“I followed your light.” I pointed over the other two fields. “I parked way over there. I was searching in the dark and I didn’t think I would find you… then I saw the light from the jar.” Sighing, I looked into Elsie’s eyes. “It led me straight to you.”
Her eyes were shimmering with tears, when she smiled and said, “You didn’t drown. You followed my light.”
I huffed a quiet laugh. Then the laughter quickly dropped. “I’ve drowned plenty since I woke up this morning to find you gone, bella mia. I ain’t sure yet if I’m safe on dry land, or whether you’re gonna leave me in the tide. If you’re gonna let me drown.”
Elsie’s hand trembled, but she removed it from mine to crouch before me, her attention focusing on the headstone. She ran her fingers over the inscription of her mom’s name, her date of birth and death. I watched her face fill with sadness and she confided, “When I first ran away, this is where I would come. I’d sit by her grave all day, then come back at night when the gates were closed.” She smiled and I watched a teardrop slip down her face. “This,” she pointed around the graveyard, “was my home for so long, that it’s the only place I could think of coming.” She patted her chest over her heart. “My heart is torn. All of the cruelty I felt hit me at once, those girls at the dinner,” she sucked in a deep breath, “Clara. Clara believing she had no other out but to take her own life… it split my heart and I needed to get away.” Elsie inhaled, and on her exhale said, “I needed to come home.”
My chest ached hearing her call this place home, that she’d needed to leave, to get away, to leave me. Suddenly, Elsie’s hand was on my face and her forehead was scrunched up in confusion. She looked so damn cute. She always did.
Every time I looked at her I lost my breath. My heart would kick into a sprint. She had no idea what she meant to me, how much I just wanted to help her heal.
Wanted her love.
I turned my head until my cheek nuzzled her palm. Elsie sat back, dropping her hand over mine, removing it off the jar to link our fingers together. She stared at her fingers, and whispered, “But when I got here. When I laid on the grass, when I traced the letters of my mom’s name, I realized that this was no longer my home.”
I paused, froze completely waiting for what she said next. Elsie looked up at me, seared me where I sat, and confessed, “It’s with you. My home,” she pressed her free hand on her chest, “my heart… it’s with you, Levi Carillo. You.”
Feeling like a dam had burst in my soul, I leaned forward and took her mouth with my own. Elsie’s lips instantly moved against mine, her soft hand threading through my hair.
I pulled back, and when I did, her eyelids fluttered open. I stared at her without words, just content to have her back in my arms, safe and needing me like I needed her.
“It took me to come here, to realize I belong with you.”
I blew out a breath, then pulled her forward, pushing the jar to the ground and held her in my arms. She held me back, and in this graveyard, with my beautiful girl in my arms, I felt it.
I felt that hole in my heart close together, a few scars forever on its surface, but it was healed. By Elsie. By us. By this moment.
Pushing Elsie back, I said, “I’m not the most special guy in the world. I’m no one’s perfect dream. I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything extraordinary with my life. I’ll always be that little bit awkward, and that little bit too shy. I’ll always blush and dip my head, but if you’ll let me, I’ll be the one that’s there for you. I’ll be happy knowing I’ve got you and you’ve got me. That’s enough for me, to be the one that you can lean on, to be the one to tell you you’re beautiful every day. And talk to. I’ll adore every sound that comes out of your mouth. I’ll be the one to love you like nothing you’ve ever seen, bella mia.” I blushed with embarrassment, but managed to rasp, “If you’ll just let me… If you want me.”
Elsie sobbed out a cry, tears tumbling down her rosy cheeks. “Levi. You are my dream realized, in every possible way. You are the most special person in my world. And I love that you blush—because I do too.” She wiped at her cheeks. “I love that you’re shy, and,” her breathing hitched, “I love that you love my voice. I love that I never have hide who I am, disguise how I sound. Because I’m tired of trying to please others.” She dipped her eyes and almost flattened me when she said, “You’re my kind of extraordinary. Levi Carillo, you’re the sweetest of souls.”
Elsie’s smile heated my chest, and she got to her feet. She took the jar from me and then offered me her hand. I took it in mine, standing before her. I playfully pulled down the back of her gray woolen hat, and tapped the jar. She beamed up a smile at me. “I’m never letting it go.” I kissed her sweet lips, and she playfully replied, “But I want you to show me the real thing. I liked the sound of seeing the true lightning bug jars someday.”
A wide smile spread on my face. “It’ll happen one day, bella mia. One day.”
She nodded her head, then looked up at me through her lashes. “But for now lets just go home?”
My heart fired off against my ribs. “Home?” I rasped.
Elsie placed he hand in mine and sighed in contentment. “Home,” she assured and began leading us from the graveyard. With every step my sadness, the pain that I’d carried for too long, fell away. Because this was one love of mine that came back.
And she brought with her innocence.
She brought with her life.
The minute the car stopped, the rising dawn beginning to break, the door to the main house opened and Lexi ran out, Ally Prince following closely behind. Without pausing, Lexi threw her arms around my neck and I choked on my thick throat, the emotion of such a welcome hitting me deeply—they cared.
“Sweetie, Thank God. I’ve been so worried about you,” Lexi said and I could hear the worry in her shaky voice.
“Sorry,” I said ashamedly and ducked my head. Lexi pulled back from our embrace.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, Elsie. Nothing. I’m just happy you’re back, and you’re safe. Yeah?”
I nodded my head, casting a glance to Levi who was stood with his two brothers, the light between to darks. He was smiling at me proudly, and I turned back to Lexi, knowing my shy guy was there for me to lean on.
“I think, if it’s possible, that I’d like some help… to deal with everything that’s happened in my past… the bullies, the loss… everything.”
Lexi’s green eyes glossed with tears. “Of course, sweetie. On one condition.”
I raised my eyebrows waiting for her terms.
“That you consider working with me afterwards, at Kind.” I glanced away, unsure if I could after Clara when Lexi said, “You made a difference in her life while she had you in it. I saw it. We all did. Celesha wants you back, as do I. One day, when you’re healed enough to return.”
“Okay,” I replied, fighting the apprehension I felt. This woman had taken me in, no questions asked. I wanted to give her that same honor.