As winter moved into spring, a lot of change happened within Anne’s inner circle. More and more of her time was dedicated to writing, and she was seeing less and less of her family. She found, for the first time in a long time, that she missed their presence. Maria called less often, but frequent enough that Anne felt in the loop. Walter, on the other hand, was more in touch; calling to check in on her, and vice versa. She could feel the change in their dynamic - a change that she knew would be for the better.
However, the biggest and most exciting change came from the Crofts. They found a house, not too far from Maria’s and Charlie’s home. It was lovely. Smaller than the Ilao home, but perfect for the two of them. Plenty of space for the life they wanted.
“Should I bring anything?” Anne asked one Friday afternoon, during a lull in the afternoon. She looked outside the Archive’s window, and saw small buds starting to bloom on the trees.
“No! Adam and I are taking care of everything! This party is in honor of you and your family’s endless hospitality.”
Sophie insisted on throwing a little get together for all of them - the Ilaos and the Mendozas. She wanted to have them over before she and Adam officially moved out of the rental home. The new renters were an older couple, looking to retire in Uppercross - Kellynch alumni coming back for some peace and quiet.
“It’s not like we won’t be seeing you guys anymore. In fact, it’ll probably be more than before since you’ll be down the street from Maria,” Anne told her, but Sophie scoffed.
“Well still, we couldn’t have asked for a better start in Uppercross. And for that you deserve a dinner. It’s not like I’m cooking any of it anyway. All of the food is ordered. Besides, Erick will be back at that point, and he’ll help us with set up.”
Anne sat up a little. “Oh? I didn’t think he would be there.”
“He’s around for at least the party. I’m not sure what his plans are after that. You know how he can be - so cryptic.”
Erick had been going back and forth from Uppercross to the city quite a bit. However, whether it was fate or their hectic schedules, the two of them hadn’t seen each other in a while. Their paths never quite crossing. So, Anne wasn’t sure what his meetings were about exactly, and she didn’t want to pry. She assumed it was a new piece he wanted to work on. Something to take him abroad.
Anne hmmed, and saw a customer make their way towards her. She told Sophie she would see her soon, and hung up, putting on her customer service smile.
She tried not to think about Erick leaving Uppercross. Tried not to think about how it made her sad that they hadn’t gotten to work through more. A small part of her thought...maybe...Well either way, he was moving on.
Anne repeated that to herself the day of the party as she searched for a place. Apparently she was the last one to arrive, forced to park at the end of their street. As she walked to the house, she told herself that Erick was moving on, so there was no need for her to feel awkward or weird. No need for her to bring up the magnet, which, at this point, felt like eons ago. Anne was certain he had already forgotten about it. She comforted herself by remembering that he would be leaving with no bitterness between them. This time, they would part amicably.
When she walked in, Anne looked around for Sophie. In the living room sat Walter and Frances. Surprisingly, Mr. Mendoza - or Pol - was there, as well as Tita Lettie.
“Anne! Come here!” Frances waved her hand frantically.
Anne greeted them all, and took a seat on the ottoman facing the couch. “Tita Lettie - I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“They invited me,” Lettie said, shrugging. “I was at Maria’s house, and Sophie insisted I come.”
Frances leaned closer. “I hear you’re publishing a book! Very impressive!”
Anne blushed, and glanced at her dad, who smiled at her. Even though he had been hesitant about publishing her work, he found that bragging about his daughter getting a publication deal was still worth something.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s all in the very early stages, so I’m not sure when it’ll be published. It’s exciting, though.”
“You could be famous!” Frances suggested, and Anne nodded politely. It wasn’t the first time someone had suggested that to her. It was evident that most people didn’t really understand how many published authors there were in the world.
“You meet Ben, yet - huh?” Pol asked, as he chewed on some cheese and crackers.
“Luisa’s new boyfriend,” Lettie explained, using her lips to point behind her. Anne turned around. She saw most of the party standing around in the open dining space, and past that, in the large kitchen. All of the rooms open to one another.
She craned her neck, and saw Luisa standing with a man who must be Ben. The pharmacist. He was incredibly tall, over 6 ft, but stood as if trying to shrink himself - his long limbs tucked close to his body. Luisa took a napkin and wiped something off of his face, a blush visible over his brown complexion. They looked at one another sweetly, and Luisa adjusted the glasses perched on the edge of his nose.
“He’s a nice boy,” Frances said. “Even though he’s been engaged before. Did you know?”
“Ay, Frances! You don’t need to tell everyone that. Talaga tsismosa ka!” Pol scolded, and she waved him off.
“Anne is family! It’s not gossip if she’s family! She should know more about him!” Frances moved to scoot next to Anne on the ottoman, her back facing Luisa and Ben.
“He was engaged to his high school sweetheart. Proposed while they were in college. Batang bata! So young! She died in a car accident soon after he proposed. So sad, naman.” Frances shook her head, and Pol rolled his eyes at his wife’s dramatics. “Ay, I couldn’t believe it.”
“ Susmariosep, aking asawa,” Pol muttered under his breath. Frances swatted his arm, and Walter and Lettie laughed.
“Oh wow,” Anne responded. She looked over at the happy couple, feeling unsettled by the fact that despite not having met this man, she knew something entirely too personal about him.
“But he really, really likes Luisa. He treats her so well. He cooks for her. A man who cooks for the woman! That’s something!” At that, Frances got distracted by Pol dropping mustard on his shirt. “Pol! ”
Anne looked at Walter, and he nodded his head toward the other room. She took that as her exit.
She found Sophie in the dining room, setting up the plates. The rest of the party, split between there and the kitchen.
“Anne! So glad you’re here!” Sophie gave her a hug, and Anne gave her thanks for the invitation. As she stepped back from the hug, Anne looked around and saw Erick standing by Eliza. Eliza was chattering about work, and Erick was listening with a very polite, but detached, look on his face. He looked over as Anne did, and the two of them made eye contact. She smiled, and waved, and he did the same. She felt her heart flutter at his smile. He looked different, but she couldn’t figure out how. It wasn’t apparent, but it was how he carried himself. More...assured than weeks ago. Assured and relaxed.
She turned and caught Luisa just as she buried Anne in a hug. Anne looked back at Erick, and saw that he was still glancing at her. Though Anne wanted to walk over to say hi, Luisa pulled her into the living room where Ben was waiting.
As they all chatted, Anne realized that Ben was not the man she thought Luisa would end up with. He was soft-spoken, and intellectual, though not in a way that was condescending. He and Anne hit it off quickly, finding that they had quite a lot in common, too.
“Luisa says you work at the Archives?”
“You’ve heard of it?” Anne asked.
Ben nodded, “It’s one of my favorite spots in Uppercross so far. You have a great poetry selection.”
“Are you a poet?”
“No, not at all! Just an avid fan.” He hesitated, then said, “I knew a poet. She introduced me to Walt Whitman, and I haven’t looked back.”
Anne replied, “Have I read any of her work? Or is poetry a hobby of hers?”
She watched him hesitate, and Luisa squeezed his arm and lowered her voice. “I’m guessing Mama already told you about his ex-fianceé? She was the poet.”
“Oh, uhhh,” Anne said, feigning confusion, “I think that Frances might have...mentioned something. Sorry.” Luisa rolled her eyes.
“She’s been telling everyone as soon as she sees them. I’m sorry, honey,” Luisa said, turning to Ben. He shrugged, looking somewhat relieved.
“I don’t mind. It actually makes it a little easier.”
“What do you mean?” Luisa asked.
Anne understood. “No need to hide the part of your life that’s too hard to explain. It’s a total breach in privacy, but at least Frances relieves you of that burden.”
Ben smiled at her warmly, “Yes, exactly. That’s exactly it. It’s such a significant part of my life, that it feels like I’m hiding it from people if it’s not mentioned. But I never know how to mention it.”
“Beginnings are always the hardest,” Anne replied, nodding.
Luisa looped her arm around his, and leaned into him. “Anne! I’ve missed you. I knew you two would hit it off. Didn’t I say that, babe?”
Ben nodded, and Anne smiled at the two of them. An unlikely, but well-paired match.
At that moment, Erick walked into the living room, looking around. He looked over at them, and seemed to consider whether he should join.
“Hey Erick! Nice to see you again, man,” Ben said, putting out his hand. Erick walked over and shook it.
“You two have met already?” Anne asked, looking between them, and Luisa nodded.
“You’re the last one Anne! Even your dad met him like two weeks ago. You’ve been so busy, we never see you around anymore. Always meeting with your editor and talking with your fancy publisher,” Luisa said, with evident affection, and Anne laughed.
“Publisher?” Erick asked, looking at her. “So...does that mean…?”
“Oh! Yes I, uh, just assumed someone would have spread the news to you.” Anne felt nervous telling him, for some reason. “I met with the publisher, and she’s interested. Priya has been helping me edit for now, but I might meet with another editor through the publishing company…” Anne waved a hand, to minimize the news, but Erick smiled, widely.
“Anne, that is amazing! Really! Do not say it’s not a big deal because it definitely is. You’ll be a published writer! Your own book!” She laughed, his enthusiasm infectious.
“Thank you. I appreciate it,” she replied. The two of them looked at one other, big smiles on both of their faces. Anne bit the inside of her cheek to subdue her smile. He’s leaving Anne. Stop it.
“Erick, is it?” The two of them turned, and saw Lettie, standing there with her cup in her hand. Erick’s eyes hardened for a second, before resuming his polite expression.
He nodded, and held out her hand, which she shook. Anne looked between the two of them, her eyes lingering on Lettie. She gave Anne a knowing look back.
“It’s so nice to finally see you. I hear you’re a journalist.”
Erick eyed her suspiciously. “Yes. I am.”
“A very respectable job! The journalism school at Kellynch is well-known for their successful graduates,” she said, smiling.
He paused, then said, “It’s nice to hear that you think so. Not everyone finds my...transient life to be very impressive.”
Anne shifted her feet, glancing at Luisa and Ben, neither of them aware of any tension.
“Who doesn’t think your job is impressive? It’s like, so cool.” Luisa stated, scrunching her nose.
“Oh, you know,” Erick put his hands in his pockets. “Sometimes I talk to people about the constant travel, and they make assumptions about me. That I’m...distractible. Someone who likes to follow any whim.”
Lettie smirked. “Well,” she said, “A lot of people can be wrong when judging too quickly. I know I’ve been harsh in my judgments before. But the work you do is respectable, and difficult. You should be proud of that. What is the world without an educated society? That’s journalism. Right?”
Lettie smiled at him, kindly. Erick tried very hard to hide his surprise, but failed. He glanced at Anne before saying, “Right. That’s exactly, right.”
“After your sister mentioned your name, I looked into it and read your piece that followed different clusters of the Me Too movement within Europe. It was incredibly moving.”
At that, both Anne and Erick’s jaws dropped. Lettie smirked, again, enjoying their surprise. Sophie walked in at that moment announcing that dinner was ready.
Before going to the kitchen, Lettie said, “I would love to talk to you about it more during dinner. I have lots of thoughts.”
At that, Luisa urged all of them to make their way into the kitchen where they took turns filling up their plates with food from the takeout containers. Each section of the table split into different conversations - Luisa catching up with Anne, Frances and Sophie talking about nursing, Adam and Charlie talking about sports. Even Erick and Lettie were having a civil conversation. It made Anne happy, seeing her try to make amends. She appreciated her effort.
Towards the end of dinner, the conversation shifted to the Crofts - all of the guests curious about their move. Apparently Adam had been looking for antiques for their new home, and was having issues with a seller.
“This guy has been putting me through the ringer!” Adam said, waving his fork around as he spoke. “We’ve been bartering back and forth. And he keeps sending me delayed messages, saying he has other bidders.”
“It’s a haggling tactic,” Erick said. Adam looked at him confused, so Erick continued. “It’s a thing, trying to string you along. By the time he finally offers you a price, you’ll be so fed up with him that you’ll agree to anything. When really, what he offers you isn’t actually his lowest price.” Everyone looked at him impressed. “I picked up some tips while doing a piece in Israel. Local sellers in open market areas were always trying to haggle with us. We were kind of an easy target.”
Frances joined in. “It’s true! They do it in the Philippines, too.”
“If you want,” Erick started, “I can go in the next time you guys are supposed to meet. That’ll really throw him off. Make him think you’re not as interested as you seem.”
Adam’s eyes widened. “Oh, man. You’re right! That’s brilliant!”
“Is it brilliant?” Sophie muttered, sipping some water.
“It is!” Adam pulled out his phone. Sophie protested, urging him to talk about something else, but Adam persisted. “I have the info here. We’re supposed to meet later tonight, actually. When his store closes. Does that work for you?”
“Adam, don’t make Erick do that.” Sophie sat up, and waved her hand, but Erick shrugged his shoulders.
“Yeah, that’s fine with me.”
“Yes!” Adam’s hand turned into a fist in triumph. “That’ll show him.” Charlie and Maria looked at him with the same look of concern.
Sophie cleared her throat, and looked around the table, trying to find a new topic. “Anyway...Anne! How’s the book coming along?”
All eyes went to Anne. “Oh, well-”
“Yeah, Anne!” Eliza started, “How’s your tell-all book coming along?” Eliza smirked.
Anne resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She chewed on her food slowly before responding, “It’s going well. Been adding a lot more to it than expected, but I think it’ll be better in the end.”
“Do you need to take more notes on us?” Eliza put her chin on her hand, her elbow on the table.
“Oh please, Eliza. As if Anne is going to say anything that would ruin your image,” Maria said while wiping her sons’ faces with a napkin. The two boys squirming. “I think you’ve taken care of that yourself.” Luisa and Charlie laughed.
Eliza’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me!”
“Writers always write from what they’ve experienced. You guys are a part of my life experience. That’s it,” Anne explained patiently.
“So she says…” Eliza picked up her wine glass, and Anne forced herself to bite back her next comment. However, it seemed Walter had had enough.
“Eliza, your sister has worked hard. Be proud of her success. Buti naman, she helped you study for all of your tests. Sige na. That’s enough.”
He said it all without raising his voice, but he was stern enough that Eliza clamped her mouth shut. The rest of the party glanced at one another, trying to hide their surprise.
“Um...Thanks, Papa.” Anne looked at him, his expression still stern. He nodded his head, and got up, plate in hand. He put a hand on Anne’s shoulder as he passed by her chair.
“Sophie? We’ll clean up before dessert.” Walter continued into the kitchen, though Sophie tried to refuse his help, and soon Frances and Lettie got up to help, as well. Conversation started again, with Charlie asking Ben about pharmaceutical pricing.
Anne sat, still wrapping her head around her dad’s gesture, when she felt someone looking at her. She turned her head and saw Erick’s eyes on her, his expression clearly surprised. Anne smiled, and shrugged, not sure how to explain what just happened. The corner of his mouth also lifted into a smile.
Anne cleared her throat, and started stacking the dirty dishes around her. Eliza got up and moved to where Frances sat to pester Luisa about something, and before she knew it, Erick was across from her. Helping her tidy up.
“So...your dad?” He started, and she shrugged her shoulders with a smile.
“Yeah…um, he’s really been making an effort since he read the draft of my book.”
They spoke softly, making sure that no one else could hear them.
“And Lettie?” He asked. Anne paused her cleaning, and he looked at her knowingly. She nodded.
“It’s nice to see that people can change,” Erick said.
They both stood up, and looked at each other from across the table, before picking up the dishes to bring to the kitchen. They stopped at the doorway, and saw a crowd of them arguing over the soap and Tupperware containers. A mix of Tagalog and English, back and forth, at a manic pace.
“Maybe we should wait,” he suggested, and the two of them put their stacks of dishes down on a nearby table.
She considered going back to the others, but found herself staying put. Just the two of them standing between the two rooms.
“I’m surprised you came back from the city,” she said, desperately thinking of small talk. He looked at her, perplexed.
“Are you? You didn’t...think I’d come back?”
She wasn’t sure how to answer that. Honestly - no she didn’t. But, it didn’t feel like the right thing to say.
“Uh, I just meant - you know, I figured you’d be sick of Uppercross at this point. Small town and all.” Anne paused, and Erick continued to look confused. “You’ve been to more interesting places, right?”
She watched him nod slowly. “I guess so, yeah.” His brows furrowed, in thought, then cleared his throat. “It’s funny you mention it, actually. I’ve decided that I’ll be staying around here for a while. I just finished talking with my agent and some publications I contribute to regularly. I figure...there’s enough political unrest here for me to uncover.”
Anne opened her mouth, ever so slightly, and she watched as he analyzed her shock.
“Surprised?” He asked.
She shook her head, and schooled her expression. “I just thought…” Anne looked around to make sure no one else could hear them before continuing, “You’ve always wanted to see as much of the world as possible…”
He nodded, and stepped closer. “I do - I mean, I still want to do that. And it’s definitely something I loved about my job. I just...thought it would be nice to stay. For a while. Work on stuff here.”
Anne didn’t say anything, trying to process this new information. He wasn’t leaving? Why…?
He looked at her, eyes scanning her face, and she froze - unsure of the response he wanted from her. Unsure of how she even felt at the moment.
Both of them jumped.
“I got some things for you to look at!” Adam yelled. Erick turned around, and Anne quickly grabbed both stacks of plates and brought it into the kitchen, nudging her way to the sink. She shooed the rest of them out, but Sophie insisted on staying there to help.
They busied themselves. The two of them cleaned and started prepping some coffee and tea, while the rest of them congregated in the living and dining rooms, chit chatting.
“Should we play a game?” Anne heard Luisa suggest. She couldn’t hear everyone’s responses, all of their voices overlapping one another. Instead, she overheard Erick and Adam’s conversation in the dining room.
“Okay, here are the dimensions of our new place.”
“Adam! Erick doesn’t need to look at the floor plan!” Sophie yelled from her spot by Anne.
Anne turned around, and saw Erick sitting at the table, with Adam standing over him. In front of them was a rolled out floor plan and an open laptop.
“And here,” Adam pointed to the laptop screen, ignoring Sophie. “Are the pieces we’re interested in buying.”
“I thought I was just talking to him about furniture prices.” Erick looked at the floorplan and screen, reluctantly.
“You have to be ready! This guy is an expert! Make sure you bring the tape measure.”
Sophie tsked next to Anne, and she looked at her. “He has been obsessed with this for a week,” Sophie explained quietly, while she arranged some desserts on a tray. “I don’t think Erick realized what he signed up for.”
“I haven’t been that bad!” The two of them turned and saw Adam walking in with Charlie behind him. Sophie just gave him a look, and picked up the tray of cookies, carrying it out to the living room.
“Ohhhhh! We should do karaoke!!” Luisa suggested loudly from the living room. The rest of them all cheered in agreement.
“Karaoke? How can we-” Sophie asked as she walked into the room.
“Ben and I can go grab the karaoke machine from our house!” Luisa hopped up, and Ben followed suit.
“Karaoke?” Adam asked, and Charlie shook his head, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s too late. You can’t stop Filipinos and karaoke. This is what you signed up for when you invited us all here.”
Anne laughed, and watched as Luisa and Ben put on their shoes.
“Ay!” Frances yelled from the couch. “Make sure you grab our newer machine! And don’t take too long over there! We’ll know what you two are doing!”
She cackled, as the rest of the family made sounds of disgust. The only other person laughing was her husband. Ben’s face turned bright red, and Luisa grabbed his hand, and pulled him out the door.
“Poor Ben,” Charlie said, sneaking a small cupcake from Anne’s tray. “He has no idea what he signed up for. This family is crazy.”
“No way. He likes you guys,” Adam said.
“Yeah he’s sweet.” Anne looked at Charlie. “Don’t you think?”
Charlie shrugged, chewing on his cupcake slowly.
“He’s nice. Definitely better than anyone else she’s been with lately. It’s just…” he cringed a little. “The whole dead fianceé thing? It’s a lot of baggage.”
“‘Dead fianceé thing?’ Really, Charlie? It’s not so much a thing, is it? More like an incredible trauma,” Adam retorted, and Charlie rolled his eyes.
“You can’t knock him for that. And Luisa seems fine with it,” Anne reasoned, and Charlie shrugged.
“Yeah, I’m sure she is fine with it. But like…” Charlie considered his words. “The love of your life dying unexpectedly? I don’t want Luisa competing with a dead person for the rest of her life.”
“Well,” Adam leaned against the counter, arms crossed in thought. “People can love more than one person during their life. It’s not just one person for each of us.”
“You don’t think so?” Charlie asked, surprised.
“Aww, Charlie,” Anne said, “I didn’t realize you were such a romantic.” He rolled his eyes, and shoved her shoulder.
“I’m just saying! That’s tough shit to get over. Luisa will have to deal with it, too.”
“People remarry all the time! People have multiple meaningful relationships. Love is a choice as much as it is a feeling,” Adam rebutted.
Charlie scoffed, and turned to her. “Anne?”
She looked at him confused. “Yes?”
“Are you on my side or Adam’s?” Charlie looked at her, brow arched. Adam laughed at Charlie’s competitiveness, and Anne opened her mouth to respond, looking over at the dining room. Erick was far enough away that he probably couldn’t hear their conversation. He was writing copious notes on a piece of paper, analyzing the floor plan closely.
She lowered her voice, and said, “I think it depends on the person.”
“Cop out answer,” Charlie snorted, and gave her a look.
“I think…” She looked at Erick again, just to make sure he wasn’t listening. The party in the living room was pretty loud, and he was facing away from the three of them. She lowered her voice even more. “I think you’re both right. There are people who have multiple meaningful, loving relationships, like Adam said. While others may only experience the one romantic love. A lot of it depends on, on —,” Anne thought back to the night she decided to stay here. To stay with her family. Her voice faltered, “ — choice…and...and circumstance, you know?” She shrugged.
At that they heard something clatter onto the floor, and they looked over to see Erick reaching down, under the table to grab a pen. Adam looked at the clock in the kitchen.
“Hey, the meeting is starting soon. Are you almost done?” Adam asked.
“Yeah,” Erick assured him. “Just one more thing I have to look at, then I’ll head out.” Adam nodded, and Erick hunched over another piece of paper, writing furiously.
“So which one are you?” Charlie probed, in a lower voice. “Do you think there’s one person out there for you?”
Adam told Charlie to knock it off, while Anne considered his question. She hadn’t really thought about it before. After Erick left Uppercross, she swore off dating. Decided to focus on her job and her family (truthfully she was entirely too heartbroken to consider dating at the time - family and job were her excuses). But as the years passed by, no one caught her interest. No one like Erick.
“One person,” Anne restated, and Charlie nodded. She knew her answer, deep down. Even though she felt stupid admitting it. A raucous cheer came from the living room again, Max and Ethan the center of attention. Despite the volume of the party, Anne still spoke quietly. “Yeah...I think so.”
“Yes! Two against one,” Charlie said, to which Adam rolled his eyes. He walked over to Erick, who was quickly folding a piece of paper in front of him.
“You need help with any of this?” Charlie gestured to the tray of cupcakes and drinks she had been assembling. She handed it to him, and he brought it to the rest of the party.
“Hey Anne? Do you mind pouring the water from the kettle? Should be done soon!” Sophie asked from across the house.
“No problem!” She responded, and glanced at Erick, who seemed oddly harried. He got up from the table, and patted Adam on the shoulder, saying that he was heading out. Anne walked over to say goodbye, but he didn’t turn around.
Did she upset him without realizing? She finished pouring the water from the kettle, letting the cups of tea steep. She walked over to the dining room table again, to see if maybe he had seen something on the laptop screen, but before she could take a peek, Erick was walking back into the house.
“Sorry! Forgot the tape measure!” He yelled, to which Adam responded from the living room, “I told you not to forget it!”
Anne hovered by the table, hoping to at least say goodbye, uncertain of when she would see him again. She watched as he shifted through the papers, saying loudly, “Alright, I have the tape measure, I have the dimensions of the rooms, I think that’s it…”
As he spoke, he lifted the corner of the floor plan, and revealed a folded piece of paper underneath it. Erick cleared his throat, ever so slightly, and pushed it towards her. Anne looked at his face, and saw him gazing at her intently. Anne looked over his shoulder, to see if anyone else had noticed before stepping forward. She took the piece of paper, and hid it in the palm of her hand.
“Alright,” he said, without taking his eyes off of her, “I’ll see you guys in a bit.” She watched him walk out, her heart racing, as the others waved goodbye again.
The piece of paper felt warm in her hand, the folds digging into her fingers. Anne looked at everyone else in the living room, all of them absorbed in their conversations. She quietly left the room and made her way to the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Her hands trembled as she unfurled her palm and unfolded the piece of paper.
There, in Erick’s messy handwriting, the note said:
“Anne - I know that falter in your voice is my fault. You say love often depends on choice and circumstance, and you’re right. I have made so many wrong choices over the last 7 years - and I have no excuse. Only my pride and wounded ego. I never should have left you that night. I shouldn’t have stayed away. Every trip, every city - I wished you were there with me. All these months - I’ve stayed here for you. I keep coming back for you. I was right all those years ago - there isn’t anyone else for me. You’re it, and you always have been. The agony of another rejection has stopped me from saying this sooner, but seeing that magnet caused me to hope like I’ve never hoped before. If there’s any way that you might forgive me, that you might feel the same way, please...tell me.”
Anne reread his words over and over again in disbelief.
She raced out of the bathroom, folding the paper again, and shoving it into the pocket of her jeans. In the living room, Luisa and Ben were back, setting up the karaoke machine. All of them getting rowdy. Anne walked over to Sophie, and knelt down next to her.
“Hey, I am so sorry, but I think I have to go.”
Sophie looked at her, concerned. “Is everything okay?” She looked at Anne’s face closely. “You’re looking kind of pale.”
Anne nodded, and said, “Yeah, yeah. I think I, um, need to go take a nap or something. I’m feeling a little lightheaded.”
“AY! Anne! You’re sick?!” Frances yelled from the opposite side of the room. All of them looked at her, save for Ben who was trying to untangle several cords.
Anne stood up, and said, “Not sick! Just...I’m going to head home, and rest.”
“She’s feeling lightheaded!” Sophie explained. She turned back to Anne and put down her mug. “Do you need a ride? I can drive you.”
“No! No, I can drive myself home. I’ll roll down the windows. The fresh air will help.” Before anyone else could offer a ride, Anne quickly grabbed her purse and walked out the door, stopping at the edge of the front steps. She hadn’t thought this far ahead - about how to find him. She took a few deep breaths, and made her way to her car, down the block. Her mind spinning, as she rustled through her purse for her car keys. She stopped on the sidewalk, until she finally dug them out, hands still trembling from the adrenaline.
Anne looked up to unlock her car and saw Erick. Pacing next to her Toyota, chewing on a nail, nervously. She felt her heart swell in her chest, as she watched him, affection overwhelming her. He looked up and stopped in his tracks. And the two of them stood there, several feet apart, unsure of how to start.
Anne opened her mouth, and said the first thing she could think of. “You have really good hearing.” He looked at her, confused at first, but her answer to his letter must have been evident on her face. His shoulders sagged in relief, a smile slowly spreading on his face. He breathed out a laugh.
“Believe it or not, you’re not the first person to tell me that.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “You waited.”
He ran a hand through his hair, and said, “Yeah, well...I didn’t have your number so. I thought I’d, um, wait. Here.” His face grew more serious. “I couldn’t leave without knowing.”
Anne took a step forward, and said, “You were wrong.” He looked at her confused. She took a deep breath before continuing, “In the kitchen...I was thinking about my choice that night. Not yours. You needed to leave. It wouldn’t have been fair for you to stay. You needed to follow your- “
Erick cut her off, “I didn’t have to leave so soon. We could have worked something out. I didn’t...I didn’t fight for us.” He shook his head, and shrugged. “And I could have come back sooner. But I didn’t want to admit that...maybe you had been right. I was asking a lot of you. I was asking you to give up...a lot.”
They looked at each other, quiet for a moment. So many what ifs, coulds, and shoulds between them.
“Well...even if it doesn’t really feel like it, maybe we both made the right call. Based on...who we were at the time,” Anne reasoned.
Erick nodded. “Maybe. I mean...I’ve learned and seen more than I could have imagined.” He paused, and took a few steps, closing the gap between them. He took her hands in his. “I know that you’re working on your book and your family, and I don’t want to intrude on any of that. But, I’m done running. I want to be here. With you. If that’s okay.”
She wanted him to stay. Of course she did. But...she didn’t want him to resent her, in the future. “You might get sick of it,” Anne said.
“Well…” he squeezed her hands, “if you mean I might get sick of Uppercross, then that’s easy. We can take a trip or move to a different city. Wherever both of us want to go, whenever we’re ready.” Erick paused, and she felt her cheeks flush at his gaze. “But, if what you’re saying is that I might get sick of staying here with you , then I can promise that’s not going to happen.” He smiled cheekily. “I’m in this. All in. If you are.”
Anne let out a shaky breath, all of her worry melting away. The sun had started to set, setting later than they were used to, the start of spring coinciding with the start of a new chapter in their lives. Together. Again.
She stepped closer, and wrapped her arms around his neck, their foreheads pressed together. They stayed like that, savoring this moment together. And then, he kissed her, still smiling as he did. And she kissed him back, with all of the affection she had been holding back before. They kissed and kissed, the two of them stumbling from the force, until Erick started laughing, both of them holding the other’s face. Disbelief and utter joy pouring out of them.
“Why are you laughing?” Anne dropped her hands, and left them on his chest, his hands still cradling her face, eyes bright. She couldn’t help but mirror his giddy smile.
Erick shrugged, and shook his head before saying, “I just...really missed you.”
Anne felt tears well up in her eyes, and she closed them, taking a breath before responding, “I really missed you.”
She closed her hands, balling up the fabric of his shirt as she did. Blissfully happy.
“Oh, shit!” Erick said, suddenly. Anne jumped back.
Erick pulled out his phone and checked the screen, before grabbing her hand, pulling her to her car.
“Feel like haggling over antique furniture?”
Anne and Erick considered keeping their relationship a secret, at least, while they learned how to be with one another again. But, they quickly decided that hiding was part of their demise all those years ago. So, the two of them vowed to be as open and honest as possible.
The entire family - Ilaos, Crofts and Mendozas - were thrilled at the development. Sophie, especially. Eliza, the least (not because she didn’t like him - she didn’t like the idea of being the last single sister).
Tita Lettie was quick to declare her support, extending an invitation to Erick for her and Anne’s weekly dinners. No obligation, so as not to pressure him, but always welcome.
The longer the two were together the more jokes and hints they received about marriage and children, which they both ignored. They knew that everyone was eager for them to settle down and make everything official, but Anne and Erick were perfectly content with taking things slowly. Not because they were scared, of course. No. It was because the two of them didn’t need a ring or ceremony to declare their future together. They knew, with the utmost certainty, that they would be spending the rest of their lives together - as partners and equals. And they planned on savoring every single moment.