It had been a long list, divided into past, present and future. Our past items included Chelsea’s vomit at Potbelly’s, Safety Not Guaranteed, doggie-style (which we had originally deemed as our favorite position), Cherry Slushies, and our first kiss.
Our present items had included Gut Boxes, Seminoles Baseball, the way he studied my mouth before kissing me, microwave s’mores—which I argued should go on the future list as well, but he said we may get tired of them. “I told you we’d never get tired of microwave s’mores,” I pointed out. “And look, I was right.”
“You were right.” He smiled, that slow and warm smile that seemed as if it was made for me. “How could I have been so stupid?”
“Well, you had a good response.” I tilted my head to one side, remembering it. “I told you that everything in life paled compared to microwave s’mores, and you told me that everything in life paled compared to me.”
“And then I proposed.” His eyes crinkled at the edges.
“And then you proposed,” I said softly. “And I said yes.”
“What were you thinking?”
I laughed. “What were you? You weren’t even able to get down on one knee. And you wouldn’t have wanted to, not in that disgusting lot.”
“And I didn’t have a ring.”
“It was the best decision I ever made in my life.” He leaned forward and captured my hand, running his thumb over the back of it. “I wouldn’t change it, Guthrie’s parking lot and all.”
I wouldn’t either. I loved the memory of that night, the excitement I’d had at the idea of being Mrs. Easton North for the rest of my life. I had pushed the to-go container onto the floorboard and crawled across the center console and gotten into his lap. He’d smelled like baseball leather, sweat and chicken and tasted like root beer and French fries. We’d called my mom and then his, waking them both up with the news.
“What was on our future list? A World Series ring.” He grimaced.
“A baby,” I said quietly.
His hand tightened on mine. “What else?”
“A house big enough for our family.” I almost said our kids. Five kids. That’s what we’d written down on the list. We’d argued over that too. I’d wanted three and he’d wanted six. Somehow, we’d agreed on five, but I’d written “or three” in small parentheses after the number, followed by a smiley face. Everything was smiley faces and hearts back then.
“We got the house and the dog.”
“I don’t think a dog was on the list.” And the house I’d had in mind hadn’t been the sprawling fixer-upper we’d ended up with.
“Law school.” I made my own face.
“Do you ever still think about that?” He let go of my hand and crossed his arms on top of the table, his elbows almost too wide for the round top.
“No.” I shook my head. “Honestly, I don’t. I meant it when I quit.” I’d dropped the program six weeks in, right around the time he’d started playing. He’d pushed against it, worried that I was forgoing my dream for his, but I’d stood my ground then, and I reemphasized that now. “I don’t want to be an attorney.”
“And you’re happy in real estate?”
“I’m…” I drew a line down the condensation on the outside of my glass. “I think I’ll like real estate more when I start selling more. Right now, it’s very stressful, because each deal feels like it’s crucial.”
“Yeah. I’m right there with you.” He looked away as the waiter set down our plates, then waited for him to leave before continuing. “This is temporary, the struggle. Your business is growing, so is mine. We’ll get through this.”
“I know.” My grin widened. “Even when it sucks, there’s no one I’d rather be beside. I love our life together.”
“Yeah?” He studied me. “Because you deserve so much more.”
I frowned. “I deserve you. I’m exactly where I should be. So are you.”
“God, you’re too good for me.” He said it so sincerely, as if it didn’t matter that the major part of our future list—a family—was missing. And maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe we would find a new list.
And maybe, just like I didn’t need his success—he didn’t need my babies.
He picked up his fork. “Let’s eat. I have somewhere I want to take you after dinner.”
After dinner took us to a dark parking lot in Doral, close enough to MIA that I could feel the planes taking off. I rolled down the window and stared at the neon sign. “A strip club?” I’d been thinking Ben & Jerry’s. Possibly a veer-off at the Redbox at Tropicaire. Maybe, for old time’s sake, a cherry Slushy.
“It’s not a strip club. It’s a couples club.”
I looked back at the building, which sat across from an extended stay hotel and shared a strip mall with a tile store. “A couples club.”