Jade sensed his presence when her skin started to tingle and the staccato beat of her heart went wild. Noah had always had that electrifying effect on her. She slowly walked through the park, searching. And then she heard it. His beautiful, sonorous voice singing about love. He didn’t know how to sing about anything else.
She followed the music that he was sending her way. She moved closer. The music became clearer, penetrating any defenses she tried to put up, already knowing how futile those efforts were. He was playing her favorite song, “I Only Breathe For You.” So he knew she was there. Somehow Noah had always sensed their connection just before she did. And then the lyrics crept inside and laid down in her soul as she listened to the chorus:
So I beg you for mercy
As I grasp for your hand
I struggle for air
As I sink in quicksand
You’re my heart and my soul
You know that it’s true
And if you leave me I’m nothing
I only breathe for you.
Yeah baby, you know it
I only breathe for you.
She continued walking towards the music, and then he was there, standing in front of the fountain where they used to throw coins and make wishes. People surrounded him, swaying to the music, but they might as well have been invisible. Noah continued to sing, but it was now for only one person. Jade drew closer. Noah finished the song before it was over.
“I’m taking a break for a few minutes, guys,” he announced.
His eyes locked with Jade’s and he moved towards her. He pulled her to him and pressed his lips to hers as his arms circled her body, welcoming her home. “You’re here,” he finally said. “You’re really here.”
She pulled away and looked at him. He looked the same, but something was different. There was a vulnerability that had never been there before. She took a deep breath of him. He still smelled like the woodsy soap that had been his favorite. His grin was still boyish and heart-stopping and his penetrating blue eyes searched hers for answers that she wasn’t sure that she had. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, touching her face.
Jade was at a loss for words. After all that had happened, what did he expect her to say? She couldn’t even explain why she had come back. Or why she had expected to find him still there. But almost everything between the two of them had been inexplicable from the start. “Why?” she finally asked. “Why did you think I’d come back?”
Noah led her to a bench under a tree near the fountain. “Because I can’t breathe without you, Jade. We can’t breathe without each other.”
Jade felt her heart straining to let him back in. The past few years had been so lonely without him. Sure, there had been other guys. She had tried to ease the pain of being without him hoping that in the dark, tangled up in the sheets, she could make herself believe she could feel what she felt when she was with him. Hoping she’d find that connection again that made her feel whole, not like she was an amputee. But it didn’t matter. Noah was her person. She hated the emptiness she felt without him, as if she had spent the last several years shot up with Novocaine.
“You know what I’ve always wondered?” she asked shakily.
“Knowing you, you’ve wondered lots of things,” he said, taking her hand.
She almost pulled her hand away, but let it remain in his, the electricity surging between them, synapses fired up. “True,” she said. “But the song, in particular. Why did you write about me leaving you?”
Noah’s eyes searched hers. “Because I knew that one day I’d screw up and you wouldn’t be able to stay. No matter how much we loved each other.” He paused. “And I think you know that isn’t really your question. I believe your question is why did I do it.”
Jade felt her eyes starting to sting, then well over, in spite of the fact that it had been almost three years since she had flung everything she owned into a suitcase, including all of her paints and brushes and a few of her finished works, and fled out the door to start a new life without him. And she had asked why at the time. Or rather, she had screamed the word ‘why’ at least a hundred times as she felt herself die. “I did ask why,” she whispered.
“Yeah, you did,” he admitted.
“And I never got an answer,” she reminded him.
Noah sighed. “Because I didn’t have the answer you deserved,” he said.
“That’s crap,” she said. “Of course you did.”
“Look,” he said. “The band had a gig at the Beer Shack that night. I know you remember that. And it was a great audience and they kept buying us drinks. And she was our waitress. And we were on such a high that night, we played a lot longer than we had planned. And we kept drinking. And when it was over, she told me I shouldn’t drive home. That I needed to sober up. The other guys had left already. So I went with her. Not an excuse, maybe not even an explanation. But it’s what happened. And I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen. You just left.”
This time, Jade yanked her hand away from his. She wasn’t angry anymore, but the pain of the betrayal flooded through her once again, for what felt like the millionth time. “Drinking too much seems to always be the catch-all excuse for everything. Even infidelity. You think it lets you off the hook?”
Noah gently touched her face again. “You wanted an answer. It’s the only one I have.”
Jade furiously wiped the tears that were now streaming down her cheeks, unbidden and unwelcome. “It had to be more than that. If you loved me as much as you said, you wouldn’t have done what you did. Even the alcohol couldn’t have made you do that. There’s more to it, whether you want to admit it or not.”
Noah shook his head. “I stopped drinking after you left. Never touched another drop. Jade, I don’t even remember that night. I was literally black-out drunk. I finally realized I had a real problem with alcohol. It wasn’t just a fun thing anymore to get so drunk I couldn’t stand up. I wish I had realized it before that night. I know you had tried to tell me so many times, but I just wasn’t ready to see it until it was too late. But nothing was wrong with you and me. I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved you. The way I love you. That night was a stupid mistake. One night shouldn’t define our whole lives. I stopped breathing when you left.”
“Well, I stopped breathing, too,” Jade said. “That night when you didn’t come home and I didn’t know where you were and if you were OK and I called the guys and none of them knew anything other than you had stayed to talk with that waitress and then you didn’t come home or call or show up until almost noon the next day… And I knew. And it killed me, Noah. I died that day, too. And the only thing I could do was leave. But after all these years, I ‘ve still never come back to life. You killed me that night.”
Noah put his head in his hands. “I killed us both that night,” he finally said. “And I left the band, too. I pretty much killed everything I cared about. I’ve just been out in the world on my own ever since.” He paused and looked at her. “But I’ve been trying to face myself, who I am, what I did, why I was willing to destroy everything I had. I’ve been trying to change, Jade. I went for help. And it turned me around. I knew you’d come back someday and I wanted to be the man you wanted me to be. And then I’d be able to bring us both back to life. And I’ve written about it. Almost all of my songs since that day have been about us.”
Jade studied his anguished face. She felt it deep in her bones that he meant what he said. Before she had met Noah, she had never believed in soulmates or destiny. But she remembered the jolt she had felt when she almost tripped over him that day at the coffee shop and spilled a large Frappe on his jeans and he told her not to worry over her stuttering apologies and invited her to sit with him and something about his eyes and that intoxicating grin of his told her that he was her future. And later, he told her that one look into her eyes told him the same about her.
“It’s my birthday today,” she had blurted out at the time for no particular reason, except hoping that maybe he’d feel sorry for her and it might distract him from the fact that he was sitting in a puddle of ice-cold Frappe.
He had jumped up then and dashed away from the table and she was sure he had decided he wanted to nothing to do with such a pitiful girl, all alone, spilling drinks on strangers on her birthday. But he had returned two minutes later with a red velvet cupcake with a lit match stuck in the middle and started singing “Happy Birthday” to her. He had hesitated when he came to the part where he had to insert a name, looking at her questioningly, and she had whispered “Jade.” And she was blown away by his beautiful voice as he sang her name and he told her to blow out the candle and he smiled his heart-stopping smile and she smiled her lopsided smile, and her heart had done its staccato thing and she started tingling all over, and she knew as she made her wish that she was about to embark on the ride of her life. And she had wondered how he knew that red velvet cupcakes were her favorite cupcakes in the world.
So yeah, he was her person and she was his and they were each other’s destiny. Even if he had screwed up. And these last three years had made it clear that they were just going to have to find their way back to each other if there was to be any happiness and love in their lives again. And even if people said she was enabling him and they were co-dependent and it wasn’t healthy, she didn’t care. Maybe it was true, but it didn’t matter. And maybe he had really changed. But no matter what, she knew that he was her forever.
“Show me the songs,” she said to him.
Noah looked at her hopefully. “I’ll do better than that. I’ll sing them to you,” he said. And he gently pulled her up and led her over to where he had left his guitar. The audience soon returned, and Noah smiled. “But first, I have another song I need to sing, one that I didn’t write.” And he started to sing, “Happy birthday to you…”
Jade’s eyes filled with tears, but this time they were not from anger or sadness. He had remembered. Somehow, across time and space, he had remembered. And when he got to the part where he once again had to insert her name, he looked at her questioningly. “Jade,” she whispered, her heart drumming wildly.
“Happy birthday dear Jade,” he sang, motioning for the audience to join in. They shouted her name with gusto and Jade was trembling. Noah’s eyes were laser focused on hers. And as she listened to him sing, it was like a healing balm coursing through the chambers of her heart. She took a deep breath and felt a spark ignite inside her. And she knew she was finally coming back to life.