Read After I Do Online

Authors: Taylor Jenkins Reid

After I Do

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Praise for
Forever, Interrupted

“Touching and powerful . . .Reid masterfully grabs hold of the heartstrings and doesn’t let go. A stunning first novel.”


Publishers Weekly,
starred review

“You’ll laugh, weep, and fly through each crazy-readable page.”


Redbook

“A moving novel about life and death.”


Kirkus

“A poignant and heartfelt exploration of love and commitment in the absence of shared time that asks, what does it take to be the love of someone’s life?”

—Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, #1
New York Times
bestselling authors

“Moving, gorgeous, and at times heart-wrenching.”

—Sarah Jio,
New York Times
bestselling author

“Sweet, heartfelt, and surprising. These characters made me laugh as well as cry, and I ended up falling in love with them, too.”

—Sarah Pekkanen, internationally ­bestselling author of
The Opposite of Me

“This beautifully rendered story explores the brilliance and rarity of finding true love, and how we find our way back through the painful aftermath of losing it. These characters will leap right off the page and into your heart.”

—Amy Hatvany, author of
Safe with Me

To Mindy Jenkins and Jake Jenkins

(May this serve as the final word that I have the best feet in the family.)

flagrant
,
adj

I would be standing right there, and you would walk out of the bathroom without putting the cap back on the toothpaste.

The Lover’s Dictionary

part one

WHERE DOES THE GOOD GO?

W
e are in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, and once again, Ryan has forgotten where we left the car. I keep telling him that it’s in Lot C, but he doesn’t believe me.

“No,” he says, for the tenth time. “I specifically remember turning right when we got here, not left.”

It’s incredibly dark, the path in front of us lit only by lampposts featuring oversized baseballs. I looked at the sign when we parked.

“You remember wrong,” I say, my tone clipped and pissed-off. We’ve already been here too long, and I hate the chaos of Dodger Stadium. It’s a warm summer night, so I have that to be thankful for, but it’s ten
P.M.,
and the rest of the fans are pouring out of the stands, the two of us fighting through a sea of blue and white jerseys. We’ve been at this for about twenty minutes.

“I don’t remember wrong,” he says, walking ahead and not even bothering to look back at me as he speaks. “You’re the one with the bad memory.”

“Oh, I see,” I say, mocking him. “Just because I lost my keys this morning, suddenly, I’m an idiot?”

He turns and looks at me; I use the moment to try to catch up to him. The parking lot is hilly and steep. I’m slow.

“Yeah, Lauren, that’s exactly what I said. I said you were an idiot.”

“I mean, you basically did. You said that you know what you’re talking about, like I don’t.”

“Just help me find the goddamn car so we can go home.”

I don’t respond. I simply follow him as he moves farther and farther away from Lot C. Why he wants to go home is a mystery to me. None of this will be any better at home. It hasn’t been for months.

He walks around in a long, wide circle, going up and down the hills of the Dodger Stadium parking lot. I follow close behind, waiting with him at the crosswalks, crossing at his pace. We don’t say anything. I think of how much I want to scream at him. I think of how I wanted to scream at him last night, too. I think of how much I’ll probably want to scream at him tomorrow. I can only imagine he’s thinking much of the same. And yet the air between us is perfectly still, uninterrupted by any of our thoughts. So often lately, our nights and weekends are full of tension, a tension that is only relieved by saying good-bye or good night.

After the initial rush of people leaving the parking lot, it becomes a lot easier to see where we are and where we parked.

“There it is,” Ryan says, not bothering to point for further edification. I turn my head to follow his gaze. There it is. Our small black Honda.

Right in Lot C.

I smile at him. It’s not a kind smile.

He smiles back. His isn’t kind, either.

ELEVEN AND A HALF YEARS AGO

I
t was the middle of my sophomore year of college. My freshman year had been a lonely one. UCLA was not as inviting as I’d thought it might be when I applied. It was hard for me to meet people. I went home a lot on weekends to see my family. Well, really, I went home to see my younger sister, Rachel. My mom and my little brother, Charlie, were secondary. Rachel was the person I told everything to. Rachel was the one I missed when I ate alone in the dining hall, and I ate alone in the dining hall more than I cared to admit.

At the age of nineteen, I was much shier than I’d been at seventeen, graduating from high school toward the top of my class, my hand cramping from signing so many yearbooks. My mom kept asking me all through my freshman year of college if I wanted to transfer. She kept saying that it was OK to look someplace else, but I didn’t want to. I liked my classes. “I just haven’t found my stride yet,” I said to her every time she asked. “But I will. I’ll find it.”

I started to find it when I took a job in the mailroom. Most nights, it was one or two other people and me, a dynamic in which I thrived. I was good in small groups. I could shine when I didn’t have to struggle to be heard. And after a few months of shifts in the mailroom, I was getting to know a lot of people. Some of them I really liked. And some of those people really liked me, too. By the time we broke for Christmas that year, I was excited to go back in January. I missed my friends.

When classes began again, I found myself with a new schedule that put me in a few buildings I’d never been in before. I was starting to take psychology classes since I’d fulfilled most of my gen eds. And with this new schedule, I started running into the same guy everywhere I went. The fitness center, the bookstore, the elevators of Franz Hall.

He was tall and broad-shouldered. He had strong arms, round around the biceps, barely fitting into the sleeves of his shirts. His hair was light brown, his face often marked with stubble. He was always smiling, always talking to someone. Even when I saw him walking alone, he seemed to have the confidence of a person with a mission.

I was in line to enter the dining hall when we finally spoke. I was wearing the same gray shirt I’d worn the day before, and it occurred to me as I spotted him a bit farther up in the line that he might notice.

After he swiped his ID to get in, he hung back behind his friends and carried on a conversation with the guy running the card machine. When I got up to the front of the line, he stopped his conversation and looked at me.

“Are you following me or what?” he said, looking right into my eyes and smiling.

I was immediately embarrassed, and I thought he could see it.

“Sorry, stupid joke,” he said. “I’ve just been seeing you everywhere lately.” I took my card back. “Can I walk with you?”

“Yeah,” I said. I was meeting my mailroom friends, but I didn’t see them there yet anyway. And he was cute. That was a lot of what swayed me. He was cute.

“Where are we going?” he asked me. “What line?”

“We are going to the grill,” I said. “That is, if you’re standing in line with me.”

“That’s actually perfect. I have been dying for a patty melt.”

“The grill it is, then.”

It was quiet as we stood in line together, but he was trying hard to keep the conversation going.

“Ryan Lawrence Cooper,” he said, putting his hand out. I laughed and shook it. His grip was tight. I got the distinct feeling that if he did not want this handshake to end, there was nothing I could do about it. That’s how strong his hand felt.

“Lauren Maureen Spencer,” I said. He let go.

I had pictured him as smooth and confident, poised and charming, and he was those things to a certain degree. But as we talked, he seemed to be stumbling a bit, not sure of the right thing to say. This cute guy who had seemed so much surer of himself than I could ever be turned out to be . . . entirely human. He was just a person who was good-looking and probably funny and just comfortable enough with himself to seem as if he understood the world better than the rest of us. But he didn’t, really. He was just like me. And suddenly, that made me like him a whole lot more than I realized. And that made me nervous. My stomach started to flutter. My palms started to sweat.

“So, it’s OK, you can admit it,” I said, trying to be funny. “It’s
you
who have actually been stalking
me
.”

“I admit it,” he said, and then quickly reversed his story. “No! Of course not. But you have noticed it, right? It’s like suddenly you’re everywhere.”


You’re
everywhere,” I said, stepping up in line as it moved. “I’m just in my normal places.”

“You mean you’re in
my
normal places.”

“Maybe we’re just cosmically linked,” I joked. “Or we have similar schedules. The first time I saw you was on the quad, I think. And I’ve been killing time there between Intro to Psych and Statistics. So you must have picked up a class around that time on South Campus, right?”

“You’ve unintentionally revealed two things to me, Lauren,” Ryan said, smiling.

“I have?” I said.

“Yep.” He nodded. “Less important is that I now know you’re a psych major and two of the classes you take. If I was a stalker, that would be a gold mine.”

“OK.” I nodded. “Although if you were any decent stalker, you would have known that already.”

“Regardless, a stalker is a stalker.”

We were finally at the front of the line, but Ryan seemed more focused on me than on the fact that it was time to order. I looked away from him only long enough to order my dinner. “Can I get a grilled cheese, please?” I asked the cook.

“And you?” the cook asked Ryan.

“Patty melt, extra cheese,” Ryan said, leaning forward and accidentally grazing my forearm with his sleeve. I felt just the smallest jolt of electricity.

“And the second thing?” I said.

“Hm?” Ryan said, looking back at me, already losing his train of thought.

“You said I revealed two things.”

“Oh!” Ryan smiled and moved his tray closer to mine on the counter. “You said you noticed me in the quad.”

“Right.”

“But I didn’t see you then.”

“OK,” I said, not clear what he meant.

“So technically speaking, you noticed me first.”

I smiled at him. “Touché,” I said. The cook handed me my grilled cheese. He handed Ryan his patty melt. We took our trays and headed to the soda machine.

“So,” Ryan said, “since you’re the pursuer here, I guess I’ll just have to wait for you to ask me out.”

“What?” I asked, halfway between shocked and mortified.

“Look,” he said, “I can be very patient. I know you have to work up the courage, you have to find a way to talk to me, you have to make it seem casual.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. I reached for a glass and thrust it under the ice machine. The ice machine roared and then produced three measly ice cubes. Ryan stood beside me and thwacked the side of it. An avalanche of ice fell into my glass. I thanked him.

“No problem. So how about this?” Ryan suggested. “How about I wait until tomorrow night, six
P.M.
? We’ll meet in the lobby of Hendrick Hall. I’ll take you out for a burger and maybe some ice cream. We’ll talk. And you can ask me out then.”

I smiled at him.

“It’s only fair,” he said. “You noticed me first.” He was very charming. And he knew it.

“OK. One question, though. In line over there,” I said as I I pointed to the swiper. “What did you talk to him about?” I was asking because I was pretty sure I knew the answer, and I wanted to make him say it.

“The guy swiping the cards?” Ryan asked, smiling, knowing he’d been caught.

“Yeah, I’m just curious what you two had to talk about.”

Ryan looked me right in the eye. “I said, ‘Act like we are having a conversation. I need to buy time until that girl in the gray shirt gets up here.’”

That jolt of electricity that felt small only a few moments earlier now seared through me. It lit me up. I could feel it in the tips of my fingers and the furthest ends of my toes.

“Hendrick Hall, tomorrow. Six
P.M.
,” I said, confirming that I would be there. But by that point, I think we both knew I was dying to be there. I wanted
then
and
there
to be
here
and
now
.

“Don’t be late,” he said, smiling and already walking away.

I put my drink on my tray and walked casually through the dining hall. I sat down at a table by myself, not yet ready to meet my friends. The smile on my face was too wide, too strong, too bright.

• • •

I was in the lobby of Hendrick Hall by 5:55
P.M.

I waited around for a couple of minutes, trying to pretend that I wasn’t eagerly awaiting the arrival of someone.

This was a date. A real date. This wasn’t like the guys who asked you to come with them and their friends to some party they heard about on Friday night. This wasn’t like when the guy you liked in high school, the guy you’d known since eighth grade, finally kissed you.

This was a date.

What was I going to say to him? I barely knew him! What if I had bad breath or said something stupid? What if my mascara smudged and I spent the whole night not realizing I looked like a raccoon?

Panicking, I tried to catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window, but as soon as I did, Ryan came through the front doors into the lobby.

“Wow,” he said when he saw me. In that instant, I was no longer worried that I might be somehow imperfect. I didn’t worry about my knobby hands or my thin lips. Instead, I thought about the shine of my dark brown hair and the grayish tint to my blue eyes. I thought about my long legs as I saw Ryan’s eyes drift toward them. I was happy that I’d decided to show them off with a short black jersey dress and a zip-up sweatshirt. “You look great,” he continued. “You must really like me.”

I laughed at him as he smiled at me. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, with a UCLA fleece over it.

“And you must be trying really hard to not show how much you like
me
,” I said.

He smiled at me then, and it was a different smile from earlier. He wasn’t smiling at me trying to charm me. He was charmed
by
me.

It felt good. It felt really good.

• • •

Over burgers, we asked each other where we were from and what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. We talked about our classes. We figured out that we’d both had the same teacher for Public Speaking the year before.

“Professor Hunt!” Ryan said, his voice sounding almost nostalgic about the old man.

“Don’t tell me you liked Professor Hunt!” I said. No one liked Professor Hunt. That man was about as interesting as a cardboard box.

“What is not to like about that guy? He’s nice. He’s complimentary! That was one of the only classes I got an A in that semester.”

Ironically, Public Speaking was the only class I got a B in that semester. But that seemed like an obnoxious thing to say.

“That was my worst class,” I said. “Public speaking is not my forte. I’m better with research, papers, multiple-choice tests. I’m not great with oral stuff.”

I looked at him after I said it, and I could feel my cheeks burning red. It was such an awkward sentence to say on a date with someone you barely knew. I was terrified he was going to make a joke about it. But he didn’t. He pretended not to notice.

“You seem like the kind of girl who gets straight As,” he said. I was so relieved. He had somehow managed to take this sort of embarrassing moment I’d had and turned it around for me.

I blushed again. This time for a different reason. “Well, I do OK,” I said. “But I’m impressed you got an A in Public Speaking. It’s actually not an easy A, that class.”

Ryan shrugged. “I think I’m just one of those people who can do the public speaking thing. Like, large crowds don’t scare me. I could speak to a room full of people and not feel the slightest bit out of place. It’s the one-on-one stuff that makes me nervous.”

I could feel myself cock my head to one side, a physical indication of my curiosity. “You don’t seem the type to be nervous talking in any situation,” I said. “Regardless of how many people are there.”

He smiled at me as he finished his burger. “Don’t be fooled by this air of nonchalance,” he said. “I know I’m devilishly handsome and probably the most charming guy you’ve met in your life, but there’s a reason it took me so long before I could find a way to talk to you.”

This guy, this guy who seemed so cool, he liked
me. I
made him nervous.

I’m not sure there is a feeling quite like finding out that you make the person who makes you nervous, nervous.

It makes you bold. It makes you confident. It makes you feel as if you could do anything in the world.

I leaned over the table and kissed him. I kissed him in the middle of a burger place, the arm of my sweatshirt accidentally falling into the container of ketchup. It wasn’t perfectly timed, by any means. I didn’t hit his mouth straight on. It was sort of to the side a bit. And it was clear I had taken him by surprise, because he froze for a moment before he relaxed into it. He tasted like salt.

When I pulled away from him, it really hit me. What I had just done. I’d never kissed someone before. I had always
been
kissed. I’d always kissed
back
.

He looked at me, confused. “I thought
I
was supposed to do that,” he said.

I was now horribly, terribly mortified. This was the sort of thing I’d read about in the “embarrassing moments” section of
YM
magazine as a girl. “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m so . . . I don’t know why I—”

“Sorry?” he said, shocked. “No, don’t be sorry. That was perhaps the single greatest moment of my life.”

I looked up at him, smiling despite myself.

“All girls should kiss like that,” he said. “All girls should be exactly like you.”

When we walked home, he kept pulling me into doorways and alcoves to kiss me. The closer we got to my dorm, the longer the kisses became. Until just outside the front door to my building, we kissed for what felt like hours. It was cold outside by this point; the sun had set hours ago. My bare legs were freezing. But I couldn’t feel anything except his hands on me, his lips on mine. I could think of nothing but what we were doing, the way my hands felt on his neck, the way he smelled like fresh laundry and musk.

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