I head back to my apartment, opening the door to find Cory and Rachel fighting in the kitchen. I still don’t really understand their relationship; they tend to fight more than not.
The argument stops as soon as I throw my keys on the table. “Did you find her?” Rachel asks, walking toward me.
Her shoulders slump forward as I shake my head no. “Where the hell could she be? She doesn’t go anywhere besides here, the dorm, and class. Oh, did you check the library?”
I nod before running my hands over my face. I spent all afternoon trudging through the rain looking everywhere I’ve ever known her to go. It’s not like she’s been missing for days or anything, but it’s unlike her to not return my calls or texts.
“Is there anywhere you want me to go?” Rachel asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply honestly. I don’t know where to go from here. I can’t think of anywhere else to look.
“Did you find her car?” Cory asks as he joins us in the living room.
“Yeah, it’s in the spot outside the dorm where it usually is.”
“Did you try calling her mom? Maybe she’s talked to her.” Rachel is pacing in front of me with her hands on her hips.
“I’m sure he already did that, Rachel.” Cory can be such an ass, but I’m not going to get into it with him right now.
“I’m going to go check some of the coffee shops around campus. I’ll let you know if I find anything,” Rachel says, touching my shoulder comfortingly.
“Thank you,” I say as she heads towards the door.
“Wait, Rach! Do you want me to come with you?” Cory yells when she doesn’t even acknowledge him.
She looks back with a sad expression on her face. “No, I can handle this all on my own. Stay with Beau.”
Cory looks like he wants to say something but chooses not to. He just watches her leave with his hands stuffed in his front pockets. Usually I ignore Cory acting the way he does, but today I want to knock some sense into him and make him open his eyes to everything he has in front of him. I realize, though, that he’s never lost her, and sometimes, in order to fully appreciate something, you have to know what it’s like to live without it.
Sitting on the edge of the chair, I rest my head in my hands and try to clear my head. I replay everything that happened this morning and try to come up with a clue to where she could be. It’s hard to see through the fog in my head, though, which leaves me with nothing but overwhelming anxiety.
“Dude, is there anything I can do for you? I hate seeing you like this.” Cory is sitting on the couch staring at me. I’m to the point where I just want to be alone so I can try to think.
“Would you mind checking the library again?”
“The library?” he questions, lifting an eyebrow.
“Yeah, do you know where that is?”
“Of course I know where that is,” he says as he stands to grab his keys.
Not even two minutes after he leaves, my cell phone starts ringing from the coffee table. Grabbing it quickly, I don’t even look to see who it is. “Kate?”
“Beau, it’s Emery. I just wanted you to know that Kate just walked into our room, and she really needs you. Can you come?”
“Is she all right?” I ask frantically as I grab my keys and head out the door.
“Just come quick, okay.” Her voice is full of concern, and all I can think about is the quickest way to get to her.
“Is she hurt?” I ask as I run down the steps.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Just hurry okay.”
“I’m on my way. Don’t let her leave,” I say as I jump into my truck.
Maybe I shouldn’t be driving, but it’s almost two miles back to campus, and I can’t afford to waste a minute. Emery’s phone call relieves me but also scares the crap out of me.
When I reach the dorm, I barely put my truck into park before jumping out and making a run for the door. I swear if Drew did anything to her, I’m going to kill him this time.
I don’t bother knocking when I reach her door. As soon as I’m inside, my eyes begin to scan the room. I find Kate sitting on the floor with her back to me.
Emery appears at my side. “I’m going to leave you guys alone. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
I nod and mouth, “Thank you.”
As she leaves, I quietly walk up behind Kate, anxious to see what she’s doing. Her hair and clothes are soaked, and her body shakes from being exposed to the cold January air.
Sitting down next to her on the floor, I notice the shoebox in front of her. There are napkins enclosed in small Ziploc bags scattered all over the floor, and in her hands is a letter.
My heart drops when my eyes finally find her face. Tears stream from her eyes, and her skin is blotchy from crying.
“It’s raining in January,” she says, smiling sadly.
I glance down at the letter again and recognize the handwriting. It hits me.
Exactly one year ago today, Asher died. I don’t know what’s going through her head right now, but I know I have to be here for her. There’s no way for me to make this better, but I can make sure it’s not any worse than it has to be.
I slip my finger under her chin to draw her attention to my eyes. She needs to know I mean every word that I’m about to say. “I should have remembered. I’m sorry.”
She closes her eyes tightly then opens them again. “I felt guilty for being happy this morning. He’s not here anymore, and I’m here with you.”
“No, let me finish. I felt guilty until it started to rain, and then I remembered everything he ever said to me about living my life. He’d want me to be here with you right now,” she says while I brush a tear from her cheek.
I remember the note I received after he died, and my own tears start to brim in my eyes. We’re here now because of him. “It’s a miracle that he walked into your life when he did.”
She shakes her head. “No, I don’t believe in miracles. If miracles existed, Asher would still be here right now.”
I pause for a minute, trying to figure out a way to comfort the beautifully broken girl in front of me. I hate seeing her like this. “Do you want to talk about him?”
“What?” she whispers, looking stunned.
“Maybe if you talk about him it will help. What’s one thing you’ll never forget about him?”
She stares up at the ceiling as the tears well up in her eyes again. “He liked to dip his French fries in his ice cream,” she cries, focusing her eyes back on me.
I reach out to her, and she falls into my arms, her head against my chest. Holding her tightly, I’m afraid to ever let her go.
After a few minutes, her sobs weaken and she continues, “He took me to the zoo once and convinced me to hold a snake. He had a way of getting me to face my fears before I even realized what I was doing.”
Again, I wish I could have been that guy for her, but the most important thing is she got her life back. If he was able to do that, I have to respect him. In a way, he did as much for me as he did for her.
Stroking my fingers through her hair, I say, “We both owe him a lot.”
“When he was getting really sick and it was too cold to go outside, I had my mom go out and buy that turtle light that shines stars on the ceiling. He wanted to see them so badly so I did my best to bring them to him.”
“What you did for him was one of the reasons I love you,” I say quietly, lifting her chin to look into her eyes once again. “You’re caring and thoughtful … anyone who knows you is better for it.”
Dropping my hand, I continue to stare into her eyes. I want to wipe all the pain away and give her a picture perfect life. Life would be so much easier, but we probably wouldn’t appreciate each other as much as we do right now.
“He sent me a letter shortly before he died.” I pause, gauging her reaction. Her eyes are brighter as she stares into mine waiting for me to continue. “He told me how special he thought you were and asked me to take care of you.”
All I can do now is wait for her to respond. I’ve often wondered if I should have told her this sooner, but this just seems like the right time. Besides, I would have taken care of her even without the letter. For me, it was just a symbol of how much he cared for her, even when he was dying.
“Do you think he knew there’d be an us?” she asks, her voice cracking.
I comb my fingers through her hair, trying to find the perfect thing to say. “I think he wanted you to be happy no matter what it took or who you were with, but I think he knew how much I loved you.”
“I think you’re probably right,” she whispers, resting her head back against my chest.
We both remain silent for several minutes. Knowing Kate, she’s probably thinking about what I just told her; I hope it gives her piece of mind instead of more guilt or doubt. I want to tell her that if anything ever happened to me, I’d want her to move on, but I don’t want to even put that scenario in her head. I don’t want to think about her ever having to be without me.
“Beau, can we do something?” she asks tearing me away from my internal thoughts.
“We can do whatever you want.”
“Can we go to that little diner down the street?”
“You hungry?” I ask.
She stands, grabbing my hand to help me up. “No, but I need French fries and ice cream.”
I wrap my arms around her and pull her into my body, kissing her damp hair. “You should put some dry clothes on first. You’re going to get sick.”
“Okay,” she whispers, squeezing her arms around my waist. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to use the restroom and clean up.”
“I’ll wait here,” I say, kissing the top of her head one more time before she has an opportunity to walk away.
After she disappears out of the room to use the bathroom, I bend down to pick her things up off the floor. The letter is the first thing to go back in. I’m tempted to read it, but I don’t. What’s in that letter is none of my business. Next, I start picking up the napkins one by one. I notice on the corner of some of the baggies there is a little round sticker with a date on it. The first one I pick up says something about Stouffer’s lasagna, and the date is from eight months ago. Another one that catches my eye talks about loving again. It has the date Kate moved to the Iowa campus on the bottom and the thought of that day makes me smile.