“I love you, Emma,” he says. “I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”
“I love you, too,” I say.
Jesse smiles. Toast pops out of the toaster with a swish and a ding.
“All right,” Jesse says. “Coffee, orange juice, toast and jam, and I got us microwaveable bacon. I will be honest, this stuns me. Microwaveable bacon. Am I crazy or did they not have that a few years ago?”
I laugh as I move into the kitchen. “I think it’s relatively new, yeah.”
“I thought so. OK, sit down at the counter and I’ll make you a plate.”
“Wow,” I say, impressed.
I sit down as I watch Jesse move around the small kitchen as if his life depends on it. He pours two glasses of orange juice. He pulls the toast out of the toaster. He gets the strawberry jam and searches for a knife. And then he opens the bacon and puts it on a plate and into the microwave.
“Are you ready for this? Apparently, this is going to be perfectly crisp bacon in a matter of seconds.”
“I’m ready,” I say. “Dazzle me.”
Jesse laughs and then grabs two mugs for coffee. He pours the coffee and hands it to me. I take a sip just as the microwave beeps.
Jesse moves around the kitchen and then he’s right next to me, putting two full plates of food on the counter, complete with perfectly crisp bacon.
He sits down and puts his hand on my bare leg. There was once a time when I wasn’t sure where I ended and Jesse began. When we were so intertwined, so very much one being in two bodies, that my nerve endings barely lit up when he touched me.
Now is not that time.
Instead, my skin warms underneath his touch. His hand absently moves just slightly higher up my thigh and it gets hotter, brighter. And then he takes it back to eat his toast.
“Breakfast for lunch,” I say. “Very charming.”
“What can I say? I’m a charming guy. I also, while I was out, got you a twelve-pack of Diet Coke because I know Emma Lerner, and Emma Lerner needs a steady supply of Diet Coke in the house.”
My name is not Emma Lerner and I don’t drink Diet Coke anymore and I’m not sure how to respond to any of it, so I don’t.
“What else did you get?” I ask him.
“Actually, not much else,” he says. “I figured we could go into town for dinner.”
“Oh, awesome,” I say. “That sounds great.”
“I’m thinking me, you, a bottle of wine, maybe lobster.” I look at him, surprised. “We are in Maine,” he adds, explaining himself.
“I didn’t know that you ate shellfish,” I say. But the minute I say it, I realize how stupid that is to say.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Lobster will be good.”
“Well, then, great. Maine lobsters and wine it is. And what’s on the docket for this afternoon?”
“Anything you want,” Jesse says, finishing the last of the toast and giving me the rest of his bacon. I greedily chomp it down. I want even more than what’s on my plate.
“Anything?” I say.
It’s been such a long time since I had a day where I could do anything. “What about a walk to the lighthouse?” I say.
Jesse nods. “That’s a great idea. I mean, it’s really cold outside, but assuming we can stand it . . .”
I laugh. “We’ll bundle up,” I tell him. “It will be great.”
“I’m in,” he says. “Let’s go.”
I grab his hand and pull him upstairs. I put on thick pants and a sweater. I grab my coat and a scarf. Jesse already has on jeans and a shirt but I insist he wear something warmer. I look through the closets for an old sweatshirt. I find a sweater in the back of the closet in the master bedroom. It’s cream and hunter green with a reindeer on it. It obviously once belonged to his dad.
“Here,” I say as I hand it to him.
He takes it from me and looks at it. He brings it up to his nose. “I am not kidding when I say this smells like mothballs and death.”
I laugh. “Just put it on! Otherwise, you’ll just have a jacket and a T-shirt.”
He begrudgingly lifts it up over his head and pulls it down around his chest. When it’s fitted on him, he claps his hands together. “To the lighthouse!”
We head out onto the front porch, wrapped tightly in our coats, scarves, and boots. It is even colder than I was expecting. The air is whipping against my ears. I can feel it sharply in the vulnerable spots between my scarf and my neck. It is one of the only things I miss about having long hair. In the summer, you feel nice and cool. But in moments like this, you’re exposed.
“Onward?” Jesse asks.
“Onward,” I say.
Jesse and I talk about his family. We talk about college, about high school, about our months in Europe, our honeymoon in India. I feel like my old self with him, the carefree version of me that died when I thought he did. But it would be a lie to say that I am so entranced with our conversation that I forget the cold. The cold is impossible to forget.
We can see it as our breath hits the air. We can feel it in our bones. Our lips feel cracked, our cheeks blistered, our shoulders are hunched around our necks.
We huddle close to warm each other. We hold hands inside the warmth of Jesse’s coat pocket. We find a spot in the sun and we stand in it, letting the subtle heat save us.
“Come here,” Jesse says, even though I am already right next to him. He takes me closer, pulling me into his chest. He rubs my back and shoulders, runs his hands up and down my arms, trying to warm me up.
It occurs to me that my memory of him was a poor substitute for the real thing.
They say that when you remember something, you are really remembering the last time you remembered it. Each time you recollect a memory, you change it, ever so slightly, shading it with new information, new feelings. Over the past years without him, my memories of Jesse have become a copy of a copy of a copy. Without meaning to, I have highlighted the parts of him that stood out to me, and the rest have faded away.
In the copy of a copy, what stood out to me about him was how much I loved him. What faded into the background was how much he loved me.
But I remember it now, how it feels to be the recipient of this much love, this type of dedication.
I wonder what stood out to him when he remembered me. I wonder what faded to gray.
“All right,” Jesse says. “We can’t stand right here in the sun forever. I say we start running to the lighthouse, to warm up.”
“OK,” I say. “You got it.”
“On the count of three.”
“One . . . two . . .”
He takes off like a cheetah. I pump my legs as fast as I can to keep up.
As I run, the wind grows worse on my face but soon I start to heat up in my chest, in my arms, in my legs.
Jesse turns his head back and checks in on me as we’re running. And then we come around the bend.
Even though it’s still a bit in the distance, the lighthouse and the ocean are in plain view. The stark white of the tower against the dark blue-gray of the water is just as beautiful today as it was when we were married here. Back when I still believed that love was simple, that marriage was forever, that the world was safe to live in.
Can we start again, from this very spot?
“I’ll race you to the fence,” I say, even though I know that I have no shot of winning.
Jesse gets to the fence and turns around, claiming his victory. I slow down, giving up once I’ve lost. I walk toward him.
As I gulp the cold air into my lungs, it cuts like a knife. I take it slower; I calm my body down. There is a faint line of sweat on my skin, but it cools down and disappears in an instant.
“You won,” I say as I stand next to Jesse and put my head on his shoulder. He puts his arm around me.
We stand next to the lighthouse, catching our breath, looking out onto the rocky ocean. That’s the thing about Maine. The water splashes onto rocks more than sand, onto the side of cliffs more than beaches.
I can’t imagine living for years on rocks and sand, using an inflatable raft as shade from the sun. There is no way that Jesse can be adjusting as simply as he’s presenting.