By living as if what I did while I was on the planet did have meaning, even if I secretly feared it was all one big nothing.
Maybe Glynnis was born unlucky. Maybe not. And in the end, how much did it matter? Life would still unfold unpredictably.
“You know what, Glynnis? Lucky or unlucky, you do what you can,” I said, wishing I could erase her sad expression. “I wish I could tell you something more profound, but that’s all I’ve got. Just do what you can.”
It was just a meal. Dinner. Two people sitting down, ordering, laughing, trying to eat without making chewing noises or burping. Easy, right?
Nooooo. Not right. Not right at all.
Sean’s text said fifteen minutes to arrival.
I was not ready.
Clothes. Makeup. Hair. Three things I normally did on autopilot were as foreign to me as driving on the wrong side of the road. My hand slipped, sending my eyeliner off into Catwoman-like wings. My clothes had somehow wrinkled, even in dry cleaning bags. My underwear could be worn proudly by a nun . . . my underwear? Why was I even thinking about that? No one but me was going to see my underwear tonight.
Thinking about intimacy unleashed too many conflicting feelings, so at odds my brain could’ve been having a tug-of-war with my heart. Except for some brief, fumbling hookups in high school, I’d only been with Jesse. We were partners in the bedroom, truly in sync, and thinking about sharing more than a kiss with Sean vaporized any courage I’d mustered.
Ten minutes. I would shove that thought to the back of the line. I swabbed lip gloss on with a heavy hand and then dabbed most of it off with a tissue, determined not to look like a Real Housewife. I fluffed my hair and patted it back down. I yanked off the gray blouse that suddenly seemed too dingy and replaced it with a black silk tank. But my pants were black, too. I looked like a ninja.
I found a soft pink linen skirt and managed to squeeze into it, and added some black strappy sandals. Three minutes. Jewelry! I rummaged through my jewelry tray, determined to find something that didn’t remind me of Jesse. I’d taken off my wedding ring almost immediately after the funeral—the shock of pain I felt whenever I glanced at my hand was too much to bear—but everything else I owned was somehow tied to a memory. With thirty seconds to spare, I found Mr. Eckhardt’s wife’s earrings and put them on.
The doorbell chimed. Sean was right on time.
Jesse got his driver’s license before me. Neither of us had any hopes to own a car, so we were well into college before we ever headed to the DMV. An elderly neighbor told Jesse he could occasionally use her ’78 Buick if he mowed her small, postage-stamp-sized front yard. It was she who drove us to the DMV that morning, a good ten miles under the speed limit the entire time, and complaining incessantly about the inconvenience. When we dropped her off afterward, she sent Jesse to fill the tank at a local gas station.
We’d never gotten gas before. Nerves rattling, we looked at each other with big eyes. Did we pay first? How did the pump work? Was the window-washer thing gross or not gross?
We managed to fill the tank without spraying gasoline everywhere. We cleaned the windows, and they sparkled. Smiling and satisfied, we drove home, pulling up to our block at a crawl, wanting to be seen. Then Jesse stopped the car just in front of a tight spot and parallel parked with surprising finesse.
When he shut the engine off, neither of us moved. We’d been friends, such good friends. I fiddled with my seat belt, wondering why the silence suddenly felt so heavy when it was usually such a comfortable respite between the two of us, a shared ability to just be.
“Congratulations,” I said, my voice unsteady. “You’re a good driver.”
“I don’t have insurance,” he said, but he sounded distracted. “I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to drive us around. It’s too risky.”
“I don’t care about that. You have your license if you need it. That’s enough.”
He removed the key from the ignition and placed it between us on the leather seats. “I wish this was our car, and we could go anywhere we wanted.”
“We don’t need a car for that,” I said. “We do okay on the bus and the ‘L.’”
“But it’s not ours,” he insisted. “I just want something to be mine.”
“I could be yours,” I blurted, instantly mortified that I’d shoved a truth I’d sheltered for so long into the cold, open air.
“Could you?” he asked softly, so softly. He picked up the car keys and placed them in my palm, closing my fingers over them. “Someday, I’m going to give you everything you want.”
One honest comment made another come easier. “I just want you.”
He lifted my chin, and I caught his gaze with mine. I knew those eyes as well as I knew my own, but for the first time I saw something different in them, a longing I’d since realized was desire.
Jesse kissed me. Our first real kiss. I held tightly on to his broad shoulder with one hand and the keys with the other, their sharp ridges burrowing into my hand.
Sean was a confident driver, cruising steadily through the streets of Willow Falls, heading to the center of our village.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise,” he said.
“I’ve lived in this town for almost twenty years. I doubt anything could be a surprise.” It hit me, the ambiguous thing I’d been fearing. He could take me somewhere familiar. He could take me somewhere packed with memories. He could take me somewhere Jesse, at some point, had been.
“Stop,” I said.
“Pull over. Please!”
I knew it was simple panic, but my chest tightened from fear, the muscles bunching to protect my heart. I couldn’t catch my breath.
Sean swerved into a parking spot. “What is it?”
“I’m—” I focused on breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
“You’re what? You can tell me, if you want to.” His voice was gentle.
“It’s just that . . . I’m afraid.”
Sean nodded, settling back in his seat. “Yeah. That’s probably normal, though, right?”
“Let me ask you. Are you afraid of me, or of something else?”
“I’m not afraid of you at all. I just thought about all of the places we could go in downtown Willow Falls, and nearly every one of them has memories attached.”
Sean thought for a moment. I just sat there, breathing.
He finally said, “If we’re going to date, we can go to other suburbs if we need to, no problem. We could drive an hour away if you need to, but I’m not quite sure that’s the solution to this problem.”
“I think that sounds like a good solution.”
“Part of me thinks I don’t have a right to tell you how to grieve, but the other part of me is gonna tell you anyway.”
“Go ahead and say it.”
“Tonight, I think you should pick a restaurant that has good memories. It doesn’t have to be one that was very special to you two, but one that has memories you can deal with. Pick out one of those good memories, and tell me about it. I didn’t know Jesse. Maybe it’s about time I did.”
“I don’t know.” I really didn’t. Would it hurt too much? Would it hurt too little? I didn’t know which one was worse. I would have no problem telling stories about how wonderful Jesse was, even to this man.