Emily is somewhere between Birmingham and Los Angeles by now. She was leaving on a plane around 7 p.m., because she’s moving back to California to marry a guy she went to high school with. Seeing me was one of the last things she did before she left town.
I can’t remember exactly when I met Emily. Six or eight years ago? Something like that. She had moved here to be with a guy she had met online while she was in college. They were in the last stages of their relationship by the time I met her. She worked at a store near my house and we used to talk a lot.
We would meet at the cafe of a book store near her job from time to time. We talked about books and ideas and love and life. She was bright and funny. We texted and emailed quite a bit. But I hadn’t seen her for something like four or five years — until today.
She emailed me Thursday night and asked if she could see me before she left town today. I didn’t know she was moving or getting married — and I had no idea why she wanted to see me.
When I saw Emily at lunch, I was struck again by how beautiful she is. As a tall, blue-eyed blonde, she’s the stereotype of the California girl she is. When she greeted me, she hugged me tightly — for long enough that I wasn’t sure she was going to let go.
She seemed oddly nervous, so I just started asking her questions about what’s been going on for her and why she was moving. She wasn’t interested in telling me about the man to whom she’s engaged. It seemed odd.
Finally, she said, “I have something for you.”
She reached into her purse and pulled something out, but she kept it in her hand, so I couldn’t tell exactly what it was. It just looked like something small and silver-colored.
She told me there was something she had wanted to tell me. She said she hadn’t planned to ever tell me, but as she was sorting through the last of her things this week before moving, she came across something that she knew she needed to get rid of — and she had decided to give it to me as a memento and a confession.
Emily explained that she had fallen in love with me back when I used to talk with her a lot. She said she tried to hint around at her interest, but she couldn’t bring herself to be more open about it. She said it was right after she and the other guy had broken up, so she was afraid I would think it was just emotion born of wanting a rebound.
On a whim, she bought a little locket at Target — a cheap trinket designed for a little girl, no doubt — and put a picture of me in there. (It was an old profile picture from Facebook.) She said she couldn’t talk to anybody about how she felt about me, but in that period when we were starting to talk more — and she was getting over the ugly breakup with the old boyfriend — she often talked to “me” in the locket for hours.
And now, she said, she was leaving and getting married, so it wasn’t a thing she needed to keep anymore. How would she explain such a thing if her husband-to-be found it? But instead of throwing it away, she was leaving it with me.
I asked her why she had never told me of her interest. She reminded me that I had fallen in love with someone else right as she and I had been talking more and more, so she didn’t want to compete with someone I seemed to be so crazy about. And then I had moved and we drifted away from seeing each other.
There wasn’t much I could say. I just thanked her for sharing her secret with me. I told her — honestly — that it was very flattering to have a woman like her think I was worth pursuing. And I told her I hope she will be happy as she moves back home and marries someone she knew before college — someone she had reconnected with on a trip home.
“I hope so, too,” she said quietly, but there was no joy or hope in her voice. I thought it was best if I didn’t ask more.
And then we parted ways for the last time.
Emily is somewhere in the sky over Louisiana or Texas by now. I doubt I’ll ever see her again. And I’m left wondering — again — why we can be so blind — until it’s too late to matter — to someone who actually wants our love.