A car nearly hit me as I practically floated across the street in a daze after leaving the attorney’s office. All these years, I’d tried so hard not to think about him. Now, he was all I could think about.
Oh my God.
Flashes of him invaded my mind: his dark blond hair, his laughter, the strum of his guitar, the deep sadness and disappointment in his gorgeous eyes the last time I saw him nine years ago.
I was never supposed to face him again, let alone own a house with him. Living with Justin Banks was not an option, even if just for the summer.
Well, it was probably more like there wasn’t a chance in hell that Justin Banks was going to agree to share a house with me.
Whether we liked it or not, though, the beach house in Newport was ours now. Not mine. Not his. Ours. Fifty-fifty.
What the hell was Nana thinking?
I’d always known she cared deeply about him, but there was no way I could have predicted the extent of her generosity. He wasn’t even related to us, but she’d always thought of him as her grandson.
I picked up my phone and scrolled down to Tracy’s name. When she picked up, I let out a sigh of relief.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“On the East Side. Why?”
“Can you meet up? I really need to talk to someone.”
“Are you okay?”
My mind went blank before slowly filling again with fragmented thoughts of Justin. My chest tightened. He hated me. I’d avoided him for so long, but I was really going to have to face him now.
Tracy’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. “Amelia? Are you still there?”
“Yeah. Everything’s fine. Uh…where are you again?”
“Meet me at the falafel place on Thayer Street. We’ll have an early dinner and talk about whatever is going on.”
“Okay. See you in ten.”
Tracy was a fairly new friend, so she knew little about my childhood or teen years. We taught together at a local charter school in Providence. I had taken today off to meet with my grandmother’s attorney.
The smell of cumin and dried mint saturated the air inside of the Middle Eastern fast food restaurant.
Tracy waved from a corner booth, a piled-high Styrofoam container of tahini-covered chicken kabobs and rice already planted in front of her.
“You’re not gonna get anything to eat?” she asked with her mouth full. A dollop of yogurt sauce coated the side of her mouth.
“No. I’m not hungry. Maybe I’ll take something to go on the way out. I just needed to talk.”
“What the hell is going on?”
My throat felt parched. “Actually, I need something to drink first. Hang on.” The room felt like it was swaying as I made my way to the refrigerator by the counter.
After returning from purchasing a bottle of water, I sat down and let out a deep breath. “I got some pretty crazy news today at the lawyer’s office.”
“So, obviously you know I went there because my grandmother passed away a month ago…”
“Well, I was just meeting with the attorney to go over her estate. Turns out she left me all of her jewelry…and half of her summer house on Aquidneck Island.”
“What? The beautiful house in that picture on your desk?”
“Yeah. That’s the one. We’d always go there a lot in the summer when I was younger, but in recent years, she’d rented it out.
“The property had been in her family for generations. It’s older, but it’s beautiful and overlooks the water.”
“Amelia, that’s amazing. Why do you seem so upset?”
“Well…she left the other half to a guy named Justin Banks.”
“Who is that?”
The only person I’ve ever loved.
“He was just a boy I grew up with. My Nana took care of him while his parents worked. Justin’s house was on one side, mine was on the other, and Nana’s was in the middle.”
“So, he was kind of like a brother to you?”
“We were close for many years.”
“From the look on your face, I get the feeling that something changed?”
“You’d be right.”
There was no way I could handle rehashing it all. Today had already been too much for me to absorb. I would give her a shorter version.
“Basically, I found out he was keeping something from me. And I freaked out. I’d rather not get into it.
“But let’s just say I was fifteen at the time and having a really hard time handling my hormones and my issues with my mother. I made a rash decision to move away and live with my dad.”
Swallowing the pain, I said, “I left everything behind in Providence and moved to New Hampshire.”
Thankfully, Tracy didn’t pry as to what the secret was. That wasn’t the issue I needed to talk about today. It was more important for her to help me figure out my next step than for me to be opening old wounds.
“So, you basically ran away from it all rather than dealing with it.”
“Yeah. Ran away from my problems…and from Justin.”
“You haven’t spoken to him since?”
“After I left, there were several months where there was no contact. I felt so guilty about the way I handled things.
“I did eventually try to see him and apologize once I came to my senses, but by then it was too late. He didn’t want to see me or talk to me. I can’t say I blamed him.
“He’d moved on, got in with a different crowd and then eventually moved to New York soon after graduating high school.
“We just completely lost touch, but he stayed in contact with Nana apparently. She was like a second mother to him.”
“Do you know what’s become of him?”
“I haven’t looked him up. I’ve always been too scared to find out.”
“Well, we need to take care of that right now.” She put down her fork and dug inside her purse for her phone.
“Whoa…what are you doing?”
“You know I’m a self-proclaimed professional stalker.” Tracy smiled. “I’m looking him up on Facebook. Justin Banks…you said his name was? And he lives in New York City?”
Covering my eyes, I said, “I can’t look. I won’t look. There are probably hundreds of guys named Justin Banks out there anyway. You probably won’t find him.”
“What does he look like?”
“The last time I saw him, he was sixteen, so I’m sure he doesn’t look the same. He has dirty blond hair, though.”
He was really cute. I can still see his face like it was yesterday. I could never forget it.
Tracy was reading aloud information for the different Justin Banks popping up on Facebook. Nothing stood out until she said, “Justin Banks, New York, New York, musician at Just In Time Acoustic Guitar.”
My heart dropped, and to my surprise, I could feel tears trying to fight their way through my eyelids. The emotions rising to the surface so fast were unsettling. It was as if he’d come back from the dead.
“What did you just say? Works where?”
“Just In Time Acoustic Guitar? Is that him?”
The words wouldn’t come out, so I stayed silent, pondering the name; it was the same one he’d always used even as a kid playing guitar on our street corner.
Just In Time.
“That’s him,” I finally conceded.
“Oh my God, Amelia.”
My heart started to pound faster. “What?”
“This guy is…”
“What? Tell me,” I practically yelled before downing the rest of my water.
“He’s…gorgeous. Absolutely freaking gorgeous.”
Covering my face, I said, “Jesus. Please don’t tell me that.”
“Take a look.”
Before I could refuse again, Tracy shoved the phone in front of my face. It shook in my hands as I took it.
Why did I even look?
From what I could see in the one photo, he was beautiful—just like I remembered, but at the same time, really different. Grown up.
He was wearing a gray beanie and had a fair amount of chin scruff that he was never able to grow when I knew him.
In the profile pic, he was leaning into a guitar and looked like he was about to sing into a microphone. The look on his face was intense and gave me the chills.
When I went to click on the other photos, it wouldn’t let me in because his profile was set to private.
Tracy reached out for the phone. “He’s a musician?”
“I guess so,” I said, handing it back to her.
He used to write songs for me.
“Are you going to contact him?”
“I guess I don’t even know what to say to him. Whatever is meant to happen will happen. I’ll end up having to talk to him eventually. I’m just not gonna be the one to make the first move.”
“How exactly is this housing arrangement going to work anyway?”
“Well, the attorney gave me a set of keys and told me that another set was sent to Justin. Both of our names will be on the deed.
“Nana also set aside some money to be used for house repairs and maintenance to the property during the off season. I’m assuming he’s been made aware of all of the same info.”
“You don’t want to sell the house, right?”
“No way. There are too many memories, and it meant so much to Nana. I’m going to use it this summer and then maybe eventually rent it out if he agrees to it.”
“So, you have no idea how he plans to use his half? You’re just going to show up there in a few weeks, and if he’s there, he’s there, and if he’s not, he’s not?”
“Oh, this is going to be interesting.”
Fourteen Years Earlier
The boy that Nana started watching this summer was sitting outside of her house. There was no way I could let him see me looking the way I did right now.
Peeking through the curtains of my bedroom window, I wanted to just watch him without him knowing I was there.
There was little I knew about him. His name was Justin. He was about ten years old like me, maybe eleven. He’d just moved here to Rhode Island from Cincinnati.
His parents had money; they had to have if they could afford the large Victorian house they bought next door to Nana’s. They both worked in downtown Providence and paid Nana to watch Justin after school.
Now, I could finally see what he looked like.
He had shaggy dark blond hair and was apparently trying to teach himself how to play the guitar. I must have stood there at the window for almost an hour watching him strumming the strings.
Out of nowhere, a sneeze escaped from me. His head whipped upward toward the window. Our eyes met for a few seconds before I immediately ducked.
My heart was pounding because now he knew I’d been watching him.
“Hey. Where did you go?” I could hear him ask.
I stayed crouched down and silent.
“Amelia…I know you’re there.”
He knew my name?
“Why are you hiding from me?”
Slowly standing up with my back facing the window, I finally answered, “I have a lazy eye.”
“A lazy eye? Is that like a wandering eye?”
“What’s a wandering eye?”
“I’m not sure. My mom always says my dad has a wandering eye.”
“A lazy eye means I’m cross-eyed.”
“Like cock-eyed?” He laughed. “No way. That’s so cool. Lemme see!”
“You think it’s cool to have an eyeball that goes inward?”
“Yeah. I would love that! Like, you could look at people, and they wouldn’t even know you were staring at them.”
He was starting to make me giggle.
“Well, mine is not that bad…yet.”
“Come on. Turn around. I want to see it.”
Unsure of what came over me, I decided to let him see me. I couldn’t avoid it forever.
When I turned around, he flinched. “What happened to your other eye?”
“It’s still there.” I pointed to my right eye. “This is just a patch over it.”
“Why do they make it the same color as your skin? From here, it looked like you had no eye. Scared the crap out of me for a second.”
“It’s under the patch. My eye doctor is going to make me wear this four days a week. Today is the first day. Now you see why I didn’t want you to see me!”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It just startled me at first because I didn’t know what was coming. So, your cockeye is under there? I want to see it.”
“No, actually, the covered eye is my good one. The doctor says that if I don’t use my good eye, the lazy eye will strengthen and straighten out over time.”
“Oh…I get it. So, can you come outside now? Since you don’t have to hide from me anymore?”
“No. I don’t want anyone else to see me.”
“What are you gonna do when you have to go back to school tomorrow?”
“I don’t know.”
“So, you’re just gonna stay inside all day?”
“For now. Yes.”
Justin didn’t say anything. He just dropped his guitar, stood up and ran over to his house.
Maybe I did really scare him off after all.
Five minutes later, he came running back toward his spot in front of Nana’s. When he looked up into my window again, I could hardly believe my eyes. (Well, “eye.”)
Covering his own right eye was a gigantic black patch. Justin looked like a pirate. He sat down, lifted his guitar and started strumming.
To my surprise, he then began to sing a song. It was a take on Brown Eyed Girl, except he’d switched the lyrics to One Eyed Girl. That was when I figured out that Justin Banks was equal parts insane and adorable.
After he finished singing, he took a black Sharpie marker out of his pocket.
“I’ll color yours in, too. Will you come outside now?”
A feeling warmer than I’d ever known filled my heart. Thinking back, that was probably the exact moment that Justin Banks became my best friend.
That was also the same day he first graced me with a nickname that would follow me through our teenage years: Patch.