He truly loved her. He was willing to drive halfway across the country for a girl he had never met in real life and who do so happily for as long as she loved him. He never felt her touch or heard her voice. He never smelled her perfume or gazed into her eyes. He never even uttered the words "I love you with all my heart Charlotte."
He just waited every minute for the little text bubble to appear and then would start furiously typing about his day and what he was doing. He would ask her about hers and then comfort her if she said it wasn't all it was chalked up to be. He would share in her successes and failures through the lens of those tiny text bubbles. She lived in Portland and he lived in Charleston. Two very different worlds brought together by their very different words.
Those little text bubbles soon drowned out the rest of their environments and they became able to meet in the waves of the internet. Their problems became personal concerns around each other and their interests became research projects to each other. They wanted to know absolutely everything they could about themselves and their love. They wondered that if they could master their love, then they might finally be worthy of it.
They had planned this trip years in advance and had become a staple in his calendar. Whenever asked how he would spend his summer, he always responded with "Same old, same old. Gonna take a road trip out west and try to reconnect. You know?"
The radio burbled softly out the vintage cassette tapes and the sounds of old sixties "hippy era" songs came drifting through the car. He wasn't a huge fan of the flowery stuff, but she liked it and that is all that mattered to him. The dirt eventually became gravel and gravel eventually became two-lane asphalt and then two-lane asphalt became a four-lane highway. He coasted along, humming to the radio as he gazed across the open fields and a whole lot of nothing. It reminded him of his life before her and made him sad temporarily. But his mind wasn't on the whole lot of nothing for long. His mind was on Charlotte and the way her eyes would gleam, hair would be soft, and touch would be warm. Charlotte encapsulated everything that was good in the world and everything that he wanted to be better at. He wanted to be a better partner, communicator, and person. She brought that out in him and he was happy just to be in her orbit.
Charlotte was always ready to talk and send out virtual hugs. She always found the perfect words to minimize anger and magnify love. She knew how to push his buttons and get him to talk to her when he was feeling down. They both struggled with issues in their separate worlds. But they struggled together.
The sun finally started creeping past the mountain and rested on its laurels just above the ridgeline. The wind gave a stern greeting as it passed through the valley and the golden wheat was waving a sad departure as always. The barn still leaned into the ground in its old age and the road still had the same potholes and cracks.
He finally got out of his car and started walking towards the spot they both agreed to meet. He stood over the spot he had planned to get down on his knee. He practiced at home and when at rest stops on the way. He wanted the moment to be perfect. He wanted her to know that this moment would change their lives and join them together in this life and the next.
After taking several moments and getting his courage back he kneeled and looked to the sky. He felt the small box in his pocket and felt the same jitters as when he first introduced himself through to ephemeral tunnels of the internet. The box was heavy in his hand, it was weighed down by the knowledge that the content belonged in her hand.
He placed the cassette tape labeled "Charlotte's happy tunes" with hand-drawn flowers and swirls on the top of the white marble cross and stood up to walk away.
Her final text bubble appeared in his mind so potently that it could well be on his phone right then: “My dear, I am coming to our agreed spot and it is lovely. But not as lovely as yo…”
He mentally typed out his response to her and sent it hoping that wherever she was, she still had WiFi and still loved him: "Thank you for always being the grooviest girl I know. It's been long enough though and I've got to let you go. I'll never forget you. I love you with all my heart Charlotte and will continue to love you with all my heart. Thank you."
The car drove away into the horizon as they had planned to do together. Madly in love, they would find a new frontier and settle it for themselves.
The sun looked down upon the scene, shuddered at the sight, and began to move along as well towards brighter dawns elsewhere.
The single white marker left in a field of gold stood as a testament and testimony to true love and loss. She never got to run her fingers through his shaggy blonde hair or feel his fingers entwine with hers. She never got to feel his head rest on her shoulder or to watch him sleep soundly in her lap. Her last feelings were numbness and shock as she got cheated out of her first date with him by a fate of wheel spinning and bright headlights.
The telephone poles were replaced, the paint scrapes were covered up, and the grass began to slowly take back the ground the hole churned up.
"Charlotte Summers. 2000- 2019. Peace. Freedom. Tranquility. Love."