Somehow, even with the heavy pulse of heartbreak in every step I took, I had managed to piece little bits of my life back together. I was determined to salvage my chances at getting into Margaret Sheffield’s program. So, in early April, after days of sleep and silence, of nibbling sandwiches made from stale bread and hard cheese and sleeping in my clothes, I’d pulled myself together and taken a train to Oxford.
There, Professor Sheffield had assured me that Anthony’s letter could only hold so much weight, that my grades and reputation from San Diego were impressive. But although she’d given me no indication that the distraction my former boss mentioned in his letter would lead to my rejection from the program, she hadn’t said I was a sure thing, either.
While I waited to hear, I stayed in London. I was lucky enough to find a firm on the South Bank in need of an engineer to cover an early maternity leave. It was an easy solution and paid well, but on my very first day I decided to walk home rather than take the Tube, only to then realize I would pass just two blocks away from Niall’s flat.
So of course it became impossible to choose to take the Tube rather than walk. Every day I felt my body tilt that way, as if pulled by some enormous heart magnet. And when I would press on, heading straight instead of right, it would hurt all over again.
His distance and reserve really had been so impossible to take; everything was logical to him: Portia was ready to speak so he should listen. I had always encouraged him to communicate with me, and so of course that should apply to Portia, as well.
I feel obligated to at least hear what she wants to say.
I suppose I’m trying to have an open mind. I owe her that, at least.
That last day it seemed emotion hadn’t come into play for Niall at all, until it felt too late. But for me, it was nearly impossible to get the echoing pain out of my head.
Even when he’d found me in the office, packing up, and begged me to forgive him. Even when he’d come to my flat and told me he loved me.
I was an idiot for sending him away. I knew it at the time. But more than that I knew that if I let him in that day, there would be a proud, resolved piece of myself I wouldn’t ever get back.
But the silence seemed unending.
Number of Days I’d Gone Without Speaking to Niall Stella:
In June I got my acceptance letter to Maggie’s program at Oxford.
The innocuous-looking envelope was there waiting for me when I got home from work. Some days it was harder than others to resist the pull to walk toward Niall’s flat. Other days I could pretend to be absorbed in a song, or reading some news on my iPhone, and the knowledge that, if I wanted, I could go sit on his stoop and wait for him to get home was only a sharp jab between my ribs. But today the mental debate had been torture. Was I over my anger? And if I was, and if I went to his house, would he open the door and regard me blankly, and then with awkward apology, and tell me I’d been right to end things? That he’d been impulsive to get involved with me in the first place? That his life was better in an ordered system than with such a wild, emotional girl?
The problem was that I could see him rejecting me just as vividly as I could see him embracing me. I knew Niall’s schedule, the facts of his life and his preferences for food and coffee and clothing. But I wasn’t sure I knew his heart at all.
I tore open the envelope, heart pounding and unknotting in an odd sort of unison, and I read the letter three times, the papers clutched in my shaking hand. For what felt like minutes, I was unable to blink or breathe because it was happening. I was going to Oxford, I was studying with Maggie. That shithead Anthony hadn’t ruined my chances.
I read through the letter again for dates, and filed through my mental calendar. Michaelmas Term for the program began in September. This meant I could work through the rest of June, July, and into the beginning of August, and use the first part of the following month to find a new flat in Oxford.
Of course my first instinct was to tell Niall.
“You are never going to guess what happened!” I told her, feeling my smile for what had to be the first time in more than fifty-nine days.
“Harry Styles is your new roommate and you’ve purchased a ticket for me to come visit?”
She hummed. “Well, you sound happier than I’ve heard in months, so I’m guessing that you finally called Niall Stella, he welcomed you with open arms, and now you’re lying in a pool of postcoital bliss. And by ‘pool of bliss,’ of course I mean—”
My chest ached sharply and I cut her off, unable to play along. “No.”
It did. But the prospect of seeing Niall couldn’t be better than what I had in my hand.
It couldn’t, could it?
But as soon as she’d said it, I knew that being back with Niall would be just as good. I wanted Niall just as much as I wanted to work with Maggie. And for the first time since I’d been fired, I didn’t feel embarrassed for it, or that I was betraying some inner feminist thread by admitting how deep my feelings were. If I went back to Niall, some days he would be my entire life. Some days school would. Some days they would occupy the same amount of space. And that knowledge—that I could find balance, that maybe I did need to separate my heart from my head after all—loosened a tension that had seemed to reside in my chest for weeks now.