We all let go.
We followed our hearts.
And we all ended up together again.
I’m sitting on a bench in my garage polishing some of the chrome on my bike when a motorcycle pulls down my street and into my driveway. I know the sound of that bike as well as I know my own, and I’m wondering what he’s doing here.
Two weeks after Kenzi moved to Maine I got a simple text message:
Asher: Keep the house.
It was a small olive branch of sorts, but I took it. That was about a year ago, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since. Until now.
‘Am I due to get my ribs broke again?’ I ask, not looking up at him.
‘Very funny.’ He tosses a book onto the floor next to me. Glancing at him first, I put down my polishing rag and pick the book up, realizing it’s a photo album. Actually, it’s Ember’s photo album. She’s one of the few people I know that still takes real photos and puts them in an album.
Or, she used to.
‘What’s this for?’ I ask. He saunters closer to me and leans against my workbench. ‘Something I’ve spent a lot of time looking’ at, bro. And at first, it pissed me right the fuck off. And then I kept looking, and I couldn’t deny what was right in front of me.’
‘And that is?’
He pushes his long wavy hair back off his face. ‘Take a look. Tell me what you see.’
I have no idea what trip Asher is trying to take me on, but I lay the book on my legs and start to flip through the pages of photos, which start when Kenzi is born. At first, it’s bittersweet to see the photos of Ember holding Kenzi, so beautiful, carefree and happy, and I’m sure it was really hard for Asher to look at this and see all these pictures of Ember. There’s photos of Kenzi’s birthdays, Christmas, first day of school, playing, her first tooth, the bunny, their wedding, and family parties. My throat tightens seeing all the pictures because I miss Kenzi so damn much.
I continue to flip the pages, and I have to chuckle at how young we all look. But then I see what Asher saw, and it hits me like a wall. I’m in almost every single photo with Kenzi. I’m either holding her, or sitting on the floor playing with her. In many she’s asleep on my chest with her arms around my neck. In others, I’m holding her hand or she’s leaning against me. There’s a picture of us laying on the floor with Snuggles. There’s me teaching her to tie her shoe. There’s me pushing her on a swing. There’s her handing me presents on Christmas. There’s her sitting on my lap while I play guitar. There’s one where she’s crying and I’m kneeling in front of her, talking to her, wiping her cheek with my thumb.
We were always together. Almost always touching in some little innocent, but caring, way. Constantly drawn to each other without even realizing it. Even though I always felt it, actually seeing it captured in photos is something entirely different. It’s undeniable.
I close the book and hand it back to him, unsure of what to say. ‘None of that was intentional, Ash.’
‘You don’t think I can see that? Yeah, I fuckin’ hate it, but it’s clear as day when I look at these pictures. You were right. You two had some kind of special bond right from the start, and as much as I want to throat punch you, I can’t deny that whatever it is, it’s real and I have no right to fuck with it. And it’s taken me months to accept that.’
‘What are you saying?’ Hope starts to grow in my chest as I listen to him. Is he forgiving me?
‘I’m saying I get it. I don’t like it. It freaks me out something fierce. But I get it.’ He picks up a screwdriver off my bench and twirls it around in his hand. ‘I want my daughter back in my life, Tor, and I want my best friend back. That’s still you, in case you’re wondering. And the only way that’s going to happen is if I get over this and we bury this fight. She won’t come back if we hate each other.’
I’m almost thrown speechless by his unexpected admission. ‘So, you’re saying you’re okay with us being together?’
He crosses his arms and looks up at the ceiling, then back down at me. ‘I’m not exactly okay with it, but I’m willing to deal with it if it’ll bring her back and fix this mess.’
I stand and wipe my hands on my jeans, feeling like I’m in a type of shock. ‘I’m not sure what to say, except thanks. And I want my best friend back, too. And I want the love of my life back.”
Sadness crosses his face and I regret how my words just accidentally came out. “Yeah, I know what that feels like, man,” He blows out a deep breath. ‘I’m calling Kenzi tonight to let her know we’re good now,’ he tilts his head. ‘Are we good?’
‘We’re always good, Ash.’
One Month Later
I’m walking down the sidewalk towards Lukas’ tattoo parlor, texting Tanner about a few new missing dogs that we’re going to set some traps for and bam, I crash right into someone, knocking her phone, keys, and purse out of her hands and onto the sidewalk.
‘Shit,’ I mutter. ‘I’m sorry. Totally my bad, I wasn’t paying attention.’ I say, kneeling down to help her pick up all the stuff she just dropped.
‘Neither was I.’
Hearing her voice again slices though me like a hot knife through butter, but that’s nothing compared to the feeling that flashes through me when we both look up at the same time and our eyes meet. It’s like getting struck by lightening.
‘Kenzi…’ I swallow hard, feeling lightheaded. She looks the same but so different. Older. More mature. Her hair has a darker brown shade mixed in with her blonde, and it really brings out her eyes, which I’m trying hard not to stare into like a lovesick puppy.
Those eyes. Holy shit, I miss those eyes.
‘Tor…,” she takes a deep breath as she stares at me, her eyes growing wide as if she’s trying to take in the sight of every inch of me all at once. “I didn’t even see you.’
I stand and offer her my hand to help her up. ‘I had no idea you were in town.’ I say, feeling completely lost. I can’t take my eyes off her. She looks amazing in a tight black V-neck sweater, jeans that fit like a second skin, and those damn little black motorcycle boots. The memory of the time I made love to her with nothing else on but those boots surfaces, and I quickly try to put those images out of my head. Some things never change.
She falters, losing herself under my intense gaze. ‘I moved back here about a month ago. I’m living with Rayne, that’s why I’m here,’ she gestures over towards Lukas’s shop. ‘She works here and I had to drop something off for her.’
‘I was just heading there for my tattoo appointment.’ A month. She’s been here for a month and I didn’t even know. Why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t Asher tell me? Is life going to fuck me over and take her away from me when we finally have things fixed?
The corners of her mouth tilt up and her smile lights up her face. ‘You’re still getting ink? I’m surprised you have any open skin left.’
‘We’re working on my legs now,’ I reply. ‘How have you been?’
She pulls the strap of her bag up higher on her shoulder. ‘I’m doing well. My calligraphy business is going great. I’m actually designing a lot of those hand-lettered tattoos for people, especially Lukas’ clients, and I’m selling a lot of the cookies I told you about.’
‘The cookies with the writing?’
‘Yeah. A lot of brides have been buying them. And I just started making some for dogs that have cute words on them.’
‘Wow, that’s really cool. I’m proud of you, Angel.’ The nickname slips out past my lips before I can stop it.
A hint of pink touches her cheeks. ‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘I was going to call you once I got settled.’
I chew the inside of my cheek. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?” I ask, because I can’t stand here not knowing why. “Why were you waiting to call me? What if I hadn’t run into you just now?”
“Because I wanted us to reconnect with me being on my own. Not living in my father’s house. Even though he’s doing his best to accept it, I couldn’t see having you come over to see me in his house, or make him watch me leave his house to go to yours, and then come back again later that night. That’s the place where you were my uncle and I was your niece, and I think we need to stay away from those memories for a little while, at least in front of him.”
I nod slowly. “Okay. That makes sense and I can accept that.”
“I was definitely going to call you, Tor,” she assures me. “Please don’t think I wasn’t. I just wanted us to start off right, and I wanted some time with my father, too. To make sure he’s really okay. I just wanted to do everything right.”
Right. That’s what I want, too. Everything to be right. And normal. Without lies, and betrayal and worry.
‘Can I take you to dinner?’ A year ago, we couldn’t go out to dinner for fear of someone seeing us. But now, I don’t care. Asher already knows, so there’s nothing to hide. Now I can take her on a real date.
She beams. ‘I’d love to. When?’
‘Is tonight too soon?’ I ask with a grin. No point in trying to hide my impatience, right?
She laughs and I want to kiss her so bad I can practically taste her on my lips. I wonder if she still wears that strawberry lip gloss I loved so much.
‘Tonight is perfect.’
‘Can I pick you up?’
‘Sure,’ she replies. ‘Let me write down my address for you. We’re renting a studio apartment in a converted barn in Amherst.’ I wait as she digs through her purse and finds something to write on, then copies the address from her phone onto the scrap of paper.
‘I know this is awful, but I keep forgetting the address,’ she says as she hands it to me. ‘I’ve only been there two weeks. I stayed at my dad’s for a few weeks before I moved in with Rayne.’
I take the paper from her and shove it into my front pocket.
‘Tor,’ she begins, stopping to take a breath. ‘The message in the bottle was amazing. It really made me see everything so clearly. I loved it. Every night before I go to sleep, I read it.’
‘I was hoping you would.’
‘And I did make a wish that night.’
My heart starts to pound as she moves closer to me and slips her hand into mine.
‘You want to share it with me?’ I lace my fingers through hers, not planning on letting her go. Ever again.
‘I wished for you. And us. And happiness.’
Stepping closer, I lift her chin to look into her eyes. ‘I can make that happen.’ I kiss her long and soft, my mouth lingering against hers, breathing her into me, wanting to devour her right here on the street. Her free hand clings to my arm like she’s afraid she’s going to fall over.
‘I still love you the most,’ she whispers between kisses. ‘I never stopped.’
‘Neither did I. I never will.’
I lean down and cover her lips with mine, and yes, she still tastes of strawberries, and of yesterday, and of tomorrow.