Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Because it is the day before Valentine's Day...
The city streets were bustling and alive, with people moving quickly, gliding around each other with ease and grace, as if in an orchestrated ballet. The soft, swaying tones of Adele crooning about a love lost seemed at odds with the fast-paced dance that was occurring outside the window of the small café where Abby sat, drinking her cappuccino, in no hurry to go anywhere or do anything. It was Valentine’s Day, but the day meant nothing to her. Well, that is not all together true – it meant nothing good to her. It meant reliving the worst day of her life.
It should have been a day brimming with reminders of flowers, and vows, and pledges of love, and exchanges of rings. Instead, it was a jumbled mass of nearly incoherent visions of wreckage, and blood, and tears, and goodbyes that came too soon. She recalled standing with her father in the Bride’s room, knowing the church was filled with friends and family. She had closed her eyes, and imagined she could smell all the flowers in bunches and vases and adorning tuxedos. She was ready to go, the time had come, but the wedding planner had not opened the door and ushered them out. So she stood, holding her father’s hand, trying to envision Trevor standing at the altar waiting for her.
The door creaked open slowly, as the wedding planner peeked her head around, and Abby let out a breath and started for the door. Her father was asked to come out into the hall for a moment, leaving Abby standing alone, in her white dress, with her white bouquet of flowers, and her red garter discreetly hidden away.
Her father returned; a grim look on his face. Even now, Abby struggles to recall exactly the words he spoke to her, but only able to remember the rush of emotions that propelled her out the door, down the steps of the church to the white Rolls limousine that made its way hastily to the emergency room. She went to him, over the vehement objections of the doctors and nurses. She grasped his hand, looked into his eyes, and demanded that he be okay. Trevor returned her gaze, looking past her eyes, into her heart and settling in her soul. And he told her that he loved her, and closed his eyes.
She had tried so hard over the past four years to remove the snapshots in her mind of the black limousine that was transporting Trevor to the church, the deep imprint of the tractor-trailer that had run the red light mutilating the space where her life had once sat in anticipation. The pictures in her head of the wedding dress, covered in his blood after she flung herself over him when they told her he was gone. She had refused to allow anyone to come near him; she was going to hold him and protect him and bring him back.
Shaking her head of the images, she glanced back out the window, as her mother’s words rang through her head, “you have to let him go, and you have to move on.” And Abby had tried. She had dated, and met new people, and tried to start a new life. And she had almost succeeded in transforming her existence into something that resembled normal and happy.
Dating was the one area she struggled in the most. Her friends had been so helpful, setting her up with this “great guy” or that “perfect match.” But Abby had not felt anything past an initial interest in another person upon meeting each of them. So far, Abby had a long list of first dates, a handful of second dates, and a bunch of “great guys” and “perfect matches” as friends. No one had captured her attention. No one had ignited a spark. No one had provided that overwhelming feeling of “I cannot wait to see you again” with the accompanying butterflies to the stomach. None of them was Trevor.
She had been so lost in her own reverie, she had not noticed the door of the café open, but she felt the cold wrap around her, forcing her to look up. A man walked to the counter, and glanced up at the board, taking in the variety of coffees, espressos, and lattes, as well as a myriad of delectable pastries, rolls, cakes, and muffins.
Abby watched as he took off his long, black dress coat and draped it over one off the bar stools. He was wearing a navy blue suit, and had jet black hair that was somewhat wavy, and barely touched the collar of his stark white dress shirt. He was tall, and stood there with confidence. And for some reason, Abby could not drag her eyes away from him. She was intrigued by him, interested in his choice of coffee and whether he would also order something to eat. He was distracting, and she was captivated.
He placed his order with the young, ponytailed blonde, and though she had been listening, Abby had not paid attention to what he actually said. The stranger sat suddenly, turning in his seat to look out the window, and caught Abby’s eyes staring at him. Abby could feel the slight rush of heat to her cheeks, but was unable to look away from the man right away. Finally, she turned her attention back to her now empty cup of cappuccino, and considered if she should leave. She had nowhere of importance to go; she had taken the day off because she could not stand to watch the influx of long stem roses and bright, happy bouquets arrive at the office, and adorn everyone’s desk except hers. She would wait until later to make the trip to see Trevor, knowing that she would end up spending more time there than she planned, brushing the dirt from the heavy stone bearing his name, vital statistics, announcing that he had been a “loving son” but not “husband.” She would leave enveloped in cold, externally from the brisk February wind, the cold of the ground that she sat on while updating him of things that had occurred since her last visit; and internally, as she tried to sustain a love that was now unsustainable.
“Mind if I join you?” Abby turned her head suddenly, and looked into the eyes of the stranger, as he stood in front of her, two over-sized coffee cups in hand. He smiled, and tilted his head to the side slightly. Flustered, Abby cleared her newspaper out of the way, offering, “Please, have a seat,” as her eyes followed him.
“I hope you don’t mind – I asked the waitress what you were drinking, and ordered you another,” he stated as he slid one of the mugs across the table to her.
“Oh,” Abby responded, as she glanced into the cup, recognizing the familiar design in the frothy milk. “Thank you,” taking a tentative sip, before glancing up at him questioningly. There was something familiar in his eyes, and his smile, but Abby could not place it.
“I’m sorry,” the handsome stranger began, “But have we met? You seem familiar to me somehow.”
“I was just about to ask you the same thing,” Abby snickered. “I’m Abby Clark,” and she reached her hand across the table to him.
Taking it, he gave her a slight squeeze, “Bryce Holden.”
“Does not sound familiar,” Abby offered, noticing that he still had a hold of her hand, and that she was not anxious to withdraw it.
“Hmm,” Bryce murmured, “not to me, either.” He finally let her hand go, and Abby laid it on the table, instead of in her lap. “Still,” he continued, “I cannot get past the feeling that I know you. Something about your eyes, and your smile…,” he continued to look at her, assessing her, and absentmindedly moved his finger across his bottom lip.
“Sorry,” he said, sitting back in his seat, and taking a deep breath, “I guess you remind me of someone I once knew.” His eyes travelled out onto the street, in remembrance of someone or something in his past.
Abby watched him for a moment longer, taking advantage of his diverted attention to figure out what about Bryce seemed so familiar to her, as well. There was no resemblance to anyone she had known – not the men she had dated over the past few years, and definitely not fair-haired Trevor. Except, that when she considered Trevor, while looking at Bryce, she felt the same familiarity; the same sense of comfortableness and ease and…contentment.
“So, without this sounding incredibly cliché, do you come here often?” Bryce asked as he took a sip of his coffee, and turned his gaze back on her.
Abby smiled, “Yea, I actually do. You, apparently, do not?”
“No, I just happened to find this place. I only moved over to this side of town a couple of weeks ago. And I am just venturing out. I think I have finally unpacked all my boxes, and have things pretty much put away. But I have also been stuck in my apartment trying to get it done.”
“What made you move here?” Abby asked, taking a larger drink of her coffee than she had intended.
Bryce chuckled, and moved his thumb across her upper lip, removing the remnants of the frothy milk, and once again Abby felt the heat rise in her cheeks. “I needed to start over, I guess. Get a new start, a fresh perspective on life. I have been in a bit of a funk for the past few years. I guess I just needed a change of scenery, a diversion from the constant barrage of memories.” He sat quietly for a moment, in another bout of inner reflection, while Abby watched him. She knew what it was like to get lost in thought, especially when trying in earnest to let things go, and focus on the future.
“I’m sorry,” Bryce interrupted his own thoughts, gazing at Abby in embarrassment, “I don’t usually go on and on like this…”
“No worries,” Abby consoled him, “I have the same affliction. I moved over here two years ago for the same reason. And that thing you do, where you start talking, and then a memory comes flooding back in – I have that problem, as well. It typically causes people either to stare at me in complete confusion, or, if it is one of my friends, I get the ‘Abby…hello…you’re doing it again!’” She pauses for a moment, before reaching her hand across the table to his, and giving it a squeeze. “It’s not something that you even realize you are doing, until it is too late, huh? And by that time, you have offended someone.” She pauses briefly, and adds, “Not to worry, I am not offended. In fact, I will probably do the same thing at some point during our conversation.”
Bryce just stares at her for a moment, not moving, not speaking. Finally he picks up her hand, and holds it more firmly in his, “Feel free. It is nice to meet someone who understands…and is patient. And listens.”
“So,” Abby takes a look around the café. Pony-tail girl is at the back of the bar, near the kitchen, talking to someone out of sight. Three women sit at a table in a back corner of the restaurant, ostensibly as far away from the door as possible to avoid the cold. No one else is in the café. “Want to talk about it?” she asks, now that she has confirmed that no one will overhear the conversation.
Bryce looks at her for a moment, wary, uncertain of her intent, or his ability to remain unemotional. Abby can tell he is apprehensive about talking to someone he has just met about something potentially deeply personal, so she offers, “I’m a great listener, and I understand feeling lost. I am also a little selfish.” Bryce regards her questioningly, so she continues, “I am hoping it will distract me from my own memories, especially today.” Bryce nods and looks down at his hands, absentmindedly stroking the back of her hand that he has not yet released.
The next hour and a half included two more coffees for each, and Bryce’s tale of love lost, in a quiet, non-violent manner, but no less heart-breaking. One year after he married his high school sweetheart, Emily, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They spent the next three years going through periods of treatment, remission, hair loss, hopefulness, and desperation. When it was clear that she would not win the race, they had decided to take all the money they had in savings and investments, and travel. Bryce had promised in his vows that he would make sure that she saw the world before they were parted by death. He just never figured it would be so soon. When she was unable to travel anymore, he had rented a beach home in North Carolina, where Emily could sit on the front porch, and let the ocean breeze blow her hair around her face, while taking in the sights and smells of summer. He held her tightly as she took her last breaths, promising that he would finish their journey around the world. He had made it through his tale without breaking down. Abby had not.
They sat there for another fifteen minutes, not saying anything – not needing to. It was past the time for talk. It was a time to gain strength. And in those fifteen minutes, these two strangers were gaining strength from each other, attempting to make it through another day.
They exchanged numbers, and even made a “friendship” date for that Saturday morning, in that same café, sitting in the same booth in front of the window. Soon, the morning coffee dates extended to lazy walks in the park, afternoon visits to the theater, dinners at a new restaurant they had discovered, and movies laying on the couch eating popcorn, and snuggling.
They accepted that the ghosts of their pasts were still very much a part of the present, and worked hard to incorporate them, instead of ignoring them. Bryce drove Abby to visit Trevor every year on Valentine’s Day, until she finally introduced the two, and made peace with her memories. Abby carried Emily’s favorite flowers to the beach, on the annual visit to North Carolina. She would stand back and watch as Bryce would place the wreath of flowers into the water where he had once cast her ashes. On their last visit, Bryce had held tightly to Abby’s hand as he made his way to the edge of the water, and they both placed the offering on the waves.
Standing outside the office of the Justice of the Peace, Abby recalls the first time she met Bryce. The chance encounter of two strangers had led her on a path of acceptance of loss, the faith to begin again, and hope for a better future. She glanced down at her white suit, smoothing out the wrinkles that did not exist. Loosely grasping the small bouquet of flowers, she looked into the eyes of her handsome groom. She had been unable to get past the fears of having a big church wedding, and refused to travel to the courthouse in a separate car from Bryce. He had understood, was supportive, and never once made her feel silly for her superstitions.
They entered the reception to cheering family and friends, flashing wide, happy grins; flashing their shiny new wedding bands. Their pasts had brought them together, and they had learned over their journey to this point that it was better to incorporate the feelings and the love of the ones they had lost, rather than forget they existed, and live lives separate and apart from their memories. So they had taken the rings of their former loves, and had them enjoined into their own rings. They had worked closely with a jeweler to make sure they could get pieces of each of the four rings into the two that now adorned Abby and Bryce’s fingers.
Moving through the hugs and kisses of the well-wishers, Abby’s thoughts returned to a cold February morning, when a familiar smile on a stranger's face changed the course of her life…and she quietly thanked God as she held tightly to Bryce’s hand. The losses they had each faced had brought them together, and made them stronger. Neither took anything in life for granted, and endeavored to make every minute count. Starting with this one. Whispering in Bryce’s ear, he turned and kissed her, “I love you, too, Abby.”