My One and Only

 

 

My One and Only

By Jeff Alston

 

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

After nearly 40 years together, tonight will be our last night together. My wife doesn’t know this yet.  The least I can do is make it memorable.

As I walk through this antique shop, looking for the perfect goodbye gift, I take a deep breath. Inhaling the must of the old items and the fresh lilies in the crystal vase that sits on the casing with the most valuable of their collections, I think of her.

She’s the best thing that’s happened to me and though it hasn’t always been perfect, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My reflection off the glass reminds me of how much time had past. Gone are my strong muscular frame and handsome jawline. Replaced by more wrinkles than I cared to admit to and a pouchy stomach that was thanks to my wife’s incredible cooking.

She too complains of her gray hairs, and her petite body with more curves than she’s had, but to him, the gray hairs reminded me of how many years we’d been together and the curves gave me more of her to love.

True love isn’t perfect. It isn’t supposed to be. It’s messy, it’s higher than the highest mountain and lower than the deepest canyon.  There are times when the world does everything it can to test if your love is for real. It takes the love of a good woman to know that. I have that and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

My wife says I changed her life, but it was she who taught me true love exists.  It was she who sacrificed her life so we could be together. It was she who refused to give up on us when all we had left was love. I’d do anything for her and maybe in the end, I wonder if I’m being punished for loving her too much.

The store clerk recognizes me, he conjures up a smile. “Mr. Johnson,” he says.  “Jack,” I say, correcting him. “Mr. Johnson was my father.”

He pulls out the case that contains it, the locket.  It’s been years since I’ve run my fingers along its sterling silver casing and memories flood my mind as I think of the first time I gave it to her.  I thought it was lost forever and here it is.  It’s perfect, just like her.

Arrangements have been made already. My wife will be taken care of financially, I made sure of that.  The kids we’ve raised after decades together will have it the hardest, but I know the strong woman that she is, she’ll keep them together. She’s been our glue.  I’ve been practising for months how I’ll tell her we won’t be able to live forever together anymore, but nothing seems to be right.

I don’t want to leave her, but when the doctor told me months ago that I was terminally ill, I didn’t have the heart to tell her. She’s been through too much pain already.

How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve shared your life with? How do you look her in the eyes one more time knowing it’ll be the last?

I promised to grow old with her and now I have to break my promise, something I’ve never done to her before. She knew me when I was young and strong and handsome, my real question is will she stay with me until the end?

I close my eyes, listening to the soft classical music that plays over the antique store’s stereo and I think about the first time I met the woman that would change my life forever.

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

“Stay away from her,” his father said, slamming his bible closed when Jack told him about the young woman he’d met at the hardware store earlier that day.  

Jack stood in shock behind his father’s desk as the man locked his dark eyes with him. At nearly six foot five, Pastor Johnson’s dominating presence overpowered the scrawny 19-year-old, but Jack stood his ground.

Jack wanted to ask him why, but he knew better. He’d thought his father would be happy that he’d volunteered to help the young woman prepare for the coming storm, maybe encouraged him to meet a nice girl.  Not that he’d think of anyone else. It’d be almost two years since he’d lost his fiance and his father had said more than once he needed to move on.  

His father never had approved of their relationship.  Desiree had come from a different world of wealth and her parents weren’t exactly encouraging of him either. But they didn’t see what the two of them saw.  They didn’t feel what the two of them felt. They were soulmates and though the world had tried everything to split them apart, nothing worked, until death.

His father said that he should just move on, but Jack couldn’t.  Not a day went by that he didn’t think of his Desiree. He’d put up with his enough of Pastor’s grumblings about her and the only reason why he hadn’t punched his father square in the nose was because he’d promised Desiree that he’d try to improve his relationship with the pastor.  She was much more compassionate and forgiving than he was. But then, that was the beauty that was Desiree.

He sighed, thinking about the day that changed everything. What was supposed to be a romantic getaway in New Orleans, turned horribly wrong when Hurricane Katrina hit.

His stomach cramped up as his father turned his back to him, scribbling his sermon on his cluttered desk for this coming Sunday. This was the third small town his father had moved to in the last two years and this small pea home they’d given him wasn’t much.  

Sparse framed photos of the family they’d once had before his mother passed away hanging on the damp oakwood walls were the closest thing to home he carried with him.  There was a time when he and his father were close, but those days were long gone.  Pastor Johnson was lucky, he could escape into the fantasy that was his religion but Jack had long lost all faith. If there was a god, he wouldn’t have taken his Desiree away.

She was too good for this world and not a day went by when he didn’t think of her. They’d met when they were only six years old and became inseparable since then. In her he found his best friend, his partner, his soulmate. And though there were times when they were separated by distance, fate always stepped in and brought them back together.

That night when they shared their first kiss atop the ferris wheel, he looked into her blue eyes and told her, “I’m going to marry you one day, Desiree.”

She didn’t say yes, she only gave him that unique high pitched chuckle she had that he’d never heard from anyone before or since.  She hadn’t said yes, but Jack knew she would. He was sure of that and though it took him two more years to find her and prove to her he was no longer a boy but a young man, he did win her heart and the ring on her finger proved all of that, until the storm came and took it away. They’d said ’till death do us part, but even death couldn’t stop his love for her.

He sighed, thinking about that girl Julianna he’d met earlier today. As beautiful as the woman was, he couldn’t even fathom moving on.  Why was his father so hell-bent on the idea of him keeping his distance from her?  He’d promised to help the young woman fix her home for the coming storm and if there was one thing Jack was, he was a man of his word.

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

She knew things only his Desiree knew.  Jack had only meant to step inside for a drink after a long day of fixing her roof, but honestly it’d been so long since he’d had a home cooked meal, it was just nice to be taken care of for a moment. Julianna in a way, reminded him of his Desiree.  He normally didn’t even allow himself to be alone with another girl, that’s how in love he still was with Desiree. Thought he knew she was dead in the ground, he still felt like he was cheating if he did. Even though his father told him that she’d want him to move on, he couldn’t believe it. In his heart of hearts, though they’d never exchanged the words, they were very much still married.   He just wished he’d gotten the chance to say goodbye, there was so much he would have wanted to say.

Jack smiled at the lovely young woman.  She was by far the friendliest person he’d met in town, everyone else was consumed with the busy body activities that most small towns did. Candlelight illuminated her dark hair and dark brown eyes. Her place was simple, barely above what he’d call a shack, but she’d made it homey. A woman’s touch, something he’d almost forgotten the importance of. He never knew a home to be home without it.

Julianna was feisty and coy and had he been in the market for another woman, she definitely would have made the cut.  He’d had a couple of glasses of wine too much, but he needed to forget the world tonight.  She was lonely, as lonely as he was up on that hill in that shack she called home. Based on the way he’d seen the others in town treat her, that wasn’t by accident.  Jack didn’t want to dig into her business, why they treated her like a black sheep, but the curiosity ate at him.  

There was a kinship, Jack felt that from the beginning though he couldn’t put his finger on why. It was just nice to meet someone who was genuine but even then he kept his mouth shut about Desiree so as not to scare her off. He was a man of few words as it was. When he spoke it was low, it was slow.

He had a lot more in common with his old labrador, Bruno whom he took everywhere his truck went.  Bruno was Desiree’s dog actually. She’d loved that dog so much she even insisted on him coming with them to their wedding. Though the wedding never happened, the dog survived the storm when Desiree had not.  

Jack could still see her in her last moments calling out to him, wearing that locket he’d given her all cause he couldn’t afford a real wedding ring. She’d said she’d treasure it forever and that it was more than enough.

He watched Bruno lick Julianna to death and her laugh in return. She liked Bruno, and Bruno liked her and he was about the best judge of character Jack knew.

He needed a real friend to be honest. Someone he could talk with since he’d kept everything bottled up since the funeral.  “How do you expect to meet someone nice if you talk about your dead fiance all the time,” his dad often said, so he’d learned to keep her inside like a secret.

Jack had never told anyone this but in his heart of hearts, he imagined that somehow Desiree was watching over him. There had been a few moments that had had happened that Jack passed off as coincidence that seemed to be her way of sending him a message at least that he hoped, but it was just wishful thinking and he never told a soul, certainly not his pastor father who thought anything of the sort was from the devil.

Even tonight as they laughed over wine and spoke for hours way past midnight, he kept his mouth shut. She opened up to him a bit after a few glasses of wine herself, how she missed her family and how they’d rejected her though she didn’t explain why.  How she felt there was a scarlet letter printed on her for the mistakes she’d made and that she couldn’t move on until she’d made amends.  But he lifted her chin until her eyes met his and told her in his deep baritone voice and country twang, “Nobody got the right to judge you.”  Julianna blushed and for a moment it seemed like they might kiss, but he wouldn’t allow himself. His heart was still with Desiree.  He’d had this recurring dream of the last moment he’d seen her. She was trying to tell him something, but what? He could never make it out before he’d wake up in a cold sweat.

The flavorful scent of lasagna filled his nostrils, bringing him back to this moment.  He knew he should head back home before his father started asking questions about where he’d been.  But then everything changed.

She’d said the angel cards she’d brought out were only out of curiosity.  That it was the least she could do for being a hearing ear tonight and for helping her to fix her roof for the forthcoming storm.

Jack didn’t take them seriously, only general statements that could apply to anyone until she said something only his Desiree and he knew, about the locket.

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

Just one question, that’s all Jack needed to ask and then he’d be able to prove what Julianna had said was just a coincidence and he could move on with his life.  

He’d spent the whole night tossing and turning in his bed, not only because Bruno kept pacing back and forth, the pitter patter of his paws echoing against the hardwood floor.  Jack had been racking his brain all night about how Juliana could have known about the locket. His exit last night had been awkward and rushed, though he thanked her for the evening and told her it was getting late. The truth was, his mind was spinning.

Jack had even thought about coming back to Julianna’s house that morning because what she’d said had bothered him so much and yet, his integrity ate at him. He’d made the mistake once of not doing what he’d say he’d do and had been living with the guilt ever since.

He had to show up. He was only a couple days away from finishing up the roof and boarding the windows and the storm would hit town any day now.  The news had said it would be a bad one, the worst in decades and Jack knew first had how bad storms could be.

As he looked up at the hot sun and wiped his brow before pounding more on the roof, Jack wondered if it was true that his Desiree had been trying to reach him all along like Julianna had told him the night before.  Had he been under such a thick cloud of depression that he couldn’t see what was right in front of him?  The thought of his fiance, lost and confused trying to reach out to him in any way possible made his heart hurt. He shouldn’t have been selfish enough to allow the sadness to suffocate her calls to him.  

That next day, Jack had tried to keep his distance, dipping his cowboy hat at her and nodding at Julianna as she greeted him in the morning.  Bruno’s whines battled the screeching katydid’s in the trees.  He’d pace in the shade, alternating between drinking the bowl of water Julianna had given him and hopping in and out of Jack’s pickup truck.

Even Bruno had sensed the uneasiness between them.  Jack had been polite, trying not to let on how much their conversation had bothered him, but in the questions in  his mind ate at him like maggots on rotting flesh.

Jack had to knock on her door, barely grunting a hello before asking, “I just want to know one thing. If Desiree really did say all that about the locket, then how’d she pass.”

He couldn’t bring himself to say the word die. It was so final and in his heart of hearts she was very much alive at least in memory.  The younger woman stuttered for a moment as she were shocked by the question and offended she was put to the test.  Her eyes searched the gravel road behind Jack as if the answer laid there and a smirk spread across Jack’s face.  It wasn’t real. It was just a lucky guess, though part of him longed for yet another shot to reach out to Desiree, to have just one more shot at connecting with her, maybe it was best that way.

“I better put the tools in the truck. I’ll be back tomorrow to finish it all up,” he said, starting to head toward his pickup.

That’s when she said, “She says she drowned. Was there a flood of some sort?”

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

Real men don’t cry, his father had always told him, but Jack was having a real hard time keeping the tears of happiness from flowing as his words fumbled out of his mouth.

So many questions he had for Desiree as he sat across from Julianna at the kitchen table, leaning forward with anticipation.  She’d offered him a cold glass of lemonade numerous times but he couldn’t drink, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t swallow. This moment was everything.

At first, Jack didn’t know where to begin and what to tell Julianna to say to her. “She can hear you fine,” she said, her eyes sparkling as if she were as happy to connect him as he was to be connected. She squeezed Jack’s hand. “She says she loves you. She misses you. She’s never stopped loving you.”

“Tell her, ‘me too.’ I love you too, baby,” he said, finally taking a sip of the lemonade to ground himself.

“She wants to know if you’re taking care of … Who’s Hershey?” she asked, scrunching her eyebrows in confusion.

His hand froze and he swallowed hard, “That’s what she called Bruno.”

Julianna chuckled and Jack pulled Bruno’s face closer as he said, “You hear that boy? She sees you too.”

It was a dream come true. Desiree and Jack were picking up where they left off before her death. He’d told her of how he’d taken care of Bruno, make sure the dog would always be at his side. He’d told her he’d finish getting his electrical degree just like she’d wanted that he was trying to be the best man he could be in honor of her.  

Jack had never thought he’d have a chance to communicate with his Desiree again and he was overwhelmed with emotion. Through Julianna, he laughed and he cried reminiscing with her about old times, things only his Desiree would know.  About the time when he’d gone to the gym with a big hole in his crotch or how their social studies teacher with the weird neck tick or the time they’d gone to Red Rock outside of Las Vegas all alone. Jack had hardly said a word, only confirm with his smile and finally his tears how true her statements were.

Julianna enjoyed it too, laughing at the comments she said his Desiree was making, it was as if she loved living vicariously through the experience. It was late by the time she said she was losing her connection with Desiree, but that perhaps tomorrow after he’d finished up the roof they could try again.

The lights flickered and her radio turned on. Chills ran through his body as the song, his fiance’s favorite Garth Brook’s song, “The Thunder Rolls” came on.

He nodded, clearing his throat, not knowing how to thank her.  “No, thank you,” she said with a smile. “I just want to make people happy. I know what it’s like to lose someone you …” but she let her voice trail off, obviously something she didn’t want to get into and he didn’t push it.

In the end, Jack hated leaving that evening but he needed to get back home to his dad before he started asking questions.

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

Julianna was a fraud and Jack’s father had the evidence to prove it. Jack stared at the newspaper forever, reading and rereading the passages.  He gripped the water-soiled paper in his hands as his eyes trailed through page after page of how Julianna had conned so many people out of their money. Accounts of how she’d been charged for it time and time again but always got away on a technicality.

Jack didn’t want to believe it as his father towered over him, his hands on his hips.  He took a deep breath, the room spinning around him.  It couldn’t be possible.  Julianna had known intimate details that no one could have known but his father said that people like her knew just what to say.

“I told you to stay away from her.” The pastor’s voice boomed behind him and to add insult to injury he said, “‘Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.’ Leviticus 19.31.”

Bruno howled as if to protest what his father was saying and the older man swatted him on the backside saying, “Shut up, Bruno.”  The dog growled at him in protest then sat by Jack side, guarding him.  

Jack rubbed his face in his palms. He was a fool to have fallen for it. He’d allowed the woman’s beauty and seeming sincerity lure him in as a cure for his loneliness.

“You always fall for the wrong girls,” his father said.  “First that fiance of yours and now-“

Jack got up and left. If his father said another word to disrespect his wife, he was going to punch him in the nose and then he’d break his promise to his wife to try to repair his relationship with his father.

He didn’t hear any more.  Jack was more than just shocked about the Julianna situation alone. He was furious that she’d use his Desiree to try to con him out of money.

True, Julianna hadn’t asked for money, but maybe his father was right.  He assured Jack that it was only a matter of time before she asked.    Jack wasn’t sure about that but he was sure about one thing: he’d give her a piece of his mind when he saw her first thing tomorrow morning.

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

It was the sound of his Desiree’s voice coming from Julianna’s mouth that made him stop mid-sentence.  

In the heat of the summer sun, Jack had done his best to control his temper, but after she mentioned that she didn’t have the money to finish the repairs the house needed, he felt taken advantage of.  He’d even thought of not mentioning it, since he’d finished the roof that day, he’d thought about just letting it go and never speaking to the young woman again.  

But he kept thinking about how he needed to defend Desiree’s honor and  he’d stop at nothing to do that.  Swatting at the mosquitos that punished him for his rage, he said, “Shame on you.”

Julianna had tried to speak up, a lone tear trailing from her face as he scolded her for taking advantage of innocent people.  Her eyes burned in anger as if she wasn’t used to letting a man speak to her like that.

She’d tried to say something to the effect that she was framed than none of the accusations were true but Jack didn’t want to believe her.  She’d disrespected him and she’d disrespected the memory of his fiance.

As much as he was going to miss his budding friendship with Julianna, he needed to move on with is life, but then as he turned to walk away, he heard his Desiree’s voice. “Please, don’t leave me.”

Jack’s heart stopped and he shook his head thinking it was just his active imagination, but as he turned to see the white of Julianna’s eyes, it was as if her body was a marionette and something or someone had taken control of it.  He was about to threaten her not to make a joke out of this but then more words came out.

“You promised not to leave me behind. You promised you’d never forget me,” said his wife through Julianna.

Her dark brown eyes turned in Desiree’s crystal blue eyes and that familiar and unmistakable high pitched chuckle that came from her mouth.  Jack couldn’t believe his eyes and his ears, but it was true.

Dropping to his knees before her, Jack grasped hold of her hands. Somehow, someway, Desiree had come through to him from the other side.  There was no mistaking that now.

 

⧭⧭⧭

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months. Any moment Jack could get to Julianna’s home to speak to his Desiree, he did.

He spent most of the summer helping his father at his church.  Partly to keep the pastor from becoming suspicious of the hours he’d spend away from him and the dinners he’d miss and partly maybe to thank God for bring him back his Desiree.

It wasn’t easy. The town was small but the mouths were big and keeping the ever-watching eyes from catching him spending time with Julianna wasn’t easy. Personally, he didn’t care what anyone thought but to keep from jeopardizing his father’s job and to keep the hounds for harassing Julianna, he kept their meetings secret.

He couldn’t thank the young woman enough. Fixing things around her house was the least he could do. She never asked for a penny. She said she made extra money driving to the big city giving readings at the flea markets on the weekends and yet, whenever Jack could he’d use the money he earned over the summer helping his dad by making  sure her refrigerator was stocked, fresh flowers were cut and sweet notes about how grateful he was to her.  

Giving to her was like giving to his wife. Seeing her eyes light up at the kind things he’d do for her was like seeing his wife’s eyes light up. Whenever he saw Julianna’s dark eyes turn to his wife’s blue, it was like having her back, if only for a moments at a time and he treasured each one of them.

It was like old times and Jack thanked God everyday for the chance to reunite with her. In that time, he and Julianna got closer to. She told him that her husband who had beat her left her the house before the old son of gun had gotten in a car crash and hit a tree.  She told him how she longed to return to her family but how they’d cast her aside once they learned of her angel card readings and she told him of her dream to travel the country one day, hand in hand with someone she cared about someone who wouldn’t judge her, someone who would let her be her, support her, someone she could build a life with. There were times when she’d start to say something, but hold back and Jack didn’t push her, but it only made her want to know her more.

He showed her how to shoot his rifle, and she showed him how to cook. He showed her how to defend herself, and she showed him how to dance without stepping on her toes. Truth be told, she was his best friend he’d had since he met Desiree and he treasured every moment he could spend with her.

She wasn’t always able to connect with Desiree. There were times when Julianna said she had horrible migraines that blocked her from connecting to spirit and he’d find himself massaging her temples or her shoulders as she leaned her head against his chest.

They became close, so close in fact that he started to sense that she wanted more than just friendship which put him in an awkward position. Not that she wasn’t beautiful because she was breathtaking and kind and funny and generous, but Jack had made a commitment to his Desiree and nothing could stop that, nothing.

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

They were going to kill her. His father called it an exorcism, but if Jack didn’t do something Julianna would be dead in the church basement.

Jack and Julianna had planned on having dinner together that evening. There wasn’t much to offer in their area so she said she’d meet him Beaverton since she had do a few things in the area before that anyway.

It was the least he could do for her birthday after she’d done so much for him but after waiting for hours at the Mexican restaurant she said she wanted to go to, he was worried. It wasn’t like her not to answer the phone and certainly not like her to not show up. Something was wrong, Jack could feel it.  

Thunder rumbled and lightning struck in the distance as if warning him of what was to come. Driving up and down the main street, lit only by the occasional street lamp, something told Jack to head back to his town and back towards his father’s church.

He sat in his truck for awhile, the windows cracked open not knowing exactly why he was there until  he swore was a scream from the back.  As if led by some force into the auditorium and down the church basement and what Jack saw shocked him.   

His father was cloaked in his pastor’s outfit, the bible in one hand and other pastors surrounding someone chanting something he’d never heard.

His eyes widened as he saw Julianna strapped to a chair. That’s when he knew they were attempting an exorcism.

She screamed, tiny cuts told him the knife in one of their hands wasn’t just symbolic. Her eyes met his and he knew there was only one choice. Leave.

Leave and come back in with his rifle pointed at his father and the men.  “Son, what are you doing?” he asked.

“Let her go or I swear to God-“

“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” his father threatened.

“If this is God, I want not part of it,” said Jack, as he untied Julianna.

“Isn’t this just like you getting involved with the wrong kind of woman again,” said his father and Jack pointed the rifle at his foot.

“Say one more word about the woman I love and I swear I’ll blow your feet off,” he said.  The man backed off and Jack would never let him bully him again.  

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

Draping her in his arms, he carried her out of the church.  Jack promised that he’d never let anything happen to her. It was his mission and responsibility to protect her and he’d stay with her as long as she needed him, even if it mean using his laugh dollars to check her into a motel towns away.

Going back to her home was out of the question. Jack didn’t have much money, but he took whatever he had and drove her to the next town checking her into a hotel until he could figure out what to do. He wanted to take her to the hospital but she refused, asking him only to hold her. He did, the whole night, staying with her for days as she slowly began to open up.

Julianna could barely speak, let alone connect with Desiree and although he was concerned about the young woman’s well being, he wondered if this was the end.  Would he never connect with his wife again?

He wasn’t just protecting Julianna, he was holding on to what he had left of his Desiree. Julianna was his one and only connection to her and he’d guard that with his life if he had to.  

The damp and musty cheap hotel they’d checked in was only temporary. They’d be on the run now. He knew his father well enough that he’d send the cops after them until they were found for bringing in a firearms in the church.  Julianna wanted to leave that town anyway, contemplating returning to her parents in Wyoming or leaving the country all together.  

She said she was done doing readings for people if this was the damage it caused, but Jack wouldn’t accept that. What she was doing helped people at the very least it gave them hope, it showed them that love doesn’t end at death, that it lasted forever. That’s what it did for him at least.

And even if he never could speak to his wife again, he’d never forget what she’d done for him.

Jack didn’t want Julianna to go, not only because he may lose out on ever speaking to Desiree again, but because he cared about Julianna. He was responsible for what had happened to her and wanted to protect her.   

What was more, as much as he didn’t want to admit it the times he’d spent with her made them close. Beads of rain tapped against the motel’s window and the wind whistled. She lay on his chest and he pulled her closer.  As if a sign from above, Desiree’s song came on the air.  He lifted Julianna’s chin and he saw her eyes turn to blue. “Dance with me,” his wife’s voice said.

A lone tear trailed down the tough cowboy’s face as he said, “Don’t ever leave me again.”

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

She was gone, Jack could feel it. As Julianna lay her head on his chest, it’d been a good thirty minutes since their feet shuffled across the cheap green motel rug to the song.  For a moment, as Jack had closed his eyes, his left hand entwined with hers, his right hand behind the small of her back, he was back with his Desiree again.

Then something changed.  The power turned off and with it, the lights and radio.  Illuminated only by the reflection of the street light outside, there was no doubt in his mind this was not his Desiree that he was dancing with.  

As the cheap Christmas lights twinkled reflecting in the glint in Juliana’s dark eyes, guilt consumed him.

He broke from her and she tried to deny it, but he knew the truth. “Where is she?” he asked.  “Is she gone?”

Julianna nodded.  

“Can you get her back, just a little while longer?” he asked his voice cracking with emotion.

“I can’t,” she said, avoiding eye contact with him. Something in her tone told him there was more to the store.

“You can’t or you won’t?” he asked, lowering his tone.

Her eyes met his, filled with tears as she smiled through them. “We could be happy together, you and me. Why do you need her anymore?”  

“You’re the only one I trust.  Ever since my son. I killed him you know. I held him under water so the cancer wouldn’t … He was suffering so much.”

His jaw dropped.  “And you let go.  She told you to take the helicopter rope, to save yourself when the flood waters came. You could have saved her. You could have come back for her but you didn’t.”

“How did you …?” It was like bandage had been ripped off his wound. Something he’d never told anyone.

“We’re the same, you see? We understand each other. Why don’t you want to be with me?” she asked, smiling through the tears.

He was shocked by the question. She’d grown to close thim, he could feel it, but she must have understood how important his connection with her was.  “I can’t do that, Julianna.”

“Can’t or won’t?” he asked with an edge to her voice.

“Won’t,” he said firmly.

“She wasn’t going to marry you, you know? She was going to marry someone else until he broke up with her,” she said this with gritted teeth, crossing her arms.

“You’re lying,” he said, not wanting to hear it, though he’d had a feeling she’d seen someone else when they’d been apart all those years.

“You know it’s true,” she said coming up behind him.

“I don’t care. What we had was real and nothing in the past is goign to change that,” She gasped as if his words were like stabs to her heart. He clenched his fist. He needed air before he said more that he regretted.

Mumbling before he opened the door he said, “Be back.”

 

 

⧭⧭⧭

He never got to say goodbye.  As Jack stepped back into the motel room after hours cooling off, he knew from the moment he saw Juliana’s silhouette slumped on the bed, she was gone.

Julianna opened her eyes and her dark eyes were replaced by Desiree’s blue ones and he embraced her kissing her deeply, passionately.

“I’m sorry I didn’t go back for you, I’m sorry I didn’t-” he started to say, but was interrupted with.  “I told you to save yourself, to live for the both of us.”

He nodded, tears streaming as much as he tried to fight them. She took his head in her hands and lay it on her lap as she stroked his head.

“What happened to her?” he asked.

“Julianna’s not coming back.  She said you’d given her more love and support than anyone ever had and for that, the least she could do was give me back to you.”

Jack’s eyes met hers.  As guilty as he felt for not loving Julianna the way she wanted him to, he was more than grateful.

She’d sacrificed her body, her mind so the two could be united and that was something he would be eternally grateful for.

 

 

⧭⧭⧭

 

40 years together of bliss, of ups and downs and yet as I stepped into the living room that evening to give my wife her final gift, the locket my heart pounded.

In the end, I didn’t need to say a word.  As I pulled up the chair and opened the box for her, her blue eyes met mine and she nodded.  “It’s okay,” said Desiree.

She walked over to the kitchen drawer and pulled out a prescription bottle of something I knew immediately to be toxic. “We won’t suffer. We’ll just sleep and when we wake up, we can be together again on the other side,” she said.

I kissed her lips, taking her face in my palms as our lips met for one last time. For 40 years I’d waited for this moment.

40 years to be reunited with my one and only love.

 

THE END