Without Reason contest/giveaway!

I promised myself that if I didn’t find an agent by the end of the year, I was going to self-publish in 2016.  With that in mind, I am now hosting a contest/giveaway for my newest book, Without Reason!

The rules are fairly simple.  I have four options for the cover art for the book.  I want YOUR (yes, all of you!) help picking the one you like the best.  The one with the most votes wins.  AND, from all of the people who take the time to vote, I am picking one person to win a free signed copy.

A brief synopsis can be found below the pictures.  To vote, just put in the comments section your choice — cover one, cover two, cover three, or cover four.

Thanks for your help, writing community!

Cover 2Cover 1Cover 4Cover 3

Synopsis:

It came as no surprise to Simone Perrier that she fell madly in love with Jacob Wessner. The summer before college felt different, like something big was about to happen. Just hours before she was set to move across the country, she spotted him in a crowded bar. She wasn’t looking for love, but it certainly found her, and the next ten years of Simone’s life were nothing short of a roller coaster.

WITHOUT REASON details from Simone’s point of view the highest and lowest points of her decade-long love story with Jacob, providing unique insight into a relationship between two people who just can’t seem to get it right. Simone speaks to her own indecisiveness, trying to choose between her life with Jacob, the fatally flawed man who loved her more, and Ian Colston, the man who seemed to calm the chaos Jacob caused. In the end, Simone is left with a choice between the two, but she realizes even the simplest of answers can cause the greatest heartache.

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better place

“I never knew things could be so bright.”

I turned to look at her.  She was standing at a spot in the Space Needle where the sun was brightly shining through.  She looked like an angel.  I forced myself to not think about the terrible, awful things I’d done to her.  She was beautiful, untouched.

Not even by me.

“You made everything bright again for me,” she said.  “You made my life a better place, Jake.  I can’t… it’s crazy, right?  Our relationship is so dysfunctional.  But… you made everything better.”

“I could say the same thing for you,” I told her.

“Yeah, well, you don’t say it often enough.”  I stood beside her as she looked out at Seattle.  It was an unusually sunny day in the city, but I wasn’t complaining.  It gave me a chance to take my girl out, see the sights.  We hadn’t had much time to ourselves.

I sighed.  That was my fault.

“Don’t do that.”  Her eyes never left the view.  Even without looking at me, she knew I was beating myself up.  “Don’t hate yourself because you have a job and you’re busy.”

“I heard that inflection,” I told her.  “You can get a job, Simone.  It’s not like—“

“It’s not like we’re moving back to New York in a month?”  She asked.  “What would be the point of taking a job when this is temporary?”

“We can stay out here,” I said.

She shook her head.  “I want to go home, Jake.  I miss my friends.  I miss my family.”  I saw her lips pout as she stared out at the view.  “I miss us.”

“We’re still the same people, Simone,” I said.  “We haven’t changed.  You’re still the girl I fell in love with one summer.  I’m still the—“

“The guy who put my heart back together and broke it all over again?”

“Are we having a fight?”  I asked.  “Is that what you want to do?  We can have a fight, but I’d prefer if we weren’t in public.”

“I’d prefer if I were back home, but alas, we can’t always get what we want.”

“You moved to Seattle with me, Simone,” I told her.  “I didn’t force you to come.  I told you that you could stay home and I’d be back.”

“We did the long distance thing already, Jake,” she said.  “We broke up twice.”

“Once,” I countered.

“So the day you slept with the TA for my history class was what, a break?”  She sighed.  “We aren’t Ross and Rachel.”

“I would hope not,” I said, remembering the episodes of Friends we watched together over the years.  “I don’t have the energy to chase you all the way to Paris.”

“She got off the plane,” Simone deadpanned.  “Granted, you haven’t had a movie night with me in forever, so you haven’t seen that episode recently.”

“Do you want to have it out here?”  I asked.  “I’m trying, Simone.  I’m really, really trying, and all you seem to want to do is argue.”

“I don’t want to argue, Jake,” she said sadly.  She finally turned to meet my eyes.  “I just… I wanted to tell you how much better things are with you, but this really is the most dysfunctional relationship I’ve ever been in, and yet it’s the best relationship I’ve ever been in.”  She leaned against me, resting her head on my chest.  I wrapped my arms around her, sheltering her as best I could – though as of late I hadn’t been doing a good job of that.  “You’re my one in ten million, and yet I can’t help but feel like you’re still looking for that.  Like I’m not enough, even though I moved out here, even though I put grad school on hold so we could be together out here.”

“I’m not,” I said firmly.  “I’m not looking for anything, Simone, outside of you.  Look, I’m sorry I keep fucking up.  I’m sorry I keep sleeping with anything in a dress.”  I chuckled bitterly.  “And I’m sorry I forced your hand to move out here, but I promise you, things are going to be different.  Things are going to be better when we move home.  You’re going to go to grad school and I’m going to be a hot detective and we’re going to rule the world together.”

She laughed.  “You sound awful sure of yourself.”

“Yeah, well…” I trailed off, searching for the right words.  “I can do anything with you.”

“Ditto,” she said.  “But… can you do me a favor and start telling me these things without me having to almost start an all-out brawl in public?”

I smiled at her.  “Why don’t you tell me?”

“No girl wants to tell her boyfriend that she wants to be appreciated,” she said.  “I just… I want you to think of you, Jake.  I want you to do what’s necessary so you can get ahead, but I want you to think of me, too.  Of us.”

I kissed her forehead, hugging her tight to me.  I remembered in the early days of our relationship when I was so scared of crushing her – how tiny she was, how fragile she looked.  But she was stronger now, full of sugar and spice and piss and vinegar.  I’d put her through hell, but she stuck by me in spite of it.  I shoved my hand in my pocket, felt the velvet box that I’d been holding for a year.  I was waiting for the right moment, wanted to do things right by her, make up for all the shit I put her through.  Now seemed as good a time as any…

“Oh!”  She squealed, releasing me.  I dropped the box, my hand flying out of my pocket.  “Can we get sushi and red vines and binge watch that new fairytale TV show?  Hadley says it’s super complex and you have to watch everything together.”

I smiled.  There would be a better moment, less public, when I could finally ask her to spend the rest of her life with me.  “Yeah, let’s get out of here.  Want to pick up sushi on the way home or have it delivered?”

She shrugged, looping her arm through mine.  “I don’t care.  Though the sushi place that delivers has those spring rolls you really like.  Hey, Hads said that Cinderella makes an appearance, too…”

I smiled as she chatted away about the new show and all the characters she was excited to see.  She was a simple girl – woman, really.  She’d grown so much since that first night on the beach, and I’d had the privilege of watching her grow.  She was beautiful then, but now… she was even more radiant, bright, full of life.

And it didn’t matter if it happened tonight or another eight years from now, I knew I would be spending forever with her.

prologue – fairytale tragedy

Crisp autumn leaves littered the ground as I made my way down the familiar driveway.

“I’m pulling in now.”

“See you soon?”

I hesitated, my breath catching in my throat when I heard the words.  “See you soon.”

I ended the call, placing my phone in the cupholder, where it’d been for the duration of my three hour drive.  I kept it on silent, much to the dismay of my colleagues, supervisor, and close friends.  I never heard it ring unless it was directly next to me, the incessant buzzing forcing me to take the call.

I lived a non-stop life, going a mile a minute.  I’d been like this for years, pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion, only to take a day or two off before going at it full speed again.  I drove the people in my life crazy, but I thrived off of the frenetic energy in my life.  I wasn’t happy unless I was throwing myself headfirst into something – a work project, a personal project…

A relationship.

My breath hitched again as the thought crossed my mind.  I focused on driving, though I only had a few more feet before I would be forced to park, get out of the car, and finally confront the one thing – the one person – I’d been avoiding for years.  I knew how long it’d been, how long I’d been dodging calls and ignoring the emails.

But I wasn’t about to admit that to myself.

The garage door was shut, just as he’d told me it would be in his most recent email.  I parked outside of it, looking around to see if he’d shown up yet.

And of course, he hadn’t.  He’d just finished telling me that he’d be a few minutes late, caught up with some last minute work business.  He was always true to his word – even if all he was doing was telling me he’d be a few minutes late.  It would be no more than five minutes, and I knew I would see him.

For the first time in a decade.

I pulled my bottom lip into my mouth, worrying it until it started bleeding.  I tasted the tangy copper in my mouth, knew that if I kept it up my lips would be chapped.  I hadn’t packed lip gloss for this weekend, didn’t even know if I’d be around the whole weekend to really need lip gloss.  Nevertheless, I quit chewing, pursing my lips instead.

I could do this.

I opened my car door and stepped out into the cool autumn air.  More leaves rustled as the wind picked up, chilling me to the core.  I tried to ignore it, that nervous feeling in my chest.  My heart was beating rapidly, my breaths were becoming shorter…

I was panicking.

Of all the things I could do, losing my composure was not one of them.  I tried desperately to get my breaths under control, to calm myself down.  I tried to think of something – anything – else, but it was no use.  Our two minute conversation was already replaying in my mind, and thoughts of what would happen over the course of the next few hours – or weekend, I had chosen to take a few days off – clouded my mind.

I slammed my car door shut and made my way up the walk, pausing only to grab the key from underneath the ficus plant that sat outside the front door.  He told me it would be there and, true to his word, there it was.  I would eventually learn to stop doubting him.

But then again, my reservations were not without basis.  I had history to back me up.

Feelings of nostalgia hit me like a ton of feathers as I walked inside.  No, they weren’t bricks.  These memories were not rough, not hard, not cold.  They were soft, pleasant to the touch, but weighed me down nonetheless.  They sat on top of my heart, crushing me, reminding me of a time in my life that, in hindsight, was certainly not better, but simpler.

The feathers tickled my nose, reminding me of the smell of brownies wafting through the house.  They curled around me, like the red blanket that was still draped across the back of the couch.  They surrounded me, floating through the air like the snow that fell the last time I was here.

I moved to the kitchen, taking a trip down memory lane – allowing myself one weakness, finally, after ten years of pushing weakness as far away as possible.  I felt it all coming back to me at once, those feathers pelting me.  They didn’t hurt though – a pleasant surprise.  I anticipated the bricks, anticipated having the wind knocked out of me.

But it wasn’t like that at all.

          And there’s where you danced with him in the kitchen, the voice in my head reminded me.  I saw us glide across the floor, felt his hand at the small of my back, leading me, showing me the way.

          There’s where you had a flour fight.  I smiled at the words, remembering the flour from the cookies I was trying to bake ending up everywhere but in the bowl.  I remembered my hair being coated, my face white as a sheet from the flour, but my cheeks bright and red from laughing so hard.

I moved through the kitchen to the stairs, walking up them until I got to the next floor.  There’s where he told you he loved you, the voice said.  I remembered him sitting with me in the middle of the floor outside of the bathroom, fresh from a shower but nonetheless determined to tell me how he felt – a first for him, he claimed.  That was something I actually believed, even a decade and a dozen lies later.

          There’s where his parents slept.  My chest tightened as I felt that familiar tug.  His mother loved me like one of her own.  I hadn’t been around when she died, showing up only for her funeral before hightailing it back home.  I couldn’t risk seeing him, being alone with him.  I allowed my bitterness toward him taint the relationship I had with his mom.

I wiped away a stray tear as I continued my trek, knowing where I was going but nonetheless feeling the butterflies all over again as my feet carried me forward.

          And that’s where you told him you loved him, the voice reminded me.  It was nearly a month after he’d uttered the words, so many days afterward when I’d finally confronted my feelings for him.  I’d been scared, afraid of what saying those words out loud would mean.  I didn’t want to get hurt, didn’t want to have my heart broken.

And in the end, that’s exactly what happened.

I stared at the perfectly-made bed in the center of his room.  The walls were the same color blue they’d been the last time I was here.  The comforter was still black, the floor still white carpet, save for the stain I spied by his night stand, where I spilled my red nail polish the day of prom.

There were so many memories, but they didn’t hurt, didn’t make me feel like I was going to die from the pain.  It hurt to breathe.  I felt myself gasping for air as I turned and made my way back down the stairs, my trip down memory lane finished for the time being.  There would be a new set of memories that I knew I would have to deal with when he arrived.

          Here is where you said good-bye.  I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, taking a seat in front of the door to the study – his father’s study, the same study where I found out the truth about everything.  I remembered my words to him clear as day as I sat there, taking in my surroundings.  On the wall opposite the stairs, near the kitchen, was a growth chart.  His height throughout the years.  I studied the pink crayon mark more than five feet up the wall, where his mother measured me on my first visit.

I studied the place where our feet stood ten years before, where he told me the truth about everything, and I ran away from him, telling him I never wanted to see him again.

And then bright and early one morning, I received an email from him.  In a moment of weakness, I responded, extending an olive branch.  We made peace via email.  And now, he wanted to make peace with me face to face.

I hoped.

I shivered involuntarily, pulling my coat tighter as I stood.  I stared out the window, trying to keep warm by folding my arms around me.  Like that’ll do you any good, the voice inside my head said.  It sounded like another version of me – a me who was older, more aware of her surroundings, someone who would certainly never have come here.

“I shouldn’t have come,” I said quietly.

“I’m glad you did.”

I whirled around, taken aback by how different, and yet how familiar the voice was.

He studied me intently, looking me up and down.  I did the same, my eyes scanning down the body I once knew like the back of my hand.  I called him my map once, covered with freckles, places I longed to discover.  He loved me so completely, and I shared his passion.

And now… we were strangers.  It amazed me how quickly it’d happened.

Once upon a time we were strangers, people who didn’t understand one another.  Time went on, though, and we fell into a pattern.  I learned his habits.  He learned my quirks.  We studied each other, fell harder for each other and allowed ourselves to get caught up in it all.  We went from strangers to lovers – people who at one point did not know one another suddenly knew each other completely, inside and out.  He was my fortune teller and my fortune.  He was the sun, and I was drawn to him, caught in his warmth.  I was his captive audience of one.

I was his everything – literally, everything.  I didn’t understand until much, much later just what everything encompassed; but when I did, I flipped the switch.  My sun became my night, a darkness I could not escape fast enough.  He went from being my safe haven to being my worst nightmare.

And just like that, the two people who knew one another inside and out became two people who knew nothing of each other.

I lived that life for ten years, pretending he didn’t exist, pretending that I didn’t care.  I took care of only me, looked out for only me.  And in a moment of weakness, the ten years of care I took with myself were ruined completely.

I realized all of this as I studied him, and a thought came unbidden into my mind that I could not erase, could not walk away from.  Yet it was true – the truest thought I’d had in a decade, and brought on by him.  The irony was not lost on me.  The liar became the beacon of truth.  My darkness became my light.

I could not outrun him.  I could not live a life where he did not exist.  The years I spent running from him were useless.  He would always find me, and I him.  There was not a place in the world that existed where we could be without one another.

My carefully laid plans were ruined, and it was all because of him.  But I couldn’t fault him that.  It was to be expected.  He’d ruined my plans once, long ago.  He had an aura about him that demanded attention, and I knew this would be no different.

I thought back to the first time I saw him, the first time I talked to him, and smiled.  It would go without saying that the boy who came into my life with a crash and the loudest of noises would re-enter it in the same fashion.

“Hi.”

remembering

There’s a scene in the final season of How I Met Your Mother that, in recent months, has held a little more meaning for me.  Forgive me this moment of weakness, but I need to get this out.

The mother looks to Ted and says something along the lines of: “What kind of mother isn’t there for her daughter’s wedding day?”  Ted cries because, as we all came to find out, the mother died – hence the nine year story of how Ted met her.

But that line – those tears that were shed by both the mother and Ted in that tender moment – it’s been playing on repeat in my mind.  Not because of how I’ll feel without my mom at my wedding (whenever that may be) but because I wonder how she felt.

My mom left me a journal – just a few pages filled with her thoughts during the last two months of her life.  I’ve read every bit of it, hoping to find some secret message she may have left for me.  There are no secret messages, no whispers from beyond the grave; but throughout her writings she repeats the same thing: that she loved me, that she wished she could have stayed, and that she was so, so sorry for leaving.

My acceptance of my mother’s death did not come quickly.  I spent the first six and a half years hating everyone and everything.  I hated the doctors for not catching her cancer in time.  I hated myself for not spending enough time with her.  I hated God for taking her from me.

But as the hate started to fade, and as my sad memories were replaced with happier ones – like the year she made coleslaw with just carrots – I found myself considering more what she went through during that time.

I started remembering things, like how at peace she was when the doctor told her, simply, that she would be lucky if she lived another two months (just to spite him, I think, she lived another three and a half months).  I remembered the day she said she was leaving us on April 15, because she was bound and determined to screw up tax day at the accounting firm where we worked (true to her word, she flashed us a beautiful smile and took her last breath on this earth at 8 PM on April 15, 2007).  I remembered the day she curled up next to me and said she’d always be with me, even if I couldn’t see her (and even now, as I sit here writing this, I can feel her fingernails run through my hair, comforting me and telling me she’s here, she’s always been here).

But that line from the show… the first time I heard it, it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Some mothers choose not to be there for their daughters’ weddings.  Distance and time and any number of other things harden their hearts.  Pride gets in the way.  They don’t go.  They miss out.  I pity both the mothers and the daughters – and, if you happen to be either one of them, I implore you to reach out, say something.  Make sure they know you’re there.  I do not know your story, and would never presume to do so, but please consider it.  I would give anything to see mama in front of me again, to sing in the car with her as we drive down to Herndon, Virginia, or Washington, DC, or Virginia Beach.  The bond between a mother and daughter is a precious and fragile one, and I know that things happen.  But girls, don’t shut out your mama.  She’s doing her best, even if her best isn’t something you may agree with.

In recent months, though, I’ve just wondered how my mom dealt with it – with the fact that she wouldn’t be here for my wedding.  I wonder how she reasoned with herself – if she reasoned with herself.  I wonder if she knew, even then, that I would be okay, even if it did take a year or two or ten.  I wonder if she struggled with it.  I hope she didn’t.  I recall the struggles she had with the cancer alone, and worrying herself with silly things like that wouldn’t have been worth it.  I suppose it’s too late at this point; but if there’s a parallel universe where my mom is alive and well and reading this while she sips on an umbrella drink in her lounge chair overlooking the Pacific Ocean (I do not believe so, but I suppose anything is possible), I just hope she knows that I won’t suffer when that day comes.  I hope she knows that though my life has been full, in spite of her absence, and that day will be sad without her, but it will be happy because even if she can’t be there in body, she’ll be there in spirit.

I’ve tried not to focus on Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year, if only because last year I went all out for it.  I’ve tried not to write about her, if only because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the writing process, it’s that you pour your heart and soul into it.  You take everything and put it into this one thing – a book, a blog post, a magazine article – and you put it out there for all the world to see.  And at the end of it all, you’re an empty shell.  But you’re still fulfilled – or maybe it’s just me, because in my case, I am able to empty myself of my hurt and my tears and my memories and show it to the world.  One thing I have tried to do is share more of my mom with the world.

Including all of my favorite stories of her.  And, I suppose, that’s how I’ll close this out.  I realize the point of this was to talk about that specific episode of a TV show that’s been off the air for quite some time now, but still… I couldn’t imagine letting this month go by without sharing something about mama.  I wouldn’t be doing her justice.

Most (if not all) of you know that my mother and father (and my father and I) did not have the greatest relationship.  I never pried, if only because I was witness to many of their arguments, and my father and I have had our fair share of disagreements as well.  Well, the weekend of my 17th birthday, he decided to come down.  He knew we were planning a trip to DC and wanted to tag along.

My parents took me to McCormick and Schmick’s for dinner.  It was fabulous.  I ate so many oysters on the half shell I was bursting at the seams.  I laughed with my mom when she did her funny accents, and made an attempt with my father when he asked questions.  When they brought the dessert tray around, I picked the crème brûlée.  My mom asked if they could put a candle in it for my birthday.

The staff brought it out with a candle in it, and I was so excited to try it.  I blew out my candles, picked up my spoon, and… delicately dug in.  I was so scared of breaking the crust.  I didn’t want to mess it up!  Looking back, it was a pretty sad move on my part.  Everyone knows you just dig in to crème brûlée when you get it.  You tear it apart.  I didn’t want to do that, though, and instead took small spoonfuls.

And my mother was not having any of it.  I knew my father’s presence had taken its toll on her for the day.  I knew she was stressed, not in the mood to be nice (though was she ever Miss Manners that weekend) and just wanted the night to be over with.  She reprimanded me (gently) twice: “Dig in, Ashley!”  She said, followed by: “Ashley, you can tear it apart!  That’s why it’s there!”  And then, finally, she grabbed my bowl from me and smashed the spoon into the dessert.  She broke the crust, and then, for good measure, she did it again.  I watched, mouth agape, as my mom showed that crème brûlée who was boss.

Finally finished with it, she slid the bowl back over to me.  “See?”  She said.  “That’s how you eat it.”  She winked at me, let me get back to my dessert, and no one at the table said a word until it was time to leave.

It took me a few years to be able to remember that story with clarity, but looking back now, I wonder how I ever forgot it.  My mom was a nice person – perhaps too nice sometimes – and yet in that moment, she let that defenseless dessert have it.  The memory makes me laugh even now.  I may not talk about her all the time anymore, and may watch myself with the cheesy posts this time of year, but this is one I had to get out.

My mom won’t be there for my wedding, but she’ll remain in my veins, as she’s always been.  She won’t be there when I have kids, but I’ll see her in their eyes.  I won’t have her around for a lot of my life events, but I’ll have her memories.  I’ll have the angry crème brûlée story at the ready whenever someone wants to talk about dessert.  I’ll have the crazy person/cell phone cord outside of her door story when someone wants to talk about being scared out of their minds.

She’s always with me – in my veins and in my laughter and in my tears – and I think that is the most important lesson I could have ever hoped to learn in this crazy, wild ride.

I miss you, mama.  Don’t worry about me.  I’ll be fine.

always

“I never imagined what life was going to be like without you.”

She stops, turning around to look at me as I say the words.  I was putting it all out there, telling her some of the things I’d stopped myself from saying before.

She is my whole world.  She is my sunrise, my sunset, my twilight, my early morning pink sky.  She is a breath of fresh air in a cold world.

And I have broken her.

I have cheated on her again, gotten scared, told myself that being with her was going to take a lot of work – as if the last eight years haven’t been a lot of work.  The first year she’d been three thousand miles from me.  Once I’d moved to California, things were better – if only marginally.  We were together, but we were both firecrackers.

Fire and ice, baby.

“I didn’t have to,” I say.  “I didn’t have to think about a future without you because you were always there.  You refused to leave me.”

She’s dropping her bags to floor, making her way to me.  She wraps her arms around my waist, enveloping me as best as she can.  I want to push her away, tell her to find someone better for her.  I can’t do it, though.

Because I’m as weak as she is.  I’m not strong enough to get my shit together on my own.  She’s not strong enough to walk away.  She was barely an adult when we met, and this dysfunction has been all she’s known the last eight years.

“I do refuse to leave you,” she says as tears stream down her face.  I have caused these tears.  I have reduced her to this.

walk away.

walk away.

walk away.

I can’t do it, though.  I can’t walk away from her.  I told her once long ago that I couldn’t live in a world where she didn’t exist.  I couldn’t pretend that she didn’t exist.

Because she is everywhere.

Her blue eyes are the color of the sky.  Her laughter is better than any bird’s song.  Her smile is brighter than the sun.

She is my world, and she is everything.

“You’re everything, Jake.”

I hold her close, sink to the floor with her, rock her back and forth.  I tell myself to let her go.  I tell myself she deserves better.

Much better than you.

But I just…

“I can’t.”

I can’t walk away.

“I can’t walk away from you.”

I can’t let her go.

“I can’t let you go, Simi.”

I want her to have better.

“You deserve better.”

But I can’t leave her.

“Please don’t leave me.”

Please don’t go, Simone.

Her name means ‘one who hears.’

She has heard me.  She has heard me call out for her so many times.  She has heard my plea for her to stay, and has been faithful.

She is mine.

“Jake…”

I brace myself, wait for her to tell me that she’s going to leave.  I wait for those words that I know will eventually come – even if they do not come tonight, as we sit on the floor of our apartment, shards of glass from her coffee cup on one side, a photo album opened to a picture of us from her friend Hadley’s wedding on the other.

The good and the bad.

The better and the worse.

I refuse to marry her until I am better.  I refuse to promise to her that I will be faithful to her until I can really be faithful to her.

She’d marry me in this moment if I told her that was what I wanted.

“I’m here, Jake.”

I release my breath.  I hold her close.  I scoop her up into my arms and cradle her.  I kiss her face and tell her that I’m sorry.  I apologize all over myself.

“I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I’m not good enough.

“I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I keep straying.

“I’m sorry.”

I’m sorry I won’t marry you.

Loving her was the easiest decision I ever made.  But so was hurting her.  Each time, it’s happened by chance, easily, so easily I don’t realize it’s happening until after it’s already happened.  She deserves so much better.

But instead she chooses to stay with me.

“It’s okay,” she tells me.

it’s okay that you hurt me.

“It’s okay.”

it’s okay that you stray.

“It’s okay.”

it’s okay that you won’t marry me.

And then she says the words she always says, the ones that bring me the most comfort when I am not sure where she stands.

“More.”

This is her vow, even though she can’t make vows to me.  This is her plea, her way of asking me to stop straying, to stop hurting her.

I tell myself this time is the last time as I carry her to bed.  I tell myself that this is all I need – this bright, beautiful girl who brought life back to my world.  I tell myself that as long as there is Simone, there is no pain.

There will always be Simone.

“Always.”

you’ll never know

You look across the room and smile at the man who’s been your entire world for more than a decade.  He looks up, just knowing you’re looking at him, too, and winks.

“Well you’ve certainly done well for yourself.”

You don’t know the name of the man standing in front of you, but he’s some higher up with some firm at a competing company, and your best friend told you to play nice.  He hasn’t made the comment out of turn.  He is genuinely complimenting you on your accomplishments.

“Thank you, sir,” you tell him, offering him one of your dazzling smiles.  “It means a lot coming from someone as talented as you.”

“Simi.”

Jake greets you with a kiss on the cheek.  He wraps an arm around your waist, greeting the man you’re speaking to with a handshake.  “Nice to meet you,” he says.  “I’m Jacob Wessner, Simone’s husband.”

The man lights up then, and inundates you with questions.  Where did you meetHow did you meetHow long have you been married?

             Montauk.

             It’s actually a funny story.

             She cornered me.

             I sought you out.  I just couldn’t see you and not introduce myself.

             I’m glad she did.

             Married about six months now.

The man laughs along with you, taken in by your story.  It’s rare to see two people so obviously in love.

The two of you share a look.  Your husband’s wedding ring catches your eye and you are, not for the first time, completely taken aback at all that has happened, all that has transpired.

He walked away.  You walked away.

You came back.  He came back.

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

It took ten years and one failed marriage, but you finally got it together.  He finally married you, after he came out of surgery and went to rehab and testified in court and waited for the guy who shot him to be sentenced to twenty years in prison with the possibility of parole in fifteen.

It took a village, as your other best friend said to you the day you married him.  You were married in Montauk, in the exact same place he kissed you when you were seventeen, before you were even old enough to know what love was.

Exactly eleven years to the day after he kissed you on the beach, he married you.

It took a village indeed.

The man you were talking to excuses himself and you turn to look at your husband.  He’s in his nicest suit, wearing a green shirt you bought him on your most recent trip to Texas to visit your stepsister and take care of things with some new talent signed with your label.  You’re wearing a green dress, too, loving that the two of you selected your outfits without even consulting one another.

             Great minds, Simi, he’d said to you.

“Few more schmoozes and I think we’ll be good to go,” you tell him.  You straighten his tie and smooth your hands over his shirt.  He looks amazing.

“You look even more amazing,” he says to you, and you blush, still not accustomed to him showering you with this much affection.

He really did change, though, after you left him, after you married someone else, after you told him that he needed to get his act together or lose you forever.

He follows you around the room as you kiss up to the executives your best friend didn’t want to face tonight.  He is the doting husband, though he isn’t playing a part.  He is genuinely happy for your success, proud of your accomplishments, listing them off without even having to look at a piece of paper to remind him of what you’ve done.

He knows you.  He’s always known you.  You wonder for about the thousandth time why he picked you, why he stayed.  You don’t need an answer to that, though, because he asks you the same thing every day, and your answer is always the same.

”More,” you say to him after you both settle into the town car waiting for you after the party.  He is watching you, having just asked you for the billionth time what you see in him.

You will always see more.  You will always love him more.  You will always choose him, even if, as you’d put it so many years ago, the Queen herself showed up.  He is yours.  You are his.  There is no question.

And he leaves it at that.  He does not push you for any more details.  He doesn’t ask you if you’re sure – though you know he will at some point in the coming days.  He accepts your explanation the way he’d accept it if you told him the sky was purple.

Because he loves you just as much – if not more so, you realize as you both make your way to your bedroom later in the evening. After all, he was the one who waited for you while you were married to someone else.  He allowed you to see what else was out there.  He didn’t push you then – though he certainly doesn’t mind doing it now.  You don’t mind, though.  He pushes you, and you push right back.

             Fire and ice baby, he’d said to you long ago.  You both run hot and cold, but you both know there isn’t anywhere else in the world you’d rather be than with each other.

The New York City skyline is visible from your bedroom and you thank him again for having the presence of mind to get this place when it was available – even though the two of you weren’t together at the time.

“Of course,” he replies as he comes up behind you and wraps his arms around you.  You lean into him, relishing the feel of his arms around you.  He is your one in ten billion.

And you are his everything.

“My reason for existing,” he whispers to you before kissing your cheek.

You stand and look out the window a few minutes more before climbing into bed.  You snuggle close to him, and he envelopes you.  He is all over – and always will be.  He will always be what you want.

And while the thought would scare a normal person, it doesn’t frighten you.  Eleven years later, and he still gives you goosebumps, makes your insides gooey.  He still gives you butterflies.

             Mine, mine, mine, you whispered to him the first night of your honeymoon.  Tonight, he repeats the sentiment, and tells you that he’s so proud of you.

You tell him you’re proud of him, too, and that you’ll never love anyone else.  He is your forever.  He is your safe haven.  He is yours, and you tell him that the greatest feat you ever accomplished is not the numerous journalism accolades you’ve received over the years, but the fact that you have the love of this man.  You can’t imagine what your life would be like without him.

“You’ll never know,” he says to you as you drift off to sleep in his arms.

             You’ll.

             Never.

             Know.