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I've been gone for thirteen years. Thirteen terribly long years that have left me winded, tired, and on the verge of calling it quits.
But I'm home now.
My parents have left the old house gathering dust in exchange for a condo in Panama and my siblings off living amazing lifestyles that have nothing to do with me. Scott is a movie direct, Jennette an actress, and Chloe is doing all she can not to fall for her wonderful producer as she continues to sell millions of albums each year.
All that's left is me.
I'm nobody really. When my older siblings decided to become big and famous I politely asked them not to talk about me. They all chose to change their names.
Scott became a Kerrington. Jennette a Bitte. And Chloe a James. Even my parents- to avoid being stalked by the paparazzi that would "always be following our successful children"- changed their name to Monaco.
Steve and Clara Monaco.
That's me. The last of the Moore family. I used to hate my name, Daniella. People always expected me to be some frilly, proper girl who listened politely and was seen and never heard. What they didn't expect was some dirty brunette dressed in ratty jeans and trying to keep up with the boys. I always wanted to be one of the boys. I even made everyone call me "Dan" or "Danny" for a period of time. Danny with an "ny" not just an "i". I wanted to be tough, I wanted to be cool, I didn't want to be a girl.
Until I met Jonathan.
Jonathan Hunt moved next door to my white and green home that I called my prison when I was thirteen years old. It was an awkward stage in my life where I no longer would walk to the new kid's home and say (only if they were a boy), "you want to be my friend?" I was thirteen, hormonal, and terribly confused. Jenne and Chloe would tease me for hours about my "crush" on the neighbor's son. A son who just happened to be fourteen.
That was a whole year older than me. When I told what few girlfriends I had that Jonathan Hunt was my new neighbor, they were all jealous. It was like (I would later find out) the freshman girl falling for the senior quarterback. Unrequited love and scandal (or so our immature minds thought). But Jonathan- to his merit- didn't ignore me like the other boys. I actually came home from school one day to find a bucket strung between our windows. How he pulled it off without my dad noticing is beyond me, but he did.
That bucket became my lifeline.
Notes written would pass through that bucket between our houses for hours each night. How our days went, our classes, our friends, our annoying older siblings. We were just two kids with the world to talk about who chose to share all our thoughts with each other. But it was the night of April 22nd that changed my tomboyish ways around. Because that night, I came home to find a note waiting for me scribbled in Jonathan's handwriting.
I love you, Danny-Ella.
I was sixteen years old and for the first time, I didn't want to be like all the guys. I wanted to be a girl. Just for him.
The gravel crunches beneath my tires as I pull into the well-managed drive. Even if my parents are out of the country until who knows when, their lawn is still cared for by a professional lawn care team. Not if only they would hire a live in maid.
I nearly choked to death as I opened the door- using the spare key in a box beneath one of the windows- the dust was too much. Almost everything had been packed into storage save for the large furniture that was draped in white sheets. It was like a ghost house.
The dark wooden floors were caked in dust that my feet disturbed as I took gentle steps. My tread left patterns in the dust as my steps echoed in the dreary house. The grandfather clock in the far corner of the living room stood like an imperial guard, watching me intently like it was suspicious of my intentions.
I don't blame it. I was never very fond of being home and I always made it obvious to anyone willing to pay attention. Which nobody ever was.
The hallway was dark and after a couple flicks of the light switch I realized my parents had cut the electricity when the left. Not too surprising. Since the blue light outside was slowly fading, I headed to the kitchen where there was silver lighter tucked beneath the loose floorboard on the far side of the room- right where I had left it. Thankfully, there was still enough fuel for me to light a candle that had been forgotten in the packing.
I returned to the hallway with greater confidence, never having been fond of the dark unless Jonathan was there to laugh through it with me. My door was at the far end of the hall, still painted the aqua blue I had picked at age sixteen. No one except me knew that it was the color of Jonathan's eyes.
According to my parents, I was far too immature at sixteen to have a boyfriend. What did it matter that they allowed Chloe to have her first boyfriend at thirteen? No. I was the different one in the family. I was the one who couldn't fit their mold of perfection and because of such rebellion I was forced to wait until I was eighteen to date the boy I had been crushing on for three years. Unfortunately, Jonathan's parents didn't think I was a good enough reason for him to stick around.
The day before my eighteen birthday, the day before I'd be able to tell Jonathan I was all is, I received the most dreadful and heartbreaking call of my life.
Jonathan was somewhere on the East Coast attending some preppy college. I had been told his family was going on a two week vacation somewhere. Liars. What was worse was all his mentions of some girl, a girl named Tiffany who had bright blue eyes and sandy colored hair and a laugh that sounded like silver bells. I could tell, without even having to hear it, that Jonathan was in love.
And I was crushed.
I left the next day. I skipped the party, skipped the presents, skipped my parents proud (false) looks as they stared at their daughter who was now an adult. I packed my bags straight after the phone call and was on the road at exactly 12:01 am. A friend in Bellevue offered me a couch to crash on until I got my life in order. Three weeks later, I received a call from James Wolfe who wanted to published a manuscript I had sent in. Slowly, my life as an author fell into place.
But I was still missing the piece that was Jonathan.
Four years later, I received a call from my mother who wanted to inform me her and my dad were moving to Panama. She also wanted to let me know that Jonathan and Tiffany were getting married. She gave them my current address in New York and sure enough, two weeks later I had an invitation sitting on my kitchen table.
Tiffany was as gorgeous as the diamonds the company with the same name sold. Her and Jonathan looked perfect together, smiling at each other, completely ignoring the photographer. Inside was a personal message from Jonathan asking me to come to the wedding, just so he could see me again.
I didn't go. I wanted to break his heart like he had broken mine.
Call me childish, call me selfish, call me anything you want, but I can't forget the day he wrote "I love you" and then three years later he tore it out and smashed it on the ground.
I used to imagine Tiffany- who always looked like Barbie in my mind- stomping on my heart with her Prada clad foot and sneering.
"Jonathan wants a real girl," she would say before turning and walking away towards a waiting Jonathan who would never even look at me.
"She's right, Danny-Ella," he would call over his shoulder as they walked away. After my mind played repeat on this dream a half-dozen times, I severed my connection from the name "Danny-Ella". The people I worked with went out of their way to come up with things to call me. A friend- Channon- called me her little authoress. Her receptionist- Abigail- ran with this name until one day she blurted out,
"How's it hanging, Essie?" The name stuck. I became known as Daniella "Essie" Moore. Life was great.
Until I received the announcement.
Jonathan and Tiffany Hunt had given birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Emaleigh Rose Hunt.
Two weeks later, I moved.
A year later, my mother called announcing the birth of Jasper Liam Hunt. This time I changed my number.
Six years later I was in Boston at a public library reading to a group of kids. As I wrapped up and said goodbye to everyone, a beautiful girl with bright blue eyes and blonde ringlets came up to me and asked if I could write a story about an angel. I asked her what her name was (so I could dedicate the book to her, I said) and she scribbled down her name on a piece of paper (because it's a hard spelling).
Her name was Emaleigh Rose Hunt.
A year later, holding true to my promise, I wrote a book called "Heaven's Rose." Inside the front cover was the dedication.
To an innocent little angel named Emaleigh Rose.
A month later I received a fan letter from her before I decided to quit my job. I googled for a list of obscure towns where no one would find me or recognize me and relocated in less than two weeks. I had to get away. Get away from life, myself, and the reminder that was Jonathan Hunt.
I started going by the name Essie Moore. I never legally changed my name, but after introducing myself as "Essie Moore, from Baltimore," a few times, people stopped wondering why I looked so much like famous author Daniella K. Moore.
Eventually though, my past caught up with me.
I got the phone call via Channon who had felt sorry for my distraught mother who couldn't find her missing daughter and dished out my new cell number quite promptly. I really couldn't blame Channon... or murder her for that matter. I was living in Texas where the death penalty was a very real thing that I feared with a passion.
My mother was in hysterics when she called me. First she ranted about how I left home, then left New York, then Boston, then Philly, then Salem... and so on. Finally I managed to get the real reason for her sudden need to know my location.
"Mom," I barked into the phone, "cool it. What's wrong?"
"Emaleigh Rose is dead."
Jonathan's little girl was gone. Killed in a driving accident when her famous model of a mother was run off the road by a craze paparazzo. My mind was going in two different directions as I hung up the phone that day.
Jonathan's little girl was gone and he was no doubt devastated.
Had I been his wife, I wouldn't have been stalked by the paparazzi and our child wouldn't have died.
I slapped myself for that thought.
I didn't attend the funeral my mother begged me to go to. Even after all this time and everything that had happened, I was still in love with Jonathan.
My bedroom door creaked open from the lack of use over the years. Dust littered my untouched room. My mother hadn't been exaggerating when she said everything was how I left it.
There were no white sheets covering my bed so my light blue comforter was covered in dust, just like all the other furniture in my room. There were a few random bare spots and a small gap in my closet from the things I had packed quickly the night of my escape.
My cowardly escape.
A sat on the edge of my bed, the old springs creaking and groaning under my weight.
"Oh hush," I hissed, "I haven't gained that much weight." I was talking to a bed. Anything to drown out the horrifying silence that now filled this house. This room. A room that once had been home of secret notes and whispered goodnights and nervous preparations before the prom. A prom Jonathan had taken me to... twice.
My eyes wandered towards the window now firmly shut and came to rest with surprise on the bright blue bucket still hanging outside. It shone in the moonlight as the wind caused it to tap against my window. I crossed silently over and pushed with a deal of difficulty against the window until it opened. Carefully, I pulled the bucket into my childhood room and lifted away the lid that kept out the rain and bugs.
Inside was a stack of notes.
Danny-Ella, I'm back!
Sorry I missed your party... where are you?
I promise to make up for my time away.
I love you.
I'm back for Christmas.
Have you come home yet?
I miss you.
Tiffany wanted to meet you.
I still love you DE.
Tiffany and I are getting married!
I contacted your parents, they gave me your address.
Hope you don't mind an invite.
I want you to come...
I need you to come.
I love you.
Did I ever tell you I'm a father?
Emaleigh is a joy... Jasper is on the way.
Do you remember that story of yours,
where you gave the twins those names?
I'm still loving you.
I can't hold out for a miracle anymore D.
I've been praying for the past thirteen years to see you again.
Tiffany left me. Jasper chose to live with her over me.
Emaleigh is gone. I doubt you've gone to the site...
on her headstone are the words
"a little innocent angel named Emaleigh Rose."
She adored you.
I can't help but wonder what would have happened had I never left.
Had I never gone to school back East.
Had I stayed with you.
Would we have had our own Emaleigh and Jasper?
Would Emaleigh still be alive?
When Tiffany first told me she was pregnant, my mind instantly went to what our child would look like.
I imagined a girl with bright blue eyes and a round face.
Long red hair like yours and a personality like her mother's.
When I thought of children, I thought of them with you.
I'm lost Daniella.
But I can't wait for you to come find me.
Forever into eternity.
That's how long I'll love you.
Jonathan Matthew Hunt
I couldn't stop the tears dripping on the papers before me as my barely mended heart shattered into another set of jumbled pieces. He had loved me across time and I had only shut him out. Pushed him away.
Reaching into one of my desk drawers, I pulled out a pen and a small piece of paper. Writing quickly, I tossed it into the bucket and sent it sailing across the gap between our houses before it collided with his bedroom window. The window on an empty home. An empty soul. My chances of him opening up were slim.
But I felt better, albeit very little. I had finally worked up the courage and the strength to write to him what I wish I had written long ago. I wrote,
I love you.
Eight years later I received a phone call from a young man who wanted to meet me. Wanted to meet the mysterious "Danny-Ella" whom his father loved for twenty-three years.
Until his death on August 12th.
I went back to the house. Back to my room. Back to my window that day to find another note waiting patiently for me.
My name is Jonathan Hunt.
26 years ago I met a beautiful girl who wanted to be one of the boys.
For three years I pretended to just be her best friend,
all the while being secretly in love wit her.
Finally, on her sixteenth birthday,
I got the nerve to write "I love you" on a piece of paper
and send it through a bucket that connected us.
She never confirmed whether or not she loved me
until fifteen years later.
By then I had married, had two children,
lost both- one to death, one a painful divorce-
and all the while I thought of her.
Was she happy?
Had she moved on?
Part of me hoped she had, prayed she had found happiness,
but part of me still held onto that feeling of a first love and prayed
she was still waiting for me.
So I came back to the spot were first met and checked to see if the notes
I wrote to her over the years were gone.
In their place was a simple note with three simple words
that meant more to me than anything in this world.
She finally wrote "I love you".
I swear I could fly at that moment.
I waited eight years for her to come back before something in my family's
past caught up to me.
I'm writing this now because I've reached the end of my rope
and God is waiting on the other side to collect me.
I want you to know Danny-Ella, that I never stopped loving you.
Loving you is like breathing; necessary to survive.
You were my life line when I had none and for that,
I am thankful.
I'll be waiting for you on the other side,
if you still want me when we meet again...
I love you, Daniella Kristen Moore, and I would have loved to spend a life with you.
But I was foolish.
Please, forgive me.
With all the love only a mere human can posses,
The date on the letter was August 12th, 2009. The day I cut the rope and sent the blue bucket between our houses crashing to the ground.
Along with what was left of me.