It was all there in front of her, all the reasons to quit while she was still ahead, get out, and cut her losses. But there were also all the other reasons to stay—the biggest one being she couldn’t imagine life without him in it.
“Would you like to go to dinner with me tonight?”
Charlie wondered if the could see her brain short-circuiting at the question. It certainly felt like anyone looking at her could see it. She blinked and tried to formulate a coherent response before he gave up and walked away.
“Yes!” she exclaimed, finally finding her voice. “Yes,” she said again, more quietly this time. “I would. Like that. Very much.”
“Great,” he said, brown eyes twinkling with amusement. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”
And with that, he walked away, leaving Charlie feeling breathless and somewhat shell-shocked. He’d asked her out. He’d finally asked her out.
At twenty, Charlie didn’t have much experience with dating. So, when Will had asked her out, it had been a complete surprise—especially since he’d been dating someone for as long as she had known him. Somewhere along the way, she’d given in to the reality that he was never going to be a possibility in her life. But now…
She swiped on some mascara and gave her reflection one last assessment before deciding that she was as good as she was going to get. Will apparently thought she was pretty enough that he’d asked her out, so… She narrowed her eyes at the young woman staring back at her. She’d never been truly satisfied with herself. She was shorter than she would have liked, and her face a little too round. It was her eyes that got the most attention, though, a sparkling green-blue that changed depending on what she wore. That was what people noticed first about her, what they said was her best feature.
Charlie heard a knock on the door and hurried to get her purse. She smoothed her skirt and ran a finger over her teeth in case there was any lip gloss on them. She opened the door and felt her breath catch in her throat at the sight of him.
“Hey,” Will said, breaking the silence and smiling at her obvious nervousness. He stepped forward before she could react and planted a quick kiss on her cheek. “You look beautiful,” he whispered in her ear.
Charlie could feel the heat of his breath on her neck as he spoke, and it sent a tingle up her spine.
Feeling the flush rise in her cheeks, she smiled as steadily as she could. “Thank you,” Charlie said. “You look good, too.”
Charlie nodded and followed Will out to the car, locking the door behind her. She was aware of everything as she moved—the stillness of the night, the sound of the neighbors’ dog digging his way out of the yard for the millionth time, the blanket of stars that made the crisp January night feel almost pure.
Will opened the passenger door of his truck for her, shooting her a grin that somehow let her know he didn’t make a practice of this, but he was making an exception for her. As they drove, Charlie fiddled with the zipper on her bag. Now that they were alone, she wasn’t sure what to say.
“Can I ask you something, Will?” she said quietly.
Will looked at her quizzically. “Sure, anything.”
Charlie took a deep breath and steeled herself. “Why did you ask me out?”
Will laughed. “That’s what you want to know?” He shook his head. “Why do you think?”
“I like talking to you, Charlie, that’s why,” Will replied, smiling as though it was an odd question. “And it doesn’t hurt that you’re pretty.”
Charlie felt her face flush again. It was something she cursed about herself, the fact that it took nothing to make her blush—noticeably. “I’m glad you think so,” she said quietly.
“You don’t agree?” Will asked, looking at her in the passing streetlights and studying her.
Charlie shook her head. “Not really.”
Unexpectedly, Will reached over and took her hand, squeezing it gently. “You are, Charlie. You’re beautiful.”
Charlie looked down at their two hands, entwined in her lap. Will had long, slender fingers and hands that made hers seem tiny in comparison. Her hand tingled with the contact, as though every nerve ending was electrified. She raised her eyes and looked over at Will, his profile illuminated and then darkened as they drove. He had a good face, a strong jawline that gave him a chiseled look, even at the young age of twenty-two. Long eyelashes fringed warm brown eyes that were like pools of melted chocolate.
Sitting in the passenger seat, Charlie knew that Will could be dangerous. He was handsome and smart—not to mention charming. And he could easily be someone that Charlie fell for. Young and innocent, she knew she was no match for someone as worldly as he was—and an unguarded heart could easily be broken.
It had been eighteen years since that date, a date that had led to a whirlwind courtship and the big, poufy white dress. Charlie had never expected to fall so hard so fast, but Will had broken down her walls. And while her friends had warned her that she was too young, she’d jumped in with both feet and trusted that she wouldn’t get hurt.
Once the honeymoon phase had ended, life settled into routine. They met bumps along the way, hitting points where it sometimes seemed they hardly knew one another. But they worked through it. They always had. Until now.
Charlie stared at herself in the mirror. There were lines at the corners of her eyes and wrinkles that she tried to chase away with various lotions and potions. Still, they were there for a reason, little markers of a life well lived. Now thirty-eight, she was approaching the point when so many of her friends had gone into crisis mode, unable to admit to themselves that they weren’t as young as they once were. She still felt young enough, though. Except days like this—days when the arguments seemed to overwhelm the good times. Yes, they’d had challenges throughout their marriage, things that made her wonder sometimes if she had still been too naïve and innocent when they’d gotten married. But she’d always come back to how much she loved him—and how much he loved her.
And then one day seemed to change it all, one single day when all their hopes had been torn to tatters. They’d been so excited when the doctor had told them that they were finally—finally—pregnant. Maybe it had been their own faults—they’d waited so long to even try. And despite being past the age of thirty-five, a “geriatric” pregnancy would come with challenges and risks, they had still decided to try.
Four months of bliss had turned into heartbreak when the ultrasound showed no heartbeat where one had been. Charlie sighed, remembering as she ran her hand over her flat stomach. Today would have been their baby’s birthday. We didn’t guard our hearts.
Her heart was breaking. And despite the fact that neither of them could talk about how much they were hurting, she knew Will was in as much pain as she was. The hurt in his eyes matched hers, but they could never seem to speak to one another without blame. Sometimes it seemed there were so many reasons to give up now, a year after they’d lost their baby—and, along with it, their hope. They’d lost who they were to each other in all of this, as well.
Charlie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. God, I still love him. This can’t be over. Why can’t we talk anymore?
“I like talking to you, Charlie.” She could hear Will’s voice saying those words, all those years ago.
She opened her eyes and saw Will staring at her in the reflection of the mirror. There was concern etched on his face.
“Talk to me, Charlie,” he said. And suddenly she could see that face, that young man he had been, sitting in the truck with her. But now there were tears in those pools of melted chocolate. He crossed the room and took her hand in his and kissed it. “Please don’t give up on us.”