Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Love Story

From FB group 12 Stories in 12 months (September)

    A Love Story

 © Hazel Campbell 2018

Prompt: Delete | Word count: 1250 words | Genre: Romance

                        facebook meme
Anxiety grew as I opened the door of my apartment. I had been away for a week taking a break from modern life in my mother’s deep rural home. I had even left my cell phone behind, cut off all means of communication from work and friends; drastic, yes, but a necessary respite. But now, something was wrong. What could it be?

I looked around but everything seemed normal. I knew there would be several messages on my house phone, and decided to check them before turning on my cell. I didn’t get beyond the first frantic message. “Brit, where are you? Why don’t you answer? Call me. JB is dead!”

You know how you hear something but your brain refuses to understand the words? I flopped on the couch and for some minutes I didn’t feel anything. This could be just a dream, for all I knew.

Eventually, I pushed the repeat button and the message was the same. JB is dead! How could that be? I don’t know how long I sat there not feeling anything but bewilderment before I picked up my cell which I had left on charge and tapped Bianca’s name.

“Where have you been?” she screeched.

“What happened?”

“Heart attack. He was at his desk. Got up and just fell …”

I put down the phone. I could hear her voice jabbering for a few moments until she realized I was not listening.

JB was my very best friend. There were times I wished it would be more, but it had never happened.

I never made any serious move without consulting him. It was he who had suggested that I take the week off to recharge before starting my new job. How could he be dead?
The house phone rang. I knew it was Bianca.

“The funeral is Monday. Will you come?”

“Maybe,” I replied.

“I’ll book a seat for you for tomorrow. Mom is expecting you. Please come,” she said.

Coming meant getting a seat on one of the small planes plying the islands. It meant talking to people. It meant behaving as if the earth had not shifted and pushed me into a dark place. So dark I could feel nothing but disbelief.

As my brain remained numb, I automatically did the usual when I was disturbed by anything; I touched his name on my cell. A recorded voice said: “I am sorry to tell you. JB is dead.”

I felt the scream in my throat. I heard the phone shattering against the wall, then the tears came. I cried for a long time. I probably fell asleep as my next conscious moment was way into the night. I got up, made myself a cup of tea and wondered what life would be like without JB.

We had met some 20 years before at a conference. At first, I thought he was cocky and abrasive with his questions and attempts to analyse everyone’s contributions. He often held up a session with questions which baffled everybody; questions to which he had his own answers.

Then, one morning, the only vacant seat at breakfast was at his table. His ready smile was an instant attraction. He spent the rest of the meal showing such warm interest in me and my activities that by the time we got up to prepare for the morning’s session I was hooked. I remained hooked.

We lived on different islands and I only saw him when he visited mine or I, his, so we talked by phone for long hours. He was a good listener but cagey with his personal information even after I met his family and his sister, Bianca, became my friend. He kept me updated on current affairs with erudite commentary I often had trouble understanding. Sometimes he got frustrated with my down-to-earth point of view. He was generous. He made me laugh. He talked me through problems; always there for me. Once, when I was in hospital, he came and helped me through the worst of that ordeal. It was a friendship that, on occasion, could become passionately sexual. He had so completely wrapped up my heart I never found other men attractive.

I was devastated when, as time passed, I realized that it was never going to be anything more, but I treasured his friendship enough not to make any demands. Besides, I wasn’t sure he could give more. He had many friends who, like me, valued him, but eventually I realised that he could only exist by screening himself from others. There was a part of him that he would never allow to be breached. He couldn’t love in the way most people think of love.
After a while, I sat at my computer to check my emails. There was nothing of interest until I saw mail from him. I opened it with a jolt of excitement.

Brit dearest, (My heart flipped. It was so intimate.)
“I know this will surprise you and I apologise in advance. These past few days I have felt the urge to tell you a few things. I know that women think I am a ‘cold fish’ and that has been fine with me. Kept me out of a lot of problems. I have always felt that I couldn’t cope with the demands of an all-out commitment to anyone. I have succeeded in the things I wanted to do because I didn’t allow myself to be distracted by any ‘close encounters’.  

You were the one temptation. I really can’t explain the utter selfishness which prevented me from getting a closer relationship with you. There were many times that I had to hang on to my resolutions to prevent myself from asking you to marry me. I am so sorry. I never allowed myself to say, ‘I love you’. Not even after our torrid lovemaking. 

I hope you can understand what I am so clumsily trying to say. I didn’t want to give up what we had. I convinced myself that a closer relationship would burn out our passion for each other and kill what I cherished so much. I have seen it happen too many times. You will never know how hard I had to fight not to ask you for more. 

You know that I don’t have a superstitious bone in my body. Anything that doesn’t yield to a formula is suspect. I don’t understand premonitions, but I am telling you this, now, because I don’t want to die without saying ‘I love you’. I have loved you throughout the time we have known each other. Through all the ups and downs. Through your frustrations with me. Through our quarrels when you couldn’t understand my need for distance, and I was deliberately cruel. 

But there, I have said it. Thanks for the journey. You are the best thing in my life.
Yours forever,
For many minutes, I sat there with my mouth a big ‘O’ of surprise and disbelief. He had known he was dying and he had opened his heart to me for the very first time; even signed his real name, a name he hated.

I read the letter again and started crying. It was . . . PAINFUL. As I contemplated the wasted years, my sadness turned to escalating anger.

“I wish you were here, JB,” I whispered. “I would kill you myself!”

I finger-stabbed the delete button so hard the computer took a few moments to process the command.

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