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poison and wine

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It was December of the next year — Kelley's sophomore year — when Carli told Hope that she'd decided to move to New Jersey in a few weeks.

She'd be with Bryan, the soulmate who she has patiently waited for to finish medical school. He'd already picked out a house that will fit both of them snugly, and she had a job lined up with the Jets, and she offhandedly mentioned something about an extra room for "the future" in a way that makes Hope's throat close up with emotion.

"Carli." She grabbed her friend's hand, nestling it between the two of them and grinning. "I'm so happy for you."

She was happy for her friend, truly. She was also soon-to-be homeless, because the cost of rent was much too high for her to handle on her own and she didn't trust their apartment to any random stranger. So Hope found herself growling at her computer one day, sprawled across Jerramy's couch searching for a new apartment.

"Still can't find anything?" he asked, walking back into the living room with mugs of Irish coffee. She looked up at him, smiling gratefully as she gathered her mug in both hands and nodded. Jerramy settled down on the couch next to her, muting the North Carolina game.

"Nothing." She smacked at a key angrily, blowing on her coffee. "Literally, nothing in my price range that's close enough to work to make any sense. Nothing."

Jerramy hummed gently in response, rubbing a hand idly against her shoulder. Hope could feel his eyes, and she looked up at him, breaking her scowl for a moment and asking a question with her eyes rather than her words. He sighed, reached out his hand for hers.

"I'm going out on a limb here but—" Jerramy sucked in a breath. "Would you like to move in with me? You're already over here all the time, and I mean it would make sense, I wouldn't even ask for that much rent—"

"Of course," Hope breathed, smiling widely, and his face slowly mirrored hers.

"Okay," he said. "Okay."

She didn't tell Kelley until she had already moved in, her books filling gaps in Jerramy's shelves, art stacked in corners, pots and pans cluttering the used-to-be-half-empty cupboards. They fit together well, but something about living with a man she loved while the girl she loved was unaware seemed wrong.

Yet again, Kelley seemed almost uninterested in Jerramy, although she was happy that Hope had found somewhere to live — "I don't know if I could keep talking to you if you were a hobo," she had teased — and immediately turned the conversation to Hope's latest project. Hope left it at that, the understanding clear as ever — don't talk about Jerramy.

Kelley called her a week later, out of breath as always, and Hope reclined on the sofa, grinning.

"You're changing your major?" Hope asked, surprised. "I thought you loved engineering."

"Yeah, I do!" Kelley was excitable lately, a little hyperactive, but in a good way. "I'm not switching out of that. But I want to go into environmental engineering not chemical."

"Okay, please explain to the poor dumb artist over here," Hope laughed, and Kelley made a mock noise of exasperation. She launched into a description of her new major, which was apparently going to "save the world, thank you very much" and Hope was laughing again, a little louder, when Jerramy walked in. He smiled at her, watching her talk for a moment before sitting next to her, dropping a hand on her knee as if to interject, and suddenly Hope felt very wrong.

They weren't supposed to coexist. She had Kelley and she had Jerramy and the two weren't supposed to fit together in any sense of the word. She flinched away from his hand, smiled weakly and standing to excuse herself, walking outside to sit on the front step and finish her conversation with Kelley.

"Are you okay?" The girl on the other end seemed to be able to sense the shift, her discomfort. Hope brushed it off, made up a dumb excuse, pretended that she sounded believable. When she finally went back inside an hour later, Jerramy was sitting on the couch. He looked at her, concerned.

"Who was that?"

And she suddenly felt awful, terrible really, because she hadn't told him. In a year, she hadn't told him. And now, with their lives intertwined and entangled, she had to break it to him that their relationship had an expiration date.

"That was Kelley." Hope put her phone down, crossing the room. "She's my soulmate."

"Your— oh." He cocked his head at her, eyes narrowed in confusion. "Do you actually believe in that stuff?"

Hope recoiled at the question, even though it was asked gently.

"Of course I do." Her stance became defensive. "Her writing's been showing up on my skin for years."

"That— that doesn't happen," Jerramy stammered, and Hope realized suddenly, horribly, that he didn't have one, that he'd never seen the writing, that he'd never know what it meant to have his future all figured out from the age of 11. She took another step towards him, gently touching his arm.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "Kelley is— she's my future. She's what I'm working towards, she's where I'm going to end up."

"Then why?" He didn't say more, just gestured around at the house, at the two of them, and Hope knew what he meant. Why take the time? Why try? Why do any of this?

"I love you." Her voice was soft, trembling. "I love you, Jerramy, and I want to live for a present with you, even if our future isn't forever."

"I can't believe—" He choked, turning his head, but Hope could see emotion rippling across his face. Jerramy didn't say anything else, just put a hand on her shoulder and then walked out the front door. She fell asleep on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, waiting for headlights to swivel into the driveway.

She woke the next morning to the smell of fresh coffee. Jerramy was on the couch next to her, a bag of donuts in hand, coffee resting on the table next to her. He wordlessly handed her one cup, reaching out to touch the rim of his with hers.

"To the present," he murmured, and his smile was weak but his eyes were determined, and Hope swore to God she couldn't love him any more than she did in that moment.

Living with a partner made Hope more domestic — she bought flowers randomly for the dining room table, took breaks from painting in the living room to try out new recipes. Life fell into a contented pattern, always feeling as if she was in Jerramy's orbit without being too attached or detached to be happy.

She still called Kelley as much, if not more, trying to prove that living with Jerramy wasn't a threat. Kelley, for her part, seemed almost overwhelmingly happy at Stanford, secure in a way that Hope remembered fondly from college. The older she got, the more effortlessly they fit together, conversations stretching even longer than before. And Kelley was still her go-to when she was tired, when she was upset or hit what she called "artist's block," when she just needed someone to listen to.

She was the first person she told when she was promoted to the position of lead project manager for the company she had worked at since graduation, somehow climbing the design ladder faster in two and a half years than many did in twice the time. Hope's knees nearly buckled when she received the news, and she had hardly left the office before her phone was in hand, fingers dialing a number she knew by heart.

"God damn it, I'm so proud of you," Kelley shouted, and she was fairly sure she could hear the younger girl jumping around on the other end. "You are the fucking best, you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, Kell." Hope laughed at her enthusiasm, and in her excitement made the type of promise she always tried to keep from making. "I might just be rich by the time we're together."

"I picked a good one," Kelley said in response, seeming to ignore the vague promise. She left the obvious question — and when will that be? — to rest for the moment.

Jerramy's response was softer, quieter, just like the man himself. He grinned broadly and tugged her into a hug, muttering a gruff "I'm so proud of you" into her hair as he kissed the top of her head. She glowed with the praise, tucking her head into his chest.

"Okay, here's what we're going to do," he said suddenly, holding her by the arms. "You're off Friday, right?"

She nodded yes, and he was suddenly in motion, telling her to pack a suitcase — "Your warm clothes, okay?" — his smile wide and infectious, and Hope had no idea what she was getting mixed up in but she didn't give a damn. The next afternoon, Jerramy drove them to the airport, only grinning in response when she badgered him with questions about where they were going.

Hope quickly found out when they boarded the 6:25 p.m. flight to New York City. She could hardly sit still as the plane rolled slowly across the tarmac — only partly because she despised planes — and Jerramy didn't seem to be able to stop looking at her.

Six hours later, it was midnight and they were standing in the middle of Times Square, their arms flung out as they watched the crowds jostle by.

"You're crazy," Hope shouted, grabbing him by his coat and kissing him quickly. "You're actually insane."

"Yeah." He looked down at her. "Yeah, I think I am."

The next morning, she woke early, and she slipped into the hall to call Kelley without giving it a second thought. Her call went through to voicemail, but she left a long message, explaining what the city looked like — "It's too damn full of energy, you would love it." — and promising to call later. She hung up with an "I love you" in her throat, because this city made her feel filled with life and it made her wish that Kelley was there.

Jerramy was awake when she re-entered the room, sitting on the side of the bed and pulling his shirt on. She looked at him, a wave of guilt shallow in the pit of her stomach, and he smiled half-heartedly.

"Where did you get to?" His eyes followed her phone as she slipped it into her back pocket.

"Just making a quick call." She could see the melancholy look in his eyes, the way they drooped back to the floor.

"Kelley?" he asked, and she nodded, even though he wasn't looking at her, because she couldn't bear to say the words that she knew would hurt him. Because Jerramy would never tell her how this breaks him, tell her he's afraid of a college girl three time zones away. He wouldn't ask her to stop calling Kelley. He wouldn't tell her to leave the girl alone. And it's this understanding, this kindness — even though it breaks him — that in some ways made Hope love him even more.

"Hey." Hope sat next to him on the bed, placing a hand on his shoulder and a kiss on top of his head, dropping her hand and intertwining their fingers. "What do we want to do today?"

He smiled, small and unsteady, and glanced at her.

"Well, the morning is up to you, but—" Jerramy reached into the bedside table, pulling out an envelope and tearing the paper lip with one finger. "I think you'll want to leave your afternoon free."

She glanced down as he placed two tickets in her hands, and she could feel him beaming expectantly at her, but she couldn't look up quite yet because the tears brimming in her eyes made it hard to double check the name of the show printed in bold lettering.

"You didn't." And now Hope looked up, wrapping both arms around his neck, tugging him close.

"It's still your favorite show, right?" They broke apart, and Hope just grinned back, nodding wordlessly. Jerramy looked uncontrollably pleased with himself, like he just won the lottery even though he's the one giving a gift, and it was enough to make Hope kiss him, again and again.

"I love you," she murmured, and the tension that filled his broad frame since she disappeared this morning seemed to seep away. He softened, and she saw him for a split second — vulnerable but not wary, trusting in her — and her heart swelled.

They spent the morning wandering the streets of New York, eating breakfast at a tiny German bakery, sharing soft pretzels outside Central Park, stopping to watch a street performer create a sunset out of spray paint on a spinning canvas (Jerramy bought it on the spot). They stopped by F.A.O Schwartz and leap around each other on a giant piano, attempting (and failing) to recreate the scene from Big, and eventually receiving a strong suggestion to leave (mainly brought on by a lightsaber fight that nearly resulted in the destruction of a giant Lego sculpture).

In the end, they were almost late to the matinee show, sliding into their seats just as the lights begin to dim. Hope clutched at Jerramy's arm, and he flashed a smile at her as the curtain rose, and she closed her eyes as the first bar of music began, praying she'd never forget this.

(she tried to forget the fact that, when the show ended, her first instinct was to call Kelley and tell her all about it.)

It was only after the show finished, when they spilled out into the crisp evening air, tugging on their coats, that Hope realized something about Jerramy was slightly off. It was in the weight of his movements — the way his eyes lingered on her, the way his arm tugged at her waist, the way he couldn't seem to stop smiling — and she wasn't sure if he was drunk off the city or the play or just the two of them, alone together, but the feeling was infectious.

Jerramy called them a taxi, and Hope figured they were headed home until he leaned forward and asked the driver to take them to the Met.

"You're up for one more adventure, right?" He settled back in his seat, and Hope just smiled, curling her fingers around his and leaning her head into his shoulder. Her phone buzzed, and for a second she wondered if she should check it, if it was Kelley calling to see how she is, but for the moment she figured the girl could wait.

The Met was better than she had expected, and truth be told, she had expected a lot. It was paradise for an artist, the type of place she just wanted to get lost in, and she walked wordlessly from piece to piece, floating in and out of rooms, Jerramy following, holding her hand, watching with a mix of amusement and adoration filling his eyes. Every now and then, she glanced back at him, asking what he thought, but he never really answered. He'd rather listen to her, listen to the way she obsessed over line and color, form and figure, eyes dancing with some type of love.

And then they entered the room of Monets, the one that is normally packed but on this Sunday night was somehow empty, and Hope couldn't help but let out the tiniest gasp. She stood in front of one, completely enamored, and it took her a moment to feel Jerramy tug lightly at her hand.

Then she turned around, and he had dropped to one knee, and the world turned head over heels.

"Hope." She opened her mouth but no words could come out, there were no words to explain what she felt, what she was feeling, whatever was filling her chest. "I love you. I've loved you for so long that I don't know how to do anything else. I love your eyes and your art and your voice and your sense of humor and the way that you look at me when you think I'm not looking."

She swallowed, reaching out to grab one of his hands, and she wanted to interrupt him but she didn't have the words.

"I have never asked you to choose me, and I will never ask you to do it again." His hand slipped into his pocket and he tugged out a ring, unimaginably small in his hands, the simple diamond sparkling in the light. "But I'm asking you now. I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Please, tell me you feel the same."

Hope looked down at him, at his warm eyes, at the gentle way he looked up at her, love thick in his eyes but tinted with fear. He knew that she might say no, and yet he was still here, on one knee.

"Jerramy, I—" Her voice trailed away, and she tugged at his hands until he understood and stood back up. "I don't know what to say."

"Say yes." His voice was pleading, and she thought of all the times he could have asked for this and didn't, and in this moment she hated herself because somehow, she had never expected to love him deeply enough to not want to break him. "Please, Hope."

Her silence spoke more deeply than any words could. He looked at her, face crumbling, so she pressed herself to him, arms wrapping around his torso.

"I need to think," she murmured, looking up at him. He wouldn't meet her eyes. "I need to figure this out, I need—"

"Time?" he asked, and his voice wasn't sarcastic, wasn't bitter. She loved him for it.

"Yes." She nodded. "I need time."

The drive back to their hotel was silent, the ring in Jerramy's pocket somehow weighing heavy, even out of sight. They shared the same bed, but they didn't touch, didn't speak, even over coffee the next morning, even in the terminal waiting for the plane to take them home. The silence was deafening.

Home didn't feel like home like this. After a few hours of unpacking quietly and attempting to avoid one another, Hope escaped, driving her car to a lake an hour from their house. She came out here to think occasionally, letting her sight unfocus over the glassy surface of the water. She sat for an hour, her fingers hovering over her phone, before finally dialing the number she needed to call.