DAY TWO

Out of the driveway and onto Ladd… down the street to the roundabout… past the little café… a hard right on Harrison… a slight left after the garden. At least the neighborhood felt the same.

Ella had stared at the remote that her mom had left on the kitchen table with the note: feel free to take the car today. Was this the key? She had sat in the driver’s seat for an embarrassing amount of time, trying to figure out where to stick this button in order to make the car move. It had been over 6 years since she’d last driven a car; about 2,200 days since she’d been in a vehicle that wasn’t a subway, a cab, or an Uber.

She placed the “key” in her pocket, amazed that the car could run without inserting anything into the ignition. And that wasn’t all. She hadn’t even noticed that pushing the button to the right of the steering wheel had started the car. The slight hum of the hybrid felt so foreign to the girl who had only kept her driver’s license current for the sake of the ID.

Ella hadn’t slept the night before. People say that… I didn’t sleep last night, but for Ella, it was true in the literal sense. She had stared at the attic ceiling, lying on her childhood bed, periodically shifting her eyes toward the window to check on the movement of the moon.

She heard her parents wake, the bustle of the bathroom and the blow dryer below, but she chose to stay in her room until the commotion ceased. She could feel her own heart beating inside her chest as she lay frozen in her bed, worried that even the creak of a footstep from the attic would cause her to face her father.

In actuality, the only thing that had changed since Aaron and Caroline’s head hit the pillow was the fact that Ella now knew that they knew. She no longer held the hope that they were none the wiser to the reason that she was upstairs in her childhood bedroom.

Once the car doors had slammed in the driveway, Ella slipped down the stairs, finding the note on the kitchen table underneath the remote for the keyless Accord.

In spite of her hiding, Ella’s morning hadn’t been all bad. On a whim, she’d sent a text to Adeline. She’d stared at her phone, wondering how to begin a conversation that had been sporadic at best since college graduation.

I’m back in Portland. Mom said that you sold the house. Thinking of you.

The screen on her phone lit up not even five minutes later.

Whoa. Good to hear from you. Coffee this afternoon? 

So here she was, behind the wheel of her mom’s car, driving through her old neighborhood to meet the best friend that she hadn’t seen in person in half a decade.

The sun from the day before had stuck around, putting a bounce in the step of the Pacific Northwesterners who were walking on the sidewalks as Ella searched for a spot to park.

Nostalgia hit her as she spotted the black and white logo of her destination. Kristina would’ve scoffed at the design, far too simplistic for a New York City art director, but to Ella, it was comforting. It felt like home. She had spent so many hours here, at Heart Coffee on Burnside, studying and writing and spending time with Adeline.

It was probably just the nostalgia, but everyone inside looked familiar. The skinny guy with dreads and his jeans rolled up to mid-calf, the older couple deep in conversation by the window, the barista whose red bangs were falling over her eyes as she pulled shots behind the counter.

Ella found Adeline sitting at the small bar that surrounded the massive coffee roaster, a latte waiting for her in front of an empty chair. Adeline stood, and the two friends embraced in silence. It was during this hug that it hit Ella that it was very possible that Adeline had done the same research her own father had done. Did she know about New York?

The two girls sat, sipped their coffee, and picked up as if they had never left off. Adeline didn’t know about New York, and Ella didn’t know that Adeline had a three year old. They filled each other in on the successes and failures of the past six years. Ella told of the fast-paced life of a high-profile writer, and Adeline told of the joys and struggles of being a stay-at-home wife and mother. She updated Ella on the latest with her family, the retirement house her parents bought in Bend and the spot in SW Portland’s Multnomah Village where she and her husband had landed when Winnie was born.

Being with Adeline felt so good, like walking into the sunlight from a cold room… like momentarily forgetting all of your problems because you know without a doubt that you are unconditionally loved by the person on the other side of the table.

“So how long are you in town?” Adeline said nonchalantly as she took a drink of her coffee.

“I don’t know.”

Adeline noticed the weakness in Ella’s voice as she answered. She tilted her head and scrunched her brow, looking deeply into her friend’s eyes, which were beginning to fill with tears.

Adeline grasped Ella’s hand while she explained the chain of events that led her back to the city of her birth.

There were tears. There was the clenching of teeth. There was regret.

“I didn’t mean to do it,” Ella said after five minutes of back-story and confession. “I wish I could take it back. God, I wish I could take it back.”

“Ella,” Adeline was evidently searching for vocabulary carefully for the right words, but “I’m so sorry” was all that came from her lips.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t awkward. The two friends had known each other their entire lives, walked to and from elementary, middle, and high school together, and had lived together during all four years of college. It was going to take far more than a confession of failure to put a wedge in their relationship.

Still, both of them were silent, searching for words to move the conversation in a different direction, when they were saved by the redheaded barista who had made their drinks two hours earlier.

“We’re getting ready to close up. Can I get you anything else?”

Adeline looked at her watch, and Ella stood.

“God, I’ve missed you,” Ella said as they were gathering their things.

“Me, too,” replied Adeline. “I’m so glad you’re back.”

They hugged again at the shop’s front door, and Ella watched as Adeline walked down Burnside toward downtown, back to her crazy, chaotic, joy-filled home. She sighed, turned, and began walking toward the spot where she’d poorly parallel parked her mom’s car. She was on her fifth step when her foot found an object, and before she could react, her movement slid it underneath the coffee shop’s outdoor seating.

“What was that?” Ella said out loud as she bent down, searching for the brown rectangle that she’d kicked under the table.

She spotted it, just beyond her reach. Instinctively, she got down on her hands and knees and retrieved what turned out to be a notebook. The brown leather cover was creased on the corner, and as Ella grabbed it, she found herself hoping that it had been bent before she stepped on it.

She stood, looking in all directions for the owner of this journal. But surprisingly, there was no one to be seen. 6:05 on a Thursday afternoon, and the intersection of 22nd & Burnside was filled with cars, but void of pedestrians.

Whoever dropped this will probably come back for it, she thought as she tugged on Heart’s front door. It was locked. The staff must have followed her and Adeline toward the exit, locking it as soon as the girls had stepped outside. Ella cupped her hands around her temples and squinted into the glass. She could see the baristas, the red head and another mustachioed twenty-something, but both were paying no attention to the outside world. As she knocked, trying to get their attention, she heard the thump of bass coming from inside the shop. The customers were gone, the door was locked, and the staff had turned the volume up while they finished the day’s tasks.

Ella considered setting the notebook on the table that was attached to the wall and walking away. That’s what she would’ve done a month ago, in the busyness of the life she once had.

But she wasn’t really looking forward to facing her parents, and she had nowhere to be… so she sat. If I wait long enough, she thought, someone will come out and it can be here tomorrow when whoever lost it comes to get it.

What had her life become? She had lost one of the most lucrative jobs in her industry, and now she was sitting on the patio of a closed coffee shop, babysitting a lost Moleskin journal.

She stared at the notebook, wishing that she had just stumbled on one of her own journals. If someone had bent the cover of one of her books, she’d have been devastated. Then again, she was far too careful to leave a journal on the sidewalk of a busy street.

Glancing into the shop, shed looked for a sign that the door might open soon.

No such luck.

Ella ran her fingers along the crease in the leather cover, and she found herself opening the book. Again, she would be furious if anyone read any of the words in any of her journals, but she was the Good Samaritan here, and maybe something inside these pages could give her a clue as to where its owner might be.

The handwriting was messy, and at least half the words on every page were scratched out. She turned page after page, not really sure what she was looking for.

She landed on a sheet less scribbled and began reading:

London, one more night is all I want

One more night is all I need

London, why can’t I find your light

Walking through your streets?

She stopped. This was the second time today that she had felt her heart beating within her chest. She turned the pages again and again, still not sure what she was hoping to find. She passed the last inked page, and flipped to the end of the book, the last 40 or so pages still awaiting an author. How sad, she thought. For a writer, a notebook was useful until every square inch was covered in ink.

She flipped back to the most recent entry. The date at the top told her that the words had been penned just the previous day. Maybe this will tell me something about the owner of these thoughts.

The roman numerals that were directly under the date were foreign to Ella.

I – IV

I – IV – vi – V – I – IV – vi – V – IV – I

But the words beneath seemed unusually familiar.

I know I said I wouldn’t, but I have changed my mind

I would let you break my heart tonight

Where had Ella heard this? She knew for certain that she had. Was it a poem that she’d studied in school? A jingle from a commercial? The more she read, the more familiar it seemed. Perhaps it was an unwarranted déjà vu moment, the kind that you think about when you lay in bed at night, racking your brain to find the memory.

But the farther she went, the more convinced she was that she knew these words:

I can’t help but sing our song again

Her eyes shifted to the next paragraph, and that’s when it hit her…

Did you walk out with it when you walked out on me? 

The neighbor… the porch… last night… This book belonged to the guy who was living in Adeline’s house…

In the midst of the thoughts swimming through Ella’s mind, she had almost forgotten about the private concert she’d unknowingly attended less than 18 hours before.

And without thinking, Ella stood, walked to her mother’s car, fumbled with the key, and drove back toward Ladd Avenue.

 

/// BREAK HERE ///

 

Jake jogged up the wooden stairs and threw open the front door. For the first time since moving in, he grabbed the bunch of strings that hung from the top of the windows in the IKEA showroom turned living room and pulled, letting the day’s remaining sun into the room. He paused and took it in. This space looked so completely different in the light.

Rejuvenated.

That was the word Jake was looking for. He was thinking about the room, but the word could also be used to describe Jake himself. He left the coffee shop at 22nd & Burnside with a new sense of purpose. It was the first time he’d made the trip without the sound of You Are My Sunshine in his ears, but had he been listening, he would’ve known that this was the quickest trip he’d made back to the house on Ladd.

Now, he found the acoustic guitar that was leaning against the sofa. Even the guitar looked… rejuvenated, in the light.

He picked up the Martin, finally feeling like he had a new song to sing. It wasn’t that he hadn’t written songs since he’d been in Portland. In fact, he was writing more now than he had in Dallas, but this was a new song. In a way, he’d written the same song over and over the past three weeks.

What was it about his conversation with Haleigh that had produced this newfound outlook? It definitely wasn’t the content. Nothing about their talk was overly deep or life changing. Nothing happened in their 20 minutes together that could have in itself caused an entirely new perspective.

No, it was something simple; something unknowing that Haleigh had done, or rather not done, in their conversation. She hadn’t treated him as if he weren’t a person. She had treated him like a human. She was the first person in months to get more than five minutes into a conversation with him and not treat him like a mistake.

Maybe, he thought, just maybe, there is hope for a life of normalcy.

For you or I, this might seem absurd… the idea that a person who knows next to nothing about you or I could have a conversation consisting mainly of small talk, and have that shape the entirety of our identity. But it’s really hard to judge someone when you haven’t been through what they’ve been through…

So Jake put his weight on the sofa that had sat empty for the three weeks that he had occupied this house and he began to sing…

SONG

The chorus was interrupted by a noise that Jake had not heard since coming to Oregon.

He stopped playing and stood slowly. He had never wondered how the wood of the door would sound when it was struck by another’s knuckles, but in this moment, he was surprised by the dense tone vibrating from the oak.

Jake began to walk toward the door, the knock coming again before he could reach the handle.

When he opened the large wooden front door, even more light poured into the living room, causing Jake to squint and cover his eyes in order to see the person standing on his front porch.

It was a woman, probably around his age. She was shorter than him, but not by much. Her brown hair almost blended in perfectly with the bag that hung from her shoulder. She was wearing a gray hoodie with a black t-shirt beneath.

“Hi,” she said, using her fingers to move the hair from her face.

Jake waited for her to say more. It was as if she knew him, but couldn’t quite figure out how to explain it to him.

“Hi,” he finally replied. “Can I help you?”

It came out a bit harsher than he’d meant it. But honestly, who was this girl and why was she standing on his porch watching him squint into the sun?

“Oh, sorry,” she looked to the ground in embarrassment before taking a deep breath and extending her hand. “I’m Ella. I live next door.”

She had a firm handshake, like she’d been taught how to shake hands in business school.

“Ella,” he replied, as if trying to remember where he’d heard the name. Then it hit him. “The famous Ella?” he asked.

She looked surprised, as if he’d just uncovered a massive secret. “I’m sorry?”

“I mean,” Jake said, stepping out of the house and next to her onto the porch. “Right here,” he pointed to the wooden posts that held up the porch’s handrail.

“Oh my god,” her face, which had looked horrified a moment ago, was now beaming. She squatted, again pushing the hair out of her eyes, and stared longingly at the carving. “I completely forgot about that.”

She ran her fingers over the rough edges of each of the letters, reading it as her fingers moved: Adeline & Ella.

“I’m pretty sure we were 12 when we did that."

“Crazy,” he replied. “Wait, where did you say you live?”

She pointed to the red and brown house that sat next door. Again, she looked nervous. What was going on?

“Oh, I’ve only seen an old couple over there.”

Her expression again showed relief. “Oh, those are my parents. I just got back home yesterday.”

“I didn’t mean old…” he said embarrassingly. “I just meant older than you.”

She smiled at him, her grin telling him that she understood.

Jake shook his head, his body language letting her know that he was trying to start the conversation over. “Would you like to come in?”

Ella hadn’t actually thought about this conversation since leaving Heart. When she realized that the notebook that sat in her purse belonged to her neighbor (whose name she still didn’t know), she walked right to the car, drove right home, and walked right to where she now stood. How in the world was she going to bring up the journal? Should she just lie and say that she found it in front of the house? I’m not even sure it’s yours, she could say.

“Sure,” she finally replied, and stepped into the house that had belonged to her best friend’s parents for her entire life.

“Whoa, this looks so different,” she said as she scoured the room that she’d once known so well.

“You used to come here a lot?” he asked.

“Yeah, every day. Adeline,” she pointed back to the wooden post on the porch, “was… I mean, is, my best friend.”

The man picked up the guitar that had been lying on the sofa and leaned it against the wall.

“Have a seat.”

“Thanks.”

As she sat on the sofa that until now only he had used, she noticed a white to-go cup on the coffee table. It had a simple black circle on it… the Heart logo.

“I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh, sorry,” he said as he sat in the chair on the other side of the table. “I’m Jake.”

They sat in silence for a moment, Jake still wondering about the purpose of the visit, and Ella trying to figure out how to get to her point.

“What’s in London?”

“I’m sorry?” He leaned back in his chair as he spoke, his reply guarded and defensive.  

“Your tattoo.” She pointed to his left arm, where the word sat, below the reach of his t-shirt.

“Oh,” he softened, and then looked toward the ceiling, as if trying to decide how to respond.

“That’s where we fell in love,” he said we as if she should know. “And that’s where we were when we found out that we were was pregnant with our daughter.”

Ella thought back to the words she’d read in the journal that was now in her purse.

“Where is she?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your wife, where is she?”

His expression saddened. “She lives in Dallas,” he said, looking at the floor. “We’re… um… divorced."

“I’m really sorry to hear that.” For the first time in the last few weeks, Ella realized that she wasn’t the only person in the world with problems. “And your daughter?”

“What about her?” Again, Jake didn’t intend to sound so harsh.

“How old?” Ella began to wonder if she left her social skills in New York, under the bed along with all her journals.

Again he looked toward the carpet, as if he had to do the math. “Five.”

“I bet you miss her.”

“Yeah,” he said, placing his hands on his knees and exhaling, then standing quickly and walking into the kitchen.

Ella sat alone in the living room for a moment, listening to the faucet running in the next room.

“Would you like some water?” he asked from the other side of the wall.

“Sure.”

Ella couldn’t delay any longer. She stood and followed him into the kitchen.

She watched him as he stood at the sink, his back to her as he filled the cups. She didn’t know why, but there was pain in his movements. As his shoulders rose and fell with each deep breath, she felt the unwarranted urge to wrap her arms around his waist and simply hold him.

She didn’t, of course. Not only would it be extremely odd to walk up behind a man whose door she’d seemingly randomly knocked on five minutes before, but past experience also told her to resist.

It was, however, who she had always been: quick to notice another’s pain, and just as quick to respond in kind. For a moment, she even forgot about New York… about the computer screen from last night… about being paralyzed in her bed this morning.

The sound of the faucet ceased, and he turned to her with two glass jars filled with water.

As she sipped from the cup he handed her, Jake broke the silence.

“So are you on the welcoming committee?”

“What’s that?” she raised her eyebrows.

“For the neighborhood… I assume that’s why you’re here?”

His smirk told her that he was being sarcastic, that this was his way of saying; let me ask you why you’re in my house… without asking you why you’re in my house…

Ella put her hand into her bag and felt around until her fingers found the brown leather cover of his notebook.

“Uh,” she stumbled over her words. “I just, I…”

Ella panicked. The woman who not that long ago had been called the epitome of assertive by a colleague was now unable to speak to her next-door neighbor about a stupid journal.

“Uh, I just wanted to see if you’d like to come over for dinner.”

She blurted the words out, obviously, as she’d been doing all day, without thinking.

“Dinner?” he asked, just as surprised as she was. “At your parent’s house?”

“Yeah, I mean,” what in the world was going on? “Not tonight, of course. Um, tomorrow, maybe?”

Her eyes slowly found his, squinting with raised eyebrows, awaiting the blow of rejection.

“Ok,” he replied slowly, then smiled, this time genuinely. “Yeah, that’d be nice.”

“Yeah?” she asked, surprised not only that she’d asked, but also that he’d agreed. “I think you’ll like my dad,” she continued, still not thinking. “He likes Johnny Cash, too.”

The minute it came from her lips, she knew it was a mistake. In that moment, Ella Copeland knew for certain that she should own it; just pull the notebook from her handbag, explain that she’d been on the porch last night, that she’d found his journal… that she’d read his journal. That she’d really come here to return it.

But the two of them stood in silence. His eyes hadn’t left hers, but he didn’t speak. Her breath was slow and deep, and in this moment of transparency, she felt as if for the first time she was really seeing the man that was standing across the kitchen from her.

His chest rose and fell underneath his white t-shirt, the V of his neck moving with each breath. The collar was just low enough that she could see the beginnings of a tattoo below his beard. In fact, Ella had first only noticed the capital of Great Britain on his skin. But now, as she really looked at him, much more of his visible skin was covered with ink than wasn’t. His arms and his chest, both subtly muscular, were covered in art, and as her eyes examined him, she found herself longing to know the stories behind the skin.

Ella’s eyes slowly made their way back up to Jake’s face, which had not moved or changed shape since she’d mentioned Johnny Cash. There was something about the way he stared at her that… what was it? If Ella had the time to ponder this feeling, she may have been able to articulate the deep grief that sat behind his brown eyes. Had she the ability to pause in this moment and reflect, she’d have likely felt guilty for being so attracted to those eyes, as they were silently screaming of pain and regret.

But Ella did not have time for these thoughts. She knew that she needed to be the one to speak first; the one to explain her unlikely knowledge of her neighbor’s interests.  

“Well, I gotta go,” was what ended up coming from her mouth, and she turned hurriedly and left the kitchen. Oh my god, this is so awkward, she thought as she hustled through the living room and toward the front door. “See you tomorrow!” she yelled back to him as she jogged down the porch and across the lawn.

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” she kept repeating as she crossed into her own yard, as walked through her own front door, as she scaled the two flights of stairs up to her room. She plopped onto her bed; face up, legs and arms spread to each edge.

Mortified.

In her haste, she hadn’t even noticed her father sitting on the front porch, the smoke from his pipe lifting above the book he was reading. She didn’t hear her mother rustling around in the kitchen, the clanging of pots and pans and the scent of the oven heating.

“What on earth is happening to me?” she said aloud at the attic ceiling.

For Ella Jayne Copeland, life had always made sense. I mean, sure, there were those awkward middle school years where her brain and her body didn’t always speak the same language, but outside of that, she had never felt… what was it that she was feeling now?

Lost.  

That word… such a vague adjective… so many different meanings with so many different connotations… a word that she’d attempted to stay away from in her journalism.

Which meaning described her current state? Misplaced? Confused? Deprived? Unable to be found? Perished? Wasted? Destroyed?

Ella was editing theses thoughts in her head when the silence was shattered by the sound of knocking. She sat up quickly, staring at the 2-inch gap underneath the door to her room. This was a habit she’d learned back in middle school, the feet that stood on the other side telling her who had ascended the steep, awkward stairs. Then, she’d known her parents’ feet, their shoes, and even their socks. But now, on her second day at home in six years, she could only tell that the brown boots she saw belonged to a male.

Had Jake followed her across the lawn and into the house, up the stairs and into the attic? Was he wearing brown boots? She thought she’d remembered his feet being bare beneath his cuffed jeans.

She panicked, but only for a moment. Don’t be so ridiculous, she told herself. There was no way that her parents would just let a stranger walk into the house and toward Ella’s bedroom.

“Come in,” she finally said, not sure how long she’d been contemplating the feet that were waiting for her to respond.

The knob turned, and the familiar groan of the hinges filled the room. Ella watched as her father came into view on the other side of the doorframe.

“Hey Sweetie,” he said as he ducked beneath the beam and into her room.

For a moment, Aaron Copeland just stood and stared at his only daughter. Maybe Ella took after her father after all, walking into a conversation before deciding how to begin.

The room was quiet, Aaron standing in the entryway and Ella sitting on the bed, her hands holding her up. As they stared at each other in silence, Ella felt the weight of… well, everything. She tried to swallow and blink away the tears that were forming in the corners of her eyes, but that just made it worse.

Without words, Aaron took two steps toward the foot of Ella’s bed, bent his knee, shifted his weight onto the bed, and lay down on his back, next to his daughter. He wrapped his hand around her shoulder, and she fell back into the crease underneath his arm.

Aaron couldn’t count the number of times in the past six years that he’d longed to do exactly this: to hold his daughter… to comfort her… to simply be with her. He remembered the many nights of her youth that they would sit together in front of the record player, on the porch swing, on the sofa. It had always felt so natural… the undying love of a father for his daughter.

He felt that now.  

They both stared at the ceiling, and as the tears were beginning to form in Aaron’s eyes, he could feel his child’s guard coming down. Her gentle cry became more intense. After a moment, she completely stopped trying to hold it back. Right there, on her childhood bed, in her father’s arms, Ella Jayne Copeland sobbed… and sobbed… and sobbed.

Down the two flights of stairs, out the living room, down the porch, across the yard, back up the porch, past the chiseled names in the railing, into the odd sounding front door, through the IKEA showroom, and into the kitchen, Jake Whitley stood, dumbfounded as to what had just happened with the neighbor girl.

He should’ve been concerned that she knew about his obsession with Johnny Cash. Well, more specifically, with the fact that Johnny Cash’s song was sung. He should’ve wondered why she so awkwardly ran from the house, while his eyes were the only part of him that followed her out of the room.

It was only now, many minutes later, that Jake stepped under the frame between the kitchen and the living room, sat in his chair, and stared at the empty sofa that Ella had occupied.

His mind hadn’t left the conversation that they’d shared in this room.

What’s in London?

Jake closed his eyes, yearning for the memory and simultaneously hoping that he’d forgotten all of it.

The night had been a blur. Even so, it was a memory that Jake often looked to during the difficult moments.

Even back then, he was more than used to the lights and the recognition, but that night

Kira had been there, as she always was. There had been no question that she was his biggest supporter. He remembered the look on her face as he finished his presentation, pure joy for the moment her husband had just experienced. It wasn’t the size of the room that made that night special. In fact, his “normal” job was performed to a larger room than this one, and recently there were more people on a weekly basis back home than at this convention.  

But it was the notoriety that came with the convention, the big names that were in the room, all eyes on Jake Whitley for 42 glorious minutes. He had spent years at conventions just like this one, one of the thousands staring at the presenter, dreaming of being on that platform, addressing an entire industry of people who desired to be the one addressing.

In fact, it was at this convention, in London, that he and Kira had met just three years before. Standing in a sweaty receiving line, waiting for a photo with that night’s presenter, he struck up a conversation with the cute girl whose American accent matched his. 

But on this night, the night he’d presented in the ballroom of the Olympia Grand, they were married, a team, and it felt odd that she wasn’t on that platform presenting with him.

Between presentations, the lobby buzzed with the sound of excited young professionals, and the roar of the train whose track was on the other side of the road. The lights from the night glared in from the building’s massive glass dome, and the balconies that surrounded the stage filled with those in the industry who really mattered.

Had Jake caught their attention?

It certainly appeared so. The receiving line that formed by his table was not only the longest of the night, but it also was visited by some rather big hitters, all waiting so shake Jake’s hand and tell him that they’d have their people call his people on Monday.

After the hall had cleared and the equipment had been loaded, Jake and Kira took off down the streets of London without a care in the world.

“I’m so proud of you,” she’d said, her eyes deep in his as they walked, her hand holding the arm that was wrapped around her shoulder.

“Tonight was pretty great, right?” He couldn’t contain his smile. At that point in their relationship, he hadn’t wanted to hide his emotion.

“Incredible,” she’d agreed.

For a while, the pair walked in blissful silence, the sounds of the city the only soundtrack they needed to cap this amazing evening.

As they turned the corner onto Richmond Way, their hotel almost in view, she took two steps ahead of him and began walking backwards, making it impossible for his eyes to be anywhere but locked on hers.

“Jake, this could be the beginning,” she said, taking his hands in hers. “If it is, c… can you imagine…”

She looked toward the night sky, thinking about their life together.

“We could buy a house, close to the airport, obviously,” she said it so absolutely. “I’d travel with you, everywhere… unless you needed me to take care of things at work.”

He’d always loved that she was a dreamer. Usually it wasn’t this big picture. She’d often wake with a new adventure in her mind, unable to find the pillow again until she’d conquered the hike or living room project or song.

But on this night, as they were standing on the street outside the K West Hotel on the west side of London, she was making big plans.

“We could finally get a new car. We could build that outdoor fireplace we’ve always wanted, the one with benches all around it, you know, close enough to keep our toes warm.”

It was as if saying this reminded her of the cold air, and she wrapped herself inside his arms.

As she continued, dreams about their home together, Jake Whitley held his wife, took a deep breath, and took it all in. He knew that he didn’t need the house, the fire pit, or the notoriety. On this, a night that Jake had tasted real success, he realized that everything he needed was right here, in his arms.

Now, on the chair in the living room on Ladd Avenue in Portland, Jake longed to go back, on the street in London, underneath the colored lights and trussing of the hotel.

“And we’ll need a nursery, of course.”

She’d said it so nonchalantly and matter-of-fact that he’d almost missed it.

“I’m thinking green and brown for the colors… Not too masculine, but kind of…”

“Wait, what?” His eyes widened as he searched the face of his wife.

It was that same face that he’d fallen in love with a half-decade earlier, the freckles, the dimple, the way she could light up a room.

She bit her lip, raised her eyebrows, and exhaled, suddenly unable to talk.

“For real?” He could see his cheekbones becoming blurry, the tears welling up toward the bottom of his eyelids. 

She swallowed again and nodded, the movement of her head causing the water to fall from her eyes.

“Yeah,” she barely got the words out, and then wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to kiss his lips.

Now, with his eyes closed, he could almost take himself back to that moment. He suddenly wished that he hadn’t opened the window shades, as the sun coming into the room took away from the memory in his head.

So Jake leaned forward in the chair, tightening his eyes and covering his face, trying to forget that he was in this IKEA showroom of a living room, and tried to remember the words she’d whispered in his ear that night outside the hotel.

“You’re gonna be such a great dad.”