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True L̶o̶v̶e̶ Story


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I know it hurts to change, but I don’t want to stay the same

Take me. Break me.

Do whatever it takes to make me what you need me to be.

Happy Birthday, my Little Bird.

I love you. I will always love you.

These are not adequate words. I write them, and a stream of half-fulfilled desires, snapshot memories, soul-deep emotions, nameless feelings rushes through me.

I think of everything I have ever loved, possessed, wanted, worked for, hoped for, treasured in my life.

I love you more.

More than my music. More than my career. More than my reputation. More than my independence. More than my life.

I would give up any or every one of them for your sake.

I would never be so bold as to make such statements, except that every word has been tested and proven true to me beyond any doubt. In the past couple of long months, I have, in some measure, felt the loss of all of these things. It has been painful—but nothing at all, compared to the loss of you.

My love for you is pure.

In September, something began in me that, I believe, I may spend the rest of my life trying to fully comprehend and describe.

I loved you before then—deeply.

But that night, in your room, after you finally came out of your closet, something changed.

I saw so many things that night. I saw myself. My unworthiness. My faithlessness. I saw the bitterness that had been in me, holding me for so many years. And I felt the full weight of my sins.

You were there, Sparrow, you know.

I broke my heart open. I pleaded with you and God and anyone else who would listen to search me and cleanse me and release me from all of that. To change me and forgive me.

And God heard me.

I saw something else. As I looked into the tearful, red face of the one person I loved more and had hurt more than anyone else in my life, I saw mercy and compassion. And I saw the pain it cost to give them.

I will never forget that moment. I have memorized that face. I have not let go of the hope it gave me.

Since that night, I have never stopped hoping to be reconciled with you.

I have forsaken my old ways completely.

I have been faithful to you.

I have been broken, again and again. Purged, tested, refined. I have new desires, new priorities, a new heart. It embarrasses me to say these things about myself. I just hope you’ll understand.

One thing I’m not afraid or ashamed to say is, I love you, Sparrow Kate Fisher.

I can withstand anything because I am sure about our love and I have determined to fight for it to the death. If you are afraid, if you are doubtful, I can make up the difference. You did that for me when I was fearful, and now I want to do that for you.

I love you.

Ian

P.S. Please use this calling card. :)

P.S.S. If you don’t want to talk to me, you could call and talk to my voicemail.

- 25 -

Our wedding date comes and goes.

Fed Ex brings an express letter to Sparrow Kate Fisher from Ian Orville Sterling. So official. I read the letter from Ian and spend the rest of the day holed away in my room.

It kills me, just like all the rest.

Sparrow—

These days and these nights. They’re endless. Merciless.

The time just seems to crawl. I would pray for it to pass quickly, but I know that every moment that slips by is one more moment I’ll never be able to share with the one I love. That’s you.

This is the day we were supposed to get married. I can’t stop seeing your face and wishing that you were saying yes to me today. Forever.

I’ve got a hundred kisses for every tear I’ve caused. A hug for every heartache.

Oh, I miss you. My body aches. My heart groans. I call your name and hope that somewhere deep in your spirit, you’ll hear…

I love you.

Ian

My wedding dress hangs in a heavy garment bag in the guest bedroom. I probably wouldn’t be able to wear it now anyway; it would just hang on me. Food is not cooperating with me right now. I try to eat, but besides having absolutely no appetite for the first time in my entire life, it makes me physically sick in one way or another every time I do eat. My parents think I have an ulcer, and they’re trying to force me to go to the doctor, but so far, I’ve managed to avoid going.

I’ve barely functioned in school the last few months and now that I’m home for Christmas break, I’m not so sure it was a good idea for me to come here either. I see Ian everywhere. There’s no escaping him.

My room is covered with roses of every shade. Red, various pinks, and my favorite, the Sterling roses. Since I sent Ian away, he has bombarded me with flowers and love letters and books and candy and whatever else he says reminds him of me. It’s funny—he never once gave me flowers or a love letter when we were together.

Jeff and Laila’s marriage is in tatters, but I guess it always was and we just didn’t know it. Jeff is devastated. I think it hurts him more that it was Ian having an affair with Laila than the fact that she had an affair at all. Laila called me once. If I had been able to see that it was her, I never would have answered it, but my parents have an antiquated house phone. She’s scared of losing Jeff. She said it really had ended with Ian long ago, and she tried to make nice. But then she said something about me really being “so naive” and that one comment wiped out any chance of making peace.

One minute I feel like I did the right thing by ending it with Ian, and the next, I am desperate for him. I weep. A lot. I long for that brief interval I had before the tears took over. I read his letters over and over again, and they make me angry and hopeful and afraid and lost and bitter and loved.

I do believe he loves me.

I just don’t believe it’s enough.

I wasn’t enough for him for the last couple of years, why would I think I could be enough now?

When I’m in New York, he writes or emails obsessively. When I’m home, he knows he has a chance of reaching me on the house phone, so he calls and calls until one of us picks up. One of my Christmas presents to my parents is a new box of house phones to stagger all over the house, with a huge caller-id display. It’s already wrapped, and I’m tempted to give it to them early.

A few days ago, he caught me in a vulnerable moment vs. a bitter moment. When he begged to please let him come see me, I finally caved and said he could. He’ll be here soon. My parents are still furious with him too, so he’s taking his chances with coming back into this house. They’ve made themselves scarce for a few hours, to give us a chance to talk.

I get ready and sit in the living room, waiting for him. When the doorbell rings, it feels alien to be answering the door for Ian. He used to come and go from this house as if it was his own.

I slowly open the door and a garbled sound comes out of Ian’s throat. He rushes toward me and stops just as he reaches me, unsure of what to do.

“Baby,” he whispers. He looks at me questioningly and my eyes must tell him it’s okay because he gently wraps his arms around me and pulls me close.

Despite everything, being in his arms is the only time I’ve felt whole since all of this happened. I close my eyes and inhale him, feeling the shift in the air around me … that deep breath that I’ve been struggling to get since he left finally making its way into my lungs and giving me relief. He runs his hands through my hair, whispering his love for me, caressing me with his words and making me weak with the momentary reprieve from grief.

And then I open my eyes and the fog lifts and I see him and what he did to me. I back up and step inside the house. Windows closed, shutters drawn. I can’t afford to let my guard down. “You can’t call me that.”

Ian stands in the doorway and openly gawks at me. “Little Bird,” he says in a choked voice.

“Or that,” I whisper.

He winces. “I’m sorry. Sparrow. You don’t lo

ok—” He shakes his head and doesn’t finish the thought.

I study him for the first time and feel a twinge of horror at how awful he looks. His color is all wrong. His eyes look dull and there are dark circles around them. He’s lost a lot of weight and his lean, muscular frame now looks gaunt. His hair is longer than I’ve ever seen it, soft waves falling over his collar. The hair is actually nice, but with the rest of him in such bad shape, it just adds to his almost frail look.

He clears his throat and says, “What if we go to the park? Maybe bundle up and sit by the water?”

“Okay.”

It’s chilly for California. I pull my coat up higher as we walk to the car. Ian is quiet and watchful. He keeps starting to say something and then stops. I don’t bother trying to talk.

We go to a park that we used to always visit and sit on our bench that overlooks the lake.

“There’s so much I want to say, Sparrow. So much. But first—is there anything you want to say to me?” He turns to face me, and I look at him briefly before turning back to the water.

“I don’t really know what to say to you anymore, Ian. I used to be able to tell you everything, and now—I just feel really stupid for all the times I did.”

He nods, his eyes hurt. “I have never, ever thought you were anything but brilliant. I love your thoughts. To have the luxury of your thoughts suddenly gone from my life is like death. All the light is gone.”

“I’m not so light anymore,” I tell him.

“Are you taking care of yourself, Sparrow? You look—I’m worried about you.” He strokes my cheek with his fingers and when I shiver, he puts his arms around me, warming me up.

I don’t say anything.

“I’ve wanted to say that you can’t imagine how much I miss you, love you—how empty I am without you. But now that I see you, I wonder. Maybe you can imagine? It’s like a constant sense that part of me is missing and that things will never be right without that part. It gnaws at me all day and night. Do you feel any of that?”

Tears roll down my face, and I angrily swipe them away. “Of course I do. I put all my hopes and desires and love … into you. You think I don’t feel it? Imagine how you feel and then add the pain of knowing that I was never enough for you, that you didn’t value what I gave you, that you were with someone else the entire time you were with me … put that all together and then you’ll know how I feel.”

“I know you’re the one who was hurt, Sparrow, I know that. All that I tell you in my letters is not to diminish your hurt, but to let you know how sorry I am and how deeply I ache for you, every single minute of every damn day. It’s excruciating. I guess your silence has made me wonder if you’ve found a way to move past it somehow.”

“I haven’t.”

“Please come back to me,” he says, softly touching my cheek. I push his hand away and stand up.

“I want to go home.”

Ian runs his hands through his hair. It doesn’t stick straight out anymore. “Okay. Okay, I’ll take you home. Can I still be with you?”

I nod.

The next few days are more of the same. I don’t know why I keep seeing him. I just can’t not see him. He’s my air. Even if it’s a nightmare, I can breathe when he’s in my proximity.

It’s tense with Ian and my parents. He tries to talk to them and they listen, but not much progress is made. They’ve given him a piece of their minds more than once, and yet, they’ve also been kind to him. For the most part, they are trying to give us our space. Charlie asks for details every night when Ian leaves, but I think she knows I’m just not up for hashing it out right now, so she doesn’t push very hard.

Christmas comes and Ian is still here. He hasn’t said how long he’s staying in town and I haven’t asked. I know it’s not healthy for either of us to carry on like this—it gives him hope, and I really don’t have any to give.

When he comes over Christmas afternoon, holding a pretty package wrapped with a bright silver bow, I place two gifts beside him.

“You didn’t need to get me anything,” he whispers. He seems more exhausted today, like these days are taking their toll on him.

“I was going to give you these presents the night before our wedding.”

“Oh.” He tries to muster up a grin, but it looks more like a grimace. “Thank you.” He tries to coax a smile out of me, but I’ve got nothing.

“Go ahead and open them.”

“Should I open the big one or the little one first?”

“How about the big one…”

He slowly unwraps the box, that way he does where it seems he is cherishing every scrap of paper. He doesn’t rip a single piece and when it’s off the box, he carefully folds it and sets it aside. He opens the shoebox and sees the black combat boots. He smiles then, and I can’t help it, I smile back.

“I wanted you to wear them at the wedding.”

He nods. He’s never been one for dress shoes. “I love them, Sparrow,” he says softly. “You know me, I’ll probably wear them until they’re falling apart. Here, open this.”

I take the box from him and once I have the bow off, I quickly tear it open. Inside the box is a gorgeous watch in white gold; tiny diamonds are on the face in place of numbers. “I wanted to give you this before the wedding too,” he admits. “Look right there.” He points to the back.

I turn it over and read: Time is on our side.

“It would have said something different if we’d gotten married, but we … didn’t, so … I’m glad I didn’t put the date on it,” he tries to sound lighthearted.

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” I put it on my arm and it fits perfectly. “Wow, usually watches don’t fit my wrist on the first try.”

“I know your wrist is about this big.” He holds up his thumb and forefinger and makes my wrist size.

“You were right.”

I’m suddenly overwhelmed with heaviness. I point at his present to keep the tears from starting. “Open your other one.”

He picks it up and when he opens it, he lets out a small laugh. “Same page…” He pulls his watch out of the box and gives it a long look. “It’s really nice. I’ve never owned anything so nice.” He turns it over and his breath hitches. “My heart will always beat your name.” The ‘heart’ is the symbol so it will all fit. There wasn’t room for the date on his either.

“Do you mean it?” he asks, his voice brighter than it has been, hopeful. “Is this true?”

“I’m afraid it might be,” I say.

All the light goes from his eyes when he realizes that I don’t want it to be true. The thought really does make me afraid. He clutches the watch and looks at me, his whole body anguished. “I will never give up hoping that you mean what this says.” He waves the watch around and slaps it on his wrist, holding his arm up when it’s clasped. He comes up to me and grasps both my shoulders with his hands. “What will it take, Sparrow? I’ll do whatever it takes, please, just be with me. Let me show you that I mean everything I’ve said. We’ll work it out, we will … I’m coming to New York and I’ll stay. My record deal didn’t work out, but—”

“Wait? What do you mean? You already signed, what—?” I shake my head. “I don’t understand!”

“They wanted me to be in LA in October and November and I told them I needed—” He drops my shoulders and walks to the window. He looks out the window a long time before continuing. “I just needed time. I haven’t been able to do anything. Except write you pathetic letters.” He turns around and gives me a forced smile. “And I’ve been writing songs. Songs that would make people want to jump off a bridge, but songs, nonetheless.” He shrugs. “They had gigs lined up every night. I told them I needed time, and they wouldn’t give it to me. I walked away. I’m telling you: I can’t do anything, Sparrow, not without you.”

For some reason, this is harder for me to take than the whole gift exchange was. “I can’t believe you gave that up. Ian! You’re going to regret it once you’re—feeling b

etter. Your recording! And the tour—you’ve worked so hard for this! You can’t just walk away from it all.”

“It doesn’t mean anything to me, Sparrow. Maybe I’ll regret it like you say, but right now, I can’t see past this. I have to see this through with you. We have to work it out. I’m not gonna ‘feel better’ without you!”

I walk over to him and stand beside him. “Ian. You need to do whatever you can to make it right with the label.” I touch his arm and he looks at me. His eyes are hungry; he leans into my hand. “Ian, you have to let me go.”

His chest deflates and he backs away from me. “No. Don’t. Don’t say that.”

“I can’t … I can’t be with you. I don’t know how I’m gonna live without you. But I don’t think I can live with you either. You have broken me,” my voice gives out. “I don’t see how I can ever trust you again.”

“You could, you just don’t want to,” he cries.

“You’re right. I don’t.”

With that, he leans over and crushes me with a kiss, and then walks across the room, picks up his boots and the wrapping paper and walks out the door. “I still believe in us, Sparrow. I’ll never stop,” he says before the door shuts behind him.

- 26 -

9 months later

Fall in New York is exceptional this year. The trees are brighter and more colorful than I ever remember. I walk home, shuffling my feet through the fallen leaves while running through the to-do list in my head.

Tonight Tessa is throwing a small party for me to celebrate the release of my book. It comes out next week and the relief of being completely done with the project is immense. I’m happy with the way it turned out, and with the way my brain is always working, I wasn’t sure I could ever say that.

I pick up my dress from the dry cleaners and mentally check that off the list.

When I get to the apartment, there are flowers from Ian sitting outside my door. The delivery guy is on a first name basis with me now and usually shakes his head sadly when I open the door. I’m glad I missed his pity today.




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