As they drank their hot chocolates, John and Clarice bantered and exchanged ideas about party favors and the best place to go for them.
By the time they finished their drinks, they’d come to an agreement: They would go first to Your Junk = My Treasures and see what they had. If that didn’t work out, Clarice was best friends with all of the novelty shop owners in Pinkerlee. They all had sympathetic energy about them. They would definitely be able to help John pick out something nice.
John had no idea what sympathetic energy was, but he smiled and went with it.
John buckled up his seatbelt and stared starstruck at Clarice as she put on her cat-eyed sunglasses. The frames were clear pink and the lenses were a medium shade of orchid. A small cluster of pink cubic zirconias nestled happily at the frame’s highest tips.
It was a simple accessory. Most guys would have been like “Oh. Pink sunglasses.” and moved on, provided that they noticed it at all. But John was in awe of how glamorous the sunglasses looked with her frosted blonde hair and pale pink lipstick.
Oh, Carrie. She isn’t you at all, but she is amazing. Do you see her? Can you see her? This wonderful woman sitting next to me…I love her. I love that she doesn’t remind me of you. She will never remind me of you and I’m glad. I want to love her because of her. Not because of you.
She deserves to be loved for who she is. Because she is wonderful.
Carrie, are you okay with this? I know. I know you’d want me to be happy, but are you okay with me moving on?
Would you want me to stay still in the past?
“I thought that’s what I wanted.”
“Hmm?” Clarice gave him a questioning look. “Did you say something?”
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. I was thinking out loud.” He shifted in his seat. “You know, before I met you, I missed her so much. I couldn’t move forward and I couldn’t move back. No matter how much I wanted it, I couldn’t go back in time to those happier moments before she got sick. I thought that was all I wanted…to stay in that past.”
He smiled. “Barbara’s my angel. I would have been hopelessly lost without her. I was her only parent. I couldn’t just lie in bed and wallow. I had to take care of her. I had to make sure that she was clothed and fed. I had to provide for her. She kept me living in the present. But, at night, that’s when I felt it. That’s when I felt the most alone.”
John rolled over on his side and waited for Carolyn to shift closer to him.
But she wasn’t there.
She would never be there again.
Grief grabbed him and squeezed his chest until tears came to his eyes. But even then it didn’t let up. It held onto him, trying to crush every rib, every vertebrae.
“My bed was too big without Carolyn in it. I never knew just how big one bed could be.”
John turned to face her.
But her side of the bed was empty. Her pillow sat all poofy and unflattened by her head.
“I can’t do this. I can’t.” He grabbed his pillow and blankets and headed towards the door.
He looked back at the stripped bed.
And she wasn’t there.
“I took to sleeping on the living room couch. Even then, I kept expecting her to come in and turn on the lamp and beckon me to come back to bed.”
John opened his eyes and waited for the shuffle of her house slippers. He nearly strained his ears listening for that one small sound.
He fell asleep as he waited.
“It took me a long time before I was able to move back to my bedroom.” He swallowed hard. “It wasn’t an easy thing to do. It meant accepting the fact that she wasn’t gonna be there anymore.”
“I know.” Clarice said. “When I lost Gerry, I had no idea how to accept it. I kept thinking over and over that I should have been there with him. I should have knocked him out of his stubbornness sooner. I should have…Oh, John. There were so many ‘I should haves’.”
“I know. I had them too. The disease that took her away from me wasn’t…It wasn’t my fault. But it was so easy to think of all the things I wanted to say and do all over again and say them right and do them right.”
“And make it all right.”
“Exactly.” He cleared his throat. “Ah! This conversation is gonna get us bawling soon if we aren’t careful.”
She put her hand on his knee. “I’m glad you’re here with me, John.”
Carrie, I feel myself falling even more in love with her. It’s frightening and exhilarating.
“And I’m happy.” he said. “I’m glad you’re here with me, Clarice.”
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
He unbuckled his seatbelt and kissed her.
She circled her arms around his neck and returned the favor. “I love you, you wonderful man.”
“I love you.”
“Then, kiss me again.”
So, he did.