July, 2027, New York
~SOUNDTRACK: Ed Sheeran – Happier~
"So you didn't say yes?" Aria asked as I stuffed some dresses in my luggage.
"Not exactly," I wrinkled my nose.
"But you didn't say no, either," Aria tried to understand.
I sighed. "Nope. I told him I needed time to think about it."
Aria eyed the engagement ring resting on a chain around my neck. I knew she didn't get it. I'd been with Aaron for nearly ten years, so everybody had seen his proposal coming. I wasn't getting any younger and marriage should've felt like the next natural step. Not like Aria, who had made it abundantly clear to Pete that she had no intention of ever getting married, and Pete had never pressured her into it, and they'd been content with their arrangement and their own dysfunctional but happy relationship. Aaron, too, bless his soul, had been patient with me for all those years. And I loved him, I did. But seeing him down on one knee before me, with a ring in his hand, hadn't made me feel the way I thought I was supposed to feel.
So I figured there was something wrong with me. I wanted to say yes, but it was like a thread, reaching somewhere outside my body and into the distance, and it kept my lips sealed shut until Aaron had had enough of my silence and had stood up. Yet he'd smiled and explained that he didn't need an answer right away. That I could take my time.
And I'd decided to do more than that. I'd decided to get closure on an ancient story that haunted me to this day.
I wasn't stupid. I was past 30. I didn't weep at night for ghosts of the past. I loved Aaron, but I knew I'd loved someone else so much more once, in a way I could never love him. In a way I could never love again. But I also knew Aaron was my chance at getting a quiet life, a family, a white picket fence and growing old with someone who truly loved me.
But I felt tied to a promise I'd made so many years ago, under a sky painted with the colors of the Northern Lights. It was stupid of me, but until I could feel like I'd held my end of the bargain we'd made so many times, repeatedly, until I could release myself of that promise, I didn't feel as though I could have anything to offer to Aaron.
"And you think you'll find your answer in Marseille?" Aria cocked an eyebrow. "Dawn, it's been ten years."
"I know," I smiled, trying to reassure her that this wasn't some teenager whim of chasing long lost love; that it was me putting it all to sleep. One last door to close. One last window to open, a tiny part of me dared to hope. "I'm not looking for an answer to give to Aaron. I'm looking for a part of myself I lost ten years ago. And then my life can go on just like it has so far and I'll be able to take this step. With Aaron."
I touched the engagement ring hanging around my neck absent-mindedly. I didn't tell Aria this, but I felt as though every sentence I spoke out loud ended with a huge unspoken 'maybe'.
July, 2027, Marseille
~SOUNDTRACK: The Head and The Heart – Rivers and roads~
The Marseille light burned bright behind me, but I found no shelter in bright lights and vibrant motion here. On the contrary, the silent night provided just what I needed to temper the thunderstorm inside me.
I was a man well past 30 years old and I was still chasing pavements. I don't know what I was doing here. Well, I did, but what I looked for wasn't here. Couldn't be. It had been ten years since she and I had talked about coming here together. Maybe she had a life now. Maybe she had found what she'd always looked for and I couldn't give her. Maybe she didn't even remember the Marseille nights we always talked about. But I did. And ten years later. here I was. Chasing pavements that led nowhere. I didn't know what I was doing here. I was a fool.
I walked down the beach with my hands in my pockets and enjoying the cool summer breeze making the hairs on my arm stand up. Maybe it wasn't even the breeze. Maybe it was just being here. I couldn't pinpoint it. It was like this city had her all over it. I sat down and dug my fingers in the sand, wondering if the sea had ever gotten the chance to kiss the soles of her feet yet. She must have come here at some point. It was a hunch, but one I was pretty sure of. It all felt too familiar. And it brought me no small amount of satisfaction to know that she hadn't been able to let go of this, either.
I rested my elbows on my knees and took a deep breath. For a minute, time stood still. Like in the movies, except I'd never known it was a real feeling. The waves crashed by the shore. A few seagulls cried. Music from a faraway club boomed in the distance. A silhouette, a girl, walked down the beach, her feet welcoming each waves, shoes in her hands. She wore a white summer dress. Brown hair, loose over her shoulders, longer than I remembered, ruffled by the breeze. Short of height and tan skin.
And I would've recognized her anywhere. With my eyes closed. The loud echo of her presence would've resonated through my bones and I would've known it was her. She was here. In Marseille. Right here where we were both supposed to be.
What was I to do? Was I to just walk to her? And say what? "Hi. It's me. The one who walked away. But I'm here now. Ten years later. And I want you more than ever." I couldn't. I wasn't sure what was happening in her life right now. I wasn't sure there was space for me in it. So I did the only thing I could think of. I opened my mouth and started singing a few lyrics of Drops of Jupiter.
Tell me, did you sail across the sun?
Did you make it to the Milky Way
To see the lights are faded
And that Heaven is overrated?
Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star,
One without a permanent scar?
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?
Time was still standing still and so did she. She stopped dead in her track and didn't turn around. I sang the next lyrics and I kept going. By the end of the song, I caught sight of her looking at me sideways. I could've sworn that was the shadow of a smile playing on her lips.
And then she kept going.
I thought I was being stupid and irrational and maybe a little too dreamy for a woman in her 30s. But here I was, in Marseille, walking down the beach, my eyes roaming over a horizon like he was just going to materialize somewhere, in the distance, then start to make his way to me.
But I never thought to look behind me.
And then I heard it.
My favorite song, just like all those years ago. I froze, listening to it, pondering whether I was finally losing it. Maybe so. But it sounded so much like him. If my mind was still having trouble thinking this through, my heart was 23 again and still in love with him. And then I stole a glance and there he was. Gorgeous as ever, but even more so after all those years. Bronze hair in the wind, feet buried in the sand, eyes fixated on me.
I allowed myself to smile a little. Then I turned around and walked away, knowing he'd follow.
I got up and followed her.
The bar was loud and crowded, but I didn't care. I sat down and waited, feeling him like a shadow on my trails. I hadn't felt this alive in ten years.
"Un latte de soja, s'il vous plait," I ordered in French, and the bartender looked at me as if I'd grown extra ears.
"C'est un bar, monsieur," he replied, reminding me this was a bar. I assumed it was a stretch to ask for blueberry muffins. "Nous servons de l'alcool."
I sighed and slapped a generous tip on the counter. He grinned widely and came back minutes later with a soy latte. With that a hand, my heart on my sleeve and a silky scarf in my pocket that I'd been carrying around for ten years, I made my way to the girl in a white summer dress.
He placed a soy latte in front of me and a scarf around my shoulders. I let out a small gasp, recognizing it as the one I kept forgetting in his car. He'd kept it. All those years, he'd kept it.
He sat on the chair in front of me reluctantly, and I took him in. He was still the same Paul Rixon. A little rough around the edges, a little older, with a few more gray hairs than I remembered, but still him. And everything cleared before my eyes as the summer sky after a storm, revealing brighter stars than ever. I took the chain with Aaron's ring off and placed it on the side of the table, out of my reach. Paul followed my move with his eyes, his lips pursed tight.
But then his eyes found mine again and the ring was forgotten, as was everything else. We'd found each other. Over seas and oceans and rivers and roads, we sat at the same table, in Marseille.
I looked at Paul Rixon and Paul Rixon looked back at me. And I wondered what kind of magnetism could two souls have to be drawn to each other so violently, so many times, after so long and time and again.
I looked at Dawn Lovelace and Dawn Lovelace looked back at me.
And the Universe she worshipped so much smiled down upon us as it granted us a second chance.
That's that, folks. I cried writing this. If I'm to be honest with you guys, as we all do, I have a 'the one that got away'. And Paul and Dawn's promise of meeting again in Marseille is a real promise. So I wrote this epilogue months ago, when Poison and Wine was just a tiny glimpse of an idea. I just knew it had to end like this and I carried it in my wallet, on a folded piece of paper, for months. I am blessed to be able to share it with you guys. It had been an amazing journey and I am grateful to all of you who were there every step of the way. You can't imagine how much it has meant to me.
So now that it's over, I would love to hear your opinions. Don't hold back. Let's honor these characters one more time.
I love each and every last one of you. 'Till we meet again,