When Erick Wentworth’s sister told him that she was moving to Uppercross, New York he had been sitting in a tiny hotel room in Amsterdam. He had just finished a piece he had pitched for a British publication, highlighting the political unrest still lingering at the Ireland border since Brexit. The publication loved it, and he decided to celebrate by taking some well-deserved time off. Amsterdam was a city he liked to visit during his off time. He liked walking the streets, and the climate was perfect. He had already promised Sophie that he would spend a few weeks with her and her husband, Adam, in their new home. This promise was made ages ago, during a late night FaceTime, when he was too tired to resist her guilt trip. At the time, Erick hadn’t heard that Adam applied to a job at Kellynch University, Erick’s alma mater. If he had known that being in Uppercross was at all a possibility, even an incredibly unlikely possibility, Erick would have added a lot of conditions to that promise he made.
But, it was too late.
He couldn’t back out of his trip now. He sat at the hotel room desk, staring at the address Sophie sent via email. Stared at ‘Uppercross,’ willing it to morph into something else. He considered backing out. As soon as he read the address, he started formulating plausible excuses in his head. But he couldn’t. It was the picture Sophie attached that did it. Adam and Sophie standing in front of a lovely rental home, cheesing at the camera. A rush of affection for his sister and incredibly jovial brother-in-law bloomed in his chest, and he knew he couldn’t bail. Not after he backed out of Christmas two years in a row.
He pushed away from the desk, and paced around the room. He needed to process what this meant. Uppercross was a small town, and the idea of running into Anne Ilao seemed likely, but , Erick told himself, it wasn’t definite. She could have moved...even though she said she wouldn’t. She could be married with kids (good God, he hoped he wouldn’t have to see her married). And besides, it had been, what, eight? Roughly seven years? He wasn’t the same person he was back then. He didn’t have that same buzz of energy. He was older and more mature, and he could handle running into an ex-girlfriend. That’s all she was, really. An ex-girlfriend. No big deal. He’s had a few ex-girlfriends since Anne (none of them significant. In fact, he wouldn’t have even called them girlfriends at the time). Anne was simply an ex-girlfriend no one knew about. He wouldn’t have to discuss her at all.
And besides, it didn’t matter. He had moved on. And if he did see her, who cared. He was over it. Completely.
And so, with that in mind, Erick emailed his sister back - “I’ll see you in a few weeks!”
Sophie had not stopped talking since they had picked him up from the airport. He had missed his sister, but her energy was…a lot when she was excited. They talked about Adam’s new job, Erick’s travels, and Sophie’s plan for renting an office space here. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed while he was away. The two of them emailed frequently, and FaceTimed somewhat regularly. But it wasn’t the same as seeing her in person. He watched her ramble from the passenger seat of the car. It was nice, seeing her like this again. Nice to be around her.
Their neighborhood was quiet and friendly. He had already met two neighbors after he’d landed that morning. Currently the Mendoza family, well the mother and daughter or the Mendoza family apparently, were sitting in the Croft’s living room. They had brought over some snacks, eager to meet their new neighbors’ brother. It was a part of Uppercross that Erick had missed. The community.
“You have to come over to my brother’s house tomorrow! We’re having dinner with him and my sister-in-law!” Luisa offered.
“That’s really nice of you, but we’re planning on taking Erick out for dinner tomorrow night,” Adam responded with genuine disappointment. Erick almost laughed - Adam hated saying no to plans. Ever the social butterfly.
“But maybe we could stop by afterward? Dessert or something?” Sophie said, and Mrs. Mendoza and Luisa eagerly accepted.
“Ay, you’ll like our Charlie. He is so kind! And his wife, Maria, is...nice!” Mrs. Mendoza said. Erick and Sophie glanced at each other, clearly catching the tone.
Luisa nodded, “Yeah and their boys are so cute. It’ll be great! I am so glad a nice family moved into this house. We were so bummed when the Ilaos had to rent out this place, but you guys are so fun!”
Erick had been lifting his glass to his mouth, when he heard her say the last name Ilao. His hand froze. “The Ilaos?” He asked. Sophie looked at him, confused.
“The family we rented this place from. Did I not mention them?”
Erick shook his head, and took a sip of water. Maybe it was a coincidence…
Sophie put her hand on her forehead. “Oh my God! How did I forget to mention them? They are the sweetest family. Three sisters, and a dad who used to work at Kellynch.”
Erick’s heart started racing. Oh God.
Adam, who sat next to Sophie nodded along, and added, “Yeah! Eliza was the realtor who showed us this place. She is a riot.”
The memories of Anne helping her sister Eliza study for her realtor test over Skype creeped into his mind. Erick shifted his weight, crossing one leg over the other.
Luisa snorted. “Yeah, Eliza is definitely something else, that’s for sure. You’ll meet Maria tomorrow! She’s the youngest sister.”
He remembered the many phone calls with Maria. When he was with Anne, Maria called any time she got less than an 85 on any assignment, and Anne would spend hours trying to calm her down.
“I can’t believe I didn’t mention them,” Sophie said, gaze unfocused. She shrugged. “I must have been so wrapped up in moving, but wow, they have been our saving grace throughout this whole process. I mean, Eliza was our realtor, and Maria’s husband Charlie showed us around campus. And of course - Anne! Anne has been amazing!”
Fuuuuuuuuuck, Erick thought.
“Awww, Anne is the best !” Luisa agreed.
Erick focused on regulating his breathing. The rest of them continued talking, but he had stopped listening. Anne Ilao had lived in this house. He was staying in her old family home. Of course this was happening to him. Of course.
Later that night, Erick laid in bed and thought through his options. He could tell Sophie the truth. Tell her that Anne is an ex-girlfriend, no big deal (but then she would ask why he had never mentioned her, and then he would have to talk about how they imploded in one night and how it absolutely crushed him, and well, he wasn’t really ready to dig into that right now). He could try to talk to Anne alone, and figure out how they could approach it together (this seemed like the most mature thing to do, but the idea of sitting with her alone made him want to fly back to Europe). So, he went with his last option. Pretend it never happened (by far the worst idea of the three, but avoidance was his specialty).
It was settled. He would pretend it never happened. He could do that. No problem.
He didn’t expect to see her so soon. He thought that maybe he had a few days. A week even. But no. There she stood. His third night back in Uppercross.
Sophie had shoved Anne in front of him, and he looked at her, subtly taking note of how different she looked. Her black hair was significantly shorter, hitting right above her shoulders, and her round face was thinner. She looked...older. Dressed in work clothes. Did he look older? She also looked tired. Not tired, but...worn out. She didn’t look worse. Erick was completely over her, completely over the breakup, but it would be a lie to say that she wasn’t still...well. Anne. Same golden, brown complexion. Same dark brown eyes. Same comforting demeanor, exuding calmness and intelligence. But something over the years had changed her. That he knew for sure.
He stuck out his hand, stating that it was nice to meet her. Anne’s expression changed, imperceptibly, but went back to being cordial in no time at all. She smiled politely, and shook his hand, stating the same. It was nice to meet him. And in that moment, he promised himself to keep things polite. He didn’t ignore her, Sophie would notice it right away. But he didn’t ask her any questions, didn’t start any conversation. He acknowledged that she was there, and that was it.
And it was fine. He was fine with it.
He may have been forced into this awkward situation, but he wouldn’t let it get the best of him. In fact, it was Anne who seemed thrown off by the situation. She was the one who stayed quiet, and tripped over her words when answering a question. The petty part of him took some twisted joy in it. Took some twisted joy in how adventurous he sounded in his stories. Good. She was the one who ended it anyway.
Even so, he couldn’t help but sneak a few peeks at her throughout the night. He could always read her expression, read how she felt. Anne had always been a guarded person, but he had always taken pride in how well he understood her. Could always figure out her mood. But, it had been a long time, and her expression was even more guarded than before. It was hard to tell what she was thinking. Which was for the best, of course. They were pretending that they didn’t know each other. You can’t read a person you’ve just met (he ignored the voice in his head telling him that he could read Anne as soon as they met all those years ago, that was part of the intrigue of it all, how drawn they were to one another).
But he told himself that it was good that he couldn’t read her. Great, even. Made it easier to act as though they really were strangers.
It was interesting for Erick to learn about the Ilao family outside of his relationship with Anne. She rarely talked about them during their relationship, but he was picking up bits and pieces through observation and conversations with other people.
It was impossible not to notice how often she was at her sister Maria’s house. Almost any time he was there with Adam or Sophie, so was Anne, typically taking care of her nephews. He also noticed that she spoke Tagalog more often than not with Frances, but not her sisters. Last time he had seen her she was still learning. Apparently she was fluent now. It was clear that she was pretty close to Luisa, and Luisa definitely loved her.
In fact, most of what he knew about Anne’s life over the past seven years was through Luisa. Like how Anne doesn’t date, but apparently gets a lot of offers (he tried not to think about that). How Anne took a position at the Archives about a year after graduation because the library was just “too familiar,” which Erick found odd considering how much she had loved the library.
He knew he shouldn’t care at all. Knew that it didn’t matter. But he was curious. He couldn’t help it. A part of him wanted to know if staying here had been worth it. And the really petty part of him hoped that it wasn’t (he wasn’t proud of that feeling, but he’d be lying if he said it wasn’t there).
The most informative part of his visit so far had been watching her have a family meeting with her sisters. Watching them debate whether or not she should wear a dress to the Kellynch University holiday party. Something that shouldn’t really matter, but seemed to matter a lot to them. He watched as they bickered, and sympathized when Anne finally gave in to Eliza's requests. Their dynamic was new to him, despite his and Anne’s history. He always thought that her sisters would end up being terrible people, but the reality wasn’t like that at all. It turned out that reality was a lot more complicated.
Erick, sitting in the Mendoza's living room, turned his attention back to the array of Christmas cards laid out on their coffee table. Sophie and Adam were talking to Anne about her mom, but Erick had tuned them out. He had never seen old family photos of the Ilaos, and seeing them all together like this - it was captivating. Especially the last one - the one that showed Anne’s mom clearly ill. All of her daughters looked so young, a fact that Erick knew logically. But it was different seeing it in a picture like this.
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
Erick looked up, and saw Sophie nudging Adam with her arm. Erick, confused, looked at Anne, but she was looking at the dress again.
“That’s nice of you to say. I just meant…” She got up from the armrest of the couch, and stood in front of the green dress, face not visible. “My mom - she never took no for an answer. She would always say - ‘Anne, speak up! How can anyone know your brilliance if you always stay so quiet?’”
They were all quiet for a moment. Erick watched as she took some deep breaths, and he felt a pang of unease.
“Anne…” he started, unsure of what he wanted to say. But, at that precise moment, Eliza came back in with the champagne. But Anne deflected, obviously trying to leave as soon as possible, causing Erick to think back to their relationship. Remembered, startlingly so, that this was what Anne did when things got too overwhelming or too serious. She isolated herself. It was how she processed things. She needed space.
Funny how some things stay with a person.
“Do you need someone to drive you?” He didn’t know what possessed him to say that. What possessed him to reach out, but he felt his heart clench when she stopped at his question. “It’s just...you seem a little out of it.
She looked at him, clearly shocked, and he thought about how little they had spoken since he returned. She looked at him blankly, and he wanted to eat his words, take them back. But then her expression opened up, just a fraction, and he saw some semblance of the Anne he knew all those years ago. It jarred him at first, how familiar it felt. So familiar that he almost reached out to her, almost took her hand, but then she shook her head, and the moment was gone.
“What? No! I’m fine! Totally fine. I just - haven’t been getting much sleep lately. Daylight savings maybe. It always takes me a while to get over that. Or stress?”
He took a step back, and after more back and forth with her sisters, she left. Eliza started pouring champagne in everyone’s glass, even though most of them didn’t want any, and went back to the kitchen for snacks.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and heard Sophie say, “That was nice of you to offer.” He shrugged.
Maria and Luisa were sitting on the loveseat, and Erick went back to the couch. He picked up the last Christmas card with their mom, and started studying it again.
“It’s a nice photo, right?” Luisa said. He looked up and the two of them were looking at him.
He nodded. “Yeah, it’s sweet.”
“I’m so glad Eliza found it!” Maria said, picking up her own copy. “I really thought we would never see this again.”
“You guys look so young,” he said, being careful to hide his curiosity.
“Oh we were! Well, it feels like we were, but I guess I wasn’t that young,” Eliza said, walking back in with an open bag of chips. Maria glared at the bag from her seat. “I was in high school when Mama passed. Jesus, I spent like every night partying for like a year. I was a fucking mess.” Eliza snorted, and shrugged, as if to say ‘oh well.’
“You were a mess?” Maria asked, sarcastically, and Eliza flicked her off in response. Maria smirked, then said, “Well, I was definitely young. Still in elementary school. Thank God for Anne. Papa really fell apart at first, but Anne always knew how to keep it together, even back then. I don’t know how she does it.”
Erick felt a flicker of annoyance. Did they not see what he just witnessed? How much this whole night had affected her? She ran out of this house like it was on fire. Is that what keeping it together looked like?
“How old was Anne?” he asked. He felt Sophie looking at him, so he made sure to keep his expression plain. Not wanting to show how much he cared.
Maria looked over to Eliza whose face was scrunched up in thought. “Ummmm, well I was a sophomore, so Anne must have been like...thirteen?”
Maria nodded. “Yeah, thirteen sounds right.”
“Thirteen is pretty young,” Sophie remarked.
“Too young to take care of a family,” Erick muttered, unthinkingly, bitterly, looking back at the picture. Luckily the only person who heard him was Sophie, the rest of them already bickering about something else. Already moving on.
Sophie nudged his shoulder, and he looked at her. She gave him a look, wanting to know what he was thinking. And he gave her a look back, letting her know it was nothing. He tossed the picture in his hand back onto the coffee table, and leaned back onto the couch.
He listened to them for the rest of the night, laughing when appropriate, making a joke when appropriate. Internally, he kept thinking about thirteen year old Anne in that picture. How hard it must have been for her to be the one who stepped up. How hard it must have been to keep it together.
How hard it would have been if she had decided to leave it all behind.
Erick was exhausted. He hadn’t expected the night to go the way it did. He figured he would stick by Adam and meet his work buddies. Make snide remarks with his sister. Avoid leading on Luisa more than he already had (horrible mistake. Him and his stupid ego).
He hadn’t expected Anne to walk in looking the way she did - so stunning that it made his chest hurt. He hadn’t expected that Elliot guy to show up, and be so unbelievably annoying (nor did he expect the jealousy that came with him).
He hadn’t expected Anne to be so snappy with her sisters, a very different demeanor than what he had witnessed over the last few months. And with that came the unexpected and overwhelming need to protect her. Not because she needed protecting. Anne had always been stronger than him. But seeing her sit there, being ignored by the ones she loved, seeing her snap...it made him more upset than he cared to admit.
Then, he asked her to dance. She had looked so sad... It had been a big mistake. Being that close to her. Being honest with one another again. The moment had been like a vacuum, sucking him back in time, back to being twenty-two and hopelessly enamored with this person in front of him.
“Hey, we’re here. You good?”
Erick, who had been rubbing his eyes, glanced at the rearview mirror and met Adam’s gaze. He looked out the window and saw that they were parked in front of the Croft’s rental home.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just tired.” Erick unbuckled his seat belt and followed them inside. He went straight to the kitchen, and he heard Sophie and Adam whispering behind him.
Erick stood at the kitchen counter, pouring himself a glass of water when he heard, “I’m going to bed! ‘Night, guys!” Erick looked over his shoulder to see Sophie leaning against the kitchen door frame, and Adam walking up the stairs.
“‘Night!” He responded. He lowered his voice, and looked at his sister. “You aren’t going to bed?”
She gave him a thoughtful look, and made her way to the pantry, turning on a lamp on her way in.
“I’m actually kind of snack-ish. You want something? Cereal?”
Erick smirked. Cereal was their thing. They never ate it for breakfast, only ever as a snack. Their code for ‘I want to talk.’
“Late night cereal? Am I in trouble?” She rolled her eyes and pulled out the Honey Nut Cheerios for Erick, and the Cocoa Puffs for herself. Erick silently got out the bowls and the milk, and Sophie grabbed the spoons before they went to the dining room table with their snacks ready.
They ate in the dimly lit room, and listened to the sound of crunching.
“So…” Sophie started, and Erick put his spoon in his bowl. He knew it was something. “You have fun tonight?”
He eyed her suspiciously. Not what he was expecting. “Uh, yeah...I guess. Food wasn’t too bad, and Adam’s always fun at parties like that.”
She nodded, an affectionate look on her face. “Yeah, Adam’s a blast.” Sophie took another bite, then said, “What about everyone else?”
She knew that he understood there was some subtext to that question. But he didn’t know what yet. “Is this about Luisa? Because I’m backing off like you said.”
“No! I noticed, to which I say thank you. She deserves someone who’s actually interested in her.”
It was his turn to roll his eyes. “I know, I know. But to be fair, I really don’t think she’s actually that into me.” He gestured at his face as he said, “She gets this glazed look on her face any time I talk about anything that isn’t related to her.”
The two of them laughed, and Sophie nodded. “Yeah, politics and current events aren’t really Luisa’s thing.”
Erick raised his brows as if to say, ‘you think?’ and kept eating his cereal. He was almost done with his bowl when Sophie said, “You asked Anne to dance tonight. Seemed like you two had fun.”
His chewing slowed, and he kept his gaze on the bowl in front of him. He shrugged. “She said it was her mom’s favorite song. And she was having a shitty night. Seemed like a nice thing to do.”
“Poor thing,” Sophie said, stirring her leftover milk with the chocolate crumbs. “Her family means well.”
Erick grunted, not trusting himself to hold back, which of course caused his sister to prod. “What?” she asked.
He shrugged again. “I’m sure they mean well, and they’re not my family, so I can’t really say anything.” He took his last bite to buy himself some time. Finally, he said, “I just don’t know how she does it. How she handles them all the time. It’s admirable.”
“Anne is an admirable woman,” Sophie responded, to which Erick nodded.
He leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms. Sophie mirrored him, and they looked at each other. Testing the other one out.
“I think you like her,” Sophie stated.
He felt his jaw twitch. “Of course I like her. Everyone likes Anne.”
“Noooo, I think that you like her like her.”
He kept his expression neutral at first. Sophie could always read him too easily. He should’ve seen this coming.
Then he laughed, and stood up, bringing his bowl to the kitchen. “Is this middle school? Is this you trying to set me up with Jenny Lewis all over again?” He heard her follow him into the kitchen.
“Oh please! We all knew that the two of you were into each other. It was pathetic!”
“Well, you didn’t have to lock us in a closet.”
“Whatever. You weren't complaining when I let you guys out - blushing and holding hands.”
He put his bowl in the sink, and turned around, leaning against the counter next to it. Sophie stopped at the kitchen island, her bowl in front of her.
“I know you want me to settle down in one place, but I really don’t need you playing matchmaker.”
“It’s not that I want you to settle down in one place!” He shot her a look. “Okay, I do. But, I’ve accepted that I can’t change you. I just...I want you to be happy.”
“Relationships don’t always make people happy.”
“Duh! I know that.” She walked around the island and stopped in front of him. “I wouldn’t bring it up if I didn’t think you were on the same page. You’re interested in her. I just don’t understand why you aren’t doing anything about it. You’ve never been the kind of guy to not do anything about something you want.”
He hung his head, thinking of some excuse that he could use. But he was tired.
“Her life is here. My life...is not. How do you get around that?”
She cocked her head to the side. “A person’s life doesn’t have to be dependent on a place. Life is fluid. If you want your life to change, you change it. You don’t have to freelance forever. You also have no idea what Anne wants to do. You don’t know if she plans on staying in Uppercross forever.”
He wanted to say that he did. He had a pretty good idea, actually. But instead he said, “You really think she would leave her family? After seeing how...codependent they are?”
It was a concept he hadn’t really understood all those years ago. He couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that Anne’s family needed her. Needed her so badly that she couldn’t leave, have her own life. He thought she was exaggerating or that maybe her family was manic. But now...seeing them all together. Knowing more about their mom’s death. It made a lot more sense.
“I think that they’re complicated. But I know that they love each other. And if Anne ever wanted to leave, then they wouldn’t stop her.” Sophie moved her bowl from the counter to the sink, and ran the water over the dishes. “And after talking to Anne tonight, alone, I think there’s a good chance that things are going to change. I think it’ll change for the better.”
She dried her hands on the kitchen towel. “Is that what’s stopping you? I just meant to ask her out on a date. You’re thinking like, lightyears ahead. Like, a long-distance committed relationship ahead. A date doesn’t have to be anything serious.”
He pushed himself off the counter, and made his way toward the stairs. “I’m not saying anything. I’m not even saying I’m interested in her. It was just...a thought.”
Sophie nodded. “Wow. You really, really like her.”
He scoffed, and turned around, saying goodnight as he did.
As he laid in bed, he couldn’t get their conversation out of his head. He promised himself that he wouldn’t get involved with Anne again, not after how it ended. He wouldn’t do that to himself. But it was hard. Harder than he thought.
Plus, being around her family made it worse. Not because they were unbearable. They weren’t. But...because he was starting to understand why she didn’t go with him all those years ago. Why she felt like she had to stay. He felt his anger - anger he hadn’t realized he was still holding on to - start to dissipate.
His mind wandered - what if he hadn’t left Uppercross that night? What if Anne had been right? Should he have stayed here with her? Stayed and fought for them?
Did he want to fight for them, now?
Anne’s face popped up in his mind - her looking at him, while they danced.
Erick rolled over to his side, and grabbed his phone. He couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t dwell on his past. He had to keep moving forward.
So, he booked a train ticket for the city. Departure in two days.
Erick was freaking out. He managed to keep it together during the meeting at the bank. He even managed to make it through the drive home. Sophie was so caught up in her home owning prospects that his strange mood didn’t even register.
But internally? He was freaking out. Being in her apartment was weird all on its own. Seeing the life she built for herself over the last seven years. It just felt so...Anne. He should have just stayed on the couch. He shouldn’t have gone over to that bookshelf.
Why did she still have that magnet? Why didn’t she throw it out? It was a trinket he got in a lame souvenir shop - why keep it?
(He knew it was more than a trinket. Knew that he bought it for her after perusing several souvenir shops searching for just the right one - the one that would make her laugh the hardest. The one that would make her smile so wide that she covered her mouth. He bought it because he missed her more than he thought he would during that trip. Knew that she was the one for him by the time it was over. Which is why it was especially jarring to see it there, after so many years.)
As soon as Sophie parked the car in the driveway, Erick threw the car door open and went into the house, his sister still chattering about potential neighborhoods. He went straight to the kitchen and opened the pantry.
“What are you doing? Adam is bringing home dinner in like, less than two hours. You can’t wait? We just had coffee.”
Sophie stopped talking once she saw Erick pull down the familiar boxes of cereal. He didn’t even wait for her to catch up. He grabbed two bowls and the milk, filled the bowls up for the two of them, and made his way to the dining room table.
“Erick, what is going on?” she asked, sitting next to him.
He looked at her, and saw her concern. Erick took a deep breath. “I need to tell you something.”
By the time Erick was done revealing all of the details about his and Anne’s past relationship, all the way up to today in her apartment, Sophie’s bowl was nearly empty, the rest of the cereal too soggy to eat. She sat next to him, her gaze focused on the dining room table.
“So…after the holiday party,” Sophie started. “When I said you liked her…I wasn’t totally off.” He gave her a look, and she continued, “Why didn’t you tell me right away? You could have said something before coming here. I wouldn’t have kept setting up plans with her family -”
Erick sighed. “I know, I know. I should have told you but...I don’t know. I didn’t want to deal with it. I wasn’t ready to deal with...Anne.”
Sophie looked at him, processing all of this information. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged, and she sat up, resting her forearms on the table. “How serious was this relationship? Like...I know you guys were planning to go to London together, but was that decided on a whim or…?”
Erick smiled ruefully. Going to London with a girl on a whim was definitely something he would have done before meeting Anne. It made sense that Sophie would ask. He moved his spoon through the leftover milk in his bowl. “I was planning on asking mom for grandma’s engagement ring. Before leaving for London.”
Sophie’s jaw dropped, eyebrows raised. “Well shit. That’s serious.”
“I mean we hadn’t explicitly talked about getting married. And I wasn’t going to ask her right away! I wanted to wait until we had some money saved up and we felt more settled, but…” He sat back in his chair, and crossed his arms. Looked at Sophie. “I told her that she was the one. None of it was a whim.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Erick reflecting on the feelings he was finally able to admit. Feelings he thought were gone. Sophie put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“I thought I had moved on. I thought this was done and over with,” he said, tiredly rubbing his face with both of his hands. He got up and started pacing the room. “But then she had that goddamn magnet at her apartment. Why would she hold on to something like that? Why does she still have it?”
“Some people are sentimental. Don’t you have anything that she gave to you?” Sophie tried to reason. He shook his head. He threw any memento out as soon as he left Uppercross. Sophie pursed her lips in thought, while Erick started chewing on a nail.
“You won’t know why unless you talk to her.”
Erick scoffed, and Sophie got up to stand in front of him. Put her hands on his shoulder to stop his fidgeting.
“Do you want it to mean something? Or do you want it to be over?”
They looked at each other. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted. But he definitely knew what he didn’t want.
“When she ended things...It wasn’t easy for me to come back from that.”
Sophie looked as though she wanted to say something in response, but she didn’t. Instead, she hugged him, and he hugged her back. Feeling some relief at finally being honest with his sister. When they finally pulled away from each other, she looked at him closely.
“Just promise me something. Don’t run away from the idea of it before really thinking about what you want.”
He nodded, and she went to put their bowls in the dishwasher. Erick sat back down at the dining room table, thinking about that night he went to the Archives.
He told her he wanted to browse, but really he just wanted to see her again. Make sure that she was still okay after that holiday party. Erick had gone to the city to stop thinking about her, but it hadn’t worked. So, as soon as Adam said he was going to that book club, Erick knew he would be going, too.
He was surprised to see that she had changed in the few weeks they hadn’t seen each other. Something about her seemed more...lively. The first night he saw her, back in September, she had seemed worn out. Tired. But now she looked more like her old self. The Anne he knew in college.
But she wasn’t the old Anne. She was someone else. She was going to a writing class. She was considering a meeting with a publisher. She was being upfront with her family. She wasn’t avoiding conflict with them, but addressed it with maturity and kindness. He couldn’t help but feel so...happy for her. Proud of her, even. He wished it could have happened sooner, but it didn’t really matter. He was glad she got there, eventually.
Anne was changing. If - and it was an if, Erick told himself - If he wanted to get back together with Anne, maybe he needed to change, too. Adjust how he dealt with his problems, like she was adjusting to hers.
In the back of his mind, he knew Anne wasn’t the sole reason for their breakup. He had put a lot of it on her, on her family, but he could’ve done something. Could have insisted on being transparent. Insisted that he stay with her until she was comfortable leaving. Whenever that would have been. He had contributed to it in his own way.
Later that night, Erick sat in front of his laptop, flipping through emails. He paused at one from his agent. It was about contract negotiations, and touching base. Pitch meetings she had secured with a magazine. She wanted him to come to the city, if possible. He reread it, and knew he could probably just call her to sort it out. But he found himself thinking about Anne taking the next step in her life.
Found himself thinking about the next step in his own life.
Sophie believed that Erick refused to come home because he didn’t want to settle down. That he loved the freedom of travel. And he let her think that. But deep down, that wasn’t really it. It was more than that.
He was running. Maybe he needed to stop.
And so, with that in mind, Erick responded - “I can be in the city within the week. What day works for you?”