Eventually, Muriel and her BFF wearied of blasting the lovers with their weapons of massive irritation. They turned the conversation to whether they’d plant daisies or daffodils this year. Muriel pulled a whole gardening schematic out of her purse and unfolded it all over the table. Her companion tut-tutted about this detail and that detail and about the fact that Muriel had made up the schematic without consulting her first.
But Hildreth focused on Elsie.
Her frizzy black hair.
How neatly she managed to eat something as messy as chili cheese fries.
And, for a moment, he saw a glimpse of their possible future.
Hildreth stood in the kitchen’s doorway, watching Elsie toss the pizza dough in the air. She caught it and tossed it perfectly every time.
A very pregnant Elsie sat next to him on the porch swing. She leaned her head against his arm. He laid his hand on her belly. Pride surged through him as he felt their baby’s kick. He almost wanted to cry.
He held Elsie in his arms and danced her around the training room. Their steps were in perfect sync. Their daughter ran into the room. Hildreth laughed and let her join them in their dance.
Then, the moment passed.
Hildreth blinked and tears fell.
Elsie put the fork down. “What’s wrong?”
He smiled through his tears. “I love you. I will always love you. Elsie. Elsie baby, nothing in this world will ever change that. No matter what each day brings. No matter what ups and downs we’ll face in our marriage. Oh, baby, I will love you like mad.”
She smoothed away his tears and kissed him – an uncharacteristically gentle kiss. “I will always love you too.”
“Hi, punkin. It’s me. Sorry. I stayed out all night. I hope you weren’t worried. I’m safe. I’m home. Just wanted to let you know. I’ll talk to you later. I’m going to take a nap for a couple of hours. So, if you try calling and I don’t pick up, don’t panic. Love you. Bye.”
John ended his call and laid down in his bed.
He rolled over on his side.
Our bed is so empty and it is so big without you. I guess I should be used to it by now. Maybe I am. It doesn’t hurt so bad now. I am sleeping in our bed again. So, there is some progress being made.
It isn’t a lot.
I still miss you.
How long will it take for me to completely get over your loss? Is that really something I want to strive for? I loved you with all of my heart.
There never was anyone else before you.
His smile grew.
She isn’t you.
In so many ways, she isn’t you.
But an interesting thing happened tonight as we were hiding in the bomb shelter. I realized…I don’t want her to be you. She doesn’t need to be you.
All she has to be is her own shining self and that’s enough.
I like who she is.
I hope you don’t mind.
“Oh, I wish I could talk to you. Even if you were just a ghost. Even if it meant opening old, almost healed hurts. Even if it were for only five minutes.”
I love you, Carolyn.
No matter what happens with Clarice, I will always love you.