He was going to church camp. I was going to miss him. The whole summer I had felt like I had hardly seen him. The week after state track, I had gone to Mexico on a missions trip. Just a short week and a half later, I was on my way to Othello, Washington to see family. Summer was halfway over, and I had hardly spent any time with Zach.
I was in uncharted territory. This was my first real relationship. My parents hadn’t exactly worked out, and I was terrified that I was doomed to repeat history. I thought the relationship would end with summer. It would be his first year in college, and I would be a world away in my senior year of high school. In spite of this, time away from him was tortuous. A day without Zach was a slow one.
The day before he left, we spent all afternoon and evening together. Perhaps if we were inseparable for 12 hours, we wouldn’t notice the empty space without each other. Before Zach dropped me off, he told me his phone charger had stopped working and his phone was dead. I couldn’t bare the thought of not even being able to speak to him. I offered him my extra charger.
Zach parked on the curb as I ran inside to grab the charger. I climbed in and set it in the cup holder. After a brief pause, he wrapped his arms around me. “I love you, Nicky.”
There they were. The words I had been dreading. I froze. Automatically, I heard myself say, “I love you too.” When I realized what I had done, I practically sprinted out of his car. Not graceful, not graceful at all. I threw open my front door and flopped dramatically onto the carpet. I replayed the conversation in my head, over and over again.
I had just given him a phone charger. “I love you”, ” I owe you.” They both sound so similar. Oh. My. Gosh. I said “I love you too.” I had said it first. The mortification was coursing through my body. Oh, I had been such an idiot. He probably thinks I’m so desperate. My wallowing in self-shame was interrupted by the ping of a text.
It was Zach. He must have plugged in his phone. With shaking fingers, I entered my unlock code. He was probably going to ask me what I said. Maybe he pitied me enough to ignore my fumble completely. “Was that too soon for you?”
Oh no. So he had heard me. “What do you mean?” Smooth. He’ll have to tell me. Maybe he’ll feel bad and back off.
Ping. “Was it too early to tell you I love you?” I paused. What had I actually heard? Was I right the first time? I was not prepared for this. It had been too early. I said something I hadn’t meant yet, even if I hadn’t said it first. Would I hurt his feelings if I told him? How was he so sure he loved me? Did he mean it?
“For me, it was too soon. I don’t want to say something I don’t mean, and I want to really mean it when I say it.” My thumb hovered over the send button for a heartbeat. I pressed it and let out a big breath.
Ping. “I understand Nicky. Sweet dreams.”
I laid in bed that night, thinking how things would have to end by summer. I had no idea that in 1 year and 6 months, I would be in a blush wedding dress. I would whisper, “I love you,” and I would mean it so unflinchingly.