“We have a lot of catching up to do,” Jesse says. “Can we get it to go?”
“Sure thing, sweetheart,” she says, taking both of our plates with her.
When she leaves, we have no food to play with and nothing to look at but each other.
“You used to hate those bookmarks,” Jesse says.
“I know,” I say. I find myself embarrassed about how much I’ve changed. I am tempted to lie, to rewind, to remember exactly who I was before he left and try to be that version of myself again.
The Emma he knew wanted a different life. She wanted adventure. She ached with wanderlust. She used to think you couldn’t find joy in simple things, that they had to be big and bold and wild. That you couldn’t feel amazed at how good it feels to wake up in a nice bed, that you could only feel amazed by petting elephants and visiting the Louvre.
But I don’t know if I was totally that person when he left.
And I’m definitely not that person now.
The future is so hard to predict. If I had a time machine, would it even make a difference to try to go back there and explain to my young self what was ahead?
“I guess I did say that,” I tell him. “But I like them now.”
“You never cease to surprise,” Jesse says, smiling. Maybe it’s OK with him if I’m not exactly the way I was when he left.
The waitress comes back with our meals in boxes and the check. Jesse hands her cash before I can grab my wallet.
“Thank you,” I say. “That was very nice of you.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
I check my phone and see that it’s eight fifty. The time has flown by so quickly.
“I have to head to work,” I tell him. “I’m running late as is.”
“No . . .” he says. “C’mon. Stay with me.”
“I can’t,” I say, smiling at him. “I have a store to open.”
Jesse walks me to my car and pulls a set of keys out of his pocket, unlocking, from afar, a gray sedan a few spaces down.
“Wait a minute,” I say to Jesse, as something is occurring to me. “You don’t have a license. You can’t be driving.”
Jesse laughs. “I had a license before I left,” he says. “I’m approved to drive a car.”
“Yeah,” I say, opening my door. “But didn’t it expire?”
Jesse smiles mischievously and it slays me. “Expired, schmexpired. It’s harmless.”
“You just always have to push things, don’t you?” I say, teasing him. “Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know,” he says, shrugging. “But you can admit you find it charming.”
I laugh. “Who said I find it charming?”
“Will you get in the car with me?” he says.
“In your car?”
“Or yours,” he says.
“I have to go to work.”
“I know. I’m not asking you to go anywhere with me. I just want to be in the car with you. It’s cold outside.”
I should tell him good-bye. I’m already running later than I want to be.
“OK,” I say. I click both doors open and watch as Jesse sits in my passenger seat. I sit in the driver’s seat next to him. When I shut my car door, the outside world mutes, as if we can keep it at bay.
I watch as his eye line settles on my now-bare ring finger. He smiles. We both know what the empty space on my left hand means. But I get the impression there is a strange code of silence between us, indicative of the two things we don’t talk about. We won’t talk about what happened to my finger, just like we don’t talk about what happened to his.
“I missed you, Emma. I missed us. I missed your stupid eyes and your awful lips and that super-annoying thing you do when you look at me like I’m the only person that’s ever mattered in the history of the world. I missed your very un-adorable freckles.”
I laugh and I can feel myself blushing. “I missed you, too.”
“You did?” he says, as if this is news, as if he wasn’t sure.
“Wait, are you kidding?”
“I don’t know,” he says. His voice is teasing. “It’s hard to know what happened while I was gone.”
“I was more heartbroken than I’ve ever been or I think I will ever be again.”
He looks at me, and then out the windshield, and then out the window on the other side of him.
“We have so much to talk about and I don’t even know where to start,” he says.
“I know, but even if we did know where to start, I can’t now. I have to go to work. I should have been there fifteen minutes ago.” Tina won’t be in until the afternoon. If I’m not there, the store doesn’t open.
“Emma,” he says, looking at me like I’m a fool. “You’re not going to be at work on time, that’s clear. So what’s a few more minutes? What’s an hour more?”
I look at him and find myself considering it. And then I feel his lips on mine. They are just as bold and surprising as they were almost fifteen years ago, kissing me for the first time.
I close my eyes and reach for him. I kiss him again. And again and again and again. I am soothed and invigorated all at once. Never before has something felt so exciting and yet so familiar.
I lose myself in him, in the way he feels, the way he smells, the way he moves.
Can you ever put things back the way they were? Can you chalk the intervening years up as a mistake and pick up as if you never left each other?
I feel Jesse’s hand slide down my arm and then I hear myself accidentally hit the horn with my elbow.
I snap out of it. I pull myself away from him and look forward, out the windshield. Two of the servers at Julie’s Place, including the woman who waited on us, are staring at us through the window. When they see that I see them, they start to turn away.
I look down at my phone. It’s almost a quarter of ten. The store is supposed to be open in less than twenty minutes.
“I have to go!” I say, shocked that I could be running this late.
“OK, OK,” Jesse says, but he doesn’t move.
“Get out of my car,” I say, laughing.
“OK,” he says, putting his hand on the door handle. “There’s just one thing I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Jesse! I have to go!”
“Come to Maine with me,” he says as he gets out of the car.
“Come to my family’s cabin in Maine with me for a few days. We can leave tonight. Just the two of us.”
“I have a store to run.”
“Your parents can manage it. For a little while. It’s their store.”
“It’s my store,” I say.
“Emma, we need time. And not stolen moments before you go to work. Real time. Please.”
I look at him, considering.
He knows I’m considering it. Which is why he already starts smiling. “Is that a yes?” he says.
I know my parents will step in and I’m late and I don’t have time for this.
“OK, a couple of days.”
“Three,” he says. “Three days.”
“OK,” I tell him. “Three.”
“We’ll leave tonight?”
“Sure. Now I have to go!”
Jesse smiles at me and then shuts the door behind him so I can finally leave. He waves at me through the window. I find myself grinning as I drive away from him, leaving him there in the parking lot.
I make my way to the road and wait for a clear opening to take a left. I watch as Jesse gestures for me to roll down my window from the other side of the lot. I roll my eyes but I do it.
He cups his hands over his mouth and yells, “I’m sorry I made you late! I love you!”
I have no choice but to scream, “I love you, too!”
I bang a left onto the main road and fly through town. I get to the parking lot of Blair Books at ten eleven and I can already see there is a customer waiting at the door.
I jump out of the car, open the back door, and run through the store turning on all the lights.
I gather myself and calmly walk to the front door and unlock it.