel sparkling in the side of her pert nose and drop easily to my knees from there, to the accompaniment of two more wolf whistles I don't recognize. I pull the high heels off her feet as she kicks in protest.

"Health department, Jeremy!" she complains. "Kinda have to wear shoes at work."

"Anybody know the number to the health department?" I call over my shoulder to a chorus of boos and fuck no's and one hearty, "Laws are for the bloody English!"

Gotta love Irish pubs.

I grin and nudge her stilettos under the bar where I won't trip over them, then pick up the guitar and wrap her resisting fingers around the neck of it, kissing her knuckles as I rise back to standing.

I dig into my pocket and pull out a handful of scraps of paper, lifting them high over her head before I let them rain down like snow. She bursts into laughter, batting them away.

"Jesus, Gilbert! Seriously?"

I just wink. Actually, only two of those were real girls' phone numbers. I made the rest up just to yank her chain.

I dodge her little hand when it flashes out to try to smack me and do a quick sweep down the bar. Looks like we're at least two beers down and some kind of martini, and judging by the tapping fingers, somebody who wants to close out a tab. I go for them first, just as the first notes of the song drift from Cali's agile fingers.

I have the bar all set up by the first refrain and the rest of the room settled down by the second song, and then I just lean against the bar and listen to Cali cover a Joan Baez song like she was born to sing folk. The guy next to me has a scar that took a notch out of his right nostril and he's got his eyes closed, swaying slightly with the rhythm of her voice, knuckles clenched tight around his beer. I feel like fist bumping the dude in silent understanding because I hear it every day and her voice still knocks me ass over teakettle every time I hear her sing.

When Cali's finished she takes over, scampering around more quickly now that she's barefoot. I grab my homework from the corner and hop up into one of the hammocks, swinging gently as I let the clatter of the bar and the periodic bursts of music soothe themselves into the back of my mind.

We've lived two years in Jameson's and it already feels more like home to me than anywhere in Mystic Falls ever did. There's a place two doors down serving Mexican breakfast food that makes me want to howl with joy, and a coffee shop the next block over with black Arabica roasts and live music every Thursday. I'm still trying to con the gallery on 10th into showing my stuff, but I think they're cracking. Everybody in the neighborhood waves when Cali and I go out.

If it were up to me, I'd finish my degree, cash in what's left of my trust fund and buy this place from Pat. I'd expand the apartment and put in a stage so we could showcase local talent, and clear the old beer posters off the wall so we could rotate student art shows through here too, help 'em make a buck or two off their sketches.

But Cali's headed for the big time and I've got a couple years left on my degree before I can even go on tour with her. Won't be a big deal once I can though, since the guys pretty much feel like I'm the fifth member of the band. The guitarist, Rob, and I had some tense moments at first, but once I helped him Sheetrock his garage, he loosened up a bit. They even let me play backup guitar in one of their smaller gigs last month, and Rob's always threatening to teach me to play drums so they can use Cali as their lead singer for more of the songs, run a few duets and whatever.

Part of me wants to freeze time right here, in this little local bar where we know everybody, and the rest of me can't freaking wait to see Cali's knowing smile on the cover of the Rolling Stone, to have to buy a tux to take her to award shows, and to clap until my hands are sore every time somebody wants to recognize how talented she is. My girlfriend's gonna be a star, and she fucking deserves it.

I just have to enjoy this time as much as I possibly can because she's too amazing to stay all mine for long and soon enough, I'll have to share her with her growing leagues of fans.

I look back at my notebook, my knuckles clenched a little bit too tightly around the pen, and it brings me back to the one moment of Damon and Elena's wedding I remember with perfect clarity. It was a Caroline-stravaganza, complete with a carriage pulled by white horses and tuxes for everyone involved, even though all I had to do was walk Elena down the aisle and it's not like anybody was looking at me, considering the dress she was wearing.

But for all the things captured in their doorstopper of a wedding album, the thing that sticks with me is signing the first page of their guestbook, along with the rest of the wedding party. Some of them I've known all my life, like Matt and Caroline. Some showed up when I wasn't paying attention and I had no idea what they would mean to me, like Damon and Ric and Cali. Some names were just as conspicuous in their absence, like my parents, and Bonnie, and Aunt Jenna.

But what struck me is that every name on that guestbook page was somebody who would drop everything to help me, no matter what the problem. And yet it was only a couple years before that when I was in my bedroom, gulping down Anna's blood and handfuls of pills, feeling completely, gut-wrenchingly alone.

I had no idea what was ahead of me. If somebody would have told me in that moment that someday, I would live in a bar and the most important people in my life would be a bunch of vampires, a punk rock drummer, and my old history teacher, I would have thought they were crazy. But I've never been happier, and in Jameson's, I'm never alone.

At the sound of a soft chord, I lift my head and Cali smiles at me from across the room, her fingers graceful on the guitar strings I tuned this morning. Ric hunches over his books not far from where she's sitting, his hair standing up in a messy spray from his careless fingers, and Dave nods to me as he takes off for the night.

It's funny how fast life changes, how even in moments like this that feel as slow and familiar as the rocking of the hammock beneath me, you're already speeding toward an unknown future that will be populated with faces you wouldn't even recognize if you saw them today.

But I'm not afraid of change anymore. It's brought me too many things I wouldn't know how to live without.

I smile as my girlfriend's eyes drop to her guitar and I think about the time when we first met and she played me a song that was my personality, melted into musical notes. It was only four chords on that day, and since then my life and my heart have expanded until my song has five notes.

And so does hers.