The warm breeze crept through the ajar glass door off the balcony and filled the apartment with sweet, salty air. Outside, dusk was falling quickly upon the water, casting soft shades of burnt oranges and pinks on the ocean’s surface. Purple waves rippled gently against the bright colors, even though the sun was setting in the west, swirling and intertwining to make one giant watercolor painting. Another beautiful, summer day in Daytona Beach was closing, its traces of sunset still leaving signs of light in patches in the living room—on the white rug, against the bookcase, reflecting off the glass coffee table, where a half torn baseball ticket lay crumbled. But the two of them took no notice.
The kitchen was somewhat of a different scene. One dull light hanging in a strip overhead from the ceiling left a stale, dull glow against the brown cabinets, the only other light emanating from the microwave, where a mug spun slowly to the countdown of 20 more seconds. Silence hung between them and left a cramped uneasiness about the room. She sat slumped on the counter, her back against the surface of a cabinet handle, her body lunging forward in one defeated motion. He came towards her and steadied his hands upon her arms, rubbing her shoulders in one soft, comforting embrace.
“It’s going to be okay,” he finally said, breaking the silence.
“Is it, though?”
“Of course it is.”
“But how do you know?” she said.
He opened his mouth in response, but the buzz of the microwave beat him to the punch. He opened the door and removed the mug, placing it on the counter and watching as the steam lifted off the water inside and disappeared into the stiff air between them.
“Have I ever lied to you?”
He opened a tea bag and placed it in the water, and they watched as the water transformed from a clear liquid to a dark night sky.
“Milk, please.” she smiled, for the first time in a few hours.
He smiled back as he let a heavy pour fall into the mug, but when he looked up at her face, she was staring out the little kitchen window into the front of an apartment building across the street.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I feel great.”
“Who’s the liar now?” he said.
She leaned her head on her hand as a little sigh escaped her lips.
“We only have a few more hours together,” he said. “Come on. Talk to me.”
Silence fell again when she raised her mug up to her mouth and took a sip of tea.
“I hate leaving you.”
“I know you do. And I hate leaving you.”
“But I’m always the one leaving,” she said. “I’m always the one flying. I’m always the one making time. And the truth is, I’m scared. I’m scared for the summer to end.”
“But why?” he asked, moving closer and grabbing her hands.
“Why? Because the future is so unknown. Our future is so unknown, and I just don’t know how this is going to work out. I’m moving away in a month, and you’ll be playing baseball God knows where. And we’ll never see each other, and we’ll be leading two totally different lives, and I’ll miss you too much, and I—”
He leaned in and kissed her.
“What have I always told you?” he said.
“I know, Matt, but I—”
“No buts. What have I always told you from the beginning?”
She took her time responding, hiding the infectious grin spreading across her face.
“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”
“And you promised this would be worth it.”
“And you don’t break promises.”
“And I don’t break promises,” he said. He moved her forward and pulled her into a slow embrace. “I will always love you, Nat.”
“And I’ll always love you too.”
To my loving husband on his birthday, years ago you told me you loved me on a lazy summer night, while you were playing minor league baseball in a cozy beach town. You told me to trust you—that our journey would be a rewarding one despite the sacrifices we’d both make in order to stick together.
Here I sit, on our balcony in Chicago, overlooking the landscape of the city before me. It’s another lazy summer day, and you’re currently playing a game at Wrigley Field. I hear the cheers from the crowd with each sentence I type, and it warms my heart. Watching your hard work and sacrifice to fight for and conquer your dreams has been an honor and a privilege to be by your side supporting you every step of the way.
We’ve been through good times. We’ve been through tough times. I’ve watched you rise to the top, and I’ve watched you fall, only to rise again. I’ve watched you give your heart to help other people. I’ve watched you put yourself last. And I’ve watched you grow into a strong, respectable, honorable man.
You told me at the very beginning that anything worth having is worth fighting for. On your 27th birthday, I wish you happiness. I wish you health. I wish you success. And I want you to know, after all this time…
You have always been worth it. You are still worth it. And I will always fight for you. I promise.
Happy birthday, Matt. I love you so much.