I was now horribly, terribly mortified. This was the sort of thing I’d read about in the “embarrassing moments” section of YM magazine as a girl. “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m so . . . I don’t know why I—”
“Sorry?” he said, shocked. “No, don’t be sorry. That was perhaps the single greatest moment of my life.”
I looked up at him, smiling despite myself.
“All girls should kiss like that,” he said. “All girls should be exactly like you.”
When we walked home, he kept pulling me into doorways and alcoves to kiss me. The closer we got to my dorm, the longer the kisses became. Until just outside the front door to my building, we kissed for what felt like hours. It was cold outside by this point; the sun had set hours ago. My bare legs were freezing. But I couldn’t feel anything except his hands on me, his lips on mine. I could think of nothing but what we were doing, the way my hands felt on his neck, the way he smelled like fresh laundry and musk.
When it became time to progress or say good-bye, I pulled away from him, leaving my hand still in his. I could see in his eyes that he wanted me to ask him to come back to my room. But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “Can I see you tomorrow?”
“Will you come by and take me to breakfast?”
“Good night,” I said, kissing his cheek.
I pulled my hand out of his and turned to leave. I almost stopped right there and asked him to come up with me. I didn’t want the date to end. I didn’t want to stop touching him, hearing his voice, finding out what he would say next. But I didn’t turn around. I kept walking.
I knew then that I was sunk. I was smitten. I knew that I would give myself to him, that I would bare my soul to him, that I would let him break my heart if that’s what it came to.
So there wasn’t any rush, I told myself, as I got into the elevator alone.
When I got to my room, I called Rachel. I had to tell her everything. I had to tell her how cute he was, how sweet he was. I had to tell her the things he said, the way he looked at me. I had to relive it with someone who would understand just how exciting it all was.
And Rachel did understand; she understood completely.
“So when are you going to sleep with him? That’s my question,” she said. “Because it sounds like things got pretty steamy out there on the sidewalk. Maybe you should put a date on it, you know? Like, don’t sleep with him until you’ve been dating this many weeks or days or months.” She started laughing. “Or years, if that’s the way you want to play it.”
I told her I was just going to see what happened naturally.
“That is a terrible idea,” she told me. “You need a plan. What if you sleep with him too soon or too late?”
But I really didn’t think there was a too soon or too late. I was so confident about Ryan, so confident in myself, that something about it seemed foolproof. As if I could already tell that we were so good together we couldn’t mess it up if we tried.
And that brought me both an intense thrill and a deep calm.
• • •
When it did happen, Ryan and I were in his room. His roommate was out of town for the weekend. We hadn’t told each other that we loved each other yet, but it was obvious that we did.
I marveled at how well he understood my body. I didn’t need to tell him what I wanted. He knew. He knew how to kiss me. He knew where to put his hands, what to touch, how to touch it.
I had never understood the concept of making love before. It seemed cheesy and dramatic. But I got it then. It isn’t just about the movement. It’s about the way your heart swells when he gets close. The way his breath feels like a warm fire. It’s about the fact that your brain shuts down and your heart takes over.
I cared about nothing but the feel of him, the smell of him, the taste of him. I wanted more of him.
Afterward, we lay next to each other, naked and vulnerable but not feeling as if we were either. He grabbed my hand.
He said, “I have something I’m ready to say, but I don’t want you to think it’s because of what we just did.”
I knew what it was. We both knew what it was. “So say it later, then,” I said.
He looked disappointed by my answer, so I made myself clear.
“When you say it,” I told him, “I’ll say it back.”
He smiled, and then he was quiet for a minute. I actually thought he might have fallen asleep. But then he said, “This is good, isn’t it?”
I turned toward him. “Yeah,” I said. “It is.”
“No,” he said to me. “This is, like, perfect, what we have. We could get married someday.”
I thought of my grandparents, the only married couple I knew. I thought of the way my grandmother cut up my grandfather’s food sometimes when he was feeling too weak to do it himself.
“Someday,” I said. “Yeah.”
We were nineteen.
ELEVEN YEARS AGO
Over summer break, Ryan went home to Kansas. We talked to each other every day. We would send e-mails back and forth in rapid fire, waiting impatiently for the other to respond. I would sit on my bed, waiting for him to get home from his internship and call me. I visited him early in the summer, meeting his parents and sister for the first time. We all got along. They seemed to like me. I stayed for a week, the two of us hanging on each other’s every word, Ryan sneaking into the guest room to see me every night. When he drove me to the airport and walked me up to the security gate, I thought someone was ripping my heart out of my chest. How could I leave him? How could I get on the plane and fly so many miles away from the other half of my soul?
I tried to explain all of this to Rachel, also home for the summer after her freshman year at USC. I complained to her about how much I missed him. I brought him up in conversation more often than he was really relevant. I had a one-track mind. Rachel mostly responded to these overdramatic testaments of my love by saying, “Oh, that’s great. I’m really happy for you,” and then pretending to vomit.
My brother, Charlie, meanwhile, had just turned fourteen and was about to enter high school, so he wanted nothing to do with Rachel or me. He didn’t even pretend to listen to anything I had to say that summer. The minute I started talking, he would put on his headphones or turn on the TV.
A few weeks after I got home from visiting him, Ryan insisted that he visit me. It didn’t matter that the tickets were expensive or that he wasn’t making any money. He said it was worth it. He had to see me.
When he arrived at LAX, I watched him come down the escalator with the other passengers. I saw him scan the crowd until he saw my face. I saw it register. I saw in that moment how much I was loved, how relieved he was to have me in his eyesight. And I could recognize all of those emotions because I felt the same way about him.
He ran to me, dropping his bag and picking me up in one fell swoop. He spun me around, holding me tighter than I had ever been held. As devastated as I’d been to leave him weeks ago, I was that thrilled to be with him again.
He put me down and grabbed my face in his hands, kissing me. I opened my eyes finally to see an older woman with kids watching us. I caught her eye by accident, and she smiled at me, shyly looking away. The look on her face made it clear that she had been me before.
My family caught up to us then, finally done parking the car. They had all insisted on coming, in part, I think, because it was so clear that I did not want them to come.
Ryan dried his sweaty hand on the back of his jeans and offered a handshake to my mother.
“Ms. Spencer,” he said. “It’s nice to see you again.” They had met once before, only briefly, when Mom came to move me out of the dorms.
“Ryan, I told you to call me Leslie,” my mom said, laughing at him.
Ryan nodded and gestured to Rachel and Charlie. “Rachel, Charlie, nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of good things.”
“Actually,” Charlie said, “we prefer to be called Miss and Mr. Spencer.”
Ryan chose to take him seriously. “Excuse me, Mr. Spencer, my mistake. Miss Spencer,” he said, tipping his imaginary hat and bowing to Rachel. Then he extended his hand in a firm handshake to Charlie.