Chapter no 82

If He Had Been with Me

I wake many times. We shift and change positions together; he nuzzles me, I move up against him. He holds my hands, my neck, my face. I dream, I wake, I see him, I sleep.


Finny’s cell phone rings. He tenses and sits up. I am still and confused for a moment, and then I bolt upright. It looks like early afternoon. Finny is standing in the middle of his room, picking his jeans off the floor and digging through the pockets. I fold my arms over my breasts as I watch him. He opens his phone, looks at it, and presses a button. The ringing stops. Still holding his pants, he turns and looks at me. I stare back at him.

“Hey,” he says. “Was that her?”

“Does it matter?” He sets the phone on his nightstand. “Yes.”

“It was,” he says. I look away, down at the covers on my lap. I hear his jeans hit the floor, and the bed creaks as he sits down. The blanket shifts as he climbs back in next to me. “Come here.” He pulls me down next to him and holds me the way he did last night.

I think of Sylvie at some airport, excited about seeing Finny again soon. I think about how I laughed when Jamie told me he and Sasha had discovered they had feelings for each other. I realize how different this story must be from all of their points of view.

“Do you feel guilty?” I ask. He doesn’t answer right away.

“Yeah,” he says. “But I also feel like I’ve been loyal to something bigger.”

His phone beeps. He has a text message. “You should see who it is,” I say.

“I don’t want to.”

“It could be The Mothers, and if we don’t answer, they’ll think we’re dead and come back early.” He sits up and looks at his phone. His back is turned to me as he types a reply. He doesn’t say anything when he turns back around. He lies back down on his side and I curl up next to him so that we face each other.

“It was her again,” I say.

“I told her that I won’t be meeting her plane. I’ll go see her after she has dinner with her parents.”

“Oh. When?”

“We have a few hours. Go back to sleep.” “I’m not tired.”

“Me neither.” He reaches over and strokes my hair. I close my eyes but do not doze. His fingers are gentle on my scalp and I shiver once. “Do you regret it?” he asks after a while. I open my eyes again. He looks worried.

“No,” I say, “but—” I lower my face so that I can’t look at him. “I wish it had been your first time too,” I say. He stops stroking my hair and his hand drops on to the bed between us. When he speaks, it is slow and haltingly.

“The first time—we were both so drunk neither of us can remember it. And then it turned out—” he pauses and frowns “—that she couldn’t do it unless she was drunk. And if she was drunk, it felt wrong to me. It didn’t happen often or even go well when it did. So—I mean—in a lots of ways, it was a first for me.”

“What do you mean she couldn’t do it unless she was drunk?” I ask. Finny looks away and mumbles. “Someone hurt her once.”

“Oh,” I say. We are quiet for moment. I reach over and cover his hand with mine. He turns his palm facing up and our fingers twine together. Our eyes meet again.

“I wanted something better for you,” Finny says. “That’s why I made you promise not to do it when you were drinking. But really, the idea of you ever doing it with anybody drove me crazy. You remember how you told me that you were going to after graduation, and then the day after you were sitting on the porch and you said you were waiting for Jamie?”


“I went up here and punched the wall. I’d never done that before. It hurt.”

“You thought—”

“Yeah,” Finny says. He still holds my gaze, but his expression shifts into some mix of emotions I can’t quite figure out. “Then after I found out you guys had broken up, it was hard to see you miserable over him when I was so happy I wanted to pick you up and spin you around,” Finny says.

“You were sad that time Sylvie broke up with you,” I say. “I was so angry at her for hurting you that I thought about pushing her in front of the school bus.”

“I was sad,” Finny says. I can’t help the sliver of jealousy that pierces my stomach. “But it was my own fault,” he adds. “I told everybody that I didn’t like it when they made comments about you and Sylvie got jealous. She asked me if I had feelings for you and I told her to drop it and kept trying to change the subject. She could tell.”

“Why did you get back with her?” I ask the question even though I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

He pauses for only a second before answering. “You loved Jamie all this time too,” Finny says. “Didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Then why don’t you understand? I wanted—I tried to love only her. When I told you last month that I was going to break up with Sylvie, it wasn’t because I thought I had a chance of being more than just your friend.

It was because loving you from a distance was one thing, but it wouldn’t have been fair to her if I were in love with my best friend.”

I sit up and pull the blankets with me so that he can’t see my body. I can’t look at him. Everything he has said has made me so sad and so happy and more than anything else, I am so frightened.

“Autumn?” I hear the bed creak as he sits up too, but I hang my head and refuse to look at him.

“What if you see her and realize this was all a mistake?” I say. “That will not happen.”

“It could.” “It won’t.”

“If you love her—”

“But if I have the chance to be with you—God, Autumn, you’re the ideal I’ve judged every other girl by my whole life,” Finny says. “You’re funny and smart and weird. I never know what’s gonna come out of your mouth or what you’re gonna do. I love that. You. I love you.”

I raise my head a little. He’s staring at me with an expression I’ve never seen before. I watch his eyes study my face.

“And you’re so beautiful,” he says. I duck my head back down and try to hide my face. My cheeks are warm. Finny laughs. “Now, I know you already knew that.”

“It’s different when you say it.” He laughs again. “How?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re so beautiful.” Finny puts his hand under my chin and turns me to face him. He looks me in the eye. “Last night was the best thing that ever happened to me and I would never think it was a mistake unless you said it was.”

“I would never say that.”

Finny leans his forehead against mine. “Then everything is going to be okay. We’re together now. Right?”

“Of course.”

Again, Finny laughs at me. I pull my face away from his and look at him.

“I never, ever thought this would happen,” he says. “And then you say ‘of course’ like it’s the most natural thing in the world.”

“Doesn’t it feel like it?”

He laughs again, quietly this time, and the tone is different. “How did we ever get here?” he says. I don’t know what to say to that. So I just look at him. And then he smiles at me and pulls me toward him again and I sit on his lap with his arms around me and it is the most natural thing in the world.

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