A silhouette darkened the student essay Alex was reading. She looked up from the typed page at a figure whose face was obscured by the sun. The outline of the shadowy form was male: tall, built and sinewy, the muscles in his frame outlined by the sunlight. She shaded her eyes with one hand and held the essay she’d been grading against her lap to keep the soft breeze from blowing the pages away. She squinted at the figure. “Can I help you?”
“I’ve been looking for you.”
Alex’s breath caught at the familiar voice, deep and resonant. She’d have recognized it anywhere. “I find that hard to believe.” She looked down and hoped she sounded detached. It wasn’t how she felt. Her heart raced now that she knew it was Adam, just like it always had. But instead of anger, this time the bridge between them had been burned by death.
Adam Kāne crouched down in front of her, and she met his gaze. Still the perfect picture of a man. His chestnut-hued skin, the handsome Hawaiian features, large chocolate eyes and a strong nose framed his face. His lips were the perfect shape, kissable, masculine, appealing, but what undid her – always – was the dimple when he smiled. He wasn’t smiling. The strength of his arms and legs were obvious in his cotton pull over shirt and his blue jeans, both taut in his present position. He still looked the athlete, even at forty-seven.
Alex suppressed the urge to reach out and run her hand along the dark skin of his forearm to feel the velvet of his skin but resisted. So inappropriate, she thought and shook her head.
“You shouldn’t be surprised,” he said.
“Why not? After the last time we spoke?” She made a noise of dismay that caught in her nose.
He was quiet, then asked, “May I?” He nodded to the space on the bench next to her.
Alex lowered her foot to the ground and scooted a fraction. She looked away from Adam as he sat. The outside of his thigh pressed against hers and the heat of his body burned through the layer of skirt into her skin.
The significance of this particular bench was not lost to her, though she was sure he hadn’t made the connection. It was where they had officially met so long ago. He had been the all-American quarterback then. The only Hawaiian quarterback to lead Hawaii State University to two major bowls.
He leaned forward, the shirt stretched across his back, his elbows rested on his knees. He still wore his wedding ring and twisted it around his finger with his thumb. He cleared his throat but didn’t talk.
Alex looked away and waited for him to speak. She knew he would when he’d worked out what it was he wanted tell her. So, she waited, staring out at the trees beyond the walkway in front of her. Students milled about in a rainbow of colors, but she didn’t focus on any of them more curious as to what Adam was here to say. The last time she’d seen him, he’d berated her at Megan’s funeral. That had been almost a year ago, time she’d spent running from her grief alone.
Last year, she’d been so consumed by the haze of working, numb to anything other than the refuge of being busy, she hadn’t had time to focus on her own pain. And after what Adam said, she hadn’t had them - her family - either. While she usually enjoyed her summer off and spent the months traveling, this summer had provided little more than free time to spend grieving the loss of her best friend and life as it had once been. The last four weeks back at work provided the relief from the loneliness and the opportunity to bury herself in the monotony of her existing world at school. It was difficult to believe that November would mark one year since Megan passed.
“I owe you an apology,” he said breaking the silence between them.
Alex looked at the green pen she was rolling back and forth between her fingers. Her eyebrows arched a moment in disbelief.
“I said some terrible things to you, Alex. Things I’m ashamed to have said.”
“But things you believed nonetheless.” Alex turned her head to look at him.
He scrutinized his hands, calloused from manual labor of his youth. They still looked like quarterback hands, strong and wide with long tapered fingers.
“Do you still believe what you said that day?”
She noticed the planes and ridges of his back and wanted to run her hand along the muscle to feel his strength. She was stupid longing for something she would never have.
He turned his left hand over and looked at it. The gold of his wedding band gleamed in the afternoon sun peeking through the trees. “It was wrong of me to say them.”
Alex shoved the essay and pen inside her satchel. “I guess there’s nothing left to say then.” She stood to go.
He grabbed her wrist.
She turned to look at him. His touch was gentle, and her skin burned beneath his touch. Though she was fuming, his brown eyes kept her from yanking her hand away. His gaze held a look of regret, of anguish. She had never seen that look in their depths before. Even in the heat of their best battles, she had never seen anything other than control and at times amusement. Her heart quickened and her resolve faltered.
“Please stay,” he said. He pulled her with a steady pressure back toward him.
She might have jumped in his lap with enough coaxing. Instead, she wrenched her hand free and returned to the spot she’d vacated, but she didn’t get comfortable, keeping to the edge of the bench.
“I did believe my words at the time. Wait, let me finish,” he said when she moved to stand again. He grabbed her hand, holding it with his strong one, but all Alex could feel was the gentle stroking of his thumb against her palm. The motion, the contact with his skin against her own ignited a longing she’d repressed. A million bolts of lightning electrocuted her lower back.
He continued, “A year can change a person and his perspective.”
Alex couldn’t fault him for that truth. She had spent the last year wondering if his vitriol had been right.
“My anger that day was wrong, and I’m sorry for the things I said. They have no significance anymore.”
She pulled her hand free and turned on him. “You self-centered, self-righteous, son-of-a-bitch,” she said. The venom of her words hit their mark when he leaned back. “No significance?” she continued. “Let me call you a bastard and then accuse you of trying to break up my marriage because you didn’t want your best friend to be happy. And while I’m at it, let me rip away the only family you’ve known for the last thirty years.” Alex noticed his jaw flex. She had struck a nerve. It had always been this way between them. “Is this why you were looking for me, Adam? To rub it in. To throw that day in my face and make me feel worse?”
He looked away. “No.” The tight sound of his voice hinted of his strained patience.
“Then what is it? I have things to do.”
“I found something.”
Panic seized her. She could think of only one thing that would have him come looking for her after the way he’d shared his true feelings for her the last time they were together. Did he know? Alex remained silent afraid to give away her fear, but she held his eyes with her own when he reconnected with her gaze. She could easily feign disinterest. She’d been doing it for years.
“Look, Alex. I know things have always been,” he paused looking for a word, “strained between us, but I need your help.”
“You? The great Adam Kāne. Hawaii Business Man of the year five times running.” Sarcasm laced each word. “How could you need the help of a lowly college professor?”
“It’s for Megan.”
As she anticipated his response, she’d been brainstorming possible retorts to whatever he might say, but Adam’s words stopped her short. Megan was all she needed to hear to calm her. The tears pooled in her eyes and blinked them away. She wouldn’t cry in front of him. She wouldn’t cry in front of anyone. She still could not believe that her best friend, so much her sister, was gone.
Alex had met Megan when she and her family had moved to California. She had walked into her Kindergarten classroom afraid and alone. California had seemed a new country to her five-year-old mentality. She’d entered a classroom to cold stares from the other kids who didn’t really know any different how to behave toward strangers. The only kindred spirit, a little blond girl who’d come over to show Alex her new shoes. A kinship had been born. She and Megan had been inseparable from that moment on even attending college together on the very campus where she now taught.
Alex fiddled with the black leather satchel in her lap. She waited for Adam to continue, her anger simmering.
“She left me journals and letters. Journals she’d been writing since she had Emma.”
Alex felt the panic again. “I know.” She’d known they existed, but the secrets they contained were a mystery. She wondered if Megan had included the one secret that would prove Adam right?
“You knew about them?” His eyes narrowed in anger.
“I assumed you did too. You were married to her.”
Adam stood and ran his hand through his short black hair the other hand rested on his hip as he paced. He took a deep breath. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
She nodded, accepting his apology, but surprised by it as well. This was new territory for them.
“I did, but I didn’t think about them until I rediscovered them in her office a few months after she died; I couldn’t bring myself to read them until a few days ago. They’re like reopening old wounds reliving memories of our relationship.”
The panic hit Alex again and nausea gripped her. She blinked to right the world that seemed to be spinning. “What does that have to do with me?” She measured her words. She watched him move his feet. He’d put his hands in his front pockets which pulled at the front of his jeans.
Her stomach twisted.
“I don’t think anything; that’s not exactly why I’m here. I found something that doesn’t make sense to me. I thought maybe you’d know what it is. You knew her so well.”
“What is it?”
“She’s underlined words. At first, I thought they were just underlined for emphasis, but the more I’ve read, the stranger the words. Some are nonsensical. We both know Megan was too deliberate to do something that didn’t make sense.”
She thought about her own letter. “Even toward the end?” Alex asked remembering Megan in her last days fighting the cancer. It made her feel heavy with sadness. Megan’s coherence had been thin.
“I began when she first started writing them. I don’t think so.” He crossed his arms over his chest, his feet wide apart. He looked vulnerable, like a boy, but trying not to be. “I’d hoped you might take a look at the entries – you might know what Megan was doing.”
Chills ran a course along her skin. She wondered if it was a good time to tell him about her letter. “Do you have them with you now?” Maybe it was a coincidence. She was overreacting. She was good at that too.
Adam shook his head no. “Can you come to the house?” He looked down at the ground. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. A memory of him surfaced in Alex’s mind: she’d left the library to go to her next class. Adam had been waiting for her, his mannerisms of today reminiscent of that day so long ago. He’d looked nervous and a bit unsure of himself- a rarity for him. Though he was humble, he didn’t lack self-confidence.
Alex hesitated, though she wasn’t sure why. She had nothing to worry about with Adam. He hated her. This olive branch was for Megan. His grief. “When?”
“What about now?”
“I can’t. I have a class in thirty minutes,” she said looking down at her watch. “What about later?”
Adam nodded. “Thank you.”
After agreeing on a time and offering an awkward farewell, Alex watched him walk away, his stride assured and confident. He put a hand in his pocket and pulled something from his jeans. Then he disappeared around Jensen Hall, a brick building across the mall of trees.
Alex went to her office to spend a few moments trying to catch her breath. She leaned against the closed door and shut her eyes. Images of Adam reeled through her mind’s eye like a slideshow. His smile – that dimple. His adoration of Megan. Holding his children. And even deeper and further, his hands on her. She shook her head and pushed away from the door and set the satchel on her desk while collecting what she would need for her next class.
She couldn’t let him do this to her – not again. She couldn’t allow Adam to break her resolve to move forward, to move ahead with her life.
Like you’ve been doing any moving forward, she heard her inner voice say.
I have, she snapped at the voice in her head.
When you stop lying to yourself, then you might begin moving forward, the voice answered.
A sudden sense of loss so glaring hit Alex, she was blinded by the ache of it. She sunk into her desk chair. Her inner voice was right - she hadn’t finished her grieving process. About Megan. But also, about Adam. Alex didn’t know if she could move forward until she faced Adam with the truth. But that, she knew, she could ever do.