A Second Chance

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Chapter 18

Six months later

The busy, hectic days were back in Nicole’s life. As soon as the journalist got to New York, she and Allison decided to take a few weeks off to catch up. The week they had spent in the other apartment had not been enough to bring them up to date on ten years’ worth of history. Allison also took that time to finish writing and picking the songs to her next album. And when she went to the studio to start recording them, Nicole decided it was time to get back to work. Being idle had never been her favorite thing and she was starting to feel anxious.

She had built a strong career in San Francisco and it didn’t take her long to find a position in a New York based, national magazine. Allison had even offered to call some people she had met along the past years, but first Nicole wanted to try finding a job on her own.

The stories she had been hired to write were very similar to the ones she used to write in her previous job and she was quick to slip back into her old routine. There was only one small difference: now she had a reason to finish her work early and get back home. The days when Allison was travelling, Nicole would spend longer hours at the office, focusing on bigger researches and working the more complicated stories. But all of her colleagues knew when Allison was in town – Nicole was out of the door, a big smile on her face, as soon as the clock struck the hour.

On one of those days in which she worked with her whole happiness painted on her face, Nicole found a small red envelope on her desk when she got back from lunch. She didn’t even need to open it to know who had sent it. On the piece of paper she found inside, there was Allison’s rushed handwriting. ‘You and me have a date tonight. Be home at 18h30’. Romantic and bossy, exactly the Allison she loved.

Right on time, Nicole opened the door to their home. Until that day, she still felt a chill run up her spine whenever she used the key she received on her first day in that house.

“Al? Honey, where are you?”

The apartment was submerged in darkness and shadows. There were no noises coming from the inside and the only spot of light that could be seen was a faint glow on the second floor. Even before she took the first step, Nicole knew the light was coming from their bedroom. A wicked smile crossed her face as she tried guessing what her girlfriend had planned for the night. Nicole was curious, but she knew she would love it.

The light was coming from the bedside lamp, casting long shadows in the room. On the bed, Nicole found a big box and another red envelope. Inside, the second note of the day. ‘I want you even more beautiful tonight. Take a look inside the box. A car will pick you up at 20h. Love you’.

“She’s crazy.”

Nicole untied the bow on top of the box and removed the lid. She pushed back the tissue paper to reveal a royal blue silk dress. She picked it up by the straps, noticing it was shorter and with a lower neck line than what she was used to. Definitely not something she would have chosen by herself, but she knew it was the kind of thing Allison liked seeing on her body.

At exactly eight o’clock, Nicole heard a sharp knock on the door. It was the same driver that had picked her up from the airport when she got to New York. Matt had been working for the singer for a few years and he was one of the first friends Nicole made in the city. He smiled at her like he knew something she didn’t. And knowing Allison, he probably did. Nicole accepted the arm he offered her and walked with him to the car. She never bothered asking him where they were going, since she already knew he wouldn’t say a thing.

The drive wasn’t long, but Nicole had no idea where they were going. She still didn’t know the city enough to guess where they were going. Until Matt made a turn and she recognized one of the buildings ahead.

The car parked exactly where Nicole thought it would and she couldn’t contain the smile that curved her lips. She couldn’t believe she was back to the bar where she had met Allison all those years ago. In fact, until that moment, she wasn’t even sure if the place still existed. The door opening by her side pulled Nicole from her thoughts and she accepted Matt’s help to get out.

“What are we doing here, Matt?”

“Here.” He handed her another envelope and went back to the car. Inside, a third note. ‘Do you remember this place? I met someone really special in here. Why don’t you come inside and enjoy the concert?’

Nicole pushed the doors open and found an empty room. The bar hadn’t changed much in over ten years. The tables scattered around were the same, as were the counter and the pool table in the back. And ahead of her, against the far wall, was the stage where she had seen Allison for the first time. Everything was as before, except for the silence. She walked around, listening to the echoes of her steps. Nicole wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do or expect. Allison had mentioned a concert, but the stage was empty.

As if on cue, a single light shone over the stage and soon Nicole saw Allison walking forward to a lone high stool that stood in the middle of the platform. Allison got settled and picked up the guitar that was leaning against the stool, before looking up at Nicole. She wore her softest smile. It felt like it was the first time she was seeing Nicole all over again.

“You look beautiful, Nic.”

“The person who chose the dress has really good taste. But tell me, what’s with all the mystery?”

“I want you to hear a song I wrote.”

“A song?” Nicole watched her in disbelief. “All this because of a song? What aren’t you telling me?”

“Have a seat. After you listen, I’ll explain everything.”

As Allison adjusted her grip on the guitar and the strap around her neck, Nicole took a seat on the chair closest to the stage, right in front of the singer. She didn’t want to miss any details of that private performance.

Allison’s heart sped up as she strummed the first notes. She had worked for so long on that song and on the perfect way to sing it to Nicole, that now that the moment was there, she could feel nervous jitters running through her limbs. It needed to be perfect. She needed it to be perfect.

When she sang the first words, Allison relaxed. It was just her and Nicole and the music around them. Perfect.

Nicole focused on the words Allison was singing. She knew her girlfriend and she knew the song probably meant a lot to her if she went to all this trouble. On the second line, Nicole understood it all. The song described how they met. Tears filled her eyes as she heard Allison’s voice sing about she was on a stage the first time their eyes met and how she knew, from that very first look, that they were meant to be.

That was the song Allison had been struggling with when Nicole knocked on the door to her apartment. She had already given up on the tune, unable to finish the notes and put lyrics to the music, until she woke up one day with the chorus in her mind. Allison looked to the other side of the bed, where Nicole slept peacefully, and picked up the notepad she kept on her bedside table to jot down the words that had come to her. That day, after Nicole had left for work, Allison locked herself away in the small studio she had in her home and didn’t leave the room until the song was finished.

She had wanted to sing it to Nicole so many times in the month and a half it had been finished, but she knew that song was too special. She wanted to wait for the perfect moment. Like that one.

“And we’ll be together, forever and a day.” At the last line of the chorus, Allison smiled at the woman watching her. She had never meant more any words she had sung.

The second stanza told the story of how Nicole knocked on Allison’s doorstep, soaking from downpour, ten years late. And how Allison couldn’t find the strength to let her go, to tell her no. She simply welcomed Nicole back in her life like not even a day had passed.

“And we’ll be together, forever and a day.” Nicole nodded when Allison sang the last line of the chorus for the second time.

On the bridge, Allison’s voice got higher. She was pleading, she was begging Nicole to stay with her this time, where she belonged. The singer was still sited on the same stool, but something about the rawness of her voice and the emotion in her eyes made it seem like she was on her knees.

She sang the chorus three more times, her voice going softer with every time she repeated it, until she only whispered the last line, like a promise, like a vow.

Both women had tears in their eyes when the last note echoed in the empty room. Allison put the guitar back on its stand and took the couple of stairs by the side of the stage to get down to her girlfriend’s level. Nicole got up from her chair and pulled Allison tight to her body, hugging her with all the emotion she was left with.

“That was beautiful, Al.”

“Do you know what day is today?” Allison continued with the speech she had prepared. She believed she wouldn’t be able to say everything she wanted to say if she got sidetracked. When Nicole didn’t answer her, she continued. “Exactly eleven years ago, a beautiful girl walked through those doors and she turned my life upside down.”

“I can’t believe you remembered that.”

“Of course I did. It’s the day my life changed.” She took a step back and took Nicole’s hands in hers. Even if she wanted to, Allison couldn’t keep her eyes away from the ones in front of her. “I fell completely in love with you and then I made the biggest mistake of my life and let you go.” Nicole opened her mouth to protest, but Allison squeezed her hands and shook her head, silencing her. “But then, fate brought us together again. We we’re different people, but I found out I was still in love with you.”

“Al…”

“I got scared, you know?” A small chuckle escaped her lips. “That’s why I came back home. I wanted us to be together, but I needed to know if you wanted the same. And you did. You came knocking on my door and I realized that you’re the one for me.”

“What--”

“Which is why I brought you here tonight, to the place where we met. To ask you the most important question of my life.” Allison let go of Nicole’s hand and got down on one knee. When she looked up, the journalist had both hands covering her mouth. “Nicole Black, will you marry me and make me the happiest woman alive?”

Time stretched between the question and the answer. Their entire relationship crossed both of their minds, a movie of what had happened in eleven years of history. As the seconds went on, Allison started losing her certainty. She couldn’t read anything on Nicole’s face and she was starting to think that maybe it had been too soon for a proposal. They had only been back together for six months. Maybe Nicole needed some time to think about it. She was about to get up and tell Nicole that when the biggest, most brilliant smile appeared on her face.

“Of course I’ll marry you, Allison.” She pulled Allison up and threw her arms around her neck. “Yes, yes, yes. I love you so much.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Of course I do, honey. Did you ever doubt that I would say yes?”

“Well, you did just take your sweet time answering me.”

“You took me by surprise, Allison. That’s all.”

In her nervousness, Allison forgot to get the ring from her jacket pocket and present it to Nicole. The way she had planned it, she would get retrieve the ring as she was kneeled on the floor and would place it on Nicole’s finger the second she said yes. But she had been too focused on what she had to say that she forgot how she wanted to do it.

But the order wasn’t important if, in the end, she got to call Nicole her fiancée.

Nicole could feel Allison’s hand was cold when the singer reached back to retrieve her left one. She held it between them as she seemed to search her pocket. Up until that point, Nicole had forgotten that proposals usually involve the exchange of a ring.

“I know you don’t like flashy jewelry and you wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing a big rock, so I didn’t get you a diamond.” Allison presented her with the ring. It was composed of three slimmer rings of different colors intertwined. “I got you three rings, instead. The first one symbolizes our past. We were just kids when we met and we fell madly in love, but we didn’t know what to do with that. And now I believe we were always supposed to part, in order to grow and become who we are. The second ring is our present. We’re older and more mature. We have chosen to be together and we make that choice every day. And the third ring represents our future, the future that starts right now. It represents my wish to keep growing by your side, until we’re old and gray. Forever and a day.”

Before Allison pushed the ring on Nicole’s finger, she slightly twisted it so the other woman could read the inscription she had ordered to be made. On the golden one of the rings, it read ‘Forever + 1 day’.

“I wish I had a ring to give to you.” Nicole sniffled, already having given up on not crying anymore that night.

“I thought about that, too.” Allison smiled through her own tears and picked a second ring, identical to the one she had placed on Nicole’s finger and handed it to the woman. “I didn’t want us to not match. And I too want to carry our past and present and future on me at all times.”

“You are amazing, you know that?” She placed the ring on Allison’s finger and sealed the promise they were making to each other with a kiss on the piece of jewelry. “I know I say that all the time, but you truly are. It’s like you bring to the surface my best side, like you allow me to be my best version. I have made the biggest mistake of my life when I let you walk away from me, but I won’t make that same mistake again. I’m yours. Forever.”

“And a day.”

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