a secret message ending in forever

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Cate fell onto the bed in her new dorm, exhausted from her travels and unpacking. She'd imagined this moment for the past four years, and now that she was finally in it, she could only say that she always thought she'd be less homesick. Never in a million years did Cate think she would be missing Tupelo, Mississippi, yet here she was.

After a summer of dancing under beautifully saturated sunsets, driving on the winding country backroads with the windows down, and getting a butterfly tattoo on the back of her left arm as a dare, she suddenly didn't feel as suffocated by her hometown as much as she had all throughout high school. And it was all thanks to El... Cate stopped herself short. Thinking about what she'd had to sacrifice to chase what she'd always imagined to be her destiny left her with tears in her eyes. She wondered if it was possible that she was wrong. What if her fate wasn't a career goal? What if it wasn't changing the world? What if her fate was simply to be with someone who made her happy? If that were the case, she'd made a grave mistake.

She'd spent her teenage years planning for more for herself, creating vision boards and pro-and-con lists for various schools, writing day after day in her journal that she would leave and never look back. She was driven out of Tupelo by the feeling deep within her that her fate lay somewhere else. She sensed that she was meant for much more than that small town could offer. Like the main character in her favorite book, she went to seek a Great Perhaps.

At the thought of Miles "Pudge" Halter and his Great Perhaps, Cate rolled over to the edge of her bed and then stood up. She brushed her bleached-blonde hair back into place, pushing her lower lip out and blowing a quick burst of air up at her bangs. There were still a few unopened boxes strewn about the room, and Cate went to the one she was sure held the books she couldn't bear to leave at home. She rifled through the books inside until she found it – John Green's Looking For Alaska.

She was aware that loving John Green was very stereotypical for girls her age, but she couldn't help that the man wrote excellent novels. Cate opened the front cover, hoping to find some peace in rereading the book that had made her realize she needed to leave in the first place. As she did so, multiple pieces of folded-up notebook paper fluttered to the floor. Cate's eyebrows knitted together as she picked them up.

Sitting with her legs folded underneath her, Cate opened the first piece of notebook paper.

dear cate,
from the moment i saw you
at the top of the stairs
at my house party
I knew

Cate gasped. The note had no signature, yet, Cate knew exactly who had left it for her. She picked up the next one, and then the next, and the next.

dear cate,
i love the way your bangs fall across your forehead
and how deep and blue your eyes are
and how your cherry red Lips compliment your skin tone
and your skin
oh wow, your skin
it's so soft
holding your hand is my favOrite



dear cate,
your name feels so sweet in my mouth
like cheap strawberry wine
and the smell of wild Violets



dear catE,
remember that time we snuck out late at night
went to Your favOrite playground
pUshed each other on the swings
laid next to each other in the grass
and counted the constellations?
you said you wished we could last FOREVER.
i want you to know
that even when our love story ends
i will remember it,
the way stars glow in the sky
for a long time
even after they've died
i hope you'll remember it, too.



dear cate,
i know you don't believe
in soul mates
in happily ever after
but i hope that you change your mind.
and i hope
if you do
you'll come back to me
because the way i feel about you
is not a matter of pure happenstance
it was meant to be
we are meant to be
no matter how far you go,
you will always just run back into who you are
and who you always were,
my love

Cate couldn't believe it. When had Eliza been in her room? When would she have put letters in her book? How had she known Cate would bring it with her to school? Cate looked at the letters, tracing over Eliza's handwriting with her finger as she let a few tears finally escape. She traced the "o" in "favorite" for some time, entranced by the fact that she was holding something Eliza had held, before she realized that it was a capital letter in the middle of the word. Weird, she thought, why would Eliza do that?

She took the letters to her desk and spread them out to look at each one more carefully. "There's a secret message," Cate whispered aloud. After grabbing a pen and paper, she wrote down all of the capital letters:

I L O V E Y O U FOREVER.

Cate stared at the letters on the page. She thought back to the moment Eliza and her first saw each other, the one Eliza had written about in the first letter, and how it felt when they'd made eye contact. Cate felt a wave of butterflies and peace all at the same time. It was like her body knew she was falling and had a safe place to land. In her mind, she'd immediately started thinking about the consequences of letting herself fall – was it worth it to fall in love when she was leaving so soon? If she did, would she recover from the heartbreak of having to leave at the end of summer?

Cate soon realized she had never had a real choice. The more time she spent near Eliza, the more she couldn't resist. And it was fine. The memories they'd made – every brushing of their fingers together, every soft whisper, every hug, every kiss – Cate cherished them. But that didn't change anything. She was still committed to leaving, even though Eliza begged her to stay.

What Cate hadn't known back then was how hard it would actually be to leave. Between the feeling she'd had before opening her book and the letters from Eliza that she'd found inside, she was really rethinking everything that brought her here. "Okay," Cate said to herself, taking in a deep breath, "You should just call her."

Cate held her phone in her hands, her thumb hovering over Eliza's phone number. A thousand what-if scenarios played out in her head. "Stop being a coward," Cate chided herself. She hit the call button and held her breath.

The phone rang once, twice...

"Hello?"

Eliza's voice nearly knocked the wind out of Cate. She opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Maybe this was a mistake...

"Hello? Cate? Are you there?"

"I'm here," Cate finally managed.

"Did you get my message?"

"Yes... And I— I think I made a mistake." Cate hadn't thought this far ahead. There was a knock on her dorm room door. She glanced over at it. "Sorry, someone's here. Hold on a second..."

Cate opened the door and screamed, loudly, in a way that probably sounded inhuman. With a wide grin and sparkling eyes, Eliza let out a laugh and held her arms open. Cate rushed into them and mumbled into Eliza's shoulder, "I love you forever, too."

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Abigail Haworth · ago
Romance isn't typically my favorite genre, but this was sweet