Here’s the scary part about opening yourself up to love. There are no guarantees..no promises made that cannot be broken. We are at our most vulnerable then.. for to love someone is to lay yourself bare..to uncover and peel back and unlock the most tender parts of yourself. And you hand them to another human being with the desperate hope that they will treat you gently.
On the morning Bennett had to leave, I lay awake in the soft light and watched him as he slept..memorizing the curves of his face, counting the freckles on his shoulders, and the lines in the corners of his eyes. I didn’t know when I’d see him next and I didn’t want to forget. He made a noise in his sleep, pulled in a deep breath and reached for me. It made me smile as I tucked myself into his side and closed my eyes.
We woke hours later, made coffee and I watched as Bennett reluctantly packed up his things. I guess I had on my “bummed out” face because he looked over at me, set down the shirt he had been folding, climbed up next to me on the bed and bumped my shoulder with his. “Hey you.”
I tried to smile. “Hey.”
“I almost forgot, I have a surprise for you. You know, to make it easier when I leave.” He moved over to his duffel bag and pulled out some items that were carefully wrapped. He handed me a small envelope. “First, I know how much you love your coffee and since I can’t be here to spoil you, I thought you could use this. It should last you the rest of the summer.” Baffled, I opened the envelope to find a Stabucks gift card. While I stared at him, still processing, he handed me a heavy object wrapped in brown paper. “Next, I know how much you love candles, so I went to Yankee Candle and I talked to a lady at the store and she helped me pick out a really good one.” Unwrapping the paper, I uncovered a large candle called “Paradise Spice” and I instantly took off the top and put it up to my nose. It smelled like pineapple and vanilla and some warm tropical beach. At this point, he was grinning like a little kid watching my reactions to his gifts. “I know right? It’s awesome! Now you can light that and think of being at the beach.”
“Sweetheart, you did NOT have to do all this for me! I..I don’t even know what to say..” I stared at him, shaking my head.
“Oh, just wait.” He responded..grin widening..and handed me another item. It was a soft, navy blue t-shirt. I unfolded it to see the emblem of his fire department on the breast of the shirt and across the back. “It’s mine.” He told me. “I know I can’t be here all the time and thought that maybe if you started to miss me at night, you could wear my shirt and maybe you would feel like I was here with you.” I held the shirt up to my nose like the candle. It even smelled like him and I could feel tears begin to prick the corners of my eyes. “Oh no you don’t.” He scolded. “You promised me no tears! Hang tight for a second, there’s just one more thing.” He bounded out of the room and returned with my laptop. Sitting next to me again, he typed something and then turned the computer to face me. “You know how I asked you for your birthday?” I nodded. “Well, I needed it so I could do this.” I looked at the screen and for a moment was confused. It was a travel website for a cruise line. “I don’t want you to be sad when I leave, because in August, you and I are taking a trip. We’re going to drive to your parents’ house in Georgia so I can meet them and we can drop off the dogs, then you and I are headed to New Orleans for three days.” He clicked on another tab and a picture of a beautiful yellow building with gorgeous balconies and wrought iron gates filled the screen. “This is our hotel. I know you have a thing for old houses so we’re going to stay in the Garden District. I did a lot of research and it will be beautiful there and away from all the craziness of Bourbon Street. We can ride the trolly car into the French Quarter and eat beignets and go to Jackson Square and see the street performers. Then, we are going to get on a cruise ship for 4 days and go to Cozumel, Mexico.” At this point he was so excited he could barely contain himself. I stared at him and then back at the screen…wide-eyed and positively speechless. “So, what do you think?” He asked anxiously.
When I finally found my voice I stuttered out a response. “You did all this..for me?” I was still trying to take it all in. No one had ever, ever done anything so romantic, so spontaneous, so thoughtful, for me..ever.
His smile softened. “Well..yeah. You deserve it Jules. You’ve been through so much recently. I just kinda felt like you needed to be reminded of how much you deserve. I promise I will do my best to show you that every day.”
At that, I climbed into his lap and wrapped my arms around his neck. “You are the most amazing man I have ever..ever met. I still can’t believe all this is really happening.” He pulled me close and laid his forehead against mine. “Believe it.” He whispered. “I’m not going anywhere.”
I mean really..all it would take to complete this Nicholas Sparks novel would be for Bennett and I to kiss passionately in the rain and for something really bittersweet or tragic to happen at the end of all this. Anyone else getting nervous here?
And so the countdown began. I ripped out a page from my Victoria’s Secret magazine (you know, one that had a stunningly beautiful model in a tiny bikini stretched out on some gorgeous tropical beach) stuck it up on the refrigerator and wrote “Countdown to Cruise” in big bold letters at the top. Underneath, I numbered out the days so that each morning I could spring to the kitchen to cross off another one. Bennett and I talked every day, endlessly researched things to do on our trip..laughed ourselves breathless trying to practice our mediocre Spanish on one another. It was the first summer off I have had since becoming a teacher and I filled my weeks with trips to visit friends, girls weekends to the beach, craft projects and really anything that would take up the hours. I had a yardsale with one of my most awesome friends..also named Julia…made approximately $36.17 from the yardsale 😉 and promptly blew my earnings signing up for a new dance class. And still the days seemed to creep by. I was anxious for our trip, excited for the chance to take the next step with Bennett, but slightly terrified because I knew I was falling hard and fast for this man. He seemed too good to be true and I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
One evening after getting back from the gym, I got my nightly phone call from Bennett. I chatted happily about my workout, told him a funny story about one of the ladies next to me on the elliptical machine and asked him how his day had gone. I had noticed that his calls and texts had slowed a bit in the last week, but chalked it up to us settling into a more managable routine. As Julia wisely reminded me…no one can keep up the constant texts and calls throughout the day. That is exhausting and let’s be honest, you start to run out of things to say! I wasn’t too concerned about it, but that night he seemed preoccupied. He told me that his day was good and asked if I had a minute. He needed to talk to me about something. I promptly took a seat on the couch and braced myself.
The moment he said those words, “I need to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me.” I froze…my heart dropping in my chest. Had I done something wrong? Said something wrong? (It will forever irritate me that this was my first thought.) I had no idea what was coming.
Damn you Nicholas Sparks…