He makes his way to a shiny red car, confirming that it indeed was him that I saw earlier today on my way to Willow Creek, and I make my way to MJ’s school.
I can’t believe I invited him back.
My whole life has been full of surprises. The fact that Thayer Ainsworth is sitting on my sofa while our nine-year-old daughter is asleep upstairs is easily top five.
I always knew we’d reconnect someday, somehow, in some way, I just never knew how so I never bothered wasting my time dreaming up scenarios that were always going to be better in my head anyway.
“Look. I know you have questions, and I’m sure you want closure,” I say.
“Closure?” Thayer scoffs. “Lila, I want answers and explanations. I want to know that you’re okay, that you’re safe and healthy and happy.”
“All right. Well, I’m safe and I’m healthy.”
“But are you happy?”
“I have MJ.” It’s the truth. She’s my happiness. She’s my little piece of him. My memento from one of the greatest summers I’ve ever had the joy of knowing. For three months, I loved and I was loved and every time I look at our daughter, I’m reminded of that.
“What happened after I left?” he asks. “Something happened.”
“I can’t answer that.”
He pinches the bridge of his nose, and when he sits hunched over with his elbows on his knees, his muscles strain against the white fabric of his dress shirt. I imagine him in the courtroom, fighting the good fight and using his charm and intelligence to win cases left and right.
A few times over the years, I read about some of his work in articles. I’d be in a wistful, nostalgic mood after a few too many glasses of wine and I’d find myself lying in bed Googling the hell out of this man, almost hoping to find something that would make me miss him less … like an engagement announcement. Something to show me he’d found love again and moved on. If he was happy and successful, that’s all that mattered.
“When I came home that May, Granddad told me Ed and Junie had retired,” he says.
I force myself to remain stoic.
If I so much as hint to him that his grandfather was responsible for any of this, he’ll confront him, we’ll lose everything, and this will have all been for nothing.
“Is that true?” he asks.
“In a way, yes,” I say, neglecting to mention they were forced into retiring.
“What does that even mean?” There’s a hint of justifiable frustration in his voice.
“Mom?” MJ’s angel-soft voice interrupts our conversation, and I find her standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Who’s here?”
Rushing to her, I slip my arm around her shoulders and turn her away from him.
“Go back to bed, sweetie. I’ll be there to tuck you in again in a few minutes, okay?”
She trudges up the stairs in her panda pajamas and I return to the living room. “I’m sorry. This was a bad idea. You should go.”
He draws in a long breath before rising, and he doesn’t take his eyes off me for one second. “Obviously you’re not going to tell me anything. And I can’t force you to. But whatever happened, Lila … whatever you think you did that’s so horrible you had to run away and hide for ten years … “
“Thayer, you have to go. Please.” I place my hand on his back and guide him to the door. “I’m so sorry you came all this way for nothing. Really I am. But I hope you can find some peace now. You checked on me. I’m okay. I’m fine. Life moved on and you should too.”
His hand lifts to his face and he rakes his palm along his chiseled jawline as he draws in a hard breath.
“We were spectacular together,” he says. “Weren’t we? You remember it the same way I do, right? Please tell me that summer meant something to you and I didn’t come all this way because I’m some heartsick idiot who romanticized some teenage summer…”
He speaks with a confidence that makes me think he isn’t so much as looking for validation as he is wanting to remind me that what we had was meaningful—as if I need the reminder.
“It was one of the best summers of my life,” I say.
I’ll give him that, but only because he came all this way and quite frankly I have nothing more to give him.
“It’s not too late,” he says.
Clearly he has mistaken me for someone else—for the girl I used to be, the one he fell in love with over a single endless summer forever ago.
But I’m not her.
And I haven’t been since I left Rose Crossing.
But my God, what I wouldn’t give to be her again … so that we could be us if only for a moment.