Those were the two words I wrote half-cursive on a sheet of paper and left on the island for Adam. The two words I said to him, although he couldn’t hear it before I walked away.
Then I had thought when you lose everything; you’re sure to lose yourself and never be able to get it back. I was wrong. Adam couldn’t find me if he tried. The only one who could find me was me.
And I had.
Despite the mess my life became after Adam kissed me; after Bobby died; after I ran.
I somehow found myself.
As I lifted my eyes to stare at the life-size statue of Adam, Bobby and me skating I found a smile tugging at my lips. West squeezed my hand, and I looked up at him. His green eyes were soft as they raced across my face, and he nodded to the statue.
“You three look like you were thick as thieves,” he said, and his voice cracked. There was worry layered into the deep cadence of his voice.
My gaze moved up to the statue– me skating and laughing in the middle of the two boys. We were teenagers then, Adam and I sixteen and Bobby eighteen and I was oblivious to how in the middle of them I actually was. My throat thickened as I stared between the two of them. They were opposites in every way. Adam had a thin, swimmer body and was a full head and a half shorter than broad and chiseled Bobby. Even their eyes were opposites; Adam’s a brown of mud with grass flecks, while Bobby’s were blue like the sky. West’s body tensed beside me, and I realized I was so lost in my thoughts I hadn’t answered.
“We were,” I said, biting my lip. “But there was just as many fights as there was laughter.”
And I was the reason for those fights. Even after Bobby’s death, I felt like I was still locked in a war with them. The thing was, no one ever won.
We all lost ourselves in that war, and none of us were connected anymore–at least not on the mortal plane. We were here because ten months ago Bobby died in a car crash and now his father had paid to restore our old ice rink in memory of him. Adam wasn’t here. We hadn’t spoken in months, and he was somewhere in the world on tour with his band and Tara. I grit my teeth at the thought of my ex-best friend. We spoke on the day she quit her job to go on tour with the band. It hadn’t ended well, but my boyfriend, West, was there for me then. He was here for me as we stood staring at the statue of my dead best friend and my ex-boyfriend. I readjusted the guitar case in my hand as I looked away from the bronzed version of my teenage self to West. His eyes locked on Bobby.
I elbowed him. “I know it’s weird; he doesn’t look anything like Adam.”
West gaze fell to me and his brows furrowed, causing a shadow to fall over his eyes. “Why don’t you have any pictures out?”
I didn’t have anything that would remind me of Adam or Bobby, except for the guitar I held. My shoulders rose as I bit my lip before answering, “It was hard after I left Adam– every picture is of the three of us. Don’t you think that would be awkward now?”
“Umm,” West began, his head jerking back as he laughed. “Yeah, maybe– they have Photoshop for that, don’t they?”
I rolled my eyes as we headed past the statue and to the front door. “I’m not that good with Photoshop.”
West squeezed my hand. “There’s none of just you and Bobby?”
“I’m sure there’s some, although Adam probably burned them,” I replied, looking over at him.
“That jealous?” he asked, cocking his head at me.
“You have no idea–“
The doors swung open just before we reached them and Alec pulled me into his arms before I could speak. “River! I’m so glad you agreed to come…and to sing.”
He held me out at arm’s length, and I looked around at the renovated building and back to the statue before looking at Alec’s eyes–the same bright blue as Bobby’s.
“Bobby would’ve loved this. The statue is a bit much, though,” I said.
Alec laughed and his broad shoulders, also a mirror to Bobby’s shape, lifted. “Yeah, but Bobby was all for bigger is better. You remember that truck?”
I swallowed, and Alec’s eyes shut as he put his hand on his forehead. I could tell by his response he knew what I was thinking.
The truck he died in.
“Yeah,” I replied, forcing a smile on my face to let Alec know it was okay. “He always teased me about not being able to get into it. I figured he bought it on purpose so he could get a little closer to the girls he drove in it.”
Alec’s brows rose. “You’re probably right about that — at least on one account.”
I bit my cheek, knowing he was referencing me before turning and looking at West. He was looking down at the toes of his suede shoes. I took his hand into mine and turned to face Alec again. “This is my boyfriend, West — West, this is Bobby and Adam’s dad, Alec.”
Alec reached out to shake West’s hand, and put his other hand on the top, eyes locking on West’s. “I’m so glad River brought you. Her dad has told me how amazing you’ve been for her.” He looked over at me. “You can imagine how special she is to our family.”
My chest tightened as Alec gave me a soft smile before letting go of West’s hand. He was so sincere and had changed so much over the last few months. Despite the loss of one son, the distancing of the other and the dissolution of his marriage, he seemed to have found himself. It was ironic that one of the worst things in our lives had pulled things together.
“Pleasure to meet you too, but I’m afraid I haven’t met River’s dad yet,” West said as he glanced over at me, his forehead creasing.
“Well, we can fix that! He’s right inside.” Alec glanced down at his watch and then back up. “The guests should start arriving in about fifteen or so minutes, but River’s parents and my ex-wife are already here.”
He turned and held the door open for us, and I watched as West’s face paled. It was my turn to squeeze his hand. We followed Alec inside, and West leaned down as much as he could without being obvious.
“How can they like me already? What did you say about me?”
I leaned up and kissed his cheek. “I don’t think I had to say anything. It’s just the way you make me feel and act–like me.”
His eyes went to their corners to look at me, and I fluttered my eyelashes, daring him not to believe me.
“At least I have the upper hand along with my hidden self,” he replied, alluding to the fact he removed his lip ring and his long sleeves covered the fact both his arms were tattooed from his wrists up, and the tattoos met across his chest. I didn’t like the idea of him hiding who he was, but hiding them at the moment made him more comfortable. He knew about the blow out Adam, and I had when our parents found out about our accidentally matching tattoos. I sighed, and he elbowed me. “It’s fine, Riv. Remember I’ll have her in love with me and then I’ll rip my shirt off…well, not exactly.”
I laughed into my shoulder. “I want my mom to like you not lust after your body.”
West winked at me just as my parents turned from the conversation they were having with Vickie. Dad pulled me into a hug and kissed my cheek before immediately introducing himself to West, which left me awkwardly deciding which person I wasn’t a fan of to talk to first.
“Hi, Mom.” I decided she was the safest option since I was pretty sure I could still hold a grudge for the things Vickie said at Bobby’s funeral. They were the words I felt tipped Adam over the precarious edge he tilted on. Mom pulled me into a tentative hug before Dad took the honor of introducing West. I turned to Bobby and Adam’s mom. She aged over the months since I saw her last. Deep frown wrinkles framed her small pursed lips. “Hi, Vickie.”
“Hi, River. It’s good to see you looking so well,” she replied, and her eyes drifted to West. “He’s tall…Bobby’s height.”
I nodded before pulling West away from my parents. Part of me wanted to save him from them, and the other wanted him to protect me from Vickie. “West this is Bobby and Adam’s mom, Vickie. Vickie, this is my boyfriend.”
The words boyfriend came off of my lips so easily.
She looked at him, and her jaw tightened. “Pleasure.”
“It’s all mine,” West said as he dropped her hand and placed his arm around my waist. He nodded to the carpet laid out on the ice. A ribbon was strung across the width of the rink, and a pair of giant scissors sat waiting on the temporary flooring. “Alec was just telling me he’ll do an introduction, you’ll sing and then he’ll cut the ribbon to open the rink. You brought your strap, right? Or should I ask for a stool for you?”
I inhaled through my mouth and then out through my nose. I hadn’t performed in front of this many people since my middle school talent contest days. My body rushed hot and cold as my foot began tapping against the concrete. I gave the red carpet with a death stare, my chest tightening.
West turned me before I could finish and put his hands on my cheeks. “I’ll be right next to you the whole time. You can stare at me if you need to. It’s just me, you, Bobby and your song.”
My song. I hadn’t known I had it in me to write a song; somehow I did, but not alone.
I leaned up and pressed our foreheads together. “Our song.”
“I didn’t know him–“
“But you know me.”
West bit his lip where his lip ring should be. It was a nervous habit of his to cover it with his mouth and even with it not there he did it. The hole where it should be expanded with the motion and I leaned up to kiss him there.
“Thank you,” I said as I looked up at him. “I would melt down if you weren’t here. I’m just going to play for you.” I paused, and my lips lifted up. “And imagine you in nothing but your underwear.”
His head tilted back as he laughed before leaning down and whispering in my ear. “We don’t want you that distracted.”
My laughter joined his, and I glanced over my shoulder to see my parents watching us. Mom looked confused with her arms crossed and the creases in her forehead made her look her age. Dad’s smile reached his eyes, and he winked at me before nodding to something Alec was saying.
“You want to make sure you’re still all tuned up?” West asked, and I turned, exhaling out of my mouth.
I locked eyes with him as I tried to ignore the crowd beginning to come through the door. “I guess that’d be a good idea.”