I stepped back out into the fresh air, crossing my arms over my chest. Bad timing, again. It was hard not to think this was some kind of cue from the universe, letting me know that this wasn’t the right thing to do. I tried, and failed. There. It was over.
But God! Who could live like this, anyway, with the kind of guesswork that was enough to make a person crazy, just sailing along, taking the bumps here and there, no course navigated whatsoever, with any big wave capable of just tipping and sinking you entirely. It was madness, stupidity, and-
Then I saw him. Sitting there on the curb, under a streetlight, knees pulled up to his chest. And for one second, it was like I could feel the timing clicking together, finally, pieces falling into place. Behind me, the best man was winding up his toast, his voice sounding tight, emotional. To the happy couple, he said, and everyone repeated it, their voices blending as one. To the happy couple.
And then I was walking toward Dexter, folding my fingers tight into my hands. I could hear the cheers as the bridal couple cut their cake. So I took the last few steps of this long journey fast, almost running, before plunking myself down and knocking into Dexter, just enough to tip his balance for a second. Because I knew, now, this was how it had to begin. The only way was to crash in.
I knocked him sideways, startling him. But once he got his equilibrium, and his wits, back, he just looked at me. Not even one word. Because we knew it had to come from me this time.
“Hey,” I said.
I took in his dark curls, the smell of his skin, that cheap tuxedo with the loose threads on the cuff. He was just looking at me, not pulling back, but not moving closer either. And I felt a sudden whirl in my head, knowing this leap was now inevitable, that I wasn’t just on the cliff, toes poking over, but already in midair.
“Did you really believe, that first day, that we were meant to be together?” I asked him.
He looked at me and then said, “You’re here, aren’t you?”
There was only so much space between us, not even a real distance if measured in miles or feet or even inches, all the things that told you how far you’d come or had left to go. But this was a big space, if only for me. And as I moved forward to him, covering it, he waited there on the other side. It was only the last little bit I had to go, but in the end, I knew it would be all I would truly remember. So as I kissed him, bringing this summer and everything else full circle, I let myself fall, and was not scared of the ground I knew would rise up to meet me. Instead, I just pulled him closer, my hand sliding up around his neck to find that one place where I could feel his heartbeat pulsing. It was fast, like my own, and finding it, I pressed down hard, as if it was all that connected us, and kept my finger there.
Melanie knew she had a choice. There was a time when she would have run after Luc, and the security he’d provided. And in another, more distant past, Brock would have seemed like the answer to all the questions that still woke her in the night, heart racing, wondering how she’d gotten here. The choice was clear, and yet not clear at all. As Melanie boarded the train that would take her to the station in Paris, she picked a window compartment and sank into the seat, pressing one hand against the glass. The countryside would soon slip away, replaced by the beautiful skylines that were the backdrop for so much of her past. She had the entire trip to figure out what her next step should be. And as the train pulled away, gaining speed, she settled back into her seat, relishing only the forward motion, as it pulled her toward her destiny.
I looked up to see my roommate, Angela, standing in the open doorway of our room. “Yeah?”
“Mail call.” She came over and sat down beside me, dealing out envelopes into two piles. “School crap. Credit card offer. Something from the Jehovah’s Witnesses… that must be yours…”
“Finally,” I said. “I’ve been waiting for that forever.” Angela was from L.A., taught aerobics part-time, and never made her bed. She wasn’t a perfect match for me, but we got along okay.
“Oh, and this big one’s yours,” she said, sliding a large manila envelope out from under the calculus textbook she was carrying. “How’s the book?”
“It’s good,” I said, marking my page and shutting it. It was only a bound galley of Barbara Starr’s newest, The Choice, but already three girls on my hall had asked me to borrow it when I was done. I was thinking, though, that they would be surprised by the ending, just as my mother’s editor and publisher had been. I’d been a little shocked myself, reading the manuscript on the plane on the way out to school. I mean, in romance novels you just expected the heroine to end up with a man, some man, at the end. But Melanie, instead, made the choice of no choice, packing up her Paris memories and heading across the world to start anew with no lingering loves to hold her back. Not bad for an ending, I thought. It was, after all, the one I’d planned for myself, not too long ago.
Angela left the room, headed to the library, as I picked up the manila envelope and opened it, dumping its contents into my lap. The first thing I saw was a bunch of pictures, bound with a rubber band: the one on the top was of me, squinting, the sun bright in my face. There was something wrong with the picture, though: it seemed out of balance. There was also a blurred edge on the top, and a weird kind of afterimage splayed across the left side. They were all a bit off, I realized, as I flipped through them. Most of them were of Dexter, and a few of me, with several featuring John Miller. Some were of inanimate objects, like a tire or a tangerine, with the same defects. Finally, I realized what they were, remembering all those warped wedding cameras Dexter and the rest of them had been toting around most of the summer. So the pictures had come out, after all, just as Dexter had predicted. They weren’t perfect, though, as I’d maintained. In the end, like so much else, they were good enough.
The other thing in the envelope was a CD wrapped in cardboard, taped carefully. The label on it said RUBBER RECORDS, and, beneath that, in smaller letters, TRUTH SQUAD. I knew the first cut well: it was called “Potato Song, Part One.” I knew the second song even better.
I picked up my Walkman and slid on the headphones, pressing the CD in and hitting play. It made that little whirring sound, finding the tracks, and then I pressed past cut one, as I knew most people would eventually do, to call up the second song. Then I lay back across my bed, hearing the opening chords, and picked up the last picture in the stack.