I glance at the door as I retrieve my chair. I take a seat and look down at my phone. “Nothing. He was just apologizing.”
Allysa sighs longingly and looks back at the door. “So does that mean he doesn’t want the job?”
I’ve got to hand it to her. Even in the midst of emotional turmoil, she can make me laugh. “Get back to work before I dock your pay.”
She laughs and makes to leave. I tap my pen against my desk and then say, “Allysa. Wait.”
“I know,” she says, cutting me off. “Ryle doesn’t need to know about that visit. You don’t have to tell me.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
She closes the door.
I reach down and pick up the bag with my three-year-old gift inside of it. I pull it out and can easily tell it’s a book, wrapped in tissue paper. I tear the tissue paper away and fall against the back of my chair.
There’s a picture of Ellen DeGeneres on the front. The title is Seriously . . . I’m Kidding. I laugh and then open the book, gasping quietly when I see it’s autographed. I run my fingers over the words of the inscription.
Atlas says just keep swimming.
I run my finger over her signature. Then I drop the book on my desk, press my forehead against it, and fake cry against the cover.
It’s after seven before I get home. Ryle called an hour ago and said he wouldn’t be coming over tonight. The confusher-cackle (whatever that big word he used was) separation was a success, but he’s staying at the hospital overnight to make sure there aren’t complications.
I walk in the door to my quiet apartment. I change into my quiet pajamas. I eat a quiet sandwich. And then I lie down in my quiet bedroom and open my quiet new book, hoping it can quiet my emotions.
Sure enough, three hours and the majority of a book later, all the emotions from the last several days begin to seep out of me. I place a bookmark on the page where I stopped reading and I close it.
I stare at the book for a long time. I think about Ryle. I think about Atlas. I think about how sometimes, no matter how convinced you are that your life will turn out a certain way, all that certainty can be washed away with a simple change in tide.
I take the book Atlas bought me and put it in the closet with all my journals. Then I pick up the one that’s filled with memories of him. And I know it’s finally time to read the last entry I wrote. Then I can close the book for good.
Most of the time I’m thankful you don’t know I exist and that I’ve never really mailed you any of these things I write to you.
But sometimes, especially tonight, I wish you did. I just need someone to talk to about everything I’m feeling. It’s been six months since I’ve seen Atlas and I honestly don’t know where he is or how he’s doing. So much has happened since the last letter I wrote to you, when Atlas moved to Boston. I thought it was the last time I’d see him for a while, but it wasn’t.
I saw him again after he left, several weeks later. It was my sixteenth birthday and when he showed up, it became the absolute best day of my life.
And then the absolute worst.
It had been exactly forty-two days since Atlas left for Boston. I counted every day like it would help somehow. I was so depressed, Ellen. I still am. People say that teenagers don’t know how to love like an adult. Part of me believes that, but I’m not an adult and so I have nothing to compare it to. But I do believe it’s probably different. I’m sure there’s more substance in the love between two adults than there is between two teenagers. There’s probably more maturity, more respect, more responsibility. But no matter how different the substance of a love might be at different ages in a person’s life, I know that love still has to weigh the same. You feel that weight on your shoulders and in your stomach and on your heart no matter how old you are. And my feelings for Atlas are very heavy. Every night I cry myself to sleep and I whisper, “Just keep swimming.” But it gets really hard to swim when you feel like you’re anchored in the water.
Now that I think about it, I’ve probably been experiencing the stages of grief in a sense. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was deep in the depression stage the night of my sixteenth birthday. My mother had tried to make the day a good one. She bought me gardening supplies, made my favorite cake, and the two of us went to dinner together. But by the time I had crawled into bed that night, I couldn’t shake the sadness.
I was crying when I heard the tap on my window. At first, I thought it had started raining. But then I heard his voice. I jumped up and ran to the window, my heart in hysterics. He was standing there in the dark, smiling at me. I raised the window and helped him inside and he took me in his arms and held me there for so long while I cried.
He smelled so good. I could tell when I hugged him that he’d put on some much-needed weight in just the six weeks since I’d last seen him. He pulled back and wiped the tears off my cheeks. “Why are you crying, Lily?”
I was embarrassed that I was crying. I cried a lot that month—probably more than any other month of my life. It was probably just the hormones of being a teenage girl, mixed with the stress of how my father treated my mother, and then having to say goodbye to Atlas.
I grabbed a shirt from the floor and dried my eyes, then we sat down on the bed. He pulled me against his chest and leaned against my headboard.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him.