Jill is playing Slap with me and reminiscing about the time that we almost set out apartment on fire while my parents play Rummy on the couch and laugh at appropriate intervals. We've been through what feels like a million hands when my phone chimes from next to my bed. "Hold on," I tell her and reach for it, opening the lock screen. One new text message from Spencer Allen.
I open the message. If the snow lets up tomorrow we might drive over to you.
I bite my bottom lip, mostly because I can't help it, and I can feel my heart speed up a little. "It's Spencer," I announce and Jill looks up from her shuffling with a raised eyebrow. "He said he might drive over if the snow lets up."
Jill nods. "Well that's good right?"
I tip my head a little and shrug. "He said we. He said we might drive over to you."
"Yeah." I'm still way too nervous when I open my phone to reply. Sure. We? I type back and hit send.
The two minutes that it takes him to respond feels like hours. Jill and I are both sitting in silence staring at my phone. When it finally lights up I grab for it and open the message as quickly as I can. Yeah. Leah wants to see you.
I read the message aloud and Jill gives me the only ever unknowing shrug I've ever seen her give. I prod her with a "Well?" but she still doesn't say anything. She opens her mouth but then closes it and shakes her head at me. I think this is the first time that Jilly has had nothing to say.
"Wow," Tanner says from beside me. "I think you broke her."
I can't help but laugh, and before I know it we're all three laughing. I'm still nervous as all hell but the laughing is making me feel better, if anything it's making me feel silly for being so nervous about this. It's just Leah, after all. It isn't as if I've never met her. I take a preparatory breath and send a reply. Awesome! Bring her along.
I didn't hear anything else from Spencer, which meant that until tomorrow's weather either cleared or snowed I was sitting in limbo.
Jill stayed for another hour or so after my texts from Spence but she and Tanner decided to leave when they noticed me tiring. That's definitely something else that sucks about all this. Not only that I'm tired all the time but that I'm tired by like eight o'clock, which means I'm the only twenty-one year old in the world that has the bedtime of a nine year old.
I'm piecing together a jigsaw puzzle on the table by the couch with Dad now. Spencer texted this morning to let me know that the snow seems to be clearing so he and Leah are on their way. Dad seemed to notice that I was anxious because he went out and bought a puzzle and then demanded that we do it together. And my father is not the puzzle sort of guy.
He puts a piece down and then looks over at me a little skeptically. I sigh, not looking up at him. I can feel him watching me, anyway. "You can just ask you know."
He clears his throat and goes back to scouring the loose pieces. "Ask what?"
I fight a smile and shake my head at him. "Whatever it is you want to ask me. You're staring at me."
"And that means I have a question? Maybe I just want the pieces you're hoarding over there."
I roll my eyes. "Dad, we've spent practically all of the last few months together constantly. I can tell when you're worried about me."
He's quiet for a few minutes and goes back to faking a look at the pieces in front of him again before he says, "So, Spencer's coming today?" I nod. "And he's bringing...that girl with him?"
I smile and look up at him this time. "Leah," I correct. "His fiance."
"Right," he agrees. "Have you met her?" he asks, but I know he's actually asking if I like her.
"Yeah. She's real nice. You'll like her."
He studies me for another couple of seconds and I can practically hear his thoughts. He'll like her, maybe, but nobody compares to me. I smile at him and he smiles back. "I like you," he says and my smile turns into a grin.
I lean over and kiss his cheek. "I love you, Daddy."
He puts his hand on the back of my head and holds me there for a second before and kisses my head. "Love you too, punkin."
We go back to our puzzle until Dad gets frustrated and turns on Sport's Center. I used to hate watching sports on TV but ever since I've spent practically every second of the last few months with my dad, I've grown a bit accustomed to it. And he likes to explain things he thinks I don't understand. We're in the middle of some college basketball re-run when there's a knock on the door. It feels weird, because Spencer doesn't ever knock. But I'm sure it's him.
"Come in," I yell and the door opens as Dad is pointing to the TV screen explaining why the referee's call was the wrong one.
Spencer comes in first, pulling Leah through behind him by the hand. I smile at them and do a little wave before tapping Dad's shoulder. "What?" he asked, turning toward me.
"Dad." I glance over at Spencer and then raise my eyebrows. "There are other people here."
"Oh!" He shakes his head like he'd completely forgotten anyone else was coming. "Hey, Spencer," he greets.
"Mr. H," he returns, taking a few steps forward. "Uh, I don't think you've met my fiance." He turns to smile quickly at her before looking back to Dad. "Leah this is Grace's dad."
"Hi," she greets a little shyly.
"Hi, Leah," Dad says warmly. "Nice to meet you. I've heard good things." He turns to stand and wink at me. "I'm gonna' be out in the hall okay?" I nod at him and he leans over and kisses the top of my head. "Call if you need anything."
"Thanks." He nods back at me and then he's through the door. And I'm alone with Spencer and Leah. And it's awkward. "Hey," I say finally. "How was the drive?"
"Good." Spencer shrugs. He's not really looking at me and I can tell that he's not my Spencer today. He's Spencer, sure, but he isn't my Spencer. And by the look on Leah's face he's not her Spencer either. This is uncomfortable for all of us. But hey, they wanted to do this thing, so we're gonna' do it.
"You want to sit?" I ask, cocking a sarcastic eyebrow at Spencer and he seems to lighten up a little but shakes his head.
"No, actually." He glances at Leah. "Leah sort of want to..." he trails off and Leah takes a breath and turns to me.
"I wanted to talk to you alone," she says. She isn't cold, but she's not warm either. Just stating the facts. And if I was nervous before I'm a mess now, but I nod anyway.
"Okay," Spencer says. "I'm just gonna' go...talk to your dad." He grins at me and then chuckles to himself a little. "Since he loves me so much," he adds with a raise of his brow.
I shake my head at him. "Get out of here."
He winks and then kisses the side of Leah's head. "Love you," I hear him mumble and my heart cracks a little. She tells him she loves him too and then we're silent again until Spencer's out the door.
"You can sit, you know," I tell her after a beat or two of stillness. She laughs at herself a little and then sits down in the chair next to my bed, the one that's most often Spencer's chair. "So...what's up?" I start, completely lamely.
Leah sighs and then looks up at me. "Thanks for telling him to come home," she says and I'm surprised he told her it was my idea. It must show because she smiles a little. "He never would have left if you hadn't asked him to."
"Yeah," I mumble. "Well..." I'm not really sure what to say to her. I'm not really sure what she wants me to say to her. So I just sort of wait for her to start.
"I love Spencer," she tells me and I nod at her. I know she does. "And I know that you love him too."
I do the only thing that I can do. I nod again. Because there's no point in denying it. I do love Spencer. I've always loved Spencer. And now...if everybody knows then they know. And if I die as the girl with the unrequited love for Spencer McCallister then so be it. "Yeah. I do."
"I don't know where to put that," she admits finally. "He's here...all the time. And you're in love with him." She shakes her head at me. "But...you're..."
"Dying," I finish for her. "Yeah."
"So how does that work?" she shakes her head. "Do I just let some other girl take my fiance until her time runs out? Because I'm not selfless enough for that."
I can feel my eyes go a little wide. She's definitely breaking out of her shell now. And I can't say that I don't want to argue with her, to tell her that I loved him first, that he was mine before he was hers. But I don't. Because she's right, and I know that. I've always known that. Spencer is not mine.
"I don't know," I tell her finally, honestly. "I don't know how this works. I've never...he's never been here like this for me before," I tell her. And I can feel her eyes burning into me now. Because I'm relatively sure she didn't know that. "I don't know if this is his way of...mending fences, or if he just knows that I need him." I give her a helpless shrug. "But I don't know how this works."
She doesn't say anything for another few seconds. And then, "He loves you."
I shrug. "Maybe." I have to pause to swallow the lump in my throat because this is not going to be an easy conversation. "But he's in love with you." She frowns at me and I force out a smile, though I can feel my eyes watering. "You're his one. You're his...you're the love of his life, Leah." I'm crying now and I can see the tears glistening in her eyes too. It's funny, really. The two people who love Spencer McCallister more than life itself sitting down to have a conversation about it.
"But that's just it," she says. "It has to be me doesn't it?" Her tears start to fall slowly. "Because it can't be you."
I take a breath and shake my head at her. I wish she was right. God, do I ever wish that she was right. Because whether it would hurt her or not, I would give absolutely anything to be the love of that boy's life. But I'm just...not. "No," I tell her. "It has to be you because it was never me." I take a breath and try to force down the lump in my throat again. "I would trade anything on the planet to be the love of Spencer's life. Anything. But I'm not. And I never was."
"But he's the love of yours."
I nod at her and wipe at my tears with the back of my hand. "Yes," I agree. "He is the love of my life. I don't love anything or anyone as much or as deep or as true as I love Spence." I drop my head and bite my lip to hold in the sob I can't seem to control, and then I look back up at her and we're both crying. "But even if I wasn't dying, even if I was gonna' live to be a thousand...I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would pick you." I feel her reach out and take my hand so I look her in the eye even though I can't see her through the blur of my tears. "Every time, every chance, every moment...Spencer would pick you."
Leah squeezes my hand just barely as she asks, "How do you know that?"
I raise my eyes to the ceiling and try to calm my tears. "Because he's never looked at me...at anyone, the way he looks at you." I lower my gaze again and turn back to look at her. "I have known Spence since I was ten years old. I have watched him with every girl. I have witnessed the aftermath of every broken heart. And I've never seen him love the way that he loves you."
"Really?" She sounds almost desperate. But then, I suppose I can't blame her. If the roles were reversed, I probably would be too. Though, all the wishes in the world couldn't express how much I want to be in her shoes.
"Really," I tell her firmly. "He doesn't love me. Not like that."
We're both quiet for another couple of minutes, trying to calm our breathing and dry our tears before we let Spence back in. "Grace?" she says after a long quiet.
"I'm really sorry." I look up at her in obvious surprise and she takes my hand again. "I know you've loved him a long time. I know you need him around." She shrugs. "I'm sorry all this happened to you."
And I don't want to hate her anymore. For a long time I wanted to hate her. I wanted her to be the villain in my love story, the hurdle that I needed to jump over to end up with Spencer. But she isn't that at all, and I no longer want her to be. Because for the first time, I can see as what she is. A girl that's in love with a boy. We just happen to love the same one. "Thanks," I whisper after a while but she doesn't say anything else.