Chapter 44: Libby
The sun is shining in through the window of the plane, and I don’t even blink in surprise. This is what Bentley would want, and who is to deny his wishes? Certainly not the big man upstairs.
All the while, I’m struggling to convince myself that I am not repeating the past - that I am not coming to New York to fall in love.
Because I already am... right?
I shake my head at myself, disgusted that I’m even questioning myself. Of course I love Graham.
I think back to our goodbyes at the airport back in Texas, and how when we were hugging one of those hugs that made me never want to let go, He still infiltrated my thoughts. Despite the tight hold Graham had around my waist, I couldn’t help but remember how His hold around me was lighter, but just as affectionate.
As we were parting, Graham kissed my forehead once more before whispering in my ear, “Please come back.” And I just looked at him, my chest torn, as I remembered wanting to hear those exact words from another boy six months ago.
I grimace at the memory now and shake my head as the pilot announces over the intercom that we’re beginning to descend. The plane is full, as it is the week of Christmas, and getting off the actual machine took at least forty-five minutes after landing.
When I see the Starbucks on my right as I walk to the luggage carousel, I don’t even hesitate to walk past it. This trip is not a repeat of the last one.
And then I see a face that I didn’t know I’ve been dying to see for so long.
Leaning against a luggage cart stood Jimmy, a smirk coiled on his lips and his wiry features bundled with suave. My heart hammers hard in my chest and I find myself running into several people in my hurry to reach him. I try to keep my cool as I approach, but I’m sure that the excitement that is pumping inside me is showing in all of my features.
Because he’s right here.
“Libby,” Jimmy greets, his smirk gone and a broad smile has replaced it.
“Your teeth are too shiny,” I try to joke, but a half-sob shakes my body. He laughs nonetheless and engulfs me in his arms, his musky scent getting all over me. ”And you stink.”
He steps away from me but keeps his hands deadset on my shoulders. “You got meaner,” he comments, a devious smirk making a reappearance.
“And smarter,” I shrug, and when someone clears their throat beside us, I finally take my gaze away from my former roommate and fall into a heap of “holy shits” when I see the man that stands there with the meekest smile on his face.
He’s, to put it mildly, hot.
He’s bulkier than Jimmy, with the most beautiful green eyes behind clear-rimmed glasses. His ponytail holds only a bit of hair and a small grin makes its way to my face because of it. “Hello,” I say, because how else am I supposed to greet someone who’s witnessing my mood swings?
Jimmy squeezes my shoulders and then slides them back into his pockets as he nudges the man beside him in the side. “This is James.”
I smile a little more when I realize that maybe this stranger isn’t as much of a stranger after all. “Hey,” he smiles and reaches his hand out to meet mine. After shaking hands we talk a little more about the weather outside and their ride here when we all finally decide it’s time to start heading out.
The small suitcase I packed fit easily in the trunk of James’ car, and as I slip onto the back bench and the mousse-y car freshener stings my nose, I know I’m in for a long ride.
“So,” Jimmy says, trying to sound casual but sending me a weary sideways glance. “You’re wearing that to the party?”
I process the words and look down at the horrible choice of clothing I’d chosen to wear during the flight, and then back up at the two men in the front bench, debonair as ever. “No,” I sigh, looking down at the teeny suitcase sitting at the floorboard. “I brought something else.”
Jimmy shrugs from the passenger seat and twists around to face me. He tips his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose and gives me a sly wink and a wiggle of his eyebrows. “Don’t worry, hon, we won’t watch. Just two gay men here not interested in your tits.”
His comment makes me giggle and I tell him to turn around as I bend down and dig through my mess of clothes stuffed in there. Although I only packed for one night, I brought back-up clothes... and back-up for those back-ups.
I struggle to pull everything off and on, and once or twice I catch James glance at my miserable attempts to pull on a dress in the backseat of a tiny vehicle’s backseat. I stick my tongue out at him each and every time, earning me a chuckle from him and the shake of his head.
“Watch the road, you dick,” Jimmy says to James at one point, and he just laughs a bit more and assures him that he is.
By the time I’ve zipped up my dress and pulled on my worn-out flats, we pull into a parking lot of a place I don’t know. I step out of the car and I hear laughing beside me. I turn to glare at Jimmy and he gives me a smirk in return. “C’mere, let’s fix that mess.”
I sigh and allow him to touch my “mess,” as my heart is beating only harder at the thought of seeing two things: a casket, and my heartbreaker. When Jimmy is done “fixing” me, I sigh and run my hand through my hair in distress.
“Hey!” Jimmy scolds me and I try to pull an “I’m sorry” look but he just looks at my in pity instead. “You’ll be fine, Libby. I promise.” When he wraps his arm around me and rests his hand on my shoulder, I don’t feel at home, but I feel safe.
We walk over to the empty soccer field behind what must be Jere’s elementary school, and as we round the corner of the building, there are canopies among white canopies of people. “I didn’t know Bentley knew this many people,” I admit aloud, and I feel Jimmy nod beside me.
“You’ll recognize some of them,” he assures me. And with that, he lets go and I’m left dumbfounded by myself in front of at least two dozen people.
I wrap my arms around myself because of the chilly weather, a light cardigan clinging to my skin although it’s pretty much helping squat. It’s still sunny, and I can’t help but think that it’s all for Bentley.
I freeze in my spot, trying to think of who this voice must be, but when the person calls me again and I turn, I can’t help but let the smile come to my face.
I watch as Debby comes from the passenger side of her and Bentley’s car, and I hurry to embrace her. “Oh honey, I’ve missed you,” she sighs, and I feel as her soft hand brushes up and down my back in a soothing gesture.
“I’ve missed you, too,” I reply honestly, and she just squeezes me tighter. “I’m sorry we’ve had to reunite on such a sad occasion,” I says, and she frowns and pulls away slightly to look up at me.
She’s gotten older after not seeing her these past six months, but still the same, strong woman I’ve always seen her as. “Don’t apologize, Elizabeth,” she reassures me. “At least you’re here, right?”
I’m about to respond when I feel someone’s arms wrap around my legs. “Libby!” he screams and I cannot explain how much love for this little boy has reimbursed inside me.
I spin around in his small hold on me and lift him into my arms. “Oh, Jere!” I sing, and he giggles and wraps his arms around my neck. He’s choking me and is much heavier than last time, but right now I don’t care. He’s here in my arms right now, and I don’t even have the will to ask him to let go.
“Where have you been, Libby?” he asks, his chin moving on my shoulder as he speaks and not loosening his hold on me a bit.
How do I even big to explain? “Home,” I tell him, although it’s a pitiful excuse.
He pulls back from me but his hands are still clasped around my neck. His light blue eyes are staring at my brown ones, and his light brown hair is a ruffled mess from the wind. His brows are furrowed as he looks disapprovingly at me.
“But we’re your home, silly,” he corrects me, and my heart tumbles down to my stomach.
I purse my lips and nod. “You’re right. But I’m back, right?”
“Are you staying?”
I stay quiet, and somehow I’m thrown a lifesaver by the one person I’ve been dying to see, but at the same time dying to avoid.
I turn my head at the sound of his voice, and there he is.
He seems just as nervous as me, his hands stuffed in his gray slacks and his light blue eyes kind as always. His light brown hair, like Jere’s, is tussled and I want to fix it for him because once upon a time, I could’ve. But now....
I didn’t know seeing him again would make me feel like everything’s still okay. I didn’t know seeing him would make me want to stay and believe foolishly that things can be the same. But here I am, believing, and all I can feel right now is his gaze on my face, and the racing of my heart inside my chest.
The sound of the tapping on a microphone behind us stuns me and all three of us jump in our spots - including Here on my hip. “Can I ask everyone to please sit down?” Jimmy’s voice speaks through on the speakers, and I look back to Liam - speechless.
What do you say to a man who once left you broken?
“We should go,” he says timidly, his voice hoarse as if he’s been holding his breath.
The sound of it though makes my heart race and I just nod in agreement. I move to let Jere back down and he reluctantly complies with a groan. “Fine, but I’m staying with you.”
I look to Liam to make sure that’s okay, and he nods with a small smile. Jere takes my hand in his and begins to pull me towards the canopies with Liam trailing behind us. When we maneuver our way through the people to where Jere wants us to sit (the front row, of course), I realize that Jimmy was right - I do recognize a few of them.
Some of the floral store’s employees that work across the street from Juke’s, the ushes at Cornelia’s, and even Jenny - the sweet and perky girl who works there.
We reach the first bench and Jere sits between me and Debby. I turn to look for Liam when I finally spot him talking with Jenny, giving her a kind smile. A thud of jealousy hits my chest, wishing that it was that easy for me to get a smile like that from him, but I remember with some effort that maybe it’s okay for that not to be possible.
A sound comes from my bag that I have strung over my body and my face burns when I realize that it’s my phone. I dig for it as the buzzing gets louder, and when my fingers finally stumble upon it, it ends. I take one glance at the screen and when I see that it’s Graham who was calling - probably wondering if I landed safely.
I look from Jere, who can’t care less, to Debby, who is giving me a polite smile, to Jimmy, who is standing at the front of the benches facing everyone, and come to the conclusion that Graham can wait.
Jimmy calls out again for everyone to sit down, and when I feel Liam’s presence again, I glance up and our eyes meet. His face is the same, kind and naturally sad - as if he’s seen the most terrible things at such a young age. His light brown hair is stubbly and mostly gone, as if he recently shaved it off. But his light blue eyes are the same - full of life and love and... wait, love?
I divert our eye contact as he sits down next to Debby - the furthest away from me - and try to suppress the nagging question of... is the connection still there?
I shake my head at the ridiculousness of the situation. I didn’t know that seeing him again would make me feel like everything’s still okay. I didn’t know seeing him would make me want to stay and believe foolishly that things can be the same. But here I am, believing, and all I can feel right now is his gaze on my face, and the racing of my heart inside my chest.
Jimmy is talking right now, but I can’t really hear him. This is harder than I ever thought it would be. I glance up at the closed casket in front of us and something drops inside me. Bentley’s not in there, I try to tell myself. It’s someone else.
But the truth is still there, with framed pictures sitting on tables that are set up around where he lies. Pictures of him and Debby when they must’ve gotten married... they were so young. At least mine and Liam’s age.
I stop right there at the comparison. Stupid.
“Libby Earnest, would you please come up and speak?” I hear Jimmy say in a distant reality, and when I feel Debby’s hand squeeze mine, I know that it’s the reality I need to be in.