From my current project: Loving Max Holden…
The first thing we do in Seattle is travel five-hundred-twenty feet into the air in exactly forty-three seconds. In all the years I’ve lived in Washington, I’ve never been to the top of the Space Needle, so Max’s first surprise of the day is well-received. He holds my hand tight as the glass elevator (very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) we’re encased in shoots into the sky.
Up on the observation deck we walk a slow circle, pointing out landmarks: the Cascade mountain range to the east, the downtown skyline and Mt. Rainier to the south, and the Puget Sound and the Olympics to the west.
We stop walking when we’re facing north. Though it’s sunny enough, it’s freezing up here. The wind whips around, blowing my hair into a real mess. Shivering, I smooth it out of my face and lean against the railing to gaze down at Queen Anne. Farther in the distance is the University of Washington—Max’s future Institute of Higher Education. He wraps his arms around me from behind, blocking my body from the wind, and rests his chin on my shoulder. He looks out upon Seattle, unusually quiet.
We watch a seaplane touch down on the sparkling waters of Lake Union and observe silent toy-sized traffic directly below us. I fake interest in the views when really I’m marveling at how amazing it feels to be nestled in the warmth of his arms so high in the sky. I wonder what he’s thinking.
I don’t have to wait long to find out. He turns his head and nuzzles his nose against my neck before saying, “You’re going to apply to the U next year, right?”
Frankly, I haven’t really thought about it. Ivy’s been on my back about joining her at school (and in her sorority) since she started there two years ago, and Raini wants us to ditch Washington all together and apply to Arizona State. I’ve brushed the two of them off with vague “we’ll see’s.” Until this moment, college has been a million miles away. “Of course I’ll apply,” I tell Max, noncommittal. “You probably don’t want me to go there, though. Nothing like a girlfriend to screw up your college experience.”
He snorts like that’s the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. “I’ll already have a whole year there without you. After living next door to you for half my life, I don’t know how I’m going to get by with you a full forty-five minutes away.”
“I’m sure you’ll manage.”
“You think so? I don’t even like watching you walk across the lawn when you leave my house at night. Not being able to see you every day’s going to suck.”
They’re heavy words and very big assumptions about the future, but still, they send my heart soaring like the seagulls that swoop out over the Sound. I twist in his arms, needing to see if his face is as serious as his words. It is, and that frightens me. I don’t want him to say these things because he’s caught up in the newness and excitement of what we’re doing. Worse yet, I don’t want him to say what he thinks I want to hear.
“Max,” I say, trying out the whole gentle and caring thing again, “you survived without this—” I gesture between the two of us “—for a really long time. And it’s still new for both of us. You don’t know what you’re going to want when you start college in eight months. Everything might’ve changed by then.”
“You don’t think we’ll be together in eight months.” It’s not a question. He’s picked up on my doubts.
I place my hand over his heart. I feel it beating even through the layers of his shirt and corduroy jacket. “I want us to be. It’s just… I’m—I’m scared to get my hopes up.” And then, without filtering or even pausing to consider the consequences, I speak my greatest fear, the one that’s been nagging me since the night we went out for ice cream. “This whole thing between us feels so fragile, like it’s going to shatter and send me plummeting if I so much as breathe wrong. I don’t know if I’d survive the fall.”
“Jesus, Jillian. Can you be any more pessimistic?”
He takes my face in his hands, his palms warm and rough against my windblown cheeks. “How’s this for real?” he asks, eyes serious and dark like steel, piercing mine. “I want to be with you. I’m not messing around. I’m not giving in to some stupid whim. I’m committed to the long haul. If you’re not, you’ve got to tell me now. Right now, before I get in any deeper.”
How deep is he? If his body language is any indication—eyes intense and expectant, tight jaw, mouth set in a grim line, possessive hold on my body—he’s pretty deep . All of the sudden, I’m on emotional overload and I have to swallow hard before I can speak. “I’m committed.” A gust of wind carries my promise way, so I say it again, just to be sure he understands. “I’m just as committed as you.”