“It would seem that we’re after the same girl.”
I turned to see where that voice had come from. I already knew who it was. I’d been embroiled in a bitter battle with him since the arrival of my ex-girlfriend in this microscopically small town. Granted, he hadn’t known until recently that we were fighting over the same girl, but I digress.
“It would appear.”
“That’s all you have to say?” Kelly asked. “You sleep with my girlfriend while she’s still with me and all you have to say is, ‘It would appear?’ You’re not a very bright person, are you, Justin?”
I shrugged, gesturing to the beach. I figured if he and I were going to have it out, we needed to walk. It would keep him calm. This I knew from our time spent in the same unit.
“She’s better than you.”
“I can’t argue with that,” I told him.
He was baiting me. I knew he was baiting me. He was right, though. Ella Jameson had always been better than me. It was what had ultimately led to our demise: I had felt that she was too good for a life with me, so I ended things; and I had regretted that decision ever since.
“She needs something more than a life with a man who’s never going to be home,” he said to me, baiting me again.
“You’ve dated this girl for fifteen minutes and now you’re suddenly an expert on what she does or does not need?” I asked. “Kelly, I made that mistake a long time ago. Mark my words, making decisions for that girl does not end well.”
“You’re an expert on Ella Jameson?” He asked me. “You’re an expert on her because you dated her five years ago and now you’re back in her life?”
“I’m not back in her life,” I said to him. “She made it clear that she needed time, and I intend to give her the time she needs. But I do know that making decisions for her doesn’t end well. Kelly, you can’t assume she needs one thing – or person – over another.”
“And you can’t tell me that you’re what’s best for her,” he countered.
“I’m not saying I am,” I responded. “What I am saying, is that she is the only person who knows what’s best for her. You and I are not the people to make those types of decisions for her.”
He nodded and we continued walking. We were nearing mine and Ella’s spot, and I hesitated to continue walking. I just wanted the conversation to be over, really. I stopped walking.
“What do you want with her, Justin?” He asked. “Do you want to be with her? Or is this one of those times when you think you want something but you really just want one more time with it before you get it out of your system?”
I had to give it to the kid – he had been around when I tried to quit smoking. I’d been off of nicotine for three months when I had a craving for a cigarette. That one cigarette had been the last one I smoked, though.
“What do you want with her, Justin?” He asked again.
I shrugged, shaking my head. “I want to be with her, Kelly. You weren’t there to see how much better she made me when we were together the first time around—”
“No, but I did see you when you two were together the first time around,” he interjected. “You were happy. She made you a better person. Every single one of us saw that. But you ended things. You claimed that she was a bother.”
“I said those things because I didn’t want to admit what was really going on inside my head,” I explained. “I made the decision that she didn’t need to be dragged down with me. Like I said, it was the worst decision I’ve ever made.”
It was getting dark. I knew Ella would be expecting me soon. We had a standing Tuesday night together and I needed to get ready for that. This conversation needed to happen, though – if for no other reason than to make Kelly see that Ella and I weren’t a brand new thing. We had history – and it was that history that we shared that made it so hard for either of us to walk away.
“I’m going to fight for her,” Kelly said then. “I’m not going to cower away just because you think that your shared history is more important than what Ella and I have.”
“I expect you to,” I replied. “You wouldn’t be the guy I met in that shithole if you backed away quietly.”
“Good,” he said. “I love her. I’m going to fight for her.”
We were quiet for a second, each contemplating how to win the girl of our dreams over, I suppose. I watched the waves rolling in; thinking about a similar evening nearly five years ago.
“I have to go,” Kelly told me. “I told Ella I’d meet her in the morning for coffee.”
“I have to go meet her for our Tuesday night movie,” I replied, hoping this would serve as a reminder that I, too, would be fighting for this girl.
“Yeah,” he said. “So, I guess I’ll see you around, Stetson.”
I nodded, allowing him to move past me to walk away. “See ya, Palmer.”
I stood there, watching the waves. The sun was setting over the water. It had been nearly five years ago that Ella had snapped a picture of me standing in the same water. She’d been so embarrassed when I’d caught her in the act. I think I loved her even then.
“Palmer,” I called out.
He turned around, raising an eyebrow. We had nothing left to say to each other, really. We’d hashed out what we could. Anything else would just add insult to injury, but I needed to get this out.
“I love her, too, you know,” I said, offering that as the only form of explanation I could give for my actions over the last six months.
He nodded in response and turned around, stalking back over to where he’d parked his car. I stood there, watching the sunset. It really was a sight to see.
Broken from my thoughts, I turned at the sound of her voice. Ella Jameson was another sight to see.
“Hey,” I greeted. “What are you doing out here?”
“I thought you might still be here,” she said, tucking herself under my outstretched arm. “I saw you walking out this way earlier when I got home from work.”
I nodded, bringing her closer to me. We hadn’t watched a sunset together since that night that she’d snapped our picture together. Tonight, it seemed, we were bringing everything full circle.
I didn’t know who she’d choose. That was a simple fact I could admit. I didn’t know if she would want to still be with me after the series of fuck-ups I had made over the last five years. I didn’t know if she would choose the safest route and stay with Kelly.
But here and now, with this girl – the girl of my dreams – wrapped tightly in my arms, I didn’t care. She was here, and that was enough for me. For now.