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Before Us by Jewel E. Ann

Before Us

by Jewel E. Ann


I never saw him coming.

I didn’t know what would happen after my client found me sleeping in my car.

I’d been cleaning his house as his wife was dying.

I didn’t expect them to invite me to live with them.

I didn’t expect Suzie to become my lifeline—until she was gone.

I didn’t expect him to ask me to marry him when he found out I needed medical insurance.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with a grieving man.

There are so many reasons to keep my distance from Zach. Every tender moment secreted away.

When we’re not together, I miss the man I call husband.

Does he miss his wife? If so, which one?



Trigger Warning: Epilepsy, Cancer, spoiler warning --------->assisted death<-----------

Before Us was actually a book I applied for an arc for and was rejected - boo! - but I fell in love with Jewel E. Ann's work in a different arc I was sent, If This is Love. So when I saw this pop up on my kindle recommendations, I had to download it.

The synopsis alone had me.

That doesn't mean I wasn't worried.

I usually hate stories where the wife dies and the husband moves on.

Of course, if it was me who died, I would want my husband to grieve, but move on. Be happy. Find love.

That doesn't mean I like to think about it.

I'm not that selfless. haha.

There is a line in books like this. It can either be done really well, or be too rushed and you end up not happy with outcome. Jewel E. Ann did an amazing job not crossing that line.

I loved this book.

It made me smile.

It made me cry. A lot.

The story, of course, is wonderful, but peppered with sadness. This is a book about being in love, grief, and trying to move on. It's a book about loving a person in the right way. In fact, all of the relationships featured in this book were all the very definition of love, even if it doesn't end happily.

Suzie and Zach. There was no doubt they loved one another deeply, and were willing to do anything for the other person.

Suzie and her deceased partner, Tara.

Suzie and Emersyn and the beautiful friendship they built before Suzie passed.

Emersyn and Zach's friendship.

And finally, Emersyn and Zach when they become romantic.

It's a long, tension filled journey, but it had to be.

Because nothing it easy about death. Or losing a loved one.

It takes time.

Which Before Us gives these characters.

Time to grieve.

Time to find themselves.

Time to learn to be alone.

Time to learn to love someone and open themselves up to potential pain.

Honestly, good for Jewel E. Ann for writing such a beautiful story.

I only had one complaint while reading this book; there was too much head tilting, and "inching head from side to side". Enough that I picked up on it.

Before Us is an emotional journey from beginning to end. But wipe your tears and keep going. I promise you will love this one!

Suzie: “If you can’t find a little humor in tragedy, life will kick your ass.” Suzie: “I know you’re young, but I’m going to give you a spoiler alert to life. Soulmates are not S O L E mates. Without one, we are not alone. Many souls feed our own. Humans are interchangeable puzzle pieces; we fit into more than one space. I fit with Tara. And I fit with Zach. I’ve never had children. Still, I imagine it’s how a mother can love all her children equally, even if differently. I don’t love Zach more or less than I loved Tara. I love him differently.” Em: “I love reading biographies because it’s fun to be someone else for a few pages. Crazy, huh?”

Suzie: “Mmm …”

Suzie hums.

Suzie: “Not crazy. I know exactly what you mean. Right now, I’m you.”

Em: “Oh no. Choose someone better than me.”

I chuckle.

Suzie: “No. I want to be you. A dreamer with a tiny tether to reality. An appreciation for life … never taking any of it for granted. And oh … the possibilities. You can be anything. Do anything. Go anywhere. You have those butterflies to feel for the first time. Em! You. Have. Butterflies. To. Feel! God! I wish I could go back and feel them again. It’s not that I still don’t feel them with Zach, but they’re never as strong as the first time. You have a million firsts left in your life. I have a handful of lasts. Don’t waste a single minute being anything but courageous.” Suzie: “It’s hard to explain how losing my breasts crushed me, not because clothes would never fit right again. Not because I worried about people noticing. No … it was knowing that a part of me, which brought Zach so much pleasure, was gone—like cancer stole a piece of our intimacy. Not that he’s ever looked at me with anything but complete love and desire. It’s different than other cancers that leave internal scars but stay hidden in places we can’t see. Nope. We can’t be intimate and not see—not feel—it in the most physical way.

I worried so much about him. I worried he would miss my breasts and feel wrong about ever admitting it. Then one day, I was looking in our bathroom mirror after a shower, and I said, ‘I miss my breasts.’ He glanced up while buttoning his jeans, and he replied, ‘I do too, but not as much as I’d miss you.’ And oh my god … I nearly died. I didn’t expect him to admit it. But the fact that he did—that he was honest with me—then followed it up with that last part …”

She shakes her head again, tears in her eyes.

Suzie: “I fell in love with him harder than I did the first time.” Brady: “I can put the cat back in the box, and it won’t take that long.”

He reaches for the cat. My jaw unhinges.

Em: “You’ve kept him in a box? Are you serious? What is wrong with you?”

I won’t elaborate by telling him the way to a woman’s sexual soul is not with the words: It won’t take that long. Em: “What do you mean he ran out? Where did he go?”

With total disregard for my single-towel attire, I bolt past him toward the back door.

Em: “Harry Pawter? HARRY PAWTER! Come to Mommy!”

I race to the shed, but it’s empty. Then I tighten my towel and inspect the beds of vegetables and flowers. My heart hammers.

Yes. I’m about to get fired.

Yes. The neighbors can see me half naked.

Yes. My feet are covered in dirt and grass clippings.

No. I didn’t think I cared this much about my male cat until he ran away.


I skitter toward the side of the house.

Zach: “Emersyn!”

Zach chases me.

Zach: “Stop!”

I whip around.

Em: “Which way did he go?”

Zach pinches the bridge of his nose, head down like he’s still attempting to be a gentleman. If he were the true gentleman Suzanne paints him to be, he’d help me find Harry Pawter. Instead, he blows a quick breath out of his nose and smirks. Fucking smirks. It’s slightly hidden beneath his tucked chin, but it’s there. And goddammit … this isn’t funny!

Zach: “He ran up the tree by the shed,”

Zach says, peeking up at me.

Em: “Call 9-1-1.”

I march past him.

Zach: “I don’t think that’s the best use of emergency resources.”

He tails me as I stomp my way toward the tree, eyes squinted against the sun, searching for Harry.

Zach: “It’s not an actual emergency.”

Em: “Says the guy who doesn’t have his cat stuck in a tree.”

Zach: “I don’t have a cat.” If one’s soul can leave its body before death, I’m certain Zach's soul is slowly slipping away, chasing Suzie’s fading existence in this world. I can’t imagine what that kind of love would feel like. Suzie: “Are you going to watch me sleep all day?”

I grin as Suzie’s eyes flutter open.

Zach: “Only if you’re going to sleep all day.” Suzie: "Don’t let your ego make the decision. Don’t let pride rob you of the chance to have a bed, a shower, air-conditioning, and more time with your feeble friend before she dies. I would’ve been too proud. Don’t be me. Be better. Live better. Embrace humility because it will make you stronger than the most stubborn pride.” Suzie: “Don’t.”

She rests her head on my shoulder while giving my hand a little squeeze.

Suzie: “I see the way you look at him, and the way he looks at you.”

Em: “Suzie …”

My head shakes and my voice does too.

Em: “I don’t—”

Suzie: “You do. You look at him like I looked at him even when I was with Tara. It wasn’t love, of course. It was joy—an honor to be friends with such a kind man. Sometimes we start to fall in love with people before our hearts recognize what’s happening.” Suzie: “Now …”

She releases my hand and presses hers together at her chest like something exciting is about to happen.

Suzie: “Aside from my new best friend moving in with me, tell me something that will … I don’t know … make me laugh.”

I’ve got nothing. Except … I have a slightly morbid sense of humor, of which I’m certain is a direct result of her bad influence on me.

Em: “Please don’t tell your husband that you want the maid to fall in love with him after you’re buried six feet under.”

Suzie’s jaw drops and her eyes widen as her hand flies to her mouth. A second later, she snorts a laugh that breaks completely free in the next breath. I giggle. Then we fall inward, collapsing into each other in a fit of laughter like two young girls talking about a mutual crush on a boy in school.

Suzie: “I won’t.”

She laughs.

Suzie: “It will be our little secret.” I want to tell him that he would never have had any sort of life with her had she adopted the same mentality after Tara died. But I don’t. Zach isn’t asking for a pep talk. He’s asking for someone to listen to all the thoughts that are going through his head—the raw, honest part of his heart that needs to be set free so he can live, so he can be here with Suzie when she leaves this world. Like the ebb and flow of the ocean, the inhale and exhale of breath, life depends on the coexistence of holding on … and letting go. It’s how we navigate this life, mere children struggling to cross the monkey bars without falling. Sometimes we need a hand to hold. Sometimes we need someone to hear us. And sometimes we need a few minutes sitting behind a shed to catch our breath. A tiny timeout from reality. A few moments to reconcile our greatest fears. Suzie: “The answer is yes,”

she says in a raspy tone. I narrow my eyes.

Em: “What answer?”

She feels for my hand, and I give it to her. Pulling our hands to her chest, she rests them there, a frail smile pulling at her dry lips.

Suzie: “You know. We talked about it. Wh-when the question pops into your head someday…”

she blinks heavily

Suzie: “…you’ll know the answer is yes.” It’s time. Goodbye is not the word I want to say. I said it to my mom, knowing I might never see her again. But I can’t say it to Suzie. And it’s silly if I’m going to see her in the morning anyway.

Suzie: “Okay,”

Suzie whispers.

Suzie: “You say o-okay when you d-don’t know what else to say. It’s … i-it’s acceptance.”

I squeeze her hand, not wanting to accept her impending death. She returns a weak squeeze.

Suzie: “You don’t … have … to l-like it. I accept my fate … b-but I don’t like it.”

Zach clears his throat, sitting on the opposite side of the bed with his back to us. Is he hiding his emotions too? I slowly stand and just as slowly release her hand. Tears fill my eyes again, so I know it’s time to leave.

Em: “Okay.”

Suzie: “Okay,”

I did this. I did it for her. I was her rock, even in death.

Zach: “I love you,”

I whisper.

Zach: “I love you this much.”

This rock is broken. I used to envy Suzie, even with her terminal cancer. She married the most attentive man in the world. Loving and generous with every action. And I used to sleep in my car, in a Walmart parking lot, dreaming about what it would feel like to be married to a Zachary Hays or a clone of him. My dreams involved this clone coming home from work, loosening his tie, and smiling at me with a bouquet of flowers in his hand, the way he used to greet Suzie. They were just dreams—innocent, unrealistic dreams. I never really imagined I could be his wife, yet that’s the offer on the table. But he won’t come home with flowers in his hand and look at me like I’m the brightest constellation in his sky. He’ll come home and treat me like his roommate. He’ll wonder how my search for a job with benefits is going. He’ll wonder if I’ve met a nice man to marry so he can release me and feel satisfied with his good deeds. Me? I’ll spend every day wondering how I married the man of my dreams, though it will feel like the worst nightmare. Zach: “I love that hoodie on you. It brings out the blue in your eyes. And you have … nice eyes.”

Seriously … my heart is on the verge of a prison break, but I gather my composure and cant my head to the side, feigning emotional confidence.

Em: “Mr. Hays, are you trying to give me a little bounce?”

Zach's smile doubles as he shrugs one shoulder.

Zach: “Maybe.”

Em: “I like your …”

My lips twist for a second, then I shake my head slowly and head toward the automatic doors.

Zach: “You like my what?”

he calls.

Em: “It’s too long,”

I say without glancing back at him.

Em: “The list is too long.” I shrug.

Em: “For the record, I have a crush on Michael B. Jordan, K.J. Apa, and Charlie Puth too.”

My fingers lightly touch the bandage on my head.

Em; “So don’t read into it.”

Zach blinks several times.

Zach: “And did you tell them you had sex?”

Em: “Not yet. I’m sure I’ll slide into their DMs later.” Zach: “It’s a line. Maybe a doorway. Maybe a fucking mountain … I don’t know. But I know there’s no going back when I cross it. I know I can’t take her with me. And there’s been many days I’ve wondered about going with her … going to her. It’s never been something strong, anything more than a fleeting thought. For what it’s worth, you’ve been the one person who’s kept me looking forward. For what it’s worth, you’ve been the reason I stand so close to the line, the threshold of that doorway, feet away from the summit. And maybe that’s the real question … What’s it worth?” Zachary Hays is the unreachable pinnacle for all other men. That sucks for my next husband. Zach: “I didn’t figure you’d want to go out with that bandage on your head.”

I finish chewing my bite and swallow.

Em: “That’s what hats are for. Are you sure it’s not something else … like you’re embarrassed to be seen with me and my broken head?”

Zach: “Of course I’m embarrassed, for both of us, really. But I can deal with it if you can.”

My eyes narrow.

Em: “You’re an ass.” Em: “Can I take a picture of us and post it on Instagram? I won’t show your face.”

Zach: “What’s wrong with my face?”

Em: “Nothing.”

I roll my eyes and retrieve my phone from my bag.

Em: “I just don’t want to have to put a name to your face.”

Zach: “So you just want to start rumors?”

Em: “Buzz. Not rumors.”

Zach: “Buzz. Tell me more about this buzz.”

I giggle.

Em: “Well, my following has grown exponentially since I’ve been traveling with Leah. I’m even making some money off my photos. So this bigger following is becoming interested in me and everything about my life. And photos that pique curiosity get more engagement.”

I clip my phone to the travel tripod and turn back to Zach.

Zach: “Spread your legs.”

He smirks and mutters,

Zach: “Isn’t that supposed to be my line.”

My breath hitches, eyes unblinking. He just said that. It was a joke. I get it. But … On a nervous laugh, I manage one word.

Em: “Funny.”

I clear my throat and slip back on my hat.

Em: “Put your hands on my waist.”

Zach: “If I put them on your ass, it would build more buzz. Right?”

Standing on my knees between his legs, with my camera catching the back of me and the scenery behind Zach, I glance down at him and frown.

Em: “If you put your hands on my hips, your wedding band won’t be visible. If you put your hands on my ass, it will build buzz, but not the right kind. I don’t need rumors that I’m married or having a strawberry picnic with a married man.”

Zach's grin fades as he glances down at his left hand.

Zach: “But you are married,”

he whispers.

Em: “Yes,”

I say on a hushed breath. His brow tenses into tight lines as he continues to inspect his ring.

Zach: “And you are having a picnic with a married man,”

he says slowly, like he’s not even saying it to me, rather to himself.

Em: “Yes.”

To my knowledge, Zach has only taken his wedding band off once, the day he married me. Until now. With several twists, he removes it and holds it between his thumb and forefinger, staring. After slipping it into his jeans pocket, he glances up at me, rests his hands on my hips and then moves them to my ass. I swallow hard.

Zach: “Are you going to take the picture?”

he asks in a raspy voice.

Em: “Um …”

I look at my watch.

Em:” Yeah.”

Setting the timer on my phone’s camera from my watch, I rest my hands on his shoulders and wait for it to capture the burst of photos.

Em: “It’s done. Th-thanks.”

I can barely talk past the thick lust in my throat. His hands on my ass have paralyzed me.

Zach: “You’re welcome,”

Zach whispers, but he doesn’t … remove his hands.

Zach: “I have…”

those immovable hands finally shift, slip … ghost down the back of my legs

Zach: “…a very…”

his fingertips tease the back of my knees

Zach: “…beautiful wife.” Zach: “It meant something. But don’t let it mean that you don’t live your life to the fullest. Okay?”

My face wrinkles.

Em: “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Zach blows a long breath out of his nose.

Zach: “I want you to be twenty-four. Adventurous. Untethered.”

Untethered. I scoff.

Em: “You want me to sleep with other people?”

He grimaces, it’s slight, but I don’t miss it.

Zach: “I want you to do whatever you want to do without worrying about me.”

Em: “Without worrying about my husband?”

I cant my head to the side. He rests his hand on his hip and bows his head.

Zach: “Emersyn … it’s not that kind of marriage.”

Fuck my life.

Em: “It’s not that kind of marriage,”

I echo while chuckling past the pain. If I don’t laugh, I will cry so hard I’ll crumble into dust.

Em: “Silly me.”

I turn and open the door. When he tries to grab my arm for a second time, I yank it out of his grip.

Em: “No! Let me go.”

I get two feet out the door with my suitcase before he pins me to the wall, holding my arms to my sides. His fingers slowly lace with mine, his forehead pressed to mine, eyes pinched shut.

Zach: “I came to life yesterday. Inside of you … I came to life again. But I’m still figuring out who I am without her. And it’s so fucking hard because I can’t look at you and not see her. I do not want you to wait for me to figure this out because I don’t know if I’ll get there.” Zach: “How long do I have to wait before I can touch you?”

He drags his teeth over his lower lip while eyeing me from head to toe.

Zach: “Because I miss you.”

Em: “You miss me?”

I whisper, and my skin tingles everywhere. Even my eyes burn with emotion. Holding my breath for five … long … months has been too long. He nods. I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. After five months of nothing resembling anything more than friendship, not one single vibe of intimacy … I had no reason to expect this.

Em: “I’m right here,”

I say, just above a whisper. Sliding his hands into his front pockets, Zach shrugs a shoulder.

Zach: “Still missing you. Your big blue eyes tracking me while those full lips of yours press together as if smiling at me might expose your darkest secrets. Your delicate fingers threading through my hair, slowly, deliberately, like their sole purpose is to drive me mad with need.”

I dare any woman not to fall in love with this man, and at the same time, I forbid myself from falling any deeper. I don’t have my life figured out, and he’s still dealing with the loss of Suzie. He doesn’t have to say it. I just know because I’m still dealing with the loss of her. Dealing with discovering my true path in life. Dealing with trying to do and be what Suzie would have wanted me to do and be. Dealing with my feelings for Zach that make me want to align my path with his even if that means losing sight of my other dreams. Still, I can’t help it. I smile at Zach.

Em: “I miss you too. All the time. I miss the way you hum when you’re cooking a meal or driving your car. I miss the lullaby of your guitar at night. I miss the way you refold the kitchen towels when you think I’m not looking. I miss sitting at opposite ends of the sofa with you, editing photos, knowing your eyes are on me. I miss the most mundane things like grocery shopping with you or pulling weeds while you mow the lawn. I miss your sly grins and carefully thought-out words. I miss watching you tie your hundred-year-old tennis shoes before you go for a run. And I miss…”

I pull in a shaky breath, feeling a physical ache for his touch, the tingle of need along my skin growing more intense

Em: “…all the parts of you I’ve wanted, but I know are not mine to want.”

Zach: “Still missing you,”

he whispers, taking a step toward me.

Em: “I’m right here.” It hurts everywhere. I’m angry, but I don’t know who’s to blame. Zach? Me? Suzie? I settle on Suzie because she planted the seed in my head. I’ve felt like my being with Zach was, in some small way, her dying wish. In theory, we belong together. But we messed up. We had all the right ingredients but mixed in wrong order—solving a mathematical expression without using the order of operations. Wrong time. Wrong place. Wrong order of events. Wrong … lifetime. Em: "‘The most complicated relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. We are our own greatest mystery, our own biggest challenge. Life isn’t a quest to find ourselves; it’s a quest to define ourselves.’” Aaron: “What are you doing? Seriously. If you love her, go get her.”

Zach: “I …”

I shake my head.

Zach: “I don’t want to go get her. That’s just it. I’m here. I have a job. I have my life. She’s nurturing her passion and chasing her dreams. And I love that about her. I won’t take it away. I won’t even ask her to choose me. It’s not even a choice. This is her life. Suzanne spent an entire summer living vicariously through Emersyn. She … we … became invested in Emersyn’s life. So even if I let my brain imagine a world where Suzanne wanted me with Emersyn, it’s no longer relevant. I’m not living my life for Suzanne. I’m living it for me, and my conscience won’t let me clip Emersyn’s wings. That’s not love.” Em: “The night she died, I heard the commotion. I tiptoed to your room and just … watched. I know what you did.”

I can’t look at him. He doesn’t seem to move or even breathe. Then all at once, a painful sob breaks from his chest, and his whole body trembles. As I blink a river of tears, I close my eyes, reach my hand over and rest it on his leg. His hand covers mine, squeezing unbearably hard. He no longer bears this secret alone. I love him too much to walk away without taking some of his burden, the way he’s unconditionally carried so much of mine.

Em: “I’ve n-never seen s-such…”

I can barely speak past the ache in my chest

Em: “…a selfless, beautiful act of love.” Mom: “Go. I need a few minutes with Zach, and it could get loud, so I don’t want to startle Nila.”

It’s going to get loud? Dad gives me a “you poor bastard” look before closing the door behind him and Nila.

Mom: “Do you love her?”

Mom parks her fisted hands on her hips. It takes me a second. I feel ten again, on the verge of being sent to my room or having my Nintendo taken away for a week.

Zach: “Of course. But—”

Mom: “No buts! Pack a bag and go to her. Get on one knee and say everything that you’ve been too afraid to say since the day you first realized you’re in love with her. Spoiler alert: she’ll say yes. That young woman loves you. And you …”

She points a finger at me.

Mom: “You, my precious boy, are worthy. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of every dream. You are worthy of happiness. Emersyn left because you didn’t give her what she needed. You pushed her away.”

Zach: “I didn’t want her to stay. You’re not listening to me!”

I stand, pacing a few feet in each direction while lacing my fingers behind my neck.

Mom: “Zach?”

I continue to pace. Life is good as long as I can keep my emotions separated, rationalized, and ten feet away from my heart at all times.

Mom: “Zach?”

I stop pacing when I notice my mom’s voice has lost its edge.

Mom: “She had to leave?”

she asks. I nod several times. Mom gives me her sad smile, her you-stupid-boy smile.

Mom: “Okay, but you don’t have to stay.”

I start to speak, but I can’t. Her words are too heavy in the air, crushing my chest with their truth.

Mom: “I know you think Emersyn needed your insurance, needed you to pay off her debt, needed a place to stay … but I don’t believe that. I think she needed you. And you just couldn’t see that. Maybe it was because your relationship with her has lived in the shadows of Suzanne—her memories, her lingering presence here. And Emersyn was too afraid to dream big. She was too afraid to dream of having everything. I’m sure the young woman who had nothing for so long must have felt greedy for asking for everything.

She is worthy, Zach. You are worthy. Get on a plane and go to her. Love has no boundaries. You can fly planes anywhere. Hell, you can afford to retire early and … bag groceries at the store in your free time if you wanted to. Or you could just spend the rest of your life watching her do all the amazing things you know she’s going to do. A family … you could have a family, sweetheart. You don’t have to hold her back; you can walk beside her. That’s love, my dear. And you … are worthy.” Em: You almost here?

Zach: I’m here. Just watching you.

I swivel on the barstool, unable to hide my grin as I scan the restaurant again. It’s crowded, and I can’t see him.

Em: Stop. Lol Where are you?

Zach: I’ve missed you.

I look like a fool laughing to myself as I search in every direction.

Em: Then stop hiding.

Zach: Before Suzanne died, she said, “Em is a good soul. A survivor. A giver. A nurturer. Any guy would be lucky to have her.”

He’s drunk. That’s the only explanation. I call him.

Zach: “You look stunning tonight,”

he says. Holding my phone to my ear with one hand and my wine glass in my other hand, I start to navigate the restaurant.

Em: “How much have you had to drink?”

Zach: “Too bad your shirt is on inside out.”

I glance down at my blouse. I’m not sure why because there’s no way to put a button-down on inside out and actually button it.

Em: “Ha. Ha. What are you doing? Seriously, how much have you had to drink?”

Zach: “Did you know you don’t actually have to be British to work for a British airliner?”

My nose wrinkles.

Em: “What are you talking about?”

Zach: “Since you have no family, I went to Suzanne’s grave and got permission.”

Em: “So drunk, Captain Hays. You are so drunk with your gibberish. Where are you?”

As I continue to weave my way through the restaurant, patrons begin to stare. I’m sure they’re wondering what I’m doing. Until … they stop.

Stop eating.

Stop talking.

Stop moving, like someone pressed pause on all life.


So I stop because something is wrong.

Em: “Zach,”

I whisper, feeling uneasy.

Em: “Where are you?”

Zach: “I’m here,”

he says, but his voice isn’t coming from my phone, it’s coming from behind me. I quickly turn, so freaked out by what’s happening around me.

Zach: “One knee?”

he asks. I can’t breathe when I see him, when I see Leah ten feet away with her camera held to her face, barely hiding her huge grin and the tears on her cheeks.

Zach: “I think your next proposal was supposed to involve one knee. Correct?”

He gets on one knee and pulls a ring from the pocket of his best suit—cranberry tie.

Zach: “Emersyn …”


Zach: “You should get the lamb tonight. I hear it’s phenomenal,”

he says as if he can help ward off my tears. A nervous laugh rattles my chest, eyes burning with indescribable emotion. Swallowing past the lump in my throat, I nod and try to hold back the inevitable.

Em: “Your mom should have told you to get a haircut before you came here.”

His grin swells as he nods.

Zach: “I’ll get a haircut.”

Em: “I’ll order the lamb,”

I whisper.

Zach: “But the real question is … will you marry me? Because it’s all I think about … all day … every day. I dream of a long engagement. Getting measured for the perfect tux with a tie in some shade of pink. I dream of gothic cathedrals and private islands. I try not to imagine you in a white wedding dress because just the thought takes my breath away—but not as much as imagining you having my babies.”

He places his free hand over his heart.

Zach: “Can you just imagine? Can you imagine traveling the world together? Making love on grassy hilltops? Picking out Christmas trees? Hiding chocolate eggs for our kids?"

He lets all the just imagines linger in the air around us as I spell out my answer in tears.

Zach: "I love you. I love you as much as one human can possibly love another human. I have never loved anyone more than I love you. So just ... marry me, Emersyn."

Em: "Zach."

I glance around the restaurant. He planned this, I don't know how he did it, but her has exceeded my dreams times a million.

Em: "We just got ..."

I lower my voice.

Em: "Divorced."

Zach: "Is that a yes or a no?"

Em: "Zachary ..."

I shake my head, wiping my cheeks. This is insane.

He gets up and cups my face, kissing m y tears, whispering over my cheek so that only I can hear him,

Zach: "Be my wife, Em ..."

With a shaky lower lip and several tiny nods, I whisper back,

Em: "Yes. I'll be your wife ... again." At this moment, I hear Suzie so clearly.You are courageous. You found your soulmate. Humans are interchangeable puzzle pieces. We fit into more than one space. You fit with Zach. I always knew you would. Be happy, my dear friend.

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