“Oh, I’m fine,” a voice said behind me. I turned to see Karla standing there with a smirk on her face.
“Then why did you text Eleanor?” I asked.
“Because I do need her help. We all do.”
Eleanor looked bewildered, not having a clue what was going on, but I was slowly catching on. My hand brushed against my neck. “Sorry, Ellie. It seems my teenage daughter is acting up.”
“Only because you were being stubborn, Dad. Just face it…you like Eleanor. And Eleanor, you can’t even deny that you like him, too, because you can’t hide your emotions for anything. So, you two should just…be together.”
“Karla…” My voice dropped, and I grimaced. “You know why we can’t—”
“Yeah, Dad, I get it. You’re fucked up, I’m fucked up, Eleanor’s fucked up—we’re all fucked up! But we might as well be fucked up together.”
“Language,” Eleanor and I said in unison.
I smiled, she smiled, and damn, I loved it.
More of that, Ellie…
I missed those smiles.
“See? You both are even corny together. So, you have to be together.” Karla shrugged. “Look, I get it. I sometimes fall apart and make things hard, but I just want you to know that I want Eleanor here. So does Lorelai. We don’t need to wait until we are perfectly healed, Dad. We can be a team with a few cracks still left to fix. Through the good and the bad. Besides…” She gave Eleanor a hesitant grin. “We made a pinky promise.”
She turned and headed back to her bedroom.
I parted my mouth to speak, but no words came to mind. Because this was what I wanted, Eleanor was who I craved.
I locked eyes with Eleanor and brushed my thumb against my chin. Nerves filled me up as she kept smiling my way.
“Grey, if you’re not ready for this, I—”
I stuffed my hands into my pockets. “You’ve been my true north since the day I met you. You’ve healed my family in more ways than I could count. You brought me back to life after my soul had died. You save my life each and every time you cross my mind. Just the thought of you heals me. I know we have things to figure out. I know there are hurdles that we have to jump, but if you’re willing, I am willing to take the leap. I want to leap and fly with you and only you for the rest of my life. So, what do you say?”
She moved in closer and wrapped her arms around me. I placed my hands against her lower back and pulled her to me. Our lips brushed, and I swore my whole life lit up with our possibilities.
“Okay,” she whispered against my skin. “Let’s fly.”
My mouth crashed against hers as I pulled her to me. We kissed for our past, we kissed for our present, and we kissed for our future.
Her lips took mine as if they were promising me forever.
This kiss meant forever.
And I was okay with that fact.
We made it. After all these years, we began to descend on to our beautiful chapters. The chapters where pain became beauty. Where heartaches began to heal. Where always met forever.
She was she, I was me, and we were us.
This was our story.
This was our always and forever.
And it was going to be beautiful.
Eleanor didn’t talk about her father as much as she used to, but I could tell that it still ate at her soul. Whenever I brought it up to her, she’d smile and tell me, “He is what he is, and there’s not really a place for me in his life.”
That broke my heart, because I knew it broke hers. And if her heart was breaking, mine cracked, too.
“I have to travel today for business,” I told Eleanor as we lay in bed a few weeks after she came back into my life. “Do you think you can watch the girls until I get back? I fly out early, but will be back home late tonight. It’s a really quick trip. I feel a bit odd about leaving with everything going on with Karla, but it’s a very important issue.”
“Yeah, of course. I’ll take care of them.”
I leaned in and kissed her. “I love you,” I whispered, and the words came so effortlessly. Almost as if we’d been saying it all our lives.
She kissed me back. “I love you, too.”
Of course we loved each other.
I was certain when our love began all those years ago, it never really stopped.
I found myself in Florida, standing on Eleanor’s father’s front porch. Shay had given me the address. I stood there for a minute with a book in my hand before I built up the courage to knock.
“Can I help you?” Kevin asked, raising an eyebrow as he opened his front door.
Eleanor might’ve had her mother’s smile, but she truly had her father’s eyes.
“Hi, yeah, I’m Greyson. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met many years ago through Eleanor. I was her friend from high school. I took her to homecoming.”
He narrowed his eyes. “Oh, yes, Greyson. Long time.”
“It has been indeed.”
“How can I help you?” he asked, somewhat closing his door so I couldn’t see the mess that existed behind him.
“I’m actually here on behalf of Ellie. You see…I love her, sir. I am in love with your daughter for a million reasons. She is truly the greatest gift this world has given to me, and she is currently heartbroken because she misses her father.”
Kevin grimaced and huffed. “Now, look, if you came here to make me feel bad—”
“That’s not why I’m here,” I cut in. “Not at all. Trust me, if anyone knows what you’re going through, it’s me. Over a year ago, my wife passed away, leaving me with my two daughters. I shut down completely. I pushed everything and everyone away because I couldn’t face a world where Nicole no longer existed. But then, against my stubbornness, Eleanor Gable came back into my life, and she saved me. She’s the most patient person in the world, Kevin, and I bet she gets that trait from her mother. I bet she gets a lot of her best traits from Paige.”
The moment I said her name, I saw Kevin react. The heartache that lived inside him was still alive and strong. But I wouldn’t stop speaking, because I knew he needed to hear my words.
“Eleanor is nurturing and kind, and her smile can light up a whole room. When she laughs, she does it with her whole body, and when she cries, it breaks every part of your heart. She’s forgiving, even when she shouldn’t be. She’s understanding, even when people are hard to understand. She’s gentle. She’s sensitive. She’s beautiful inside and out, and I know that came from her mother. So, that makes it hard for you.”
He closed his eyes and took in deep breaths. “You don’t understand…”
“She has her eyes,” I said softly, because I did understand. I understood more than he knew. “Which makes it hard to look at her. She has her smile, which makes you want to frown. She has so many parts of the woman you lost, so you push her away because it hurts so much. But Kevin, you’ll have to come to realize that what you think is a curse, is actually a miracle. I get to see Nicole each time I look into my children’s eyes. I get to see her smile. I get to hear her laughter, and that is the greatest gift this world could ever offer.”
He opened his eyes, and I saw the same despair that I’d lived with before. The sadness that had been swallowing him whole for the past sixteen-some years. “How did you get there?” he asked. “How did you begin to heal?”
“That’s easy. I let Eleanor in, and you should do the same.”
He shook his head and grumbled as he wiped away his tears. “No. I can’t. It’s been too long. Too much time has passed. I can’t fix our relationship.”
“You can’t, or you won’t try? All I’m saying is, if you ever want to fix things with Eleanor, she’ll be there to listen.”
“How do you know that? How can you be so sure?”
“Because that’s the woman you’ve raised. You brought a woman into this world who breathes unconditional love.”
Kevin lowered his head, and I could almost witness the wheels turning in his head. I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of my business cards. “Listen, I don’t want to take up any more of your time. I just wanted to stop by and let you know that your daughter’s love is worth fighting for. And when you are at your lowest, you can give me a call. Give me a call, and I’ll walk you through it. From one widower to another, I promise you, Kevin, the sun can shine again. All you have to do is wake up.”
He took the card from my hand and nodded slowly. “Thanks, Greyson.”
“Of course, and here, take this.” I headed him the novel. “Just in case you two need to find something that you have in common to talk about.”
I turned to walk off, and he called my name once more.
“Yes?” I rotated around to look at him.
He brushed his hand under his nose and cleared his throat. “You’ll take care of her?”
“Yes, sir,” I promised. “For as long as we both shall live.”
On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I found a moment to give thanks to her because I knew she probably had a lot to do with bringing Greyson and me back together. I knew she always had a way of showing me her love.
“We should go to Laurie Lake,” Greyson suggested as he walked up and wrapped his arms around me. “You know, to celebrate her memory.”
“I’d really love that.”
The girls were at Claire’s house, so we made the drive to the lake, and as we approached, I felt calmness. It was as if I could sense her being there. As we began walking through the trees to our hidden oasis, my heart came to a halt as I looked up to see my father standing there with his back to me.
“Dad?” I asked, stunned and confused.
He turned and gave me the saddest smile. “Hey, Snickers,” he whispered. Surrounding him were wrapped boxes and a stack of card envelopes. In his hands was a novel and he waved it. “I finally got around to reading this Harry Potter thing you were always talking about. It’s pretty good.”