I was 14 the day I met him.
I will never forget that first day for as long as I live.
He introduced himself as James, James Rhyder.
He was roguishly handsome, even back then. Something about him caught my attention, and held it for years to come. His lean face and walnut brown eyes were framed by a crown of dark brown hair streaked gold in places. His skin told its own story, permanently tanned to a honey bronze that spoke of a lifetime under the skies. He reminded me of the sun especially when he was using his well honed body to its greatest extent: warm and bright and ferocious. I fell for him so fast, I didn’t even know what was happening until it was too late.
I was 16 the day he asked a girl out.
Her name was Leta Kain. She was absolutely gorgeous with wavy black hair, sea blue eyes, and pale, unblemished skin. How could I compete with that?
James called me that night, an hour before he asked her out. His voice had been nervous and unsteady. I could see him in my mind's eye pacing the floors with quick steps, brow furrowed and hair wild. He wanted my advice, my reassurances, my support. I gave them all to him and by the end of the call, his voice was level again and he sounded ready. In that moment, he reminded me of a different aspect of the sun: determined, focused, direct. I wished him luck.
I was 18 the day we both graduated, and the same age when we both began college at UCLA.
We struggled at the beginning, though I know it was much harder for him. He wasn’t used to being in control of his own time and having to manage it himself like I was. I helped him and we both thrived there. That first year was the happiest time in my life. We spent our days studying and our nights talking and laughing and just living. He managed to light up everyone and everything around him with his inner sun, all charming smiles and winning radiance. I found myself falling for him all over again.
I was 20 the day he introduced me to his girlfriend, Vera Linan.
He was nervous again that day, seeking my approval and acceptance of this new girl. In the deepest, most selfish recesses of my mind, I searched for something, anything, that she didn’t excel at. But I found nothing. She was so bloody perfect!
And she made him happy. There was no denying the way he looked at her like she was the brightest star in the sky. He looked for her everywhere like she was the only thing that mattered.
I wanted to fight. I wanted to steal him away from her. I wanted him to finally see me. But every time jealousy tried to overtake me, I remembered the way he hugged her when he saw her again, the way he waved his hands animatedly when he spoke of her. I forced down my bitter resentment every time, but I never stopped wishing that I could be his sun.
Eight months later saw him standing at my door, head drooping low and eyes filled with tears. She broke something inside of him when she left, not even bothering to try and put the pieces of his heart back together. That role was left to me.
I was 21 the night my dad drove us to a bar at midnight for our first legal drink.
James waited six months for me. Six months so that we could toast our first drink together. He made it through six shots before he started crying.
He had always been so strong, the sun forever rising above it all and shining fiercely. The alcohol helped the clouds creep in, covering the brightness he so often displayed.
Everything that happened between him and Vera came out that night. I wanted to destroy her, still do actually. But he needed my love and compassion more than he needed revenge. My dad found us sitting together on a bench outside the bar when he came to pick us up. Turns out neither of us cared much for liquor.
I was 22 the day we both graduated.
We celebrated like it was our first day alive, waving our diplomas in each other’s faces as joyful laughter turned to bittersweet tears. He was absolutely radiant, face free and shining brighter than any sun. We were leaving school behind for good, and it was both the most freeing and intimidating experience of our lives. We were hovering at the threshold to the next big chapter of our lives. It felt like standing at the bottom of a mountain, staring up at the long journey lying ahead of you.
I was 25 the day he introduced me to his new girlfriend, Cheryl Rose.
She was the first one since Vera left him. It was different this time. He was distant, holding himself back in a way he hadn’t before. He was like a wary animal, scared to be burned twice.
I was 27 the day they had a big fight and stormed off to separate homes.
I hugged him on my doorstep and ushered him in. He told me what had happened over steaming mugs of hot chocolate and I hugged him again. It wasn’t his fault. But it wasn’t Cheryl’s either.
Her tears had quickly turned to shouts as she tried to tell him that it felt like he still didn’t trust her. Old wounds resurfaced and new ones opened. I hugged him again and he fell asleep curled against me like the little boy he once was.
The next morning had brought Cheryl to my front door, following in the steps of James before her. She held a small box of chocolates in one hand when I opened the door. She was quiet as she followed me in.
James stood when we entered the living room, looking defensive and scared at the same time. They were exchanging apologies when I slipped out of the room.
I was 30 when he came to my door again in the middle of the night, looking as nervous as I’ve ever seen him.
He had been fiddling with something in his hands when I opened the door. His eyes darted to mine immediately and I realized he was holding a small, glossy black box. A ring box. And then it hit me. I knew what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth. “You like her, don’t you? Cheryl, I mean.”
His voice was anxious, desperate. At that moment, I knew that I could say no and he would listen. I opened my mouth and—
I remembered the way he glowed when he was around her, the way his gaze found her in a crowded room like a compass forever finding north. She was his sun, the brightest thing at the center of his universe. He was happiest with her and vice versa: always laughing, always smiling. She was his shining equal and they were two suns constantly spinning in each other’s orbit. She was good to him, and he loved her so much. There was no reason for me to say no. I quashed my jealousy, my sadness, my bitter regret, and smiled sadly. “I love her. Like a sister.”
“You mean that? Like truly, you mean that?” He had asked, breathless. “I’m going to ask her to marry me. Tomorrow. I’m going to ask.”
“Do it,” I replied, grasping his hands fiercely. This was an opportunity I would not let him give up. “You were made for each other.”
My heart had twinged slightly when I spoke those words, but he was going to be happy with her. And that’s really all that mattered. I let him go.