“We’re a strange couple, aren’t we?” Elsie said. “Look at us. I’m wearing my father’s gauntlets. You’re wearing your Bossman 550. Anyone else would feel awkward and self-conscious about it.”
She shook her head. “Not in the least. You?”
“Nope. It’s second nature to carry it on my back. I barely even notice the weight.” He chuckled. “Oh, that just makes me sound like the worst kind of jock. You know, the kind that can lift a 650 pound barbell and be all—” He switched into a very bad Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation. “—‘yahs. ah can leeeeft diss alla daaaaeeey’.”
Elsie burst out laughing. “What the heck, Hildreth? What the serious heck?” She kept laughing.
He grinned. “Ahhh, Ah see you lahke maaah Ahnold impuwrseahnashun.”
She laughed even harder. “Stop! It’s just so horrible.”
He laughed along with her.
“They make each other so happy.” John reconsidered his words and winced. “Sorry for stating the obvious.”
“Oh, nothing to be sorry for, my sugared jalapeno and dark rum cake.”
He grinned at the compliment. At least, he assumed it was a compliment.
“Truth be told, I was about to say that out loud myself, but you beat me to that particular bowl of spiked punch.”
“I love you.” He thought about it. “I do. It’s become so easy to say it. I no longer feel that rush of uncertainty and embarrassment. It feels natural.”
“I couldn’t agree more, John.”
His skin warmed. “Say my name again, Clarice.”
I need to tell her.
I need to tell her now. This is the right moment.
I need to tell her right now.
“Clarice, I saw her last night.”
Her mouth started to form the question, but the word never left her lips.
“I saw Carolyn.”
She exhaled a soft “ahh.’
“But, Clarice, it wasn’t a dream. It finally was not a dream. I saw her. I saw my Carrie as Barbara got married. She stood at my side. And I saw her standing there. She stood beside me and she watched our little girl get married. It was everything I’d wanted. Everything I’d hoped for and prayed for. Just to see her one last time.”
Her eyes teared up, but Clarice smiled bravely and squeezed his hand. “I’m happy for you, John. You deserved that.”
“There’s more to it. After the whole wedding ceremony was over, she reappeared in my car and we talked. Oh, Clarice! To hear her voice again…After so long. To hear her say my name. To just talk to her.”
“You don’t need to say more than that. I understand. Oh, believe me. I understand. Is she still with you?”
He remembered her transformation into pure light.
He remembered the empty passenger seat.
He shook his head. “I let her go. Clarice, she gave me permission to keep seeing you. She doesn’t mind it at all. She encouraged it. She just wants me to be happy.”
“Oh, John.” She blinked and tears trailed down. “Of course, she wants you to be happy.”
“Clarice, I. I.”
It isn’t much to tell her. It might hurt her more than anything else. Yet, if I were her, I would ask. I would want to know.
He put his hands on her face and gently wiped away her tears. “Clarice, I asked her if she’s seen your husband.”
She held her breath.
I wish I had something better to tell her. I wish I could tell her that he’s okay, that he’s safe and happy.
I wish I could make her happy.
He shook his head and she exhaled. “I’m sorry. But she said that she would watch for him. And she will. My Carrie will shoot straight over to him in the most precise beeline you’ve ever seen as soon as he shows up.” He choked up. “She will welcome him.” His mouth twitched. “She’ll welcome him home. Because.” He took a breath and released it in a hard exhale. “Because she’s like that. She was always.” He cleared his throat. “She was always like that. The biggest smile. The brightest light. She was.” His voice wobbled. “She was my butterfly and I was her violet.”
Clarice hugged him.
He bowed into her embrace and he hugged her too.