Chapter 22 – All I Have To Do
Ever since Tuesday night things had been different.
Jesse was gone, and Mel, who I'd been worried would find a way back, had been discovered among the ashes of the gray house. When the firetrucks had finally cleared out Wednesday morning, they'd been replaced by police cruisers trying to deduce why she'd been in the old house in the first place. As soon as Mel's body had been positively identified, Livi was suddenly missing. When Tasha and I had returned home from classes her room was empty and no note was left as to where she'd gone and if she'd be back. Somehow we didn't think so.
Tasha had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Forth, Mel's parents. They offered to let us stay in the house but under the circumstances we were quiet happy just to be let out of our leases as soon as we found somewhere else to move to.
Since then I'd spent far too much time watching to news. Partially because I was a little worried they'd somehow associate me with one of the bizarre crimes I knew too much about but mostly it was because I wanted to know what was going on in the lives of two people I loved. Professor Eberhardt and Jesse.
On Channel two, police were still astounded by the mysterious death of Professor Eberhardt. They couldn't fathom what reason a good girl, with no record whatsoever, could have for breaking into her classroom and office late Monday night and killing her. The girl they described as blonde-haired and blue-eyed, who'd participated in multiple community service projects, hadn't even had any classes with the professor. It baffled many people … except those involved in the mess between Jesse and Mel. When the professor died, she enabled Jesse to live and I would never forget that for as long as I lived.
When news of Professor Eberhardt became too depressing, I changed the channel to watch the weather instead, but I was too late. They'd already done the weather and were now interviewing Edelville's newest celebrity.
Let me tell you. Seeing Jesse on the news at all times was a pretty horrible way to deal with a break up.
Every station, every five seconds there was some kind of news report about the hiker who'd been lost for more than two years and had somehow survived and found his way out. Even worse, I couldn't stop watching it. I missed him and it really hurt but I couldn't seem to really let him go and watching him on TV knowing he wouldn't know how much I wanted to see him was a temptation I couldn't resist.
The news anchor that was broadcasting while I ate breakfast was interviewing Jesse and asked what he'd been doing the last two years of his life.
Jesse licked his lips and shrugged. "I don't really know. I mean, I remember hiking out over the bluff and … that's really it."
I frowned. I knew he'd have to lie about remembering what he'd been doing but it just made everything we did together easier to forget.
"How did you survive the cold winter temperatures?" the anchor asked in fascination.
"Uh, well, the local police found a small hunter's cabin in the area and supposed I may have taken shelter there. I really don't remember much," Jesse replied.
"No, I'm sure you wouldn't. It seems a very trying experience," the anchor said kindly. "What do you remember most? How were you able to regain your memory enough that you could make it home?"
"My memory came back little by little. Sometimes things would look familiar and then I'd hike that direction. The most came back when I reached the East Edelville River. That was a big confidence booster that I was going the right way. Then some lightning struck an abandoned house just on the edge of the woods out there and lit the way out."
I frowned at the lie he'd gotten so good at telling since he'd returned and leaned onto my folded arms on the table. He looked little worse for wear. He still had the beard we'd found him in, though I still had no explanation for why his shadow didn't have a beard if his body did. I guess I'd never know. His eyes were beautiful but tired and I knew from his expression he was sick of all the attention. Last week he'd have done anything to have people be able to see him. Now they wouldn't stop looking.
Jesse shifted his weight and I notice a tan arm beside Jesse in the shot. It was clearly a female's arm, but the rest of her wasn't visible. I sat up suddenly to get a closer look and Tasha interrupted.
"I don't think it's going to help to watch him on the news all the time," Tasha said caringly. "We have school in a little bit anyway."
"I know," I agreed.
I stood and threw on my coat, but before I could grab my bag from the table a voice on the TV caught my attention.
"Of course," a blonde girl was saying in response to whatever they'd asked her. The bar across the bottom of the screen said her name was Shara Leavitt. "I knew in my heart that he was okay. I never gave up hope that someday I'd get my fiancé back."
I gasped in pain and shock, dropping my bag and slumping back into the chair. Tasha quickly turned the TV off and pulled me back to my feet.
"It'll be all right, Sam. Things will turn out somehow."
"How?" I demanded tearfully.
"I don't know," she admitted.
Over the next couple of days it didn't get any better, I just grew numb. I ignored anything to do with Jesse and tried to get back into my school work and spent a lot of time with Tasha looking for apartments.
Things were turned upside down again when Jesse showed up at school to resume his classes. Most of his teachers were giving him a break and letting him have credit for a full fall semester even though he hadn't been present for the first half.
When I saw him at the end of the hall, surrounded by people trying to be his friends my body rebelled and tried to drag me over to him. My heart wouldn't beat right and my lungs just stopped. The whole thing was very frustrating, especially when I noticed Shara tagging along behind him. I looked away but not before those hazel eyes caught me looking.
Jesse shot me a pleading look and started toward me. I evaded him, taking my seat in my next class out of the view of the hallway and burying my face in my hands to hide my tears from the rest of my class.
Hoping to avoid a scene I escaped immediately after class was out, back to the newly solitary feel of my bedroom. I tossed my bag and coat into the closet and plopped down on my bed with a seven hundred page book. My goal: not come up for air until I'd read the whole thing. I was done with my schoolwork anyway; I just needed to escape reality for a while.
A short while later there was a rap at the window. I looked up automatically but I instantly wished I hadn't. Sitting on my roof again was Jesse, waiting hopefully for me to let him in. No matter how angry or hurt I was I couldn't leave him out there on the slick roof to fall to his death so I got up and opened the latch, letting him push it open the rest of the way by himself.
"Hey Sam," he said softly.
I folded my arms stubbornly over my chest to remind myself of my resolve. "Where are all your fans?"
Jesse shrugged indifferently. "I'm old news."
"Yeah?" I questioned. "What about your girl?"
He sighed anxiously and looked at the floor, then up at me again. "Can I come in? Please?"
I sighed in frustration at his hopeful expression and waved him in, stepping back so I'd be out of his way.
Jesse smiled briefly, though his eyes remained despondent, and stepped in, catching his toe on the sill and stumbling in the rest of the way.
I couldn't help but turn immediately to make sure he was all right but I didn't do anything remotely helpful. I was afraid to touch him.
"You were a lot lighter on your feet when you were a shadow," I commented dryly.
He stood and brushed his dark Eisenhower jacket off. He smirked but it wasn't a happy expression.
"A lot of things were better when I was a shadow."
I swallowed. "What do you want, Jesse?"
"You," he said without hesitation. "It wasn't fair of you to kiss me and hold onto me like that, the way I'd always wanted you to, and then leave me. I really miss you. I want you, Sam."
"What about your fiancée?"
"I don't have one," he insisted, looking me straight in the face. "I've already talked to Shara and she knows that's not what I want. She knew two and a half years ago that that's not what I wanted."
"It doesn't look that way to me," I said.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Every time I've seen her she's been with you," I told him.
I looked down at the floor unable to say it without tears coming into my eyes and I didn't want him to see it.
"She's still wearing your ring."
Jesse threw his arms in the air. "I can't stop her from wearing it. I have no control over what she does."
"It doesn't change the fact that you lied to me," I said softly. "I really thought you were mine, Jesse, and you weren't."
"I was," he insisted, stepping closer and reaching for one of my hands. "Sure, I was engaged two and a half years ago, but I didn't want to be. I would've told her that if I hadn't disappeared and I don't see why this matters so much. I love you, Sam, not her. You."
I moved away from him.
"You don't know what that was like, Jess. To go through all of that with you only to find out you were engaged … Even if it was bound to fall apart it hadn't fallen apart yet. It really hurt. I trusted you. I don't want to go through that again."
"You won't have to," he assured me. "I promise. It's just you and me this time."
"How can I trust you?" I wondered, heart-broken. "What if you do the same thing to me? What if one day you wake up and decide I'm not the one for you either?"
"That will never happen, Sam," Jesse said, his face contorted the same way it had been when I'd left him the first time.
I couldn't handle this.
"Please leave, Jess," I whispered.
His hands dropped to his sides in defeat.
"I'll go, but I'm not giving up. I'm not going the rest of my life without you. You're everything to me, you are, and I'm going to prove it to you."
"Just go," I begged, tears already falling down my cheeks.
Then Jesse disappeared below the roofline and I fell to pieces.
The next morning in English, I'd thought I'd put it all behind me. Not that I was over Jesse because I was far from it, but I'd been steeling my will to keep going and make my life better somehow.
That was until I opened my notebook and found an envelope tucked into the section I generally took notes in. I looked around wondering who'd put it there and turned it over.
Unfamiliar handwriting graced the front of the envelope. It simply said my name. I pulled the letter out; confused until I read to whom it was addressed.
You brought up a lot of stuff yesterday afternoon and I really need to explain myself. No matter what happens between us I can't let you live under the assumption that you were merely convenient for me or that you didn't mean anything to me. It's not true and I'll do anything to at least ease the heartache you've been feeling.
I had doubts about Shara from the start, she never really fit me and it was hard for me to admit my feelings then because I could see she didn't feel the same way. Our parents were really pushing us to get engaged. You'll learn soon enough that I hate disappointing people so I asked her so they'd get off our backs. I never considered then how much that would screw up everything. I knew at the time she wasn't right for me and the whole reason I was on that hike was to clear my head so I could figure out a way to tell her.
I can't deny that life would've been easier for both of us if I'd just told you about Shara but I didn't want to. She didn't mean much to me at the time I went missing, let alone two years later. I wasn't about to ruin my chances with you by bringing up someone I considered an ex. Maybe that was wrong but I did it because it was my only chance to be with you.
Yesterday you told me you were worried I'd get over you the same way I did Shara and break your heart. You have to know that that is simply impossible. The very idea that I could walk away from you for any reason causes me considerable pain, much like the last five days have.
I've said it a million times and I mean it now more than ever. Samantha, you're my everything and I have no doubts about you. I've never felt this strongly for anyone before and I'm not going to let it go if I have a choice. I want to be with you, Sam. I miss you. I love you.
If you can possibly forgive me, I'll show you how much I mean every word. Give me a chance to make you happy. I'll be in the commons whenever you decide. I hope I see you soon.
I love you, Jesse
I read that letter over and over. Everything he said made me feel so hopeful all of the sudden. I couldn't stop thinking about him waiting for me and the hug I'd get if I only had the courage to trust him. All the things that Jesse promised me would happen after he was back ran through my head, tempting me more and more to go find him as soon as class was over, but I was still so scared. He really had all of me; if I went back to him and he did it again I'd surely be obliterated.
I didn't know what to do.
"Sam?" Tasha leaned forward and whispered so we wouldn't be overheard. "So?"
"So? I don't know," I admitted, looking at my lovely letter again.
"You should go for it," she said. "He really loves you and you really love him."
Surprised at her assumption I turned in my seat so I could see her better. "How do you know?"
"I could see it in your eyes when you read that letter or even when he's on the news. And he's completely unhappy without you, Sam. He's a mess and begging you to come back," Tasha said. "He's hot and I think you should do it."
"I don't know, Tash," I said hesitantly. "Part of me really wants to, in fact a lot of me really wants to, but I don't know if I can."
"You can. He's the one for you, you know he is. He has reasons for what he did and I think you need to let it go. He obviously feels sorry about it and is trying to make it right. You should let him."
I thought for a moment arguing back and forth in my mind, but in the end my aching heart won out.
"You're right," I said, nodding, folding my letter back up.
"Of course, I am," Tasha said proudly. "So you're going to do it?"
"Yeah," I said smiling for the first time in days. "I think I am."
Class simply couldn't get out fast enough. When the bell finally rang, I gathered my books and my letter and almost ran out to the commons. I was still scared and had no idea what to expect so I kept slowing down the closer I got to him, repeating my new mantra to myself under my breath.
"Just trust him, Sam. He loves you, just trust him."
When I rounded the corner there was a large crowd already gathered. Some of them I recognized as the girls who pretty much followed Jesse around wherever he went like he was some kind of celebrity and some of them were other students who were wondering what he was doing in a tuxedo in the middle of a school day.
I stopped when I saw him amidst all the balloons, my heart fluttering anxiously. He looked just like my Jesse but entirely different, too. His hair was somewhat neat, his beard was gone. The hiking ensemble I'd grown so fond of was missing, replaced by an immaculately tailored black tux, complete with tie and vest. He held in his hand a single red rose.
When I started through the crowd it drew his attention. He smiled widely when he saw me but immediately tried to hide it by pressing his lips together. I smiled, too, but approached him somewhat warily.
"What's all this?" I wondered, motioning to the balloons and staring at his incredibly attractive tux.
"I owe you a dance, don't I?" he said hopefully. "Wasn't that the deal?"
I chuckled. "I meant a real dance."
He grimaced playfully and shook his head.
"I couldn't wait that long."
I set my bag down on the cement and stepped closer to him so our conversation felt more private. All of these people watching us were making me self-conscious.
"Did you mean what you said?" I asked holding up his letter.
Jesse looked at it and smiled my favorite smile. The one he displayed when he knew something I didn't.
"I meant every word," he promised me. He pointed at the letter in my hand. "I even wrote it down so we could refer back to it later."
I chuckled and looked down at my letter, working up the courage to just tell him I forgave him and wanted to be with him again.
Jesse held out his red rose for me, watching me intently until I took it from him. I smiled and turned red, my cheeks nearly matching the color of the flower he'd given me.
"I'm really sorry, Sam," he said quietly. "Will you let me start over?"
I nodded happily. "I'd like that, Jess."
Jesse arms looped around my waist and gently pulled me close to him. I was absolutely reveling in his physical presence and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't look away from his wonderful hazel eyes. They were so new to me. The strange way the brown and green were mixed together but never really blended. They were amazing and I'd not been able to see it all this time.
After a small breeze blew through his free hand brushed the hair away from my face like I'd felt him do so many times, the only difference was this time it actually worked. I could feel his hand, solid against my temple, the lock of my hair succumbing to Jesse's will as it had never done before.
"Then you forgive me?" he wondered.
"Of course I do," I said sheepishly. "I'm sorry I was so stubborn."
"You had reason to be," he said understandingly.
I heard a collective sigh and noticed the people surrounding us. Still watching raptly like our lives were their favorite soap opera.
I blushed again as Jesse started shuffling around with me in his arms. Our shuffle slowly became a dance when the crowd got the hint and moved out of the way.
"Jess," I whispered embarrassedly ducking my face into his chest so I could hide better. "Everyone's looking."
"I want them to look," he smiled. "I'm not hiding anything."
I pulled my hand from his and threw my arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. Smiling like a fool when his body actually stopped me from falling through him. I smiled even bigger when Jesse held me back, tighter than I'd been able to feel before.
Now that our arms were cinched around each other and likely to stay that way I rested my head against him and closed my eyes, happily giving in to the ecstasy of the moment. I'd gone far too long without him.
Then Jesse kissed the side of my head where it was nearest his lips. Then he began humming softly so only I could hear him. The song was very familiar and comforting, just as Jesse was. The words he'd taught me to "All I Have to Do is Dream" filled my mind as he hummed.
'When I want you in my arms, when I want you and all your charms... whenever I want you all I have to do is dream ... dream, dream, dream ... When I want you in the night, when I want you to hold me tight... whenever I want you all I have to do is dream ... dream, dream, dream ...
As he hummed I moved my head from under his and stood on my toes, using him to balance, and kissed him square on the lips. We stopped dancing and Jesse happily kissed me back. I wasn't aware of the crowd still watching, of the girls sighing cheesily or even Tasha smiling proudly somewhere in the background. I was only aware of Jesse and I, the way our lips moved and our bodies finally fit together, neither of us worried about whether we were leaning too far forward or if we'd be caught. His lips were so sweet and perfect and now that I knew this wasn't goodbye I could really enjoy it. I could enjoy him. And I did. With all my heart.
"Sam," Jesse said softly, breaking our kiss and taking a breath. "You're my once in a blue moon."
I inhaled, astonished at his declaration causing him to open his eyes to catch my reaction. He grinned and pulled me close for another kiss.
Eventually the crowd broke up and, just as he said he would after an afternoon of talking and actual cuddling, he took me home to meet his parents. His sister was indeed made to come home and questioned me nearly to death about my intentions with her little brother but it didn't scare me away. It seemed only to solidify my decision to stay with him.
At the end of the night I stayed with Jesse instead of going home. The joy I felt sleeping in his arms was indescribable. What we'd had before didn't compare at all to what we were experiencing since he'd been whole.
Every day that followed was full of the happiness I'd nearly denied myself. We went to class and spent our afternoons together laughing and tackling homework. Jesse still helped me with my calculus, which I think he enjoyed more than he let on.
Jesse found a job he loved for the Edelville Institute for Applied Sciences when he graduated. We spent as much time together as we could but he was careful not to distract me. He didn't want my degree to take almost seven years like his had.
The next November, on the twenty sixth, Jesse asked me to marry him. I agreed without hesitation but I couldn't help teasing him a little about being certain if he wanted to or not. He assured me he'd never been more certain of anything in his life.
The day I walked down the aisle and saw Jesse waiting for me almost impatiently, I knew we had something else. Something indescribable and wonderful, but the real moment of truth came when I turned to our family and friends with my husband at my side and was introduced as his wife. I knew then, I'd stay with him forever. There was something about the way he touched me, the way he loved me. There was no reason to doubt it. No desire to question it.
Jesse often told me he kept a piece of me every time I'd touched him when he was a shadow and all the nights I spent in his arms were forever imbedded in his soul. The amazing thing was that I believed him. I couldn't ignore the vivid memories of his warm, breathy kisses and sometimes when our lips were locked I could still feel it.
Jesse was whole-heartedly mine and I was irreversibly his.
From then until the day we died I knew it would always be just my shadow and me.
(C) Cloverdale 2011