“It’s never a good time for a giant space lizard to attack.”
That’s Embry’s clever response. And he is quite right; there’s never a good time for a giant space lizard to attack. Just imagine, for a moment – you’re on your way to work, an over-priced coffee in your hand, perhaps your headphones in, listening to something soothing, a soundtrack to your favorite film perhaps, and suddenly, WHAM! Giant space lizard. I mean, that would just ruin your day, right? Or if you were getting ready for a date, trying on your third shirt, quietly judging yourself as you look in the mirror, trying to forget all the bad dates you’ve been on, hoping this will be a good date, that maybe this is the one, that perhaps someone else will be removing this shirt later, and right as you find your confidence, right as you realize that this is the shirt, CRASH! Giant space lizard. Date ruined. So, you see, Embry is right. But Madeleine doesn’t care about him being right or clever. She scoffs and walks away.
“Maddie!” He shuffles after her.
“I cannot believe you!” Her tone is not at all playful. She’s actually angry. And hurt.
“Maddie, this is silly. I was just kidding.”
That does not help nor alleviate her anger. She stops and turns. “That’s just it, Embry. You’re always just kidding. You’re always just saying. You’re always just. And you know what? I want more than just. I want when I tell you that my anxiety engulfed me at the worst possible time like a giant space lizard attack that you not make a joke. I want that maybe you could hear that I’m having a really bad day and need some fucking support! Is that too much to ask for?”
Embry nods, realizing how gravely he misread the moment.
Her eyes fall to her shoes and she suddenly wonders how long she’s had them. She knows she should be thinking about how insensitive her boyfriend is and trying to make him understand that she really needs a hug, but instead, in this moment, she can’t stop wondering when she bought those fucking shoes. She quickly mentally peruses her shoe collection, recalling each and every other purchase. Her pink and grey running Nike’s were purchased at the Foot Locker on Portland Street. Her tan flats at The Shoe Box near her sister’s house. The hiking boots at REI. The strapless heels at that cute shop in Savannah they’d found and just had to get something. But her simple, white, every day kicks are drawing a complete blank in her mind. Why can’t she remember where she got them? Why is she thinking about this?
She looks up at Embry, whose head is also hanging low. He’s earnestly embarrassed and staring at the ground, wondering what he can say that might help smooth over his ill-timed quip. But also still running scenarios that would be ruined by a giant space lizard attacking. He can’t help it. It’s not like he can control what his brain chooses to think about. He wishes he could. But before he goes too far down a thought tangent on wishing he could control his brain, he looks up and apologizes.
“I’m sorry, Maddie. That was a dumb time for a joke. I’m really sorry your day was so bad.” He steps forward and pulls her into his arms. She reluctantly allows it and once he’s wrapped around her, she relaxes into the much needed comfort.
His shirt smells like popcorn. She chuckles knowing he probably didn’t eat lunch but snuck a few handfuls of popcorn when he went to see his mid-day Tuesday movie. She laughs in her head thinking about how excited he was coming home after the first time he’d snuck a handful when the guy behind the counter wasn’t looking. “Babe, it’s crazy. They just don’t care. I’m telling you, you just walk passed the counter, act like your turning the corner towards the cinema and then just reach over and grab a bunch of popcorn. I swear I’m going every Tuesday afternoon. Plus, it’s only $7 for the ticket! I’m so glad we moved into this apartment. I love living here!”
She looks up at his stoned eyes, knowing he loves her and didn’t mean to dismiss what she’d said. He just can’t help himself. And while it can drive her nuts, it’s also one of the things that first made her fall in love with him.
The moment she knew she loved Embry was September 17, 2018 at exactly 4:17 pm eastern standard time. He was wearing his beat-up black basketball shorts he’s had since his senior year of high school, a worn old t-shirt with an odd upside-down Superman on it and his shower flip flops – a combination of all of Madeleine’s least favorite items that Embry owned. She was waiting in the car while he ran into the Stop’n’Shop on West Franklin, looking at her phone, scrolling through her email, wondering if she’d sent her boss the updated estimates for the following month’s product release. She looked up just as Embry was paying, seeing the young check out girl behind the counter smile at him and follow him with her eyes as he turned and walked out to the car.
“She’s cute,” said Madeleine as Embry tossed a Kit-Kat and a lime seltzer water onto her lap.
She looked at him, sure he was joking with her again. But he wasn’t. He smiled and said, “Figured you’d want a snack. Sometimes my mom is slow getting dinner ready.” Then he ate his Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie in two bites and took a small swig of her seltzer, winking at her.
That was the moment she knew. Not because he hadn’t taken notice of the young checkout girl, not because he bought her her favorite snack (though neither of those things hurt), it was because he was him. Even in her least favorite combination of clothing imaginable, she wouldn’t want to share her life with anyone else.
Embry doesn’t have one moment that he knew he loved Madeleine. He has four. The first happened right after they’d met at a mutual friend’s going away party. It was a sweltering 98 degree day in late June. He had just returned home from a run when he got a text asking if she could come over and take advantage of his air conditioning. He excitedly obliged.
“How are you surviving without?!”
“Don’t get me started. My roommate is an eco-warrior and refuses to let any of us have even so much as a window unit.” They laughed and shared stories and made dinner together. And at one point, in the middle of enjoying their pesto chicken with couscous, Madeleine hopped up and started opening cabinets. Embry would find out moments later that she was on a search for red chili flakes, but until she found them, he watched her confidently open cabinet door after cabinet door, like the place was hers, at no point breaking from her story about college to ask if he even had red chili flakes. He still doesn’t know exactly why but that was the first moment Embry knew he loved her.
However, he had recently gotten out of a very troubled and difficult relationship, and was in no state for a new one. So he buried that love down deep and convinced himself that Madeleine was just a good friend.
And she was. The two of them would go on long walks, would enjoy dinners, would come to each other with dating questions and funny stories. This was years before Madeleine’s moment. At the time, she was certain Embry was not the guy for her. He was a bit of a mess.
Embry’s second moment came nine months after that – on March 12, 2016 at 7:03 pm eastern standard time. Madeleine was in the middle of a story about a guy she’d started dating a couple months prior. She was nervous about going away with him for the weekend, which seemed unlike her to Embry. He had known her to be very confident and adventurous. “I usually am. I try to be,” she said and then paused. “But I get really bad anxiety attacks. Like debilitating.” This clearly wasn’t something she talked about often and struggled through telling him about it. Embry listened, unsure how to reply. He’s not used to people really opening up like that to him. Especially Madeleine, who he really thought of as unflappable. It made him feel oddly better that she was in some way pervious.
At one point, as she was describing her first attack, which happened her third week of college, he took her hand and both the hairs on their arms stood up. It didn’t interrupt her story at all; it was just something Embry noticed. And for some reason filled his heart with a love he didn’t know what to do with. So, again, he buried it.
The third moment scared Embry. Much more so than the first two. Madeleine’s relationship with that guy had just ended. It had last eleven months, two weeks, four days, six hours and nineteen minutes. Her longest relationship up to that point. She was crying and Embry was holding her, as he often did. The comfort between them had grown dramatically over the previous four weeks, while that relationship was slowly crumbling. It made Embry sad. Neither she nor the guy did anything to the other. Neither of them were evil or horrible. They simply weren’t in love. That’s why it was so difficult. And as she pondered aloud, wondering if love is even real or if love is just some made up idea that one day you get over and then just choose to stay with someone because it’s better than being alone, Embry began to cry. Something he hadn’t done for quite some time.
“Embry…” she compassionately reached out and wiped the tear from his face. He looked at her and every part of him wanted to scream to her that he loved her. But it was exactly because of that that he didn’t. She was there because a relationship had just ended. And he felt like an asshole for even thinking it. So, once again, out of love for her, he buried it and the two continued their friendship. For one more month.
April 16. 8:22 pm. The two story Target on Atwood. Embry had joined Madeleine while running some errands. She needed to pick up a new toothbrush and some socks, and he rarely had anything to do. She was laughing and telling a story about her co-worker who hates Target as they stepped onto the down escalator, heading towards checkout. “I mean, how can you hate Target? It’s fucking Target.” She reached her arms out and wrapped them around Embry, who was standing on the step in front of hers. She did it as she’d done dozens of times before, very friendly and comfortably. But that was it for him. He couldn’t keep it contained or buried any more. And he leaned his head back and rested it against her in such a way that they both knew nothing was ever going to be the same.
Embry slowly lowers his arms from around her and thinks back to that hug on the escalator and the hug while she cried and the evening of honesty and the day she rifled through his cabinets. He looks into her incredible eyes, the brown highlights growing from their green roots surrounding her pupil, her soft skin and somewhat unkempt auburn hair. “I love you, Maddie.” She smiles, knowing it’s true, knowing she feels the same, knowing they are to each other so much more than she could’ve ever hoped or imaged, knowing that love is real, knowing that it just takes some time to get there sometimes.
“Let’s go home.” She grabs his hand and the two turn and quietly walk back to their apartment, each thinking of all the moments that made them who they are to each other, feeling lucky for each and every one, feeling ready for whatever comes next… Just so long as it’s not a giant space lizard attack. There’s never a good time for that.