Thirty-five thousand feet in the air, I realized I loved him.
But not the him I’d been in a relationship with for the past six months. Yes, I loved him, too. But this was the him that had left more than a decade ago, only to come back like a ghost that was haunting me. I’d been twenty-seven the last time I’d seen him, he thirty-nine. And we’d been worlds apart, in those years. But I’d loved him then. And I still loved him now, even after all these years.
“Fee, what’s the face?” Emma asked, her eyes narrowed as she studied me, lips pursed.
I shrugged, not wanting to spill the details of what was on my mind.
She shook her head. “I’m not letting you off that easy. Give,” she commanded.
“If you concentrate on the road, I’ll tell you,” I conceded. “I appreciate you picking me up from the airport, Em, but I’d like to make it home in one piece.”
Emma rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to the traffic in front of us. “Okay, go.”
I stared straight ahead, wondering where to start. “Have you ever just been so confused about what to do that you feel paralyzed?” I asked, knowing that there was no turning back now.
Emma tilted her head as she considered, then looked back at me. An errant lock of red hair escaped from the messy bun piled on top of her head, held there only by happy thoughts and Jedi mind tricks. “Sounds like you’re facing an important decision, Fee,” she said, nodding as she leaned into her philosophical theorizing. The bun on her head threatened to undo itself but somehow managed to stay put.
“Probably,” I conceded, still not sure I wanted to give her any more than I absolutely had to. I knew what she would say. But it wasn’t that easy. There were too many feelings swirling around inside me. Feelings for two men, both of them completely different to one another. And I didn’t know what to do about it.
“So, spill, Fee,” she said, motioning with her hands to get on with it.
I chewed my lip, weighing the pros and cons of downloading my dilemma on her.
“Fiona.” Emma’s voice was firmer now.
“Fi-nuh,” I growled, realizing I sounded like a petulant teenager. I took a deep breath and sighed. “I love Quinn,” I said.
“Yes,” Emma nodded, looking at me like she was waiting for a punch line. “I know you do. We’ve established this, I thought. I mean, you two say it to each other all the time.” She paused and wrinkled her nose. “No offense, but it can be sickening sometimes. Not all of us are happily ensconced in a relationship bubble, you know.”
I arched an eyebrow at her. “Relationship bubble?”
Emma nodded again, her face serious. “You look at each other sometimes, and it’s like no one else is in the room. I love that for you, but you’ve kind of forgotten about some of your friends, Fee.” She pointed at herself as she spoke.
“I have? I’m so sorry, Em,” I said, feeling horrible that my best friend felt neglected. I hadn’t realized. And I hadn’t realized that Quinn and I looked at each other like that.
“You don’t have to apologize, sweetie. Really,” Emma said, her mouth tipped up at the corners in an understanding smile. “Just buy me something pretty.”
Emma’s deadpan humor could sometimes come like a bolt of lightning out of the blue—unexpected and often shocking. It was one of the things I loved about her. I smiled back. “Deal,” I said.
“Really, though, Fee. What’s the problem?” she asked, eyes back on the road. “You love Quinn. And?”
“And I love Luke,” I said in a rush, the words coming out in a whoosh. I clenched my eyes shut, waiting for her response.
I heard nothing for a moment. The only noise was the sound of the cars driving past, the hum of the car’s engine, and the blood thumping in my ears.
As I opened one eye to look at her, I could see Emma staring at me, eyebrows raised. “Luke? Luke, as in, Luke who left you with all sorts of unresolved feelings because he made you hope there was something there and then never followed through? That Luke?”
I nodded. Both eyes were open now. “That Luke,” I said flatly.
“Why is this coming up now? It’s been, what—ten years? More? I thought you’d moved on,” Emma said, distress creeping into her voice. “I know it took a while, but I thought you had. You’re with Quinn. You love Quinn.”
“I do love Quinn,” I agreed. “But I still love Luke. And it’s coming up now because I saw him. He moved back.”
I looked out my passenger side window at the buildings rushing past as we drove. The landscape was changing from commercial to residential as we reached the outskirts of town. “Before I left on my trip, I ran into him one day when I was coming out of the post office,” I said, still staring out the window.
“Clearly he wasn’t fat and bald,” Emma replied. “What did he say? What did you say?”
“No, definitely not fat and bald. He looked like him. A little older, yeah, but still him. Still Luke.” I took a deep breath and turned to look at her. “He said it was good to see me. We talked for a few minutes and then went for coffee and talked more. It was really nice.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Emma said. “Back the truck up. You had coffee? Why is this the first I’m hearing about this? I’m your best friend.”
I looked sheepishly at her. “I don’t know. I was still processing, I guess.”
“I’m supposed to help you process things like this, Fee.” Her eyebrows knitted together in a scowl. “And does Quinn know about coffee?”
I shook my head. “No. I can’t tell him about this.”
“I guess not,” she retorted. “Not if coffee rehashed all those old feelings.”
I looked down at my hands in my lap and laced my fingers. “It felt like he never left,” I said quietly. “It was so easy. And every time he looked at me, Em…I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”
Emma sat quietly contemplating as she put the car in park and unbuckled her seatbelt before turning to look me full in the face. Her mouth was drawn into a straight line, her eyebrows furrowed. “Fee, you need to think about this long and hard before you do anything you can’t take back,” she said at last, her voice low.
I nodded. “I know. Quinn has been good for me. But Luke…Luke has always been there, holding a piece of my heart that I can’t take back. What if there’s a reason for that, like it’s meant to be? And Quinn will never be able to have that part. Is that going to be good enough for him? Is that even fair to him?” I asked, feeling tears sting my eyes.
“Sweetie, we lose a little bit of our hearts with everyone we love. You know that,” she said, taking my hand and squeezing it. “But there’s something you have to remember here. Luke knew you when you were twenty-seven-year-old you. You’ve changed so much since then, matured so much since then. You’ve lived a thousand lifetimes since then. Neither of you is the same, Fee. And life isn’t like that. There isn’t this love that’s written in the stars, that transcends time and space. It isn’t real. But Quinn is real. Quinn loves you. He loves this you.” She paused and gave me a small smirk. “Even as annoying as you can be sometimes.”
I laughed, despite the tears that were pooling in my eyes and starting to roll down my face. “I know he does. He’s a good man,” I replied, swiping at my cheeks. I smiled at my best friend. “Thanks for picking me up. And for listening to my craziness.”
Emma leaned in for a hug and held me tight. “Anytime, Fee.”
I ambled out of the car and gathered my carryon, then rode the elevator up five flights to my apartment. Opening the door, I was greeted by the smell of clean apartment, with a hint of vanilla. I breathed in deep. I loved that smell.
I tossed my keys in the dish on the table by the door and rounded the corner to put my bag in the bedroom. Flicking on the light, I saw a room filled with hundreds of cut paper stars hanging from the ceiling on monofilaments. There was a note on the bed, written in Quinn’s messy scrawl. “I love you more than all the stars in the sky. Welcome home.”