Leon for When I Love You
This is how most of my conversations start with John.
"Why does he call you 'Bertie'?" asks everyone who has ever seen us together.
"Well, his sister started calling me 'Al' and then John thought it would be funny to call me 'Albert'," I say. "Then 'Bert' derived from that, and then one day I woke up to a message that said, 'Good morning little Bertie' and that was that."
"Oh," they say, "do you like it?"
"Yeah," I say, smiling, "because he only calls me Bertie when he's trying to tell me he loves me."
And I know this to be true because after two years of dating and three nicknames later he told me so.
"Oh, hello Trish," he will say. I can always tell he's smiling on the other end of the phone.
"Stop calling me Trish."
"Because I like Bertie."
"But I call you Bertie when I'm really in love with you."
I click my tongue against my cheek, "Exactly."
"But I like to save those moments," he says.
We have been in Florida for two months now, and I have been working as a Marketing Coordinator for almost as long. I have learned that working a full-time job is exhausting. I have come to realize how much I need stories about pirates and dragons to be functional. I see now that long distance friendships are far more difficult than long distance relationships. I have realized how many words I love with all of my heart, and I have seen how fiercely protective I can get over the sentences I adore.
I have also realized that I am someone's number one.
And I never felt like I was anyone's first choice before.
"We love you and you sister the exact same," my parents say.
"You're one of my best friends," my friends will say.
"I like your writing as much as I like hers."
And I realized that I've been placing myself in hidden spaces in hopes that I could slide up to the first spot on someone's list without realizing I am already there.
"We are getting our new bedroom furniture this weekend," John said a few weeks ago. "We should probably get a new comforter."
"I want something sophisticated," I said. "Maybe just a solid color?"
"So you want boring," John said, brushing his finger down my nose.
"Sophisticated. There's a difference."
I pulled myself out of the car in front of Home Goods and walked to the sliding doors and directly to the back. I was surrounded by standard patterns and the ghost of my freshman dorm room comforter. I quietly slid my eyes up and down the plastic wrap that was lined against the wall.
"Stop rushing me," I said, whispering.
"I'm not," John said. He rocked back onto his heels before pressing the toes of the Oxford shoes he was wearing to the floor. "I'm bored."
"We just got here."
"Exactly," he said, smiling down at me.
"There isn't anything here!" I said, throwing my hands in the air. "Can we go to the mall?"
I ran my fingertips over the $600 plum duvet at Crate & Barrel before I decided I was angry and wanted to go home to the queen comforter on our king bed.
"We can buy that comforter if you really like it," he said.
"No," I folded my arms across my chest, stubbornly. "I don't want it."
"Well," he said, turning into our driveway, "one day you'll write a book and you can buy that comforter if it means that much to you."
And John has been saying things like this since I first met him. He has believed in me since the day I told him I loved words and writing and stories more than I love most other things. But I have only recently gained the confidence he has always had in me.
"Good morning, Bertie," he said, brushing my hair out of my face. I was tucked under the blankets in the spare bedroom at his parents' house.
"Let me sleep," I said, rolling over.
"Okay," he said without moving, and I could tell he wanted to say something else.
"Well, I probably wasn't supposed to do this," he said, shifting around nervously, "but I used the printer upstairs and I found this."
He held up the short story I had finished the night before about a girl who couldn't hear and a lanky boy who wanted to love her but couldn't figure out how.
"Oh," I said, nervous. "I forgot I printed that out."
"I read it."
"The whole thing?"
"Yeah," he said, running his hands through his hair. "It was really good."
"Yes." And he said it like it was the truest thing in the world.
Lately I have been talking about John less and less, and it's because I don't want to seem like I'm boasting or dependent or frail. But I'm reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell right now, and I can't help but think back to one of my favorite sentences of hers from Fangirl:
"Happily ever after, or even just together ever after, is not cheesy,” Wren said. “It’s the noblest, like, the most courageous thing two people can shoot for."
Whether this statement is true for every person in the world is neither here nor there but it's true for me.
"Do you think I'm less because I love YA books?"
"What are you talking about?"
"You know," I said. "I don't like James Joyce or reading non-fiction. Sometimes I think adult fiction is bland."
"Tell me about the book you're reading," he said, sitting across from me on the bed.
"Oh, it's fantastic!" I said, and I couldn't help how my throat caught. "It's about these magicians who are in love with each other but they don't know it. Simon just fought a dragon and Baz helped him, and I just love dragons, John. I used to be so in love with Charlie Weasley."
"I can tell."
"I love everything about this book," I said, holding back tears. "I love the way it makes me feel, and I think I'm going to be devastated when it's over. Sometimes I feel like there is no one else in the world who loves books the way I do, and occasionally I feel like I'm going to tumble into a million pieces if I don't talk to someone about them."
"There is nothing wrong with the books you love, Al," he said. "You shouldn't feel less because you love something this much."
And you shouldn't be made to feel less if you love someone this much.
Falling in love with John is the most courageous thing I've ever done.
I have all this love for him inside of me just dying to get out. How could I possibly hide that from the world because someone says it makes me sound young and naive. You shouldn't be afraid to show the world how much someone means to you.
And you shouldn't be ashamed to boast about the way someone looks at you from across a room if they are looking at you under deep lashes in a dark blue suit like you're the reason the walls haven't fallen down.
And I hope, for all those who want it, that you get to be someone's Little Bertie in this life.
"I just want to be someone's number one," I said earlier today, whispering into the phone.
I stood still between the bookshelves of the third floor library in my office building, running my knuckles across a frayed maroon spine
"Bertie, don't you know you are."
And that smile again.