The next day Olivia woke up nursing the second worst headache of all times in less than a month, and that was including her twenty-fifth birthday party and her bellybutton ring. It took at least three cups of coffee to get her out of the house and functioning at a semi-normal level. Even Emilia seamed dreary and offered no morning banter on their ride to school. She gazed outside the window the entire time.
The constant banging inside her head had less to do with the wine they’d drank between Tracy and herself, and more with the flow of emotions, tears mostly, as a nostalgic drunk Tracy had thanked Olivia for her friendship and for her help with the wedding. Whereas Olivia told her she was happy she had found a good man to spend her life with.
Surprisingly enough, Emilia ended up joining in on the crying and had admitted that despite the fact that her stay here was temporal, Olivia had made everything go by smoother and less painfully. And that she, too, would’ve wished they’d met before her terrible accident.
So of course, not only had Olivia cried on the outside, but she’d done on the inside as well. Honestly, it had taken a lot of self-convincing not to call in sick and miss work.
Unfortunately, news of her weekend with Michael had traveled fast. It took a great deal of control not to groan out loud the second Camie entered the classroom five minutes before their class was about to start. The radiant face that greeted Olivia was enough to make her wince inwardly and want to cradle her head between her hands. She tried to adopt her most professional, cool Ms. B posture when Camie reached her desk.
“Hey, Ms. B.” Camie all but bounced in her spot. Her excitement was such, she failed to notice the dark circles under Olivia’s eyes or the way she almost snapped the pencil she’d been holding in one hand.
“Hi, Camie. How are you?”
“Fine! I just wanted to tell you I’ve already started working on my final paper.”
“I……that’s great. Smart of you not to leave it for the last minute.”
“I know. Besides uncle Michael took me to the public library and he was like so helpful. He is just so happy he didn’t mind hanging for an hour with me.”
“It’s good he took you. But you know we have great material here at the school’s library.”
Who was Olivia kidding? Even if her voice came out steady, her hands had started to shake and her heart rate to accelerate at the sole mention of Michael. Looming in the back of her mind like a dark cloud, was a task she’d left abandoned, which was to sit down and think about what she was going to do about him.
Right at that moment, Olivia’s Iphone beeped. As she took it out she saw it was a text from Michael and hated the flutter she felt inside her stomach. Did these two have psychic powers or something? Her finger slid on the screen and she read Michael’s long message.
Dear Olivia. Sorry I haven’t called or anything. Remember those temperamental architects I was telling u about? Almost strangled one and got locked up for murder. Have u seen Camie? Took her to the library. First time she was excited about a school paper. Such a suck up.
Before she could debate whether to text back a reply or not, another text came:
Missed you. I know ur @ work so I’ll call later. We need to see each other.
Olivia knew that what Michael had really meant to say was.
“We need to talk about what happened this weekend.” With a nervous jerk she thrust the phone inside her bag and turned to look at Camie. By the look on her face, it was obvious the teenage girl suspected whom that text had been from.
By the time she was pulling onto her street later that afternoon, Olivia had in mind a hot shower, a nice bowl of mac and cheese and probably an overdose of aspirin to chase away the remnants of her headache. Maybe she could curl up on her living room couch and combine her book club book with one of her more academically oriented ones.
Emilia had been droning on and on about how she’d known how to solve every math problem Mr. Chapman had given his class today when she abruptly said.
Totally baffled at her widened blue eyes, Olivia followed her stare and felt her stomach drop all the way to her knees. Noah’s grey Malibu was parked a few paces away from her driveway entrance. Noah stood leaned against the car, one of his hands holding a cup of coffee while the other remained tucked away inside his long black coat.
Olivia winced as she noticed the hardened lines carved on his face and the way his eyes studied her warily.
I forgot he was coming back today.
“I can see that. Well, you might as well get out of the car, he’ll think you’re still mad at him or something.”
Olivia got down. Her legs felt like lead as she moved to where Noah was. They stood in an awkward silence before Noah pulled her into his arms. His familiar scent made her realize how much she’d missed him, despite all. But the memory of a different pair of arms around her body had her jerking back and kissing him quickly on the mouth.
“We should go inside. It’s cold.”
If Olivia hadn’t been to eager to get to the door, she would’ve caught Noah’s eyes cloud with what was unmistakably doubt. Emilia did notice but decided not to tell Olivia. Something told her Olivia was about to make either the biggest mistake of her life or a life changing decision.
Without waiting to see if Noah followed her, Olivia opened the door and dashed to the kitchen where she began taking out the pasta and the rest of the ingredients to make dinner. It was probably stupid and it would tip off Noah that something was wrong. But she needed to distract herself and not fret about what she thought she had more time to decide upon.
Noah’s hand on her shoulder made her jump. At Noah’s sigh, Olivia closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
I am not handling this well, at all.
“No really, you think? You need to relax. You’re acting weird and he’ll think there’s something wrong.”
That’s because there is!
“So you say.”
Leave it to Emilia to dismiss the seriousness of the situation with a wave of her hand.
“Ollie? Why don’t you leave that for a while? We need to talk.” Noah’s tone was far too serious for Olivia’s comfort.
He guided her to one of the dinning room chairs. He pulled one for himself and sat. His hands went for Olivia’s and for the first time she realized he looked nervous, almost like he too wished he were somewhere else but here with her.
“I know things have been difficult between us these past few days.”
“No, wait. I’ve been thinking about what you said last Friday. You are right. For two people who’ve been together for this long, the subject of marriage must’ve come up before.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Olivia, I think I am ready.”
Oh God……The entire room began to spin rapidly out of control.
“Oh. My. God. Is he going to….” Emilia trailed off at Olivia’s paled expression.
I don’t know. She swallowed the bitter taste of panic and nerves as she inquired in a raspy voice. “Ready for….?”
“For us to talk about getting married. I thought really hard about this and I’m thinking three years.”
She shook her head, confused.
“For us to be ready. We can start saving money starting next year. Then we can buy a house the year after that and once we begin buying stuff for the place, we can plan our wedding. What do you say?”
“What?” Emilia’ bellowed. “Is that the best he can do? You know he’s just stalling don’t you Olivia?”
Emilia sprang, furious into Olivia’s line of sight. But the history teacher just stood there blinking in puzzlement at Noah.
“I…….didn’t see that coming.”
“I know I haven’t been too keen on the idea but if it is what you think is next for us, then we can make it work.”
“What you think is best? So he’s just going to humor you? It’s not like you’re asking him to watch a movie he doesn’t want to see. This is the rest of your lives. You can’t seriously agree with this bullshit.”
Emilia just shut up! I need to think.
“I can’t believe it! You’re actually considering this?”
“Olivia?” At the mention of her name, Olivia managed to focus again on Noah’s face. And she couldn’t help but see the boy she fell for back in high school. Some things had changed, though. His face was less fuller and the lines of his cheekbones were more accentuated. It gave him an edge of maturity but it was at the same time the face of a man who would be there for her no matter what. A friendly face. His eyes weren’t as expressive but they were enough to comfort her, to make her feel safe, protected.
It was those same eyes that told her Emilia was wrong. This wasn’t Noah stalling but him making a compromise and assuring her he would keep his word. That was Noah. He never backed away from a promise. Which was why they’d survived all these years. He’d made a promise to her after the first time they slept together: I promise you we’ll stay together. And here they were. It was up to her to honor that promise as well.
So maybe three years wasn’t what Olivia had first envisioned but life wasn’t always about what you wanted. Sometimes you had to reach a middle ground and take it one step at a time. And she’d been waiting for Noah to talk about getting married and here he was, offering a solution to the tension that had stained their long relationship these past weeks.
They had something to work for now. To look forward. It was the next step for them and hearing Noah admit as much, was all Olivia needed to make up her mind.
“I want to be with you. And I, too, hate the way we’ve distanced ourselves lately. And I agree, three years is time enough for us to be ready.”
“What the hell are you doing?”
Emilia couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense. If this is what Olivia wanted then why was she still here? Was this some sort of punishment to show her she’d been wrong and she should’ve taken up Sam’s similar offer? After all, he’d been ready to discuss their own marriage plans after he came back. Maybe Emilia couldn’t move on before she accepted her mistake. Maybe it wasn’t Olivia who would learn something from the other woman but the other way around. A lesson that maybe if she’d waited for Sam, they would’ve been happy, too.
I am making a choice. I want this.
But Olivia’s lack of conviction in her words caused Emilia to ball her hands into fists and storm out of the dinning room and disappear through the kitchen’s basement door.