He pays for our meals, of course, and then insists we walk my mother to her car. I can already tell she’ll be calling me about him tonight, simply by the prideful look on her face.
Once she’s gone, Ryle walks me to my car.
“I requested an Uber so you wouldn’t have to go out of your way to take me home. We have approximately . . .” He looks down at his phone. “One and a half minutes to make out.”
I laugh. He wraps his arms around me and kisses my neck first, and then my cheek. “I would invite myself over, but I have an early surgery tomorrow and I’m sure my patient would appreciate it if I didn’t spend the majority of the night inside you.”
I kiss him back, both disappointed and relieved he’s not coming over. “I have a grand opening in a few days. I should probably sleep, too.”
“When’s your next day off?” he says.
“Never. When’s yours?”
I shake my head. “We’re doomed. There’s just too much drive and success between the two of us.”
“That means the honeymoon phase will last until we’re eighty,” he says. “I’ll come to your grand opening Friday and then the four of us will go out and celebrate.” A car pulls up beside us and he wraps his hand in my hair and kisses me goodbye. “Your mother is wonderful, by the way. Thank you for letting me come to dinner.”
He backs away and climbs inside the car. I watch as it pulls out of the parking lot.
I have a really good feeling about that man.
I smile and turn toward my car, but throw a hand up to my chest and gasp when I see him.
Atlas is standing at the rear of my car.
“Sorry. Wasn’t trying to scare you.”
I blow out a breath. “Well, you did.” I lean against the car and Atlas stays where he is, three feet away from me. He looks out at the street. “So? Who’s the lucky guy?”
“He’s . . .” My voice falters. This is all so weird. My chest is still constricted and my stomach is flipping, and I can’t tell if it’s leftover nerves from kissing Ryle or if it’s the presence of Atlas. “His name is Ryle. We met about a year ago.”
I instantly regret saying we met that long ago. It makes it sound like Ryle and I have been dating that long and we aren’t even officially dating. “What about you? Married? Have a girlfriend?”
I’m not sure if I’m asking to extend the conversation he started, or if I’m genuinely curious.
“I do, actually. Her name is Cassie. We’ve been together almost a year now.”
Heartburn. I think I have heartburn. A year? I place my hand on my chest and nod. “That’s good. You seem happy.”
Does he seem happy? I have no idea.
“Yeah. Well . . . I’m really glad I got to see you, Lily.” He turns around to walk away, but then spins and faces me again, his hands shoved in his back pockets. “I will say . . . I kind of wish this could have happened a year ago.”
I wince at his words, trying not to let them penetrate. He turns and walks back toward the restaurant.
I fumble with my keys and hit the button to unlock the car. I slide in and pull the door shut, gripping the steering wheel. For whatever reason, a huge tear falls down my cheek. A huge, pathetic, what-the-hell-is-this-wetness tear. I swipe at it and push the button to start my car.
I didn’t expect to feel this much hurt after seeing him.
But it’s good. This happened for a reason. My heart needed closure so I can give it to Ryle, but maybe I couldn’t do that until this happened.
This is good.
Yes, I’m crying.
But it’ll feel better. This is just human nature, healing an old wound to prepare for a fresh new layer.
I curl up in my bed and stare at it.
I’m almost finished with it. There aren’t very many more entries.
I pick up the journal and place it on the pillow beside me. “I’m not going to read you,” I whisper.
Although, if I read what’s left, I’ll be finished. Having seen Atlas tonight and knowing he has a girlfriend and a job and more than likely a home is enough closure I need on that chapter. And if I just finish the damn journal, I can put it back in the shoebox and never have to open it again.
I finally pick it up and roll onto my back. “Ellen DeGeneres, you are such a bitch.”
“Just keep swimming.”
Recognize that quote, Ellen? It’s what Dory says to Marlin in Finding Nemo.
“Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.”
I’m not a huge fan of cartoons, but I’ll give you props for that one. I like cartoons that can make you laugh, but also make you feel something. After today, I think that’s my favorite cartoon. Because I’ve been feeling like drowning lately, and sometimes people need a reminder that they just need to keep swimming.
Atlas got sick. Like really sick.
He’s been crawling through my window and sleeping on the floor for a few nights in a row now, but last night, I knew something was wrong as soon as I looked at him. It was a Sunday, so I hadn’t seen him since the night before, but he looked awful. His eyes were bloodshot, his skin was pale, and even though it was cold, his hair was sweaty. I didn’t even ask if he was feeling okay, I already knew he wasn’t. I put my hand on his forehead and he was so hot, I almost yelled for my mother.
He said, “I’ll be fine, Lily,” and then he started to make his pallet on the floor. I told him to wait there and then I went to the kitchen and poured him a glass of water. I found some medicine in the cabinet. It was flu medicine and I wasn’t even sure if that’s what was wrong with him, but I made him take some anyway.