He’s not going to be mine much longer.
I pull in a deep breath and let it out slowly as I see his car pull into my driveway. We graduated from high school last week. It was a proud moment for both of us, for our families, who threw us a huge party.
And we’re supposed to leave for New York City together in two days.
“Hey, baby,” he says with his signature naughty grin as he meets me on the porch and hugs me close. “Are you packing?”
“Yes,” I reply and bury my nose in his neck, knowing this might be the last time I have the right to do this.
“What’s wrong?” He pulls away and studies my face. He knows me too damn well. “M?”
“I don’t think you should come with me to New York,” I say it really fast, like pulling off a Band Aid.
He blinks and frowns. “What are you talking about? We’ve been talking about this for the past year.”
“I know, it’s just…” I push my fingers through my hair and barely hold on to my sanity. “I need to concentrate on dance, Mark.”
“Okay.” He shakes his head like he just doesn’t get it. “Why the change of heart?”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
“A few months,” I whisper. Since the day my instructor pulled me aside when she caught me daydreaming about Mark and yelled at me about responsibilities and how hard it’s going to be in New York.
“Months?” He rubs his fingers over his mouth and begins to look a little panicked. “Mer, where is this coming from? Is there someone else?”
“Of course not!” I gape at him like he’s lost his marbles. “You know I love you so much it hurts!”
“Because I have to concentrate on dance, Mark. This is going to be the hardest thing I ever do. The days are super long, and it’s so competitive.”
“So you’re saying I’ll just be in the way?” He props his hands on his hips and glares at me and I feel the first tear fall.
“You’ll be a distraction that I can’t afford, M.” I take a step to him, begging him with my eyes to understand, but he steps away.
“I don’t want to do the long distance thing, Meredith.”
“I don’t either.” It’s a whisper, and his face pales when he realizes what, exactly this means.
“You’re breaking it off?”
“I love you, Mark.”
“But you’re breaking it off.”
“I just think that we’re so young, and I have to focus on dance.”
He takes another step away, blinking blindly, and I know I’m breaking his heart.
“So much for M and M against the world,” he spits out.
“Mark, come inside and talk to me.”
“No, you’ve said enough.” He stops and stares at me as I cry, tears in his own eyes. “Good luck to you, Meredith.”
With that he shakes his head and leaves, and I run inside to find my mom crying in the living room, having heard our conversation.
“Mom,” I cry and fall into her arms.
“Oh, baby girl,” she coos. “I’m so sorry for both of you.”
“What did I just do?” I am crying uncontrollably, leaning on my strong mother.
“You made an adult decision, baby. But I know it hurts you. And it hurts him too.”
“I love him so much.”
“I know you do.”
“How will I live without him?”
She strokes my hair and kisses my forehead. “One day at a time, my love.”
Two days later.
I’ve never been on a plane before. I don’t come from a poor family, but we just never went on vacations that required air travel. And now here I am, only a few months past my eighteenth birthday and on a plane.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and reread his text from last night. The one I didn’t respond to.
Please don’t do this to us. We can make it work. I love u.
God, what did I do? I’ve cried nonstop for two days. Can I get off this plane? Shit, they just shut the doors. Maybe they won’t card me if I order a drink. I’ve never drank a day in my life—too many calories—but I need something to calm my nerves now.
I need Mark.
I need Mark!
I am about to stand up and make a big scene when his voice fills my head. Just breathe, M. Just breathe with me. I take a deep breath and close my eyes and focus on his voice, wishing with all my heart he were really beside me, talking me through this.
Just breathe, M.
Ten years later
“Hey, man. Come on in.” My brother, Luke, steps back as I walk through his door and see my beautiful sister-in-law, Natalie, snap her new son, Keaton’s pants shut and lift him into her arms.
“Unca Mawk!” Olivia, Keaton’s older sister exclaims and toddles toward me with her arms up and a wide smile on her perfect little face.
“Hi, troublemaker,” I say and lift her high into the air, then snuggle her in my arms.
“My baby,” she says and points to her brother.
“She’s claimed him,” I say with a laugh and lean in to kiss Nat’s cheek.
“Indeed,” she replies dryly. “Keaton is hers, along with all of his toys and clothes.”
“It’s okay, you can have anything you want,” I tell her and blow raspberries in her neck, making her giggle.
“I’m just about ready,” Luke says and pats his pants and suit pockets, looking about the room with a frown. “Where’s my wallet, baby?”
“On the kitchen counter.” She points it out to him and then laughs. “He’s more forgetful since Keaton has arrived than I am.”
Natalie is a gorgeous woman, with long dark hair and wide green eyes and curves that go on for days. My brother is a lucky, lucky man, and I make sure to do my part and flirt with her as much as possible, just to make him crazy.
“Run away with me,” I say and wrap my arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to my side. “He’s ugly and he stinks most of the time.”
“Get your hands off my wife, dude.” Luke scowls at me and shakes his head.
“She loves me. Don’t you, darlin’?”
“I do.” She pats my chest and I smile proudly. “But I love my husband more.”
“Killjoy,” I whisper loudly and sigh in mock despair. “What will I do now?”