I can’t sleep. I haven’t slept for a few days. You know how I often complain about the hyperbole of that last sentence? Well, right now I’m too tired to care. I’d apologize, but you’re used to getting the worst of me, right?

It’s 4am, and the bus is chugging along, from St. Louis to Chicago… I think. The days have all been running together. A few minutes ago, the last of the crew finally finished whatever they were playing on the X-Box and climbed into their bunks. The headphones I’d been using to drown them out are finally off my ears, and the rhythm of the road is my only companion. Last night, I abandoned the bunk completely, drifting in and out of consciousness on the horribly uncomfortable fabric that functions poorly as sofa, storage, and dining table… depending on how you bend the hinges.

My mind will not shut off. At first, it was just the normal stress of being responsible for the Riley Martin story. And then it was our secret. And then I watched Rebecca and Todd Locker get into that car together. I’ve never envied investigative journalists, and the last week has been confirmation of that. If that wasn’t enough to keep me up all night, Dominic called today.

“That last Riley blog was money.”

“Thanks.”

“I’m not being metaphoric,” he continued. “It was literally money. The ad revenue from the first 72 hours alone is paying our mortgage this month.”

“That’s good.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just tired, I think.”

“Too much partying on the road? Riley doesn’t seem like the type.”

“No, just trying to get the story ready.”

“Well,” the clicks on Dominic’s end of the phone told me that his mind had moved to his next task, and for this I was grateful. Had he been fully engaged, he’d likely probe for details I couldn’t divulge. “Well, keep me in the loop, Ella. And keep killing it.”

Those words… they take me back to the balcony of my now empty 22nd floor Manhattan apartment. I have to kill it. Otherwise, I’m simply a story away from the disconnected computer clicks that I’d just heard on the other end of the line. Laying here, my body bumping with the wheels of the bus, the logical part of my brain is whispering: settle down, Ella. Keep killing it means that you already are. But the anxiety is screaming far louder. Why can’t I turn it off? I’m going to try and get lost in this Kim Gordon memoir.

Here’s to better sleep,

Ella.

Ella shifted on her bed and turned the page of her journal. The coffee her mom had brought up was still steaming on the small table next to the bed. Girl in a Band, the Kim Gordon autobiography she’d just read about in her journal, was there, next to the coffee, her bookmark sticking out about two-thirds of the way through. Every memory she’d relived in these notebooks simultaneously seemed like an open wound and a seasoned scar. The fact that she hadn’t yet finished the book she was reading when it all went down added to the mess.  

Ella stood and looked in the mirror. She was still wearing yesterday’s navy sweatshirt and gray gym shorts, and her face was still sticky from the night before. She grabbed the coffee from the nightstand and found herself staring out the window at Jake’s house. This year had truly been the worst. It had been one disaster after the next. And it was all her fault… every ounce of it. She badly wanted to go knock on Jake’s door, to apologize, to hold him and give him the same feeling he’d given her that night in Tanner Springs Park. But the clock had not yet hit 10am, and it would be at least a couple of hours until he’d wake.

So Ella sat back down on the bed, turned the page of her journal, and kept reading.

Talk about not being able to sleep… After last night… I mean yesterday morning, not even half an hour after I sat you down and picked up the girl from Sonic Youth’s memoir, my phone lit up, making known the ungodly hour and the text that had come through.

Hey, you up?

I couldn’t help the smile that was pasted on my face. I swiped the screen of my phone to open the conversation, and replied.

Surprisingly, yes.  

I hit SEND and watched those three little dots appear underneath my answer.

I’m bored. Wanna come over? 

I pulled my knees up to my chest, and even I know it was just a feeble attempt at containing my excitement.

I’d love to. I stopped typing to craft my reply. Two problems with that: one, I haven’t mastered jumping out of a moving bus. And two, your wife hates me. How would she feel about me hanging out in your bus at four in the morning?

I hit send, and then instantly wished I hadn’t. All Riley had told me was that his wife didn’t like the media. Sure, I’d assumed that this included me, and I’d become rather certain of the looks she’d given over the few weeks I’d been on this tour, but it’s totally possible that it has all been in my head. 

The relief that came with seeing those three little dots gave way to his words…

First, walking should suffice. We’re five minutes from the venue. And second, Becca went to Miami for a few days. So no worries there. 

I sat there and read his words over and over. I’d never heard him refer to her as Becca, and… I know this makes me sound petty, but I really didn’t like it. (File that one under things I can tell you and only you.)

I didn’t know how to reply. So I didn’t. I stuck my fingers between the blinds and surveyed the still dark city that was beginning to wake. My heart was beating faster than usual, but I wasn’t willing to think about why. Now, writing about it, I’m still unsure if it was because of the unadulterated access I had to the subject of my story, or if it was because the Riley Martin invited me to his bus at 4am when he couldn’t sleep.

His message was still unanswered when the bus found its landing spot. This was a first for me. I’d never been up when we arrived in a city. I stood by the door as the bus jolted back and forth, the driver attempting to maneuver into the spot that the venue had deemed appropriate. Why didn’t this wake me up every day?

My feet felt like they were floating as they led me to the door of Riley’s bus. My phone was still in hand, Riley’s last text still illuminating the screen.

“Hey, I didn’t know if you were coming.”

He was wearing a solid, gray t-shirt and black gym shorts. The lack of layers was out of character, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like it. Without the sweaters and denim jackets that his team picked out for him, the definition in his arms and abs was begging me to take notice.

I’m not certain how long I was taking notice, but apparently it was enough for him to have to invite me in. I stepped onto the bus and was taken aback by the stark difference in this ride from the one I had just come from. The crew bus was nice… at least I’d thought it was until this moment. It shouldn’t be surprising… that the man who this entire tour revolves around would have it the best of any of us. But everything in this bus was better than ours.

“Can I give you a tour?”

Apparently it wasn’t lost on Riley that his home away from home was significantly different than the one I shared with a handful of seasoned crew members. The living area didn’t have to double as a dining room, because there was an actual kitchen and dining area… yes, on the bus… in place of those god-awful bunks.

Riley walked me through a set of doors that my bus didn’t have, to a master bedroom… with an actual bed.

“Wow. If I had this, I certainly wouldn’t have been awake to answer your text.”

You, trusty journal, know tour life. You know that an actual bed is such a precious commodity… even if it’s on top of wheels and being driven around by a chain smoker named Gus.

“This isn’t even the best part,” Riley replied, walking past the bed and through a door that my bus doesn’t have. “Do you remember Cribs? That show on MTV?”

“Of course I do,” I answered, the name of the show instantly taking me back to high school at Adeline’s house.

“Then this is the room where the pretentious celebrity would say, ‘this is where the magic happens.’”

I’m not sure why I was apprehensive about what I’d find in the room. I slowly stepped beyond the doorframe and was met by an impressive amount of musical equipment and recording gear.

“Nice,” I hope that my smirk came across as playful, and not condescending. “Any chance you’d want to give an exclusive sneak peek to the fine people at In Stereo Magazine?”

Riley looked confused for a moment, but it was his reply to me that was truly confusing. “You do work for a magazine, don’t you? I’d almost forgot that.” He paused before continuing. “I have to remember to be careful around you.”

The perplexity must’ve been apparent on my face, because he met me with the same smirk I’d given him just moments before.

“For real, though,” my gaze went from his smirk to his eyes, where his locked with mine. “Play me something new?”

He blinked long and hard before shifting his gaze to the floor. “I would, but I can’t.”

There was a pain in his response that made me feel guilty for asking. “Label restrictions? I get it.”

He chuckled before speaking. “I wish. I’ve been ignoring label restrictions longer than you’ve been driving. That computer is empty. I haven’t, and don’t put this in your magazine… I haven’t written a song in at least a year.”

The reporter in me wanted to ask so many questions. I could tell by his tone that this wasn’t simply due to a busy touring schedule or a lack of free time. Was this at all related to the secret he’d told me in Sightglass Coffee? Had chasing every high brought with it the unintended consequences of writer’s block? Or had his loss of motivation been the cause of the empty recording computer?

I’m not sure how long we stood there. Apparently I’m horrible at judging time at 5 in the morning. But I know that it was long enough for me to contemplate the words he’d said to me during that first real conversation.

I don’t know what to do; this is probably my last tour. I just want to hit RESET.

I followed Riley out of the makeshift studio and through the bus’s bedroom. He stopped for a moment and looked longingly at the bed before passing through the dining room and plopping down on one of the two couches that faced the larger than life television. I took the other sofa, taking notice of how much more comfortable furniture is when it’s not meant to double as a fold out table.

“So,” Riley turned his body toward mine, “how’s the tour going from your end?”

I was completely blown away. In all of my years covering bands and artists and tours and festivals, I’ve never had a subject even remotely care about how the tour was treating me, let alone invite me into their bus and ask me about it.

“The fact that you asked that question is confirmation that this is by far the best time I’ve ever had on a story.”

The grin on his face was more genuine for a moment, before turning back into that smirk from earlier.

“Well, I don’t do press, so I must not be up on all the current techniques of how to make your life miserable.”

“I don’t think that’s it.”

What in the world did I mean by that?

“You’re probably right,” he replied, that smirk still sitting beautifully on his perfect face.

I was waiting anxiously for his follow-up, but whatever it was we were doing was cut off by the click of the bus door.

“Hey Riley, I…”

Riley jumped off the couch like his hand had been caught in the cookie jar.

The eyes that had just entered the room were locked on me, and it took the brain behind those eyes more than a few seconds to compute.

“Oh, hey Ella.”

I was a bit surprised that Chandler remembered my name. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that I remember his name. I hadn’t spoken to Riley’s tour manager since that first day in Phoenix.

Chandler turned his attention back to his boss.

“I have the guy here. But if you want to do this later, that’s fine.”

“No, no, no,” Riley replied. “Ella’s cool. Send him in.”

What on earth had I gotten myself in to? Who was “the guy” and why was he showing up to Riley’s tour bus before sunrise?

Riley and I stared at the door as a professional-looking forty-something boarded. He was carrying a briefcase that matched his three-piece suit, and if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought he was heading to a board meeting in one of those Chicago high rises I saw from the bus window as we pulled into town.

“Would you like to preview the product?”

He looked at Riley as he spoke, and I couldn’t help but notice the paradox between the business professional and the gym-shorted celebrity.

“That won’t be necessary,” Riley replied, about as casually as he was dressed. “Chandler will make sure you get the money.”

“Thank you, sir,” the man spoke, his tone reminding me of a military film. “I look forward to doing more business with you.”

And with that, he sat the briefcase down, turned around, and walked out.

What the…

“Sorry to interrupt,” it was Chandler who spoke this time. He picked up the briefcase and walked it to the back of the bus before quietly leaving and latching the door behind him.

I wanted to ask Riley about the awkward exchange, but before I could find the words, he spoke, just as casually as he’d talked to the man who’d arrived with Chandler.

“Wanna watch a movie?” Riley grabbed the remote before fully reclining, acting as if the exchange that just went down was the most natural thing in the world.

“Um… sure.” I didn’t know what to say. Should I bring up what had just happened? But it wasn’t just that. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I’d received Riley’s text a half hour before, was this going to be a “work conversation” where he gave me a few more nuggets for the story that was due in less than a week? Or would this be another off the record account about his personal life? I had no way of knowing, but I didn’t expect that Anchorman would be on the morning’s agenda.

I slipped my shoes off and let my bare feet and legs stretch out on the sofa. While Riley seemed more than comfortable in his gym shorts and tee, I wished I’d brought my hoodie, or at least changed into actual pants before coming over. But the shorts and tank top I’d planned on sleeping in would have to do, so I cuddled up to the excessive amount of pillows and made myself at home.

I tried so hard to stay awake. I really did. I remember that awful feeling, you know the one… drifting away when you know you shouldn’t. As I think about it now, I’m petrified of the noises or faces I might’ve made while sleeping just one piece of furniture away from a man who sold out arenas every night of the week. As if it wasn’t weird enough to casually be watching a movie with the man whose face had been on the posters of my bedroom wall, the fact that I couldn’t stay awake was more than a bit embarrassing.

I’m not sure how long I was out (story of my life, right?), but I awoke when the noises of the film abruptly ceased. I sat up, rubbed my eyes, and stared at the pause icon on the television. Where was Riley? I scanned the room, but my ears found him before my eyes did.

“No, you didn’t wake me up. I got up a little while ago.”

I stood, the faux-wood floor of the bus cold under the bottoms of my bare feet as I tiptoed toward the door that Riley had almost closed behind him.

“No, it’s just me.” I could hear him pacing on the other side of the door as he spoke into his phone. “Just watching a movie. How’s Miami?”

It was Rebecca.

I surveyed my surroundings. I could tell that his feet were moving back and forth on the other side of the room, and I planned my silent retreat back to my sofa in the event that he made his way back to this side of the room.

Before he spoke again, the sound of shuffling, followed by two clicks, filled the quiet room.

The briefcase…

“Uh, huh,” I heard him speak into the phone as I inched my face closer to the crack in the door. I could see his feet, the legs and the gym shorts, and the foot of the bed… but I could ‘t see much else. In true investigative journalist fashion, I quietly placed my hand on the door. I watched the hinge as it moved, ever so slightly at my touch. Beyond the door, I could now see Riley, his body hunched over the bed, looking intently into the black leather case.   

“Any suspicion?” He spoke into his phone, not taking his eyes off the briefcase. “I mean, do you think you were followed?”

What did that mean? I watched Riley stand up straight, which caused my heart to thump out of my chest. He rubbed his temples, sighed deeply, and continued. “I mean… the government. You’re a white, wealthy, A-list celebrity, Becca. You can’t just waltz in and out of Cuba and expect not to be noticed. Oh god, what are we getting ourselves in to?”

I gasped. As I’m writing it down, I’m ashamed. Rookie mistake. I covered my mouth with my hand, but not without grazing it on the door. I stepped back and froze, my hand still covering my breathless mouth.

“I know you’re being careful.” I can’t explain to you how relieved I was to hear him continue his conversation. “I just can’t believe we’re actually doing this. Yeah, the first of many… if we don’t get caught.”

My luck was running out. The sound of his feet shifting along the cheap floor got louder, so I stealthily slipped back onto the sofa, trying to decide whether or not to feign sleep.

I reclaimed my spot on the couch, which was still warm, and watched Riley walk back into the room.

“Oh, you’re awake.”

“Yeah,” I stretched my arms above my head. “Sorry about that.”

He leaned back into his original position and grabbed the remote. “Don’t be sorry. It’s cool that the riveting story of Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone puts you to sleep. Besides,” there was that smirk again, “you’re kinda cute when you sleep.”

Ella shut the notebook. That pounding in her chest was back. All these weeks later, and halfway across the country, and she could still feel that pulsing that told her entire body to slow down.

She stood from the bed and paced the room. She couldn’t deal with this alone. Her eyes scanned the attic, and though she was surrounded by the authors who had gotten her through so much, she was alone. And though her parents, who would drop everything to listen to her problems, were in the house, just a floor below, she felt lonelier than she’d ever been.

As she walked back and forth along the small room, she found herself whispering the words that had become second nature when life felt like this.

Everything is going to be OK, Ella. You’ll look back and be thankful for the hard times.

 “Agh,” she said out loud. She couldn’t hear her mantra without hearing Jake’s voice. She really didn’t want to do this alone. She hated this feeling. She wanted to go back to the way things were yesterday, before he found his notebook and flipped out on her.

It was in that moment that she found a lifeline. There it was, right on the floor in front of her: Jake’s journal. Until then, she hadn’t even noticed that he’d thrown it down in disgust… that he’d stormed out of her life without the book.

So she made her way out of the attic, down the old, creaky steps, through the front door, down the patio, across the yard, and up the porch steps.

On the other side of the front door, she could hear his guitar. For a moment, she closed her eyes and listened. The sound of him playing took her to the not so distant memory of being in his back yard in the middle of the night, the fire pit roaring while he provided a soundtrack to their conversation.

She had to make things right. She wanted to make things right.

So she took a deep breath, put her hand in a fist, and knocked on the door.

The sound from the inside side of the house ceased, and Ella’s heart jumped. She waited to hear his footsteps walking toward the door, but they didn’t come. So she knocked again… and again.

“Jake,” she shouted through the closed door. “Jake, it’s me.”

She waited. No answer. She took a step back, turned around, and was about to head home when she noticed the names chiseled in the porch. Adeline and Ella. She couldn’t explain it, but something about those two names together gave her a newfound determination to mend what had been broken.

So she turned back around and knocked again. “Jake, come on.” She was pleading with him now. “Please open the door.”

Still nothing.

“Jake.” She thought she heard his feet heading toward her. “Jake, I’m so sorry.”

She paced the porch, not wanting to give in to the defeat that now seemed inevitable.

“You left without your notebook last night.” Would this pique his interest enough to get him to face her?

Again she waited. And again, nothing. 

“I’m gonna leave it here. Jake, I…”

Ella stopped. It was useless. The determination that had felt so strong a few minutes before had now been completely obliterated.

So she turned, past the words she’d chiseled as a child, down the stairs, across his yard, then hers, and back up her porch. How many times could she lose? It felt unending, every rock bottom giving way to another.

And then she heard it: the sound of his dense front door opening. She froze and stared. He looked tired. He looked about as beat up as she felt. She watched him bend down and pick up the notebook she’d left.

And then their eyes locked.

Her feelings for him were undeniable. She wanted to run across the yard, wrap herself around him, all around him, and never let go.

But instead of running toward him, or even speaking to him, she waved. The courage had evaporated, and a lifted hand was all she could muster. His chest rose and fell, along with his gaze. He turned, walked back into the shadow of his home, and closed the door behind him.

Ella had to get out of here. It was that same claustrophobia she’d felt during those last days in New York. She was a failure, and every ounce of her surroundings reminded her of it. So she left. She filled her backpack with a few changes of clothes and her laptop. She grabbed the phone from her nightstand and typed a message.

Is it cool if I borrow your car for a few days? 

The reply came quickly.

Of course. Anytime.

And so she was off. She hadn’t intended to take Adeline up on the offer she’d made during their coffee at Heart a few weeks before, but she had to get out of here.

I-405 to 84… east to Highway 26. She weaved her way up the windy roads in silence, the surrounding forest more than enough accompaniment. The road trip carried with it a new sense of purpose. As the borrowed Subaru inched its way up Mount Hood, Ella removed Ladd Avenue and everything that came with it from her mind with the project that Jake had planted in her head just hours before.

“One room, please.”

On her way out of town, Ella had tried to reserve the little cabin her family had rented every summer of her childhood. But it was booked, so she decided on the next best thing. The lodge was about halfway up the mountain, and the June sun hadn’t quite melted all the snow at this altitude. It was more commercialized than she preferred, but it would serve its purpose. She rented a room that overlooked the entire south side of the mountain, but decided to abandon the room in favor of a corner table in the lodge’s lounge, complete with wood burning fireplace and full bar.

“Can I get you something to drink?”

She opened her computer and sat it on the table in front of her.  

“Coffee, please.” 

Ella didn’t even wait for her drink to arrive before she began typing. Her fingers moved with a fury that took her back to her days in the bullpen at In Stereo. Ella sat there for hours, filling page after page of digital paper. Employees came and went, adding logs to the fire across the room.

“Last call. Another coffee?”

Ella dragged her tired body up to her room, and crashed. She slept better than she had in weeks. Perhaps it was just the comfort of a bed that wasn’t in her childhood attic. But regardless, she awoke the next morning, took the same table in the lounge, and continued. Day after day after day, Ella stayed, adding another night to her credit card, having no intention of heading back down the mountain until her project was complete.

It had been more than a week when Ella pulled back into the driveway on Ladd Avenue. She pulled her laptop from her backpack and ran into the house. She could hear her mother in the kitchen, but she ran up the stairs without saying anything. Instead of going right and up the stairs to her room, Ella went into her father’s office, opened her laptop, and hit PRINT.

“Hey honey.” Ella turned around to see her mother in the doorway, dishtowel still in hand.

“Hey, mom.”

“Everything ok?”

“Yeah,” Ella replied, watching page after page fall out of the printer. “Just taking care of something.”

Caroline turned and began walking down the stairs.

“Hey mom, did Jake ever stop by?”

“Um… I don’t think… oh yes. Yeah, he did. Last Tuesday, I think.”

Ella had no idea what day it was, but her mother’s tone said that it had been more than a week since Jake was here.

The papers couldn’t print fast enough.

She grabbed the stack, ran down the stairs, out the door, and across the yard.

Her knuckles hit the dense front door harder than she’d meant. She stopped to listen. No guitar. No noise coming from inside. She ran down the steps and into the yard. She looked at his bedroom window, but there was no indication of whether or not he was inside.

What time was it? The sky was a deep, consistent gray, completely concealing the position of the sun. Until she lifted her head, she almost hadn’t noticed the rain that was whispering, just enough to dampen her hair. She looked again at the second-level window, unsure of whether or not her neighbor was on the other side. How had her life gotten to the place where she wasn’t even aware of the time of day? She’d lost track of the days of the week awhile back, but this was a whole new level.

Ella decided to take a chance and make the trek from Elliot to SE 20th to Burnside. The bustle all around brought with it a confidence that the morning had passed and that the city was wide-awake.

In her haste, Ella hadn’t realized that the papers she’d been so worried about were turning soggy in her bare hands. The ink on the first handful of pages was bleeding through with each step.

She reached that little logo that she loved, the one that Kristina would have found far too simple, and took a deep breath. This is where it had all begun… her and Adeline, catching up the day after she’d landed in Portland. She’d left the shop that day with a hint of optimism, full from the unwavering love of a friend who didn’t care what had happened on the other side of the country. She looked down at the spot where she’d kicked Jake’s journal. Sure, she had regrets, but it was that journal that had led her to his front door, to the weeks they’d shared, and ultimately, to the stack of paper she now held in her hand.

The familiar scent of roasting coffee was mysteriously absent, but the aroma of espresso and brewing beans was a more than welcomed substitute. She searched the shop, which was laid out differently than she’d remembered.

There he was.

Ella stopped and studied the man she’d hoped to find here. His beard was a bit longer than the last time they’d been together. Even now, butterflies filled her stomach at the sight of him. She wouldn’t have been able to explain it, but he looked lost. Not as if he didn’t know where he was, but as if he were somewhere else completely.

The Moleskin… the Moleskin, was sitting on the table in front of him, and his eyes hadn’t moved from its page since she walked in the room.

Ella slowly walked toward him, hoping to catch his attention with her movements. No such luck.

“Hey.”

As the word left her mouth, it came with a vulnerability she hadn’t anticipated. What if he ignored her, just as he’d done the day after he’d found the journal in her attic? What if he was still completely pissed at her? The words he’d said that night came flooding back.

He looked up, but didn’t speak.

“Can I sit?” She could hear the apprehension in her own voice.

His eyes searched her up and down, as if he needed a moment to remember who she was.

“Yeah,” he finally said, shifting the notebook to the side of the table. “Of course.”

She sat across from him, and for a moment, neither of them spoke. She set the stack of papers on the table in front of her, and glanced at his journal.

She didn’t mean to, and given her history with this Moleskin, it was a rather bold move to even peak at the words he’d been reading.

So what will your marriage look like now? 

She quickly looked away, and then looked at the man on the other side of the table. It was in that moment that she realized that there was a layer to Jake Whitley that she wasn’t privy to. Yeah, she knew he was divorced, but what had led him there? Why was this early thirties man hiding out alone over 2,000 miles from his wife and daughter? There was a pain behind his eyes that she hadn’t noticed during their dinner dates or on his back porch late at night.

“First off,” it was Ella who broke the silence. “I need to apologize.”

“You don’t…” he cut her off, but she quickly returned the favor.

“Yes, I do. Please…” she stopped to see if it would take more insisting.

“I’m sorry that I had your notebook. I did read it.” She paused to gauge his reaction. “But only once, and only the day that I found it. I was being honest when I said that you left it here. It was the day that we met, and I found the notebook just before I came over to invite you to dinner. I was trying to find anything that might tell me who had lost it when I read your lyrics.”

It was apparent that he wasn’t following.

“Um…” she shut her eyes to try and remember. “I cannot find what I’m looking for.” She opened her eyes to see if it was ringing a bell. “Did you walk out with it when you walked out on me?”

Still, he didn’t respond… at least not verbally. As she said the last line, she noticed moisture gathering at the corner of his eyelids.

Instinctively, she reached across the table and grabbed his hand.

“When I read those words, I remembered hearing you sing that, late one night from my porch.” Ella thought she’d told Jake that she’d overheard him singing before they met, but she couldn’t remember for sure. “So I came by to bring you your notebook. But when I got to your front door, I freaked out. I didn’t know how to bring up the journal, so I didn’t. I ended up inviting you to my parents’ house for dinner… and here we are.”

She waited for him to talk, her hand still sitting perfectly in his.

“I’m glad you did,” he finally responded.

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m glad that you invited me to your parents’ house that day.”

“Me, too.”

Ella took a deep breath, and then continued.

“And since that day, I haven’t opened your notebook. I don’t know anything about your life that you haven’t told me. I’ve always intended to give it back to you, but each day that passed it became more and more awkward. Jake,” she leaned forward and squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry.”

She watched a tear finally give way to the pressure and fall down his cheek. He was so hard to read. It was almost as if he was disappointed, as if he’d found solace in the fact that another person knew his story, and was now back under the weight of his past.

“I’m sorry, too.”

“For what?” She sounded offended. “All you’ve ever done is be there for me when no one else was.”

“For yelling at you… for ignoring you when you came to my house… for ignoring you these past two weeks.”

“You don’t need to apologize.”

For a while, they just sat, hand in hand, as if the time apart needed to be mended by simply being together.

“Is it cool if I stay awhile?”

Ella ordered a soy latte and Jake got a second Americano.

“So,” she placed both hands on the stack of paper she’d brought with her, “I wanted to show you something.”

She pushed the pages across the table and waited for Jake to turn them his direction. “How I Almost Destroyed In Stereo Magazine,” Jake read the title aloud. “Ella Copeland’s side of the story.”

He lifted his eyes and found hers. “You wrote a book?”

She was smiling from ear to ear. “Well, kind of… it’s a manuscript… an outline, maybe. But it’s a start.”

He flipped through the pages, obviously impressed. “Wow.”

“You said something to me that night in the attic,” she slid her hand across the table and again placed it in his. “That maybe the story worth telling was just beginning, and I thought long and hard about that. And I think I’ve spent my entire life thinking that some day I’d have all this figured out… that some day I’d be polished enough to write a memoir that people would want to read. And I’ve definitely spent the last few months running from the crap that I did in New York. I’ve wanted to hit reset… to pretend like none of it ever happened. But it did happen. And you helped me see that.”

Something was happening in that moment between Jake Whitley and Ella Copeland… something that could neither be explained nor quantified. There was a coming to terms with their own humanity… the mistakes they’d made and the failures of the past. She shared with him elements of the story she’d kept from him, and he opened up about London and Kira and the life he’d left.

They waited until the shop closed, and then they walked down the street to a little Thai place on 28th. They ate together as if nothing had changed between them, but something had definitely changed… in them if not between them. And then they walked back to Ladd Avenue, capping the night with drinks and a fire in Jake’s back yard.

“Will you sing that song for me?”

She was sitting with her knees up to her chest, wearing his sweatshirt in the cool of the Portland summer night.

“What song?”

“The one I heard you singing the night before we met?”

There was no argument… no deliberation or putting on an act. Jake stood and walked in the house to grab his Martin auditorium. An excitement grew in Ella’s chest. Multiple times these past few weeks, she’d laid in bed and tried to remember this song. She’d longed to know the melody, to remember the way the verse eased into the chorus. She didn’t want to forget it again. She wanted to capture this moment.

So as he was making his way back outside, his guitar in hand, she did what any millennial would do in this situation. She pulled the iPhone from her pocket, turned the brightness all the way down, opened the camera, hit “Record,” and sat the phone inconspicuously next to her as he began to strum.