She’d never had this problem before. Everyone knew that Kira had no hesitations about speaking her mind. In fact, there were plenty of occasions when her lack of brain to mouth filter had gotten her into trouble, such as at school, where she was practically on a first name basis with the principal.
But she supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised that this was happening because none of her usual rules had ever applied when it came to Jamie Brewer. She had never been much of a planner, but all of a sudden, she found herself excited to schedule dates weeks in advance.
She hadn’t expected to fall in love either, but that had happened as well.
It sort of snuck up on her – well, he sort of snuck up on her. As a child, Jamie Brewer had been someone she loved spending time with and she’d missed him dearly in the years they’d drifted apart, which was why she was so ecstatic when, in their last year of high school, they had finally managed to reconnect. Of course, she hadn’t expected it to take a romantic turn, but she soon discovered that she liked the way she felt when she was with him – absolutely fearless.
Admittedly, she’d been scared shitless when he first mentioned love. But he hadn’t really brought it up again since that night on the beach. He’d seen how his declaration had taken her by surprise and decided that he’d let her define the terms of their relationship.
It took her six more weeks, but she finally did.
They had been lying in the grass at the park, soaking in the sun and enjoying the beautiful weather as they tried to make shapes out of the clouds. She’d had her head on his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat, thinking that it sounded better than her favorite song, and she had used the pad of her finger to trace those three words into the cotton of the t-shirt covering his stomach; the words that he’d given her time to figure out if she meant. It had taken him all of three seconds to understand her message and she’d heard his heart rate speed up and felt him smile against the top of her head before he pressed a kiss to her hair and whispered, “I love you, too.”
Perhaps it was her cynicism or that fact that she’d never before been in a relationship with someone she cared so much about, but she had expected being in love to be different. She had expected saying those words to change her relationship with Jamie, but instead, everything stayed the same. All that was different was that now she was certain that Jamie would always be there for her.
Maybe the reason it didn’t feel any different was because she and Jamie had always loved each other; they just needed some time to discover what that meant.
Which is why she knew she had to tell him sooner rather than later. The problem was that she just didn’t know how.
She’d tried enough times to say it; when he was driving her to and from school, when they were studying on his back porch, or sitting on the beach, or he was holding her in his arms after they’d had sex on her bedroom floor, but the timing just never seemed to be right. Because maybe there just wasn’t a right time to say something that had the potential to be so life altering.
For the first time in months, Kira found herself staring at her ceiling fan when she woke up in the morning, wondering what the hell she was going to say to Jamie.
It hadn’t been an easy decision, but she knew it was the right one and despite going into her relationship with Jamie knowing that this most likely would have happened eventually, she still had no idea how to begin the conversation.
Sighing, she threw back her covers and swung her legs over the side of the bed, raising her fingers to her eyes to rub away the sleep as she trudged towards the bathroom to get ready for the day. Forty five minutes later, she had successfully showered and packed her book bag and was heading downstairs, fully dressed in her school uniform.
Lucy was already gone, Tyler having picked her up on his way to swim practice that morning so that she could take pictures of the team for the next issue of the school paper, and their mother was out of town visiting her parents, which meant that the only other person in the house was her father.
Although Ethan generally despised mornings, he did like to be up when his children left for school, so he sat at the kitchen table while they ate breakfast and sipped coffee from his favorite mug and attempted keep his eyes open. He’d missed Lucy that morning because swim practice started at an absurd hour, but he made it a point to be there for his older daughter.
“Morning, Pops,” Kira greeted as she entered the kitchen, leaning down to briefly kiss the top of Ethan’s head before dropping her book bag at the floor near her chair and turning towards the pantry to check her cereal options.
“Morning, Kiki,” Ethan groaned, lifting his steaming mug to his lips as the corners of his mouth turned upwards into a small smile. “How’s your day looking?”
She shrugged as she pulled a box of cornflakes from the shelf and placed it on the granite countertop, reaching up to pull open the cupboard above her head and obtain a bowl. “Pretty standard. No exams or anything, so that’s good.”
“Cool,” Ethan nodded, taking a little longer than usual to comprehend her words because of his drowsy state. “Is Jamie picking you up soon?”
“Nope,” she shook her head, keeping her gaze glued to the cereal being poured into the bowl. “He had an early morning student government meeting, so I’m gonna skate to school today.”
The fact that his daughter was dating Jack’s son was more or less just a part of everyday life now. He saw Jamie almost as much as he saw his own kids, seeing as the Brewer boy often drove Kira, and sometimes Lucy, to and from school and spent his afternoons and evenings studying in the Saxtons’ kitchen, because no matter how much Ethan trusted Jamie with his daughter, he was still uncomfortable leaving them near a bed while Kira’s door was closed.
Ethan had always loved Jamie like a son, but after seeing how happy the teenager made his daughter, his heart swelled even more. Still, he was wary of their relationship because he was always worried that if things ended badly, then he and Jack would be forced to take sides and the whole dynamic of the band would shift. Especially, since Ethan assumed that if things ever did end, it would be Kira who did the breaking of hearts.
Which is why his state of drowsiness immediately cleared when Kira hesitated at the mention of Jamie’s name. Generally speaking, any sort of reference to him would cause her eyes to light up and the corners of her lips to turn upwards, but this morning, she tensed at the word, which definitely wasn’t a good sign.
“Is every alright with you two?” he asked cautiously, setting his mug back down on the table as Kira opened the fridge to retrieve the milk. Surely, if they had broken up, Ethan would have known about it by now, if not from Kira, then from Jack, who couldn’t keep a secret to save his life.
“For now…,” she mumbled as she finished pouring milk over her cornflakes and dug through the drawer to her right for a spoon. It was unlike Kira to be mysterious about what was on her mind, so Ethan didn’t bother questioning what that meant because he knew she would end up telling him what was wrong eventually. “I haven’t told him about my plans after graduation.”
“Oh,” Ethan breathed out, slightly relieved that she hadn’t juts announced her intention to break Jamie’s heart.
Over the course of the past few months, Kira had done a lot of thinking about what she wanted to do once she was out of high school. That had always been her biggest problem: that she didn’t have any sort of direction in her life. But being around Jamie, who had pretty much had the next ten years mapped out, made her realize that she needed to do some serious soul searching.
So she got to work. She talked with people in every profession imaginable, even going into a writing session with her father one day to observe and perhaps discover if the music industry suited her. In the end, she’d decided that the only way to figure out who she was, she needed to get completely outside of her comfort zone and the only way that was going to happen was if she got as far away from home as possible.
And therein laid the problem, because Jamie had gotten a scholarship to a college close to home and gotten into the political science program, just as he had hoped and was on track to accomplish everything he ever wanted. Of course, she was beyond happy for him; it was amazing to watch all of his dreams come true and she had no doubt that he would end up being incredibly successful.
But now, she wasn’t so sure she’d be around to watch it happen.
Her parents had been incredibly supportive of her decision, thinking that what she had decided to do was amazing and glad that she finally seemed to have found a sense of purpose. And although they would miss her terribly while she was away, they understood that this was what she needed to do.
Jamie, however, she wasn’t so sure about.
Sighing, she brought her bowl to the table and slipped into the seat beside Ethan, dragging her spoon through the cornflakes to wet them thoroughly. “I don’t know how to tell him.”
Ethan knew what it was like to be the bearer of life altering news. The first time he’d sat down with his parents to tell them he wanted to drop out of school and focus on the band, they’d looked at him as though he was crazy. But in the end, they supported his wishes because they loved him unconditionally and they wanted nothing more than for him to achieve his dreams and although Kira may not be so sure, Ethan was certain that if she was just honest with Jamie, he would do the same.
“Just say it,” Ethan replied softly, reaching out one hand to squeeze her forearm gently. “If he loves you, and I know he does, he’ll understand.”
The advice was simple enough, but Kira wasn’t sure the follow through be quite so easy. She had no doubt that Jamie would be understanding about why she needed to go, but once he learned the details, such as the time commitment, it was entirely possible that everything about their relationship would change.
“Look, Keeks,” Ethan sighed. “I don’t know how he’s going to feel or how he’s going to respond or what’s going to happen, but I do know, that at the end of the day, everything is going to turn out exactly how it’s supposed to.”
Nodding and shooting her father a grateful smile, she finished the rest of her cornflakes, put away her bowl and spoon, grabbed her skateboard, and gave Ethan a goodbye kiss on the cheek before heading out the door.
She arrived at school just in time for her first class, one that she thankfully didn’t have with Jamie, which meant it gave her more time to prepare what she was going to say. Unfortunately, no matter how many times she played out their potential conversation in her head, there wasn’t one scenario where it ended in a happily ever after.
Kira didn’t consider herself a particularly romantic person, so it wasn’t as though she was under the impression that she and Jamie would be together forever, at least, she didn’t know how their lives would turn out, but she did love him and she had hoped they would be in each other’s lives for a long time to come. She supposed that even if the romantic aspect of their relationship ended, then at least she could count on them being friends or at least running in to each other every so often. It wasn’t as though her father and her Uncle Jack would end up hating each other any time soon.
Still, it was a shame, she thought as she spun the combination lock on her locker between classes, using a little more force than necessary to pull it open, that it had taken so long for anything to happen between her and Jamie and it would be over so soon.
Her thought process was cut short when soft lips pressed to her cheek and she smiled out of habit as she turned her head to face him, wondering if he could sense that things were off kilter. He had never been particularly good at guessing what she was thinking though, so his grin widened as their eyes met and he reached out to squeeze her arm adoringly.
“Good morning, beautiful,” he said, blue eyes shining with happiness, as they always did when he was around her.
Sometimes she wished he wasn’t so damn perfect because then maybe the conversation they needed to have wouldn’t be so difficult to begin.
“Morning,” she replied softly, turning her gaze back to the inside of her locker so she could switch out her binders.
“Hey, sorry I couldn’t drive you today.” He crinkled his nose apologetically and watched as she shoved the new binder into her book bag before closing her locker.
“It’s alright,” she shrugged. “It’s nice out today, so skating was fun. How was your meeting?”
“Brutal,” he groaned, reaching out to grab her hand and lace their fingers together because his backpack prevented him from swinging an arm over her shoulder as he began the walk to her next class. “I’m kind of glad I won’t be here much longer.”
After they graduated in two weeks, Jamie’s class president duties would turn over to the current vice president. As much as he was ready for a new chapter in his life, part of him would miss high school terribly. He’d always known who he was while he was at home, known what he wanted to accomplish and the thought that this would change when he went away to college was terrifying.
“Yeah,” Kira nodded, squeezing his hand and sensing the perfect segue into what she needed to tell him. “It’ll be good for all of us to get a chance to start over.”
He hummed in response, but before she could continue, they were standing outside her classroom and he was turning towards her to say goodbye.
“I should get to class,” he said, leaning in to press a soft kiss to her lips. She closed her eyes and soaked it in, loving the way he always smiled against her mouth. “I’ll see you later, babe. Do want a ride home?”
“Sure,” she nodded, thinking it was probably better if they didn’t have their conversation in a public place. It would give them a chance to get everything out there without worrying about the people around them.
Turning the corners of his lips upwards into a smile, he pecked her lips again before dropping her hand, waving as he turned away. “Great, I’ll see you in history. Love you.”
“I love you, too,” she whispered at his retreating back as she turned into her psychology classroom.
That was what she would miss the most, she decided as she slipped into her usual seat at the back of the room; the fact that he always told her exactly how he felt. After the night on the beach where he’d freaked her out by saying he thought he was falling for her, he hadn’t said the ‘l’ word again, but he didn’t have to because he’d said it about a million other ways before she finally realized she felt it too.
And ever since she’d said it back, there hadn’t been a day that had gone by where he hadn’t told her he loved her, sometimes multiple times a day. He said it in the car while they were sitting in front of her house as he kissed her goodbye, he said it in the hallway when he walked her to class and in the texts he sent her before they fell asleep and after every single time they slept together.
A year ago, Kira probably would have thought such behavior was ridiculous and sappy and unnecessary, but the truth was that she appreciated it greatly because it was always nice to know that she was loved. And she supposed that a part of her still thought it was amazing that someone like Jamie could fall in love with someone like her.
The remainder of the day went by too quickly for her liking and although she was thankful that being late to history meant the only interaction she had with Jamie was when he winked at her as she walked towards her desk in the back and kissed her cheek before he ran off to his next class when the bell rang, for the first time in forever, she found herself dreading the final bell.
She walked to her locker slowly after exiting her physics class to find Jamie already waiting, his back leaned against the metal wall and his legs crossed at the ankles. Because his student government meetings had taken place that morning, he would be leaving school almost immediately after it ended for the first time in weeks. Forcing her lips into a smile despite the fact that her stomach was twisting into nervous knots, she wiggled her fingers at him in greeting before spinning her combination lock and pulling open her locker to grab her skateboard from inside.
“Hey,” she said softly, her eyes sweeping over the pile of textbooks and binders within to make sure she didn’t need anything else. “Can we talk?”
“Sure,” he shrugged, pushing himself off the lockers. “About what?”
Now wasn’t the place to explain. “I’ll tell you in the car.”
He lifted his eyebrows in surprise, knowing that if Kira had a problem speaking her mind, something was wrong. Finally starting to sense that the conversation she wanted to have was serious, he nodded slowly. “Yeah, alright.”
They didn’t actually talk much in the car, Kira because she was formulating her thoughts and Jamie because he was wondering what the hell was going on. When he parked his Accord badly in front of the Saxton house twenty minutes later, Kira had finally decided that the best way to say what she need to say was to just get it all out there.
“Something’s wrong, isn’t it?” he asked quietly as he pulled his keys from the ignition and dropped them into his lap, staring down at where they lay on top of his uniform pants.
She immediately felt her heart ache, but she didn’t want to start off with negatives, so she shook her head as she unfastened her seatbelt and twisted her torso to face him more fully. “There’s nothing wrong really, I just have something to tell you.”
He kept quiet, allowing her to continue, lifting his gaze to study her expression.
“After graduation,” she began slowly. “I’m not going to college.”
“I know.” He blinked, thinking that couldn’t possibly be what had her so tense. Considering she’d never talked about filling out applications, he just assumed that she had no plans to attend more school after graduation. He’d been very supportive of her in her quest to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, listening carefully after she’d come back from a day of talking to a doctor or lawyer and tell him that although she thought what they did was amazing, it didn’t feel quite right for her. As far as he knew, she hadn’t yet figured out how she was going to spend her post high school life, but he had faith that she would soon enough.
“Jamie,” she sighed, wanting desperately to reach out and hold his hand before that was no longer an option. “I joined the Peace Corps.”
Of all the things she could have possibly said, that was not what he was expecting. Blinking rapidly, he furrowed his brow in confusion. “But that application process must have taken months. How come you didn’t tell me before?”
“Because it didn’t seem real until I got the acceptance and my assignment,” she admitted. It was something that she had been interested in, but she hadn’t thought she’d actually be approved, so when she received a large packet in the mail with her instructions, she’d been beyond shocked. Her family had as well, but unlike with Jamie, she’d told them about the steps along the way, so although they would miss her terribly, the news hadn’t been as big of a shock.
“Wow,” he said quietly, trying to wrap his head around the magnitude of her decision. “That’s big.”
“Yeah, I know.” She still couldn’t figure out exactly how he was feeling. “But this is something I need to do, Jamie.”
The tone of her voice caused his eyes to widen as he looked at her and he nodded his head rapidly, not wanting her for one second to think that he wouldn’t always support her one hundred percent in whatever decision she made. “Of course. I understand.”
“Do you?” She asked, not entirely sure he’d realized what this decision entailed.
Inhaling deeply, Jamie nodded, reaching out to grab her hand and intertwining their fingers before squeezing gently, a gesture which caused her to outwardly sigh with relief, though internally, she was afraid it wouldn’t last much longer.
“Kira, I love you,” he said with complete conviction.
“I love you, too,” she repeated back automatically, relishing in the words and the feeling of security and warmth that washed over her every time he said them. She didn’t add in ‘I always will’ because she knew it would sound like a promise she couldn’t keep, but the truth was that whether or not she and Jamie stayed together forever, he would always hold a special place in her heart.
He smiled softly at her words, holding in a sigh of relief, because his gut instinct for the past half hour had been telling him that she was about to break up with him. “This is amazing. You’re going to be amazing.”
“Thanks,” she whispered, glad for the support, though she knew the hardest part of the conversation was still to come.
“When do you leave?” He knew that they would have to make the most of the time they had together because being in a long distance relationship would be extremely difficult and taxing.
She swiped her thumb along the side of his wrist as she responded. “A week after graduation.”
His eyebrows rose in surprise, his fingers loosening between hers slightly. “That’s soon.”
“I know,” she wrinkled her nose apologetically. “And I know I should have told you sooner, but to be honest, it hasn’t really hit me yet and I didn’t know what to say.”
“It’s alright,” he assured her softly, lifting his other hand to cup her cheek, his thumb tracing her cheekbone gently. “This was a big decision and probably not an easy one for you to make, so I understand why telling me was so difficult.”
She was trying really hard to keep her eyes from filling with tears, thinking all of this would be so much easier if he would just get angry and be upset with her. But instead, he was being compassionate and supportive, just like she should have known he would be, and the fact that it only made her love him more made her blurt out her next words without any sort of buildup.
“I’m going to be gone for two years.”
His thumb froze, his hand lifting from her cheek, his eyes wide as he realized he should have seen this coming. The reason that she’d been afraid to tell him wasn’t because she didn’t think he’d understand, it was because his original gut instinct had been right; she wanted to break up.
It dawned on him that it was naïve to think this conversation would have ended any other way. It wasn’t as though she was studying abroad and would be able to send him daily updates of what she was doing and he’d be able to go visit her when his schedule permitted. No, they would more than likely have virtually no contact and he had no idea how often she’d be able to write or call, or if she’d be able to do so at all.
He understood why she had made the decision to go and he understood that it was part of her journey of self-discovery, but he had been hoping that their journeys would include each other, because they had finally gotten to such a good place and he had been looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life with Kira by his side.
“So is this it?” he asked, bringing his hands back into his lap, leaving her feeling cold and empty. “Are we over?”
More than anything, he wanted her to say no, say that they would find a way to work it out and more than anything, Kira wished she could do exactly that. But she knew better than to make promises she didn’t know whether she could keep. So she didn’t say that perhaps when she got back, they could start over, because for all she knew, by the time she got back, Jamie would have moved on completely. And she would stand aside and be supportive because all she wanted in the world was for Jamie to be happy, not realizing that Jamie couldn’t imagine being happy unless she was in the picture.
“It wouldn’t fair,” she said, her eyes pleading with him to understand. “It wouldn’t be fair to either of us if we stayed together. Two years is such a long time. I don’t know who I’m going to be in two years or what I’m going to want and neither do you.”
“I’m still going to want you,” he replied automatically, completely convinced of this fact. He knew he was making the situation more difficult than it needed to be, but he felt as though someone was ripping his heart into bite sized chunks. He was having trouble breathing and perhaps part of his brain was still in denial, but wasn’t ready to let her go just yet. He was fairly certain that he’d loved Kira Saxton for as long as he could remember and he couldn’t believe that it could all fall apart so easily.
She let out a watery gasp, her eyes filling with tears as she shook her head, wishing she could find the right words to say, that she should could assure him that they’d find a way to be together, that they were meant to be and everything would work out in the end, but she the truth was that she’d meant every word she said to him and it was entirely possible that when she came home two years from now, she would be an entirely different person. She knew that she would always carry Jamie with her, but that didn’t mean that when she returned, she would want to just pick things up where they’d left off.
Besides, she wanted him to find his own path; to go out and conquer the world, just like he had planned, and she knew that if he was concerned with maintaining a relationship with her while she was away, those dreams might not be realized. Breaking up was what was best for both of them – it would give them both the opportunity to discover who they were – but it still felt like the world was ending.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, not knowing what else to say. Blinking back tears, she leaned forward and kissed his cheek gently, “I’m so sorry, Jamie.”
Before he could respond, she grabbed her book bag and her skateboard and pushed open the passenger door to his car, slamming it shut and running up the front steps to her house, her vision blurred by her tears and making it difficult for her to dig her house key from her bag.
She didn’t turn around to see if he was still there after she stepped inside, knowing that if she did, her already shattered heart might dissolve entirely. Dropping her bag and skateboard by the front door, she stepped out of her saddle shoes and padded down the steps to the basement studio where she knew her father would be at this time in the afternoon.
Just as she’d hoped, she found him sitting at his computer, the melody of the song he was working on blasting through the speakers as he tried to decide whether or not he was satisfied with the arrangement.
“Hey, honey,” he said as he heard her footsteps approaching, knowing the endearment was a safe choice because he lived in a house with all women and as much as he loved his band mates, they wouldn’t let themselves in unannounced. His head turned to see which of his favorite girls it was, his next sentence getting caught in his throat at the sight of Kira’s tear stained cheeks.
He felt like he had been punched in the gut and immediately shot to his feet, pulling her into an embrace and kissing the top of her head without question.
“It’s alright,” he assured her, not knowing what was actually wrong, but hating seeing her upset. “Everything will be alright.”
“I know I did the right thing,” she said, her voice muffled against his chest. “But why does it hurt so much?”
Her words made the reason for her distress clear. After weeks and weeks of fretting, she had finally told Jamie about her post-graduation plans and the conversation had ended with them breaking up.
In all honesty, Ethan had figured that’s what would happen. Still, he knew that there were no sides to take in this particular situation and Jack would completely understand Kira’s decision, and for that he was grateful.
Rubbing his hands comfortingly up and down her back, he guided her to the worn out leather couch pushed up against the wall, pulling her close to his chest as they took a seat. He didn’t know what to say to make her feel better, but he was pretty sure she didn’t need words, she just needed him to be there.
So he hugged her tight and he let her cry.
She cried about Jamie, heartbroken that she’d lost her best friend and the first boy she’d ever loved in one fell swoop. She cried because in three weeks, she would be leaving home alone for the very first time. She cried because although she knew leaving was something she had to do, she was absolutely scared out of her mind. She cried until she had nothing left, until she felt empty and hollow and completely dried out.
Even when she had no tears left to shed, Ethan squeezed her tight and she clung to her father the way she had when she was a child and the ocean waves had knocked her down and nearly pulled her under and she’d run to him screaming, scared to go back in. But just as she had ended up conquering her fear back then, she knew that she would eventually find the courage to pick up the pieces of her shattered heart and face the world with a brave face and discover exactly who she was meant to be.
Ethan held his daughter close, thinking his baby girl had turned out to be quite an amazing human being and he couldn’t wait to see all that she accomplished, but until then, he was content to have her right here, not quite ready to let her go just yet.