was love at first sight for Emily Jean Harlow and Justin Taylor.
They met in New York City. Emily Jean, originally from Saginaw, Michigan, was majoring in Social Work Practice at NYU. The twenty-one year old was a natural redhead with piercing blue eyes. She had a small amount of freckles on her pale skin that speckled her cheeks along her cheek bones and her shoulders. She had a shy smile that was the first thing Justin noticed about her while across the café on Broadway they both frequented. She looked like a tattooed porcelain doll and that was an initial draw.
Justin came from Salt Lake City, Utah and for as long as he could remember, he looked for a way out. The twenty-three year old had a bit of a rocker style to his overall appearance which was a stark contrast from Emily. He had two-toned black and dark red hair that was styled in a razor cut that framed his face. He was a bit more pale than he could stand half the time with deep brown eyes, often lined with a light amount of black eyeliner. He was inked as well as pierced, having a silver hoop ring in his left nostril and a silver stud piercing on the right side of his lip. Tattoos lined his arms and his chest, as well as a few other pieces that were spread out over his body. He was an alternative guy who worked at a nightclub as a bartender and bar manager in the city as well as freelance computer tech work, graduating from college a year before they met.
When Justin first saw Emily, he was taken aback by her. He thought she was beautiful, which was why he watched her order her caramel cappuccino, chewing over his lip ring in a moment of contemplation. Did he want to talk to her? What if he made a complete fool of himself? He wasn't sure he could handle that kind of rejection. He had been in a relationship while in college but unfortunately, he and his then girlfriend Kaydence went in different directions post-graduation. They were still friends but... that wasn't the point. Nobody wanted to be on the opposite end of rejection and Justin was no different. Then Emily's head turned and she locked eyes with him. It was in that moment that Justin felt his heart almost stop. Emily smiled.
Deciding that was enough of a vote of confidence for him, Justin smiled back. He closed the Macbook Pro that he was working on, putting the laptop back into his leather computer case and slowly slid out of his seat. He put the bag over his shoulder, walking over to where Emily stood in line, and he stood behind her.
“Hey,” He said quietly. “I'm sorry I was staring, I know that's really rude. I figured I'd at least say hello and introduce myself.” She turned around as he was talking, her smile remaining. “I'm Justin.”
“I'm Emily.” She was soft spoken but it was like angels singing to his ears. “Nice to meet you, Justin. Are you leaving? Or could I interest you in sticking around to have a coffee with me?”
“I was actually just going to ask you if you'd mind me joining you for a drink.”
“I'd like that.”
Emily and Justin introduced themselves fully, got to know one another a little better and discovered that they clicked. They had a lot in common as far as music, art and movies were concerned. They had similar views on a lot of worldly issues but at the same time, they had pronounced differences. Justin was enamored with her from the beginning but he tried to play it cool and not move too quickly. Relationships were a strange thing and sometimes, he was a victim of over-thinking. He cited his personality flaws and trust issues to his upbringing, being raised by overly religious parents who hated him because he wasn't God fearing and apologized profusely for his idiocy whenever they fought over his lack of trust. Emily would always respond with a kiss to his forehead and a hug around his neck that was tight and warm, secure. It made him feel like he was at home whenever Emily did that.
They didn't have the most perfect relationship but for them, it worked. The Christmas after they started dating, the couple ventured to Saginaw so Justin could meet the Harlow family and they loved him from the beginning. He was terrified that he wouldn't be good enough for Emily, but her family was warm and welcoming. He could see where she got all of her warmth and love after meeting them. They spent a week at her family's home, adventuring through her hometown and visiting a lot of places that Emily grew up with. Justin enjoyed his time there and they made it a yearly tradition to road trip back to Michigan to spend holidays with her family. He didn't associate with his family, no fault of his own really, they just... weren't a fan of him. It was well enough, Justin figured, he didn't need that kind of negativity in his life. He had all the positivity that he could handle with Emily, her family, and the friends and 'New York Family' they had back in the city.
After dating a year, Emily and Justin got their first apartment together in New York City. She was, by that point, a senior in college and he had a full-time gig working full time for a Tech Firm as a support analyst. Working a $60,000 a year job was not something Justin ever expected but between his hard work and his girlfriend being his biggest fan and support system, he had the strength to push forward and break his own glass ceiling. He chalked up a lot of his success to Emily's light but she would always brush it off and tell him he was crazy. Every now and then, when they were alone in their apartment, Justin would pull her into his arms and dance with her in the hallway, or the kitchen, or even the foyer. No music necessary, just the two of them.
One such night, Emily had come home from a particularly hard day at work. Grief Counseling was a part of the Social Work field that always upset her. Emily was a bleeding heart and she was a huge empath, so whenever it came to talking about helping people cope with the loss of their loved ones, it was something she struggled with. The part of not crying with them was the part that was the most difficult for Emily. While it wasn't professional practice, all she ever wanted to do while doing her skill practice was hug someone and make them feel loved. Justin knew that her day was rough so while they were cleaning up from the dinner he made her that night, he made her put down the clean forks on the counter top. His hand took hers and he twirled her under his arm, bringing her close to him. He began swaying with her in the kitchen and it got Emily to smile. That was all he cared about.
“You know, I don't know what I'd ever do if I couldn't see that,” Justin said to her, holding her close to him as they danced to no music what so ever.
“Your smile. Your face. Everything about you.” He pressed a kiss against her forehead. “Your smile alone is something that gets me through the roughest days. It's why I have that goofy photo from Six Flags of us on my desk at work. Whenever I have a bad day, I look at that and realize, 'Hey, asshole, your life ain't so bad'.” He smiled as she laughed, shaking her head at him. “I'm serious!”
“Delusional and oh-so-very in love with you.” Justin grinned, dipping her down and bringing her back up face to face with him. “You're everything, Harley.”
The loving nickname of Harley was from their mutual love of The Joker and Harley Quinn. She was his crazy beautiful Harley and he was her twisted mister. For them, it worked so well. As they danced, Emily felt her heart explode inside of her chest into a big burst of happiness. Whenever Justin would randomly dance with her, it made her realize how lucky she was. She never had to ask for his affection. He gave it so willingly and so fully and it was something she knew not everyone had. She felt like she got it right and luckily got it right young enough that she'd have an entire lifetime to spend with him. Justin knew he was fortunate to have a love so understanding and so outstanding. He couldn't have tried for better. Emily was perfect for him.
The couple dated for two years when Justin made the biggest decision of his life. He was a twenty-five year old and had made a move up the ladder in his Tech Firm that would solidify him a six-figure job. Emily had graduated from NYU and was working at one of the mental health facilities in the city as an intake specialist so they were both doing good things with their life. The best part of it for both of them, though, was sharing it with one another. It was New Year's Eve and Justin had big plans for the two of them. It didn't involve going to Times Square to be caged in with millions of people to watch the ball drop. He brought Emily to the 59th Street Bridge where he had a little spot set up for them with caramel cappuccino, her favorite, as well as her favorite scented candles around in a circle. It was cold out that night but he wrapped up in a blanket with her, looking over the lit up bridge and lit up buildings in the city from their spot.
“This is the perfect way to kick off a new year,” Emily mused, her head rested against Justin's shoulder and turned into his neck. “Thank you for planning this.”
“I'm glad you like it. It popped into my head so I said to hell with it and just did it.”
The blanket was a warm flannel blanket so between the blanket and the jacket she was wearing, Emily couldn't remember ever being warmer on a cold, winter night outside. She found herself feeling a whole new sense of expectation for the year ahead. Could it really get any better? She had perhaps the most perfect man she could have imagined in her life, she was doing something spectacular with her life and helping others... it was everything she ever wanted and so much more. Emily felt blessed beyond her worth but Justin always made her feel like she mattered... like she was the most important being on the planet. Her family did that but nobody else ever had without needing to.
“Oh, shit. I almost forgot. I have something for you.” Justin said, “Sorry baby, hold on.”
He moved from where he was sitting so he could reach into his pocket. Before he pulled out what was in there, he smiled at her.
“Close your eyes. This is important.”
“Why can't I look?” Emily pouted at him. “That's mean.”
“It's a secret.” He kissed her forehead, laughing softly to himself. “Close 'em and you'll get it sooner!”
a jokingly begrudging sigh, Emily closed her eyes and put her hands
over them so he didn't think she was peaking. Normally, surprises
were something Emily wasn't a fan of but with Justin, she trusted him
enough to let the surprise come naturally. He didn't move much, but
he soon had his arm back around her and something in front of her
face. After taking a deep breath, Justin cleared his throat.
Emily, at first, peered through her fingers to look but she moved her hands pretty quickly when she saw what he was holding. There was a black satin box in his hand that was small and what was in it almost made her heart stop. Inside of the box was an 18-carat black gold ring that had 2 1/3 carats of diamonds. The centerpiece of the ring was a 1 carat solitaire princess-cut diamond and was surrounded by sparkling prong-set round diamond side stones and diamond accents down the band. Emily didn't want to cry but it was easily the most beautiful piece of jewelry she had ever seen in her life.
“You know what this is, right?” Justin inquired, but when Emily turned her head to look at him, he smiled at her. He took the ring out of the box, his free hand reaching up to hold against the side of her face. “You know how I constantly remind you that you're everything? I mean that. I mean that with every fiber of my being, every breath that passes through my lungs and every beat of my heart. You are all I want and all I need, Emily Jean.” He bit at his lip ring for a moment, a habit that Justin had when he was nervous. She knew he was nervous, too, because of that, so her hand rested against the side of his that was on her face. That simple gesture made him feel better. “I love you more than I can aptly put into words and I really want to know if you'll do me the absolute honor and pleasure of being my wife. Will you marry me, Harley?”
As soon as the words, “will you marry me” slipped past Justin's lips and she heard the nickname, Emily felt herself crumble completely. She burst into tears but she couldn't cover her face with him being so close. Justin's lips found her forehead and then he kissed over the freckled lines of her cheeks, kissing each salty tear away that fell from her eyes. That, for the time being, made it worse for her but in the best way possible. Emily turned her head so she could capture his lips with her own and she gave him a kiss that was the most heartfelt kiss she could have mustered. She wanted him to feel love rather than her telling him. Moments passed in silence and after the kiss was broken, Emily whispered her answer to him.
The ring was placed on Emily's left ring finger and after putting it there, Justin brought her hand up to his lips and he kissed it. He felt a surge of relief come over him since he didn't even hint at it before hand so it was a complete shot in the dark. Her saying yes to marrying him was the single most incredible thing that he could recollect having happen to him in his lifetime. What a wonderful way to kick off a new year, with the woman he loved and a promise of eternity. Forever was far more attainable knowing that Emily was going to be his wife.
Months passed from their New Year's Eve engagement. It was late September and the couple were within a month of their wedding date. Justin wanted a fall wedding, Emily originally was unsure. They agreed on a Halloween wedding, with both of them being avid fans of the holiday and were equally enthusiastic about horror-related things. It seemed almost too perfect for them.
The date would be forever etched in Justin's head: September 24th. It was a Thursday. He was at work when his personal line rang at his desk. When he picked it up, he was told it was an emergency so with urgency, Justin connected with the caller. It was Melissa Harlow, Emily's mother. Three days previous, Emily had flew back to Saginaw because of a family event. Because of work, Justin couldn't go, but he sent a gift for her grandmother's birthday and an apology card for not being able to make it with deadlines looming over his head.
“Hey mom, what's up? Is everything okay?” Justin's voice showed panic but all he heard on the other end of the phone was sobbing. He couldn't remember ever hearing that kind of a reaction from Melissa, whom he lovingly referred to as 'mom', since he was marrying her daughter. “Mom? What's the matter?”
There was a long pause before someone else took the phone. The voice of Emily's father, Mike, came onto the line in a somber tone.
“Son, I... I don't want to be the one to tell you this, but something's happened with Emily.”
Justin's heart jumped into his throat. He didn't say anything but when he heard what Mike had to say, he couldn't wrap his head around it.
“She was getting out of the car this morning when a car came barreling around the corner and hit her full on. Everything happened really fast. She was pronounced dead at the scene. I'm so sorry, son...we called as soon as we got home...”
There were no words exchanged as Justin couldn't formulate the words to say. His mind went blank. His stomach lurched and twisted. He felt sick to his stomach and lightheaded. How was this happening? How could that be? Emily wasn't dead. That was impossible. Within moments, Justin broke down at his desk. His sobs got the attention of many in his office and a scene formed outside of his office. He didn't even notice as he tried to pull himself together but it was to no avail. Through the gross sobs and broken pieces of his heart, Justin managed to get some words out of his mouth.
“I'll.... I'll be there... give me the day...”
Justin hung up the phone after telling Emily's parents that he loved them and his breakdown finally came fully. His co-workers saw the worst of him that day but they were supportive, kind and showed heart toward the man who lost the love of his life. A drunk driver took her away and while Justin was absolutely shattered, he was angry. He was angry at the driver of the vehicle who took his beloved Emily away from not just him but the family who loved her so much. He prayed and prayed that the driver died in the crash because if Emily had to go, they had to go. He felt so much hatred and fury, so much pain and so much agony.
Through his tears, Justin picked up the photo on his desk of Emily and himself at Six Flags, her head tilted back and full facial laughter lighting up her features. Bringing the framed photo to his chest, his eyes closed. He couldn't stop the tears so he let them go. Knowing he'd never see that laughing, beautiful face again cut him like a knife right through the most tender part of his heart.
“You're everything, Harley... I can't do this without you....”
Later that night, he was brought home by his boss and told to take as much time as he needed to mend and heal. If it took him weeks, it took him weeks... there was no rush. Justin walked into the apartment that he shared with her and everything reminded him of her. The smell of the apartment still had the faint smell of the perfume she wore every single day and the blanket on the sofa smelled of her shampoo. Justin found himself collapsing, holding the blanket and a photo of her, unable to keep himself from falling apart. He hadn't even seen her body and it all felt way too real. He didn't want to believe she was dead but he knew her parents wouldn't lie about something like that. With how her mother sounded and how positively crushed she was, there was no way. He was wanting to deny it, with his entire heart, however. He couldn't consciously believe that his precious Emily was gone.
When he got to his feet, Justin began thrashing. He threw a bookshelf over, kicked the coffee table onto its side, punched a hole into the wall... he began lashing out physically since physical pain was far more bearable than the relenting, emotional agony that he was feeling. Feeling absolutely spent, Justin's back slid down the wall, fist bleeding but he was unaffected by the pain searing through his hand. No amount of crying was helping him feel any better and yet he couldn't stop. He couldn't come to terms with the news he received that day and it was far beyond anything he had the ability to cope with. He turned to the kitchen and the liquor cupboard that they kept for special occasions, a bottle of whiskey becoming his only friend for the night.
It only took three quarters of a bottle of liquor but Justin passed out in the kitchen with the blanket that smelled like Emily's shampoo and the bottle next to his head. After that long, Justin's body gave out from the emotional and physical exhaustion paired off with the drunken mess that he had become.
The next day, Justin made all of the appropriate arrangements to go out to Saginaw. He spoke with her family, apologized for not being able to get there sooner, but the soonest flight he could get was leaving the morning after. Her family were in the process of funeral arrangements and swore that as long as he could make it out for that, that was enough. Justin didn't feel the same way but he thanked them for their kindness. They assured him that he wasn't going to grieve for Emily alone but there had never been a point in his life where Justin felt more alone. He'd never tell them that, though, in fear of offending them. He didn't want to cause them any more pain than they already had losing their daughter, their granddaughter, their niece... it would have been completely selfish and against everything Justin stood for. So the next morning, he was set to fly out to cope with the family and handle Emily's funeral. He told them he was paying for everything to make it easier for them but it still didn't feel enough. He wanted to take their pain away entirely but unfortunately, he couldn't. He was enduring his own pain in the loss and it rendered him damn well useless.
He couldn't remember ever feeling so terrible.
That night, Justin packed and paid the bills that needed to be paid up for a few weeks. He handled all of the business that he had in the city and wanted to make sure that when he did finally return, maybe.. just maybe.. there would be a chance at a future. At that moment, he didn't believe he'd get through that loss but anything was possible. It was one of those things that he couldn't see past, though. That loss was not like losing a friend or losing an extended family member. He lost the wife he was going to marry just barely a month later from that date. What cruel irony.
When he went to bed, Justin struggled to sleep. Sleeping in the bed that he shared with Emily was the worst idea he could have had, but he needed to get a good night's sleep or as close to it. His flight left at 7:30 a.m so he had to get up early. Settling in for the night, he took a sleep aide with a glass of whiskey on the rocks. Within minutes he was passed out.
His bedroom window opened in the middle of the night and bright light filtered into the bedroom. His eyes slowly, groggily opened and he had to cover his eyes from the glaring light. When he finally could see and the light went away, he saw Emily standing in the bedroom near the window. Within moments, Justin flipped the blankets off of him and rushed over to the window. His arms wrapped around her frame but her entire body felt cold as ice. That startled him. Emily's arms wrapped around Justin's neck and she held onto him tightly, the hug being the tightest hug that she ever gave him. Justin's neck hair was standing straight up on end as she felt her, smelled her, touched her... she was there but she was frigid. Suddenly, Emily started tearing up and eventually, tears fell from her eyes.
“Baby... what's wrong?” Justin pleaded, but her tears didn't stop there.
“Justin, you need to stay here. Please. Please, don't take that flight tomorrow. I'm begging you. Don't do it...”
“Wait...I... what?” Justin tried piecing together a sentence to make heads or tails of what she was asking him but he couldn't. Her begging scared him to death but he knew he couldn't stay in New York. “I... I can't. I can't not be there...”
“PLEASE.” Emily's crying became a bit more desperate. “You can't get on that plane. DON'T GO.”
Her face buried into Justin's chest and her crying was loud and unbridled. He never felt so bad for making her cry but he couldn't promise her that he wouldn't go. He needed to go. It would have felt like he let her family down if he didn't go to that funeral and wasn't there to help them cope. It felt wrong.
“Em – I'm sorry. I can't promise that I won't go. I need to see you...”
With a startle, Justin sat straight up in his bed. His alarm was blaring and he was in a puddle of his own sweat. His eyes were filled with tears as he regained consciousness and as he turned to Emily's side of the bed, he realized that he was all alone. It was all a dream...
It was all a god damned dream.....
He walked into the bathroom after he got out of his bed and he splashed cold water into his face. He took a quick shower, got dressed, and fixed his hair but he still looked like an absolute train wreck. Given the circumstance, there was no way that Justin would look like a normal human being. It was a dream... he tried to convince himself. The coaching and self-convincing was starting to work and the knot in the pit of his stomach was starting to go away. That was a good sign. It was just a dream...
Pulling on his coat, Justin could have swore he felt something on his shoulder. It almost felt like someone's hand but he was by himself. Don't go, I'm begging you... words from the dream haunted him inside of his own head in Emily's pleading voice. There was that retched feeling of sick in his stomach that was taunting to make a return. It was just a dream... he told himself over once again. He managed to get himself together enough, sorting out his luggage, his shoulder bag and his keys. He also grabbed the flight itinerary from the counter and his wallet before taking one more look inside of the apartment that he shared with his fiancee.
“Baby, I'm on my way.” Justin spoke out to one of the framed photos on the wall, a photo that was Emily smiling brightly during one of their engagement photos.
The airport was fairly easy to maneuver when you were on auto-pilot. When he was finally boarding his flight, he swore he felt something tug at his jacket and thought that he was snagged on something. It was nothing, though, and Justin's head got away from him again. Justin, please... don't take this flight... her voice haunted him once again but Justin ignored it. It was a dream. A terrible fucking dream. Just a dream...
Justin put his earbuds in as soon as he was in his seat. He sat by the window close to the wing so he had a good view. He loved flying, so honestly, it was something that he was going to at least enjoy. It was the only part of the whole thing he knew he'd like. He closed his eyes as the remaining passengers boarded the flight briefly and he swallowed. He was never nervous before a flight but that inkling in his stomach that taunted sickness was still haunting him. Before too long, the flight was on the runway and ready for takeoff. Justin only took his earbuds out long enough to endure the required safety instructions and listen to the Captain talk briefly regarding the weather conditions and how long the flight was. As soon as, “enjoy your flight” was uttered from the Captain's mouth, Justin put his earbuds back into his ears and he attempted to relax.
Twenty minutes into the flight, Justin was startled and knocked his earbuds out of his right ear. There was a huge jolt from the side of the plane he was on. Twenty-thousand feet in the air and the right wing of the plane snapped. Panic swept the cabin of the plane. He heard children screaming, parents trying to soothe their children, lots of voices... lots of crying...
“We're losing altitude at an alarming rate,” The Captain's voice crackled over the sound system. “Our Father, which art in Heaven. Hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever, Amen.”
The Captain's voice shook as he prayed over the speakers. In a moment, Justin realized what was happening. His head leaned back against the seat and briefly, he smiled. He actually smiled. He put his earbud back in and he switched his music to a song that Emily loved. Emily swore the song, “I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith was her song for him so that was what he listened to. It comforted him in those last moments. A single tear fell from Justin's eyes and within moments, the plane crashed into the ground.
“Baby, I'm on my way...”
The last words that Justin Taylor spoke never had so much relevance as it did in that moment. Right before the plane crashed into the ground from twenty-thousand feet and burst into flames, he told Emily that he was on his way.
News of the plane crash spread out quickly. All passengers on the flight to Freeland, Michigan from New York City were classified dead on impact and the cause of the crash was the wing breaking mid-flight. A problem that could have been prevented with a little extra care.
Justin's eyes opened and when they did, he was dressed up. He was in the black on black tuxedo that he was going to wear to marry Emily on Halloween. He was in a forest with fall foliage all around him and in his arms, wearing a white dress, was his beloved Emily. She had the biggest, brightest smile Justin could ever remember seeing on her face and that comforted him. He smiled back at her and as they danced under the falling leaves in the forest, Justin felt so unbelievably free of heartache and pain.
He found it a bit funny. Had he listened to Emily in that dream, he would have lived out the rest of his life searching for answers. His soul would still be firmly attached to his body. He would have been sad beyond repair, however. Had he listened to Emily in that dream, he wouldn't have been on the flight that crashed and he would have been alive and well. Had he listened to Emily in that dream, he wouldn't have been with her in that moment of pure bliss. He wiped the tears that were starting to fall from Emily's eyes as they danced and he smiled at her.
“It's alright, don't cry,” Justin whispered. “I missed you so.”
“I missed you, too...”
Justin spun Emily, bringing her back to him with his arms held around her waist so tightly. Had he listened to Emily in that dream, he wouldn't be there. He wouldn't have had the opportunity to slow dance with her forever.