Authors: Colleen Hoover
I have no idea what to say. I don’t know where to put my hands because I feel like I should be hugging her goodbye, but it seems like she doesn’t want me near her now. I slip my hands into the pockets of my jeans. “I want to see you again.” It’s not a lie.
Her eyes flicker from mine to her apartment building. “I’m not . . .” She sighs, and then she just says, “No, thank you.”
She says it so politely, I can’t even be upset.
I stand in front of her apartment building and watch her walk away until she goes up the stairs and into an apartment and I can’t see her anymore. And even then, I stay in the same spot because I think I’m shocked or, at the least, jarred.
I don’t know her at all, but I find her more intriguing than anyone else I’ve met in a long time. I want to ask her more questions. She never even answered the one question I asked about her life. Who the hell is she?
Why do I feel the need to find out more about her?
When they say it’s a small world, they aren’t kidding. Tiny. Miniscule. Overcrowded.
I’m only telling you this because I know you can’t actually read these letters, but I saw Ledger’s truck tonight and I thought I was going to cry.
Actually, I was already crying because he said his name and I realized who he was and I was kissing him and I felt so guilty, so I embarrassingly ran outside and almost had a panic attack.
But yeah. That damn truck. I can’t believe he still has it. I still remember the night you pulled up in it to take me on our first date. I laughed because it was such a bright orange that I couldn’t understand what kind of person would willingly choose that color.
Over three hundred letters I’ve written to you and I only realized tonight while skimming the letters that not one of them details the first moment we met. I wrote about our actual first date, but never mentioned the first time we laid eyes on each other.
I was working as a cashier at Dollar Days. It was the first job I applied for when I moved away from Denver. I knew no one, but I didn’t mind it. I was in a new state and a new town and no one held any preconceived notions of me. No one knew my mother.
When you came through my line, I didn’t notice you right away. I rarely looked at the customers, especially if they were guys my age. Guys my age had only disappointed me up to that point. I thought maybe I was supposed to be attracted to older men, or maybe even women, because no guy I had ever met who was my age made me feel good about myself. Between the catcalls and the sexual expectations, I had lost complete faith in the male population of my generation.
We were a small store, and everything in the store was just a dollar, so people usually came through with carts full of stuff. You came through my line with one dinner plate. I wondered what kind of person only bought one dinner plate. Surely most people expect to have friends occasionally, or at least the hope for friends. But buying one plate felt like you expected to always eat alone.
I rang up the plate and wrapped it before placing it in a sack and handing it to you.
It wasn’t until the second time you came through my line a few minutes later that I finally looked at your face. You were buying a second dinner plate. It made me feel better for you. I rang up the second plate, you handed me your dollar and some change, I handed you the sack, and that’s when you smiled.
You had me in that moment, although you probably didn’t realize it. Your smile was like warmth sliding
over me. It was dangerous and it was comfortable, and I didn’t know what to do about those warring feelings, so I looked away from you.
Two minutes later, you were standing in line again with a third plate.
I rang you up. You paid. I wrapped your plate and handed you your sack, but this time I spoke. “Come back soon,” I said.
You grinned and said, “If you insist.”
You circled the register and went back to the aisle that contained the plates. I didn’t have any other customers, so I watched the aisle until you reappeared with a fourth plate and brought it to the register.
I rang up the plate and said, “You know, you can buy more than one thing at a time.”
“I know,” you said. “But I only need one plate.”
“Then why is this the fourth one you’ve bought?”
“Because I’m trying to work up the nerve to ask you out.”
I had hoped that was why. I handed you your sack, wanting your fingers to touch mine. They did. It felt exactly as I imagined, like our hands were magnetic. It took a lot of effort just to pull my hand back.
I tried to act nonchalant about your flirtation, because that’s just what I’d always done with men, so I said, “It’s against store policy for employees to date customers.”
There wasn’t any firmness or truth to my voice at all, but I think you liked the game we were playing, so you said, “Okay. Give me a minute to rectify that.” You walked to the only other cashier in the store. You
were only a few feet away, so I heard you say, “I need to return these plates, please.”
The other cashier had been on the phone with a customer during your four trips to the register, so I’m not sure she knew you were being facetious. She glanced at me from her register and made a face. I shrugged like I didn’t know what was up with the guy who had four different receipts for four plates, and then I turned away from her to wait on another customer.
You came through my line a few minutes later and slapped a return receipt on the counter. “I’m no longer a customer. What now?”
I picked up the receipt, pretending to read it carefully. I handed it back to you and said, “I get off work at seven.”
You folded the receipt and didn’t look at me when you said, “See you in three hours.”
I should have told you six, because I ended up getting off work early. I spent the extra hour in the store next door buying a new outfit. You still hadn’t shown up at twenty minutes past seven, so I had given up and was walking to my car when you sped into the parking lot and pulled up next to me. You rolled down your window and said, “Sorry I’m late.”
I was perpetually late, so I was in no place to judge you on your tardiness, but I sure did judge you based on your truck. I thought maybe you were insane or overconfident. It was an older Ford F-250. Big double cab, the ugliest color of orange I’d ever seen. “I like your truck.” I wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth or if I was lying. It was such an ugly truck it made me hate
it. But because it was so ugly, it made me love that you were picking me up in it.
“It’s not mine. It’s my best friend’s truck. My car is in the shop.”
I was relieved it wasn’t yours, but also a little disappointed because I found the color so amusing. You motioned for me to get in the truck. You looked proud and smelled like a candy cane.
“Is that why you’re late? Your car broke down?”
You shook your head and said, “No. I had to break up with my girlfriend.”
My head swung in your direction. “You have a girlfriend?”
“Not anymore.” You shot me a coy look.
“But you had one when you asked me out earlier?”
“Yes, but by the time I purchased my third dinner plate, I knew I was going to break up with her. It was overdue,” you said. “We’ve both been wanting out of it for a while. We were just too comfortable to call it off.” You flipped on your blinker and pulled into a gas station and up to a gas pump. “My mother will be sad. My mother really likes her.”
“Mothers don’t usually like me,” I admitted. Or maybe it was more of a warning.
You smiled. “I can see that. Mothers prefer to imagine their sons with wholesome-looking girls. You’re too sexy to make a mother feel comfortable.”
I wasn’t one to get offended by a guy calling me sexy. I worked hard that day to look sexy. I spent a lot of money on the bra and low-cut shirt I had purchased thirty minutes earlier with the goal of making my breasts look store bought.
I appreciated the compliment, even if you were being a little tacky.
As you got out to fill your friend’s truck up with gas, I thought about the wholesome-looking girl whose heart you just broke simply because I agreed to go on a date with you, and I felt a bit like a snake in that moment.
But even though I felt like a snake, I didn’t plan on slithering away. I liked your energy so much, I planned to coil myself around you and never let go.
When Ledger said his name against my lips earlier tonight, I almost said, “Scotty’s Ledger?” But the question would have been pointless, because I knew in that instant that he was your Ledger. How many Ledgers can there be? I’ve never met one before.
I was overwhelmed with questions, but Ledger kissed me and it ripped me in half, because I wanted to kiss him back, but even more than that I wanted to ask him questions about you. I wanted to say, “What was Scotty like as a child? What did you love about him? Did he ever talk about me? Do you still talk to his parents? Have you met my daughter? Can you help me put all the pieces of my broken life back together?”
But I couldn’t speak because your best friend had his searing hot tongue in my mouth and it felt like he was branding me with the word CHEATER.
I don’t know why it felt like I was cheating on you. You’ve been dead five years, and I kissed the prison guard, so it’s not like you were even my last kiss. But my kiss with the prison guard didn’t make me feel like I was cheating on you. That could be because the prison guard wasn’t your best friend.
Or maybe I felt like a cheater because I actually felt Ledger’s kiss. It trickled all over me the way your kisses used to do, but then there was that added element of feeling like a cheater, or a liar, or trash, because Ledger didn’t know me at all. To Ledger, he was being kissed by the transient girl he couldn’t stop staring at all night.
To me, I was being kissed by the hot bartender whose best friend died because of me.
Everything exploded. I felt like I was shattering. I was allowing Ledger to touch me, knowing full well he’d probably rather stab me if he knew who I was. Pulling away from his kiss felt a little like trying to put out a forest fire with a nuclear bomb.
I wanted to apologize, I wanted to escape.
I felt like collapsing, thinking about how Ledger probably knew you better than I did. I hated that the one guy I ran into in this town is the one guy I should be avoiding.
Ledger didn’t turn away when I cried, though. He did what you would have done. He put his arms around me and let me be however I needed to be, and it felt nice because I hadn’t been held like that since you.
I closed my eyes and pretended your best friend was my ally. That he was on my side. I pretended he was holding me despite what I’d done to you, and he wanted to help me heal.
I also let it happen because if Ledger is back in this town, and he’s still driving the truck I met you in all those years ago, then that means he’s a fan of routine.
And there’s a huge possibility that our daughter is part of Ledger’s routine.
Is it possible I’m only one person away from Diem?
If you could see the pages I’m writing this letter on, you’d see the tearstains. Crying seems to be the only thing left in life that I’m good at. Crying and making bad decisions.
And, of course, I’m good at writing you bad poetry. I’ll leave you with one I wrote on the bus ride back to this town.
I have a daughter I have never held.
She has a scent I have never smelled.
She has a name I have never yelled.
She has a mother who has already failed.
I didn’t park in the garage when I got home last night. Diem likes to wake up and look out her window in the mornings to make sure I’m home, and when I leave my truck in the garage, Grace says it makes Diem sad.
I’ve lived across the street from them since Diem was eight months old, but if I don’t count the years I moved out of this house and lived in Denver, I’ve technically been in this house my entire life.
My parents haven’t lived here in several years, even though they’re both passed out in the guest room right now.
They bought the RV when my father retired, and they travel the country now. I bought the house from them when I moved back, and they loaded up and left. I figured it would last a year at the most, but it’s been over four years now, and they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.
I just wish they’d warn me before they show up. Maybe I should download a GPS app to their phones so I’ll have some kind of warning in the future. Not that I don’t like their visits. It would just be nice to be able to prepare for them.
This is why I’m building a privacy gate at my new house.
It’s slow going because Roman and I are doing a lot of the work ourselves. Every Sunday from sunup until sundown, I drive up to Cheshire Ridge with Roman and we work on it. I contract out for the more difficult stuff, but we’ve completed a good chunk of the build ourselves. After two years of Sundays, the house is finally starting to come together. I’m maybe six months from moving in.
“Where are you going?”
I spin around when I reach the garage door. My father is standing outside the guest bedroom. He’s in his underwear.
“Diem has T-ball. You guys want to come?”
“Nope. Too hungover for kids today, and we really need to get back on the road.”
“You’re already leaving?”
“We’ll be back in a few weeks.” My father gives me a hug. “Your mother is still asleep, but I’ll tell her you said bye.”
“Maybe give me a heads-up before the next visit and I’ll take off work.”
My father shakes his head. “Nah, we like seeing the surprise on your face when we show up unannounced.” He heads into the bathroom and closes the door.
I walk through the garage and toward Patrick and Grace’s house across the street.
I’m hoping Diem isn’t in a talkative mood because my concentration is going to be shit today. All I can think about is the girl from last night and how much I want to see her again. I wonder if it would be weird if I left a note on her door?
I knock on Patrick and Grace’s front door and then walk in. We’re all back and forth at each other’s houses so much, at one point we got tired of saying,
It’s always open.
Grace is in the kitchen with Diem. Diem is sitting in the center of the table with her legs crossed and a bowl of eggs on her lap. She never
sits in chairs. She’s always on top of things, like the back of the couch, the kitchen bar, the kitchen table. She’s a climber.
“You’re still in your pajamas, D.” I take the bowl of eggs from her and point down the hallway. “Get dressed, we gotta go.” She runs to her room to put on her T-ball uniform.
“I thought the game was at ten,” Grace says. “I would have had her ready.”
“It is, but I’ve got Gatorade duty, so I have to run by the store, and then I have to swing by and pick up Roman.” I lean against the counter and grab a tangerine. I peel it open while Grace starts the dishwasher.
She blows a piece of hair out of her face. “She wants a swing set,” she says. “One of those ridiculously big ones like the one you used to have in your backyard. Her friend Nyla from school got one, and you know we can’t say no. It’ll be her fifth birthday.”
“I still have it.”
“You do? Where?”
“It’s in the shed in pieces, but I can help Patrick put it back together. Shouldn’t be too hard.”
“You think it’s still in good shape?”
“Was when I took it apart.” I fail to tell her Scotty is the reason I took it apart. I got angry every time I looked at it after he died.
I put another piece of tangerine in my mouth and reroute my thoughts. “I can’t believe she’ll be five.”
Grace sighs. “I know. Unreal. Un
Patrick pops into the kitchen and tousles my hair like I’m not almost thirty and three inches taller than him. “Hey, kid.” He reaches around me and grabs one of the tangerines. “Did Grace tell you we can’t make the game today?”
“I haven’t yet,” Grace says. She rolls her eyes, her annoyed gaze landing on me. “My sister is in the hospital. Elective surgery, she’s fine, but we have to drive to her house and feed her cats.”
“What’s she getting done this time?”
Grace waves a hand at her face. “Something with her eyes. Who knows? She’s five years older than me, but looks ten years younger.”
Patrick covers Grace’s mouth. “Stop. You’re perfect.” Grace laughs and shoves his hand away.
I’ve never seen them fight. Not even when Scotty was a kid. My parents bicker a lot, and it’s mostly in fun, but I’ve never even seen Grace and Patrick bicker in the twenty years I’ve known them.
I want that. Someday. I don’t have time for it yet, though. I work too much and feel like I’m slowly running myself into the ground. I need to make a change if I ever want to keep a girl long enough to have what Patrick and Grace have.
“Ledger!” Diem yells from her bedroom. “Help me!” I walk down the hallway to go see what she needs. She’s on her knees in her closet, digging around. “I can’t find my other boot—I need my boot.”
She’s holding one red cowboy boot and rummaging around for the other. “Why do you need boots? You need your cleats.”
“I don’t want to wear my cleats today. I want to wear my boots.”
Her cleats are next to her bed, so I grab them. “You can’t wear boots to play baseball. Here, hop on the bed so I can help you put on your cleats.”
She stands up and flings the second red boot onto her bed. “Found it!” She giggles and climbs onto her bed and starts putting on her boots.
“Diem. It’s baseball. People don’t wear boots to play baseball.”
“I am, I’m wearing boots today.”
“No, you can’t—” I shut up. I don’t have time to argue with her, and I know once she gets to the field and sees all the other kids with their cleats, she’ll let me take off her boots. I help her put on the boots and take the cleats with us when I carry her out of the room.
Grace meets us at the door and hands Diem a juice pouch. “Have fun today.” She kisses Diem on the cheek, and then Grace’s eyes go to Diem’s boots.
“Don’t ask,” I say as I open their front door.
“Bye, Nana!” Diem says.
Patrick is in the kitchen, and when Diem fails to tell him goodbye, he stomps dramatically toward us. “What about NoNo?”
Patrick wanted to go by
when Diem started talking, but for whatever reason, she called Grace
, and it was so funny Grace and I enforced it enough that it finally stuck.
“Bye, NoNo,” Diem says, giggling.
“We may not get back before you,” Grace says. “You mind keeping her if we aren’t?”
I don’t know why Grace always asks me. I’ve never said no. I’ll never
no. “Take your time. I’ll take her somewhere for lunch.” I put Diem down when we get outside.
“McDonald’s!” she says.
“I don’t want McDonald’s,” I say as we cross the street toward my truck.
I open the back door to my truck and help her into her booster seat. “How about Mexican food?”
“Chinese? We haven’t had Chinese food in a long time.”
“I’ll tell you what. If you wear your cleats when we get to the game, we can eat McDonald’s.” I get her seat belt buckled.
She shakes her head. “No, I want to wear my boots. I don’t want lunch anyway—I’m full.”
“You’ll be hungry by lunchtime.”
“I won’t, I ate a dragon. I’m gonna be full forever.”
Sometimes I worry about how many stories she tells, but she’s so convincing I’m more impressed than concerned. I don’t know at what age a child should know the difference between a lie and using their imagination, but I’ll leave that up to Grace and Patrick. I don’t want to stifle my favorite part of her.
I pull onto the street. “You ate a dragon? A
“Yeah, but he was a baby dragon, that’s how he fit in my stomach.”
“Where’d you find a baby dragon?”
“They sell baby dragons at Walmart?”
She proceeds to tell me all about how baby dragons are sold at Walmart, but you have to have a special coupon, and only kids can eat them. By the time I make it to Roman’s, she’s explaining how they’re cooked.
“With salt and shampoo,” she says.
“You aren’t supposed to eat shampoo.”
it—you use it to cook the dragon.”
“Oh. Silly me.”
Roman gets in the truck, and he looks about as excited as someone going to a funeral. He hates T-ball days. He’s never been a kid person. The only reason he helps me coach is that none of the other parents would do it. And since he works for me, I added it to his schedule.
He’s the only person I know who gets paid to coach T-ball, but he doesn’t seem to feel guilty about it.
“Hi, Roman,” Diem says from the back seat in a singsong voice.
“I’ve only had one cup of coffee; don’t talk to me.” Roman is twenty-seven, but he and Diem have met somewhere in the middle with their love-hate relationship, because they both act twelve.
Diem starts tapping the back of his headrest. “Wake up, wake up, wake up.”
Roman rolls his head until he’s looking at me. “All this shit you do to help little kids in your spare time isn’t going to gain you any points in an afterlife because religion is a social construct created by societies who wanted to regulate their people, which makes heaven a concept. We could be sleeping right now.”
“Wow. I’d hate to see you
coffee.” I back out of his driveway. “If heaven is conceptual, what is hell?”
“The T-ball field.”