In retrospect, telling no one when she was returning was probably a bad idea. She had thought it would be kind of epic; to come home unannounced and walk into her house and be greeted by her loving family, who would be equal parts shocked and excited to see her.
Instead, after taking a taxi from the airport, she inserted her house key into the lock and pushed the front door open with a grand flourish to find the house completely empty. Dropping her bags in the foyer, she reached out to push the door closed before placing her hands on her hips and huffing, thinking a little preplanning on her part would have made her arrival a more momentous occasion. Technically, Kira wasn’t supposed to come home until the next day, but she’d managed to get an earlier flight and figured she’d surprise her loved ones.
Perhaps she should have anticipated the fact that they wouldn’t be waiting around when they didn’t know she would be coming. Of course, she knew they had gone on with their lives after she left, because two years was a long time to expect anyone to be pining for her presence. Because of the time difference and the fact that she had been insanely busy, she had talked to her mother and Lucy every few weeks. Her conversations with Ethan had been even less frequent because the band had started touring again about two months after she left, which meant that he didn’t have much time to keep in touch either.
But when she did get to chance to speak to a member of her family, she had been thankful that they talked to her as though she was just down the road at college and would be back home in a few days. It made her feel normal and that supportive normalcy had helped greatly on her journey of self discovery.
She had learned a lot while she was away. It had been an eye opening experience and as she was faced with the harsh realities of the world, she had discovered that love and happiness could be found anywhere and that the life she had come from truly was blessed. In the process, she had found exactly what she had been searching for when she impulsively decided to apply for the program in the first place: herself.
Kira had returned home with a sense of purpose and self awareness and the realization that everything she could ever want had always been right here. Finally, she knew exactly what she was meant to be doing.
Holding her arm across her chest to stretch out her back, she called out to ensure there really was no one home, because it was entirely possible that Ethan was in his soundproofed studio and just hadn’t heard her come in.
“Mum?” her voice echoed through the foyer and into the other rooms of the house. “Dad? Lucy?”
When there was no response, she sighed and squatted to pick up her bags again, deciding that maybe by the time she showered and changed her clothes, because plane trips always made her feel grimy, her family would reappear.
Still, twenty minutes later, she stood barefoot in her bedroom, freshly showered and changed, and found that the house was still creepily silent. It wasn’t until she picked up her phone to call her parents and noticed the day on her screen that she realized why they weren’t home.
It was the first Sunday of the month, which meant that the entire extended family was gathered for dinner somewhere, a tradition she knew they would keep even after Lucy and Tyler had left the nest. Figuring that perhaps her surprise return could still have some effect, she decided to pay a visit to the houses of one of her uncles. She wasn’t sure who was hosting the dinner this evening, but all of their houses were close enough that if she drove by the front, she would be able to figure it out.
So she slipped into her trusty combat boots, tucking the bottoms of skinny jeans inside, and dug her car keys out from the dresser drawer she’d left them in two years ago before grabbing a purse and her wallet and heading down to the garage. The red Ford Fiesta sat in the garage and as she settled into the driver’s seat, she wondered why it was that driving was something she would never forget how to do. No matter how long she went without turning a steering wheel, every time she put her hand on the gear stick, it all just came back naturally.
Fifteen minutes later, she found herself parked in front of the Brewer house, just behind her Uncle Justin’s shiny white Escalade and her father’s black sedan, and just like with driving, the memories came flooding back.
The last time she had been here was three weeks before she graduated high school, or alternatively, a week before she broke Jamie Brewer’s heart. She had come over so they could revel in the excitement of receiving their caps and gowns and she twirled in hers in his bedroom before he’d stripped it off her and he’d told her he loved her repeatedly while pressing kisses to her neck as they had sex against his door.
It had been a much simpler time and she’d be lying if she said she hadn’t spent the past two years wondering what would have happened if she’d just believed in her relationship with Jamie as much as he had. But even then, she knew letting him go had been the right thing to do. He deserved to conquer the world as well and she hoped he had done just that.
Although her parents had given her updates on the entire extended family, they had remained particularly vague when discussing Jamie, so all she’d learned about his adventures at college while she was away was that he was now the president of every organization he’d joined his first year, a completely unsurprising fact.
Pulling her key out of the ignition, she pushed open the car door and grabbed her bag from the passenger seat, dropping her keys inside once she was standing and the door was safely locked. Inhaling deeply, she began the walk to the Brewer’s front door.
She wasn’t entirely sure why she was nervous. It wasn’t as though Jamie was even home because his term would have already started and she knew her Uncle Jack and his wife harbored no hard feelings towards her as a result of the breakup because her father had told her many times that they completely understood her decision, but still, seeing them again after so long, after so much had changed, was going to be a surreal experience.
Her fingers curled around the strap of her purse as her free hand rose to ring the doorbell and she held her breath until the wooden door swung open to reveal Justin, whose thick eyebrows immediately shot upwards at the sight of Ethan’s older daughter.
“K-K-Kira?” Justin said in disbelief, a slow smile stretching his lips. “What are you doing here? I thought you weren’t coming back until tomorrow.”
“I thought I’d surprise you guys,” she shrugged, smiling widely and holding out her arms because she knew her Uncle Justin loved hugs. “Surprise?”
Laughing, he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her middle, swaying lightly from side to side and whispering happily against her hair. “We’re so glad you’re back, Kiki. Your parents are gonna be thrilled.”
“I assume they’re here?” she asked when they pulled apart, stepping into the foyer as Justin shut the door.
The bassist nodded, gesturing towards the kitchen. “Through there.”
Kira held her breath as she walked towards the room where her parents were probably sipping beers while they chatted with her aunts and uncles, stopping in the doorway with Justin at her heels and instantly smiling at the sound of her father’s laughter. Glancing back at her uncle, who gave her an encouraging grin, she took two steps forward and smiled widely, making eye contact with her Uncle Nathan first, whose gaze went wide before his expression broke into one of joy and he directed Ethan’s attention towards the door.
Her parents stared at her for a good thirty seconds as though they weren’t quite sure she was real before simultaneously striding quickly across the room and pulling her into a tight embrace. They pressed kisses to her cheeks and squeezed her tight and repeatedly told her how much they missed her and when they finally let go, all three of them were on the verge of tears. To keep the mood light, she turned towards her aunts and uncles, getting in all of their welcoming embraces before noting that there was one very important person she had yet to greet.
“Where’s Lucy?” she asked, blinking her eyelids rapidly to keep from crying tears of joy. Being in a room full of people who loved her so unconditionally was something she’d missed greatly.
“All the kids are in the basement,” Jack said. “Go on down. They’ll be so happy to see you.”
Nodding, Kira wiggled her fingers in goodbye at the adults, knowing she would have plenty of time to catch up with them later and made her way towards the stairs which led down to the room where the Vertical Limit children generally hung out when they were together.
She wasn’t entirely sure what she was expecting when she emerged at the bottom of the stairs to find all the kids, excluding Jessamine and Jamie, who were presumably away at college, sitting in a circle on the floor, their fingers wrapped around cans holding varying beverages as they chatted happily.
It was Tyler who spotted her first, his large brown eyes widening as his lips whispered her name as though he was seeing a ghost. “Kira?”
The mention of her sister’s name caused Lucy to look up and the younger Saxton girl immediately squealed and hopped to her feet, making a beeline across the basement, into Kira’s arms.
“Hey Luce,” Kira smiled, holding her baby sister close and kissing the top of her head. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too,” Lucy sighed, tilting her head back to look up at her big sister. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming back early?”
“I wanted to surprise you,” Kira grinned. “It wasn’t well planned out, though, cause I completely forgot that the first Sunday of the month meant family dinner.”
“Well, we’re glad you’re here,” Brody piped up as he pushed himself from the floor, making his way over to hug Kira.
She exchanged embraces with the rest of her extended family before noticing the presence of a girl she didn’t recognize. Figuring it was a friend, because they’d all brought guests to family dinner at some point or another, she stretched her lips into a friendly smile and waved at the unfamiliar girl sitting on the couch awkwardly because she didn’t know how to react.
“Hi, I’m Kira.”
The girl’s eyes sparked with recognition and she smiled as she stood, wiggling her fingers in a wave as well. “Oh, you’re the one who has been volunteering overseas!”
“Yeah,” Kira nodded, glancing towards the kids, who were starting to retake their seats on the floor. “Good to know you guys didn’t forget about me while I was gone.”
She expected either a sarcastic response or complete denial, but what she got instead was a bunch of wary glances in her direction. Parting her lips, she meant to ask why they were suddenly acting so strange, but before she could, the girl spoke again.
“It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Anna. Jamie’s girlfriend.”
The tension in the room was palpable as Kira was hit with waves of realization as to why the kids were being wary of her talking to Anna. To be entirely honest, she wasn’t sure how she felt. She hadn’t really processed the idea that Jamie had a girlfriend that wasn’t her.
What she was processing, however, was that if Jamie’s girlfriend was at family dinner, she probably wasn’t there alone, which meant…
His voice rang out softly from the bottom of the basement stairs, where he now stood after returning from his bedroom, where he had been glancing around to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything before he and Anna drove back to college.
Kira had spent a lot of time thinking about what she would say to Jamie when she saw him again. She knew it was inevitable because it wasn’t as though their families were going to stop being close simply because the two of them broke up. So she had planned out exactly how she would act and what she would say, but as she turned to face the only boy she had ever loved for the first time in two years, all of that planning completely escaped her memory.
The past two years had been good to him, his hair grown out a bit, allowing a few black strands to fall across his forehead and the stubble along his jawline making him look absolutely delicious. His eyes, as clear and blue as she remembered, felt as though they were piercing her soul when their gazes finally met and her breath caught in her throat.
“Hey, Jamie,” she breathed out once she could finally speak, playing with one of the braided bracelets on her wrist that Lucy had made for her before she left to give her fingers something to do.
Jamie’s lips parted to respond, but he found himself gaping because he didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t mentally prepared for this moment. Sure, he knew Kira was coming back, but he had assumed he wouldn’t be home for her arrival and would therefore have more time to figure out what the hell he was going to say to her, but instead, she was standing in his basement looking as stunning as he remembered and he felt like his heart was being ripped out of his chest all over again.
“Um…welcome home,” he stammered out, shoving his fingers into the pockets of his khaki pants, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He had spent the past two years being eloquent and charming and spending five seconds in the same room as Kira Saxton had once again made him a flustered mess. “We missed you.”
“Did you?” Kira replied automatically, though as soon as the words left her lips, she felt instantly guilty. That wasn’t fair. Jamie had moved on, just like she had expected he would, just like she had told him to. It was horrible of her to try and stir up old feelings, so she quickly changed the subject before he could respond and make the situation even more uncomfortable. “How come you’re not at school?”
The change in topic did nothing to make Jamie feel less awkward. He glanced at Anna, who was sitting on the couch, watching the exchange between him and Kira with a slightly confused expression. He figured being honest was the best way to go. “We’re just here for the weekend. Actually, we’re about to head out. We have to drive back and we don’t want it to get too late.”
“Of course,” Kira breathed out, a bit relieved that she wouldn’t have to make small talk with Jamie’s new girlfriend. She was certain that Anna was a perfectly nice individual, but considering the circumstances, it was probably better if the bonding was done at a later time, when all of them had better control of their emotions. “Drive safe.”
“Thanks,” he nodded, averting his gaze towards Anna. “Ready to go?”
Anna nodded slowly, pushing herself to her feet and bringing her purse with her, waving at everyone in the room and smiling sweetly as she stepped towards Jamie. “It was nice to meet you all.”
There was a chorus of goodbyes from the other kids that snapped Kira back into reality as she realized she and Jamie hadn’t been alone in the universe like she’d felt they were for the past two minutes. Jamie stepped forward to hug Caroline goodbye and waved at the rest of the kids and as though he hadn’t even been there at all, disappeared up the stairs with Anna before Kira could get a word out.
She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding and loosened her fingers from the strap of her purse as she stared at where he had been standing a few seconds before, wishing, not for the first time, that she could go back and start over.
He knew he was being bizarrely quiet, but he didn’t really know what to say. After bidding his parents, aunts, and uncles goodbye, complete with a promise to text when they got back to campus, he and Anna had gotten into his car and started driving and hadn’t said a word.
They should be talking about something. Like how well she’d gotten along with his parents and sister and the other kids. Or how the fact that she’d now met all of the most important people in his life was a positive step forward in their relationship. After all, it had taken them months of just being friends for him to finally take the leap and put a label on things and invite her home. He had decided that he had spent way too long pining for Kira, so he had locked away any memories of her and tried to live in the moment.
But apparently fate had other plans.
He had planned his trip home with Anna meticulously, like he did all things. He knew Kira was coming back on Monday and the family dinner was Sunday night. It was the perfect opportunity to introduce Anna to all the important people and be safely back in his apartment just off campus before the long lost love of his life returned.
He immediately felt guilty for even thinking that and glanced towards Anna, who was staring out the window, glad she couldn’t read his mind.
“It’s her, isn’t it?”
The sound of Anna’s soft voice filled the car and Jamie momentarily turned his head to look at her, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “What?”
“Kira,” Anna continued, keeping her gaze on his profile. “She’s the ex-girlfriend you told me about.”
They had talked about their pasts before deciding to pursue any sort of romantic relationship and Jamie had never mentioned Kira’s name, only painting a portrait of the first girl he’d ever loved with anecdotes.
“Yeah,” he whispered. “It was that obvious?”
“You could cut the tension in the room with a knife,” she admitted, the corners of her lips lifting into a small smile. “I guess that’s kind of expected when you don’t see each other for two years.”
Exhaling gently, he tightened the grip of his fingers around the steering wheel. “I’m sorry if it was weird for you.”
He hadn’t been there when Kira and Anna had been introduced, but he could imagine that his current girlfriend meeting his ex-girlfriend couldn’t have been extremely comfortable. If he and Anna stayed together long enough, he knew it would be inevitable seeing as the Saxtons would always be close family friends, but he had hoped that if it ever came to that point, that he would have some time to prepare.
Anna didn’t acknowledge his statement and responded with a question instead. “Was it weird for you? Seeing her after all this time?”
He knew what his response should be: that it was a little strange since it had been so long since their last interaction, but seeing her had just confirmed that things between them were entirely over. Instead, all he could think about was how upon seeing Kira, all he had wanted to do was kiss her until they both remembered exactly what it was that made them fall in love in the first place.
It would be wrong to lie to Anna, he knew that. She deserved better. So he parted his lips to come up with an explanation which wouldn’t make her feel horrible, but found that he didn’t need to speak, because she seemed to understand his internal struggle.
“I get it,” Anna assured him, reaching out a hand to squeeze his bicep. “She was your first love. That’s not easy to forget.”
The corners of his lips lifted into a smile and he meant to thank her for being so understanding, but she spoke again, leaving him with a statement that would haunt him for days to come.
“Now you have to decide if you’re ok with that label only referring to her in the past tense. Or is she still your first love? And do you want her to be your only love?”
The fact that they were meeting on the beach was almost poetic. After all, they’d had many of their most important moments while standing with their toes digging into the sand. This was where they first kissed and Jamie first admitted that he was falling for her and although she’d never told him so while they were together, it was while she was laying in his arms and watching the sunset that she’d first realized she was in love with him too.
And now, with the waves washing up on the shore, they would have the conversation that could have the potential to forever change both of their lives.
Admittedly, she had been surprised when he’d texted. He had a girlfriend now, after all. He really shouldn’t be asking his ex if they could meet up and she really shouldn’t be encouraging his behavior. But she had a feeling this conversation was going to end up being important and she didn’t want to miss out on something because she was too afraid to take a leap of faith. She had done that with regards to Jamie once before and she had spent the next few months wondering if she’d made a gigantic mistake.
After a lot of mental back and forth regarding whether or not breaking up with Jamie had been the right thing to do, she had finally come to the conclusion that setting him free was the best solution for everyone. He deserved to enjoy his time at college without the stress of trying to make a long distance relationship with minimum contact work and she deserved to spend her time away focused on the task and hand and not on whether her boyfriend was happy.
Eventually, all thoughts of Jamie had been pushed into the back corner of her mind and she spent her energy on others, just like she had wanted. By the time she returned, she had this optimistic idea that they could be friends and everything would be fine and dandy with the world. what she hadn’t anticipated was how emotionally unprepared she would be to discover that Jamie had moved on.
She knew she had absolutely no right to be upset. After all, she was the one who had ended things between them. It was naïve and frankly unfair to expect him to be waiting around for her. And it wasn’t until they were once again in the same room, just feet apart, staring into each other’s eyes, that she realized he still held so much of her heart. She had never truly gotten closure and perhaps that was exactly what this conversation would provide.
Unlike any other circumstance where they had made plans in the past, she had arrived at the beach fifteen minutes early. Jamie was driving down from college, telling his parents that he was coming home for the weekend because he wanted to be around for Tyler’s big swim competition on Saturday morning, which was only partially true, because in reality, the purpose of his visit involved a certain ex-girlfriend.
Pulling the open edges of the red flannel shirt she’d stolen from her dad’s closet earlier that day around her middle, she curled her bare toes into the sand and stared at the setting sun. Her combat boots and socks had been stripped off and left in the backseat of her car and now all that was left to do was wait.
Jamie arrived a minute before he said he would, slipping out of his Converse and socks and rolling up the bottoms of his jeans as he made his way down to where he saw Kira standing on the shore, thinking the entire situation seemed surreal.
He hadn’t told Anna, but the thought of Kira being back in his life had been on his mind quite a lot over the course of the past few weeks. He wondered how he would feel and what he would say and what she would say, but when it finally happened, albeit out of the blue, the only thought on his mind had been that he missed her like crazy.
Even now, as he made his way through the sand and came to a stop by her side, it took all of his willpower not to reach out and pull her into a hug. It should have been an appropriate gesture, seeing as they were supposed to still be friends, but he knew himself well enough to know that if they hugged, he would want to kiss her, so he didn’t bother engaging in physical contact.
“Hey,” he said softly, when he was standing to her left, causing her to turn her head.
“Hey,” she whispered, feeling her heart rate increase just a little bit.
They stood in silence for what seemed like an eternity, staring at the setting sun and admiring the orange and pink glow it cast upon the ocean waves before Jamie finally pulled Kira from her trance.
“Why is this weird?” he asked, genuinely curious. Things were never awkward between them. Even before they started dating, they had always felt comfortable in each other’s presence. Being broken up shouldn’t have changed that.
She chewed on her lower lip for a moment and shrugged, her arms still folded over her chest. “We haven’t seen each other for two years, Jamie. Maybe it’s weird because we’re not the same people anymore. I did a lot of growing up in the last two years. I finally know what I want.”
“And what’s that?” he whispered, a significant part of him hoping she’d say ‘you’.
She turned her head to face him, her eyes slowly flooding with warmth and passion as she spoke. “To work for the youth center downtown, helping kids figure out what they want to do and finding their passions and getting their educations. I know that sounds weird coming from me, the girl who skipped class on the regular and spent so long wandering, but it’s kind of oddly perfect in that sense. Because I’ve been there. I get it.”
Because this was the first proper conversation they’d had since her return, he hadn’t gotten a chance to ask her how her trip was, but he got the sense she had come back with more than just a new appreciation for life; she had come back with a sense of purpose and it was beautiful to witness.
“I get it too,” he assured her, turning his torso to face her more fully. “That’s amazing, Kira. I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks,” she smiled widely, glad that the tension between them seemed to be fading. “So how come you wanted to meet up?”
She knew what she wanted his answer to be, but she also knew that he had a girlfriend, so her desired response wasn’t exactly appropriate.
He wondered if she was really that oblivious or if she was just trying to make things seem normal.
“Come on, Kira,” he sighed, turning his feet to face her now as well. “You know why.”
Her eyebrows rose in surprise and she rotated her feet until her bare toes were just inches away from his bare toes, doing a good job of hiding the fact that her heart rate had spiked. “But Anna…”
The corners of his lips lifted into a small smile at the mention of his now ex-girlfriend. Exemplifying the fact that she was the world’s greatest friend, she hadn’t made things awkward at all when he’d admitted that his heart would always belong to Kira. Instead she had laughed and shook her head and told him he was an idiot for not confessing his feelings when he’d seen her in the basement. They had been sort of casually dating for a few months and the trip home to meet Jamie’s family was supposed to be a statement that their relationship was becoming serious.
But Anna had known as soon as Jamie and Kira had locked eyes that she and Jamie weren’t meant to be. She had no interest in being his second choice, so she would gladly step back and watch him be with the girl to whom his heart truly belonged. He deserved that much and Anna deserved better than a guy who would never truly be able to give her everything.
“Anna and I,” he said slowly, “came to an understanding that it was better if our relationship ended.”
Kira crinkled her nose in guilt. Anna truly seemed like such a sweet individual. Perhaps she could have made Jamie happy. And Kira would have been fine with that. Because now that she had discovered her true purpose in life, the only other thing she wanted was for Jamie to be happy. “Hopefully not because of me.”
Rolling his eyes, Jamie laughed lightly, a sound that made Kira’s heart soar because she had missed hearing it so much. “Of course because of you. I’m still in love with you. I’m always going to be in love with you. I told you that the day you broke up with me. I meant it then and it’s still true now and it’ll still be true fifty years from now. You’re my one, Kira.”
He hadn’t meant for his response to turn into an emotional rant, but he supposed it was better if all his feelings were out in the open. He had never been one to hide how he felt when it came to Kira. So he lay it all out on the table. All she had to do was decide that they were worth it.
Kira’s lips parted in shock and she found herself unsure of what to say. She had figured their meeting would consist of a conversation where she lied and assured him that she was absolutely fine with him having a girlfriend. Instead, she’d gotten a grand declaration of his feelings. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised. Jamie always did have a way with words.
And Jamie had always known exactly how he felt. She knew where she stood with him at all times, which was why she didn’t doubt the sincerity of his words. She knew he had meant them two years ago and she had no doubt that he meant them now.
As the realization that all of the stars seemed to be aligning washed over her, a slow smile stretched her lips and she took a step forward, flattening her palm against his light blue button up and feeling a sense of déjà vu. She felt his abdominal muscles tense beneath the pads of her fingers and she smiled wider as she tilted her chin upwards so she could look him in the eyes.
“I love you,” she said, deciding that being direct was the best way to go. At the start of their relationship, she had spent much too long being unsure of how she felt, but she was sure now. She was in love with Jamie Brewer. Perhaps she had always been in love with him. And maybe she wasn’t as sure as him that it would last forever, but she knew that she hoped it did.
They were at a turning point in their lives; both on the precipice of something great, knowing that having each other would just make it all that much better. So she was being optimistic that things would work out between them; that they could build a love that could last forever. Sure, they would still have to deal with the long distance aspect, but a few hours of driving was much easier to deal with than an entire day’s plane flight. After all, she had always heard that falling in love with your best friend was the best kind of romantic relationship.
Grinning, Jamie lifted his hands to cup her cheeks, whispering the words back as he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers, finding them soft and sweet and deliciously familiar. Both of them sighed contently and smiled into the kiss as they wrapped their arms around each other and once again familiarized themselves with the warmth of each other’s bodies. Finally, everything in the universe seemed completely right.