How did you find me?"
"I've followed you for a long time." He must have mistaken the look on my face for alarm or fear, and said, "Not literally. I just mean I never lost track."
But it wasn't fear, or anything like that. It was an instant of realization I'd have a lot in the coming days: I'd been thinking of him as coming back from the dead, but the fact was he'd been there all along. He'd been alive when I cried in my room over him being gone. He'd been alive when I started a new school without him, the day I made my first friend a Jones Hall, the time I ran into Ethan at the library. Cameron Quick and I had existed simultaneously on the planet during all of those moments. It didn't seem possible that we could have been leading separate lives, not after everything we'd been through together.
"...then I looked you up online," he was saying, "and found your mom's wedding announcement from before you changed your name. I didn't even need to do that. It's easy to find someone you never lost."
I struggled to understand what he was saying. "You mean...you could have written to me, or seen me, sooner?"
"I wanted to. Almost did, a bunch of times."
"Why didn't you? I wish you had." And I did, I wished it so much, imagined how it would have been to know all those years that he was there, thinking of me.
"Things seemed different for you," he said, matter-of-fact. "Better. I could tell that from the bits of information I found...like an interview with the parents who were putting their kids in your school when it first started. Or an article about that essay contest you won a couple years ago."
"You knew about that?"
He nodded. "That one had a picture. I could see just from looking at you that you had a good thing going. Didn't need me coming along and messing it up."
"Don't say that," I said quickly. Then: "You were never part of what I wanted to forget."
"Nice of you to say, but I know it's not true."
I knew what he was thinking, could see that he'd been carrying around the same burden all those years as me.
"You didn't do anything wrong." It was getting cold on the porch, and late, and the looming topic scared me. I got up. "Let's go in. I can make coffee or hot chocolate or something?"
"I have to go."
"No! Already?" I didn't want to let him out of my sight.
"Don't worry," he said. "Just have to go to work. I'll be around."
"Give me your number. I'll call you."
"I don't have a phone right now."
"Find me at school," I said, "or anytime. Eat lunch with us tomorrow." He didn't answer. "Really," I continued, "you should meet my friends and stuff."
"You have a boyfriend," he finally said. "I saw you guys holding hands."
I nodded. "Ethan."
"For how long?"
"Three months, almost." I couldn't picture Cameron Quick dating anyone, though he must have at some point. If I'd found Ethan, I was sure Cameron had some Ashley or Becca or Caitlin along the way. I didn't ask. "He's nice," I added. "He's..." I don't know what I'd planned to say, but whatever it was it seemed insignificant so I finished that sentence with a shrug.
"You lost your lisp."
And about twenty-five pounds, I thought. "I guess speech therapy worked for both of us."
He smiled. "I always liked that, you know. Your lisp. It was...you." He started down the porch steps. "See you tomorrow, okay?"
"Yeah," I said, unable to take my eyes off of him. "Tomorrow.