Summer was gone. Then last lingering days of August were about to give way to the crisp new days of September. And with September came a new beginning for me; a new moment yet again. Was I stronger? I really didn't know, but I had managed to patch the scraps and swatches of my life back together over the last few months. It was slow going, almost as slow as the physical process of my body mending itself back together again.
Dave had spent all his evenings and days off work with me throughout the entire summer. In the mornings I would go to physical therapy, and the afternoons were split between meeting with a psychologist and doing water therapy in a nearby pool. The scars on my legs and stomach stood out clearly against my slight tan, but my face had fared slightly better. The freckles gained from my hours in the sun had covered the marks left from the stitches.
Dave was always there when I got home, grumpy and exhausted, and he never complained when lashed out at him. He never asked for more than I could give him; in fact he never asekd anything from me at all. He just supported me and loved me like no one else could. I sometimes felt with a pang that I was somehow becoming too dependent on him, but then I told myself that it didn't matter.
But there really was no denying it now. In two days time I would be returning to New Jersey to attend college and Dave would be going to school in New York City. Even though we would be closer geographically than we had been last year, it would be a rude awakening from the closeness of this summer.
Aunt Jessie and Uncle Liam had taken the kids out to dinner, but I had decided to spend the night at home. Aunt Jessie had taken me out shopping for school this afternoon, and going out in public always wore me out. I didn't expect Dave tonight because it was his stepmother's birthday. I sat in the swing on the porch, lost in my musings as usual.
I ran my fingers through my hair, trying to get used to the new cut. After our brief shopping excursion today, we had wandered into a hair salon downtown on a whim. When we emerged, I had parted with twelve inches of my thick red hair and was sporting a stylishly shaggy and short haircut.
I didn't hear him come up the stairs. In fact I didn't even notice him at all until he spoke. "God, Jamie, you're gorgeous," he breathed.
"I didn't hear you come up," I said as I flushed at his words.
"No," he agreed. "You seemed pretty oblivious. When did you get your hair cut?"
"This morning," I answered selfconsciously. "Do you like it?"
"I love it," he said, sitting next to me on the swing and running his fingers through my hair. I couldn't help myself, I closed my eyes and leaned into his touch. Since my accident, Dave had been extremely careful about touching me. Too careful.
I slid closer, wondering as I did so why I craved his touch so. For a few long moments we stayed like that, the only movement the gentle rocking of the porch swing and Dave's fingers in my hair. It was wonderful, and all to soon it was over. "Jamie, don't do this to me," Dave rasped as he pulled away.
I was surprised; not only by his words, but also by the raw emotion in his voice. "Do what?" I asked.
"Don't encourage me if you don't feel the same way about me as I do about you."
It had taken him so long to say anything, to do anything. The whole summer he had been there for me, but he had never asked for anything in return. And now his only request was that I keep my distance for both our sakes. It hurt me that he didn't realize how I felt about him, but at the same time, I didn't even know how I felt about him.
"Dave," I said, but I faltered before I could continue.
"You know what?" Dave asked before I could finish. "Forget about it." And then, as if determined to change the topic, he said," I think I'm going to kidnap you tonight."
"You're doing what?" I asked, recovering my gift of speech as the words recalled my ordeal at the hands of Mickey.
Dave seemed to realize his mistake at the same time. "We're doing something that we haven't done all summer," he amended, looking around the porch.
"They're under the swing," I told him, knowing intuitively what he was looking for. "What are we doing?" I asked as he fished my crutch and cane out from underneath me.
"We are going on an adventure," he said with his trademark crooked grin.
"That doesn't exactly answer my question," I replied, taking the hand he offered and struggling to stand up. He handed me my crutch and I tucked it under my right shoulder, and then I took the cane in my left hand. I started my slow descent down the front steps of the porch, weary after the long day. Half way down the walkway I stopped. "I should at least leave a note for my aunt and uncle," I said to Dave.
He took one look at the weariness on my face and said, "You worry about getting to the car, I'll leave a note for them on the kitchen table."
"Thanks," was all I said, but I wondered about his unusual lack of patience. Normally he would have made me walk all the way back up the steps and into the house, just to prove to me that I could. Dave was brutal about making me walk and try to do as much as I could.
Thankfully Dave had borrowed his mom's car instead of his dad's jeep, which would have been impossible for me to get into without assistance. By the time he came back outside, I had my crutch and the cane stowed in the backseat and I was buckled in and ready to go. "Where are we going?" I asked as he started the car and pulled out of the driveway.
"You'll see when we get there," he said with a smirk.
So I contented myself with studying the signs on the highway as we drove, determined to figure it out for myself. A couple of times I felt Dave looking at me, even as he drove, and finally I looked up and caught him staring. "What's wrong?" I asked him.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "Nothing's wrong."
"Then why are you staring at me?" I asked.
"I'm just getting used to the new haircut," he said smoothly, but after that his eyes were kept firmly trained on the road.
It's all right if you want to stare at me I wanted to say, but I couldn't. Instead I looked out the window, stealing glances at him when I thought he wasn't looking. I couldn't believe that I was acting like a middle school girl who had a crush on her best friend, but it was true. Somewhere in all the long months of being to tired and busy and in pain, Dave had ceased to be just my best friend and had become something more. But I couldn't say anything, not after what had happened to me this spring.
But Dave's not like that the rational part of me argued. He would never betray you or even intentionally hurt you.
"We're here," he said eventually, breaking the silence and jarring me out of my reverie.
"Where's here?" I asked him again, more than a little impatient.
"Don't you recognize it?" he asked me with an evil grin.
I looked around and realized that we were once again at the beach by ourselves at night. "You sneak," I said, punching him playfully in the arm. "You came a way that I wouldn't recognize on purpose."
"What can I say?" he asked. "I just have mad skills, that's all."
"Yeah, whatever," I replied, opening the car door and carefully stepping out onto the sidewalk. I reached into the car for my crutch and cane, but Dave came around the side of the car and stopped me.
"I'll carry you," he said.
"Do you remember what happened last time you carried me?" I asked him. "I'd prefer hobbling across the sand to being dumped in it," I said with a laugh.
"I didn't mean to drop you," he protested. "It was just so late, and we were so tired."
"Excuses, excuses," I said.
Walking on the sand was even more difficult than I thought it would be. The cane would get stuck in the sand and the crutch would drag. It took me twice as long to reach the curve of beach that sloped down to the shore as it should have. Dave was patient with me though, and strolled next to me as though my snail's pace were the most natural thing in the world.
When we reached the place where the beach curved down towards the water, Dave took out a throw blanket and put it down on the sand. "You came prepared," I commented as I let my crutch drop.
"I try," was all he said as he helped me to sit on the blanket.
"Thanks," I said and he nodded as he sat down next to me. We both sat there in a companionable silence for a while, staring out into the waves. The sky was dark and clear, and the heat of the day was turning into the cool heaviness of August nighttime. "What are you thinking about?" I asked him finally, turning to look at him.
"Just remembering the last time we did this," he said.
I sighed, looking back out at the waves crashing against the shore. "So much has happened since then," I said. "I feel like I'm a completely different person then I was last year."
"It's been a rough year for you," Dave agreed. "You have changed a lot."
"I wish I knew whether it was good change or not," I sighed. My hair blew across my eyes and I brushed it out of the way. The short haircut was going to take a while to get used to.
"I think it is," Dave said gently. "You're so much stronger than you know, Jamie."
"I'm really not," I said. "I'm just a good faker."
"Stop," he said turning to face me. "You're beautiful and smart and strong. Don't put yourself down all the time. I don't know anyone who could have gone through the stuff you've had to go through. And you've never given up, Jamie. You're going to get all the way better and you're going to be happy."
"I don't deserve you," I said softly, afraid to make eye contact with him.
"You deserve better than me," he muttered.
"There isn't anyone better than you," I said, taking his hand in my own. The look of hope and surprise in his eyes gave me the courage to say the words that I should have said months ago. I should have told him how I felt before now, but I was too afraid to be hurt, too afraid of the possibility of being betrayed and left alone again. But I knew that Dave would never betray me or leave me, so I looked down at our intertwined hands and said my piece.
"I know it can't have been easy, being my friend this last year," I started. "First with my mom, and then with everything that happened with Ben. I'm sorry that I put you through all that."
"Jamie, that's what friends do," he said.
I wasn't so easily sidetracked. "Not really, Dave," I told him. "Anna didn't do any of that for me, and even Maya wasn't the one who was there for me the most. You were."
The words were harder to come by now, harder to spit out as I got nearer to telling him the truth. "The truth, Dave, is that you did it because you loved me."
I wouldn't let him interrupt me, not now, not when it was so important. "I know that I've been horrible to you, and that I've made some truly terrible decisions. And I know that in two days I'm moving back to New Jersey and you'll be moving too and who knows when we'll have a chance to see each other again."
My voice gained speed as my nerves got the better of me. "And I know I've distanced myself from you, emotionally and physically, especially this summer. But I- I also know that I couldn't live without you."
"Jamie." His voice was soft, and I didn't want to look at his face to see his rejection there.
"I think I'm in love with you, Dave," I said almost inaudibly.
He was trying to get me to look at him, and I really just couldn't. It had taken me weeks to come to grips with the fact that I was in love with my best friend, and even more weeks to work up the courage to tell him. But now that I had, I was convinced that it was the stupidest thing I could have done.
"And I realize that you just want to be friends, that us dating would be a mistake." I was babbling, trying desperately to back paddle far enough to be back in my comfort zone. "I shouldn't have said anything."
"I don't think it would be a mistake," he said, leaning closer to me, his hand squeezing mine.
"What?" I had finally looked into his beautiful blue eyes, and I had lost track of my already convoluted train of thought.
"I don't think it would be a mistake."
"What wouldn't be a mistake?" I asked confusedly.
"Us dating," he said. "I think it's the best thing that could happen to me."
"No," I said. Happiness was within reach; for the first time in a year I could almost taste it, it was that close. The prospect frightened me so much that I wanted to run away from it. "It wouldn't work, Dave. We're best friends, and dating would destroy that. I mean, we're so happy as friends, why ruin it?"
"Jamie," he said, leaning closer. "Shut up."
"Wha-" I started to question what he was doing, but his lips met mine and silenced me.
For the first time in months, I felt free. Dave shifted even closer to me, hugging me close to his body and running his hands down my arms to encircle my waist. When we broke apart for a minute, he closed the remaining space between us by gathering me in his arms and gently shifting me until I was on his lap. He kissed my forehead and the tip of my nose before returning to kiss my lips.
"Jamie," he said a few long moments later, his breathing shallow and irregular. "Jamie Hennessey, will you be my girlfriend?"
I hesitated, but then I did the right thing for the first time in a year. "Yes," I said, blushing like an idiot. He kissed me hard on the lips, then jumped up, spraying sand all over me as he whooped and turned in crazy circles. I couldn't help but laugh as I watched.
"That's the first time you've laughed all summer," he sat, sitting back down in front of me and kissing me again.
"It's the first time I've wanted to laugh," I told him in surprise.
"I'm happy, Jamie," he said, leaning his forehead against mine. "Are you happy?"
I thought about it for a long moment, the only sounds in my mind were his breathing and the sound of the ocean. "I am," I said finally, then repeated, "I am."
"What do you want to do?" he asked, looking me in the eye.
"I want to dance," I whispered, feeling the happiness drain from me in a wave of despair. "But I can't."
Dave frowned, then stood up. "I can't help you step dance," he said, "but could I have this dance?" He held out his hand like the stars of the old song and dance movies. I frowned uncertainly, but then I put my hand in his.
He reached down and scooped me up, and before I could protest, he was carrying me down to the water line, where the sand was wet and the foam from the waves lapped around his feet. He gently set my down on my feet and my arms went around his neck for support. His hands were strong on my waist, keeping me from falling on my weakened legs.
"Remember the song that I sent you in the mail?" he asked, his face buried in my hair as we circled slowly.
"I Hope You Dance," I replied. "Of course I remember."
"I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean," he sang, softly and slightly off key. I smiled and looked up and him, and he kissed me. "I hope you dance, Jamie," he said.
"I am dancing," I told him with a smile.
And then, with the waves chilling our feet and Dave holding up most of my body weight, we danced.
Well Everyone, this is the end. Jamie's story has come to a close, and so has my experiment with writing modern day fiction. While I did enjoy it, I think my style is better suited to historical or well I don't really know how to describe the world of my other stories, but I think I'm better at them. So we'll see if I have any bright ideas for modern stuff in the future, but for now I'm probably just going to concentrate on Ishelyn's story.
This will be a longer note than usual, because it is the end. While I'm a little sad, I hope you guys will stay with me for my other stuff.
Ms. Urania, who was with this story in the beginning and gave me much needed encouragement and advice too.
Kitty-mao-mao: not only for your reviews, but also for the well wishes for my niece. It means a lot to me.
j.u.s.t.f.o.r.m.e: for sticking with all my stories. There may be an epilogue, but I think this chapter wraps things up pretty nicely.
Silver-Dragon5: thanks for all your reviews…it always makes my day when I see them in my inbox.
Malaise: sorry for my diatribe in the last chapter. We were waiting for test results and I was a little edgy. Thanks for the reviews and emails and for your honest opinion. It really is important to be able to say what's on your mind, and I appreciate that you did.
Becxfok01: I think you're one of the only people who likes my modern stuff better, thanks for the review.
Kjersti, Rose Jameson, lilxseeker, the Butterfly Empress, TinuvialDork: thank you guys sosososo much for reviewing and reading and everything!
I hope everyone enjoyed this story and that if you have time, you'll check out my other stories. Thanks again!