Juliet looks down. “It worked today.”
“Today was a dream.” I tell her bitterly. “A f**king fantasy. Don’t you get it? That’s not my life, it never will be.”
“You don’t know that.” Juliet’s voice twists. “Us, together, it could change things. It’s already changed me!”
My heart clenches. “And then what?” I finally meet her eyes, desperate. “What happens at the end of summer, Jules? What happens when you go?”
“I’m trying to do the right thing,” I explain, hating the pain on her face. “If we stop this before we get in any deeper…”
She gives me a small smile. Twisted. Rueful.
“I’m already in.” she says.
I close my eyes and grip the steering wheel tighter, to stop from grabbing her, kissing her, making it all go away. When I’m touching her, it’s the only time my life makes sense, but it’s a false promise of a tomorrow I can never have.
“Go.” I say it again, clinging to the certainty of the harsh syllable. “You’ll see, you don’t know what you’re saying. It’ll only be worse, in the end, if we pretend like this can ever be real.”
I wait, and when I hear the door open, and feel the warmth of her body slide away from me, I swear, my heart breaks right there in my chest.
She walks away, slowly, and I watch her go. I try to imprint her on my memory: every detail, every moment of perfection.
Then I drive away. Grief presses down on my chest. Grief, and guilt, and hopeless despair. Juliet was wrong. Sometimes, it is stupid to hope—at least, for someone like me to hope for someone like her.
Look where it’s gotten me now.
I cry for three days straight. I don’t even leave my room, I just lay there, curled under the covers, feeling the pain rip through me in an endless swell. I turn it over in my mind every way I can, but there’s no way around it.
What happens at the end of summer?
If I’m feeling this wretched now, like my heart has been cleaved clear in two, then how about once we’re even closer? When we’ve had weeks of perfection like that day by the swimming hole; whole nights spent wrapped in each other’s arms? I feel like I’m missing a part of myself even now, not being with him. How could I ever bear to leave him, when summer finally comes to an end, and I have to leave for college?
Maybe this is for the best, I try to tell myself. If I look at things clearly, then of course, it makes sense: like ripping the band-aid off in one go, instead of dragging out the pain through a long, doomed goodbye.
But the ache I feel without him doesn’t make any sense to me at all. My whole body feels wrong, like I’ve been split apart and put back together, but the pieces don’t fit right anymore. What I told him was true: he changed me. Something happened between us, more than sense or logic can explain. I saw my future in him, that first day on the highway; felt a connection that shouldn’t ever be broken.
And now it has, I can’t go back to the girl I used to be, not even if I tried.
“Honey?” My mom taps on the door and swings it open. “I brought you some lunch.”
“I’m not hungry.” I tell her, muffled from under the duvet.
“I made PB and J, with the crusts cut off.” She comes to sit on the edge of the bed. “And there’s milk too. Oh, sweetie,” she sighs, pulling back the covers. “You need your strength, this isn’t healthy.”
I want to tell her to go, but my stomach lets out a rumble, so I reluctantly pull myself into a sitting position and reach for the food.
Mom watches me, cautious. I didn’t say much, but I can tell, she knows.
“Maybe you can come down and sit on the porch?” she suggests brightly. “It’s a lovely day outside.”
“I don’t know…”
“You need to get up out of that bed, and do something.” Mom says firmly. “Nothing’s going to get fixed unless you make it fixed.”
I stop. She’s talking about my broken heart, about time, and moving on, I know. Life without Emerson. But her words spark something in me. I sit up a little higher.
“OK. After I’m done eating, I’ll come down.”
“That’s my girl.”
I sit on the porch all afternoon, watching the tide roll in. I think about Emerson, but this time, it’s not grief, or hopelessness circling endlessly in my mind. This time, I think clearly. I’m trying to find an answer.
We’re meant to be together.
It’s simple, and sure, maybe even naïve, but it’s the truest thing I’ve ever known. He’s mine. I’m his. We belong to each other now, and I just have to find a way to make him see it, see that he deserves to be happy as much as anyone, that we can make this work, for real.
Because the alternative—life without him—hurts too much to even bear.
I stare out at the ocean, all these questions racing in my mind. Soon I see, there’s someone out in the ocean, a surfer. I can make out the pale strip of his board as he sits, bobbing on the surface, waiting for a wave. But the whole afternoon, he never takes one. I see him paddling furiously, every time a swell comes through. He lines up his board with the oncoming wave, gets into position, and then… just lets it roll by.
I wonder what’s holding him back. Fear, getting the best of him, before he can let go. I know how he must feel. I always promised myself I wouldn’t be like my parents: I’d love bravely, no matter what the cost. But looking into my future, so many decisions to be made, I can see, how sometimes it’s easier just to let the wave pass you by. You can tell yourself it’s not the right one, that you’re playing it safe, that it’s too much to take. And maybe, you’re right.