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Chapter VII. Part II
I walk back to Westlake Center and sit on a bench, numbly watching the passersby. A child with a yellow balloon skips past, a few paces behind his mother. An older couple with matching white hair hold hands as they take slow steps across the brick cobblestones.
I pull my phone from my purse and call my grandma. She met Cade once, when she and Grandpa flew to Seattle to visit. They loved him, and he them. “Marry this one,” Grandma whispered to me the night after our dinner at the Space Needle, which Grandpa had last visited in the 1960s at the World’s Fair. I was always grateful that he got to see it once more before his heart attack. And always grateful that he got to meet Cade.
“Oh, honey, I’ve missed you,” Grandma says. She’s always seemed young to me. In fact, when I was in school, she often passed as a mom who had children later in life. People rarely thought of her as my grandmother. But now her voice sounds weak and unsteady, and it troubles me.
“Grandma,” I say, unable to stop the tears from coming.
“What is it, love?” she asks tenderly. I’m at once eleven years old again, in the old Craftsman in Iowa, lying on my stomach in the room my mother grew up in, on that old red-and-blue quilt with loops of soft white yarn in every corner. Grandma is patting my back and I can taste the salt of my tears as they find their way down my freckle-dusted cheeks to the corners of my mouth. A batch of chocolate-chip cookies is baking, and the comforting smell of butter and sugar wafts in the air.
“It’s Cade,” I say.
“Your old boyfriend? I thought he’d…”
“Disappeared? Left the country? I did too. But he’s here, Grandma. He’s here in Seattle. And he’s…homeless. I saw him yesterday and today, bearded and skinny.”
“Oh dear,” she says.
“And his best friend won’t help him,” I continue. “I just went to see him.” I wipe away a tear. “Grandma, what am I supposed to do? I’m getting married soon. How am I supposed to deal with this?”
She’s silent for a moment as she always is when she’s gathering information, when she’s on the verge of saying something wise.
“He barely recognizes me,” I say. “He’s not himself. Something must have happened to him. Something awful. I know it.”
“But he’s out there,” she says. “Your guy is out there.”
I shake my head. I know her memory has faded in the past years. Perhaps she’s forgotten momentarily that I’m engaged to Ryan. “Grandma, he’s not my guy anymore. Ryan is. I’m marrying Ryan. Cade left so long ago. I never knew why. I had to mourn him. I had to move on. And I did. I finally did.”
She’s miles away, but I can see Grandma’s face in my mind’s eye: soft and freshly powdered, kind pastel-blue eyes, skin that smells of rose soap.
She’s silent, as if considering what I’ve just told her, remembering the man I pledged myself to, back when the door to the past was closed, when things were simpler.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Maybe you don’t now,” she says. “But in time, you will.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your heart will guide you, dear,” she says.
“I don’t know,” I say, discouraged.
“It’s okay not to know,” she continues. “Your path is not an easy one.”
“I love Ryan,” I say. “I really do, Grandma. I want to marry him. I want a life with him.”
“Yes,” she says. “And you may very well have that. But you must sort out your past first, and that means facing it head-on.”
“Yes,” I say. “You’re right.”
“Sweetheart,” Grandma adds, “no matter what has happened or will happen, one thing is certain.”
“You told me that Cade saved your life once,” she continues.
“Yes,” I mutter. Her words ping my heart, twisting like an acupuncturist’s needle in a way that hurts as much as it feels good and right.
“Now it’s your turn to save his.”
Chapter VIII. Part I
JUNE 21, 1996
“For you,” Cade says, standing in the doorway of my apartment.
“They’re beautiful,” I say, receiving the large bouquet of flowers from Pike Place Market. Tulips, hydrangeas, and stock wrapped in white paper. I press my nose to a lavender-colored blossom, which makes me think of home. Stock was always my Grandma’s favorite flower — her garden was lined with white and pink varieties. On warm summer mornings, their soft floral scent would waft into my bedroom window.
“Nice apartment,” Cade says, looking around.
“It’s not much,” I say. “But it does have a killer view, and Tracy’s a great roommate. We each have an uncanny ability to know when the other person needs her space. She’s at her boyfriend’s house tonight.” I smile. “Are you hungry?”
“Starving,” he says.
“Good,” I say, glancing at the clock. “Dinner won’t be ready until about five of eight. I hope that’s okay.”
He grins at me.
“I like the way you speak.”
“The way I speak?”
His smile widens. “Five of eight. No one ever says that kind of thing.”
“Oh,” I say with a grin. “Well, when you’re raised by your grandparents, you do. Dinner was ‘supper,’ the couch was a ‘davenport.’ ” I laugh. “I can go on and on.”
“It’s cute,” Cade says.
“Well,” I reply, opening the oven to have a peek, “it’s less cute when you say ‘Oh fiddlesticks’ on the playground in the sixth grade and every kid in school teases you about it for the rest of the year.”
He looks amused. “Oh fiddlesticks,’ huh?”
He takes off his jacket and hangs it on a hook by the door. I select a few leaves of basil from the fridge as Cade nestles into a chair at the table, and suddenly I feel ill-prepared to pull off this meal. What if I oversalted the meat? Is the romaine in the salad a bit wilted?
I realize that I’ve forgotten to pour the wine. “Here,” I say, reaching for a bottle of Bordeaux. “I’m not sure how good this is. It was a gift.”
He eyes the label confidently. “I guess we’ll find out.”
I find a corkscrew and do my best to carefully wind it into the bottle, but when I tug it upward, the cork cracks and then breaks. “Darn,” I say, stepping back. “I think I messed this one up.”
“I can fix it,” he says. “Any chance you have a toothpick?”
“Yeah,” he says. “My aunt taught me the trick to salvaging any cork conundrum.”
I smile, digging through the utensil drawer until I find a box of toothpicks, left over from Tracy’s failed attempt at making mini-meatballs for a party last month. I hand him the box.
“Great,” he says, getting to work. “So here’s how you do it: While the corkscrew is still in, you wedge in a toothpick at a forty-five-degree angle.” His hands work with expert precision. “You tug at the corkscrew really carefully, and then” — he lifts the cork, miraculously intact, out of the bottle — “voilà.”
“Amazing,” I say with a smile, pouring two glasses and handing him one.
He holds the glass to his ear. “This is a good wine.”
“Are you listening to it?” I ask, a little confused.
“Yeah,” he says. “I know nothing about wine. But one of my friends who works in the industry told me that a good wine, especially a French red, will crackle a little after it’s poured.”
I hold the glass up to my ear and smile. “You know, I can actually hear it,” I say. “I never in my life knew there was such a thing as that.”
“Snap, crackle, pop…grenache blend.”
He winks. “Stick with me, kid, and I’ll keep you in stitches.”
I grin, pulling two dinner plates from the cupboard. Part of me thinks: Who is this guy, and, more pressingly, who does he think he is? And another part of me wonders where he’s been all my life.
Cade takes a sip of his wine and walks to the window. “I never get tired of watching the ferries,” I say. “They each have personalities, you know.”
He turns to me and grins. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” I say, pointing to the vessel streaming through the water at a slug’s pace ahead. “That’s Bertha,” I say. “She’s bossy.”
Cade chuckles. “Oh, is she?”
“Maeve is sweet,” I say, squinting to make out another ferry in the distance. “And Eleanor is sassy.”
Cade looks at me as if I’ve said something either hilarious or bizarre, or both.
He makes me want to confide in him. “I love Puget Sound. The salt water, the seagulls, the islands.”
“I do too,” Cade says. “I don’t know that I could be happy without saltwater nearby.”
“Me too,” I say.
“Let’s go to the island sometime.”
“Would you want to?”
“Sure,” he says. “Let’s make a day of it. Ferry, beach, dinner — the works.”
“Okay,” I say, smiling, topping off each of our glasses. I flip on the radio, and a band I don’t recognize is playing.
Cade rolls his eyes. “Soulstreet Underground,” he says. “We signed them to Element two years ago, and they’ve been the most difficult artists to work with.” He rubs his forehead.
“Their tour bus wasn’t big enough. Their album cover took eleven thousand go-rounds to get right. The lead singer refuses to perform unless a certain type of bottled water from France is waiting for him before a show. That kind of stuff.”
I shake my head. “Seriously?”
He shrugs. “It’s bad. And then we found out that someone from SNL was a fan, and they were this close to being booked for one of the spring shows last year, but the lead singer claimed he hated SNL, so that fell through.”
I throw up my arms. “Who hates SNL?”
“Right? Anyway, the music business is filled with big personalities,” he says. “It was one part of the job I didn’t bargain for. I’m in it for the music, not the drama.” He takes a long sip of wine. “James handles most of it. He doesn’t let it get to him the way it gets to me.”
“So you’re more of the visionary and he’s the operations guy?”
“I guess you could say that,” he says. “I’ll introduce you to him sometime.”
“I’d like that,” I say with a smile, just as the smoke alarm begins to sound. I rush to the oven, where smoke is billowing out of the door. “Oh no!”
Cade leaps up and attempts to disarm the smoke alarm, but after a few tries it continues to let out an ear-piercing sound. “Damn, this thing is wired in.”
“Can you just yank it out?” I ask, reaching for an oven mitt, then pulling our now-charred dinner out of the oven.
“Should I?” he asks, laughing.
“Anything to make that sound stop,” I say, fanning the smoke away before opening the window and letting in some fresh air.
“Okay,” he says. “Here goes.” With a single tug, he breaks the smoke alarm free from its place in the wall. Severed wires dangle from the ceiling. We look at each other and laugh.
“Sorry,” I say.
“And you call yourself a food enthusiast,” he jokes.
“It was going to be good, too,” I say. “Melanzane.”
He closes his eyes and places his hand on his heart dramatically. “Don’t torture me with what might have been.”
The smoke alarm suddenly lets out a single chirp from where it sits on the kitchen counter.
“I thought we killed this thing,” Cade says.
We both hover over the device as if it quite possibly has a brain of its own.
“It’s not even battery-powered,” I say.
Cade nods. “It could be an alien.”
It chirps again, and we both laugh.
“Maybe it’s like when someone loses a limb, but they can still feel the pain.”
“A phantom limb,” Cade says.
I nod. “A phantom chirp.”
“You’re funny,” he says, chuckling.
“How do we get rid of this thing?”
He looks around. “We could stuff it under the couch cushions.”
“Or put it out in the hallway,” I say.
We laugh again, and I pause to mourn our dinner, then shake my head. “I promise, I really can cook.”
He surveys the seared disaster in the nine-by-eleven dish on the stove. “Sure you can,” he says teasingly before taking my hand. “Hey, why don’t we just go out for Thai.”
“Okay,” I say with a laugh.
As I slip on a sweater and sling my purse over my shoulder, he grabs his coat and the chirping smoke alarm. “We have a nice home for you, little fella,” he says. “And it’s called a dumpster.”