“Why did you get it?” He’s told me before, but I want to know the real reason now. He pulls his gaze from the road and glances at me.
“I told you. It’s a reminder of the people I’ve let down in my life.”
I close my eyes and fall back into my seat, shaking my head. He said he doesn’t do vague, but I can’t think of an explanation more vague than the one he keeps giving me about his tattoo. How could he have let me down? The fact that he thinks he somehow let me down at that young of an age doesn’t even make sense. And the fact that he feels enough regret about it to turn it into some cryptic tattoo is really beyond any guesses I could fathom at this point. I don’t know what else I can say or do to get him to take me back home. He didn’t answer any of my questions and now he’s playing his mind games again by giving me cryptic, non-answers. I just want to go home.
He pulls the car over and I’m hoping he’s turning it around. Instead, he kills the ignition and opens his door. I look out the window and recognize that we’re at the airport again. I’m annoyed. I don’t want to come here and watch him stare at the stars again while he thinks. I want answers or I want to go home.
I swing open the door and reluctantly follow him to the fence, hoping if I appease him this one last time that I’ll get a quick explanation from him. He helps me scale the fence again and we both walk back to our spots on the runway and lay down.
I look up in hopes of spotting a shooting star. I could really use a wish or two right now. I would wish I could go back to two months ago and never step foot into the grocery store that day.
“Are you ready for answers?” he says.
I turn my head toward his. “I’m ready if you’re actually planning on being honest this time.”
He faces me, then pulls up on his arm and rolls onto his side, looking down at me. He does his thing again, silently staring at me. It’s darker than it was when we were out here the last time, so it’s hard to make out the expression on his face. I can tell he’s sad, though. His eyes have never been able to hide the sadness. He leans forward and lifts his hand, bringing it to my cheek. “I need to kiss you.”
I almost break out into laughter, but I’m afraid if I do it will be the maniacal kind and that terrifies me, because I already assume I’m going crazy. I shake my head, shocked that he would even think I would let him kiss me right now. Not after finding out he’s been lying to me for two solid months.
“No,” I say forcefully. He keeps his face close to mine and his hand on my cheek. I hate that even though every ounce of anger in me is a result of his deceit, my body still responds to his touch. It’s an odd internal battle when you can’t decide if you want to punch the mouth sitting three inches in front of your face, or taste it.
“I need to kiss you,” he says again, this time a desperate plea. “Please, Sky. I’m scared that after I tell you what I’m about to tell you…I’ll never get to kiss you again.” He pulls himself closer to me and strokes my cheek with his thumb, never taking his eyes off mine. “Please.”
I nod slightly, unsure why my weakness is getting the best of me. He lowers his mouth to mine and kisses me. I close my eyes and allow him in, because a huge part of me is just as scared that this is the last time I’ll feel his mouth against mine. I’m scared it’s the last time I’ll ever feel anything, because he’s the only one I’ve ever wanted to feel anything with.
He adjusts himself until he’s on his knees, holding onto my face with one hand and bracing his other hand on the concrete beside my head. I lift my hand and run it through his hair, pulling him to my mouth more urgently. Tasting him and feeling his breath as it mixes with mine momentarily takes everything about tonight and locks it away. In this moment, I’m focused on him and my heart and how it’s swelling and breaking all at the same time. The thought that what I feel for him isn’t even warranted or true is making me hurt. I hurt everywhere. In my head, in my gut, in my chest, in my heart, in my soul. Before, I felt like his kiss could cure me. Now his kiss feels like it’s creating a terminal heartache deep within me.
He can sense my defeat taking over as the sobs start coming from my throat. He moves his lips to my cheek, then my ear. “I’m so sorry,” he says, holding onto me. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want you to know.”
I close my eyes and push him away from me, then sit up and take a deep breath. I wipe the tears away with the back of my hand and I pull my legs up, hugging them tightly. I bury my face in my knees so I don’t have to look at him again.
“I just want you to talk, Holder. I asked you everything I could ever ask you on the way here. I need you to answer me now so I can just go home.” My voice is defeated and done.
His hand moves to the back of my head and he drags his fingers through my hair, over and over again while he works up a response. He clears his throat. “I wasn’t sure if you were Hope the first time I saw you. I was so used to seeing her in every single stranger our age, I had given up trying to find her a few years ago. But when I saw you at the store and looked into your eyes…I had a feeling you really were her. When you showed me your ID and I realized you weren’t, I felt ridiculous. It was like the wake-up call I needed to finally just let the memory of her go.”
He stops talking and runs his hand slowly down my hair, resting it on my back, but tracing light circles with his finger. I want to push his hand away, but I want it right where it is even more.
“We lived next door to you and your dad for a year. You and me and Les…we were all best friends. It’s so hard to remember faces from that long ago, though. I thought you were Hope, but I also thought that if you really were her, I wouldn’t be doubting it. I thought if I ever saw her again, I’d know for sure.
“When I left the grocery store that day, I immediately looked up the name you gave me online. I couldn’t find anything about you, not even on Facebook. I searched for an hour straight and became so frustrated that I went for a run to cool down. When I rounded the corner and saw you standing in front of my house, I couldn’t breathe. You were just standing there, worn out and exhausted from running and…Jesus, Sky. You were so beautiful. I still wasn’t sure if you were Hope or not, but at that point it wasn’t even going through my mind. I didn’t care who you were; I just needed to know you.
“After spending time with you that week, I couldn’t stop myself from going to your house that Friday night. I didn’t show up with the intention of digging up your past or even in the hopes that something would happen between us. I went to your house because I wanted you to know the real me, not the me you had heard about from everyone else. After spending more time with you that night, I couldn’t think of anything else besides figuring out how I could spend more time with you. I had never met anyone who got me the way you did. I still wondered if it was possible…if you were her. I was especially curious after you told me you were adopted, but again, I thought maybe it was a coincidence.
“But then when I saw the bracelet…” He stops talking and takes his hand off of my back. His fingers slide under my chin and he pulls my face away from my knees and makes me look him in the eyes. “My heart broke, Sky. I didn’t want you to be her. I wanted you to tell me you got the bracelet from your friend or that you found it or you bought it. After all the years I spent searching for you in every single face I ever looked at, I finally found you…and I was devastated. I didn’t want you to be Hope. I just wanted you to be you.”
I shake my head, still just as confused as before. “But why didn’t you just tell me? How hard would it have been to admit that we used to know each other? I don’t understand why you’ve been lying about it.”
He eyes me for a moment while he searches for a good enough response, then brushes hair away from my face. “What do you remember about your adoption?”
I shake my head. “Not a lot. I know I was in foster care after my father gave me up. I know Karen adopted me and we moved here from out of state when I was five. Other than that and a few odd memories, I don’t know anything.”
He squares his body up with mine and places both of his hands on my shoulders firmly, like he’s getting frustrated. “That’s all stuff Karen told you. I want to know what you remember. What do you remember, Sky?”
This time I shake my head slowly. “Nothing. The earliest memories I have are with Karen. The only thing I remember from before Karen was getting the bracelet, but that’s only because I still have it and the memory stuck with me. I wasn’t even sure who gave it to me.”
Holder takes my face in his hands and lowers his lips to my forehead. He keeps his lips there, holding me against his mouth like he’s afraid to pull away because he doesn’t want to have to talk. He doesn’t want to have to tell me whatever it is he knows.
“Just say it,” I whisper. “Tell me what you’re wishing you didn’t have to tell me.”
He pulls his mouth away and presses his forehead against mine. His eyes are closed and he’s got a firm grip on my face. He looks so sad and it makes me want to hold him despite my frustration with him. I reach my arms around him and I hug him. He hugs me back and pulls me onto his lap in the process. I wrap my legs around his waist and our foreheads are still meshed together. He’s holding onto me, but this time it feels like he’s holding onto me because his earth has been shifted off its axis, and I’m his core.
“Just tell me, Holder.”
He runs his hand down to my lower back and he opens his eyes, pulling his forehead away from mine so he can look at me when he speaks.
“The day Les gave you that bracelet, you were crying. I remember every single detail like it happened yesterday. You were sitting in your yard against your house. Les and I sat with you for a long time, but you never stopped crying. After she gave you your bracelet she walked back to our house but I couldn’t. I felt bad leaving you there, because I thought you might be mad at your dad again. You were always crying because of him and it made me hate him. I don’t remember anything about the guy, other than I hated his guts for making you feel like you did. I was only six years old, so I never knew what to say to you when you cried. I think that day I said something like, ‘Don’t worry…’”
“He won’t live forever,” I say, finishing his sentence. “I remember that day. Les giving me the bracelet and you saying he won’t live forever. Those are the two things I’ve remembered all this time. I just didn’t know it was you.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said to you.” He brings his hands to my cheeks and continues. “And then I did something I’ve regretted every single day of my life since.”
I shake my head. “Holder, you didn’t do anything. You just walked away.”
“Exactly,” he says. “I walked to my front yard even though I knew I should have sat back down in the grass beside you. I stood in my front yard and I watched you cry into your arms, when you should have been crying into mine. I just stood there…and I watched the car pull up to the curb. I watched the passenger window roll down and I heard someone call your name. I watched you look up at the car and wipe your eyes. You stood up and you dusted off your shorts, then you walked to the car. I watched you climb inside and I knew whatever was happening I shouldn’t have just been standing there. But all I did was watch, when I should have been with you. It never would have happened if I would have stayed right there with you.”