Soul mates…or just for now?
In the movies, a romantic triangle is always obvious, and soul mates rule. Jess has learned the hard way that it is perfectly possible to love two guys at once. She’s painfully torn between sexy snowboard Olympic hopeful Tyler Smith and her smolderingly gorgeous co-star Kaleb Te Anga. Each has something to offer, and each is flawed.
How can Jess possibly choose? But if she doesn’t make up her mind, she just might end up losing them both.
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I’m crashing on the bed of my hotel room, as exhausted as I’ve ever been, when the commercial comes on TV. The commercial Jess made in New Zealand.
My brain is back on the slopes, reviewing each move, each flip and turn and rotation. My scores were decent, but they’re going to have to be better than decent to make the team. My bad hip is on fire and my left ankle has been giving me a lot of shit, but I can feel the cohesiveness of everything else, muscles and bones and tendons, buzzing but whole and working cohesively. If I hadn’t landed in a sloppy crap mess on the second run, I’d be top tier right now.
But that’s how it rolls.
I’m icing the ankle, flipping channels—click, click, click—and there she is, Jess, coming out of the water in a wet suit, laughing. There she is, kayaking on the open sea. There she is, bobbing in the water with a pod of dolphins dancing around her.
And Kaleb is there, too, vigorous and focused entirely on Jess, his crazy-fantastic tiger eyes shooting sparks of attraction.
Come to New Zealand.
Adrenaline surges through my legs and chest, forcing me off the bed to pace toward the window, back to stare at the television, back to the window. My thoughts are racing, insanely jealous and furious and even, yeah, violent, because I’d like to obliterate that guy, right off the planet, him with his knowing eyes and unshakable expression. He looked at me like that in the bar in Queenstown, holding up a hand in case I meant Jess harm, but unrattled when I kissed her, right in front of him.
As if he had nothing to worry about.
In minutes, my ears are roaring as I replay the commercial in my head, over and over. It’s the crazy-town roar, I know it, but that doesn’t stop me from slamming open my laptop and stabbing in a search for “come to New Zealand commercial” and then playing the fuckers seven times in a row, all three of them, all about Jess and Kaleb falling in love against a backdrop of New Zealand.
There are two scenes that send knives through my heart. The first is the dolphin scene. Both of them are star-struck, gilded, and amazed, and there’s a second when their eyes lock that you know how they’re feeling about each other.
The second one is on the deck of a boat or a ferry or something. The landscape behind them is enormous, imposing and astonishing. Kaleb puts his hand on her face and kisses her in a way that isn’t like a commercial at all, but when he lifts his head, it’s the expression on Jess’s face that nearly breaks me. I know that expression—her clear pale eyes brimming with love, but more than that. It says if I don’t fuck you in the next six seconds, I’ll die of hunger. I’ve seen it when she looks up at me, but this time, she’s looking at Kaleb.
Yeah, she’s acting. Maybe she’s just that good.
But what if she’s not just acting? What if all this time I’ve been giving her is going to mean I lose her forever?
After the encounter in Queenstown, when she kissed me back but held on to Kaleb’s hand, Jess set down some rules. She had feelings for both of us, she said, and needed some space to figure out what that meant and what she should do. She asked if we could all just…date.
I laughed out loud when she asked me in a Skype call. “What does that even mean?” I asked, and then narrowed my eyes. “Is Electra behind this?” It seemed like something the woman would say.
Jess nodded stiffly, and I realized I’d hurt her feelings. “I talked to her about it.”
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed. It’s just such an old-school idea.”
“Maybe.” She shrugged one slim shoulder. “But the truth is, if you’re going to make the Olympic team, your energy needs to be on training. I want to stay here with my dad for awhile, work in the greenhouse with him, and learn the vines and go surfing with him. Kaleb landed a part, so he’s going to be filming on the north island for the next couple of months. It just seems like a good idea to use this time to sort of—step back.”
My heart dropped, but she was right in a way. There was no way I had much left over for anything but training. And if Kaleb was gone, too, then I wouldn’t feel so anxious about it. “Okay. Tell me the rules.”
There weren’t many. She wouldn’t sleep with either one of us, and she wanted to get rid of Skype, too, which I resisted but eventually gave in. Her theory was that she wanted to remove the physical stuff and focus on the mental/emotional connections. Whatever. As if the chemistry isn’t the heart of everything.
She also said, “If you want to go out with someone else, you should.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Go out?”
“You know what I mean. It’s not realistic to ask you to be faithful. Not when we are so far apart and will be for such a long time.”
A stone fell into my gut. “It sounds like you’re cutting me loose.”
“No!” she put her hand to the screen. “Not at all.” Her eyes were so troubled that it softened my throat and I leaned in, wishing I could press my forehead against hers, that I could breathe in the scent of her skin. She said, “I just don’t know how to sort out my feelings without doing this.”
The thing is, I never stop thinking about her. Never. It’s been nearly four months since that day at the bar in Queenstown, and I still wake up with her on my mind, and it’s still her I imagine when my unused dick needs at least my hand for the moment.
A lot of women are around now that the Grand Prix qualifying events have started, and I get my share of invitations. I haven’t taken any of them, yet.
But now, my old enemy is running bright red up all the nerves in my body, setting them on fire. I can’t sit still. I fling my body out of the chair, feeling the pulse of fury banging at the top of my head, threatening to blow the top off. This thing, this madness, is what put me in jail. It’s what made me lose it over Jess’s old boyfriend and in the end, lose her.
What feels good?
That was the trick the therapist finally settled on. What would feel good, not bad?
Breaking faces. Not an option.
Throwing something through the window. Not an option.
Seeing her, holding her. A cool breeze blows on my hot nerves. Yes.
I have exactly five days before my next obligation, not an official training run, but a hard-to-get one-on-one with a famous coach.
Five days. It will take at least twenty-four hours to fly to New Zealand, another twenty-four to get back. Which, given the loss of a day when I cross the dateline, will give me about a day to spend with Jess.
See her. Touch her skin. Kiss her.
Surely kissing is allowed.
Even if it isn’t, I can convince her. I know it. That’s where chemistry comes in handy.
I open another window on the laptop and search for flights leaving in the morning from Denver. I’ll be back in time for the meeting.
It costs a liver and an arm to get the tickets, but I take it out of the slush fund my dad established, then head out to find my coach Alice and break the news. She’s gonna flip out. The flights are dehydrating. My body needs the downtime. We have some important shit coming up and she’ll think I’m blowing it off.
But I don’t care. I’m going.
I’m in the greenhouse when the phone call comes, the call that turns my life upside down, again. It’s hot and I’m working next to the open door, hoping to catch some stray breezes. The dog is crashed in a thick patch of shade next to a broom bush, and a fly keeps landing on his nose.
It’s December, only eight days until Christmas. The sun is high and hot, the air as still as a held breath. My dad says the grapes love this weather, especially when the nights get cool with breezes off the ocean.
I’m by myself at the moment, a rarity these days. Dad and Katie have gone to Wellington for some winery business stuff, Darcy is living in Christchurch after much begging, and Kaleb is on the North Island, finishing a stint on a popular television series he landed after our commercial. The offers have come in hard and heavy for him, and I’ve hardly seen him the past three months—he’s only been home twice since September, both whirlwind trips to mostly help my dad. We had one weekend up in Auckland, which I keep trying not to think about because it kind of broke the rules I set up for this crazy triangle thing.
I did not get the part I read for after the commercial, which was not as disappointing as I thought it might be. It’s been good to stop and take a breath here with my dad. We’ve been surfing and exploring the world I almost remember now. He’s had a couple of gatherings so I could get reacquainted with my cousins and my Nan and my aunts and uncles. So much family! It’s heaven. It’s funny to see things in other people, like the same shape of our mouths, and the tendency toward a slightly crooked eyetooth, even a way of laughing. I’ve never had this in my life, and it thrills me.
The other thing I’ve been doing is working with my dad, learning the vines. He’s given me a section of the greenhouse for my own stuff, and I’ve been growing flowers of various kinds—some gloxinias and a couple of orchids, and a lot of other more mundane things, which I’ve been planting around the house and the cafe area.
It’s been a fantastic four months. Not having to work my ass off. Not having to hustle to keep a roof over my head. Not worrying every second if I have enough money for both gas and food. I stashed my money from the commercial, so I have a cushion. My dad loves me and wants me to stay here, so I have no rent. He pays me to help around the vineyard. I’m learning so it’s not tons of money, but enough.
The thing I haven’t been thinking a lot about is what to do about Kaleb and Tyler. Nothing has changed. I love them both for different reasons, and both of them have been willing to step back and give the whole thing some time. I haven’t had to take any action because they’ve both been so swamped with their own stuff.
That’s about to change, in a big way.
My phone rings against my butt, and thinking it’s my dad calling to check in, I swing it up to my ear. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jess,” says an American accented voice, very rumbly and deep. “This is Peter Barlow, with Blue Lagoon Productions.”
My heart squeezes inside out, making it impossible to speak for what seems like a year. Then it rights. “Yeah, hi.”
“I’m calling with what I hope is good news. We want to offer you the part of Jules in Torches.”
“What?” My voice squeaks. I curl my body around the phone, swinging away from the too bright sunlight as if it might be creating a mirage. It’s been a couple of months since I auditioned for this part, in a cold dry room up in Auckland. I just assumed I didn’t get it. It is the most piercing, crazy-beautiful story, and I can admit now that I really, really, really wanted it. “Oh, my God, yes, yes. Of course I do. It’s the most beautiful story ever.”
“You’re perfect, Jess, and the writer especially wanted you. I’ve called your agent, too, of course, and he’s going to call you with all the financials and other details, but I asked if I could break the news.”
“Thank you, Mr. Barlow. Really. Thank you so much.” I take a breath, wondering about Kaleb. “Are you allowed to tell me who is playing Rome?”
“Oh, of course. It’s your friend Kaleb—it was the pair of you that made the magic.”
A bloom of yellow happiness bursts around me. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I’m so excited my mouth is as dry as the dust under my feet. “Thank you!”
“It’s my pleasure,” he chuckles. “I’ll see you very soon.”
The phone clicks off, and the happiness fills my legs and arms, electrifying my spine so much that I have to run outside and twirl in a circle, laughing, my head back, the sun on my face. The dog jumps up and runs around in a circle, barking, and I let everything sparkle through me, like a thousand stars. I laugh and stomp my feet and laugh some more.
Torches was one of the biggest teen novels of the year last year, a story of star-crossed lovers sort of loosely based on Romeo and Juliet. I read it when I found out they wanted me to try out for the part, and I cried so hard that there was a pool of tears on the table when I was finished.
My phone rings in my hand. It’s Kaleb. “Hey, Jules,” he says in his sexy Kiwi accent. “It’s Rome.”
The night we spent in Auckland comes rushing back, hot and sexy and full of all the emotion we generated reading the script. My skin goes hot from forehead to toes. “Oh, my God, Kaleb, can you believe it? We’re in!”
“We’re going to America!”
I laugh, that this is the first thing. “It’s the best story!”
“Darcy is going to kill me.”
“She can come visit. I mean, I haven’t asked, but I’m guessing one of us can afford to fly her out, right?”
It’s his turn to laugh. “You haven’t asked?”
“Is it a lot?”
“Yeah, Jess.” He pauses. “It’s a lot. Neither one of us will have to worry about much for a long time to come.”
It seems distant and strange, not real. “I can’t believe it.”
“I know.” He pauses briefly, then, “Ted is on the other line. I’m sure he’s calling with details. Talk soon, yeah?”
“Yeah.” I hang up and laugh some more, spinning in a circle of happiness, my hair flying around me. I have to cut my hair, I realize—it was one of the stipulations—but I don’t even care right now.
The story is so, so, so good. I can’t wait to bring it alive.
* * *
I’m too filled with excitement to focus on the plants, so I head inside the house and try to phone my dad, but I know he’s in meetings. I leave him a chirpy message: “Hey, Dad, call me. I have some very interesting news.”
My agent Ted calls, too. I never think he likes me that much, honestly, but he loves Kaleb and so reps me, too. This time he’s really excited and congratulatory. He’s going to send an email with all the important stuff in it, but just wanted to let me know the details himself. “You’re going to be great, Jess,” he says.
“Things are going to jump off as soon as they make the announcement. Enjoy the calm before the storm.”
The storm? I’m not sure what he’s talking about, but I don’t want to say that. “Um, I sure will. It’s almost Christmas.”
“So it is.”
My excitement is like big soap bubbles rising through my body and popping out of the top of my head, all iridescent and amazing. I laugh again.
I check the time and it’s fine to call the US, so I pull up Skype on the iPad and try Tyler first. I’ve been mainly trying to keep to phone conversations and emails, which is a suggestion Electra—who is sort of a friend, sort of a mentor/mother in my life—gave me when I was so freaked out over my conflicting feelings for two guys. If I’m not looking at either one of them, I’m focusing more on who they are.
But this is special—such big, big news deserves to be shared face to face. Unfortunately, he doesn’t pick up.
A little deflated, I try my stepdad Henry and then Electra, but neither one of them are home, either. It’s too soon to post anything to Facebook, or Instagram, which I’ve started to use a lot more lately. I follow both Tyler and Kaleb’s feeds there—they both have a bizarre number of followers. Kaleb’s numbers have been creeping way, way up since the news came out that he would play the boyfriend of a girl in a popular TV series for a five-episode set, which is what he’s been filming up North. Ted asked him to start posting something most days, and although he resisted at first he’s been really good with it—silly selfies with one actor or another, crazy pictures of the dogs and cats he sees, and shots of all the behind the scenes people on the set. He also takes pictures of bottles of Long Cloud Wine whenever he sees them, and there are some of us whenever we get together. A lot during the trip to Auckland, and some around the winery.
Tyler, on the other hand, shoots pictures of himself and his friends doing crazy stunts, powder flying everywhere, girls and guys both. His coach Alice figures in a lot, scowling over a meal or cheering him with a beer. There’s another girl, too, also an Olympic contender, the younger sister of one of his friends, he says, and a daredevil who has a taste for river rapids and rock climbing. I have sort of wondered if she might be somebody he might have sex with sometimes, but something about the way he talks about her makes me think not. Like a kid sister.
It’s weird that he never posts pictures of his paintings, but he never does. I’ve never heard him mention that part of himself in interviews, either. He’s been doing a lot of interviews lately, everyone intrigued by the has-been making his comeback.
Anyway. I can’t post to Instagram about the film, either, but I can post a selfie of me smiling gigantically. Something exciting just happened. #secret
Now what? All the lovely alone time now just seems irritating. Katie told me I could start decorating the Christmas tree if I wanted. She’s set up a fake green tree, really pretty, in the corner of the family room. The ornaments are in a storage area with everything else people don’t use—old skis and a pair of skates, boxes and boxes, few of them with anything on the outside. At the back, there are a couple that say Xmas, and I drag them into the family room one at a time. Neither is heavy.
Opening the first, I see small boxes of various kinds of ornaments, but looking at them, all the little bulbs and shapes and painted wooden things, I suddenly feel like an alien. These decorations all have a history, stories inside of them that are all about Christmases I didn’t share. I pull out an emerald glass bell, beginning to fade, and hold it up to the light. When was it purchased? Who likes this one the best?
I think of the tree at Henry’s house, and all the tinsel he likes, the way he chuckles to himself as he spreads it like spider webs over the tidy arrangement my mother made of matched sets of glass balls, usually red and green and blue, none of them particularly interesting. There were some I’d made at school, and a few people gave us over the years, but Christmas wasn’t really my mom’s thing.
In comparison, I plunge my hand into the tissue paper piles, finding treasure after treasure. A photo of my dad and Katie, much younger, on a beach, made into a teardrop-shaped glass ornament; quilted pictures that must have been made by Darcy and Kaleb. Very, very old things that look like they came from another time.
And then I pull one out that sets my skin on fire. It’s a Santa face, glass, with red apple cheeks, as big as my hand. Mine! I hear in my head. That’s mine!
I close my eyes to see if anything more comes, but that’s all. I remember the ornament, that’s all.
But it’s a lot. With some reverence, I hang it on the tree. The first one. Something about it makes my heart feel hollow and lost, and I’m on the verge of tears when my phone rings in my pocket. The number is unfamiliar, but hoping it’s my dad, I answer. “Hello?”
“Hey, Jess,” says Tyler’s smoky, smooth voice. I close my eyes, unprepared for the silky depth of it. “Are you busy?”
“Tyler!” I hold the phone close, bending my head to make a private circle even though there is no one else here but me. “Just decorating the Christmas tree. What’s up? Did you get my Skype try?”
“Did you try to Skype me?”
“Yes, a little while ago. I have some interesting news.”
“Well, how about you tell me in person?”
“I’m in Nelson.”
“Like Nelson, New Zealand?”
“Yeah. I just landed—and I only have about 9 hours before I have to be on a plane back to the US.”
“Tyler! That’s crazy!”
“I know.” His voice deepens, roughens. “I just miss you and I had this little window of time, and I thought I’d give it a shot.” He pauses. “Surprise you.”
“Wow.” My heart swells with his confession. I’m so touched that he would fly so far for just a chance. But—“I don’t have any way to get there. My dad is gone and Kaleb is on the North Island doing a film.”
“I’m glad he’s gone,” he says, and he doesn’t mean my dad. “You know, you’re starting to pick up the accent.”
“Yeah. How about this—I’ll send a car. It can be there in a couple of hours. I’ll shower and grab a quick nap and we can go to the beach and then have some supper. I’d love some sun on my skin.”
“A car from Nelson is going to be expensive.”
“I don’t care. I need to see you, Jess. Please come.”
The tree with its single ornament mocks me from the corner, reminding me of all the ways I don’t belong here. I think of Tyler, so close by, and my heart turns over. “I can’t believe you’re so close. Send a car.”
“All right.” His voice thickens with pleasure. “Jesus, I can’t wait to see you.”
A rush of anticipation rolls down my spine, pools in my hips. “Me, too.”
I tell myself not to get all caught up in the whole thing, that it will just be fun to see him, see how it feels and share my good news. I’m nervous, excited, anxious—the usual tangle of emotions he stirs up.
The last time I saw him was in the bar in Queenstown. I was angry with him for not telling me that he was in training for the Olympics, mad at him for keeping another secret from me, and told him I wanted some breathing room.
And in typical Tyler fashion—all big gestures—he showed up in the bar in New Zealand, and while Kaleb held my hand on one side, Tyler stole a kiss. Until that very second, when his lips claimed mine with such authority, I was sure I was choosing Kaleb. Who is beautiful. And steady. And smart. And in mad love with me.
But there was Tyler’s hot mouth on mine, sucking me in, sucking me into his world—our world, the world of Jess-and-Tyler—and for one long second, I was lost and kissing him back, even as my fingers gripped Kaleb’s as if to keep myself from drowning.
It sounds kind of slutty, I guess, but the truth is, sometimes a person loves more than one guy at a time. I haven’t figured this out, but that’s one thing I know for absolute sure: I am in love with bothTyler Smith and Kaleb Te Anga. They are completely different from each other—and each satisfies something crazy hungry in me.
How do you know who is the right person for you?
It’s not like I’m hiding anything from either one of them. They both agreed to give me some time. I haven’t asked either of them to be faithful to me, though I try very hard not to think about that. It makes me feel like my skin is being peeled off to think of either of them even kissing someone else.
This never happens in the movies—there is always a soul mate, and you might not recognize him/her immediately, but eventually there’s a sense that these two people are destined to be together forever. If that’s true, why don’t I know who to choose?
Electra says not to put too much stock into the idea of soul mates. She’s been around awhile, so she must know—but she’s also…kind of closed off. She doesn’t go out with anybody. She lives alone. She took a wrong turn when she was young and has been alone since then.
That’s not what I want, to be so wary of making the wrong decision that I don’t make one at all and lose them both. The idea makes me feel sick to my stomach.
But that’s exactly what I’m risking right now by deciding not to decide. Something tells me that time is running out—sooner or later, one of them will get tired of my waffling and walk away. That would be no choice at all.
Stripping off my shorts and t-shirt, I turn the water on in the shower and stare at myself in the mirror. Kaleb and I have the movie to do, so we have to keep things on an even keel there. Tyler is training and won’t be around much. Spending the day with him is only fair, since I had the time with Kaleb in Auckland.
For now, though, there’s no point in getting all worked up about it all. I don’t need to make a decision today.
In the shower, I take time to really scrub my skin, which is very tan from all the time outside. I shave my legs and wash my hair and then sit outside in the sunshine to brush it out so it will be straight and shiny. Feeling it swish over my arms and pulling it over my shoulder to brush it, I feel a pang over the film requirement that I have to cut it. It will be hard, but I’m not giving up the part over it. People have been telling me I should cut it for ages.
But what if my hair is all that I have, and nobody will notice me anymore if I don’t have this Rapunzel hair? I pull it between my palms, smoothing it.
One thing I have to do is let Kaleb know that I’m going to see Tyler. If I call, my voice might give something away that I don’t want him to hear, so I take the coward’s way and text.
Hey, this weird thing happened. Tyler just called. He’s in Nelson just for the day and I’m going up there to see him. Just wanted you to know.
His reply is terse: Understood.
It makes my heart ache. What does that mean? Is he mad?
Am I the biggest bitch in the world? It’s not like I lied when we first started having feelings for each other. I was very, very upfront. I’ve been as honest as I can possibly be.
Except that night in Auckland, maybe. It broke the rules, for sure. My rules.
I pace back and forth across the shade of the porch, arms crossed over my waist. This is exactly why I’ve been taking a break from romance for the past few months. I don’t want my whole head filled with nothing but guys and sex and drama. Until August, I’d had a boyfriend constantly since I was fourteen.
Have I learned anything?
I’m not sure. It’s been good, just being with my family, connecting to myself and the vineyard, learning new things, relaxing a little bit. I’m in love with this place, with New Zealand and the winery and being with my dad and my family. I don’t know that I ever want to go back to the US.
Well, except for the movie. My heart flips again. Kaleb, the movie. Tyler. Funny how things happen all at once.
I guess the peaceful time is over.
I pause to look out toward the road, shading my eyes against the bright sun. The car is nosing along the thin road, and my stomach jumps. It stays nervous as I climb in and greet the driver, stays jumpy all the way into Nelson, even though I sit in the back and read a novel I found for 20 pence at the local thrift shop. I’m finding they are great spots to look for books, and there’s always something different from what I’d find in the US.
The US. We’ll be heading back there to film Torches, and right to my back yard, too—Aspen. I’ll have to figure out how to spend some time with my stepdad and Electra. I wonder who is living in my little house?
It all seems so far away now, though, another life. Vaguely I wonder if I am an American citizen, too, or if claiming the New Zealand citizenship means I am not an American citizen even if I have a social security card.
Come to that, how did my mom manage my social security card without my birth certificate? Are the kids of Americans automatically American?
It makes me more anxious to think about all this, so I push it aside and peer out the window. In the bright afternoon sunlight, the vineyards are lush and green, spilling over the hillsides looking out over Cloudy Bay. My dad and I went surfing there a few weeks ago, and it was the best day I’ve had with him so far. There were hardly any people out and the waves were sweet.
Finally we’re on the outskirts of Nelson and then the car is pulling up in front of the square by the cathedral where I told Tyler to meet me—outside, in plain sight. “Here you are, miss,” the driver says. “This is where I’m to drop you and pick you up again later, yeah?”
I nod and hand him a crisp twenty as a tip. It makes me feel adult and together, and I love that I actually have the money to do it. “I’ll see you later, then. Right here.”
He gives me his card. “Or call me if you want a different spot.”
I get out of the car and smooth my sundress. It’s new, soft cotton with a fitted bodice and swingy skirt that stops just above my knees. The colors are bright and summery, turquoise and pink in a sort of subdued Hawaiian print, with string straps and a thin silvery belt. I’m wearing silver sandals that show off my super-tan feet. Tossing my bag over my shoulder, I start walking, looking for Tyler, pretending I’m not nervous.
It gives me confidence to know I look my best, that I’m wearing a fashionable dress I bought with my own money, and the little sweater I can toss on over the dress is also just right. Katie and I had a blast shopping for clothes when we took Darcy to Queenstown a couple of months ago. I spent more in one day on these clothes than I used to pay in rent, a very small amount of the money the commercial paid. Katie encouraged me to do it; I think she was a little sad that I had so few clothes when I arrived, and those that I did have were pretty old.
The sun is really hot on my shoulders, shining triple time through the hole in the ozone layer, or so they say around here. Whatever it is, I know I get sunburned a lot faster down here, and I have good skin for tanning. I wear sunscreen all the time.
To get out of the sun, I duck into some shade and sit on a bench, looking around the square. There are lots of people out enjoying the day, tourists and locals, eating ice cream, riding bikes and skateboards, holding hands. New Zealanders love Nelson—it’s the place they all say they want to retire—good weather, great sailing, excellent food. I watch a small family, mom and dad swinging a toddler between them, the boy laughing and crying out, “Again.”
But it’s really ageen.
Right behind the family is Tyler. I spy him before he sees me. He’s wearing jeans and a white t-shirt with some kind of stylized handwriting all over it in gray and black. It fits him exactly right, not too tight, just enough to cling to his shoulders and flat belly, enough to show off the fact that he’s very lean, in absolutely perfect shape, every single muscle in his body toned and taut, chest and shoulders and thighs, even forearms. His hair is too long, very straight, and streaked blonde from all the time on the slopes. He’s wearing sunglasses so the main thing you see about his face is his perfectly shaped mouth, electrifyingly framed by that soft-looking, golden goatee.
As I stare at him, still hidden, I’m startled to realize that I am still very attracted to him. I thought it might fade with distance and time, and I realize that I’ve started to kind of rewrite our romance in my head—telling myself that there was nothing there but sex.
But as I watch him, a thousand other things come roaring back, the places where we connect, the days we shared. In the mountains, hiking, in his kitchen eating. In his studio, me posing, Tyler painting.
Half of me is tempted to get up and walk away so that I don’t have to deal with it. I can almost feel that half of me split off and hurry down the street, safely headed back to the winery and things I understand and can control, and the possibility of a relationship with a guy who is the opposite of volatile, the opposite of intense.
The other half of me stands up, heart pounding, and waits for him to notice me. He’s looking around the square. A girl in a breezy dress and long black hair gives him a big smile. He raises his chin in acknowledgment, but he’s instantly looking for me again, his hands smacking together, one fist into the other palm. I think I should lift my hand, call to him, but I can’t move.
Finally, he sees me. His body goes utterly still for one long second, then he takes off his sunglasses, as if he wants nothing between us but air. And I’d forgotten this, too, the way he looks at me. It’s dazzling, as if I am the only thing he’s ever wanted to see, as if he is winded, as if he would look at me forever.
It makes my breath flutter in my throat. He raises a hand and puts it over his heart, and then he’s walking toward me. I forgot how fluidly he moves, how loose limbed and easy. I stand there, feeling shaky, and wait.
He jogs the last few steps and then he’s reaching for me, his hands on my shoulders, then my back, his arms around me, pulling me into him in a giant, engulfing hug.
“Oh, my God,” he whispers against my ear. His lips brush my neck, his breath flows over my ear. “Oh, my God, I missed you so much.” His grip is fierce, as if he will never let me go, and I find myself returning it, our bodies smashed so hard together it’s impossible to tell where I begin and he ends. He smells of pine and snow and something spicy, a scent that makes me dizzy, and I cling to him, hard. I close my eyes, my whole body buzzing.
“Tyler,” I whisper. “I’m so glad to see you,” but it’s a strange thing to say since I can’t see him at all—I’m just gripping him tightly, my fingers on his taut, muscular back, my face pressed into his neck. A dozen flashes of memory pop against the back of my eyelids—the green-lit bedroom where I awakened beside him, imagining I could live there; the first kiss we shared, in the rain; the meal we ate at Nosh, just before everything between us fell apart. I squeeze my eyes tighter.
He lifts his head, his hands going to my face, and I have to tilt up my chin to look at him. He’s very close, his hands holding my cheeks between his palms as if I am some precious, lost thing. So close, his eyes fill my vision, a greeny-blue ocean with wild, hidden depths.
“You are more amazingly beautiful than ever,” he whispers, and then he kisses me, his sensual mouth so hot and fierce and unforgotten, capturing mine completely. It’s only lips at first, kissing and kissing; my hands are on his wrists, but I’m not sure if I’m pulling him away or holding myself upright. Then I’m softening, opening, and we’re devouring each other, tasting the forgotten flavors, the slide and glide and heat, the memories kindling into flares across my throat, my breasts, deep within. I get lost in that kiss as if I am dissolving into the force that is Tyler, the force of his desire for me—
And then I find some kernel of sanity and grip his wrists hard, pull back. Look up at him. I don’t need to say a word. He takes a breath, swallows, then bends his head to touch my forehead. “I missed you,” he whispers.
I allow myself one more moment of vulnerability. “Me, too.”