I stilled, looking at the floor.
“Don’t be mad. I didn’t mean it.”
“I’m not mad. But …” I looked at her. “You’re probably right. You should get a real boyfriend.”
“Are you breaking up with me?”
I didn’t know if I was breaking up with her. My young age prevented me from understanding the dangerous part of my brain called the ego. That ego flipped some switch. We went from making out in the back of Georgia to joking about tits to the sobering thought that Morgan deserved someone better than me.
“We can be friends.”
Her head jerked back. “Friends. I see.” She nodded. “So we’ll hang out, but I can find another boyfriend and you’ll find a new girlfriend?”
I shrugged. “Sure.” I wasn’t going to get another girlfriend until I had a job, until I could not seem so needy, until I could take a girl to a movie that wasn’t at the dollar cinema.
“Wow …” She backed away. “So I guess I’ll see you around.”
“I guess so.” I was such an idiot, a stubborn, hardheaded idiot on the verge of losing the best thing ever.
She left. I strapped on my Walkman and went for a run. I lost the girl.
Swayze doesn’t blink. I don’t know if she realizes my story is over. How is it possible for her to not remember Daisy? My childhood revolved around the sassy little blonde. If she’s channeling my thoughts from over twenty years ago, then she has to see that they were all about Daisy.
“I remember the car.” Her eyes shift to meet mine.
“I wish you remembered us.”
“Us?” Her voice trembles and all color leaves her face.
I let it hang in the air for a few moments. She saw the book on reincarnation in my nightstand drawer. I replayed that feed over and over, but the camera was at her back. I couldn’t see her face. Every time I think of mentioning it to her, I lose my nerve. She has to know that I suspect she’s Daisy. But I won’t bring it up. I want her to make the connection. I need her to be curious and open to the possibility. But I won’t force it.
“Daisy and me.” I save her from the awkwardness.
She blows out a slow breath and smiles. “Me too. So you broke up.”
“And you’re just going to leave me hanging? Did you get back together?”
“I need to pack for my trip. My flight is at six a.m. There are two guest rooms. Take whichever one you’d like. Towels are in the bathroom.”
“Want me to put Morgan to bed?”
I stand. “Nope. I want to do it.”
Her lips press together, failing to hide her grin.
“Nothing.” She shakes her head.
“Tell me.” My arms cross over my chest. This girl rattles my curiosity.
“Just thinking about the Don’t Hold the Baby rule you had when I started working for you. Now you hold her, cuddle her, and want to put her to bed even when you have stuff to do. You’ve come into your own and it’s…” she shrugs “…nice.”
I nod. From any other twenty-one-year-old girl, that would feel like a condescending compliment. Swayze’s known me longer than she realizes, so it means the whole damn world to me that she thinks I’m doing okay at what is unequivocally the biggest challenge of my life.
“Thank you. It was a rough start. I read too many books on parenting, setting schedules, and self-soothing. I think I forgot to use my intuition. This bossy nanny helped me see the error of my ways.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t fire her.”
“She has a lot of dirt on me.”
Swayze’s smile grows. “Do you think they’ll take away your PhD if I tell them you cheated on that Spanish test?”
“Not likely.” I chuckle. “Especially when they realize you weren’t alive when that happened.”
Her lips twist to the side as her gaze shifts to Morgan. “Hmm … that would be hard to explain, especially when I can’t explain it to myself.”
“I have a theory.”
She fidgets with the hem of her shirt while a nervous laugh comes out as a soft cough. “I’m sure there are lots of theories, but none of them make perfect sense. I’m not sure we’ll ever know. But … I’d better let you get Morgan to bed so you can pack for your trip.”
“Do you want to hear my theory?” Dr. Albright’s warnings go unheeded in my head as my need to connect with the girl I knew grows stronger every day.
Swayze picks up her overnight bag, leaving her back to me. “I don’t think I do.”
“Just a feeling,” she says, looking down at her feet.
“Are you scared?”
I hold in the words I’m dying to say as she fades into the shadows of the hallway, taking a right at the guest bedroom.
I’m a hostage in Nate’s guest bedroom. He wants to talk about reincarnation. I’m not ready to shatter his hopes of reconnecting with his childhood friend. I know nothing of her except what he’s told me. She doesn’t exist in my head the way he does. If we make the journey back to another life, surely we remember ourselves more than anyone else from our previous life. What happens when he realizes I’m not her? Will the stories end? Will I become nothing more than an imposter in his already stressful life?
I slip on a pair of pajama pants and a camisole top, grab my phone, and plunk down on the bed to call Griffin.
“Hey, I was just getting ready to call you.”
“Likely story.” I grin.
“True story. We arrived about an hour ago. It’s insane.”
“Apparently. I can barely hear you.” I cringe. There’s no need for me to yell and wake Morgan. I’m not the one trying to speak over a party of people mixed with revving motorcycles.
“Sorry …” His voice muffles a bit. “Better?”
“I stepped into the bathroom. Well … porta potty.”
“Yes. It smells fucking awesome in here.”
“Then I won’t keep you. I just wanted to say goodnight. I’m staying at the professor’s place tonight because he leaves so early in the morning.”
“In your own room, I hope.”
I laugh. “I should be offended that you feel the need for confirmation, but I want you thinking about me while you’re gone—while women parade their naked bodies around you, while the booze flows a little too much.”
“Is that a yes that you’re sleeping in your own room?”
“Really, Griff? Do you really think I’m spooning with the professor tonight?”
“I’m not worried about the professor. He’s old, Swayz. Probably needs a pill to get it up. But I’d be lying if I said the thought of you spending the night with Nate doesn’t give me a few moments pause. I told you … he’s been thinking about your mouth around his dick ever since you sent him my text.”
“He’s thinking about someone, but it’s not me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ll tell you when you get home.”
“Dude! You got the shits?” A man’s voice fills the background.
“Fuck off!” Griffin grumbles.
“Have fun.” I giggle, but my grin falls sober. “But not too much fun.”
“I’ll do my best. I’d better go.”
“Are we good?” Insecurities suck. But they make you fight to keep the important things in life. They’re a solemn reminder that emotions are not a choice; they’re a toxic mix of chemicals running amuck in our bodies, playing roulette with our relationships.
“We’re good. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He disconnects the call, but I keep the phone to my ear. I want to hug it—hug him. When I’m convinced he’s no longer on the phone, my attention shifts to the stolen picture. It’s bowed and curling at the edges. I shouldn’t carry it around in my pocket, but I have this sane and well-thought-out idea that twenty-something Nate in my pocket might tell me all of his stories. That’s how it works.
Photo Nate talks.
My ass listens.
An undiscovered way of ass-to-brain communication relays the information to my mind.
I chuckle. Stranded on an island by myself? No problem. I’m one hundred percent self-entertained.
Had I found this photo as a teenager, I would have blown it up and pinned it to the ceiling of my room. I would have dreamed about this sexy surfer-looking guy and his contemplative look. I would have convinced my zit-faced, pigeon-toed self that he was thinking of me.
“What is wrong with you?” I toss the photo on the bed beside me and rub a hand over my face.
In need of a glass of water, I slide the photo under the pillow and slip out into the hallway. My feet root to the floor as the sight of Nate rocking Morgan to sleep replaces my thirst. One hand cradles her to his body while the other hand holds Goodnight Moon.
I’m in love.
It’s hard to explain, even to myself. Jenna’s death has brought me here. I’m certain fate played a role. I don’t know what drives fate. And I certainly don’t know what I am to learn from this. But I am in love with the story of Nathaniel Hunt. It’s so tragic, until moments like this that could not be more beautiful.