Time passed and somehow life moved on.
I hung out with Renee or Cady or Lawrie nearly every day. We signed up for orientation and bought all our dorm supplies and packed all our stuff.
And then suddenly the day was upon us. The summer was coming to an end and it was time to move out (or in, depending on how you looked at it). The whole family piled in two cars and we drove to college. They moved me in first (they being Dad, Lawrie, Garret and Madden; Mom and I watched and directed with Annabelle and Marybeth, who were more than showing now). My friend Cady Anderson was going to be my roommate, but she wasn’t coming until the next day, so I had free rein.
Lawrie was definitely easier to move in. His roomie, Andy Rucka (who was still going strong long-distance with Renee), was also moving in, and their tiny room was overrun with people.
Saying goodbye was surprisingly easy, probably because we knew our parents were only an hour and fifteen minutes away. (Mom definitely cried.)
Lawrie and I settled in pretty quickly. Life at school soon became the routine, but it was never boring. Within the first month, Cady landed a boyfriend with plenty of attractive friends, but I wasn’t ready. Not yet. Lawrie was still dating Della (who had turned out to me more than a flavor of the month after all) and I grew to like her a lot, so I often tagged along as a third wheel.
The hardest transition was trying to get used to nights by myself. Cady being there eased the situation, but I missed curling up in Lawrie’s bed. Sometimes I gave into the temptation and snuck into his dorm late at night.
I only saw Lane once, walking to the dining hall, but he didn’t see me and I couldn’t pull it together quick enough to catch him. I’m pretty sure I saw him from behind a few times, always alone, but I was never sure enough to approach him.
The first time Lawrie and I went home was fall break, and we didn’t make it back again until Thanksgiving. The family came up for a few football games, and they never complained much about us staying away. (I think Mom and Dad were enjoying being empty nesters a bit more than they let on.)
As soon as we got home a few days before Thanksgiving, I went over to Renee’s. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so I was staying the night to catch up. Our night ended at 3:00 a.m. with the fourth season of Friends.
We were still sleeping at 11:15 when my phone went off. Lawrie.
“Hello?” I mumbled.
“You need to get to the hospital.”
“Now.” He hung up.
A few seconds later my brain caught up and I shrieked.
“What’s going on?” Renee asked groggily.
“Marybeth’s having her baby!” I yelled, stepping into my shorts.
“Call me!” Renee yelled as I dashed out the door.
I got to the hospital in 17 minutes flat. I found Lawrie in a small waiting room, sitting in a chair with his eyes closed. He looked a little sick.
“Hey,” I greeted him.
His eyes fluttered. “Hey.”
“Mmhmm.” He wasn’t very convincing.
I laughed and went in Marybeth’s room.
Eleven hours later, I was no longer Emma Gray; I was Auntie Em. At 10:43 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving, my sister had a baby girl.
I was given the task of calling Annabelle and Madden in Denver.
Annabelle gave the appropriate “aw.” The baby was named after Garret’s mother JoAnn, and Marie came from Marybeth.
“I wish I could see her!” Annabelle whined. They were stuck in Denver until Annabelle had her babies. (Yes, babies. Turns out she was pregnant with twins.)
As soon as baby Johanna was back in Marybeth’s arms, Garret set up a laptop and we skyped Annabelle and Madden.
“Geez, Marybeth. Giving birth three weeks early just so you can be the first at everything,” Annabelle teased.
Not by much.
Three days later, we were on a plane to greet Ashton Michael and Tristan Maddox, my two new baby nephews.
I returned to college (a day late), an aunt three times over. Talk about something to give thanks for.
Lawrie and I decided to go back home that next weekend. It was the first time we’d been home for just a few days. Mom was super busy, driving back and forth to Marybeth’s, helping out with Johanna, and she sent Lawrie and me on all kinds of errands while she was gone.
I was on my way back from picking up Dad’s dry cleaning, but about five minutes from home, traffic stopped. I sat in my car for six long minutes before killing the engine and calling Lawrie.
“Can you turn on the news and figure out why the hell I’m still stuck here,” I said when he answered.
“Hello to you, too.”
“Lawrie, I’ve been sitting here forever and we haven’t moved an inch.”
“Calm down. Hold on.”
A few seconds later he relayed a story of a huge four car wreck about 200 feet from the entrance to our neighborhood.
“Great,” I sighed.
“Just turn around and come the back way. This isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.”
We hung up and I followed his advice. I hadn’t been the back way to our house for a while, but I easily remembered the route. It was the way we used to come whenever…
Whenever Lane wanted to go home.
I made the connection as his house came into view, and a split second later I made the impulsive decision to swing into the driveway. I stomped out of the car, full of courage, but I slowed before I got to the door.
Hesitantly, I knocked. I didn’t expect Lane to be home. I just wanted to see Mr. Addy, ask him how Lane was doing.
But when the door opened, it was to a familiar (faint) five o’clock shadow and gray-green eyes. Lane stopped short, a half-eaten apple in his hand. He looked the same. His hair was a little longer, but he looked the same.
“Hi,” I choked out. “I, um, I didn’t, I wasn’t expecting you to be home. I just, I was going to-“
I stopped myself and sighed, closing my eyes for a second.
“You were right,” I said.
I opened my eyes.
“Well, you were wrong. But you were right. Bear never tried to sleep with me, never once. But you were right. He’s not my type. Bear Williams will never be my type, Laney.”
I finished and stood there awkwardly for a few seconds before turning and leaving. By the time I reached the stop sign, I realized I was shaking.
Lane had never recovered from his initial shock at seeing me. He’d just stood there, eyes wide, apple halfway to his mouth. I watched through my rearview as he finally shut the door.
The rest of the weekend, I tried to forget about Lane. It was easy to distract myself, trying to run the household while Mom was busy with the new baby in the family, but I had nothing to distract me at night. I crawled into Lawrie’s bed, fully taking advantage of being home, but lying there with Lawrie just made me miss Lane even more.
That Monday, Cady surprised me.
She could tell that I was upset about something, but I refused to bore her with the whole Lane saga. It would blow over faster if nobody knew.
“You’re going on a date,” she told me as she walked in the door.
“Well, a double date. Sort of.” She sighed and sat down. “Connor and I are going to a concert on campus tonight. And you are, too. And so is Derek.”
I started to protest, but a smile was pulling at the edges of my mouth. Derek Brennan was cute. He was one of Connor, Cady’s boyfriend’s, best friends, so I’d been seeing a lot of him lately. He was gentlemanly but funny and quirky. He played guitar and had those nice shoulders I was so weak for. He was probably the only guy I didn’t mind Cady setting me up with.
But I couldn’t tell her that, of course.
“Cady!” I whined.
“Oh, give it up, Emma. We both know you’re into Derek Brennan.” She rolled her eyes at my smile.
I laughed and we quickly got ready.
At 6:15 exactly, Connor knocked on our door.
“You guys ready?” he asked, giving Cady a quick kiss as she opened the door.
“Two seconds,” Cady said, scrambling in the closet.
“Hey,” I said shyly as Derek slid in behind Connor.
He smiled. He looked good. A polo and khakis. Neat and trim.
We left when Cady finally found her jacket, and Derek and I followed an appropriate distance behind the happy couple. It was expectedly awkward; we both knew we’d been set up. We were making small talk as we left the building and I was beginning to warm up to him.
As we pushed through the double doors of the dorm, I stopped dead.
Lane Keaton in the flesh was glued to the ground 15 feet in front of me. His wide eyed expression must have mirrored my own.
But before I could think, process, move, he was in front of me.
Lane kissed me in a way that I’d never been kissed before (as clichéd as that sounds). It was slow and hard and passionate and gentle and a million other things that should never go together but did. He pulled back for air, but our hands had found each other and we were interlocked.
“I love you,” he breathed, his voice breaking. “I love you, Emma Gray Wilder.”
They were the first words he’d spoken to me since he’d called my name just before our first kiss, all the way back at the state championship game. The first words since that, “Em!” so many months ago.
And they couldn’t have been more perfect.