I genuinely believe that our lives, our past and present experiences determine our enjoyment of most of the stories we read, each book gently touching our memories like the keys of a piano, and merging them into the grand symphony of its storyline. But each reader’s life will compose a different melody, each book thus finding a ‘different home’ in every one of its readers. While this particular story, as outstanding as it is, might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I don’t think there has ever been another book that has hit so close to home for me and made me understand the characters as well as this one. This is not just a truly stunning love story, albeit somewhat untraditional, but it is also an extremely vivid account of a woman’s silent battle with mental illness and its dire effects on the only emotional bond she has managed to form and sustain in her life. I found myself stopping several times throughout this book, taking long moments to reflect on the memories from my own lifetime that were being recalled, making this story a heart-wrenchingly evocative experience for me cover to cover.
“What I want is to be with you. That’s what I want. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Bray and Elias have been best friends since they were young, their every happy childhood memory being a shared one. Over time, their deep love for each other has blurred every friendship line that has ever existed between them, their gradual transition from friends to lovers later on in life being natural and inevitable. But while their connection has always remained strong, Bray’s reluctance to embrace the new nature of their relationship eventually tears them apart and takes their lives in different directions, breaking both their hearts in the process.
“… if you were ever going to scare me away or make me think badly of you, would I have made you the center of my world for seventeen years?”
Four years later, Bray returns to the only home she has ever known, to the only man she has ever loved, but the girl that returns is not the same girl that left four years before, an inner turmoil constantly haunting her like a fog that never lifts. It has taken them seventeen years to become the couple they were destined to become from the moment they met as kids, but it takes one fated mistake, one huge lapse in judgement to change their lives forever and for them to find themselves on the run. With no destination in mind or set plan to follow, they drift aimlessly from place to place, trying to escape the consequences of their actions by embracing care-free happiness, only to find more trouble along the way.
“I’m not going to lose you. It’s you and me, it always has been. It always will be.”
While the majority of this story is comprised of their life on the road and the many experiences that test every aspect of their relationship and their resolve to keep running, the focal point of this story from beginning to end is the deep connection between these two characters. By hearing both their voices, we become intimately acquainted with their every thought, every fear, every hope. We see how unhealthily co-dependent they slowly become as we are given the very unique opportunity of witnessing the effects of Bray’s psychological disorder on both of them individually, as well as a couple.
“I can love a lot of people… But I could never love anyone the way I love you.”
Bray is a heroine whose every imperfection and vulnerability made me love her even more. Having lived all her young life with this secret and very taboo inner struggle, internalizing rather than asking for help, she has retreated psychologically from the world and the people around her, except from Elias. Bray has always felt free to be herself with him, even though she has kept the darkness that lives inside her hidden even from him, afraid it would drive him away from her, just as it had done with every other person who was meant to love her unconditionally. This book explores the fine line between being someone’s lifeline and being their enabler, the difference between helping someone heal and being their crutch in life.
“I love you, Bray… I love you more than you will ever know.”
“How is that?”
“Because I would do anything for you… You just don’t realize yet what ‘anything’ truly means.”
“I love you, too, Elias. More than you could possibly ever know.”
“How is that?”
“Because I’d never ask you to prove your ‘anything’.”
If you have ever been touched by the dark tentacles of a person’s mental illness, regardless of its severity, if you have ever watched a loved one struggle with the debilitating effects of a condition they are ashamed of and have no control over, their desperation to be or feel ‘normal’, then you will see the beauty of this story in all its glory. This is a story of hope. Devotion. Sacrifice. And love in one of its purest and most unwavering forms. Flawlessly and compellingly written, this is a story that made me live every page, every emotion, every unconventional facet of this truly epic romance.
“There’s nothing you could do or say to make me leave you.”
Bray and I spent the whole night in the field chasing the fireflies and laying on the grass, staring up at the stars. She told me all about her sister, Rian, and how she was a snob and was always mean to Bray. I told her about my parents, because I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. She said I was lucky. We talked forever, it seemed. We may have been young, but we connected deeply on that night. I knew we would be great friends, even better friends than Mitchell and I had been, and I had known him since first grade, when he had tried to con me out of my peach cup at lunch.
And before the night was over, we made a pact with each other that would later prove to see us through some very troubled times.
“Promise we’ll always be best friends,” Bray said, lying next to me. “No matter what. Even if you grow up ugly and I grow up mean.”
I laughed. “You’re already mean!”
She elbowed me.
“And you’re already ugly,” she said with a blush in her cheeks.
I gave in, though really I needed no convincing. “OK, I promise.”
We gazed back up at the stars; her fingers were interlaced and her hands rested on her belly.
I had no idea what I was getting into with Brayelle Bates. I didn’t know about such things when I was nine. I didn’t know. But I would never regret a moment with her. Never.
Bray and I were found early the following morning, fast asleep in the grass. We were awoken by three cops; Mr. Parson, who owned the land; and my frantic mother, who thought I had been kidnapped from my room, stuffed in a suitcase, and thrown on the side of a highway somewhere.
“Elias! Oh dear God, I thought you were gone!” She scooped me into her arms and squeezed me so tight I thought my eyeballs were going to burst out of the sockets. She pulled away, kissed me on the forehead, embarrassing the crap out of me, and then squeezed me again.
Bray’s mom and dad were there, too.
“Have you been out here all night with him?” Bray’s dad asked with a sharp edge in his voice.
My mom immediately went into defensive mode. She stood up the rest of the way with me and wrapped one arm around the front of me, pressing my head against her stomach.
“That daughter of yours,” my mom said, and already I was flinching before she finished, “she has a mouth on her. My son would never have snuck out unless he was influenced.”
I sighed and threw my head back against her.
“Are you blaming this on my daughter?” Bray’s mother said, stepping up front and center.
“As a matter of fact, I am,” my mom said boldly.
Bray started to shrink behind her dad and every second that passed I felt even worse about her being blamed.
Before this got too out of hand, I broke away from my mom’s arms. “Dammit, Mom—!” Her eyes grew wide and fierce, and I stopped midsentence.
“Watch your mouth, Elias!” Then she looked at Bray’s mom again and added,
“See, Elias never uses language like that.”
“Stop it! Please! I snuck out on my own, so leave Bray out of it!”
I hated shouting. I hated that I had to put my mom in her place like that, but I spoke what I felt in my heart, and that was something my mom always taught me to do. Take up for the bullied, Elias. Never stand back and watch someone take advantage of someone else, Elias. Always do and say what you know in your heart to be right, no matter what, Elias.
I hoped she would remember those things when we were back at home.
My mom sighed deeply and I watched the anger deflate with her breath. “I apologize,” she said to Bray’s parents. “Really, I am sorry. I was just so scared something had happened to him.”
Bray’s mom nodded, accepting my mom’s apology with sincerity. “I understand. I’m sorry, too. I’m just glad they’re safe.”
Bray’s dad said nothing. I got the feeling he wasn’t as forgiving as her mom had been.
I was grounded for the rest of the summer for that stunt I pulled. And yes, I met the fly swatter that day, after which I vowed never to sneak out of the house again. But whenever it came to Bray, from that time up until we graduated high school, I did sneak out. A lot. But I never got caught again after that first time.
I know you must be wondering why after so many years of being best friends, attending the same school, working together at the local Dairy Queen, even often sharing a bed, why we never became something more to each other.
Well, the truth is that we did.