Authors: Jayne Conway
What if I Fly?
I dedicate this book to
the strongest woman I know.
For once you have tasted flight
You will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards
For there you have been and there you will long to return.
“Venti iced coffee!” the tattooed barista with the spiky green hair shouts from behind the counter, seemingly oblivious to the small mob of people surrounding her station. In desperate need of a caffeine fix, Will squeezes through the crowd and gratefully grabs his drink, then searches the room for a free seat.
The patrons are taking advantage of the air conditioned space on this steamy day and he waits patiently for a chair to become available, leaning against the newspaper rack stacked with today’s issues of the
Providence Journal, Boston Globe
New York Times
The shop is much more crowded than it’s been over the past couple of months. He’s gotten used to having his run of the place since the Brown University students made their exodus in May, but now they’ve begun streaming back into town from their summer breaks, forcing the locals out into Wayland Square in search of alternative shelter. The mildly hostile, but inevitable takeover has begun, the coffee shop overrun with their laptops and stacks of books.
Whatever happened to studying in a library?
He feels old. It seems like a hundred years since he walked in their shoes, though it’s only been…what? A decade? So much has changed in ten years.
Or, not enough.
Maybe the only thing that has changed is his perspective. What he wouldn’t give to go back to those days, he muses, his eyes glazing over.
Mercifully, Will’s reverie is interrupted when an elderly gentlemen slowly vacates one of the leather chairs, his favorite place to read.
He positions himself for a quick turnover before one of the kids in line beats him to the empty seat, then victorious, he settles in, opens the paper to the sports section, and notes with a smile that the Red Sox are coming out of their annual slump and could be headed to the playoffs.
Will attends games as often as possible, though it’s not as easy to get away from the office these days. Growing up, he made the two-hour trek north to Fenway Park regularly with his father, a devout fan who was born and bred in Boston. It’s his favorite childhood memory.
Reviewing the stats, he takes another sip of his drink and feels a hand on his shoulder, a gentle squeeze. Startled, he looks up from the newspaper and almost spits out his iced coffee.
Coughing, he sits up in his chair, his heart hammering against his ribcage.
Is it really her?
“Hi,” she says, softly.
Will rises and takes both of Julia’s hands in his, looks into her warm brown eyes and shakes his head in disbelief. It’s been almost six years since he last saw her, and hoped, but never believed he’d see her again. Julia’s face breaks into a smile and she squeezes his hands.
“How are you, Will?”
“I can’t believe you’re here,” he whispers. “How long have you been in the States?”
“Almost two months now.”
Julia has a table in the corner of the room and they sit across from one another in awkward silence. He doesn’t know what to say.
I’ve missed you every day since I last saw you? I can’t forget you no matter how hard I try, and I’m not sure I even want to?
No, he can’t say what he’s thinking, so he just stares and resists the urge to reach out and touch her. She’s more beautiful now than ever.
“How’s your father, Will? The last time we spoke his health was improving.”
“He’s good, in remission,” he says, a tremor in his voice. “You remember that?”
“Of course I do. I remember everything about our time together.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
He remembers their last two days together more vividly than the past six years. Will turns and stares out the window, watching Andy from the bookstore across the street carrying a pile of paperbacks and depositing them in the free bin. Andy raises his hand in greeting and Will nods absently, garnering a worried glance from his friendly acquaintance.
“Will, are you all right?”
He focuses his gaze down into his drink, and away from her knowing eyes. He’s never been able to hide his feelings from Julia and God knows he has no right to complain. He made his bed, now he has to lay in it.
“No one’s asked me that in a while,” he pauses, running his fingers through his hair. “No, Jules… I’m not. I haven’t been for a long time.”
This is killing him, sitting beside Julia. He’s prayed for this moment for so long, to apologize to her if nothing else, but now he wants to run away. Over time, he’s trained himself to not feel much of anything, and being around her is stirring up emotions he thought were dead.
I left her sleeping in that bed, alone. I walked away from her. For what?
After what he did, he doesn’t deserve her kindness or sympathy.
“Talk to me, Will.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with her,” he pauses, “I just never thought it’d be like this...” his voice trails off and he stares into his drink, swirling the green straw in circles.
“Come with me.” Julia rises and holds her hand out to him, “Come on. I’m driving your car.”
“Where are we going?”
“Does it matter?” she asks.
Will shakes his head and hands her the keys to his Volvo. His wife hates his old station wagon and makes sure they take her Audi convertible whenever they’re together in public. He gave up caring what other people think long ago. Only his parents’ opinion matters to him, and even that doesn’t carry as much weight as it used to.
Julia drives them five minutes down the road to India Point Park at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. The city began a revitalization program last year and is turning this once crime-ridden area into a park with a playground, boat launch and a community center. Other than a few sun worshippers, they’re alone.
There’s a light breeze coming off the bay, making the heat bearable, and she leads him to the recently built dock, kicks off her sandals, then lies down, arms folded behind her head.
Will has a sense of déjà vu as he lowers himself down beside her, and turns his face to the sky, taking in deep breaths of salty air mixed with car exhaust from the nearby highway. He finds the whoosh of the passing cars above them and the sound of the water lapping below, oddly soothing. For several minutes they lay together in silence watching the clouds pass by, just as they did years ago.
Julia rests her head on his chest and his arm winds around her, naturally, comfortably. Closing his eyes, he imagines they’re in their early twenties again, laying on the dock in their hometown making plans for their future, and for the first time in years he feels at peace.
“You have to look for the joy in life, Will,” she says. “Sometimes it’s the little things that get me through the day.”
Will mentally wraps them in an insular world of his own, trying desperately to ward off the inevitable. He knows their time together will soon come to an end and he’ll be alone again. It doesn’t matter how many people surround him, without Julia, he’s alone.
But not now.
Right now, he imagines they’ve spent the past six years building a life together, not apart. Will breathes her in and tries to memorize how her body feels pressed against his side, his arm holding her close, then realizes there’s no need…he never forgot. She’s a part of him, she always will be.
Their moment lasts for little over an hour, until Julia’s phone beeps, forcing him back to reality. She sits up and flips open the offending device to read a text message.
Who is it? A friend? A lover?
He swallows hard, trying not to think of her with another man. Surely, she has a man in her life.
“I have to get going, Will.”
Reluctantly, he pulls her to her feet and tucks a stray curl behind her ear, his fingers lingering against her cheek.
Please, don’t leave me
… Julia’s eyes connect with his for a long moment, filling him with hope, but she sighs and smiles, slowly shaking her head.
His heart sinks…but he understands. Julia deserves more than he can give her. They walk to his car, and for an instant he considers driving them to the nearest airport, but forces himself to continue along Gano Street and take the turn into the parking lot at the coffee shop.
“No goodbyes,” she leans in and kisses his cheek, “I’ll see you.”
And she’s gone.
Julia tears through her closet, heaping unwanted clothes in a pile on the floor beside her, several possible dresses spread out on her bed. What does one wear to a blueblood wedding? A few weeks back Will called her at school and asked her to attend a friend’s wedding this weekend.
She can’t remember his name.
She’s home from New York University for the night, heading back to the city tomorrow afternoon, and Will is due to pick her up at her mother’s house in twenty minutes. She was so nervous and excited about seeing him again, she didn’t give a thought to her wardrobe for this blessed event, until about an hour ago.
Little black dress.
Can’t go wrong with a little black dress, right? She rifles through the few remaining items in her closet. No! Her little black dresses are back in New York. She closes her eyes, panic rising.
Breathe, Julia. It’s just a wedding!
Then she sees it, tucked away in her closet… the soft ivory, crochet dress she found in a vintage store a couple of years back and never had occasion to wear, before now. She removes it from the hanger, studying the delicate needlework. Her grandmother worked in the lace factory in town, and Julia has a deep appreciation for the skill required to create a dress this intricate.
They don’t make them like this anymore.
She holds the dress against her body, turning side to side, and gazes at her reflection in the mirror mounted behind the closet door. The dress has three-quarter length bell sleeves and rests a few inches above her knee, showing off her legs, one of her best features, or so she’s been told.
This will do
, she smiles to herself, sighing with relief.
Julia steps gingerly into her dress, careful not to snag the stitching, then studying her reflection in the mirror, she applies a little blush and lip-gloss, sweeps her unruly curls back into a loose chignon, and secures the delicate antique crystal chandelier earrings she found earlier in her old jewelry box. Grabbing a pair of heels from her mother’s closet, she’s ready to go, with five minutes to spare.
Julia sits on her bed and closes her eyes, remembering the last time she saw Will, the heat spreading from her stomach to her face, her skin flushed with anticipation. It’s already the first week of April and she hasn’t seen him since his visit to the city two months ago.
She tries to relax and calm the butterflies fluttering in her stomach, taking deep breaths, in and out. She longs for Will while she’s away at school…and it pisses her off. She doesn’t like that he’s always on her mind. Julia, always the master of distraction, keeps as busy as possible and does her best to focus on her studies and enjoy time with friends, but she misses him. Every day.
Earlier this afternoon, her best friend, Gabby, picked Julia up at the train station in Providence. Will offered her a ride, but she needed time alone with her friend for a serious dose of girl talk.
Tonight could change everything between Julia and Will and before she left New York she’d convinced herself she was ready to take this leap into the unknown. However, during the three and a half hour train ride home, her confidence has dissipated with each passing mile, to the point of nonexistence. Gabby is Julia’s sounding board, and today she’s in desperate need of her friend’s wise counsel.
Waiting outside the station, Julia wondered which version of Gabby would make an appearance today. Her friend’s a chameleon. Goth, hippie chick, grunge, preppy princess…she’s tried them all. She’s naturally pretty, but her style changes so quickly, Julia never knows what to expect.
Last year, Gabby swore off getting any more tattoos or piercings. Her body was beginning to resemble an art gallery, so Julia was relieved to hear that! Now it’s all about the hairstyle, makeup and clothes. She once asked why Gabby felt the need to constantly change her appearance and her friend shrugged and replied, “Why not?”
“It’s so good to see you, Jules!” Gabby cried as Julia approached her friend’s bright pink Camaro, overnight bag in hand. Julia smiled to herself, noting the choker studded with spikes, heavy black eyeliner, tight black t-shirt and jeans and high-top Converse sneakers. Punk Rock Gabby has made a reappearance, accompanied by The Violent Femme’s blaring from her car speakers.
“You too, Gab. Thanks for picking me up.” Julia wrapped her arms around her friend, holding onto her more tightly and a little longer than usual. When they pulled apart, a crease formed between her friend’s brows.
“You’re as white as a ghost! Jules, look at me. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Julia whispered, turning away, but not before she caught a glimpse of Gabby’s eyebrow rising, her doubtful expression.
As they pulled away from the curb, she lowered the music and Julia stared out the window, for once oblivious to the changing scenery as they wove through the city, her friend taking the long route to the highway.
She remained silent as they drove by the majestic white marble State House dwarfing them near the station, and the beautiful houses built into the hillside across the river, where Roger Williams first established this colony as a haven for those seeking religious freedom.
Normally, Julia would point out a few historic landmarks, maybe note the preservation of the colonial houses along Benefit Street, or tell a story or two about the infamous Brown brothers, stories Gabby’s heard a thousand times by now, but never complains when Julia gets on a roll.
This afternoon, Julia sat quietly, clasping her cold, clammy hands together. They’d been shaking all day and she didn’t want Gabby to see how terrified she actually was.
“Jules, you’re not fine. You can’t bullshit me. I want you to take a deep breath and tell me how you’re really feeling.”
“You know, Gab, I’m not one of your patients.”
Gabby is studying psychology at Brown University and Julia would love to be a fly on the wall during one of her future counseling sessions. She compares her friend to the Magic Mirror in
. Stand in front of Gabby long enough and you’ll hear the truth, whether you want to or not. Having never visited a therapist herself, Julia doesn’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, but it would be entertaining.
“Then stop making me probe for answers, Jules! You’re obviously nervous about tonight. I’ve driven you through every historic neighborhood in Providence and you haven’t told me one story about HP Lovecraft or the Wampanoag tribe! We passed Prospect Park without you paying homage to your hero, Roger Williams. Hello? Red flag!”
Julia continued to silently stare out the window, not sure where to begin. Her limbs felt weighted down, paralyzed, her mind foggy and unfocused. A rabbit frozen in fear.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do tonight, Jules. Just go to the wedding and relax, play things by ear. You’re putting too much pressure on yourself. I know this is out of your comfort zone…”
Julia grunted in response. “That would be an understatement…”
What she has planned for tonight is so far out of the realm of her experience she doesn’t know what to do with her conflicting feelings. She’s not afraid of sex. Julia’s had her fair share of experience in the bedroom, but never cared about any of the men she’s slept with, having sworn off emotional entanglements long ago.
No, Julia’s afraid of what’ll happen if she has sex
. She’s terrified of falling in love with him, and has a sneaking suspicion she’s already been sucked into the vortex of that tornado, despite her best efforts to keep their relationship platonic.
Julia witnessed first hand the wreckage of a broken heart, and it’s an ugly, mangled, pulpy mess, which takes years to scab over, never completely healing. She doesn’t ever want to go through that kind of suffering, to be stripped bare and made vulnerable.
Love makes you weak, and Julia can’t afford to be weak.
“Talk to me, Jules.”
“I don’t know if I can do this, Gabby. I’m afraid he’ll destroy me.”
“Honey, it wouldn’t be love if it didn’t.”
She gasped in horror. “All the more reason to keep things as they are. We have a perfectly solid friendship. I don’t like playing with fire.”
“I’m kidding, Julia! Sarcasm! You used to understand my language.”
Gabby pulls over just before they reach the highway.
“Look, I hate to break it to you sweetie, but
don’t have marathon kissing sessions.
don’t feel an uncontrollable urge to touch one another. You’re the one forcing
on a relationship that’s meant to be more. Let it go! You’re not your mother. You won’t fall apart if things don’t work out between the two of you. And Will isn’t your dad. He’s not going anywhere. The man should be nominated for sainthood at this point.”
Julia looked down at her hands and noticed the shaking had subsided. Gabby has a way of putting things into perspective for her.
“You’re right. It’s time to take a chance,” Julia swallowed hard, trying to solidify her resolve. “Would you happen to have any valium?” she asked, hopeful. Gabby chuckled and shook her head, no. “What? They won’t let you write prescriptions yet?”
“You’ll be fine, Jules. Just remember to breathe. That’s all you need to remember, deep, deep breaths.”
Will’s face is a picture of concentration as he stares into the mirror above his dresser, struggling to knot his tie. Frustrated, he unwraps the fabric, yanks it off and begins the process all over again. He’s trying to make a Windsor knot like his father has shown him a thousand times before, but he’s never gotten the hang of it. He hates ties. No matter how loose he makes the knot, he feels like someone’s slipped a noose around his neck, strangling him.
“So, my darling brother, you’re bringing Julia to Skip’s wedding?” his sister Ellie asks, poking her head into his room. She’s home visiting from Chicago this weekend and they haven’t had a chance to catch up yet. Ellie plops across his bed while he fumbles with his tie.
“Uh huh,” he nods, preoccupied.
“I really like Jules,” Ellie smiles. “Are things serious between you two?”
He notices the time on the alarm clock beside his bed.
Shit! I’m going to be late.
He can’t wait to see Julia and is anxious to get out of the house.
“Hey! Answer my question!”
“Define serious,” he says, trying to evade her question.
“Will!” Ellie throws a pillow at him. “What’s going on with you guys? You’ve been seeing her for a while now.”
He finishes knotting his tie, and studying his handiwork, shrugs his shoulders.
This will have to do.
Julia won’t care about his tie anyways. He sits beside Ellie on his bed and pulls on his shoes.
“I wouldn’t exactly say we’re seeing each other.”
“Will,” Ellie frowns. “What the fuck does that mean?”
“That means it’s none of your business.”
“You’re so secretive! I hate that about you! We shared a womb. Surely you can tell me about your relationship with Julia.”
Will raises an eyebrow and sits back on his bed.
“Well… it’s hard to date someone you only see once every two months. The last time we were together was in February when I had an interview in New York. The distance makes things a bit difficult.”
“Yeah, I imagine it would,” Ellie pauses. “So, do you have some sort of understanding? You can both date other people while she’s away at school?”
He really doesn’t want to talk about this with his sister, he hasn’t talked about Julia with anyone. Will prefers to keep his private life just that,
, but his twin sister is tenacious and she won’t give up until she has some answers.
“We’ve never discussed that. What I mean is we haven’t ever… you know.”
His cheeks are burning and he reluctantly makes eye contact with his sister. Ellie, for once, is speechless, her face frozen in surprise.
“You’ve been dating her since last summer and you haven’t had sex?” she asks, her voice incredulous, her brows drawn together in confusion.
“That’s just it El, we’ve never defined our relationship. We’re… friends. Really, really good friends.”
“I’m sorry… what the fuck?” Ellie shakes her head in disbelief. “I’ve seen you with Julia and you’re not just friends. I can cut the sexual energy between you two with a knife, it’s that thick!”
Will shrugs his shoulders. She doesn’t have to tell him! He can’t count the number of times he’s tried to get closer to Julia and she’s shied away.
“Last summer we didn’t even kiss, other than hello and goodbye.”
“Seriously?” Ellie’s visibly taken aback, and stares at him, mouth open. “I never would have thought…I mean I just assumed you two were sleeping together. You seem so close.”
“We are close…” his voice trails off.
When he’s not pressed for time, maybe he should have a conversation with Ellie about Julia. This is uncharted territory for him. Most of the women he knows are ready to climb into bed after a couple of dates. He’s always been the one to put on the brakes, not wanting to jump into something before he’s ready. Maybe his sister can provide some valuable female insight into this situation.