Page 70 of Before (After 5)

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“What is with that, anyway?”

“I don’t know, really. I guess you just never know when you’ll need clothes.” She’s nosy, so nosy. I keep clothes in the trunk of my car for many reasons; most of them she surely wouldn’t like to know. “Let’s go to the store and get all the shit we need for the kitchen and some food,” I suggest.

Tessa turns to me when we step into the lobby. “Okay. Can I drive your car again?”

“I don’t know . . .” I tease her. But of course she can drive it.

part three


He was finally becoming the man he’d never known he could be. His rage was channeled into his writing, and he was becoming proud of the person he was. She was the only reason his life turned out this way, and he would fall at her knees and thank her every second if he could. She stayed by him until it was no longer good for either of them, and then she gave him time to sort his life out on his own. She supported his choices month in and month out and never failed to make him strive for more.

During that time, each month he was sober, he would get a card in the mail, the old-fashioned way, with her name and a heart. He knew her well enough to be sure that the two years they spent apart weren’t easy for her. It was hell for her, eternal purgatory for him.

When the handwritten words from his binder became lines on a printed page, she didn’t call for a week. He knew she read the book, and he was sure she spent the entire week pacing around the small apartment she shared with his brother. He had moved into a new place by then, adjusting to a windy city with tall buildings and an overabundance of hot dogs and baseball. It didn’t feel like home there, though she visited him more times than he deserved. His days went on like this, working, waiting for her to call or email, planning for the next time he’d be able to see her. As he became more and more worthy of her, he started to like the man he saw in the mirror each morning.

When that week was over and she finally did call, her voice cracked on her first word, and he couldn’t find the right thing to tell her. He wanted her to understand that no two people were more right for one another. She congratulated him on his book, but with a cool distance. He grew tired, wondering if this would be his life, alone in a high-rise apartment eating takeout while watching reruns of Friends.

Weeks later, he couldn’t stop his heart from racing when she called to tell him about her visit to his city, how there was a wedding she needed a date for. She danced with him the entire night and lay beneath him in his bed for three days . . .

Until she left, taking his heart with her.

He visited her next, in chaotic New York City, and was impressed with her new life. But he missed his place in it. She had a good thing going there: friends and family. He had an imaginary life with her, and he was waiting for her to come around and make it a reality. Seeing it as his only hope for a good life, he continued to show her that he was a better person than he used to be. Much better. More alive.

At some point, his development as a human being, and the ways it showed in his behavior with other people, started to make him feel valuable, and with that came heavier responsibilities. His brother suffered a heartbreak, and he made sure he was available to talk and help him through it. In different ways, big and small, he found himself feeling of use to his family.

He was the best man at his brother’s wedding. She was there, glowing with her love for him, and somehow they both realized, mercifully, that their separation had run its course. They were both grown now, more equipped to handle the world together. He had stopped being selfish; she had figured out who she was. The time apart had done them good, but they were ready to begin their lives together.

Together, they suffered heartache—greater than any they had caused each other in their early years—and sometimes they didn’t know if they could go on. On the loneliest day of all, when he packed up the room of their lost child, he wondered if he was being punished, if his past sins were the reasons why they had to deal with such a loss.

The day his first child was born, so was he. Reborn, alive again. He had come such a long way, and he had changed. Reaching both a deeper and a higher level of love and understanding became possible for him. The little girl’s fingers were small, but she had wrapped them around his heart. He watched the girl he had loved for years turn into a woman, and then a mother to his child. There was nothing more beautiful than that . . .

Until she became a mum a second time, to their little boy.

As their children grew older, this new man and his woman . . . they somehow felt younger, falling in love all over again each day.

He felt so lucky, so gifted, so tremendously proud of the life they built together; he couldn’t believe what a lucky bastard he was.


Every novel has its own take on the romantic hero. Most novels use that classic trope that we’ve all grown tired of: the Love Triangle. Wickham lied about Darcy’s father to gain Elizabeth’s affections. Jay Gatsby wined and dined Daisy Buchanan, offering her a life her husband, Tom, couldn’t. Linton was the safe choice of my favorite heroine, Catherine Earnshaw, who chose him over a life of destructive passion with Heathcliff. Even a tan and buff werewolf boy tried to win the ever-so-witty Bella Swan’s heart over that sparkly ancient vampire lover dude.

It’s been done over and over again, and since he’d lived this through story after story, he thought it laughable when he found himself in his own real, actual love triangle. In his own story, the bad-boy-turned-wannabe-saint with daddy issues tries to keep the stubborn innocent virgin away from the trendy and emotional boy who wants to save the flowers and the planet all in a day’s work. The classics end with most of the aforementioned characters’ deaths, or the birth of half-vampire babies, but they all have a common theme: one of the two men never stands a chance, and when it came to his relationship with her, he didn’t know if how much she cared for him would mean he would win out in the end.

Still, they deserve props, the other guys who get back out into the game after losing to the obvious suitor.

Another party. Another overcrowded party where everyone does the same shit on a different day. Drinks are poured into red cups, and the music blasts from room after room. Every person I pass as I walk down the hallway looks even more bored than the last, so I find it odd that this year’s kickoff party is much more crowded than last year’s. Where do all the people come from? Has everyone become so bored with themselves that they cling to a large group of other people pretending to have amazing social lives? I’m beginning to see that’s all college is. Washington is very different from where I grew up in Florida, but colleges seem to be the same everywhere you go.