Short Story. Inheritance.

A short story based on a prompt from Reedsy: A tree that connects the story of multiple characters. I hope you enjoy!

Carl limped through his yard, his arm shaking as he shaded his eyes against the sun.
Carl leaned against his cane, twisting back just far enough to catch his daughter standing in the doorway.
“I told you to let someone else do that!”
Carl didn’t bother responding, letting out a grunt as he continued to limp down the slope of the yard.
“Dad!” She yelled after him, her eyes flickering back and forth between her father and the infant in her arms.
Carl didn’t listen, humming softly as he weighed the seeds in his hand. They were heavier than he’d expected. Though, he supposed they meant more than any old random seed. Why shouldn’t they carry more weight?
His daughter disappeared inside the house, reappearing a short time later with a bonnet strapped to her child’s head.
Carl was still humming as he began to dig a small hole, repeatedly thrusting his cane into the ground until it gave way.
“You can wait for someone else to do this,” she said, her eyebrows furrowed against the sun.
Carl shook his head, continuing to jam his cane downward. “It’s the kind of thing a father likes to do himself.”
“It’s gonna take forever to grow.”
Carl hesitated, leaning against his cane as his arms shook more violently than usual. He took a deep breath, pointedly ignoring his spasms as he surveyed the yard. “Do you see my yard?” he asked, his voice shaking. “Take a look, Gloria. How would you describe it?”
Gloria frowned. “It’s nice.”
“It’s barren,” he snapped. “There’s no trees. No shade. Nothing pretty… nothing like the yard you grew up in.”
“It doesn’t have to be the same.”
Carl worked his jaw, doing his best to hold back what emotions he could. “Your mom had the green thumb. She did all the growing and… she’s the one that made things nice for you.”
Gloria smiled, brushing a hand against his shoulder. “I’m sure she taught you a thing or two over the years.”
“I never thought…,” Carl steadied his hand against his cane. “You’re right… it’s going to take years for this tree to grow, but it’s better late than never. I can do what I can to make things nice for you. For little Maddie.”
Gloria’s lips quivered as she looked down at her daughter, offering no more protests as he finished making his hole. After some time, she made a decision. “Why don’t we plant it together, dad? We can do it in honor of mom.”
Carl smiled at that, offering her some of the seeds. And, together, they filled the hole.

Maddie waddled through her grandfather’s yard, giggling at the funny shape of the clouds overhead. Her mom was right behind her, ready to catch her if she fell, but she would not fall. She was strong. Like her mom. Like her grandfather.
“The tree is coming along!” Gloria shouted, careful to speak loud enough for her father to hear.
Carl nodded, almost certain of what she had said. “Just a sapling as of yet, but it’s growing.”
“Tree!” Maddie repeated.
Gloria smiled at her daughter. “Soon, it will be as strong as you, pop!”
Carl smiled. “I believe we are on opposite trajectories.”

Maddie jumped, latching onto the lowest branch of her grandfather’s tree, giggling as it held her weight.
“Maddie!” Her mother yelled, only just realizing where her daughter had gone. “Get off of that! It’s not strong enough!”
Maddie’s giggles cut off as she dropped to the grass, but her good humor was unabashed, proceeding to do cartwheels across the lawn.
“It held,” Carl said, his voice weak as he lounged in his chair.
“Barely,” Gloria sniffed, frowning after her daughter.
Carl nodded. “But it held. Just as the two of you will.”
“Don’t talk like that, dad.”
Carl nodded again, though about what she wasn’t sure. “You know what it is to lose someone, my love. It is the way of things. Your mom. Maddie’s father… you must not hide from my going.”
“I’m not hiding! It’s just not time yet, pop. You have years left in you.”
Carl frowned, his eyes heavy as they laid on his daughter. “Maybe. But how many did you think your mother had? Your husband?”
Gloria began to bite her lips, anxiety stiffening her face. “None of this is fair.”
Carl’s lips twitched upward. “No, not fair at all. Especially not for you, my love. And yet you stand, strong in the knowledge that you are loved.”
Gloria leaned into her father, tears welling up at the edges of her eyes. “I love you.”
Carl kissed the top of her head. “Forever and always.”
“Forever and always.”

Maddie ran her fingers across the bark of granddad’s tree, her eyes lingering on its cracks. Tears mingled with the dirt at her feet, but her lip was stiff, her eyes hard as she came to terms with the moment.
Her mother had explained death to her. Long before the death of her grandfather, she had revealed what happened to her father. What’s it meant to lose someone close to you, but she’d never…. well, this was the first time she’d experienced it firsthand.
Her grandfather was gone. A memory. A ghost. And yet… the tree was here… Left behind as a gift for her. How long would this tree last?
“He made it for you.”
Maddie didn’t bother looking, content to stare at the tree as her mother joined her.
“He wanted you to have shade. To have beauty and love, and a life like I had.”
“He didn’t need a tree to do that,” Maddie sniffed, unable to look her mother in the eyes.
“No,” Gloria agreed. “But he wanted to give it to you anyway.”
“That’s stupid.”
Gloria grimaced but said nothing as she put an arm around her shoulders. “He gave what he could.”
“I only wanted him.”
“And we had him,” her mom whispered. “And we’ll continue to have him for as long as the wind blows.”
Maddie looked up at the tree, watching the wind stir its leaves. “I only wanted him.”


Short Story: An Awkward Kind of Death

Each week I will post a short story based on a prompt provided by a writing website called Reedsy. This week’s prompt was to tell a story from the end to the beginning. The following is my response:

“Divorce, man. It’s an awkward kind of death.”
Beverly nodded slowly, her eyebrows furrowed as she looked me up and down.
“I’m not trying to be dramatic or anything,” I said, shooting her the most disarming smile I could muster. “It’s just the truth of it. I mean, if I had died or something… I don’t know, maybe it’s a selfish thought, but I feel like it would be easier on both of us. A clean break, you know?”
Beverly pushed her glasses up, leaning back in her chair. “Is this really how you want to open with me?”
I shrugged, taking my cues from her as I leaned back. “I’m not a big fan of small talk. I’m all about big talk, you know? Deep talk. That’s where everyone should start, right? So we know if we’re compatible right off the bat.”
A smile played on Beverly’s lips. “Alright… but I have ground rules.”
“Go ahead.”
“Don’t ever call me ‘man’ again.”
“Fair enough,” I said, holding back a chuckle. “What about ‘Bev?’”
“That’s fine,” she shrugged. “We’re talking big, after all… might as well lean in with the nicknames.”
“Alrighty then, Bev. Any other rules?”
She sat up straighter, her eyes more alert as she considered her answer. “Just one more: the one I demand from everyone. No lies.”
I smiled at that, nodding as I sat up to meet her. “I never lie during big talk. There’s no point, otherwise.”
“Okay then,” she said, gesturing to me. “Go ahead.”
“Welp,” I said, already beginning to chew my top lip. “I suppose we should start with the fact that she’s the one that divorced me. Had me sign the papers and everything. See? In small talk, I might have said it was me who wanted to split, or that it was mutual, at least… but that’s not the truth of it.”
Bev nodded, giving nothing away as she seemed to stare into my soul.
“I mean, I’m not gonna lie, I’d thought about it before. But only in passing, right? Like, ‘oh, wouldn’t it be crazy if we got divorced? I’d have so much time to… I don’t know, rest or something,’ yada yada. But it wasn’t ever a serious thought. I could have never imagined… well, I guess that’s not completely true. I imagined plenty. I just never expected her to do it.”
“Why do you think she did?”
I couldn’t meet her eyes at that moment, looking everywhere but at Bev. “I know exactly why she left. I think that’s why I imagined it so often.”
“Why, then?”
My voice shook at forming the words. “…because I wasn’t good enough. I mean, I know, no one is perfect, and… well, regardless, she was right. I wasn’t good enough for her.” I forced myself to Bev in the eyes. “I told her as much when I gave her the papers. I fought for us, I did, and I thought… but she deserved better.”
Bev didn’t respond, watching my face as I struggled with where to go next.
“I let her go,” I said, running my hands through my hair. “I showed her how much I’d changed and the man I’d become… and she was proud of me. Man, I… even when she didn’t take me back, the fact that she was proud of me… that changed me more than she could ever know.”
“Changed you how?”
My lips twitched upward. “I was a decent guy. A good worker, faithful, and went to church and all that… but I was a crappy husband.”
I started to tap the coffee table, my fingers twitching as I hesitated.
“Why do you say that?” she prompted.
I shook my head. “She would tell you it was because I drank, but that ain’t it. Not like it sounds, at least. I mean, sure, I drank, but never too much, if you know what I mean. And I didn’t get mean or abusive or nothing like that. I just…”
I pursed my lips. “I just didn’t pay attention.”
Bev leaned back in her chair, her eyes piercing.
“I realized it too late; what the real problem was. I wasn’t focused on her enough. I looked forward to an hour at the bar more than seeing her. I forgot what it meant to love her, the attention required to love someone so… well, the short of it is that I took her for granted and I realized too late.”
“I gave up the drink, you know. When she started threatening to leave. I mean, she didn’t threaten, really. Not directly. But she’d start throwing out the idea, casually dropping it in conversation like a terrible joke. Pointing out other people who got divorced and talking about how happy they were… the hobbies they’d picked up to fill that hole inside of them…”
“Have you picked up any hobbies?” Bev asked a little too innocently.
I smirked, letting out a sigh. “Nothing worthwhile yet.”
Bev nodded sagely. “Why do you think that didn’t work? Giving up drinking, I mean.”
“Because I didn’t know yet!” I said, throwing up my hands. “I thought it was just about drinking, and I was trying to solve the problem that wasn’t really the problem. That’s really what broke our backs too, when I kept ignoring her even without it, not realizing I was trying to replace her with my phone, and food, and streaming… and she felt it. She felt herself being replaced, but she didn’t know what to call it. She couldn’t recognize it to call it out and didn’t even have drinking to blame anymore.”
“So she blamed you?”
I nodded. “And rightly so. When I realized… it wasn’t just the last while that I’d been ignoring her. It was years of neglect. I’d been so selfish, as if marriage was just some big perk that I got on the side. Like I could live my life like always and nothing would change. I went from bachelorhood to bachelorhood with a mortgage and a roommate. Selfish. Ignorant. Unworthy of her in every way.”
“She’s not perfect,” Bev said, pushing her glasses farther up the bridge of her nose. “And you didn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of marrying her.”
I smiled, careful not to roll my eyes. “No, she wasn’t perfect. But if she was close to the sun, I was in darkness.”
“I think you’re being a little hard on yourself.”
I shrugged, pulling my eyes away from hers. Both of us were content to sit in silence for a long moment as we collected our thoughts. “I had good intentions when I married her,” I said eventually. “I wanted to do right by her, I just didn’t realize how… little I was. How unprepared. And now that our marriage is over… well that might have been the first time in my life I’d truly done the right thing for her.”
Bev checked the clock on the wall, double-checking it with her watch. “That’s close to our time,” she said, shooting me a thin smile. “Is there anything else you’d like to share as we wrap up our session?”
I sat up straighter, my eyes lingering on the nameplate resting on her desk. “I wonder… I don’t know, but I wonder if, maybe when you think I’m ready. And I’m more capable and more selfless, and ready to pursue her the way she deserves… if you think I could win her back?”
Bev pursed her lips, setting down her pen. “Maybe that’s something we can talk about next time.”
I slowly shook my head, conflicted as I pushed myself to my feet. “Divorce, Bev,” I said with a hint of a smile.
She smiled back. “It really is an awkward kind of death.”

Short Story. The Peacemaker. (Enneagram 9)

Chris’s trembling hand hovered over his mother’s casket. He couldn’t bring himself to touch it, as if feeling his mother’s coffin would make it real. The last embrace for either of them.
He felt no discernible emotion. Anger replaced sorrow replaced confusion within the space of a breath. And then peace. A calm that only comes from detachment. The anger wasn’t a part of him, it was merely happening to him. He wasn’t experiencing sorrow, rather, sorrow had made its home upon his shoulders. He was fine. And yet, he couldn’t touch the casket. His mom would want him to touch her casket.
“Chris,” Beth whispered, resting her hand against his arm. Her eyes were concerned, her lips pulled downward as she peered into his eyes. “We’re supposed to be welcoming the guests.”
Chris glanced back toward the pews, taking a moment to watch the stream of acquaintances file into the church. He felt no responsibility for these people. There wasn’t enough room for them. “You should rest,” he told her.
“I’m fine,” Beth said, her eyes searching the crowd for their father. “I’m not in danger.”
“That’s what mom said,” Chris hissed, involuntarily glancing at her casket.
Beth stiffened, visibly swallowing her emotions. “Chris,” she whispered, taking his hands in hers. “I promise I’m okay. What happened to mom was a freak thing. It’s not gonna to happen to me.”
Chris exhaled, distancing himself from the anxiety building inside. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to be okay,” he said, holding her hands tighter. “You’re sick.”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“And you’re going to need help,” he pressed, holding her gaze.
“I know,” she said, shooting him a rueful smile. “That’s why I have you and dad… and medicine.”
Chris allowed himself to smile back. “Good. So you can let me help you right now by taking my advice. You don’t need to welcome people to mom’s funeral.”
Beth rolled her eyes. “Okay, Chris, I’ll find my seat.”
Chris nodded in relief. For the moment, there was one less weight on his shoulders.
And just as Beth turned toward the pews, Pam appeared out of the reverent crowd, shuffling her way toward them. “You know, sound carries pretty well here,” she said as she pulled up in front of them. “You two might want to talk more softly.”
“Pam,” Beth said, her voice betraying her surprise. “Thanks for coming.”
“I just wanted to support you,” Pam said, her eyes heavy with burden. “All of you,” she added as she made eye-contact with Chris. “I know I can’t fix what happened to your mother, or change the fact that you’re sick, Beth. But I can do what I can do.”
Chris fought down the lump in his chest, surprised at the anger that accompanied his sorrow. There was compassion in her eyes, along with pity, which reminded him of his pain. And that’s all anyone here was going to accomplish. Every single one of them would look at him with that same pity, each time a reminder of why he should pity himself as well.
“Thank you,” Beth said, smiling at Pam. It’s what Chris should have said, what he would have said if he hadn’t been so wrapped up in his head.
“Well I’ll go take my seat,” Pam said quietly, watching Chris with a knowing frown.
“We’ll join you,” Beth said amiably, reaching for Chris’ hand in an effort to guide him with her.
“I um, I need to do something first,” Chris said, pulling away, darting for the doors along the side of the church before Beth could object.
He couldn’t sit yet. There was too much happening inside of him to be still. He needed to move. To process the thoughts barraging his mind, like a thousand wires disconnected. He could sort it out. He could make sense of everything if only he could just escape for a while.
No one followed him as he pushed his way through the side doors. It was empty outside. Space enough so that his mind could process without distraction. The chilly air cleared his mind, providing a wave of relief as he became more aware of his senses.
The goosebumps on his arm. The brush of wind cutting through his jacket. They brought his mind into focus, temporarily dulling the unresolved thoughts in his mind. Then he pulled out his box. The carton was half-empty, the rest of it burned to ashes that morning. He didn’t want to smoke… and yet it was all he wanted to do.
His hands shook as he lit his cigarette. He told himself it was the cold. that it was the wind happening to him. The anger happening to him… then the smoke hit his lungs, providing a wave of relief. The nicotine happening to him. None of this was who he was.
And then he exhaled the smoke, and with it, the tiniest amount of burden. For the moment, the weight was lightened. It would come back heavier when he was done, but that could be dealt with then. This was now.
“Son,” Steve said, stepping through the doors. “What are you doing out here?”
Chris let out another breath of smoke, holding up the cigarette in reply.
“We’re about to start,” he said, his eyes heavy with disapproval.
“I just need to finish one, dad,” Chris said, pulling his eyes away from his father’s.
Steve hesitated, biting back a response as he watched his son take another drag. “Why?” He asked instead, his voice soft. Questioning.
Chris eyed his father, surprised at the question. “I just do.”
Steve nodded as if that made perfect sense, looking intently into his son’s eyes. Then, with a sigh, he leaned against the brick wall next to him. “I’m sorry, son,” he said, shivering through a gust of wind. “You don’t deserve this.”
Chris shrugged. “Neither do you, dad.”
“Maybe,” Steve said, his eyes laden with tears. “But it’s part of the job. You don’t know what it’s like to have children. To love someone so intensely… it’s not something you can know without being a parent yourself. I imagined all the things I would do for you both. All of the ways I could provide for you or fail you. But what I thought about most was how painful your life would be. I thought of every cruel possibility this world had to offer, and imagined that I would be there for you through it all. I thought if I could love you well enough. If I fought for you strongly enough…”
Chris looked Steve in the eyes as he trailed off. “Dad, this isn’t your fault.”
Steve nodded. “No, it’s not. And yet, every moment of suffering that you and Beth experience is my fault. And your mom’s fault. Because we brought you into this world. And in this world there is suffering… and there is love. And son, when you run from one… your run from both.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
“Chris, it’s okay if you’re not ready to feel anything right now.” Steve pressed. “You don’t need to be ready. But, eventually, you’re going to have to let yourself feel what you’re feeling.”
Chris’s lips trembled as he pulled the cigarette away from his mouth. He couldn’t bring himself to respond. He knew that if he said anything in this moment, he would break. And then he broke anyway as his father pulled him into a hug, and he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
Chris dropped the cigarette as his father pulled him in tight, and then they both sobbed into each other’s arms. There were no wires. No weights. In that moment, there was only freedom. Freedom to feel and to love.
Minutes passed, and Steve didn’t let go. He held Chris until he was ready to move on. Until his son could stand on his own once more.
“I’ll give the eulogy,” Steve said once they’d wiped away their tears.
“Dad, I can give it,” Chris said, feeling lighter than he had in some time.
“I appreciate that, son, but your mother would have wanted me to give it. I was just… I was running from it. I’m done running.”
Chris nodded his understanding. “Me too,” he said eventually, stomping out the embers of his cigarette.
And, together, they walked back into the church. Wherein, Chris, without hesitation, embraced his mother’s casket.
He cried again during his father’s eulogy. As did Beth. And Pam. And Louis. And they were tears of sadness, but not just sadness. They were also tears of hope. Of remembrance. Of love.

Short Story. The Challenger. (Enneagram 8)

Louis checked his watch. Thirty-three minutes he’d been waiting in the hospital lobby. Two more and he’d pester the nurses again. And every five minutes after that until he got what he came for.
He hadn’t managed to sit once during the wait. It was too easy to think when he wasn’t moving. Too easy to dwell on the past. Moving was better for him; it put him in better control of his emotions.
“Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist exactly ninety seconds later.
“Your mother will be out shortly,” the receptionist told him, not bothering to look up from her computer.
“She’s my neighbor,” Louis said, rapping his fingers on her desk “How shortly?”
The woman rolled her eyes away from her computer, not an ounce of patience left in them. “I’ll know when you know, sir. Now you can take a seat while you wait.”
“I’ll stand,” Louis said, turning away from her desk as she rolled her eyes at him again, but he didn’t mind. As far as he was concerned, she could roll her eyes at him a thousand times as long as she did her job.
It was another seven minutes before his neighbor finally rolled through the doors.
“What are you doing here, Louis?” Pam asked as her attendant pushed her across the lobby.
“I’m here to drive you home,” he said, feeling more like a parent than he had in some time.
“I didn’t need you to pick me up,” Pam snapped, her lips curled in a frown. “I’m perfectly capable of calling for a ride.”
“Don’t be stubborn,” Louis snapped back. “I’m here to help you home.”
“You’re here to baby a woman twenty years older than you,” Pam sighed. “And I don’t need babying. I’ll find my own way home, thank you.”
Her attendant glanced back and forth between Pam and Louis, unsure of how to proceed. “We kind of need this chair.”
Pam scoffed, pushing herself up from the wheelchair. “Take it then, I told you I didn’t need it in the first place.”
The attendant bowed his head, avoiding both of their eyes as he escaped down the hallway.
“Please, Pam,” Louis said, some of the fight leaving his voice. “I told Beatrice I would bring you back.”
“Your wife doesn’t care who picks me up, Louis,” Pam said. “You’re the one who treats me like your child.”
Louis visibly flinched at the barb. Pam didn’t know the whole story, but she knew enough to make him hurt.
Pam realized what she’d said too late, recognizing the pain in his eyes. “Fine,” she said, relenting. “You can drive me home.”
Louis nodded, solemn as he lead her to his car. It was a long walk. Too long to spend with someone in complete silence, but that’s exactly what they did.
“Did you tell them about the pills?” Louis asked once they’d gotten in the car.
“Yep,” she said, buckling her seat belt.
Louis eyed her suspiciously. “And?”
“And they’ve assigned me someone to talk to,” Pam said, exasperated. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
Louis bit his lip, swallowing his response as he pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m glad,” he said eventually.
“Good,” she replied. “So now you don’t have to keep checking in on me.”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“It’s not your job to make sure I’m okay,” she said. “I hardly know you, Louis. We weren’t friends then, and we aren’t now.”
“Theo was my friend,” Louis snapped, strangling the steering wheel. “That makes you my friend too.”
“No it doesn’t,” Pam said, her voice quiet as she rested her head on the car seat. “I don’t know you. I don’t know Beatrice. And there’s nothing either of you can do to help me through this.”
Suddenly, Louis pulled to the side of the road, throwing on his hazards. “Yes there is,” he said, looking her in the eyes for the first time. “I can remind you that you’re not alone. I can drive you to and from the freaking hospital, and I can fight for you even when you’ve given up on yourself. Because that’s what Theo would do.”
A single tear fell down Pam’s cheek. “You’re not Theo.” She said, her voice raising. “It’s not your job to fight for me. You’re not Theo. You will never be Theo!”
“I know what it’s like to lose someone, Pam. What it’s like to be suddenly stripped of purpose. To lose all direction in life.” Pam’s heart beat faster, her tears falling harder.
“Beatrice still cries every night,” Louis said, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “Three years later and she cries every night, because time doesn’t change the fact that we can’t hold our daughter. We can’t kiss her and watch her grow up, and no one can change that. But guess what? We can still remember her. And love her.”
“I remember Theo every minute of every day,” Pam whispered through the tears. “I’ve never stopped loving him.”
“And he never stopped loving you,” Louis whispered back. “But you stopped loving you, Pam. And I’m going to keep reminding you that your loved until you remember it yourself.”
Pam smiled through the tears, and in that moment, felt Theo’s love as clearly as if he had never left. “I’m sure you were a great father,” she said once her tears had dried.
Louis managed a weighted smile. “Only because I’ve been able to practice on you. You really bring out my overprotective instincts.”
Pam scoffed. “You don’t need an excuse to be overprotective.”
Louis smiled wide as he pulled back onto the road. “See, you do know me.”
Both of them chuckled at that, a weight lifted from both of their shoulders as they made their way back from the hospital.
“Yeah,” he said, eyes focused on the road.
“Can you actually bring me somewhere else?”

Short Story. The Enthusiast. (Enneagram 7)

“Stop that.”
Theo let the barest crack of a smile slip, ignoring his wife’s plea.
“Please stop dancing like that.”
Theo smiled wider at the exasperation in her voice, shimmying even harder than before. “You know you like it,” he teased.
They were alone in the mirrored elevator, a late-night ride down from their suite.
“I don’t,” Pam said, trying hard not to smile. “I really don’t.”
“Liar,” Theo said as his hips began to get in on the action. “You love my dancing. My hips are the truth.”
Pam rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help the smile that followed. “Your hips may have been the truth when we were first married, darling, but now they’re just noisy.”
“Rebuttal,” Theo said, raising his chin in imitation of her lawyer friends, before proceeding to salsa his way around her.
“Sustained,” Pam conceded, smiling wide. “And quite convincing.”
“Thank you, counselor,” he said, clearly amused with himself as he gave her a peck on the cheek.
Just then, the elevator doors opened to the lobby. Florescent lights decorated the open floor, the same light jazz music playing over their speakers. There were hardly any people around as they walked out of the lobby. It was late to go out for dinner. Late to go out at all, but Theo was determined to celebrate.
“Craig, my good man,” Theo said, clapping the valet on the shoulder. “Let me ask you a quick question… am I old?”
Craig’s eyes widened, obviously surprised by the question. Behind Theo, Pam nodded vigorously, attempting to give him the right answer.
“Older than me,” Craig said carefully, plastering on a polite smile.
“Fair enough,” Theo conceded jovially as Craig ran to retrieve their car.
Pam grabbed Theo’s hand while they waited. “You shouldn’t ask strangers those types of questions,” she said, her eyebrows raised in reproach.
“Craig is hardly a stranger, and asking uncomfortable questions is the only way to get to know people,” Theo said matter-of-factly.
“Now who’s the liar?” Pam said, nudging Theo playfully.
Theo shrugged, unabashed. “Well, it’s definitely the most interesting way to get to know someone.”
Pam rolled her eyes for the tenth time that evening, but Theo didn’t mind. He knew it was a sign of her love. It meant he was doing right by his job as her husband. And he took his job very seriously.
Craig avoided Theo as he exited their car, afraid eye contact might draw more questions.
“Thank you, Craig,” Pam said, embarrassed about Theo’s effect on the poor boy.
“Thanks, Craig!” Theo echoed before climbing in the car, a big smile on his face.
As soon as Pam closed her door, they took off.
“So where are we going?” Pam asked once she had settled in.
Theo eyed her, not wanting to ruin the surprise. “Somewhere super nice,” he said with a wink.
“You made reservations?”
“Well it is our anniversary,” Theo said, arching an eyebrow. “It seemed the thing to do.”
“Well, the day after our anniversary, technically,” Pam corrected, her voice guilt-laden.
Theo shrugged. “I wasn’t going there.”
“I know. But, again, I’m really sorry, honey,” Pam said, laying a hand on Theo’s arm.
“I totally understand,” Theo said with a smile, but not quite able to bring himself to look her in the eyes. “Work is unpredictable. I know you would have rescheduled if you could.”
Pam nodded, the smile slipping off her face. After a while, she tried again. “So where did you make the reservations?”
Theo glanced away from the road, offering an olive branch in the form of eye contact. “Guess.”
Pam snorted, squeezing his arm. “I’d rather not.”
“Come on, guess!”
Pam let out a sigh, not quite feeling the phone buzzing in her lap. “You can’t make me.”
Theo pouted his lips as he pulled to a stop sign, pulling out his A-plus pouty face, but it went unnoticed.
“Darn it all,” Pam said, digging into the purse in her lap.
It was Theo’s turn to sigh as pulled forward. “Work?”
Pam didn’t answer, only just having found her phone.
“Honey?” He said just as her phone began to buzz again.
“It’s work,” she said, already in the process of answering. “Hello?”
Theo purse his lips, his good mood dissipating into the stale air. He knew what was coming. His wife would be stolen by work. Another evening alone.
“Are you sure?” She asked the phone.
Theo took a series of deep breaths, daring to hope for the night he planned. For a night with his beloved, without responsibilities, without work.
“Okay,” Pam said, her voice resigned.
At that word, Theo exhaled, daring to hope no longer.
Pam stared at her phone after hanging up. Afraid to look at her husband.
“What did they want?” He asked, deciding to rip off the duck tape.
“They need me.”
Theo bit his bottom lip. “Tonight?”
Pam didn’t answer right away. “Yeah.”
Theo nodded, resigned. “I’ll take you there,” Theo offered, taking a left turn at the stop sign, away from their reservations.
“I’m sorry.”
Theo shrugged, his shoulders heavy. “We still have car time, at least.” A silver lining he didn’t feel.
“It’s a problem with my paperwork,” Pam said, still defending her work. Always defending her work.
“I’m not fighting you on it,” Theo said, the life gone from his voice. “You have to work. I get it.” He did. He understood, but that did nothing to ease the pain.
“You look mad,” Pam said, her voice gentle. She also understood. He had a right to be mad, but knowing that did little to ease her guilt.
Theo took a deep breath, tension visibly leaving his body. “I’ll be fine,” he said, turning to look her in the eyes. “I love you.”
Pam looked back into his. “I love you too, darling.” And her guilt was eased. And his pain was eased. And by all accounts, it was a good anniversary up until that moment.
Until the crash of their car. Until a truck rammed into their driver seat. And Theo’s body was crushed. And the life left his body.
Pam screamed. At first because she was scared. And then because she realized her husband was gone. Her rock. Her meaning. Then she couldn’t stop screaming.
Not until the hospital when they put her under. “I love you,” she sobbed between screams. But he was gone. That didn’t make sense. But she could still hear his voice. And that didn’t make sense either. And yet, all the same, he responds in that moment. And he still does today.
“I love you too.”