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“So tell me about your exes.”
This was said to me by the beautiful, incredible, unbelievably sweet Liam Kenneth Anderson on the sixth of April; the day before our wedding. I glanced up in surprise, my heart stuttering in something almost near fear. I watched him wearily as he twirled a glob of spaghetti onto his fork. His feather-light black hair was fluttering delicately in the wind (we were sitting together on our porch swing, our plates resting on our laps) and his ocean grey eyes were focused on mine.
I tucked my legs beneath me. “Why?”
Chewing, he tugged on the pile of napkins that were stuffed under my thigh until I released them. He wiped his mouth. “Because that’s something we’re supposed to talk about. Generally, in a relationship, you learn about your significant other. I’m trying to learn more about you.”
“Oh,” I murmured. I sat my plate on the ground and rested back in the swing, pulling the thick afghan I had brought outside closer to my body. “There’s not really much to tell.”
He laughed and sat his plate next to mine. He lifted one side of the blanket so that he could slide in next to me, wrapping an arm tightly around my shoulders as he gathered the blanket to us. He pressed a kiss to my temple. “That’s not much of an answer.”
I bit my lip nervously. “I’ve dated three guys before you. Serious dating, not flirting or going out on one or two dates.”
He shook me gently when I didn’t go on. “And…?”
I slid my arm around his waist and squeezed closer to him. “These are going to be long stories. Are you sure you want to hear them?”
He laughed. “Of course I do. That’s why I asked.”
I smiled at him, at the eyes that were seemingly always gazing into mine. “Well, first there was Wyatt.”
In high school, I always had a habit of gnawing on the end of my pen. It was compulsive. It was disgusting. It was unstoppable. One day, as I chewed endlessly in the plastic end of my ballpoint pen, I heard a comment right above my head of, “You know, pens have a tendency of busting.”
The end of the pen fell out of my mouth and hit the desk with a muted clack. I glanced up in surprise. The guy above me fairly handsome, with deep brown eyes that were thickly lashed and blond hair. He was watching me curiously, his eyes laughing.
“Yeah,” I said, trying to calm my stuttering heart (it was not that he had stunned me with his looks; he had not. It was that he had surprised me). “I figured that out around the second or third embarrassing dash to the bathroom. I can’t help it.”
He sat his books on the desk beside me and sat. “Want to know my quirky habit?” He made a show of extending his intertwined fingers and cracking them loudly. “My dad tells me I’ll get arthritis, but, hey, that’s not for another twenty years, right?”
I laughed. “In twenty years, though, you’ll wish you’d listened to your dad.”
He shrugged. “I’m sure in twenty years I’ll wish I listened to my dad about a lot of things. What’s your name, pen-chewer?”
“Elaine.” My heart fluttered a little when he reached out to brush his hand against mine, in what was almost-but not quite-a handshake.
Three days later, we went on our first date. He took me out for ice-cream. Not dinner. Not even a movie. Ice-cream. I should have known then and there that he was not the guy for me. But I didn’t.
He charmed me that night. While I licked at my slowly receding chocolate cone, he told me everything there was to know about him. I’d never been much of a talker, so he seemed like the perfect partner. He asked me few questions, mostly about what music I listened to and what kind of books I read. Then, as it was a warm night in August and the ice-cream shop was near both of our homes, he walked me to my house.
As we slowly walked down the side-walk, he whispered, “When I was a little boy, my mother would point at the stars and say, ‘If you make a wish on the brightest star you see-and you wish very, very hard-it will come true’.” He paused, glancing at the ground. “After she died, I would go to my window every night and find the brightest star. I would focus on it, with every ounce of conviction I had on my tiny eight-year-old body and I would wish for her to come back.”
“Oh,” I said quietly, grabbing his hand. I gave up on that, though, and wrapped my arm around his waist to hug him while we walked. “I didn’t know that your mother died. I’m so sorry.”
He smiled a small, sad little smile without any happiness. “One day, as I picked through an old box of pictures, I found one of us. We were lying in the grass, looking up toward the sky. My dad must have taken it. On the back she had written, ‘Keep wishing little buddy. Some do come true.’ That was the happiest moment I’ve had since she died.”
I looked up at the sky, searching for a star to wish on, but there were trees lining the sidewalk. I grabbed his hand and tugged him onto the deserted road that, due to the city’s low budget, was not lit. I pointed at the sky. “Look,” I said, “the stars are brighter than ever tonight. We have to make a wish.” I turned to see that he was right beside me, looking into my eyes. “What do you wish for?” I said quietly as he leaned in closer.
“You,” he said, and kissed me.
Wyatt and I dated for one year after that, until the beginning of our senior year. Not long before that, when we only saw each other when he stole me from my bedroom window in the middle of the night for midnight walks and when he walked me home, we had our first fight.
It was cold, a night in November, as he walked through the empty streets. He had an arm around my shoulders and I an arm around his waist. I glanced at my watch and noticed that it was past midnight.
“Crap,” I muttered, pulling away. “I’ve gotta get home. I have a big math test tomorrow.”
Suddenly, Wyatt became angry. “Damn it, Elaine. Why do you always do this?”
I was shocked. “Do what?”
He ran an angry hand through his hair, not looking at me. “You know what. For once, could you not be so…good? I can’t have a decent evening with you without ‘I have a math test tomorrow’ or ‘Oh, I have to get home. My parents might find out I’m out.’”
His frustration ignited a hot anger. “Are you kidding, Wyatt? We wouldn’t have to meet at midnight if you could ever find time out of your busy schedule to see me! What is it that you’re doing after school every day that’s stopping you from seeing me? What is so important?”
He retreated into the street, heading the opposite direction as me. “Sorry, Elaine, can’t talk now. I’ve got a big test tomorrow. You’re okay walking yourself home, right? I’ve got to get a jump on my studying.”
“Wyatt!” I gasped into the night, but he was already gone.
A month later, I found out that what he had been doing after school every day was Grace Peterson, a peppy girl in our biology class. She strutted up to me at lunch and knocked my milk from my tray.
“Hello?” I murmured, bending to pick it up.
“Cut the s***,” she said bluntly, and I was shocked that such vulgar language had come from such a…cheerleader. “I hear you’re screwing my boyfriend.”
“Excuse me?” I said. “I’m not screwing anybody, let alone your boyfriend. You should check your sources.”
Her short sarcastic laugh was annoying and for a moment I pictured yanking the bouncy blonde ponytail off her head. “Please. People see you guys together all the time. I wasn’t going to say anything, because I thought he was taking pity on an unsocial nerd, but if you’re doing anything, you’d better tell me now before I pry it out of him.”
I lifted the pen in my hand to my mouth and chewed on it. Around it, I said, “Again, I’m not screwing anybody. But just out of curiosity, who’s your boyfriend?”
“Wyatt!” she said as if it were obvious. “Who else?”
With that, the world ceased to spin.
“So you broke up with him?” Liam asked, heating my face with his breath. We had shifted so that we were almost lying down on the swing, our back resting against the edge, our legs entwined and resting on top of it. My head was lying almost in the crook of his neck, and his lips were lying on my forehead
I sighed, comfortable into the strong cage his body made around me. “I only wish. The next day, or night I should say, as we walked into the park, he told me that he was seeing somebody else and that he really liked her. He said he was leaving me for her.”
“Oh, Lainy,” he murmured. “I’m sorry. That guy is a jerk.”
I shrugged as best as I could. “Yeah, he is. But I haven’t seen him since then.”
“Hmm…,” he murmured. “I’m not sure I count high school flings as actual relationships.” He tightened his arms around me for a moment. “Who’s next?”
I took a deep breath. “Next was Aaron.”
Aaron was my college roommate’s brother. Within the first month, I realized that they were very close-he visited almost every day. Then, I finally realized why.
“He’s totally in love with you,” Blair, my roommate, told me as she meticulously folded her shirts.
I was lying on my bed, typing a paper. “What? Are you insane? He barely even talks to me.”
She snorted and sat down her clothes, plopping down beside me on the bed. “But he talks about you. ‘Oh, Elaine, she’s so pretty’,” she began to mock. “’Oh, Elaine’s so smart. Elaine’s so funny. Elaine, Elaine, Elaine.’ It’s driving me crazy.”
I laughed at her horrible impersonation. “He does not.”
Just then, there was a knock on the door. “Speak of the Devil,” she murmured. “Look, here’s the plan. I’m going to leave. You let him in after explaining that I’m not here, but that he could stay if he wanted to. Just to hang out. Okay?”
“There’s one tiny problem with that plan,” I said, sitting up. “You’re here.”
She was already headed for the window. “No, I’m not.”
Thanking all the gods that our apartment was on the ground floor, I watched her sliver out the window. When she was gone, I went to answer the door. It, of course, was Aaron.
“Hey!” I said enthusiastically. “Blair’s not here, you just missed her. You can hang out if you want, though. She’ll probably be back soon.”
His face lit up as he stepped inside. He was always so open. “Cool.”
I sat back down on my bed, and pretended to focus on my paper. His presence was nearly tangible. He wasn’t awkwardly standing by the door; instead, he had fallen into my favorite bean bag chair and switched on the TV.
“Soooo…,” I said when he didn’t speak. I was beginning to think that Blair had lied to me. “What’s new?”
He turned his chair so that he was facing me. “Not much. My car broke down earlier today, so it’s just my own two feet now. You?”
I smiled, running a hand through my pastel blonde hair. “I’m trying to write an English paper, but, as it turns out, I’m not so good at it.” I snapped my laptop shut. “It’s official, I give up.” I lay down across my bed. “You’re going to have to keep me company.”
He smiled mischievously. “Ooo…This should be fun.” He mimicked a kiss suggestively. That was something we did all the time.
Laughing, I stretched out on my back. I sighed. “I don’t think I’d be very good company. I’m so tired I don’t think I could move another inch.”
“It’s only nine!”
“I’ve been busily writing for, like, two hours. My mind is exhausted.”
I hadn’t heard him get up, but suddenly he was beside me in the bed. We were lying on our backs, side by side. He whispered, “Elaine?”
I didn’t look at him; I just continued to study the familiar pattern of my ceiling. “Yeah?”
He slid his hand into mine. “I like you. A lot.”
“I like you, too.”
He squeezed my hand. “A lot?”
He rolled to his side so that he was half on top of me. His eyes had a glint of hope in them that sent shivers through my body. “Well it’s about time.” He ran his hands through my hair, then he kissed me.
It wasn’t like when Wyatt and I had kissed. He kissed me with feeling, and it was so incredibly sweet that I shivered against his lips. Wyatt had never kissed me with feeling; I had never known what I was missing. When he pulled away (after a long, long time) he whispered, “Wow.”
I bit my lip. “Yeah, ‘wow’ is right.” I slid my arms around his waist. “We are so stupid. Why in the world didn’t we do this sooner?”
“Because you are as stubborn as a mule. I flirt with you every time I come here.”
I laughed. “I thought that was pretend!”
He kissed my forehead. “Stubborn. As. A mule.”
“That’s something you’re going to have to get used to.”
Smiling a little, he asked, “Does this mean that we’re…together?”
“Absolutely,” I murmured, and this time I kissed him.
About six months into our relationship, we decided that we were going to go “all the way”. Even while with Wyatt, this was something I’d never done and I was apprehensive. I told him so, and he kissed me and said that if I didn’t want to, we didn’t have to. But I was in college and my hormones were raging, and, really, I thought I wanted it as much as him.
We waited until Blair was out on a date with a new guy (and promised she would not return until morning, with a knowing smile) to do “it”. When we were finished, and lying quietly in my bed, he whispered that he loved me. For a while, I was happy.
After two years of dating, we were lying on my bed. I was on my stomach, reading a novel with my legs hooked together and in the air. He was on his back beside me, texting on his phone. After a few minutes, he sat his phone down and watched me while I read.
Just as I began to become self-conscience, he whispered, “Move in with me.”
I dropped my book. “What?”
He twirled a piece of my hair in his hands, but didn’t look into my eyes. “Move in with me. Why not? I live a few apartments down…closer to campus then you are now. I’m basically here every night anyway, unless we’re at my house because of Blair. It makes sense.”
I didn’t know what to say. I loved Aaron and wanted to be with him always, but I didn’t think I was ready to move in with him. “Aaron…I…”
His face morphed into a mask of pain. “Don’t even say it, Elaine. For months I’ve put this off, because I knew you would react like this. Why can’t you just realize that you love me?”
“I do love you, Aaron. It’s just-”
“Don’t.” He lifted himself off my bed and stalked to the door. He opened it and stepped outside, but before closing it he said, “Call me when you figure out what you want, Elaine.”
I didn’t call him the next day, or the next or the next. It broke my heart not to speak to him; I cried more in those few days-months, really-then I ever had before. But I could not call him. Blair moved out of my apartment, and the next time I saw Aaron he was with another girl. I couldn’t blame him, it was nearly a year later. I had always known he wasn’t going to wait forever. So I waved good-naturedly and he did the same, but we did not speak to each other. I would never speak to Aaron again.
“Wow,” Liam murmured into the cool spring night. “That’s so sad. I can’t imagine what I would have done if you hadn’t agreed to move in with me.”
I stretched up a little so that I could kiss him lightly. “But with you I was ready. When I was with Aaron, I was still in college. I was struggling as a waitress to pay for my half of the apartment, and I couldn’t imagine myself living with a guy. Aaron didn’t understand that.”
“So I’m the first guy you’ve lived with?”
I shook my head. “You’re forgetting guy number three. I lived with him for a year.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “The guy before me. Let’s hear it.”
I smiled. “His name was Sam.”
After college, when I got my first job as a kindergarten teacher, I bought my first car, a small, simple thing with four doors but no extravagant features. In my first week of driving it, I completely totaled it. I was knocked unconscious by the airbag as I crashed into the guardrail, and I awoke in a hospital. Sitting next to my bed, eyes drifting closed as he struggled not to fall asleep, was a man that I had never met before.
He was handsome-with brown hair that covered one of his eyes. He was tall and even through his tee-shirt, muscles bulged.
I cleared my throat delicately. “What the hell is going on?”
He sat up straight, smiling in what was almost relief. “You’re awake. Took you long enough.” He stretched, cracking his knuckles in a way that eerily reminded me of Wyatt, though I hadn’t thought of him in years. “You wrecked your car. I passed you on my way to work. I didn’t know if you had a broken back or something, but I wasn’t going to wait for an ambulance, so I put you in my car and drove here as fast as I could. You’ve been here since yesterday.”
I shook my head, still feeling groggy. “So…you stayed here the whole time? How did you get away with that?”
His grin turned mischievous. “I told the nurses you were my girlfriend and that I was following you to get your car fixed so that I could give you a ride home. You’re I.D. was in your wallet, so I already knew your name.”
“You were in my wallet?” I wasn’t quite mad yet; I was too groggy for that.
“I didn’t take anything. I just thought I should probably know who you are.”
I sighed. “Okay, so you know who I am. Who are you?”
“Sam,” was all he said.
“Sam,” I repeated. Sam…I tested the name in my mind. Sam was the name of somebody who saved complete stranger’s lives. Sam was the name of somebody who waited beside that same person in the hospital so that he could explain what happened. Sam. Just Sam. “It’s nice to meet you.”
It hit me then-I’d ruined my car. The first car that I ever dared to own was now worth less than a crumpled piece of aluminum. “Damn,” I muttered, sitting back on my thin white pillow.
“Damn,” he agreed, nodding. “The good news is, I know somebody that travels the road you were on every day, assuming that’s your work route, he could give you a ride until you figure things out.”
I eyed him suspiciously. “That’s pretty convenient. However, I don’t know how I feel about riding in a car with a complete stranger.”
“What if that stranger happened to save your life previously?”
I felt a smile begin. “Then I suppose I would be obligated to ride with that stranger.”
Every day for the next three months, I met Sam on my street corner, where he picked me up to drive me to work. In those three months I learned more about him than I ever knew about Wyatt (though perhaps not Aaron). But we never saw each other outside of those car rides.
One day, as the rain dripped in melding patterns over his windshield, he said, “Lainy?” (He had adapted the nickname after I told him that that was what my parents used to call me) “Why is it I have never seen you outside of our mornings together?”
I picked at the frayed edges of my jacket. “Honestly, I have no idea. Would you like to see me sometime?”
He smiled. “Only if it’s a date.”
“Like a date date? Like, you want to hang out…romantically?”
He took his eyes off the road for a minute to shoot me a glance. “Of course I want to hang out with you romantically. You’re extremely beautiful, did you know that? And, though I only see you in the mornings, you’ve kind of become my best friend.”
I couldn’t hold back my smile. “I’d love to.”
I paused, staring into the starry night. Liam’s arm around me was keeping me as warm as the afghan and I snuggled deeper into his chest.
“So, you’re date went well…?” he prompted when I didn’t continue.
“Oh,” I said, almost distantly. “Yes, it went amazing. Aside from you, he’s the greatest guy I’ve ever known. I just…I just don’t know how to continue the story from here. We dated for a year before I moved in with him, and I lived with him for a year after that. I guessed I loved Aaron and Wyatt, but…with Sam it was always…more, almost. I actually saw a future with him-a wedding and a whole roost of children and grandchildren.”
“What happened?” Liam asked quietly.
I bit my lip. “I found out that I was pregnant.”
I was standing by the kitchen sink, my brain frozen my eyes roved over the stick again and again. I was pregnant. I was pregnant. As in, I was going to have a baby. A real, live baby, not a plastic doll like the ones I carried around as a child. Sam and I were going to be parents.
He came home from work that day with take-out, and I couldn’t believe he didn’t know-how could he not know? It was so very obvious-as he sorted the food onto Styrofoam plates.
Bluntly, cutting him off mid-sentence, I blurted, “I’m pregnant.”
His hands froze on the food he was transferring. He dropped his spoon and looked up at me with wonderstruck eyes. “What?”
I gulped. “I’m pregnant.”
He surged at me. Lifting me into his arms with my legs wrapped around his waist, he spun in a circle. When that ceased he kissed me exuberantly.
I broke free, panting. “Sam! What are you doing?”
“Lainy! We’re going to have a baby!” He laughed into my surprised face and kissed me again. “Ha! A baby!”
I had been so worried about his reaction that I had failed to be excited. Now, mixed with acute relief, my heart surged. “Oh, my God!” I said. “We’re having a baby!” Then I was laughing too as he kissed me through our smiles.
The next morning, as he drove me to work, he chatted endlessly about the baby. He wanted it to be a girl, so that he could name it after me (we would share a middle name, “Annaleise”, but she would have a more modern first name). When he pulled away, he honked the horn, causing a few other faculty members to giggle.
That day, that one, insignificant little day, was the last day that I saw Sam. He was killed in a car crash, not so much different than the one I was in the day before we met. But there was no one to pull him from the car, to rush him to the hospital when an ambulance wouldn’t have been enough. No one to save him.
Four years later, still sore with a grief that would never truly dissipate, I found myself on a porch swing with my fiancée, Liam, discussing the only other man I had ever truly loved.
Liam wiped a wet trail off of my cheek. “Oh, Lainy-Elaine,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”
I shrugged. “I’ll always cry when I think of him. And, though you are probably the last person that wants to hear it, I’ll always love him just a little.”
Suddenly, from the door to their house came a little knock. “Mommy?” they heard. “Mommy, I can’t sleep.”
I lifted myself from the porch swing and opened the door. Samantha was there, her curls blond tendrils falling around her purple nightgown, her blue eyes half-asleep.
I lifted her into my arms, kissing her forehead. “Are you nervous about being a flower girl, Sam?”
She nodded. “What if I mess up?”
I smiled. “You won’t, sweetie. You will be the most perfect flower girl in the whole wide world.”
She smiled in a way that reminded me painfully of her father. “You always know just what to say, Mommy.”