Chapter no 17

It Ends with us

It’s after seven before I get home. Ryle called an hour ago and said he wouldn’t be coming over tonight. The confushercackle (whatever that big word he used was) separation was a success, but he’s staying at the hospital overnight to make sure there aren’t complications.

I walk in the door to my quiet apartment. I change into my quiet pajamas. I eat a quiet sandwich. And then I lie down in my quiet bedroom and open my quiet new book, hoping it can quiet my emotions.

Sure enough, three hours and the majority of a book later, all the emotions from the last several days begin to seep out of me. I place a bookmark on the page where I stopped reading and I close it.

I stare at the book for a long time. I think about Ryle. I think about Atlas. I think about how sometimes, no matter how convinced you are that your life will turn out a certain way, all that certainty can be washed away with a simple change in tide.

I take the book Atlas bought me and put it in the closet with all my journals. Then I pick up the one that’s filled with memories of him. And I know it’s finally time to read the last entry I wrote. Then I can close the book for good.

Dear Ellen,

Most of the time I’m thankful you don’t know I exist and that I’ve never really mailed you any of these things I write to you.

But sometimes, especially tonight, I wish you did. I just need someone to talk to about everything I’m feeling. It’s been six months since I’ve seen Atlas and I honestly don’t know where he is or how he’s doing. So much has happened since the last letter I wrote to you, when Atlas moved to Boston. I thought it was the last time I’d see him for a while, but it wasn’t.

I saw him again after he left, several weeks later. It was my sixteenth birthday and when he showed up, it became the absolute best day of my life.

And then the absolute worst.

It had been exactly forty-two days since Atlas left for Boston. I counted every day like it would help somehow. I was so depressed, Ellen. I still am. People say that teenagers don’t know how to love like an adult. Part of me believes that, but I’m not an adult and so I have nothing to compare it to. But I do believe it’s probably different. I’m sure there’s more substance in the love between two adults than there is between two teenagers. There’s probably more maturity, more respect, more responsibility. But no matter how different the substance of a love might be at different ages in a person’s life, I know that love still has to weigh the same. You feel that weight on your shoulders and in your stomach and on your heart no matter how old you are. And my feelings for Atlas are very heavy. Every night I cry myself to sleep and I whisper, “Just keep swimming.” But it gets really hard to swim when you feel like you’re anchored in the water.

Now that I think about it, I’ve probably been experiencing the stages of grief in a sense. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I was deep in the depression stage the night of my sixteenth birthday. My mother had tried to make the day a good one. She bought me gardening supplies, made my favorite cake, and the two of us went to dinner together. But by the time I had crawled into bed that night, I couldn’t shake the sadness.

I was crying when I heard the tap on my window. At first, I thought it had started raining. But then I heard his voice. I jumped up and ran to the window, my heart in hysterics. He was standing there in the dark, smiling at me. I raised the window and helped him inside and he took me in his arms and held me there for so long while I cried.

He smelled so good. I could tell when I hugged him that he’d put on some much-needed weight in just the six weeks since I’d last seen him. He pulled back and wiped the tears off my cheeks. “Why are you crying, Lily?”

I was embarrassed that I was crying. I cried a lot that month—probably more than any other month of my life. It was probably just the hormones of being a teenage girl, mixed with the stress of how my father treated my mother, and then having to say goodbye to Atlas.

I grabbed a shirt from the floor and dried my eyes, then we sat down on the bed. He pulled me against his chest and leaned against my headboard.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him.

“It’s your birthday,” he said. “And you’re still my favorite person. And I’ve missed you.”

It was probably no later than ten o’clock when he got there, but we talked so much, I remember it was after midnight the next time I looked at the clock. I can’t even remember what all we talked about, but I do remember how I felt. He seemed so happy and there was a light in his eyes that I’d never seen there before. Like he’d finally found his home.

He said he wanted to tell me something and his voice grew serious. He readjusted me so that I was straddling his lap, because he wanted me to look him in the eyes when he told me. I was thinking maybe he was about to tell me he had a girlfriend or that he was leaving even sooner for the military. But what he said next shocked me.

He said the first night he went to that old house, he wasn’t there because he needed a place to stay.

He went there to kill himself.

My hands went up to my mouth because I had no idea things had gotten that bad for him. So bad that he didn’t even want to live anymore.

“I hope you never know what it’s like to feel that lonely, Lily,” he said.

He went on to tell me that the first night he was at that house, he was sitting in the living room floor with a razor blade to his wrist. Right when he was about to use it, my bedroom light went on. “You were standing there like an angel, backlit by the light of heaven,” he said. “I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”

He watched me walk around my bedroom for a while. Watched me lie on the bed and write in my journal. And he put down the razor blade because he said it’d been a month since life had given him any sort of feeling at all, and looking at me gave him a little bit of feeling. Enough to not be numb enough to end things that night.

Then a day or two later is when I took him the food and set it on his back porch. I guess you already know the rest of that story.

“You saved my life, Lily,” he said to me. “And you weren’t even trying.”

He leaned forward and kissed that spot between my shoulder and my neck that he always kisses. I liked that he did it again. I don’t like much about my body, but that spot on my collarbone has become my favorite part of me.

He took my hands in his and told me he was leaving sooner than he planned for the military, but that he couldn’t leave without telling me thank you. He told me he’d be gone for four years and that the last thing he

wanted for me was to be a sixteen-year-old girl not living my life because of a boyfriend I never got to see or hear from.

The next thing he said made his blue eyes tear up until they looked clear. He said, “Lily. Life is a funny thing. We only get so many years to live it, so we have to do everything we can to make sure those years are as full as they can be. We shouldn’t waste time on things that might happen someday, or maybe even never.”

I knew what he was saying. That he was leaving for the military and he didn’t want me to hold on to him while he was gone. He wasn’t really breaking up with me because we weren’t ever really together. We’d just been two people who helped each other when we needed it and got our hearts fused together along the way.

It was hard, being let go by someone who had never really grabbed hold of me completely in the first place. In all the time we’ve spent together, I think we both sort of knew this wasn’t a forever thing. I’m not sure why, because I could easily love him that way. I think maybe under normal circumstances, if we were together like typical teenagers and he had an average life with a home, we could be that kind of couple. The kind who comes together so easily and never experiences a life where cruelty sometimes intercepts.

I didn’t even try to get him to change his mind that night. I feel like we have the kind of connection that even the fires of hell couldn’t sever. I feel like he could go spend his time in the military and I’ll spend my years being a teenager and then it will all fall back into place when the timing is right.

“I’m going to make a promise to you,” he said. “When my life is good enough for you to be a part of it, I’ll come find you. But I don’t want you to wait around for me, because that might never happen.”

I didn’t like that promise, because it meant one of two things. Either he thought he might never make it out of the military alive, or he didn’t think his life would ever be good enough for me.

His life was already good enough for me, but I nodded my head and forced a smile. “If you don’t come back for me, I’ll come for you. And it won’t be pretty, Atlas Corrigan.”

He laughed at my threat. “Well, it won’t be too hard to find me. You know exactly where I’ll be.”

I smiled. “Where everything is better.” He smiled back. “In Boston.”

And then he kissed me.

Ellen, I know you’re an adult and know all about what comes next, but I still don’t feel comfortable telling you what happened over those next couple of hours. Let’s just say we both kissed a lot. We both laughed a lot. We both loved a lot. We both breathed a lot. A lot. And we both had to cover our mouths and be as quiet and still as we could so we wouldn’t get caught.

When we were finished, he held me against him, skin to skin, hand to heart. He kissed me and looked straight in my eyes.

“I love you, Lily. Everything you are. I love you.”

I know those words get thrown around a lot, especially by teenagers. A lot of times prematurely and without much merit. But when he said them to me, I knew he wasn’t saying it like he was in love with me. It wasn’t that kind of “I love you.”

Imagine all the people you meet in your life. There are so many. They come in like waves, trickling in and out with the tide. Some waves are much bigger and make more of an impact than others. Sometimes the waves bring with them things from deep in the bottom of the sea and they leave those things tossed onto the shore. Imprints against the grains of sand that prove the waves had once been there, long after the tide recedes.

That was what Atlas was telling me when he said “I love you.” He was letting me know that I was the biggest wave he’d ever come across. And I brought so much with me that my impressions would always be there, even when the tide rolled out.

After he said he loved me, he told me he had a birthday present for me. He pulled out a small brown bag. “It isn’t much, but it’s all I could afford.” I opened the bag and pulled out the best present I’d ever received. It was a magnet that said “Boston” on the top. At the bottom in tiny letters, it said “Where everything is better.” I told him I would keep it forever, and every

time I look at it I’ll think of him.

When I started out this letter, I said my sixteenth birthday was one of the best days of my life. Because up until that second, it was.

It was the next few minutes that weren’t.

Before Atlas had shown up that night, I wasn’t expecting him, so I didn’t think to lock my bedroom door. My father heard me in there talking to someone, and when he threw open my door and saw Atlas in bed with me, he was angrier than I’d ever seen him. And Atlas was at a disadvantage by not being prepared for what came next.

I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. Being completely helpless as my father came down on him with a baseball bat. The sound of

bones snapping was the only thing piercing through my screams.

I still don’t know who called the police. I’m sure it was my mother, but it’s been six months and we still haven’t talked about that night. By the time the police got to my bedroom and pulled my father off of him, I didn’t even recognize Atlas, he was covered in so much blood.

I was hysterical. Hysterical.

Not only did they have to take Atlas away in an ambulance, they also had to call an ambulance for me because I couldn’t breathe. It was the first and only panic attack I’ve ever had.

No one would tell me where he was or if he was even okay. My father wasn’t even arrested for what he’d done. Word got out that Atlas had been staying in that old house and that he had been homeless. My father became revered for his heroic act—saving his little girl from the homeless boy who manipulated her into having sex with him.

My father said I’d shamed our whole family by giving the town something to gossip about. And let me tell you, they still gossip about it. I heard Katie on the bus today telling someone she tried to warn me about Atlas. She said she knew he was bad news from the moment she laid eyes on him. Which is crap. If Atlas had been on the bus with me, I probably would have kept my mouth shut and been mature about it like he tried to teach me to be. Instead, I was so angry, I turned around and told Katie she could go to hell. I told her Atlas was a better human than she’d ever be and if I ever heard her say one more bad thing about him, she’d regret it.

She just rolled her eyes and said, “Jesus, Lily. Did he brainwash you? He was a dirty, thieving homeless kid who was probably on drugs. He used you for food and sex and now you’re defending him?”

She’s lucky the bus stopped at my house right then. I grabbed my backpack and walked off the bus, then went inside and cried in my room for three hours straight. Now my head hurts, but I knew the only thing that would make me feel better is if I finally got it all out on paper. I’ve been avoiding writing this letter for six months now.

No offense, Ellen, but my head still hurts. So does my heart. Maybe even more right now than it did yesterday. This letter didn’t help one damn bit.

I think I’m going to take a break from writing to you for a while. Writing to you reminds me of him, and it all hurts too much. Until he comes back for me, I’m just going to keep pretending to be okay. I’ll keep pretending to

swim, when really all I’m doing is floating. Barely keeping my head above water.


I flip to the next page, but it’s blank. That was the last time I ever wrote to Ellen.

I also never heard from Atlas again, and a huge part of me never blamed him. He almost died at the hands of my father. There’s not much room for forgiveness there.

I knew he survived and that he was okay, because my curiosity has sometimes gotten the best of me over the years and I’d find what I could about him online. There wasn’t much, though. Enough to let me know he’d survived and that he was in the military.

I still never got him out of my head, though. Time made things better, but sometimes I would see something that would remind me of him and it would put me in a funk. It wasn’t until I was in college for a couple of years and dating someone else that I realized maybe Atlas wasn’t supposed to be my whole life. Maybe he was only supposed to be a part of it.

Maybe love isn’t something that comes full circle. It just ebbs and flows, in and out, just like the people in our lives.

On a particularly lonely night in college, I went alone to a tattoo studio and had a heart put in the spot where he used to kiss me. It’s a tiny heart, about the size of a thumbprint, and it looks just like the heart he carved for me out of the oak tree. It’s not fully closed at the top and I wonder if Atlas carved the heart like that on purpose. Because that’s how my heart feels every time I think about him. It just feels like there’s a little hole in it, letting out all the air.

After college I ended up moving to Boston, not necessarily because I was hoping to find him, but because I had to see for myself if Boston really was better. Plethora held nothing for me anyway, and I wanted to get as far away from my father as I could. Even though he was sick and could no longer hurt my mother, he still somehow made me want to escape the entire state of Maine, so that’s exactly what I did.

Seeing Atlas in his restaurant for the first time filled me with so many emotions, I didn’t know how to process them. I was glad to

see that he was okay. I was happy that he looked healthy. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit heartbroken that he never tried to find me like he promised.

I love him. I still do and I always will. He was a huge wave that left a lot of imprints on my life, and I’ll feel the weight of that love until I die. I’ve accepted that.

But things are different now. After today when he walked out of my office, I thought long and hard about us. I think our lives are where they’re supposed to be. I have Ryle. Atlas has his girlfriend. We both have the careers we’d always hoped for. Just because we didn’t end up on the same wave, doesn’t mean we aren’t still a part of the same ocean.

Things with Ryle are still fairly new, but I feel that same depth with him that I used to feel with Atlas. He loves me just like Atlas did. And I know if Atlas had a chance to get to know him, he would be able to see that and he’d be happy for me.

Sometimes an unexpected wave comes along, sucks you up and refuses to spit you back out. Ryle is my unexpected tidal wave, and right now I’m skimming the beautiful surface.

You'll Also Like