Page 142 of We Were Once

Because that’s what we are doing. We are choosing every day—morning and night and all the hours between—to be with each other, to honor each other’s dreams, and to love each other for eternity. It was the easiest promise we ever made.

Joshua shifts the Blazer into gear, and we pull away from the prestigious address in the Upper East Side. I see him look back once and reach over to rub his arm. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine. It was never really mine anyway.”

The apartment may have been Joshua’s consolation prize, but he was his dad’s, and the only member of his family to carve out time to spend with David Evans on his deathbed. Nonetheless, forty-nine was too young to die. My heart breaks for David, but also for Joshua, who seemed to believe there was hope between him and his father before tragedy struck a couple of years ago. I wish I could have been there for him back then.

I could pack a U-Haul full of regrets to drag along with us to New Haven, but instead, I live, I love, and I see each day as a fresh opportunity. We learned a lot from the fight we had last May. Like the storm, we needed to blow through our anger and get the pain out. We live with our eyes wide open, flaws, acceptance, joy, and respect. That’s how teams work best. I don’t need perfection. I have happiness instead because I choose it. I choose Joshua.

The apartment was sold in less than a week, freeing us to leave sooner than expected. We’re not complaining. With the apartment gone and the restaurant now run by Lola and Todd, I ask, “Besides the apartment, how do you feel about leaving your baby behind?”

Cocking a grin, he says, “You’re my baby.”

“Charmer.” I angle his way but leave my belt on, nice and snug. “You built Salvation from nothing.”

“I built Salvation because I’d lost you. I put the fanciest fucking food on that menu just to prove I could do it. Doesn’t matter I had the seed money from my dad. I won the critics over with the cooking. I did it. I don’t have to prove anything else to the world or myself.” Judging by the contentment settled into his expression, I believe him. “I’m looking forward to taking over the diner.”

“A refined home cooking concept, huh? All your talents in one.”

“Well, let’s not go that far. I have a few other talents. A skill set that you appreciate nightly.”

“Why is that so hot?”

“Because you’re insatiable. Want to make a pit stop?”

“I’m not having sex in a gas station bathroom.”

Chuckling, he rubs my leg. “Don’t worry, I was thinking of stopping by the lake to reminisce.”

Just before we reach town, he travels down a road that’s off the beaten path. With the windows down, the wind whips through the cab, and I hold my arm out, feeling the freedom in the falling that I tasted so many years ago.

He puts his arm out and looks over at me, a smile that makes my heart melt and a gaze that speaks its own language to mine—telling me he loves me. He’ll always protect me. He only breathes because of me. Reaching over, I take his offered hand, the connection always so strong that it takes me time to acclimate to the headiness of it.

Even now.

Seven years after the first time we held hands.

I lean forward to take in the grandeur. The trees clear, and I feel peace wash through me as I take in the rippling water ahead and the branches and leaves scattered on the ground. The rocks where I stood too scared to take a leap of faith until he taught me how to trust, how to love with my soul, how to be who I am. As if reserved just for us, there’s never another soul around.

He parks the truck that holds our entire lives of stuff worth keeping in the back. We left the rest in the past. Leaning against the wheel, he stares ahead. “Mangata.”

“Let’s go. Let’s drive straight to the moon just to say we did it.”

Popping the door open, he gets out, looking across the SUV at me. “I remember a time that I used to be the more spontaneous one.”

“Times change, and so do we.” He comes to open my door, but I beat him to it. “Wonder if that Dwight guy still works on the property?”

“No. He was fired a few years back.”

Resting against the truck, I ask, “For what?”

“Being an asshole.”

I struggle to decide where to look. Both the moon and Joshua have such big and competing presences. I force my gaze to the lake. “No wonder we had the ceremony without interruption.”

He peers down at me from the corners of his eyes. “Bryant now patrols. I told him we’d be here, so he’d leave us alone.”

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