MY EYES BLINKED open to the room filled with a muted dark light. I turned my head to look at the clock. Five minutes until six. I wiped the remaining sleep from my eye and sat up, resting my back against the headboard. Across my room on the dresser sat a picture of me and Mike; one of the couple hundred we more than likely had from our life together. It was one life with us, even for our few years apart, but now, I had to do this life by myself.
But there was something happening. Something that I couldn’t control. Something that confused the hell out of me but made me … hopeful.
When Wyatt touched my knee before meeting Lara, I quickly didn’t think anything of it, but when he grabbed my hand and wrapped my fingers with his, it happened. Something inside me burst and I didn’t understand it. It scared me yet thrilled me, but I knew I wanted it to happen again. His smirks, his jokes, his touches, his attentiveness … he was just a friend through it all. That’s what I told myself. I was already taken, I thought. I was off limits, I assumed.
But this past week, he had been fighting a battle. I could see it in his eyes. The way he stared longer than he had before. The smiles he thought I couldn’t see. The way he would close his eyes and breath, as if he was trying to talk himself through a problem. I had known him for years. He’s grown to be one of my best friends. I knew our friendship was solid. So, why did I feel like it was something more? Why did I feel like I wanted something more?
Talking to Chloe about this last night made me even more confused. I tried to reason that maybe I wanted Wyatt around a little more, and she said I’d be stupid if I didn’t marry him right now. How did her young heart know more than my own?
I stared up at Mike. My Mike. The love of my life.
Could I make room for another? Could I love Mike and Wyatt at the same time? I would always love Mike. My heart had only ever known to love him. Was it okay to let Wyatt in?
I needed to see him. I needed to talk to him. I had to go figure this out before I ruined everything.
I closed the car door behind me and buttoned my coat against the cold. I stared at the open field, dotted with shades of grey rising from the brittle grass. I walked up the stone path next to a line of bushes and trees, separating groups of families in their final resting place. I shoved my hand in pocket, pulling out the small granite stone, as I turned past a tree to head up a hill. I gazed up and came to an abrupt stop. He was there. Wyatt was there. I stepped quietly back and hid behind the tree. He needed time with his friend. I didn’t want to barge in on him.
“I wish with everything in me that none of us had been forced to endure your loss, but I can’t bring you back to life.”
My eyes widened. I couldn’t listen in. I didn’t want to snoop into his conversation. I took a quiet step back toward the car, careful to not step on any twigs or leaves.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that you’re not missed, but I love her, Mike. I want to spend the rest of my life with her.”
I froze. My whole body went numb except for my chest. A warmth spread throughout me as I heard a small click. I looked down to see the granite rock bounce into the grass. He was talking about me. He loved me?
“I promise to take care of her. I promise to never hurt her. I would never let anything bad happen to her. I need to know you’re okay with this.”
His words became quiet as I stared at the granite hiding in the grass. It all became clear. Mike would always be there, just like that rock hiding behind the brittle shades of green and yellow. I reached down for the rock and squeezed it tight with both of my hands. I stepped toward a tree beside me and leaned my back against the trunk.
“I might ask her to marry me.”
A tear rolled down my cheek as I continued to stare at the rock.
“God, I wish I could just talk to you. I don’t want to feel guilty, Mike.”
Another tear followed the last as my heart broke. He had been fighting this for so long. I could see the guilt now. I couldn’t make him feel guilty anymore. He couldn’t be guilty for something that I … shared with him. I looked up from the rock and stared at the grey clouds. The tears silently rolled down my cheek. I couldn’t continue to watch him deal with this guilt, and I couldn’t push him away. I needed him in my life. I wanted him in my life.
“I can see how easy it is to love her. If she has even the slightest of feelings for me at all, I don’t think you’d want her to ignore that. I think you’d want her to be happy.”
“He does,” I whispered. I knew this. I knew Mike would want me happy. I knew he wouldn’t want me crying over him every day for the rest of my life.
“I love her. I just need your permission to tell her.”
I nodded. It’s okay, Wyatt. I know it’s okay.
“I’m sorry, Mike. I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t hear him speak anymore. I peeked around the tree to watch him continue up the hill and across another stone path. I waited until his was out of sight before escaping my hiding spot. I held onto the granite tight in my grasp as I walked the few feet up the hill to a dark granite stone. I placed this rock on top of the stone and brushed my fingers against his name, Michael Carson Shuler. I took a step back and knelt on the grass, sitting back on the heels of my boots.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” I clasped my hands together as if waiting for him to answer. “You pushed us together.”
I stared at the couple dozen granite stones that Chloe and I have placed here over the past year.
“You always said that I was your rock. I always knew you were mine.”
I breathed out, trying to absorb all that I just witnessed.
“I think I might be in love with him. I haven’t admitted it until just now, probably because I couldn’t admit it to myself until I saw you. I’ve only ever loved you and it doesn’t feel like the same thing with Wyatt. I know there are different kinds of loves. You are my rock that keeps me grounded and on my feet. Whether you’re here or not, that’s always what you will be.”
Another tear escaped and I wiped my cheek with my cold fingers.
“Wyatt is like my pillar. The one who keeps me up. The one who won’t let me fall over when I want to crumble. I can see that now. I can see what he’s done for me. Is it too soon, though? Is it too soon to let someone in?”
I just wanted him to answer me. Like Wyatt, I wish he was here to say something.
“Remember how you said you saw Will on the beach that day? Now would be a really good time to ask Will how he did that so you could talk to me. He told you that his death wasn’t your fault. I know there’s no chance for you come sit next to me and tell me it’s all okay, but I feel like both Wyatt and I need that. I’m feeling the guilt that he’s feeling. He’s already come to terms with his feelings. They’re just so new and different.” I breathed out as a sob caught in my throat.
“I can’t let him feel guilty for the same thing that I’m beginning to feel.” I rested my hand on his tombstone.
“You will always be Chloe’s father. You will always be my first and greatest love. You will always, always be in my heart. I know you’re okay with this. I know you brought Wyatt into our lives for a purpose.”
I exhaled, releasing the growing weight on my shoulders and knowing it was okay. I pressed my fingers to my lips and brushed them against his name.
“I love you, Michael Carson Shuler. I’ll love you forever.”
I pressed my hands against the cold ground and stepped away. I knew this was the right thing. And I didn’t want my child to think I was too ignorant to be her mother. If she was okay with this, then I knew Mike was okay with this.
I was okay with this.
I was going to let myself fall in love with Wyatt.