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Ryan’s parents talked of us joining them for Thanksgiving in North Carolina, but thankfully Ryan’s work schedule won’t allow for that this year. In some ways, it was nice to have them in the house with us. Their presence gave me an excuse not to confront the truth, and Ryan an excuse not to bring it up again. But it lingered, this truth that I am not ready to face.
“I’ll be back from Portland on Friday. I’m sorry we’ll be spending Thanksgiving apart,” Ryan says on this Monday morning, suitcase in hand. He pauses, giving me space to say something, anything.
I clear my throat. “Ryan?”
He nods and takes a step closer.
My mind reels. I have to tell him about Cade. I have to tell him everything. “There’s something I need to”
I’m immediately silenced by the sound of Ryan’s cell ringing in his pocket. “Sorry,” he says, glancing at the screen. “It’s my boss. I have to take this.”
I nod and roll over, then pretend to be asleep when he kisses my cheek a few minutes later.
Tracy calls later that morning as I’m walking Eddie. “Did you die?”
“Sorry,” I say. “Ryan’s parents were visiting. And…I’ve been really lost.”
“Because of his wacky mother?”
“No, I mean, yes, but not really that,” I say with a sigh. “It’s just…everything.” I kick a pebble on the sidewalk as Eddie sniffs around in the nearby grass. “I am caught in a horrible place. I haven’t told Ryan about Cade. And then…” I tell her about the scene outside the restaurant the other night, how I denied knowing Cade. How I walked away and left him there.
“Oh, honey,” she says. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. What else were you supposed to do? Have a confrontation with Ryan’s parents right there? Embarrass Ryan? You did what you had to do. And I know how much it hurt.”
“I don’t care about me,” I say. “I just worry that I ruined whatever seed of trust I was building with Cade. Trace, I’m worried that I’ve lost him.”
“I checked your horoscope this morning,” Tracy says. “There’s no way you’ve lost him. In fact, something tells me you’re about to find him.”
I spend the morning at the office, answering emails, giving the latest article in the series another read-through. And then, with Jan’s words ringing in my ears, I open up a blank Word document and type at the top of the page, “The Faces of Homelessness.”
The words flow from there, and I don’t censor them.
In the late nineties, Seattle knew Cade McAllister as a successful music executive. Today he is homeless.
As I write more, I can see Cade in my mind’s eye, the Cade of long ago, with his beloved bottle of Tabasco and the world at his fingertips. The image haunts me. So does the image of him looking at me on the sidewalk the other night, so scared and lost. And the image of me walking away from him.
I turn from my computer to see Jan in the doorway.
“Glad to see you writing,” she says.
I sigh. “I don’t know what else to do, Jan.”
She nods. “Yes, you do.” She’s resolute and sure. “And, I’m giving you an assignment for todaywell, for the week. An important one.” She dabs a napkin to my cheek, whisking away fresh tears. “Go find Cade. Bring him home. Nurse him back to health. Help him find his way, and in the process you’ll find yours.”
“No buts,” she says. “This is an assignment. And I want you to write about it.”
I crack a smile.
“And don’t think I’m giving you preferential treatment,” she says in her best boss voice. “If you don’t turn in good copy, I’ll put you back on the city council beat.”
“Now go find him.”
I park my car on the street in front of Le Marche and set out to find Cade. I look everywhere, just as I did last week. Westlake Center. All along Fourth, and Fifth, then back down to Second. Shelters. Parks. I even lift a blanket off a man’s face on a park bench, but the figure beneath is not Cade.
Hours pass like minutes, and before I know it, it’s after six and people in suits are filing out of office buildings and into restaurants and bars.
When the sun sets, I tearfully decide to return to my car. I sigh and insert my key into the ignition, flipping on the radio. As I merge into traffic, the hair on my arms stands on end. Mazzy Star. “Fade into You.” I turn up the volume and my eyes fill with fresh tears. When I pass the entrance to I-5, I keep going, as if my car is on autopilot. And instead of driving home, I drive to the place my heart wants to go: that ivy-covered brick building in Pioneer Square.
I pull the car over and get out without bothering to turn off my headlights. They shine into the dark street like a spotlight on my past. Cade’s old door is straight ahead. At once I am twenty-five again. We are walking hand in hand, coming home from a show. He’s whispering something funny in my ear, and I throw back my head and laugh. And then we arrive at his door, and he presses me up against that brick wall and kisses me with the fire of every star in the sky.
I blink back tears, remembering every detail of what happened, and what didn’t happen. The life we might have had. The future that was robbed from us.
I kiss my hand, then press it to the door as I take a step back. How do you say goodbye to a dream you still wish were true?
I hear the shuffle of footsteps in the nearby alley and decide to head back to my car. As I slowly drive away, I take a final glance back, and a shadow in the rearview mirror catches my eye. I brake and roll down the passenger window to try to get a better look, then put the car in reverse.
It’s him. He stands on the corner, looking right, then left.
I slam on my brakes and turn the engine off. “Cade!” I cry, jumping out of the car.
He looks up. He sees me.
“Cade,” I say again. “It’s me.”
He looks away, but I reach for his hand, and when I do, his eyes meet mine.
“I’m here,” I say. “And I’m not going to leave you again. I promise.” I pull him toward me into an embrace, and we stand like that for what seems like an eternity. And maybe it is. I’m not sure.
“Come with me,” I say, taking his hand and leading him across the street. I open the door to my car. “I’m taking you home.”
“My grandma’s going to love you,” I say.
Cade grins. “And what about your grandpa? I’m more worried about him.”
“He’s old-fashioned,” I say proudly. “So as long as he feels like you respect him, you’ll be golden. He was in the army.”
“And he loves his granddaughter.”
I smile. “He does. He’s been a true father to me.”
“He’s protective, as he should be,” Cade says, kissing my cheek. “And I’m completely honored that you want me to meet them.”
“It’s a big deal that they’re coming,” I say. “Grandma’s afraid of flying.” I look at my watch. “They’ll be here in an hour!”
He squeezes my hand. “Hey, sorry again about last night.”
Work stress got the better of him. He snapped at me for no reason. It hurt, but I tried to let it roll off my back, knowing that hadn’t been his intention. It wasn’t our first fight, and it wouldn’t be our last. I’d be foolish to believe that there won’t be more lovers’ quarrels in our future. Hundreds of them, maybe. And probably more. But there will be makeups, too. And the makeups are electric.
We take Cade’s car to the airport to pick them up, and when I see them standing on the curb beside the Delta Air Lines sign, I wave and Cade pulls over. I leap out of the car and wrap one arm around each of them, blinking back tears.
“Kailey,” Grandma says. “You look beautiful.”
“There’s my girl,” Grandpa chimes in. It’s been only a year since I’ve seen him, but he looks much older than I recall, and it pains me to see him struggle with his luggage.
Cade idles the engine and steps out. “Welcome to Seattle,” he says, extending his hand to my grandfather, who eyes him skeptically.
Grandma hugs him, like she’d hug any of my friends. “We’re so happy to meet you,” she says warmly.
Cade takes her bag, but Grandpa doesn’t relinquish his. Instead he stubbornly lifts it into the trunk. I give him the front seat, and Grandma and I take the back. She tucks her arm in mine, and I feel like I am nine again, pigtailed, with cherry ChapStick on my lips.
“Are you hungry?” Cade asks as we merge into traffic.
“Gerry ate on the plane,” Grandma says. “But I could use a bite.”
“Do you like Mexican?” Cade asks.
“We sure do,” Grandma replies, giving me an approving smile.
“Great,” Cade says. “I know just the place.”
Grandpa sits in silence while Grandma is abuzz with conversation. Does Cade have any family in Seattle? Has he always been interested in music?
At a little spot we both love on Lake Union called Agua Verde, we settle into a table by the window. Kayakers glide by on the lake as we dip our chips into green salsa.
“I’ve always loved this place. The food is authentic Mexico, but the setting is pure Seattle,” Cade says, ordering a round of margaritas for the table. Grandpa’s face seems to brighten.
“You say the word always like a Midwesterner,” Grandma says.
Cade smiles. “Do I? No one’s ever told me that.”
Grandma nods. “Kailey’s mother, Lucinda, was born in Alton, Illinois. She only spent her first six years there, but she never lost that touch of the Midwest in her words. Somehow Kailey didn’t pick up the dialect. You always know by the way someone says the word always.”
I smile, saying the word aloud. Cade repeats it, too. “You know, you do say that word differently. It’s almost like you’re saying ‘all-was.’ ”
“Yeah,” I say. “Say it again.”
“All-was,” he says.
Grandma smiles as the margaritas arrive. “You still wear your necklace,” she says, pointing to my locket. “I assume Cade knows the story.”
I feel Cade’s hand on my leg under the table. He’s reassuring me that while he knows the story behind the necklace, he’ll never worry my grandparents by telling them about the day when I almost lost the locketthe day all three of them almost lost me.
“Yes, it was one of the first I told him,” I say, my cheeks feeling warm.
I open my necklace and let the tiny shard of green fall to my palm. “Grandpa said it was his lucky charm.”
“Wow,” Cade says. “That’s”
“I’ll never forget that beach,” Grandpa says, clearing his throat. “It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Rocky cliffs along the shore, with this sand that was”he pauses to recall the image“the color of amber. That beach was special. When I found the shell, I tucked it in my pocket. Its luck is why I dodged a land mine on the way back to camp. I kept that part of the story from Kailey when she was young.”
“That’s amazing,” Cade says, swallowing hard. “My father served in Vietnam. Marines. But he died. I…”
I squeeze Cade’s hand. “Cade lost both of his parents, too.”
“I’m sorry, son,” Grandpa says. And just like that, I can see that he likes him. There’s newfound acceptance in his eyes. I tuck the shell into my locket and lean back in my chair, watching the people I care most about in the world chat about big things and small over plates of Mexican food.
The week sails by, and though Cade is busy at the office, he spends as much time with us as possible, taking Grandpa and Grandma on a tour of Pike Place Market, to dinner at Wild Ginger and the Space Needle, and on a walk along the waterfront.
“They’re wonderful,” he says after we drop them off at the airport.
“And they adored you,” I say, weaving my fingers into his.
We stop at a little Italian place near his apartment for dinner, where we’re seated at a table with a red-and-white-checked tablecloth and a drippy white candle flickering from a Chianti bottle.
“Cheesy but charming,” I say. “Just my style.”
Cade nods and pours us each a glass of red wine from the carafe in front of us. The candlelight accentuates the dark circles under his eyes. He’s mentioned that things at the office have been rocky, but when I asked him about it yesterday, he brushed off my question. “Just the usual,” he said.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Just tired,” he says.
“What’s going on at Element?” I ask, reaching my hand across the table. “I know you hate to think you’re boring me with work stuff, but I promise, I want to know.”
He grimaces. “And spoil this beautiful night?”
“Nothing you say could spoil this night, Cade,” I assure him.
“Well,” he says, taking a big sip from his wineglass. “I blew it. I convinced James to sink fifty thousand into a new band, and they’ve tanked.”
“What do you mean, they tanked?”
He rubs his forehead, then takes another long sip of wine. “Their album, which we were over budget on to begin with, bombed. And now they want out of their contract but refuse to give us back the signing bonus.”
“That doesn’t sound legal,” I say.
“It’s not,” he replies. “But even so, these are losses the company has to eat.”
I nod. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I say. “You’ve had dozens of successes with the label. You’re allowed to strike out now and then.”
Cade shrugs. “James doesn’t see it that way. He’s a perfectionist.”
“And is he perfect?” I shake my head. “I don’t think so.”
“He promoted Alexis to head of business operations,” he continues.
“Alexis? She’s nice enough, but is she really qualified for the job?”
Cade shakes his head. “She may have a degree in accounting, but she knows nothing about music.”
“Cade, it’s your company, too,” I say. “Don’t let him railroad you.”
I can tell the conversation is wearing on him, and after the waiter takes our orders, I change the subject.
After dinner we step out to the street. It’s a warm night, and instead of cabbing back to Cade’s apartment, we decide to walk.
“Hey,” he says, suddenly perking up. “I know a band playing at the Crocodile tonight. Want to go?”
“Sure,” I say, loving his spontaneity.
Hand in hand, we wind up several blocks. Cade’s name is on the guest list, and we slip past the line of people waiting at the door.
He buys us each a double vodka soda, and we find our way to the stage. “These guys aren’t on a label yet,” he says.
“Who are they?” I ask.
“Death Cab for Cutie,” he says. “A little indie band from Bellingham. I saw them play a small venue a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to get their music out of my head. That’s when you know.” He takes a sip of his drink. “I’m trying to get James to agree to sign them. But it’s a losing battle.”