Well enough. I’ve only just returned from the Hamptons. Traffic was beastly. She skipped a beat. I rather thought I’d see you here when I returned.
His response was a huge smile. I’d love that.Pan was crowded tonight with regular patrons and people who rarely, if ever, frequented the place. There were older people here, some obviously parents, and of course a lot of under eighteens. The café was busier than I’d ever seen it, and yet the person I most wanted there wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
My dad stood with Vicki, Mr. Stone and Mrs. Cruickshank. Steph couldn’t make it because she had a date with a college boy she’d met at the swim center last week. However, my one constant—Vicki—was with me. She’d convinced me to tell Mr. Stone about the open mic night and like my dad, his response had been immediate and positive. As for Mrs. Cruickshank, my dad and I had passed her on the esplanade on our way to Pan. She’d been surprised to see us together, and Dad had encouraged me to invite her along. The way she just spun around and started walking with us in response had made me want to cry grateful tears.I had people here who loved and supported me, and as amazing as that felt, it still hurt not to have Tobias there.You’ve gone paler than normal, Vicki said, looking concerned. You okay?
No, I wasn’t. I was next up on the stage, and the person who made me brave wasn’t here to cheer me on. I said so.We talked about this. Vicki squeezed my hand. Only you can be brave. Tobias hasn’t got that power. He’s not here? Well, screw him. His loss, Comet. You— she smiled sweetly at me —are one of my favorite people in the whole world and if he can’t see how special you are, then it’s his loss. Do this for you, Com. For all the people who made you feel like you weren’t worthy of them.
I thought of my dad, who seemed to be doing his hardest to make up for it and who’d flinched at Vicki’s words, and of Carrie, whom I hadn’t heard from at all since she’d left except through secondhand conversations she’d had with my dad, of my primary six teacher who’d traumatized me and made me hate school, of Heather who’d bullied me out of envy, of Stevie, Alana, Jimmy, Forrester and their group for bullying me because it made them feel in control to be the tormentors instead of the tormented for a change, and even of Tobias, who’d made me feel alone when I needed him the most.
But despite that, Tobias had changed my life for the better. I had changed.The way I see it, writing is a gift. Offering someone the chance to read your writing is akin to giving a bit of your soul to someone else. Taylor lifted Harper’s children’s books in his hands a bit higher. It’s a gift you’re letting me read these. Thank you.
You’re welcome. She sounded so terribly formal.Lightning flashed at the windows, followed by a renewed burst of rain. It pounded the roof with a clap of thunder that felt as if it exploded right overhead. Startled, Harper leaped from the floor into Taylor’s arms. For a moment she clung to him as the storm wailed outside and a deluge of rain blew sideways against the house, into the open window. The attic echoed with vibration.
She closed her eyes, feeling the warmth, the strength of his arms around her. Smelled the lingering scent of soap on his skin. He didn’t release her. She felt her breathing quicken to match his, in and out, aware that he was counting their breaths, too.Taylor moved to look down at her. He framed her head with his hand and gently tilted it so that she would look at him.