So, I was just thinking that I should do something for all of the wonderful readers who are doing something for me today! It’s Emi Lost & Found Day, and I’m overwhelmed by the response it’s received!
This outtake would take place on Emi’s 30th birthday, which happens in Time Stands Still. Since that’s the second book of the series, there are spoilers here, so don’t read this until you’ve gotten to that part in Time Stands Still! (This is largely unedited, since I just wrote it, so I hope it’s not too error-ridden.)
It’s an awkward moment in the car after I pull up to Chris’ apartment building.
“I’ll just be a minute,” I say quickly, turning off the ignition. As soon as I say it, I realize I shouldn’t have.
“Really, Jack? You want me to wait in the car?” Marie asks, surprised.
“Of course not,” I answer. “I’m not sure what I was thinking, but please. I’d like you to meet my best friend.”
My date smiles at me, sitting patiently in the passenger seat until I open the door for her. I exit the car hurriedly, anxious. Now I’m not sure this was a good idea at all. Am I nervous about seeing Emi, or is this guilt making me want to get this over with?
Taking Marie’s hand, I help her out of the sedan. She straightens her dress while I close the door.
“Weren’t you going to take him the wine?”
“Right,” I laugh. That was the excuse for coming here, only I wasn’t entirely honest with Marie about the gift I had to hand-deliver before the movie. I’d found a showing at a theater nearly a half-hour outside of Manhattan just to make this stop.
I would have preferred to come to New Rochelle alone, but I’d already made the date with Marie before I found out it was Emi’s 30th birthday. Chris mentioned he was hosting a party for her, and although I wasn’t invited, I felt compelled to stop by. I don’t think he’ll mind.
I fumble with the keys in the lock, realizing my hands are shaking. While reaching for the bottle of Emi’s favorite wine in the backseat, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself. This is Chris and Anna. I’m perfectly comfortable with them. Chris’ family is here. I’ve met his parents many times, and they’ve always been welcoming. It’s Emi that I’m dying to see again. It’s Emi that’s making me feel like a fifteen-year-old kid who’s asking a girl to go steady with him for the first time.
This is definitely a bad idea, but I’ve come this far, and I can’t back out now. I wish I had rescheduled this date, or cancelled it altogether. Marie’s a beautiful woman. I enjoy her company and we have engaging conversations, but since Emi has come back into my life, no woman can compete with the lingering feelings I can’t ignore.
As I stand up, Marie gives me a once-over and starts adjusting my tie.
“I’ve got it,” I tell her, handing her the Lambrusco so I can fix the neckwear in my reflection in the car window. She’d made fun of the wine purchase, and told me I was silly for going to three different liquor stores to find the specific brand. I think the drink is too sweet, personally, but it’s Emi’s favorite.
When I’m ready, we start toward the apartment. I consider taking the bottle back from Marie, but with that occupying one hand and her purse in the other, she doesn’t have a free hand to hold. I know it’s not gentlemanly of me, but I don’t want Emi to think this is exactly what it looks like – what it is: a date.
Fortunately, we haven’t had the discussion of exclusivity, and I sense Marie is seeing another man, although she’s never confirmed that. Our relationship still feels casual, for the most part, and I know it would be an amicable split if we were to part ways tomorrow. I know that would be the right thing to do. It’s not fair to string along a woman who truly has no chance to wholly capture my affections.
I ring the doorbell and remind myself once more that this is just a polite visit. It probably won’t even register on Emi’s radar. I know she’s not looking for a relationship. I know she is in no frame of mind to even consider me as a romantic option. This thought seems to take off the pressure.
Anna, Chris’ fiancée, answers the door. “Jack! What a nice surprise, come in!”
“Just for a second,” I tell her, walking slowly as my eyes adjust to the dim lights of the room. I hear Marie’s heels clicking on the floor behind me as I see my best friend coming in from his large patio.
“Jack!” He shakes my hand and looks at my date.
“Chris, Anna, this is Marie.” I smile as Marie nods and gives a slight wave, purse still in hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Chris says. “What brings you out tonight?”
“We were in the area,” I start, scanning the rest of the apartment until I see Emi’s hair, her back to me, “and I just thought I’d stop by to drop off a bottle of wine for the birthday girl.” This gets her attention, and she stands abruptly and walks in my direction. There is still a slight limp to her gait, but she looks beautiful with clear eyes, a glowing smile, and a short, striped dress. There’s a large scar on her knee, but I don’t allow myself to linger on it. I know how she got it. I don’t want to bring attention to it. I don’t want that smile to leave her face.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she says as Marie hands her the wine. “Thank you so much.”
As my date sidles up to me, she puts her free hand on my arm.
“Marie, this is Chris’ sister, Emi.”
“Hello,” Marie says softly. Emi returns the greeting.
“Chris said you were having a little family thing, so I hope we’re not intruding.” I look up to see the rest of her family and wave to them. Her mother and step-mother wave back as her sister, Jen, runs her fingers through her hair slowly. I’ve only met her a couple of times, but she always seems to be trying too hard to impress me.
“Not at all,” Emi says. “Can you stay for dinner?”
And this is why I should have come alone.
“No, we’re on our way to catch a movie.”
“Well, thank you for the wine. You know I’ll enjoy it.” She seems to blush as she says it, and the redness of her cheek begs for my finger to touch it, but I don’t.
“I know.” I’m not ready to leave, and check the time to see that we still have a few minutes before we need to head toward the theater. “How have you been?”
“Pretty good. Jennifer, Clara and I have settled in nicely. We have a routine, which is good. I’ve got a ton of work keeping me busy.” Having family with her at all times and staying involved with her freelance work are good for her, I’m sure. It makes me feel better about her state of mind. I can tell she’s trying to move on.
“I’m happy to hear it.”
“How have you been?” she asks in return.
“Great. Business is good.” I don’t want to talk business with her, and struggle to think of a more personal conversation I can have with my girlfriend hanging on my arm. “Listen.” I lean into her, still feeling Marie clinging closely to me. “I was thinking maybe you and I could host a dinner or something for the happy couple a little closer to the wedding. Maybe sometime in August? Just close friends?” I haven’t even thought through the details, but I’m liking the idea of my spontaneous gesture.
“Oh, yeah,” Emi says. “That sounds good.”
“Well, start thinking of some ideas or places. We’ll talk about it later.” A reason to follow up with her.
“Okay.” Two dimples stand out as she smiles, and the sunlight from a window catches her eyes. They’re enchanting. I could look at them for hours.
Marie tugs lightly on my arm. “Well,” I say, snapping out of my daze, “I hope you have a happy birthday, Emi.”
“It’ll be even better now,” she tells me, showing off her wine. “Thank you, and it was a pleasure to meet you, Marie.”
“Likewise,” my date says, her voice lilting as she begins to walk toward the door, pulling me with her.
“See you later!” I call out to everyone as we exit the apartment. I’d hoped to share one last gaze with Emi, but she’s closed the door.
After helping Marie back into the car, I toss my keys in the air a few times as I make my way to the driver’s side. This night just improved tenfold, not because of the evening I have planned with Marie. The prospect of spending time with Emi outside of her brother’s presence invigorates me. Seeing that opportunity lingering in the near future, I know I can get through this date tonight, and all the other days and nights that happen between now and then. Something much better lies ahead for me, and I honestly feel like it’s just a matter of time for Emi to see that something good is headed her way, too.
©2013 Lori L. Otto