“But…” Jessica draws in a deep breath and, as I watch, she pulls a folder out of her bag. It’s a simple manilla folder, shut loosely with a paperclip. She throws it on the table between us. “I want a clear slate. Maybe it’s selfish to ask that, but can we at least try?”
“What is that?” I ask.
She gives me a small smile. “Those are the notes I stole from Alex three years ago. I took pictures of everything he had found and printed them out so I could look over them. I kept them all these years. Maybe I thought I’d need them one day.”
I think of my own folder of notes, the chains that have kept me trapped for so long.
“I don’t need them anymore,” she says. “I don’t want them anymore. I still don’t know everything. But I think I know enough.”
She sweeps the folder off the table. For a moment, I’m terrified that she’ll open it. I don’t want to see the evidence that Alex found.
Then she strides over to the trash can and throws it inside.
“Before I leave, I’m taking that straight outside,” she tells me. “This thing doesn’t need to exist anymore. It’s garbage.”
I stare at her. My heart feels strangely light. What she just did… Laughter bubbles up in me. I don’t know if she realizes just what that meant to me.
“Thanks,” I manage to say.
She turns around. “I don’t know if I can make anything better, Grant. I know I’ve messed up. But…I still love you.” Her smile turns soft. “I never stopped loving you. I’m not asking you to trust me in return. But I want things to be better between us somehow. I want to be a family with Owen and I want us to be able to be in the same room, and talk and smile with each other, even if it’s only as friends. Can we have that?”
There’s only one answer to that, the only answer that my heart is singing.
“Yes,” I say, smiling slightly. “We can.”
A smile widens across Jessica’s face. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized just why I was here. Underneath all the hurt and the still healing unhappiness, this is what I want. I need Jessica like I need to breathe. Whatever it takes, I want to work this out if only so she’ll be at my side.
When Ethan asked me, earlier, if I can bear not having Jessica in my life, I din’t known the answer. But I did as he begged me to and really, really thought about it. What would it be like if Jessica was no longer around?
I try to imagine it. But I can’t. Jessica and I were together for two and a half years before she left abruptly. For three years, she’s been a shadow in my mind. In over five years, there has barely been a moment that she didn’t occupy my thoughts.
And I realize that Ethan was right. Jessica has always been with me. I didn’t spend three years without her. I spent three years waiting and hoping that she would one day come back.
Then she did. Somehow, miraculously, she returned, and she brought with her our son and the truth she was no longer afraid to give me. Now, right in front of me, she’s discarding that past. I stare at the folder in the can and think of my own folder.
Jessica is discarding that part of our past. It isn’t going to go away, unfortunately, but it means we can start again without something like this hanging over it. She’s never going to see those notes again and wonder about them.
I spy my folder. I never returned it to my room, just tossed it onto a dark corner of the kitchen counter. Slowly, I walk over and retrieve it.
“What’s that?” Jessica asks.
“My past,” I say with a small smile.
Comprehension washes over her face. It’s the folder that started all this. I hold onto it. I haven’t wanted this for a long time. But I’ve needed it, almost as though I’ve wanted to constantly remind myself of everything that went wrong.
But, suddenly, I don’t need it anymore.
Before I can question myself on the wisdom of this, I drop the folder into the can with Jessica’s. It drops with a satisfying thump, and I realize that I’m trembling, barely daring to believe that I just did that. It’s terrifying to lose a part of my life that I’ve clung to so fiercely.
On the other hand, I feel so free.
“Grant?” Jessica asks.
I look up at her with clear eyes. And, finally, the truth tumbles out of me. It’s the last thing that’s remained unsaid.