Page 72 of For Lila, Forever

But all the permits and paperwork and setbacks and headaches were worth it for this view …

Lila stands on the newly poured concrete walkway that leads up to the front door. With tears in her eyes and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, she makes her way inside, and I follow behind.

Once inside, she stops just past the front door and gasps.

I took great care in making sure the place was delivered unchanged. I wanted her to see it exactly as it was when it was ours. Truly, it’s like stepping into a time machine.

“I told you it was yours,” I say as I follow her into the kitchen.

She traces her fingers along the decade-old writing on the wall:

For Lila, forever.

And then she traces her fingers along my signature below.

“This is too much,” she says when she turns to me, her amber-green eyes gleaming.

“This is your home,” I correct her. “The deed is on the kitchen counter. This house and this land are yours now. No one will ever be able to take this away.”

“I can’t believe you did this,” she says, breathless as she sails down the hall and moves from room to room. “Everything looks exactly the same. This is insane. I can’t believe I’m standing in the cottage …”

She takes a seat on the edge of the very bed MJ was conceived, her hands cupped over the lower half of her face as she lets this sink in.

“Also, these are for you.” I hand her a stack of bundled letters. “I hid them all over the cottage before I left for college that fall. Just little notes for you to find when you were missing me …” She begins to read the first one. “Lila, there’s something I need to run by you.”

She rests the first letter on top of the stack and gives me her attention.

Her eyes are wide and bright, which gives me hope that she’s going to be receptive to my next proposal. A month ago she asked for space, so I backed off. I kept things cordial and friendly and platonic despite the fact that I still very much wanted for us to be together again. It took everything in my power not to give her the full Thayer Ainsworth treatment, but it helped knowing I had this little ace up my sleeve.

I planned on buying them a house regardless, one less thing for Lila to worry about so she could focus on MJ and not on how she’s going to keep a roof over their head. But when I remembered the cottage and how much she loved it and how it was the beginning of us … it gave me this idea.

“So what did you want to run by me?” she asks.

“How would you feel about me moving to Summerton?”

She sits straight, her exuberant expression vanishing. “You’re not serious, are you? I mean, not that I don’t want you to, but life here is … night and day from Manhattan. What if you hate it?”

“My daughter is here,” I say. “And so are you. I assure you I won’t hate it here. Anyway, I have a few connections in the area, and it sounds like I should have no problem lining something up.”

Lila rises off the bed and heads down the hall. I trail behind. A moment later she’s on the back porch, marveling at the red hammock from the summer of ’09.

“MJ’s going to love this yard,” she says as she gazes at the tree-filled open space that surrounds the home. “So many trees to climb … so much room to run around.”

“Thought maybe I’d build her a treehouse this summer,” I say. “Also, I know this place looks like it’s straight out of 2003, so if you want to remodel or redecorate, just let me know and we’ll make it happen.”

Lila slips her hand in mine and leads me back into the house. We stop in the living room, in front of the sofa.

“Do you remember the first time we made out? Right here on this couch?” She begins to say something else, but the words get stuck as she chokes up. “I’m sorry. I’m feeling everything right now, and it’s a little overwhelming.”

“That’s the way I used to feel every time I looked at you,” I say. “Still do.”

She glances up at me through dark, damp lashes. “Really?”

“You act like you’re surprised.”

“It’s just … after that night at the diner … you never brought it up again … I just assumed you’d changed your mind about us.”

“Change my mind? About us? Never.”

A private investigator asked me once what made this girl so special that I was willing to invest all my time and money and emotional resources into finding her. I didn’t have an answer for him at the time, but I went home that night and thought about it.