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Funny Story: Chapter 37


“HI,” I SAY, when I’m finally right in front of him, that last yard of silent eye contact having taken somewhere between eleven seconds and fourteen years.

He rubs the side of his head. “Hi.”

Neither of us rushes to fill the pause.

My heart feels like a flame, burning higher, higher, higher.

I clear my throat. “Are you up for a walk?”

He seems surprised. “Are you?”

“Unless you just want to go collapse into bed, yeah.” Ears suddenly fiery hot, I add, “If you need to sleep, I mean.”

“I drank so much Red Bull I could sprint right now,” he says. “But I also might have a heart attack.”

“You’re in luck,” I tell him. “The library paid for me to get CPR certified.”

He smiles. “Then what are we waiting for?”

Nothing, I guess.

Out on the water, a couple of boats drift, but still, it feels like just the two of us in a world that’s fast asleep.

We wander along the lake’s edge, and the silence doesn’t feel awkward. It’s its own kind of conversation, a reintroduction after our time apart.

“Thank you for being there last night,” I finally say.

“I was always going to be,” he says. “Just so you know. No matter what, I would’ve been there.”

I blink back the rising tears. “I know.”

“Elda, Katya, and Banks, on the other hand,” he says, “getting them to help took bartering.”

“Well, Elda at least will probably let you off the hook,” I say. “She and my boss were really hitting it off.”

“They were cute,” Miles agrees.

Another few minutes pass. We turn up a side street. My heart is vibrating. I take a deep breath, slowly release it. “I know you went to see my dad.”

Miles’s gaze slices toward me. He stops. “I’m sorry. I should have asked you before I did that. It was stupid.”

“I understand why you didn’t,” I say. “Really.”

The grooves at the inside corners of his brows soften. “The other night . . . I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t wake up and panic. I woke up . . . happy. Happier than I can remember being.”

He rubs the back of his head. “And then Petra called, and she was sobbing. So hard I couldn’t understand her. I’d never seen her cry before. I honestly thought someone had died. She asked if I could come see her, and I said yes. Because I was worried. I still care about her.”

“I know you do,” I say thickly.

“I got to Peter’s place and she was sitting out front . . .” He lets out an exasperated breath. His eyes cut up to me, watching for a reaction. “She told me they broke up.”

I don’t say anything.

“You don’t seem surprised,” he says.

“I’m not,” I say. “Peter told me.”

Something flashes across his face, too quick for me to read. “Right,” he says softly. He rubs the back of his head, nodding a few more times. He clears his throat, but it stays hoarse: “So you’ve talked.”

“He came by,” I say.

His gaze sweeps to our feet, and he nods again.


His dark eyes lift to mine, faintly glossed.

“Shit, what’s wrong?” I can’t help it; I reach for him, slide my hands up to his shoulders.

“Nothing.” He forces a smile. “I’m happy for you.”

“Happy for me?” I say.

He flushes. “I mean, if you guys are . . .”

“If we’re what?”

His teeth scrape over his bottom lip.

“Oh my god!” Understanding clatters through me. “Miles, no. You don’t think that Peter and I are . . . Absolutely not.” I actually laugh. And then a horrible thought causes me a full-body twitch. “Wait—you and Petra aren’t—”

No,” he says, shaking his head. “When I got over there, she was trying to tell me how the whole thing was a mistake. So I told her about you.”

“That we slept together?” I say, bewildered.

He gives a surprised laugh. “No, Daphne. That I love you.”

Hearing it again feels like swallowing a lit lightbulb. “Oh.”

“I didn’t mean to tell her first.” The tops of his cheeks redden. “That I’m in love with you.”

My eyes sting. My limbs go shivery and a heaviness presses in on my chest.

He loves me. Present tense.

And I love him. He knows me, and I see him.

“And when I told Petra . . .” He swallows. “I guess—she kind of got into my head. I mean, I was already in my head, but she said things that fucked with me.”

“What do you mean?” I say.

His expression verges on pained.

“You can tell me,” I promise.

“It’s just,” he says, “Peter told her about your dad. And Petra started saying this stuff, about how you’d been through too much. That you weren’t the kind of person who could deal with uncertainty. She and I are, but not you and Peter.”

“And what, she’s the expert on what I can and can’t deal with?” I ask.

He smiles faintly. His hands circle my wrists, his thumbs running up and down my veins as his face softens. “They broke up because Petra decided she didn’t want kids, and Peter did.”

“Oh,” I say.

His gaze drops, his touch stilling. “And she reminded me that’s something that matters to you too. And I already knew that. It wasn’t a surprise. But . . .” He chews on his bottom lip, his gaze so warm and fluid I feel like I could swan-dive into it, like it would rush up to meet me on every side.

“She pointed out that I’m not exactly equipped for that,” he murmurs, “and all I could think about was her family, and what they thought of me. They were nice, but they never thought I was good enough. And then there’s my family shit, and everything your dad’s put you through. And I just thought . . .” His Adam’s apple bobs. “Suddenly it seemed selfish of me. To love you.”

At the tenderness in his face and touch, the need in his expression, my heart cracks.

“To try to be with you, when I know what you want,” he says under his breath. “I can’t give you a family like the Collinses or the Comers. I feel like . . . like there’s so much space between who I am and who I want to be, and there’s no one to show me how to get there. And it doesn’t really make sense, but I thought . . . maybe if I could get through to your dad, if I could help fix that, then it would prove I’m capable. Of giving you everything you want.”

Miles,” I begin.

That’s why I freaked out,” he continues. “And as soon as I saw you again, I felt so stupid. Because I’d spent the last two days acting like you were Petra.

“Because deep down, she always thought she was settling, and so I did too. I always felt like I was making up for something, or trying to win her. And I thought that made me lucky, to be with someone who chose me even though no one in her life ‘got it.’ ”

His voice thickens: “I didn’t learn what love was supposed to feel like. It doesn’t feel natural, or come easily to me, to let anyone close. But you—you make love so easy, Daphne. You make me think I already deserve it, exactly how I am.

“And I feel lucky every time you look at me. Not because I think I’ve managed to earn you, but because it feels like you don’t need me to. Like you just . . . like me.” He shakes his head, voice fraying as he corrects himself: “Like you love me. That’s how I feel with you.

“And I know I’m not who you pictured yourself with, but I think I could be, eventually. If you’ll let me. So don’t go. Because I don’t want you to. Because you’re my best friend, and I’m in love with you.”

“Miles,” I say again.

“I know we’re really different,” he says, “but I love all the things about you that aren’t like me. I love that you feel your feelings. I love that you know what you want. I love that you’re always where you say you’ll be, when you say you’ll be there.”

Miles.” His brows pinch together, a mix of hope and fear on his face that I feel deep in my own gut. “Can I show you something?”

His features flatten. After a second, he nods.

I take his hand, his pulse thundering into my palm, as I lead him down the sidewalk. We turn right at the cross street and stop, at the house on the corner, facing the broken gate and crooked For Sale sign.

His eyes dart to the front door, then back to me.

“You’re right,” I say.

He blinks.

“When I moved here,” I say, “I had a picture in my head. I knew exactly what my house was going to look like, and who I’d spend the holidays with, and I knew who we’d go out with on the weekends, and I had an idea of how many kids I’d have and even what their names would be. I could basically picture every single day of the rest of my life.

“I’m not spontaneous,” I say. “Surprises make me nervous, and I’ve moved around too much to want to, like, live in a van, or backpack for months.”

“I don’t need that,” Miles rasps. “I don’t think I even want that anymore, if I ever did.”

“That’s my point,” I say.

He shakes his head once, brow knitted tight.

“I knew exactly what to expect for the rest of my life,” I explain, “and it was comforting to me. But then it blew up, and all I could think about was running, getting away from the mess. Then one day, after we started getting close, I was walking to work, and I saw this house.”

My voice goes husky. “It was the first time in a year that I wanted something new. When you told me how you felt”—I swallow that same glowing lightbulb down—“that you loved me, that’s why I panicked.”

He looks toward the run-down bungalow. “Because I don’t fit.”

My throat burns, like there’s too much pressure building in my chest, steam that needs to be let out.

“Because I could see it,” I say. “Right away. I could see a whole new life, all these new things to want, and that’s fucking terrifying, Miles.”

His hands fly up to cradle my jaw. “I won’t hurt you, Daphne.”

“You don’t know that,” I whisper.

“I know how hard I’ll try,” he says. “Just stay. I love you. I want you. Stay.”

My hands climb up to the back of his neck, another uncontrollable baring of my heart.

He swallows hard. “Come home. Please.”

“I can’t.” I shake my head. Before he can argue, I go on: “No matter what you said today, I’d already made up my mind.”

He draws back, a shadow passing over his face.

I wasn’t intentionally obfuscating the point, but seeing his shattered look, I realize I’ve phrased this the worst way possible.

“No!” I say. “I mean, regardless of what happens between us, I’m not done here.”

His head just barely cocks, a wave of love pummeling me at the familiar gesture.

“I’m getting my own place,” I explain.

After a flicker of confusion, he looks sidelong toward the For Sale sign.

“Not that. I can’t afford that. I found a one-bedroom. Close to Fika.”

“I really don’t understand, Daphne.”

“You mean so much to me, Miles,” I say. “So much. But you can’t be everything. You were right that I’d love it here. I do. And you’re a huge part of why I want to build a life here. But I can’t build it around you. If this ends, I need to know that I don’t just disappear. I need to have my own stuff that’s not about anyone else. Whether it works out between us or not, I need that.”

“I want it to work,” he insists. “It can.”

“I think so too,” I promise. “I can’t imagine ever meeting anyone more wonderful than you, so if it doesn’t work, I’m going to stay single, go to a sperm bank, and get into CrossFit.”

A goofy smile overtakes his face. “You really think so?”

“Not the CrossFit part. I’m incredibly lazy,” I say. “But the rest of it. You’re wonderful. You’re the reason for the word wonderful. It really shouldn’t be used for anything else. You make me want to see the best in everyone. You’re the person I want to be with when everything’s going wrong, instead of just wanting to skip over those times entirely. I love that you’re so present that you always forget to keep track of your phone, and I love that when you’re late, you never make excuses but you always have a good reason.

“You’re the most generous person I’ve ever met, even to people who’ve given you no reason to be generous, and you always come through for the people you care about. I honestly can’t totally figure out why someone as good as you would love me, when I can be kind of a pessimistic asshole. But I do feel like the luckiest person in the world, to be who you want. Because I want you too. I love you too. I love you in a way that feels brand-new. You make every single thing that went wrong feel like it was just a step in the right direction, and it—it makes me excited. For life to keep surprising me.

“You aren’t what I pictured,” I say. “You are so, so, so much better than what my cynical little brain could’ve ever come up with.” My voice wavers and cracks at the end, and even if I knew what to say next, I don’t think I’d be able to get it out.

Miles studies me, his eyes soft now as I try to pull myself together. He tugs my hands up to his chest, holding them over his heart.

“That’s it?” he asks quietly. “That’s the speech?”

“It was longer than that, but I’ve slept like four hours in the last three days, so that’s what’s left in my brain,” I say scratchily. “You’re so nice and so hot and so fun and funny, and you smell really good, and the brownies you made for last night were amazing.”

“And you love me,” he says softly.

“So much,” I agree, “I feel like, why would anyone who can’t date you even bother dating? And somehow, you like me.”

Love,” he corrects. “Somehow, you love me.

“I do,” I tell him.

I do. I am. Right now. Every muscle in my body is busy loving him, on the sidewalk in front of my new dream house, the first rays of a new morning filtering across the street.

One of his hands pulls free from the tangle of our fingers and slides into my hair.

“Can we go home now?” he asks.

“Actually,” I say, “my apartment isn’t ready until next week.”

“In that case,” he says, “do you want to come back to my place?”

“Can we lock Julia out for a while?”

He laughs. “We’ll send her to Ashleigh’s for a bit.”

“Then yes.”

He crushes me to him, a deep kiss, full of feeling: joy and fear and need and hope. A rough, no-holds-barred kiss that prompts one car rolling past to honk its horn, the automobile equivalent of a wolf whistle, or maybe a scolding.

We pull back smiling, our foreheads resting together. We smile and breathe and touch one another and dream about the future without saying any of it aloud.

Summer turning into fall. Trips with Ashleigh and Mulder to the apple orchards an hour south. Bonfires with Julia as the air chills and the leaves blaze into color. Poker nights with cigar smoke thick in the air and long morning walks with hot chai from Fika in hand.

And even the hellish cold of winter. A new apartment, complete with gas fireplace. Bundled hikes through feet of snow, Miles and I slipping out of our clothes and under the sheets to warm each other.

And things I can’t dream up too. The ways it will all go wrong, and the beauty that can only happen in the wake.

A second act I fell into, and the home that I chose, as much as it chose me.

I can’t wait. I can’t wait for this whole world I’ve invited to surprise me.


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