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
I text Lily, apologizing, and then I slam my hand into the toilet paper dispenser. It breaks and I feel like an asshole. I’m better. This is bullshit. I’m an adult. I have a job and an apartment and a wedding to plan and the most amazing fiancée ever, and I’m acting like a child in a bathroom. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I stop thinking about it? Why doesn’t it ever go away?
Less than ten minutes after I send the text, I hear a knock on the door. “I’ll be right out,” I yell. Figures. I can’t even be a wreck in peace before some asshole shows up and interferes.
“Jack?” Lily’s voice is so sad through the door. I want to open it. I
open it, but I’m angry and I’m embarrassed that I’m angry. I swore this wouldn’t happen again. I promised her, and I’m just fucking things up. Yet again. Man, I really am a piece of shit.
“Can I come in?” she asks and her knocking gets more insistent. I stand up and fling the door open.
“I’m good. Let’s go pick out some music,” I say, pushing past her.
She grabs my arm as soon as we’re outside. The rain spills around her, plastering her hair to her face, and she shivers a little. I take off my hoodie, but it’s still a little wet and it doesn’t help much. Still, it’s a gesture, and she thanks me and smiles anyway. I bring her against the restaurant window, under the awning, and position her so she’s fully covered while I stand under the stupid stream of water that just runs from the awning’s edge.
“He shouldn’t have asked,” she says. “Or I should have said something. It’s my fault. I didn’t even remember to call them and I forgot to mention it when we spoke. I should have mentioned it,” she repeats.
“Fuck it. It’s not your fault. I don’t have the right to act like this.”
“That’s bullshit and we both know it. You have every right to be upset. It’s never going to be okay, and it’s never going to be different, Jack. Your mom deserves your anger about what happened. I just wish I had planned for it better.”
“Princess,” I say, “stop it. You didn’t kill her. You didn’t fuck things up by leaving me alone so you could go get yourself fucked up, did you? I’m not mad at you. I’m not even mad at the DJ. I’m mad at myself, because I need to learn how to handle this shit.”
“What can I do?” she asks.
“Nothing. Let’s just go pick out the rest of the songs and go home. We can talk about it in the car. I promise I won’t run away again.”
“I already finished and I gave him my email address. We don’t have to go back. We can stand here all day. Please, just talk about it, Jack. You need to talk. You need to open up. You can’t hide from it forever.”
I laugh bitterly. “You’re the first person who has ever wanted to listen, Lily. Except some asshole I had to pay to listen. I don’t know how to talk anymore. Everyone just tells me to move on, to get over it, to stop obsessing over it. I lost all the words I used to have.”
“Alana and Dave listen,” she argues.
“They do, but... nothing changes. All the talk in the world won’t make it make sense, will it? There is nothing I can do to make it better. It’s on me. It’s my fault that I can’t just pick myself up and keep going. I acted like an asshole. Again. All I ever do is act like an asshole.”
She pushes me back so that we’re both standing in the rain on the edge of the sidewalk and she kisses me, her hands clutching at my hair and drawing me down to her. She speaks against my mouth.
“Stop. I love you, Jack. I love everything about you. There is nothing I would change. You don’t have to pick yourself up. I’m here to help you keep going. I know we’ve been through this, but listen to me. You’re not alone. You will never be alone again. If you want to talk, I will listen. If you want to be distracted, I’ll entertain you. If you want to punch a hole in something, I’ll buy the damn plaster. But I’m here. I am never going anywhere without you.”
suppose there are more romantic afternoons than sitting in the car, eating chicken nuggets, and trying to dry out your clothes using the crappy car heating vents. But this is what I signed up for. I’ll leave the rock stars and the billionaires and the fairy tale princes to the girls who want them. Jack is my dream come true, even like this. He’s my best friend and I wouldn’t trade cold chicken nuggets and rainy Sundays for anything.
“What about Alana?” I ask.
He looks at me. “What about her?”
“What about doing the mother-son dance with Alana? Yeah, it’s not really traditional, but she’s family.”
“I don’t know. I mean, Alana and I... well, I mean, it’s probably not normal to dance with your ex-whatever she is at your wedding,” he points out.
“So? I’m not jealous. I’m grateful, really. Alana is part of you and, without her, I don’t know if you would have survived long enough to be here today, so I’m not going to get into what’s normal. I love you both. A wedding is supposed to be a celebration of people, of family, of love. She’s all of that. For us both, so why not?”
He pauses and stares out the window at the parking lot. “I’ll think about it. Is that okay? Do I have to decide today?”
I shake my head. “Nope. It was an idea. I still need to pick out a song for my dad and me. I figured I would try to see if we could visit them next weekend and maybe he and I can talk about it. Is that okay? Do you have to work?”
“No, it’s fine. I’m sure I can get time off,” he says, distracted.
“I’m never going to be okay, Lily. You know that, right? I mean, I’m trying like hell and I’m better. God, it may not seem like it, but I feel like you came into my life and you taught me how to breathe. But I guess I thought that maybe someday I wouldn’t be the kid who watched his mom die. I suppose I thought someday I would be something more than that.”
more than that,” I argue.
“No, I know. I’m not saying it right. I just mean that I thought someday that something would define me instead of what happened. But I guess I realized today that anything that defines me is always going to be in
to that. Like I could be the fucking president and I’d be the president who watched his mom die.”
“You’re going into politics?” I tease.
“You know, you’re lucky you’re so damn perfect, princess.”
“I get it, Jack. And I’m serious, too. You just need to tell me what you need. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the damn wedding. I don’t care when it comes to you. When that darkness starts again, you just need to say the word. I can’t change it and I can’t fix it, but you never need to put it aside because it’s inconvenient. You’re not inconvenient.”
“Are you writing your vows?” he asks.
I pause. “I don’t know. We hadn’t really talked about it, but maybe. Why?”
“You’re gonna make me look bad if we do. I’ll be up there like, ‘well, Lily, I love you, and you’re awesome, and you’re hot, and I like your toes,’ and you’ll be all, “profound comment and heartfelt expression of love.’”
“Yeah, I’m not the one who used to write lyrics that people fell in love with,” I remind him.
“That was ages ago. And no one loved the lyrics. They liked feeling badass because they knew someone in a band. There’s a difference. It didn’t even matter that we were some shitty band from school. People are dumb.”
“My point,” I say, “is that you have so much more to say than you give yourself credit for. I love listening to you, even when you’re talking nonsense about math.”
“Math is never nonsense.”
“Sure. Speaking of nonsense, I have to do an annotated bibliography.”
“Ah, I see. ‘I’m here for you, Jack, as long as I don’t have to write an annotated bibliography.’”
I know he’s teasing, but it breaks my heart a little anyway, and he must see it because as soon as he finishes speaking, he apologizes. “I told you I was a fuck up,” he says.
“It can wait.”
“No, you’re right. My mom is still going to be dead whether or not your annotated bibliography gets written. It’s been almost ten years. I think I can hold off being depressed for a few hours. And let’s be honest. I’m always depressed. We don’t need to schedule it into our days.”
“Are you sure?” I ask.
He starts the car and pulls out onto the road, heading toward the highway and home. “I don’t mess around with annotated bibliographies. And I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it. I was trying to make a joke, but I don’t even do that well.”
“You do everything well. Shut up, because I’m starting to think you’re just looking to distract me from my work, trying to get me to show you how well.”
“I mean, if you want...” he says.
“No. Keep your eyes on the road, too.”
I don’t imagine that the way we are, the way we communicate, is typical, but I really can’t imagine my life being any different.
ou want me to
?” Alana asks over the phone. I’m at work, but I figured I should broach the subject and there was a lull, so now I’m trying to explain myself.
“You don’t have to sound so surprised. It was Lily’s idea, but she was right. You’re family. You’re the closest thing I had to family before she came along and now you’re part of both of our lives and I would be honored to share that dance with you.”
“I don’t know, Jack. I mean... that’s so... well, I feel like I would be taking her place.”
“No one else is going to,” I mutter. “And she’s busy, I think, that day.”
“Don’t get moody on me. It’s just a really heavy thing to ask. Can I think about it? I mean, what would we even dance to?”
“You pick. Whatever you think represents us.”
She laughs. “I don’t think any song that represents us is appropriate for a wedding or, really, any family gathering. It’s probably not child friendly.”
“No fucking kidding. Do you want to do something this weekend?” I ask.
“With you and Lily?”
“I don’t know. What about just us? Can we do that? I haven’t spent time with you in years. There’s a lot of stuff, like, in my head, about Dave and us and school and life and whatever. I could use a friend,” she admits.
“Lily’s your friend, too,” I remind her.
“She’s too perfect. Don’t get me wrong. I love her and she
my friend and I’m so happy for you both, but she’s exhausting in all her
. Can’t we just go somewhere, bitch about everything, maybe have a drink?”
“Yeah, I’ll ask Lily,” I say, without thinking, and I realize how stupid it is. I don’t need to ask to see Alana. “Never mind. Yeah. When?”
“Friday? I have class until noon and then maybe I can meet you halfway?”
“Sounds good,” I tell her and we make plans, but I can’t stop thinking about how my natural response was to pass it by Lily. A few years ago, I would have been angry and probably broken off our relationship over something stupid like that, because I took great pride in not needing anyone. Now, it just seems amusing; she is off at school right now, sitting in class, and here I am, wanting her permission to go out with our friend.
“Hey, Jack, do you have a minute?” Rich asks, once I’m off the phone, distracting me from my momentary existential crisis.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“Listen, I need someone to meet with a possible investor or partner, but I can’t do it. My daughter has a dance recital.” He says the last part as if programmed to say it, and he rolls his eyes a little inadvertently. “It’s pretty important and, well, I would like someone to meet with them whom I think
what we do here. Would you be up for it?”
“Sure. I mean, wow. Yeah. When?” I ask.
“That’s the thing. End of May. It’s the week before your wedding. Not the actual week before, but the week before the last weekend before.”
“Can I just check with Lily? Honestly, I don’t think I’m really needed for anything except to show up, but I should probably check. Right? I think.”
He laughs. “I have a dance recital. You should check.”
“Okay, I doubt she’ll be upset. Is it all week?”
“Four days, but it’s in California, so I need you to fly out Sunday night, and you won’t be back until Friday.”
“That’s the week after Lily’s graduation,” I realize, “but I don’t think it will be a problem. We can deal. We have a while to make arrangements still. Thanks for asking me.”
“You’ve done a great deal for us, Jack, since you started here. Of course.”
He leaves and I don’t even know what to feel. Some days, I still feel like the guy I was when Lily and I met. Young, confused, and desperate, looking for some way to forget, and hanging on to her for the physical thrill she gives me as well as her ability to look at me with hope. Now, I don’t even know what I am. I feel old and, at the same time, I feel like I’m just growing up and I’m finally coming out of some kind of cocoon I’ve been trapped in through most of my life.
My phone rings and it’s Lily this time. I quickly fill her in on my plans with Alana and the trip for May. She listens, acknowledging the compliment on Rich’s part, and that’s that. With Lily, it’s always simple. For every second of our time together, I have fought with voices telling me it’s too easy, that she’s too good, that things don’t make sense and can’t work, yet I can’t deny that she seems to wrap me in a reality where ease and comfort are actual possibilities.
ince Jack made plans with Alana and I managed to get my work done during the week, mostly because he had to work late every night, I make plans to visit my parents while Jack goes out. He drops me off and promises he’ll come back to get me a little later. My dad and I need to pick out a song. Surprisingly, there is no form for that, and my mom isn’t even home. She took Jon shopping for curtains. He’s been in his apartment for a while now, but he’s tried to avoid the curtains since he moved in. She was so distracted by the wedding that she had to let him avoid her, but now, it’s curtain time.
Dinner with my father is so different from anything that involves my mom. He throws together some bologna and cheese sandwiches, grabs the bottles of mustard and mayo, along with a pitcher of lemonade, and we head out to the deck. I get the bag of chips.