I want to believe him. I want, so badly, to believe that he is this OK. I mean, I have to let him do this all at his own pace, don’t I?
It’s just so nice to think that things can be as beautiful as they once were.
“That was the happiest day of my life,” Jesse says. “Here with everyone, marrying you.”
“Mine, too,” I say.
Jesse looks at me and smiles. “You look so cold you might shatter.”
“I’m pretty freezing,” I say. “Should we head back?”
Jesse nods. “In sixty seconds.”
“OK,” I say. “Sixty seconds. Fifty-nine . . . fifty-eight . . .”
But then I stop counting. I just enjoy the view and the company, a sight I never thought I’d see again with a man I thought I’d lost.
Candles on the table. Pinot Gris in our glasses. Warm bread that I’ve managed to crumb all over the cream-colored tablecloth.
And one small, very expensive lobster on the table. Because December is not exactly the high season.
“What are we doing?” Jesse says to me. He’s sitting across the table, wearing a long-sleeve black shirt and gray chinos. I’m in a red sweater and black jeans. Neither one of us brought nice enough clothes to dine here. The maître d’ was clearly hesitant to even seat us.
“I don’t know,” I say. “It seemed like a nice idea, but I just think . . .”
Jesse stands up and puts his napkin on the table. “C’mon,” he says.
“Now?” I’m standing up.
I watch as Jesse pulls out a few bills from his pocket, counts out a reasonable figure, and puts it on the table, nestled under his glass. He doesn’t have credit cards or a bank account or any sort of identification. I bet Francine gave him cash and told him she’d take care of getting him everything he needed.
“Yeah,” Jesse says. “Now. Life is too short to be sitting in some restaurant drinking wine we don’t care for, eating a lobster we don’t like.”
That is absolutely true.
We run to the car and I hop in the passenger seat, quickly shutting the door behind me. I rub my hands together. I stomp my feet. None of it warms me up.
“The wind is nuts out there!” Jesse says as he starts the car. I have offered to drive every time I’ve been in the car with him and he keeps turning me down.
“I’m still hungry,” I say to him.
“And the night is young.”
“Should we head down to the Italian place and grab some subs or a salad to go?”
Jesse nods and heads out of the parking lot. “Sounds good.”
The roads are dark and winding and you can tell by the way the trees sway that the wind isn’t letting up. Jesse slowly pulls into the makeshift parking lot of the restaurant. He parks and turns off the ignition, leaving the heat on.
“You stay here,” he says. “I’ll be back soon.” He’s out the door before I have time to respond.
In the quiet dark of the car, I have a moment to myself.
I use it to check my phone.
Work e-mails. Coupons. Texts from Marie and Olive asking how I’m doing. I open up a few of the work e-mails and find myself overwhelmed by one from Tina.
Dear Colin, Ashley, and Emma,
It is with a heavy heart that I have to render my resignation. My husband and I have decided to sell our home and buy a condo outside of Central Square.
Unfortunately, this means I will be leaving Blair Books. Of course, I can stay on board for the standard two weeks.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to work at your wonderful store. It has meant a lot to me.
There were assistant managers before Tina and I always knew there would be assistant managers after her. But I’m having a hard time imagining it all running smoothly when she leaves. My parents are also taking a step back in the coming months and that means that everything really will rest on me—and only me—in the future. On any other day, I think I’d probably have some perspective on this, but for right now, all I can do is ignore it. I archive the e-mail and am taken to the next message in my in-box. I quickly realize it is from my wedding venue.
Dear Ms. Blair,
Our records indicate that you have inquired about the cancellation fee for your event scheduled for October nineteenth of next year. As discussed in your initial consultation, we reserve the right to hold the entire deposit.
However, as we also discussed at the time, that weekend is a popular one. Seeing as how a number of couples have expressed interest in your date, our owner has agreed to release half of your deposit if you cancel before the end of the month.
I hope this answers your question.
I didn’t contact Dawn. Which means there’s only one explanation.
Sam’s really prepared to leave me.
I’m truly on the verge of losing him.
This isn’t how my life is meant to go. This isn’t what my inbox is meant to look like.
I am supposed to have love notes. I am supposed to have cat pictures and e-mails about caterers and invitations.
Not messages from the Carriage House telling me that my fiancé is a few clicks away from canceling our wedding, that I could lose him, lose a wonderful man, because of my own confusion, my own conflicted heart.
What am I doing here in Maine?
Have I lost my goddamn mind?
I am suddenly overwhelmed by the desire to get in the driver’s seat and drive home to Sam right now. But if I did, if I went back to him right now, could I honestly say that I wouldn’t think about Jesse anymore?
If I go home to Sam, it needs to be with the confidence that I will never leave him. I owe him that much. I mean, I owe him everything. But taking him seriously and not toying with him is the absolute least I can do. And I’m aware that even then it might not be enough.
By loving the two of them, I am no longer sure about either. And by being unsure, I might just lose them both.
Romantic love is a beautiful thing under the right circumstances. But those circumstances are so specific and rare, aren’t they?
It’s rare that you love the person who loves you, that you love only the person who loves only you. Otherwise, somebody’s heartbroken.
But I guess that’s why true love is so alluring in the first place. It’s hard to find and hold on to, like all beautiful things. Like gold, saffron, or an aurora borealis.
“The guys inside said it’s going to snow tonight,” Jesse says as he gets back in the car. He has a pizza in his hand. “I got us a pepperoni and pineapple pizza, your favorite.” He puts the pizza in my lap.
I feel myself feigning a surprised smile. I can’t eat cheese. “Great!” I say.
And then we’re off, heading back to the cabin over the same snowy streets. Jesse takes the turns confidently now, like a man who knows his way around.
But the roads are winding and they curve unpredictably. I find myself grabbing on to the handle above my head not once but twice.
“Maybe slow down?” I offer after the second time.
I glance at the speedometer. He’s going fifty in a thirty-five-mile zone.
“It’s fine,” he says. “I’ve got it.” And then he looks at me briefly and smiles. “Live a little.”
I find myself relaxing even though we’re going just as fast. In fact, I become so at ease within the car that I am actually surprised when I hear the whoop of a cop car stopping us.
Jesse pulls over, slowly but immediately.
My heart starts racing.
He’s driving with no license at all.
“Jesse . . .” I say, my voice somewhere between a panicked whisper and a breathy scream.
“It’s going to be fine,” he says. He’s so confident about everything. He always has been. He’s always the one who believes everything is going to be fine.
But he’s wrong, isn’t he? Everything isn’t always fine. Terrible things happen in this world. Awful things. You have to do your best to prevent them.
A middle-aged man in a police uniform comes up to Jesse’s window and bends over. “Evening, sir,” he says.
He has a no-nonsense haircut and a stoic stance. He’s got a short frame, a clean-shaven face, and hard edges. His hair, even his eyebrows, are starting to gray.