I looked in the mirror one last time, smoothing my brand new sweater over my brand new jeans. Everything had to be perfect.
I scooped up my keys, jumped in the car, and said a little prayer as I backed down the driveway.
I couldn't believe I was going to see him again. It had been six years.
Some days I felt like I had been in love with Mike for half my life. Some days I could convince myself I had never really loved him at all, but it wasn't true. He was my prince, my fantasy guy, the standard to which I compared all other men.
I hear people say, "I'll never forget the day I met him..." all the time, but I can't quite remember when I met Mike. I know it was at church, but I don't think I really noticed him. We certainly didn't spend any time together. Until my best friend developed a crush on him.
We were so ridiculous back then. She thought, for some unfathomable reason, that if she were alone with him they would instantly start ripping their clothes off, or something. Whatever the reason, they couldn't be alone, and so I was elected chaperone.
"You have to come, T! I really want to hang out with Mike, but you know we can't be alone!" Deb would say, and I would sigh and agree to play third wheel.
Except it wasn't third wheel. Not really. To this day, I'm not sure that Mike knows Deb ever had a crush on him, and I'm pretty sure he never had one on her. And so the three of us would do everything together, which is to say we did little more than go to church, hit the movies, and hang out on his couch trying to decide what to do (the means became an end in itself). He even took both of us to our senior prom. Trust me, I tried to back out, but he wouldn't hear of it.
I guess he was safe. I could goof off with him, be my craziest, silliest, most unattractive self, and it was ok, because he wasn't supposed to look at me like that. He was supposed to look at Deb like that. So I made him spin me and dip me during my slow dances, while she giggled nervously and rocked back and forth stiffly during hers. And I never tried to steal him from her. I never even thought about it. I just had two best friends instead of one.
I do, however, remember the moment that my feelings changed. We were all on a mission trip to Mexico, trying to save the savages or something like that (did I mention we were ridiculous back then?), and it was late. We were living without air conditioning - we barely had running water! I was hot, and sweating, and tired, and upset because I thought the mission people were trying to tell me I had to be something I wasn't. Almost everyone else had gone to bed, and I was sitting on a white plastic lawn chair in the courtyard, crying. Mike came up to me and asked me what was wrong, and I told him.
"I just can't be who they want me to be. I don't think I want to be who they want me to be."
Mike just took my hand and sat down in the chair on the other side of the table. Gripping my hand tightly, he met my eyes and said, "You just have to be you."
I looked at him, sweat and dirt running down his face, arm muscles rippling on either side of his muscle tee, and part of me registered that he was beautiful. The other part of me fell into his eyes. I know it's a cliche, but like fairytales they have to come from somewhere. I felt like I was looking into his soul, and seeing mine reflected back at me. And I fell in love.
After that, I went off to college, and Mike stayed behind, deciding to dedicate himself to the Lord and not date for a year. But I knew I was going to marry him someday. By the time I came back his year was up, but we just couldn't get it together. We were at different points in our lives and wanted different things.
I remember driving him to one of our friend's houses. I was on a break, and we were all hanging out. We got there late, everyone else was inside, but we sat in the car talking instead of going in.
"You still don't plan to have kids?" he asked me. He never could hide anything well, at least not from me. That he was hoping I had changed my mind was written all over his face.
I could have lied. It was a turning point, and I knew my answer would make all the difference. But I didn't.
"No, I don't want to have any children."
"Oh," he whispered. His face fell and he didn't say anything for about five minutes. Then, "I wish you would change your mind. Let me know if you change your mind," he said, meeting my eyes.
We went inside.
After that I moved to another state and he fell for a girl named Danielle. When he decided to marry her, I was the one he called.
And when his whole world fell apart, and she left him nearly standing at the altar, I was the one he called.
And when he decided to join the Marines to forget about his life for awhile, he called me again.
"It's not going to change anything, Mike. You're just going to be miserable away from home and in danger," I told him.
"Better miserable away than miserable here," he said. And he joined the Marines.
I checked the directions one more time as I exited the freeway. It had been a year since he finished boot camp. He was living near our hometown, and I was visiting for a friend's wedding.
I hadn't seen him in person in six years, and my stomach was swarming with butterflies. He was the one, I knew it, and I hoped on this trip to let him know it as well.
I got lost twice, and had to call for better directions. Hearing his voice on the phone was like a rush of pure adrenaline. I just wanted to get there so I could hold him in my arms – I had missed him so much.
I stepped out of the car and nearly tripped on my boots on the way to the door. His brother answered at my knock.
"Mike!" he called out, letting me in.
The butterflies went into hyperdrive.
A man stepped into view. He was taller, and leaner, and balder than I remembered, but it was him.
"Hey," he said, nodding at me. "Glad you found us."
His eyes were opaque.
I gave him a hug. It was awkward.
"Want to see my boot camp graduation video?" he asked.
He spit a wad of chewing tobacco into a bottle.
Not even the real Mike can live up to the one in my head.