Authors: Sarah Daltry
Tags: #romance, #contemporary women, #sarah daltry, #series, #teen and young adult, #jack and lily, #coming of age, #marriage, #wedding, #college, #flowering, #new adult, #growing up, #contemporary romance
he French are into some crazy shit, but after one night in Pigalle, I have ideas to last a lifetime with Jack. I don’t end up buying much, because I don’t want to check it at the Moulin Rouge, but I grab a couple business cards. The wonder of online shopping.
I knew the Moulin Rouge wouldn’t be like the movie – and it isn’t, but it’s really pretty and it feels like such a great way to bring our honeymoon to an end. We’ve visited Montmartre, sat in the cafes where Hemingway sat, saw the Venus de Milo and Winged Victory and the
, and eaten more pastries and desserts than one person has a right to eat. Every night, we sat in our hotel room, which has a balcony, and looked over the lights of the city. It has been like a fantasy come true.
I kissed Jack on the top of the Eiffel Tower on our first night here and there are few moments, I’m sure, that will ever live up to that. However, once the show starts, this comes close. It’s not that the show is anything that different from any Vegas show, but it’s in French and we’re in the Moulin Rouge and there is so much history here. Not to mention, I’m sitting at a table, sipping champagne as a married woman. In Europe.
Four years. I can’t believe it has been four years since I waited for Derek to take a shower one morning. What if he hadn’t? What if we had woken up an hour earlier or a few hours later? What if Jack hadn’t had to work that day? There are all these possibilities – all these ways this story could have played out – and I’m surprised we found each other. It just seems so insane that everything fit into place, only so we could be here now.
Jack is watching the show, immersed in it, and he doesn’t know that I’m staring at him, but I try to remember his face. Someday, he won’t look the same. Someday, his hair will be gray or there will be a wrinkle or a laugh line somewhere. Someday, his voice will grow raspy when he speaks. Someday, although it’s hard to believe, he won’t have the energy to try to get me to have sex with him every night. All of these somedays are alternate realities right now, but they’re sitting alongside all those possible ways our lives could have gone, and they’re just an endless and vast series of opportunities and concepts. I don’t know which one of those somedays will end up like the rest of our story – the miracle that happened, that brought us here, but I really, really cannot wait to find out.
can’t believe how many times I’ve been here. Lily’s parents, her brother a few years back after the accident, Abby and then her husband. There were lots of aunts and uncles and cousins and coworkers and friends we made and lost along the way. Not to mention the private grieving for pets we loved over the years. It all seems to go back to Lily, though. Lily was the light and she brought all of those people and animals and love into our lives.
There was only the one that was really tough for me. It’s been almost twenty years, but I still miss him every day. He was strong until the end, but diseases happen. People get sick. Losing Dave, though, wasn’t easy, but Lily was there. And Alana was strong through it all. Right before he got too sick to do anything, he cashed in his savings and insurance and finally brought her to Paris. She has a giant print of one of Renoir’s paintings hanging in the living room – and she says she always knew he was the guy for her, because he gave her Renoir.
Of course, Alana also has the kids. I look at them now, all sitting next to their mom, all so much of her and yet him at the same time. Her youngest has three of his own now, which just seems implausible. Even after all this time, it feels like only hours have passed.
Everyone quiets for me as I stand. I know it’s what they’re supposed to do, but I wish they’d make noise. That’s been the hardest part of the last few days – the seemingly endless quiet. Suddenly, it will be broken and I will hear something from the bathroom or upstairs. Every time, I go to see if she’s ready for supper. And then I remember. It hurts to remember and the quiet, when it returns, is even heavier. Still, I know what she would say. She would remind me how lucky we were, and then she’d tell me to stop obsessing over it. That was always what she said.
I stand at the lectern and look out over the crowd. Even though we’ve lost so many people along the way, there are still so many more here. So many whom Lily touched, so many whose lives were brighter for knowing her. She collected love and people the way most of us collect stories. When Lily met someone, she opened herself to him or her completely, and even now, all these people feel that emptiness.
Trying to speak is hard. My voice is raspy and water doesn’t help. It’s age and time as much as the dryness in the church or the pain that’s still there. After a few sips of the water, though, I adjust the mic and I speak, reading the words that I had to plan in advance. Lily was the girl with words. She was the one who knew how to make people listen.
“Fifty-four years ago, I woke up one morning and I got a cup of coffee. I still remember how it tasted, because there was a girl in the lounge while I made it, and she watched me as I did. She smelled like strawberries and I have to admit, to all of you today, that I loved her immediately. For years, I fought with the idea that it wasn’t really love. It couldn’t be. No one loves so willingly and so unconditionally at first sight. Especially not me. But that first morning, when she looked at me, annoyed because she always looked at me like that in the beginning, I loved her anyway. Despite reason and logic. It wasn’t just because she was beautiful. She was beautiful, of course. She’s
beautiful.” I pause and look at her, resting. They did something weird with her hair and it looks unnatural. It doesn’t bother me, though, because she’s smiling. Sure, I know it’s just some chemicals and makeup, but I feel in my heart that Lily, wherever she is, is happy.
“When I was younger, I didn’t know love. I had friends and I cared for them. I felt things for my grandmother and even for my mom. But I didn’t know what it really meant to love someone. Not in the way that makes you stand here, on a day like today, and thank whatever’s up there for even a second of your life. No matter how much it hurts, you can’t help but be grateful. All that changed when I met Lily. I still, after a lifetime, can’t explain it. I don’t know how I knew, and I don’t know why I loved her the way that I did. I don’t know how people can claim they can explain these things, because it’s too big for one person to gather the words to express. It’s like something you know and you see it and you recognize it and, when you do, the entire universe just feels like it’s worth experiencing.”
I take a sip of water. “It wasn’t always the easiest road for me and Lily. It took me years to let go, to trust her, to trust this feeling I had because it is terrifying to love someone this much. She never wavered, though. That’s what always amazed me about her. From the first time that she said she loved me, she never once changed her mind. We’ve fought and we’ve both had moments when it seemed futile, but Lily never stopped loving me.”
Looking at Alana, I struggle to continue. She’s crying, but she nods to encourage me to keep going. I know she’s been here, too, and it helps that she’s here beside me, but it’s so hard to avoid a breakdown. I miss Lily in a way that’s like destruction. My soul feels like it’s damaged in a way that can never heal. Maybe I will live another two days or I will go on for twenty more years, but I know that part of me no longer exists. I also know, though, that Lily wouldn’t have wanted me to hurt, so I drink more water and I keep reading.
“Standing here today would be impossible without Lily. If someone had told me that she would go first, that I’d be the one left, I would have fought it. I would have run away, because I never wanted to feel this. I didn’t want to be alone and I didn’t want to know this kind of absence or emptiness, but that’s just it, isn’t it? Looking at all of you, I see her. I see what she meant to you, to all of us, and I don’t regret a moment of it. Does it hurt to lose her? Of course. It hurts in a way that I would never wish on anyone. There is a piece of me that is lying there with her, but the bigger parts of me are still here, inside of me and with you all, and they exist because Lily loved me. She made me hope.
“I tried to kill myself when I was younger, twice, because I couldn’t see a future and time seemed too oppressive. But with Lily, there was never enough time. Fifty-four years was a whisper of time. However, I can stand here now and I can say to you that all of it was worth it. Every stupid second of this both amazing and horrible life I’ve had was worth it, just to see her that one day. Lily loved me. That alone has been worth living for, and I am so grateful to all of you for loving her and giving back to her some of what she gave us for so many years.”
I can’t really keep it up and I start to cry. It’s not depression anymore. Not today. My life has never been free of the heavy burden of that darkness, but right now, the tears that come spring instead from the simple wonder of it all.
I sit in the chair behind the lectern and people begin to sing. I reach out and take Lily’s hand in her casket. It’s cold and I know she’s not really here, but it just feels good to hold her one more time, to remember all the things we had. I could be sad or lonely or hurt that she’s gone, but I’m not. I am just so damn happy, because when she promised me forever, it was.
thought it made the most sense to put this at the end, since it was intended for the people who made it this far. I don’t just mean in this book, but in the series.
Some of you are aware and some of you are not, but this series and really, my writing journey in general, has been a challenge, but I will be forever grateful to the people who fell in love with Jack and Lily. I love these characters, mainly because they stopped being characters more than a year ago when they were first written. I have wanted to give up many times, considering it, only to change my mind and keep going. I’ve
to give up, but for a person like Jack, life has a way of being an endless stream of disappointment. I know that firsthand and I believe that my readers do as well. I believe that is what draws them to this couple – and to Alana. That thought brought me here, to this conclusion. I owed you - and the characters - an ending.
I really hope that you feel that the story concluded in a way you felt was fulfilling. I hope that this can be my thank you to you. I don’t have a great deal to offer, other than words on a screen or a page, but I try and I hope it’s not in vain.
Thank you again for being there for this journey. Thank you for believing in them when they didn’t believe in themselves, and for standing by me despite it all. I’m not only grateful as a writer, but as a person as well.
This feels like goodbye, but what’s so great about books is that Jack and Lily will be there for us forever – and we can always go back to them. Thanks for making them live.
Forget Me Not (Flowering)
Lily of the Valley (Flowering)
Blue Rose (Flowering)
Orange Blossom (Flowering)
Bitter Fruits (Eden’s Fall #1)
Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story
Star of Bethlehem (Flowering)
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Quiver of a Kiss: The Seduction of Helen of Troy