“Yeah, OK,” I say. “Not saying anything.”
But not saying anything is saying something, isn’t it? Because if there truly was nothing for him to worry about, I would have just said, “No, Sam, seriously, don’t worry.”
I didn’t say that. And we both know it.
Sam looks at me. And I can tell that he has reached his limit. He cannot do this anymore. “Bye, Emma,” he says, starting to turn the wheel. He stops himself and starts talking again. “You know what? I’m going to keep the ball in my court.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I’ll call you when I’m ready. But . . . don’t call me. I know it probably makes the most sense for you to tell me what you’ve chosen after you’ve chosen but . . . I’d rather you tell me once I’m ready to hear it.”
“I can’t call you at all?”
Sam shakes his head somberly. “I’m asking you not to.”
This is the smallest amount of control he can claim over his own fate. I know that I have to give it to him.
“Whatever you want,” I say. “Anything.”
“Well, that’s what I want,” he says, nodding, and then he puts his foot on the gas and drives away.
I realize just how cold I am, how frigid it is outside, and I race back into the store. I remember that I left my sandwich on the front seat of my car and I don’t even bother to go get it. I’m not hungry.
I didn’t eat breakfast, either. It appears my appetite had been the first thing to go.
Tina is ringing up a pair of books for two older ladies when I walk in. “Hey, Emma,” she says. “Do you remember when we are getting more copies of the new Ann Patchett?”
“It should be next Tuesday,” I say as if today is any normal day, as if I can think straight. “Ladies, if you give your contact info to Tina, she or I will call you when the copies are in.”
I smile and then briskly walk into the back of the store. I sit down at my desk. I put my head in my hands and I breathe.
My mind races from Sam to Jesse and back.
I keep saying that I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. But the truth is, I know exactly what I’m doing.
It’s one thing to play coy with them, I suppose. But what I have to do is stop playing coy with myself.
I am going to choose one of them.
I just don’t know which one it is.
Love and Maine
Or, how to turn back time
The store closed about forty-five minutes ago. The register has been tallied. The sales floor is clean. Tina went home. I’m done. I can get in the car and go. But I’m just standing in the dark stockroom. Thinking about Sam.
My phone rings and I pick it up to see that it’s Jesse. Just like that, Sam flies out of my head, replaced by the man he replaced.
“Hey,” Jesse says when I answer. “I thought I’d meet you at the store.”
“Oh,” I say, surprised. I just assumed I’d meet him at my parents’ house once I’d grabbed my things.
“Is that cool?”
“Sure,” I say, shrugging. “Yeah. That’s good. I’m still here.”
“Well, that’s good,” he says. “Because I’m outside the front door.”
I start to laugh as I head toward the front.
“Are you serious?” I say, but he doesn’t need to answer because as I step onto the sales floor from the stockroom, I see him through the glass doors.
He is silhouetted by the streetlights in the parking lot. His body, in a heavy jacket and relaxed pants, fills the glass.
I unlock the door and let him in.
He grabs me, not just with his arms, but with his whole body, as if he needs all of me, as if he can’t bear another minute apart.
And then he kisses me.
If loving them both makes me a bad person, I think I’m just a bad person then.
“So . . . Maine?” I say, smiling.
“Maine,” Jesse says, nodding once in agreement.
“All right,” I say. “Let me just grab my purse. Actually, we can both go out this way. My car’s in the back.”
“It’s OK, I’ll drive us.”
I give him a skeptical look. Jesse waves me off. “C’mon. Grab your stuff. I’ll meet you in the car.”
I go back and get my purse, then lock up the store and get into his car. All despite the fact that he shouldn’t be driving.
Sometimes I worry Jesse could lead me into hell and I’d follow along, naively saying things like, “Is it getting hot to you?” and believing him when he told me it was fine.
“We have to stop at my parents’,” I say when we’re on the road. “I need to get some clothes.”
“Of course,” Jesse says. “Next stop, the Blairs’.”
When we pull into their driveway, I can tell just by what lights are on that everyone is over at Marie and Mike’s.
Jesse and I head into my parents’ house to grab my things, and I warn him we’ll have to say good-bye to everyone over at Marie’s.
“That’s fine,” he says as I unlock the front door. “How far away is Marie’s?”
“No, that’s Marie’s,” I say, pointing to her house.
Jesse laughs. “Wow,” he says. I watch as he looks at the distance between Marie’s house and my parents’. “The Booksellers’ Daughter strikes again.”
It has been so long since someone called her that. It’s become moot, for a lot of reasons.
Jesse turns and looks at me. “But I guess you’re more of a Booksellers’ Daughter than we thought, huh?”
I smile, unsure if he means this kindly or not. “A bit more, maybe,” I say.
Once we’re in the house, I bound up the stairs heading to my old room, but when I turn around behind me, I notice Jesse is still in the entryway, staring.
“You OK?” I ask.
He snaps out of it, shaking his head. “Yeah, totally. Sorry. I’ll wait here while you get your stuff.”
I get my bag and gather the things I’ve left on the bathroom sink.
When I come back down, Jesse is again lost in thought. “It’s weird to see that some things look exactly the same way they did before.”
“I bet,” I say as I make my way to his side.
“It’s like some things went on without me and other things paused the moment I left,” he says as we head out the front door. “I mean, I know that’s not true. But all your family got was a new TV. Everything else looks exactly the same. Even that weird cat painting. It’s in the exact same place.”
Sam and I picked out Mozart because he looks exactly like the gray cat in the painting above one of my parents’ love seats.
I never would have even considered getting a cat without Sam. But now I’m a cat person. A few weeks ago, Sam sent me a picture of a cat sitting on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I laughed for, like, fifteen minutes.
I put my things in Jesse’s car and then the two of us start walking over to Marie’s.
“You sure you’re ready to see my family again?” I ask him.
“Of course,” he says with a smile on his face. “They’re my family, too.”
I knock on Marie’s door and I hear commotion.
And then Mike answers the door.
“Emma,” he says, giving me a hug and then moving out of the way for us to come in. “Two times in one day. What a treat. Jesse, nice to see you again,” he says, and puts his hand out. Jesse shakes it. “Pleasure’s mine,” Jesse says.
Jesse and Mike hung out at family gatherings, but there was never a reason to confide in each other anything more than “How’ve you been?” They weren’t close because Marie and I weren’t close. When I think back on it now, it seems best likened to boxing coaches, with Marie and I as the fighters, our husbands pouring water into our mouths and psyching us up to go back in there.
We walk into the dining room to see Marie and my parents. Sophie and Ava have gone to sleep. The moment everyone sees Jesse, they stand up to greet him.
My dad shakes Jesse’s hand heartily and then pulls him in for a hug. “Son, you don’t know how good it feels to set my eyes on you.”