“I’m here. Just like we had decided. Our longstanding date night. Today, our youngest left for college.”
“You remembered,” I breathed, not caring that she couldn’t hear me. She didn’t even know I was here. And yet, here she was, just like we had agreed the day the twins were born. The night we were going to spend together, a couple of empty nesters, alone at last after twenty-four years with three kids.
She carried a picnic basket in one hand and a blanket in the other. She spread the blanket on the grass and opened the basket. She pulled out a long-stemmed red rose and placed it at the base of the headstone.
The moon was out that night, a full moon that illuminated the entire area and glimmered off the marble headstones in Arlington Cemetery.
She placed her hand on the headstone and traced the letters inscribed on it almost reverently.
Sergeant Jason Bennett
Loving husband and beloved father
Until we meet again
A tear rolled down her face. I brushed it with my fingers, desperate to stop her from crying. “No tears, remember?”
“I miss you. I miss the way you’d call me Tori. No one else was allowed to call me that. I miss the way you’d look at me, like I was the only girl in the entire world,” she whispered. “The kids miss you too. Jessie, more than anyone.”
“I know, Tori...”
“I think she’s scared that she’s starting to forget you. It's much harder for her than for Cole and Liam. They were older, almost fourteen when you left us. She was only eight. And Cole and Liam had each other but Jess… she felt lonely. You were her everything, you were my everything, you still are…. After you left us, I couldn’t control my own grief, much less help Jess with hers,” she paused. “You would hate me if you knew how badly I dealt with my feelings. You would have been much better at it.”
“Oh Tori. I could never hate you. You know that. And nobody can blame you. Besides you were there for Jessie. I know you think you weren’t, but you were!”
Victoria swiped the tears off her face. “I’m sorry, I know you hate seeing me cry.”
She cleared her throat. “Anyway, in other news, the kids got together last week for dinner at home. They tried to force me to go a date. They’ve been after me for months,” she said as threw her hands up in exasperation. “I finally gave in – but not in the way they think.” A devious smile crossed her face as she continued, “I bribed one of my co-workers to pick me up and pretend like we were going on a date. The kids must have called me ten times that night. I’m pretty sure Cole and Liam were spying on me the entire night. I saw them sitting in their car, trying to look all inconspicuous, but I mean, they’re both 6 feet 4 inches tall. How inconspicuous do they think they are?” she said with a laugh.
“Thank God they got my height,” I replied. “And I know about the date too, I was with you, trying not to kill the little shit who dared to take my wife on a date.”
“I think they’re just worried. Until now, I had Jess with me. Now that she’s off to college, they’re worried I’m going to be lonely. They’re hoping that I’ll find a guy, not to take your place because they know that no one ever could, but just for some company. But they don’t understand. And I really hope they never have to. They lost their father, but I lost my other half. They don’t know that I could never give my heart to another man. I don’t even have it with me anymore. I lost it thirty years ago to a boy with sea green eyes and a smile that made me go weak at the knees.”
I smirked and whispered, “You forgot about the sexy tattoos and the eight pack.”
She lowered her voice, “But I don’t know what to tell them. How do I explain to them that I still feel you here with me? Every moment of the day. Our connection is still here. That’s why I didn’t believe it when I saw the two officers walking towards me. My mind understood but my heart was telling me otherwise. I didn’t believe it. Not when they told me, not when they flew your body back here with the flag draped over it, not even when your entire team came home but you didn’t. For months I waited for them to tell me that there had been some kind of mistake, that it was someone’s sick idea of a practical joke,” she said as she sniffled quietly.
“But I know that you never left me, that even though I can’t see you anymore, you’re still with me. I know that you kept your vows to me.”
“The priest was so irritated when I interrupted him to tack on the words ‘and beyond’ after he said ‘till death do you part’, ” I laughed.
“Your team still pitches in, you know. Sometimes I feel like they’re all at our house more than they are at their own houses. They carried on your tradition. Every month I receive two dozen red roses with a little card saying ‘Jason says he loves you’.
“Of course they do, they’re like brothers. We all take care of each other. They knew about our tradition. We had a deal. If any of us didn’t make it back, the others would take care of his family.”
She fell silent as she gazed upwards at the night sky. The stars seemed to shine like little, tiny diamonds. She pulled out a bottle of wine, the same wine we’d set aside the night the twins were born. She poured two glasses full and clicked them together. “Here’s to us, baby.” As she placed them down on the grass, her eyes fluttered shut.
I put my arms around and placed a soft kiss on her lips. I wish she could have felt it.
As soon as my lips touched hers, she gasped softly and her eyes flew open. With trembling fingers, she touched her lips.
It was the night of Halloween or, as the Druids believed, Samhain. The night on which the barrier between the dead and the living was believed to be the thinnest.
Maybe, just maybe, for a split second, she felt my touch. She felt my love.