Almost September. I flopped backwards onto the hotel bed in Portland, exhausted and exhilarated from the show, and stretched my arms out, the way I had done earlier while standing onstage in front of thousands of people. Now my only audience was the hotel ceiling. No matter how many shows I played in my life, I knew this amazing feeling would never go away; it was so surreal to hear the roar of the crowd, to know that people had come to see me sing my songs. The ones that had begun in the smallest and most private moments of my life, and that I now got to share with whoever chose to listen.

As much as I tried to enjoy every moment — whether it was onstage touring, or sitting with Selena and being goofballs during the VMAs, or enjoying just chilling out with my friends on days off — the summer had flown by again. As much as I loved fall (pumpkin bread baking season!), I still felt that pang of seeing August come to an end.

The last time I’d been at the Rhode Island house I’d popped into the local little bookstore where I’d been picking up all my summer reads, and the girl who works there (Erika, according to her nametag) had recommended a book for me this time. She’d never spoken to me before, but as I had been browsing she pointed out The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen. Who I loved to read back in the day. This one was about a girl who lives in a beach town, about to leave for college, with one relationship ending and another beginning, and it took everything in my power not to stay up all night reading.

Sitting up, I remembered there was a part I wanted to write down in my journal with other favorite quotes from books. I flipped open to the page I’d marked and copied down in my journal:

Who would have thought that grieving an old relationship and enjoying a new one could happen simultaneously, in parallel? Yet another thing you only find out once it’s happening to you.

That part reminded me of my own summer romance, so vividly; I hadn’t been expecting to feel that love was a possibility after so much heartache. But on that Wednesday, I felt it begin again…

* * *

I took a deep breath. Tried to shake off the nervous jitters by literally shaking. Hoped he wouldn’t happen to see me sitting my parked car doing what looked like one of those bad drama class exercises where you pretend you’re frying like bacon. Who was I kidding? No way would he already be there waiting for me, all early and gentleman-like. Stop living in a fairytale, Taylor, I thought to myself. You know where your high hopes got you last time. At the thought of Jake, my heart sank. This? This was easy in comparison to that. This was just coffee. No-strings-attached coffee with a sweet guy who had managed to make me smile the first time we’d met, and I had managed to make him laugh in that adorable way of his, which Ethel had confided in me that he hadn’t been doing much of late.

Seizing my moment of bravery, I sprang out of the car, and over to the café. I looked around for him, just in case, and there he was — standing up, grinning at me, eyes sparkling. As I walked over to him, it was all I could do not to blurt out, Gosh you’re tall. But gosh he’s tall, especially compared to somebody else who I would definitely not be mentioning under any circumstances on this date. (It was a date, right? Yes. Date.)

He held out my chair for me, and as we settled down, we both looked up at each other and went to speak at just the same moment. We both laughed, and I could feel the awkwardness lifting. I decided right then to ignore all my worries — about whether or not this would work, whether he was too young for me, whether it was too weird that I was kind of friends with his grandmother . . . there’s a first for everything. I was turning into the Goldilocks of relationships: too hot, too cold, too young, too old. Would I ever find “just right”?

I knew we both had had rough years — his far, far more tragic than my dime-a-dozen broken heart — and the way he soldiered on inspired me. He passed me a menu and told me how much his mom had loved coming here in the middle of a weekday like this, when it was quiet and like a world of their own. Grateful that he wanted to share that with me, I smiled at him, opening the menu, seeing all the choices that lay ahead of me, and just like that I knew I could begin again. 

* * *

As I moved the book back to the bedside table, a note fluttered out from behind the book’s dust jacket. It was from Erika; she must have tucked it in there while I had been distracted in the store, and just had to at least flip through the One Direction book that was popping up everywhere. (And just as I suspected it was full of adorable photos of Harry. Sigh.) I unfolded the note:

Dear Taylor,
Sorry if this crosses bookstore employee-customer lines, but I just wanted to tell you how much I love your music, especially “Begin Again.” The lines “I’ve been spending the last 8 months thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end / But on a Wednesday in a café, I watched it begin again” are my favorites of any you’ve ever written. I’m an aspiring writer myself (I post on Wattpad as “littleauthorerika”!), and about to go off to college, so you won’t be seeing me around the store anymore: so I was hoping I’d see you before my last shift to say thank you for being so fearlessly honest in your lyrics. And always being yourself and so inspiring.
love love love
Erika

She must have had the note ready and was waiting for me to come in! That’s why she seemed a little skittish when I came into the store, I realized. What a sweetheart. I’d have to look up her writing on that site.

I knew that people thought that such compliments couldn’t possibly mean that much to me now, but every kind word — especially about my lyrics or singing — just made me feel bubbly and sparkly. And it was why I was always so diligent about supporting other artists, about telling people what it was that I thought was remarkable about them. Everybody has low self esteem days, and there’s nothing like someone telling you that you matter to them to put it all in perspective.

And as much as we were never meant to be forever, that is exactly what Conor had done for me that summer. Given me perspective. It was an innocent, fun, romantic summer, and he just helped me remember who I was, what it was that I used to feel natural about. Being tall, quirky and super into James Taylor weren’t negatives to everybody, just that one somebody in particular. And now I knew that it was his loss, not my problem to fix for him.

I was proud of myself for sticking to my resolution: to not let someone else’s judgment of me — no matter how much I might value their opinion or be head-over-heels crazy in love with them — change who I am or how I act. I wear heels now, I thought to myself.

That girl who’d walked into that café that Wednesday in early July last summer, nervous, sure things would never work, and feeling self-conscious, felt a million miles away and yet still a part of who I would always be. As I picked my book up again to read a few chapters before I drifted off to sleep — another concert tomorrow night — I hoped that whoever was out there right now, listening to Red, wondering when love might begin again for them, maybe feeling as heartbroken as I once was . . . I hoped that one day soon they would reach that turning point. That moment when the sun shines a little brighter, and you step a little lighter. Lucky ’13 year that it was, I felt more me touring Red than I had in years. And even if I was the Goldilocks of relationships forever — never finding that just right — I knew now that I would be just fine.   

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