When I hear my parents’ truck drive up to the house, I close my laptop and peek through the window to see Noah helping Curt out the car while my mom holds onto his crutches for him.
Ever since the wedding took place a few days ago, Curt has been complaining about his ankle, always grunting and moaning whenever he took more than a few steps. It took my mother’s constant badgering for him to finally see a doctor this afternoon. And by the looks of it, she was right to be concerned. As they walk up to the porch, I rush downstairs to see if they need any help.
“It serves you right, old man. Acting the fool at Daisy’s wedding. You’re no spring chicken to be dancing like that, you know?” Noah teases Curt as he helps his father maneuver his crutches through the living room to settle him on the couch.
“Totally worth it,” Curt says proudly as Noah elevates his leg onto a pillow on top of the coffee table.
“What did the doctor say?” I ask worriedly, announcing my presence.
“Unfortunately, he fractured a few bones in his ankle. Nothing that won’t heal with time, but he’ll be housebound for a few months,” my mother explains, squeezing her husband’s shoulders affectionately.
“I think it was me trying to do the dougie, or it might have been the moonwalk. It was definitely not the cabbage patch. I nailed that one.” Curt winks at me.
“No words that you just said right now is what any son wants to hear come out of their father’s mouth. Just want to be clear on that,” Noah taunts with a smirk.
“Always busting my chops, this kid. I have no idea how you put up with him, Skylar,” Curt teases back.
“Oh, he has his moments.” I smile widely.
If I thought Curt would object to me being with his son, I was dead wrong. At the end of the day, I should have known not to worry about that. He just wants us to be happy. And if it’s with each other, then so be it. It also doesn’t hurt that we’re both grown adults. I’m sure if Curt had found out about us while we were still teenagers living under his roof, he wouldn’t have been as tolerant. But then again, no real father ever wants to imagine his daughters in compromising positions with a boy—especially if that boy is their stepbrother.
“All jokes aside, this fractured ankle couldn’t come at a worse time,” Curt states flatly, his tone no longer playful.
“Right. The last big shrimp haul before winter,” Noah mutters under his breath, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Yep. After this month, fishing for seafood will be a no go. Just too damn dangerous with hurricane season coming. Gotta make do with cod, halibut, and striped bass, I guess,” Curt laments. “With my ankle all banged up, I don’t see another way other than to call off the whole expedition. There’s no way my crew could go out on their own without an experienced captain on board.”
“Can’t you ask one of your captain friends to fill in for you?” I ask, sensing that this fishing expedition is make or break for Curt.
“No. All of them already went out weeks ago,” Noah interjects. “Dad was the only one to postpone his, since it conflicted with Daisy’s wedding.”
“Oh.” I chew nervously on my lip.
All the years I’ve lived in a fisherman’s house, I’m still very clueless as to all the labors and hardships that go with it.
“That’s right. And because of it, now nine of my crew and their families are going to have to suffer.” Curt lets out a deep exhale. “But I don’t see any other way. This is going to hurt like hell, but it has to be done. Hand me my phone, Clara. Might as well get this over with now and let my men know they no longer have to prepare my boat. No one’s going anywhere, it seems.”
“Wait,” Noah interjects before my mom has time to move and grab Curt’s phone for him. “I can go. I can captain the boat. It’s not like I haven’t had years of practice.”
Curt shakes his head.
“No. You have your own concerns, like getting your own ship ready for your big voyage. Your days of fishing are long over, son.”
“I still have plenty of time to get the Royal Shank ready. Besides, these are people’s lives we are talking about. Your crew’s families. I know most of them need this income to make ends meet for the rest of the year. You know as well as I do that your men need this. I got this, Dad. Don’t call anything off. Consider it my parting gift to you and them for putting up with me all these years out at sea.”
Curt frowns, still looking unhappy with Noah’s resolution to his problem.
And if I’m honest, I’m not too sure I’m on board with it either.
“Dad, look at me. I got this,” Noah insists, his expression dipped in steel resolve.
“I do hate letting the crew down,” Curt mumbles, stroking his chin as he considers his son’s proposition. “You sure you’re up for it?”
“Then I guess it’s settled.”
“Great. When are we supposed to sail out?” Noah asks.
“You boys leave on the eighteenth, and if all goes well, you should return home by the twenty-sixth.”
“But that’s just three days from now,” I stammer, then kick myself for the selfish outburst.
What Noah is trying to do is noble. He wants to make sure that no family goes without.
And here I am, selfishly not wanting him to go just to stay with me.
If I had already decided that I’d take the leap of faith and said yes to his offer of going with him to New Zealand like he asked, then I wouldn’t feel like there was a ticking clock on our relationship. Though Noah said he’d be happy to postpone his dream voyage just so we could continue to work on our relationship, it feels unfair of me to ask that of him. Especially considering that he’s already proven to me that he’s not above sacrificing his happiness for mine. I won’t be responsible for stealing his dream of the Grand Prix just because I’m still working through my trust issues.
“The twenty-sixth?” Noah repeats, troubled, his forehead wrinkling.
And that’s when it hits me.
His mother’s birthday is on the twenty-sixth of September.
‘Go,” I suddenly hear myself say. “Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll make sure to keep her company.”
“You will?” Noah asks, his gaze filled with so much love for me that even our parents have to look away, so they don’t feel like they are intruding in our moment.
“Hmm.” I nod.
“Thank you,” he whispers back.
Both our parents still have their heads hung low when Noah quickly diverts the conversation back to his father so they can go over all the logistics and plans for the expedition. Mom and I leave them to it, knowing that everything they are about to talk about will go over our heads.
While Mom goes into the kitchen to fix us dinner, I walk back upstairs to finish the chapter I’m currently writing. Ironic that it’s the one where I found a heart-stricken Noah all alone in a cemetery, rain pouring down his face to camouflage his tears. It takes me a few hours to finish the chapter as my own tears blur my vision, hurting for the boy who loved his mother so much that he promised he’d never leave her alone on her birthday. Not even after her soul parted from this earth.
“Hey,” Noah calls out, poking his head in the door. “Is it safe to come in, or are you in the zone?”
I love how he cares enough to ask, not wanting to interrupt my writing process in any way.
“I’m good.” I wipe my eyes while closing the laptop.
“You sure, little stalker?’ he drawls, walking up to my seated form and tilting my head back with his gentle grip on my chin. “Your eyes look awfully red and puffy for someone who says she’s all good.”
“Tears are part of the process of writing. You can’t help but be invested in the characters. They hold a little piece of you inside them. And let’s just say, these characters’ lives hit a little close to home for me to be immune to their plight and not shed a few tears for them.”
“Hmm.” He smirks, caressing my chin with his thumb. “So we’re still pretending that the book you’re writing isn’t about us, huh?”
My jaw instantly drops to the floor.
“How did I know?” He smiles broadly. “I doubt there is anything in this world you could hide from me, little stalker. I know you. And I know your heart. And…well… maybe I took a little peek at it when you were sleeping.”
“You didn’t!” I slap him, laughing.
“What can I say? You’re my favorite writer. There was no way I could hold off reading it with the rest of the masses. Besides, shouldn’t one of the perks of me being your boyfriend be that I can read your books before the rest of the world gets a chance to?”
“Boyfriend? How come that name doesn’t seem right for you? That the title boyfriend and girlfriend doesn’t seem to do justice to what we have?” I ask adoringly, transfixed by his loving eyes alone.
“Because it’s not,” he retorts simply. “Because calling you my soulmate is too strong a word for society to accept even though it’s true. Because the velvet box with my mother’s engagement ring is still locked away in my bedside drawer instead of on your finger like it should be. But we can change all of that and find the right word for us when you’re ready.”
“No pressure,” I croak back, the weight of his words pressing down on my heart.
“No pressure, baby. Not with us. We have all our lives to figure shit out,” he says, as he presses a loving kiss to my forehead.
“I’m going to miss you when you leave,” I whisper, feeling his absence already.
“Fucking hope so, since I’m going to miss the fuck out of you.” Noah chuckles, tapping his finger on the tip of my nose.
“Forever the hopeless romantic.”
“Who needs that shit when we got this?” he says before leaning in again only this time to deliver a deviant kiss to my lips so decadent my toes curl.
“Hmm. You’ve always had a way with words,” I whisper breathlessly after such a kiss.
“You know what else I’m good at?” He wiggles his brows as he licks his lips. “My tongue is pretty good at other things, too. Not just talking.”
And before I know it, Noah picks me up off the chair and plants my ass on the desk, spreading my legs out wide as he kneels before me, while making a show of stripping me of my panties.
“How’s this for romance?” He smirks before burying his head between my thighs.
My head rolls back as I let his wicked tongue do its worst. But with each long stroke and graze to my clit, I become a wanton mess, pulling at his hair, needing him to end my misery and fuck me already.
“Noah,” I plead as he thrashes his tongue inside me. “I need you.”
“I’m here, baby. I’m here,” he reassures, standing back up and sliding me off the table.
In one quick move, he spins me around and places my palms flat on the desk.
“Hold on,” he says while lifting my skirt up and positioning the crown of his cock to my soaked entrance.
I bite down on my bottom lip as he hisses while slowly thrusting deep inside me.
“Fuck. How the fuck will I be able to survive the following week without this? I’m going to go fucking crazy,” he curses as he begins to increase his tempo.
“Me too,” I wail as he pounds into my pussy with total abandon.
“Are you going to miss my cock, little stalker? Miss how it fills you up? Miss how it makes you pant and moan for more?”
“Fuck. Even your ass looks good for a pounding,” he grunts before slapping my ass cheek hard, making my pussy convulse around his cock.
Noah pulls my hair back, so his lips are right at my ear, his fingers digging into my waist as his other hand toys with my clit.
“You’re going to have to be quiet, baby. Mommy and Daddy are downstairs. Wouldn’t want them to come up and see their precious little girl get fucked raw, now would we?”
His kinky dirty talk only inflames me more.
“Noah,” I moan, needing him to push me over the edge.
“Hmm. Are you hurting, baby?” he goads, fisting my hair.
“Do you need me to take the ache away?”
“Yes, please,” I beg, so close to the edge I can almost taste it on my lips.
“Okay, baby. I got you,” he promises, biting my shoulder as his deft fingers strum my clit to perfection.
His punishing cock continues to pound inside me in ways that should be outlawed, while the sound of flesh slapping against flesh becomes my favorite soundtrack of all time. The air in the room around us smells of sex and heady desire, intoxicating all my senses, pushing me further and further, until I’m unsure where Noah ends and I begin.
“Fuck, I love you, Sky. You’re fucking perfect,” he grunts, lost in the trance of our lovemaking.
My legs begin to shake, my whole body starting to convulse as the orgasm hits me with such force that my knees threaten to buckle. Noah covers my mouth with his hand, muffling my cries of ecstasy as he thrusts three more times into me before he too falls off the precipice. We’re still panting away, our bodies still feeling the effects of the earth shattering sensation that just took over us, when Noah’s temple falls to the crook of my neck, holding me even more tightly from behind.
“I love you,” he rasps through his heavy breathing.
I open my mouth to say I love him too, then close my lips shut when I hear my mother call us from downstairs, saying that dinner is ready, officially ending our little moment in the sun.
But all throughout dinner and for the following three days before Noah has to leave for his fishing expedition, those three little words remained lodged in my throat, burning a hole in my soul, because I’m still too in my head to say what he already knows in his heart to be true.
I love Noah Fontaine.
He was my first love.
And he will be my last.
I shiver in my jacket as a cold violent wind blows through me, flipping the pages of the paperback I brought to read and almost tearing it apart.
“The wind is starting to pick up, Annabelle,” I say out loud as I store the book in my bag, my sight fixed on the tombstone in front of me. “But don’t you worry. I’m sure Noah must have arrived at the dock by now. Pretty soon, he’ll be here with us. He wouldn’t miss your birthday for the world.”
A smile crests my face when one of the last few green leaves that hasn’t been tainted by the upcoming autumn perches itself on my shoulder, as if Annabelle is also comforting me that Noah will be home soon, just as I’m trying to reassure her.
Like last time, I made sure to bring a cupcake and a candle to celebrate her birthday, but I haven’t had the heart to light the candle yet, hoping that Noah would make it in time. Before Noah left, he promised he’d try and get home by nightfall and meet me here in the cemetery to blow out his mom’s birthday candle with me, but as the sun begins to set on the horizon, I’m not sure he’s going to be able to keep his promise.
At least he can take some comfort in knowing I spent most of the day here. It was actually quite nice. Being alone in the cemetery with no prying eyes about, I was able to talk to Annabelle and tell her what a wonderful, kind-hearted son she has. How loyal and giving he’s become, a far cry from the stepbrother that used to bully and torment me any chance he got.
But as the wind starts to howl and every nearby tree begins to shake, I feel a pang at the pit of my stomach, telling me that something is very wrong and that it has little to do with the turning weather. No matter how hard I try, I can’t shake this eerie feeling away. And as the darkness begins to spread out in the sky above me, so does the awful feeling begin to take root inside me.
“It’s getting pretty late though, huh?” I ask out loud again, aimlessly talking to Annebelle as if she had the means to respond.
Since I’m not sure what time it is, I pick up my phone from my jacket’s inner pocket only to realize that the battery is dead.
“Damn it,” I curse out, then drop the phone to the ground when something shines so brightly at me that it steals my very sight. “Noah?” I call out, holding my forearm over my eyes to shield myself from the blinding light pointed at me.
But I am immediately disappointed when it’s my mom’s voice that replies back to me.
“Skylar! We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” she says, panicked, as I get up from my crouched position.
“Why? Is everything alright?” I ask, but when I see Curt walking ever so slowly behind my mother on crutches, that nagging feeling that has been with me all day comes at me tenfold. “Did something happen to Noah? Is everything alright, Dad? Don’t make me worry.”
“I thought I told you to stay in the car,” my mother reprimands when she sees him following her. “You shouldn’t put any weight on your ankle.”
“So you keep reminding me,” he moans. “Hey, Sky, everything is fine. And no, Noah isn’t back yet, but he should be any minute now. What troubles me more is you not being home when he gets there. Hate to break it to you, kid, but tonight’s not the best night for you to have a sleepover at a cemetery. Best we go home now.”
“But—” I turn to Annabelle’s gravestone and cake.
“No buts about it, Skylar. There is a big storm coming, and the news is telling everyone to keep safe indoors,” my mother chimes in. “We’ve been all over this island looking for you. Just dumb luck we saw Daisy’s car when we did. And thank God she lent you it while on her honeymoon, or we might have never found you in time.”
I nod sheepishly because I can hear the concern in her voice, but I hate that I have to leave when I promised Noah I’d be here upon his arrival. But if my mom is right and there is a big storm coming, then he’ll probably go straight home, hoping I wasn’t reckless enough to stay here and wait for him.
But as I’m starting to pack up my things, Curt stops me.
“Give it here, Sky,” he orders softly, pointing at the small box from a nearby bakery.
I hand him the box containing the red velvet cupcake, to which he opens it and smiles.
“Our boy found himself a keeper, Annabelle,” Curt says, taking the small cake from its confinements and placing it on the ground right next to her tombstone. “I know I’m biased, since I’m the boy’s father and all, but he turned out to be a wonderful young man. You’d be proud of him, sweetheart. He not only has your eyes but your good heart, too. I also know he misses you terribly. We all do,” he says hoarsely as he strikes a match and lights the small candle. “I did my best, Annabelle. If it weren’t for Clara and her girls, I’m not sure we would have made it. I hope that wherever you are now, looking down on us, we’ve made you proud. Happy Birthday, sweetheart.”
The wind blows out the candle as Curt wipes a stray tear from his cheek.
“Now we can go home,” he says, my mother racing to help him with his crutches.
“You might be the sweetest man ever to walk this God’s green earth, you know that, Curt Fontaine?” my mother gushes.
“Remember that when I forget to place the dishes in the sink,” he jokes.
“Come on,” she laughs, but I don’t miss how my mom discreetly turns her head towards Annabelle’s grave and whispers ‘thank you.’
I guess if it wasn’t for Annabelle, we wouldn’t have the family we have today. I think Noah’s mom would have liked to know that her two men were left in good hands. Even after everything that has happened, I hope she knows how blessed we all are and what a fixture she still is in our lives.
When we get home a few minutes later, I’m disappointed to see Noah hasn’t arrived yet.
“Is it normal for him to be this late?” I ask Curt. “I mean, have you heard anything from Noah or the crew?”
“Unfortunately, we haven’t heard a peep. I just hope the boy had the good sense to find a safe port and not get himself pulled into the storm just to come home,” Curt explains, sharing a not-so-subtle worried glance with my mother.
That gut-wrenching feeling at the bottom of my stomach stirs once more.
Because unlike Curt, I’m not as confident that Noah would do the safe thing instead of putting himself at risk.
Noah would brave any storm if he thought it would bring him home to me sooner.
Please, please God, keep him safe.
Don’t let him do something stupid.
Keep my Noah safe.
It’s been forty-eight hours and still no word from Curt’s ship or its crew.
But most importantly, no word from Noah.
Curt has been calling everyone he knows to learn if anyone has seen them while out in the water. My mother has been a rightful mess, taking whatever sick days she has just to stay at home, hoping Noah will walk through our door at any minute.
I haven’t left his loft since the Coast Guard sounded out the alarm that a few fishing boats were caught in the storm with no inkling to anyone’s survival. Even Curt’s reassurances that his boat’s name isn’t listed amongst the shipwrecks does very little to comfort me.
“I know my boat. I know my crew. But most of all, I know my son. They are safe. They have to be.”
Unfortunately for Curt, I’ve never been an optimist.
Why? Why, God? Why didn’t I tell him that I loved him?
Why did I keep those words to myself when they were all he wanted to hear from me?
After everything that we’ve been through… is this how it all ends?
Instead of the happily ever after I yearned to write for us, will it all just end in tears and heartbreak?
No. I don’t accept this fate.
Noah and I were supposed to sail off into the sunset and live a life filled with love and joy.
This can’t be how our story ends.
It just can’t be.
But with each hour that passes by with no news, my dread sinks its claws into my soul, whispering in what world could happiness like mine ever be possible?
In nothing but one of Noah’s old Bayshore High T-shirts and his leather jacket, I roam through his sacred space, needing to feel his presence any way I can. I call out all my memories of him, of how these past few weeks he’s done everything he can to settle my uncertainties and doubts. How he gave me his love so unabashedly even when I clung to the pain of our tragic past.
But the true tragedy here is me holding onto misery when love was already at my beck and call.
What a fool I’ve been.
As if I can hear him whispering in my ear, another memory comes to mind. One that we shared just before he left. My gaze falls to his nightstand and ever so slowly, as if I’m being pulled in its direction, I go to it and open his drawer, finding the velvet box he told me about. My hands shake as I pull it out and open it, revealing the diamond engagement ring once worn by his mother.
Tears stream down my face as I take it out of the box and put it on, wishing he was here to see me do it.
“Please, Noah. Come back to me,” I sob, sitting on his bed and staring at the ring that was always destined to be mine.
I fall back into his bed and hug his pillow, his summer scent still clinging to the fabric. Exhaustion finally has its way with me, as I cry myself to sleep, praying the next time I wake is to his beautiful face. And if not, then I’d rather not wake up at all.
“Sky…Sky…” I hear Noah softly call out, feeling his knuckles caress my cheek.
“Noah,” I say, half asleep, believing him a part of my dream.
“Wake up, baby,” he murmurs softly.
“Noah!” I’m suddenly jolted awake, my eyes scanning his face frantically, praying this isn’t some lucid dream, but that he’s really here beside me. “Oh my god!” I cry, lifting off the bed just enough to hug him. “You’re here! You’re alive.”
“Of course, I am. Why would you think—”
But I don’t let him finish, because my heart can’t take another second of not telling him how I feel.
“I love you! I love you so much, Noah. It hurts to breathe without you. I thought I lost you. I thought…I love you.”
“Woah there, little stalker. Why are you crying?” he says, bypassing my declaration of love just to continue to stare at my panicked state with worry in his eyes.
“You were supposed to be home two days ago, and when you didn’t…and the storm…” I start to stutter, knowing I’m probably not making any sense with how fast I’m talking.
“I’m okay, Sky. See? Alive and well. When we were alerted that a storm was brewing, I figured it would be safer to take the long way back and circle around it. That’s why I’m late. But I’m here, baby. I’m here.”
I hold onto his neck so tightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m choking him a little.
“I was so scared, Noah. We had just found each other and I thought…well, I thought…”
Noah calmly pulls my arms from his neck just to place my hands against his beating heart so that I can see that he’s really here, and that nothing bad happened to him.
“I made a vow to you, remember?” he says ever so sweetly.
“A vow?” I sob, confused.
“Hmm.” He nods as he dries my tears from my face. “I promised you that you would have all my forevers, Sky. In this life and in the next, they would always be yours. Do you really think something as silly as death would ever keep me from you?” He shakes his head. “Nothing will ever come between us again, little stalker. Nothing.”
And as he begins to mend all the shattered fragments of my heart, Noah pulls my hands to his lips to kiss and finds his mother’s ring on my finger.
His gaze flies up to mine, a vast sea of hope swimming in his eyes like never before.
“You have my forevers too, Noah. You always have. Might as well make it official.”
The words have barely spilled out of my mouth before Noah crashes his lips urgently to mine, cupping my cheeks with such reverence that I’m left completely breathless.
Because when love is this real, forever can’t come soon enough.