Attachments(16) by Rainbow Rowell

“Maybe they’ll do Pollyanna.”

“Lincoln, please.”

“I want to be with you. If I don’t come to the theater, I won’t ever see you.”

“You will see me,” she said.

He didn’t.

Only when they met for breakfast in the dorm cafeteria. Only when she came to his room late after rehearsals to get help with an assignment or to cry about what was happening at the theater. She wouldn’t stay over, not with his roommate there. He felt hungry for her all the time.

“We spent more time alone when we lived with our parents,” he complained to her on a rare Friday afternoon she spent in his room, letting him hold her.

“We had nothing but time in high school,” she said.

“Why does everyone else around here have so much time?” he asked.

“Who?”

“Everyone but you,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I see people being together. They’re in each other’s rooms. They’re in the lounge and the student union. They’re taking walks.” That’s how he thought it would be when they got to college. He’d pictured himself lying next to Sam on narrow dormitory mattresses, holding her hand on the way to classes, winding up with her on benches and coffeehouse couches. “I have time for that.”

“Then maybe you should spend your time with everyone else,” she said. She was pulling away from him, buttoning her black cardigan, sweeping her hair into a barrette.

“No. I want to spend it with you.”

“I’m with you now,” she said.

“And it’s wonderful. Why can’t it be like this more? Even once a week?”

“Because it can’t, Lincoln.”

“Why not?” He hated himself for sounding like such a baby.

“Because I didn’t come to this school to spend all my time with my high school boyfriend. I came here to start my career.”

“I’m not your high school boyfriend,” he said. “I’m your boyfriend.”

“There are probably half a dozen girls on this floor alone who would love to spend the next four years cuddling with you. If that’s what you want.”

“I want you.”

“Then be happy with me.”

SAM DIDN’T WANT to come home for winter break. She wanted to stay on campus and be in a local production of A Christmas Carol. (She was pretty sure she could land the role of Tiny Tim.) But her father cashed in some frequent flyer miles and sent her a first-class ticket home. “I’ve never flown first class before,” she told Lincoln excitedly. “I’m going to wear something Betty Grable, something with wrist gloves, and order gin and tonics.” Lincoln was taking the Greyhound, which Sam said would be fascinating. “Very American-experience. I’ll make you sandwiches.”

She didn’t. She said she couldn’t see Lincoln off at the bus station because she had a theater meeting that afternoon. He told her that was okay, that he didn’t want her to come anyway. A girl who could pass for Tiny Tim shouldn’t walk home alone from the bus station.

But Lincoln hated that, between the bus trip and Christmas, he’d have to go a week without seeing her. At least they’d both be home. And they’d have the week after Christmas together, and New Year’s. Maybe it would do them some good, to see each other back in their natural habitat. He decided to leave a note for Sam, telling her that he’d miss her, before he caught his bus. He bought an inexpensive bouquet of flowers at the convenience store across from his dormitory and wrote on a piece of college-ruled paper: Sam, Lo, though I travel through the Valley of Death, My heart flies first class.

Love, Lincoln That sounds romantic, he thought as he walked to her building. And geographic. And vaguely biblical. He stopped on her floor, in the elevator lobby, to add a postscript: I love you and I love you and I love you. As he finished writing the last “you,” one of the elevators opened.

Lincoln almost smiled at the sight of Sam. Almost. She was standing on tiptoe, her whole body arching upward, her arms cast triumphantly around another man’s neck. The two of them were kissing too …too enthusiastically to notice that their elevator had arrived. The man had a handful of Sam’s black curls, and a handful of her short skirt. The wrongness of the tableau didn’t fully register with Lincoln until the doors were closing. They must be rehearsing, he actually thought. Didn’t he recognize this guy from the theater?

Lincoln reached out and pressed the down button. The doors opened again.

Sure, he recognized him. Marlon. He was small and dark and from someplace else. Brazil. Or maybe Venezuela. He was the kind of guy who always had a crowd of people around him at wrap parties. The kind of guy who was always standing on a table to toast something. Marlon. He and Sam had been in a play together back in September, The Straw.

Sam took a deep kissing breath. Lincoln could see her tongue.

“Marlon?” he said out loud.

Sam turned abruptly. Her face fell as the doors closed a second time.

Lincoln started pressing the button angrily. The elevator opened again, but he ignored it. He wanted the other elevator now. He wanted, suddenly and desperately, to leave.

“Lincoln,” he heard Sam say.

He ignored her. Kept punching the button.

“Let me explain,” she said.

Punch, punch, punch. Down, down, down.

“It won’t come as long as we’re here,” Sam said. She was standing in the elevator still. Marlon was holding the door open.

“Then go,” Lincoln said.

“You can have this elevator,” Marlon said in his sexy south-of-Ricky-Ricardo voice.

Punch, punch, punch.

“Lincoln, stop, you’ll hurt your hand,” Sam said.

“Oh, of course,” Marlon said, “this is Lincolon.” He held his hands up in recognition. Like he’s going to hug me, Lincoln thought. No, like he’s going to toast me . Ladies and gentleman, Lincolon!

The elevator doors started to close again. Sam stepped into the doorway.

“Get out of the elevator,” Lincoln said. “Let me go.”

“No,” she said, “no one’s going anywhere. Lincoln, you’re scaring me.”

He hit the lit down button hard. The light went out.

“Let’s calm down,” Marlon said, “we are all adults here.”

No, Lincoln thought, you’re an adult. I’m only nineteen. And you’re ruining the rest of my life.

You’re kissing it. You’re spoiling it with your tiny, expressive hands.

“It’s not what you think,” Sam said sternly.

“It’s not?” Lincoln asked.

“Well … ,” Marlon said diplomatically.

“It’s not,” Sam said. “Let me explain.”

Lincoln might have let her explain, then, but he was crying. And he didn’t want Marlon to watch.

“Just let me go,” Lincoln said.

“You could use the stairs,” Marlon suggested.

“Oh,” Lincoln said. “Right.”

He tried not to run to the stairs. The crying was embarrassing enough. Crying down eight flights through the girls’ dormitory. Crying alone at the bus station. Crying through Nevada and Utah and Wyoming. Crying into the sleeves of his plaid flannel shirt like the world’s saddest lumberjack.

Trying to think of all the times he’d promised Sam that he could never love anyone else. Did that change now? Did she get to turn them both into liars? If he believed in true love, didn’t that trump everything? Didn’t that trump Marlon? Lincoln was going to let her explain. When he got home. No, he wouldn’t even ask her to explain.

Somewhere in Colorado, Lincoln started writing Sam a letter. “I don’t believe you cheated on me,”

the letter said. “And even if you did, it doesn’t matter. I love you more than anything else matters.”

Eve picked him up at the bus station.

“You look terrible,” she said. “Did you get rolled by hobos?”

“Can we drive by Sam’s house on the way home?”

“Sure.”

When they got there, Lincoln asked Eve not to pull into the driveway. Sam’s room was the one over the garage. Her light was on. Lincoln thought about going to the door, but dropped the letter in the mailbox instead. He hoped Eve wouldn’t ask him about it on the way home.

CHAPTER 36

LINCOLN CALLED SAM the next morning and the next. Her mother kept saying that Sam wasn’t home.

She didn’t call him back until New Year’s Eve.

“I got your letter,” she said. “Can you meet me at the park?”

“Now?” he asked.

“Now.”

Lincoln borrowed his sister’s car and drove to a little playground near Sam’s house. It was where they went when they didn’t have any money or gas. It was empty when he got there, so he sat on the merry-go-round to wait. It hadn’t been a white Christmas—the ground was bare and brown—but it was still cold. Lincoln kicked the merry-go-round into motion and let it spin slowly until he saw Sam walking toward him, still a block away. She was wearing bright pink lipstick and a flowery minidress over thermal underwear. No coat.

He hoped she’d sit next to him.

She did. She smelled like gardenias. He wanted to touch her, jump on her. Cover her like a hand grenade.

Sam exhaled matter-of-factly. “I thought we should probably talk,” she said, “I thought that I should explain …”

“You don’t have to,” Lincoln said, already shaking his head.

She tucked her skirt under her legs.

“Are you cold?” he asked.

“I want you to know that I’m sorry,” she said.

“You can have my jacket.”

“Lincoln, listen.” She turned to face him. He told himself not to look away. “I’m sorry,” she said.

But I feel like what happened probably happened for a reason. It forced everything to the surface.”

“What everything?”

“Everything between us,” she said, getting impatient. “Our relationship.”

“I told you, we don’t have to talk about this.”

“Yes, we do. You saw me with another man. Don’t you think that’s worth talking about?”

Jesus. Another man. Why’d she have to say it that way?

“Lincoln … ,” she said.

He shook his head, and kicked at the ground again until they were moving.

“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” she said after two or three go-rounds. “I got to know Marlon when we were rehearsing The Straw. We were together all the time, and it just turned into something more.”

“But that play was in September,” Lincoln said. With new distress.

“Yes.”

“That was right after we got to California.”

“I should have told you sooner.”

“No,” Lincoln said, “you should have …not done this.”

They were both quiet for a few moments. Lincoln kept kicking, making the playground equipment turn faster, until Sam grabbed his arm. “Stop,” she said. “I’m getting dizzy.”

He dug his heels into the cold, hard dirt and hugged one of the metal handholds.

“How did you think our relationship was going to end?” Sam asked when they stopped. She seemed angry now. “And don’t say that you didn’t think it was going to end. You’re not that naïve.”

He was.

“These things end,” she said. “They always end. Nobody marries their first love. First love is just that. First. It’s implied that something else will follow.”

“I never thought I’d hear you make the case against Romeo and Juliet,” he said.

“They would have broken up if they’d lived for the sequel.”

“I love you,” he said. It came out too close to a whine. “Say that you don’t love me.”

“I won’t say that.” Her face was cold.

“Then say that you do.”

“I’ll always love you,” she said, factually. She wasn’t looking at him.

“Always,” he said. “But not now. Not enough …”

“If I was meant to be with you,” Sam said, “I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Marlon.”

Once, when Lincoln was playing croquet with his sister, she’d accidentally cracked him in the temple with a mallet. In the moment before he fell to the ground, he’d thought to himself, I might die now. This might be it. That’s how he felt when Sam told him she was in love with Marlon.

“You make it sound like it happened to you,” he said. “Like you had nothing to do with it. You make infidelity sound like a hole in the sidewalk. You had a choice.”

“Infidelity?” She rolled her eyes. “Fine. Then I guess I chose to be unfaithful. Do you still want to be with me, knowing that?”

“Yes.”

She threw back her head in disgust.

Lincoln moved closer to her. There was a cold steel bar between them (exactly the kind you’re not supposed to lick).

“Why did you want me to come to California with you?” he asked. “If you knew we were going to break up?”

“I didn’t plan it this way,” she said. Less angry now, and maybe a little ashamed. “I didn’t know when we were going to break up.”

“I didn’t know we were ever going to break up,” he said. “If you had told me that it was a foregone conclusion, I wouldn’t have followed you across the country …” He stopped talking and looked at her.