Page 31 of For Lila, Forever

Thayer takes my hand in his, examining the ring, and another customer waltzes through the door. He must know the sales associate because her face lights like the Fourth of July and she waves before heading his way.

“Thayer,” I whisper. “I can’t get it off.”

“Let me try.”

I yank my hand away. My finger is already on fire from all the tugging and pulling. I wouldn’t be surprised if I dislocated the damn thing.

“I’ve been trying,” I say. “For, like, five minutes. It’s stuck.”

He’s quiet for a second. “Do you like it?”

“What’s that matter?”

“Just answer me. Do you like it?”

“Yes. It’s beautiful. But that’s not the point. I need to get this off. I can’t afford this.” I flip it over and show him the price sticker on the bottom.

“Do you want it?” he asks.

“Thayer …” I lose my train of thought when I realize what he’s about to do. “You can’t.”

The sales associate returns just then, and Thayer doesn’t give me another chance to protest before informing her that he’s buying the ring.

“Can I box it up for—” she begins to ask.

“No,” we both say at the same time.

“She’ll wear it out,” he says as he hands over a blue AmEx from his wallet.

I lean in, keeping my voice low as I tell him, “You don’t have to do this.”

He waves me off. “It’s gorgeous and you like it and it suits you. You should have it.”

The woman returns with a receipt for him to sign along with certification deeming that the ring once belonged to Hedy Lamar.

“Thank you,” I say as I rise on my toes and kiss him. “So much.”

I’ll have to get the ring re-sized eventually, but for now I’ll wear it home and hope some butter or lotion does the trick.

“We should probably stop at the hardware store before we forget,” I tell him as we stroll down the sidewalk, hand in hand. He’s been checking in with Westley here and there, making sure we’re in separate parts of town so we won’t be caught by the three of them. “Grandma said we needed oil for the mower. Silver polish. And some garden fertilizer.”

Thayer checks his watch. “We still have a couple hours before we have to be back at the dock. There’s a killer ice cream shop up ahead on the corner. I know you said you don’t love ice cream, but you’ve never had their ice cream. I swear one spoon of their mint chip and you’ll be a total convert.”

“All right, fine,” I say, my tone teasing. He leans down to kiss my forehead as we pass another couple on the sidewalk, and I relish in how normal and ordinary all of this feels. Being off the island with Thayer is liberating, and I wish this day could go on forever. I’m not ready for it to end.

Five minutes later we’re sharing a double scoop of Meyerson Farms’ famous mint chip ice cream, a local bestseller according to the description on the case.

“What do you think?” he asks, reaching across the table to wipe the corner of my mouth.

“Not bad.”

“Not bad?” Thayer scoffs. “Not bad? Come on. You can do better than that.”

Honestly it tastes like any other kind of ice cream to me, but the way it puts a smile on his face and gets him all excited like a kid at Christmas makes it special in its own right.

“What kind of law do you want to practice?” I ask. I know it’s random, but I’m realizing that I haven’t asked him that yet and I’m curious.

“Constitutional law,” he says. “My dream would be to take on the kind of cases that would have a profound impact on society for the better.”

“You’re lucky you know exactly what you want to do,” I say. “I still don’t have a clue.”

Just another way we’re polar opposites …

“You’re eighteen. You’ve got plenty of time to decide.” He licks the back of his spoon. “You’ll know when you know.”

“When did you know?”

“Tenth grade careers class,” he says. “We had a guest speaker who was an attorney specializing in constitutional law and talked about some landmark cases he’d taken on. Opened up this whole other world for me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I want to leave this world better than I found it, you know?”

Why does he have to be so damn perfect?

I rest my chin on my hands, watching him finish the rest of his mint chip ice cream, admiring the way he takes his time and enjoys every bite like he’s completely in this moment, which reminds me to stay in this moment as well … instead of letting my mind fixate on all the ways we’re still so opposite of each other.

So far, Thayer’s shown that he’s a pretty incredible person, inside, out, and every way in between, and I don’t want to ruin this.