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Just One Night

Gayle Forman



  About the Book

  Title Page

  Just One Night

  Extract from IF I STAY

  About the Author

  Also by Gayle Forman


  About the Book


  Everything will happen in just one night . . .

  After spending one life-changing day in Paris with laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter, sheltered American good girl Allyson “Lulu” Healey discovered her new lover had disappeared without a trace.

  Just One Day followed Allyson’s quest to reunite with Willem; Just One Year chronicled the pair’s year apart from Willem’s perspective. Now, back together at last, this delectable e-novella reveals the couple’s final chapter.


  By Gayle Forman

  It isn’t a first kiss. It isn’t even their first kiss. But it feels like one.

  Not because it is fumbling or awkward. Not because she doesn’t know where to put her hand, or he doesn’t know where to put his nose. None of those. They slot together like puzzle pieces. As Allyson and Willem kiss for the first time in a year, both are thinking the same thing: This feels new.

  Though perhaps thinking is not the right term, because with a kiss like this, thinking goes out the window and something more instinctual takes over: inner voices, gut instincts. “Knowing it in your kishkes” is how Willem’s saba would’ve described it.

  In his kishkes, Willem is marveling that Allyson found him, as Yael found Bram. He doesn’t know how it happened, only that it did happen and that it means something.

  Allyson is doing a mental fist pump and an I told you so. She’d spent a year looking for him, looking for the girl she was with him. And then last night, watching Willem perform Orlando in Vondelpark, she’d been certain she’d found them both, certain the words he was speaking were meant for her. Forever and a day. She’d felt it. Right in her gut. But listening to that inner voice was new to Allyson. She’d spent nineteen years of her life ignoring it, listening to pretty much everything but it. So when she’d seen Willem with another woman, looking luminously happy with another woman, she’d gone away.

  Only not really. Because here she is, at his flat, where he is kissing her, and she is kissing him right back. And the kiss feels like something completely new. But it also feels like something deeply known. Which would seem to be a contradiction. Only it’s not. The truth and its opposite are flip sides of the same coin, Saba always said.

  Nothing goes on forever. Not even second first kisses. Not even those as hard-won as this. Outside the window, a tram bell chimes. It is like an alarm clock, crystallizing the moment from fuzzy to real. Allyson and Willem break apart.

  Allyson isn’t quite sure what to do next. She is supposed to be catching a flight to Croatia. This stop at Willem’s flat was a detour, the kiss a happy surprise. But now what?

  Willem takes her backpack, as if answering the question, as if completing the transaction. Then he offers her a coffee.

  He would like to kick himself. This girl he has not seen in a year, this girl he’s thought about, dreamed about, looked for, for a year, this girl he just kissed (he’s still a bit dazed from that kiss) . . . and his first words to her are those of a waiter.

  But then he remembers something. “Or a tea. You like tea, don’t you?”

  It is the smallest thing. She likes tea. She drank tea on the train to London, when they’d first started talking, about hagelslag of all things. She drank it again on the train they’d taken to Paris together, later that morning.

  Tea. One day. A year ago. He remembered.

  A little voice in Allyson’s gut (it’s her kishkes, only she doesn’t know that word yet) is yelling: See?

  “Yes,” Allyson says. “I would love some tea.” She’s not really thirsty. Five minutes ago, nerves had left her with a mouth as dry as paper, but the kiss has taken care of that. But this feels like more than a beverage being offered.

  “Tea,” Willem says. He can see that the offer has unfastened something in her face, as when she’d jokingly solicited a compliment from him last year, and he’d told her she was brave and generous and openhearted. Back then he’d been guessing. Now he is remembering. He remembers it all. He wants to tell her. He will tell her.

  But first, tea.

  Willem starts toward the kitchen. Allyson isn’t sure whether to follow him, but then he turns around and says, “Wait here,” and then a few steps later adds, “Don’t go anywhere.”

  She sits down on the low leather couch. It is a nice apartment, all bright and sunny and modern. Does he live here? She hasn’t thought about where he might live. About him living anywhere. When she’d met him, he’d lived out of a backpack.

  In the kitchen, Willem tries to collect himself as he makes drinks. (He watches the kettle; the adage is true, it refuses to boil.) He digs through the cabinets for the tea that he recalls his uncle Daniel saying he kept for Fabiola, his soon-to-be wife, the soon-to-be mother of his child, whom he is now with in Brazil. Willem makes himself a coffee—using the instant because it is faster and it has already taken too long for the water to boil.

  He puts it all on a tray and returns to the lounge. Allyson is sitting on the sofa, her sandals off, neatly placed under the coffee table. (The sight of her bare feet. What this is doing to Willem’s blood pressure. She might as well have taken off all her clothes.)

  He puts the tray down on the coffee table and sits on the couch, but on the opposite side from Allyson. “I hope chamomile is okay,” he says. “It’s all my uncle has.”

  “It’s fine,” Allyson says. Then, “Your uncle?”

  “Daniel. This is his flat. I’m staying here while he’s in Brazil.”

  Allyson almost tells him she thought he lived in Utrecht, that was where she’d tracked him down before the trail went cold. Or she’d thought it went cold. Until she’d accidentally heard about As You Like It being performed in Vondelpark last night and she somehow knew that Willem would be in it.

  Accidents. All about the accidents. She wants to tell Willem this, is working out how to start without sounding like a complete lunatic, when he says: “Daniel used to share this flat with my father, Bram. When they were young. And then my father met a girl while he was traveling. They spent a day together. Not even a day, a few hours, and a year later, she showed up here. She knocked on the door.”

  Like you just did, Willem thinks, but he doesn’t say that. He doesn’t want to sound like a complete lunatic.

  “Your mother,” Allyson says.

  “Yes. My mother. She’s in India right now.” He thinks of her. He cannot wait to tell her this. He takes a small moment to savor that, being eager to tell his mother something. Then he goes back to savoring Allyson, and her bare feet, which are right here. He never thought he had a thing for feet, but he is beginning to reconsider.

  Allyson remembers Willem talking about his mother and father. It was during their conversation—argument? debate?—about love when Willem had smeared the Nutella on her wrist and licked it off. Allyson had challenged Willem to name one couple who hadn’t just fallen in love but had remained in love, had stayed stained. Yael and Bram, he had said.

  “Yael and Bram,” Allyson says now, not even having to reach for the names.

  She remembers Willem’s sadness last summer. And immediately she knows, maybe she knew then, that there is no more Bram. Which isn’t to say there is no more stain.

  Yael and Bram. Something in Willem’s chest catches. He’d been right. He is known to this person. Has been from the very start.

  He looks at her. She looks at him. “I told you I would remember,” Allyso
n says.

  Before he’d kissed her that night in the art squat, she had told him that she’d remember everything about their day in Paris. That she would remember him.

  Willem had made no such promises. But he can taste, touch, hear, and smell every last detail of that day together. “I remember, too,” he says.

  There is so much to say. It is like shoving all the sand of the world into an hourglass. Or trying to get it out.

  But Willem’s phone keeps ringing. He keeps ignoring it, until he remembers he promised he’d call Linus back right before he opened the door to her.

  “Oh, shit. Linus.” He goes to fetch his mobile. Five missed calls.

  Allyson looks curious. He tells her, “I have to make a call.”

  She thinks he will go into the other room to do it, but he doesn’t. He sits down next to her.

  The conversation is in Dutch so Allyson doesn’t understand what he’s saying, anyway. She can’t really make much out from the look on his face, either: a half smile. A shoulder shrug. She’s not sure if the news is good or bad.

  Willem hangs up the phone. “I’m the understudy for Orlando in a play. Shakespeare again. As You Like It,” he begins.

  “Understudy?” Allyson asks. “I thought you were Orlando.”

  Only for last night’s performance. And tonight’s. That’s what Petra had decreed, Linus has just told him. Next week Jeroen, the actor Willem replaced, will come back, ankle cast and all, for a final weekend of performances. After this evening, Willem’s services will no longer be needed, as actor or understudy. But he’s on for tonight. In fact, they need him to come listen to notes before the 7:00 call. He is about to explain this all to Allyson, but then he stops himself.

  “You knew?” he asks.

  And then she says, “I was there.”

  He shouldn’t be surprised. Hadn’t he felt her there? Hadn’t he spoken his lines to her? But after all the false hopes of the last year, and after that letter Tor had told him about, he’d thought he had conjured her. Maybe he had. Maybe he had done such a fine job of it, he’d conjured her right into existence, into his uncle’s flat, where she is now sitting, with her feet resting in his lap.

  How did that happen? He vaguely remembers grabbing her ankles and laying her feet across his legs, casually, as if they were a blanket, but he can’t be sure. It all feels like a dream and yet as natural as breathing. This is what you do. Put Allyson’s feet into your lap.

  “You were fantastic,” Allyson tells him. “Magnetic. It was like you were Orlando.”

  Willem had felt a kinship with Orlando, a bereaved young man inexplicably fallen in love with a girl who came and disappeared like a wisp of smoke. But the girl came back. (The girl came back.)

  “I always thought you were good,” she continues. “Even when I saw you perform last year, the night we met, but it was nothing like last night.”

  The night they met. He’d been doing Twelfth Night with Guerrilla Will, playing Sebastian. They hadn’t spoken, but he’d tossed her a coin at the end of the play. It was a flirtation, an invitation. God, he’d had no idea then.

  “A lot has happened this year,” Willem tells her.

  When Allyson smiles, Willem is reminded of a sunrise. A bit of light, then more of it, then a burst of brightness. A sunrise is something you can see all the time and still marvel at. Maybe that is why her smile feels so familiar. He has seen many sunrises.

  No, that is not why it feels familiar.

  Allyson meanwhile is remembering. Why this person? All the things she has told herself, or other people have told her—infatuation or Paris or good acting or lust—no longer hold water, because she remembers so viscerally and feels it anew. It’s not any of that. It’s not even him. Or all him. It’s her. The way she can be with him.

  It was so new that day: the liberation of being honest, of being brave, maybe a little stupid. She’s had a bit more practice at it now, the past few weeks alone in Europe, a lot of practice. She knows this girl pretty well now.

  “A lot has happened to me too,” she tells Willem.

  They tell the story in bits, in tandem. The parts already known: Willem being concussed. The parts guessed: Willem being beaten by the skinheads; Allyson fleeing back to London in misery. They share the frustration of never finding out each other’s true names, their whole names, email addresses. They remedy that. (Willem Shiloh De Ruiter. Allyson Leigh Healey, etc. etc.) Allyson tells Willem about the letter she wrote him last March, when she finally allowed herself to wonder if maybe the worst hadn’t happened, if maybe Willem hadn’t abandoned her.

  Willem tells Allyson about only just finding out about the letter’s existence last month, trying to track it down, and only yesterday finding out what it said.

  “How is that possible?” Allyson asks. “I got the letter back four days ago.”

  “You got it back?” Willem asks. “How?”

  “When I went to your house. Your old house, in Utrecht.”

  Broodje’s place, on Bloemstraat, where he’d spent the dark days following his return from Paris, healing from the beating, from everything, really.

  “How did you know to go there?” he asks. “To Bloemstraat.” He hadn’t lived there when they’d met, and he hadn’t given her any contact information. This was something he had regretted.

  Allyson is embarrassed now, at the lengths she went through to find him. She doesn’t regret going through them, but she understands how overzealous it might look. In her discomfort, she starts to pull her feet away. But Willem won’t let her. He holds them fast. And this small gesture gives her the courage to tell him. About venturing to Paris. About tracking down Céline. About going to the Hôpital Saint-Louis. About Dr. Robinet and his kindness. The address, which led her back to the house in Utrecht. And to the letter.

  “I kept the letter. I actually have it in my backpack.”

  She leans over and pulls out a creased envelope. She hands it to Willem. There are generations of addresses here. Tor’s house in Leeds, the original Guerilla Will headquarters (how had she found that?), forwarded to Willem’s former houseboat in Amsterdam, since sold, and forwarded on to Bloemstraat.

  “You can read it if you want,” Allyson offers.

  “Seems beyond the point,” Willem says. Though that isn’t why he doesn’t want to read it. Tor had instructed someone to email him and tell him what the letter said. He doesn’t have the stomach to read the whole letter in front of Allyson.

  But Allyson takes the envelope back, unfolds the letter inside of it, and hands it to him.

  Dear Willem:

  I’ve been trying to forget about you and our day in Paris for nine months now, but as you can see, it’s not going all that well. I guess more than anything, I want to know, did you just leave? If you did, it’s okay. I mean it’s not, but if I can know the truth, I can get over it. And if you didn’t leave, I don’t know what to say. Except I’m sorry that I did.

  I don’t know what your response will be at getting this letter, like a ghost from your past. But no matter what happened, I hope you’re okay.

  The letter is not what he thought it would be. Not what Tor suggested it was. It takes Willem a moment to find his voice again, and when he does, he speaks to the Allyson who wrote the letter as much as to the girl sitting here. “I didn’t just leave,” he says. “I’m glad you didn’t forget. And I wasn’t okay.”

  “I know that now,” she says. “I think part of me knew it then, too but I wasn’t brave enough to believe it. I was okay that day but I wasn’t okay generally. I am now.”

  Willem folds the letter, carefully, like it is sacred text. “I am, too.”

  He hands the letter back to Allyson. She shakes her head. “I wrote it to you.”

  He knows exactly where he will keep it. With the photo of him and Yael and Bram from his eighteenth birthday. With the photo of Saba and Saba’s sister, Willem’s great aunt Olga, who, like this letter, he only recently discovered had existed. This letter f
rom Allyson will join the important things, thought lost, now found.

  “I still don’t understand,” Willem says. “I went to the house on Bloemstraat last month and the letter wasn’t there.”

  “That’s weird,” Allyson says. “Saskia and Anamiek never mentioned seeing you.”

  “Who are they?” Willem asks.

  “They live there.”

  “Ahh. Well, I didn’t meet them. I let myself in with my key.”

  Allyson laughs. “That explains it. They didn’t know you, either, though they knew of you. And also . . .” She pauses and then forces herself to finish. “Ana Lucia.”

  “Ana Lucia?” Willem asks. He has not thought much about her since their spectacular blowout before Christmas last year. “What about Ana Lucia?”

  “I met her.”

  “You met Ana Lucia?”

  Allyson remembers the girl’s fury. Another student at Ana Lucia’s college had told Allyson that Willem had been cheating on Ana Lucia with a French girl all along. When she’d heard that, it had seemed to confirm everything bad Allyson suspected about him.

  “How did that go? Willem asks.

  “Well, she didn’t punch me.”

  Willem winces. “She wasn’t so happy to see you,” he says.

  “I didn’t get it. I’d never even met her before.”

  “You have. A bit.”

  Allyson shakes her head. “No. I think I’d remember.”

  “In Paris. In the Latin Quarter.”

  Allyson’s mind spins and lands on the carousel of postcards that she had pretended to look at while Willem chatted with some girls he’d known from home. Ana Lucia was one of them?

  “But why would she hate me?” Allyson asks, remembering her own jealousy at any girl Willem seemed vaguely interested in. But jealousy was one thing. Ana Lucia had literally thrown Allyson out of her dorm room.

  “Because she caught me buying the airplane tickets to find you.”

  Airplane tickets? Find me where? Allyson mind scrambles to incorporate this new information. It still doesn’t make sense. Willem had gone to Spain to meet the French girl he’d been cheating on Ana Lucia with. Allyson had suspected it was Céline, even though Céline had told Allyson she had not seen Willem since the day he was with Allyson in Paris. At the time, Allyson had believed her.