I remember the day Milo hammered in my swing on the highest branch of the apple, the car tire dangling from the rope, and every day for hours until the reddish sun dipped beneath the houses, I’d go back and forth, touching the orange-streaked sky, pondering how something as simple as swinging could feel so magical. I’d be dizzy and light-headed from the whirling, and he’d carry me, in the lulling nutmeg smell of his clothes, and I’d nearly fall asleep. He’d set me down on the couch and I’d loll back on the armrest, waiting for him and his sweet gestural surprises. Sometimes he’d bring me hot chocolate. Other days, he’d give me a slice of his famous Rickman apple pie. My heart would feel like it bursting with bliss, content over the perfection that was Milo. We’d lay on the couch, huddled under two fuzzy blankets, and fall asleep to the sound of the crickets, or sit in silence for hours to the gentle hum of the heater, or talk.
We’d talk about the future, politics, what to watch. In the end, every conversation ended with an elated feeling in my chest and a smile on my face. He was the perfect partner that way, almost too perfect to have come from this world. With the soft complexion, light brown eyes, and disheveled hair the color of sand, it was clear he was a keeper, not because of looks, but the gentle side smile, the tilt of the fair, intelligent head, and the look of tender warmth and comfort the eyes held, showing a gentleman, sensitive, brave, passionate, composed. I always thanked the extraterrestrial forces for gifting him to me.
That night, he made my dreams, all of them, come true. The moon was glowing and sheathed his face in a pale, angelic sheet. I had finished swinging, my hair flailed all over my face, my cheeks were flushed, and my eyes delirious. He spun me around and leaned me back into his torso, face in my shoulder. I shut my eyes, blissful. If I closed my eyes, nothing in the world mattered except for this Lily and Milo, attached by love, laughter, and trust.
Then I opened my eyes to a ring. My eyes welled, I let out some guttural sobbing sound, and if he wasn't supporting me, I may have collapsed. My lips formed the word before he uttered the sentence that changed my life;
“Let’s have a million moments like this one,”
And two weeks since, I was dancing on the clouds and touched the stars. I was the closest I’d get to heaven. He’d hold me and dance and we’d jump on the bed, and talk about our wedding and maybe a dog. We’d get married that November, with fairy lights and food and country songs and lots and lots of apples and apple pie. We’d name the children Jane, after my mother, Milo Junior, and a Dalmatian we’d call Marshal.
I reveled in the name Mrs. Lily Rickman. Everything seemed so safe, so secure. So long as he’s with me, I have a reason to smile.
And on the thirteenth, I fell from the sky like an Icarus. I was buying champagne, I think, to celebrate our union for the millionth time, and some nutmeg for Milo’s apple pie. Today was the day he’d finally give me the recipe, a tradition in the family to give spouses and part of the Rickman legacy. I was giddy. This made our marriage seem so much more real. It would make my new life feel less surreal.
I don’t remember much else on that day, it all seemed minuscule and superfluous, yet looking back I wish I find such details and see if there's even a butterfly of a chance I could’ve deflected the events that day.
I had woken up, ate breakfast, and found a note that said to buy nutmeg for apple pie. I smiled at the note; ‘Mornin, Lily. Buy nutmeg. Love you’ in a placid hand and a yellow sharpie.
I got dressed, grabbed my wallet, and blew a kiss to the still sleeping figure of Milo.
An hour, two hours, maybe twenty minutes later, I came home, expecting my Milo, a Rickman recipe, and hours in bed, with the smell of nutmeg perfuming the air.
Instead, the sound of sirens hit my ears and shattered my senses. In front of our house truck was overturned onto its side, and, blackish-red blood spattered the road. I knew it wasn’t the driver; in the corner of my eye, the police were escorting a staggering, outrageously drunk man. The florescent red and blue flashed left and right. I’m aware of the voices around me, the little edges of my perception. My eyes water, my throat turns to glass, and my muscles spasm. Neighbors litter the sidewalk, and I think there were hands on me from the kindly ones.
The policemen or EMT’s or neighbors don't tell me. There’s a section of my chest that’s missing. Something in my soul has shattered. The comforting sensation, the warmth in my heart. The part that Milo filled. I don’t need anyone to tell me.
In the first few weeks, I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I’d cry so much there was always the taste of salt in my mouth that replaced the sugar of Milo’s mouth. I was a mess, didn’t eat, didn’t sleep, barely moved. Everything made the grief so much worse. It would’ve come to worst had I been allowed to go on. But then a Jon Carlton walked into my life.
He was a neighbor, just moved in. He must’ve heard the stories from the neighbors because he paid me a visit. Well, something about a visit.
The first day he knocked on the door. I couldn’t bother answering, I was so sick of people trying to console me when the only that could help was solitude. Anyone who tried to come around gave up after one or two attempts and understood I wanted to be left alone. Not him, though. He lingered and knocked and rang the doorbell.
After what seemed to be hours, he left. I’d be on the couch, half-dressed, curled into some dirty old blankets and wheezing, trying to inhale the fading smell of nutmeg. The day went by after that, the same vicious cycle of my new life. The sunset, but I couldn't feel its warmth. The moon shone, but I couldn’t feel its light. The stars twinkled, and I’d smile if I caught the shadow of one at night, but they were like my dreams; invisible most nights.
But a few minutes later, the glaring sun came around, and even sooner, so did he. He knocked and knocked so much I muffled my ears with a couch pillow, and when it went away, so did he.
Again, and again the cycle repeated itself until it became a part of my day, the hammering of the door a sound my ears didn’t bother hearing.
One particular evening, when the sky was orange-blue and the air despairing and lonely, the knocker struck again. I was agitated because I was distracted, enjoying the color of the sky, a rare beauty in autumn. I got up and grabbed a stray bathrobe, prepared to spit insults in his face, convince him I was insane, and never be disturbed again.
I opened the door, I am silenced by a sharp, warm, sweet smell wafting through the corridor. I hadn’t eaten anything exactly nourishing recently, and the scent made my mouth water. The smell took over my senses and turned my brain into mush.
I was also met with a pair of soft baby blue eyes, deep and intelligent, but had a kind gaze instead of an icy glare, framed by an equally kind face, splayed with freckles and strands of brownish hair. Jon Carlton smiled at me and said, “Hi, my name is Jonathon, I’m a neighbor.”
“Hey,” My voice was dry and croaking and sounded very far away. This was the first person I’ve seen in months. I felt like a tentative baby chick, fresh from the egg. I looked a mess, barely dressed, unkempt hair partly tied back, with tear stains and dry cheeks. I jumped when he spoke.
“May I come in?” He didn’t sound angry or annoyed, he just kept on smiling. In my head, I knew I should’ve kicked him out. But if he let me eat whatever he had, maybe a brief intrusion would be worth it.
I nodded and widened the door, and he stepped through. He didn’t gawk at the dirty floors, the strewn laundry, or the general mess, but kept his eyes to his feet and the gentle smile on his face. Hmm, shyness is a rare gift in a man.
When sat down, and I’m ashamed to say my eyes were lingering on the tray in his hands, wrapped in aluminum. I looked up at him, and there he was, with that butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth smile plastered on his mouth. I looked away and felt my face flush.
“I made these for you,” he said as he removed the cover, revealing some of the most perfect cookies I have ever seen. The perfume filled the room, and I could’ve floated in the direction of the smell.
I snatched one and bit into the soft, crumbling, mess. My eyes watered, and a deep, husky moan erupts from my throat. I flushed and apologized profusely, mortified.
“These're really good,” I mumble.
His smile widened and he laughed, a light, cheerful, airy sound that makes me wonder if he’s laughing at me. But the present kind eyes told me otherwise, and I make something of a smile. “Thank you,”
I wish I could remember where the conversation steered afterward. It really was a blur, but I will never forget the genteel features that removed the awkwardness of the conversation. I learned that Jon was a journalist, a dessert enthusiast when he wasn’t scooping up political gossip. He was kind, gentle, shy, composed, funny, intelligent, passionate, seemed to know every topic under the sun, one of those people that made chatting seem like the simplest thing. He turned my lifeless soul alive.
Soon his visits turned weekly, then, after timid deliberation, daily, to the point where I visited his apartment once and we baked a casserole together and took walks around the neighborhood, crunching dry leaves and watching the colors of the sky shift.
I'll never forget that night. We had just walked me to my doorstep, my cheeks burning from the sharp wind and cold, and maybe, I think, from Jon.
He bade me goodnight, with a soft smile on his face, those warm blue eyes never breaking contact. Even as he walked away, his neck was craned towards me, smiling and staring.
I can't and won't deny it. He likes me. Subtlety is not one of his strong suits. The thought dismembers my insides.
So I push it away, eat something, and do something I can't remember before going to bed. It seems impossible to remember details when they really matter.
As I lay in bed, half covered by the sheet, I reflect on what my life has become. Was there really a season when I knew where I was going? Where my hopes and dreams were secure? Where I wasn't so scared?
I fell asleep, counting the seconds.
Then I was in the apple field. It was autumn, a bright day, watery sunlight complemented by wispy breezes. It was a beautiful place, the fresh green leaves the only green during autumn. I love it, it changes the drab palette of brown, orange, and the apple's powerful, lively red.
Then, someone else caught my eye, made me smile, but not in that nostalgic, comforted, peaceful smile when staring at the bright green of the leaves, but a love-struck overwhelmed grin.
His eyes in the light seemed to be all the colors of the autumn leaves. I flushed darker when they looked at me. I must've gawked at him too much. I was mortified when our eyes met and I jumped, bumping into an elderly, senile lady. She glared at me from her spectacles as I murmured profuse apologies.
He was still looking at me. I looked to my feet to avoid his eyes and any other humiliation. The sun was setting now, and the field was getting emptier by the minute. It had a surreal, dreamlike feel to it, with all the colors, red and orange and brown and cotton candy pink and the still startlingly bright green giving the place that heaven-like effect.
I jumped again, and whipped around, and was met with those cinnamon-warm, soft eyes that almost made me stumble. The word, his voice rang in my ear, and my face is warm enough to last me through the winter.
I smile and hope I'm not giving an ear-splitting, lopsided grin, and "hi" him back.
"Apple picking?" He said. His voice makes me want to rest, softer than his eyes, all husky and gentle.
"No. I just love the place," I somehow manage to say without stuttering. My eyes and brain were to focus on the almost invisible splay of freckles under his eyes
"Ah, I see. Well, I'd like to join you, please"
My eyes widened and heart took the pace of a hummingbird. And, good god, it was so hot. I was going to speak when he continued talking.
"I also like just walking and taking in the sights." He smiled widened, then shrunk to a timid, sheepish one. "If you don't mind, that is,"
"No, I don't," My voice was sounded so far away.
Ten minutes later, we seem to walk the length of the field. Somehow, he brought the prospect of dinner. He could ask me to jump off a building and I'd obey at this point.
Then, he takes me home. He kisses me goodnight. I finally stroke the blonde hair, sinking my fingers into what seems like layers of silk. He tastes spicy, like cinnamon, no, nutmeg. I'm on fire, shaking and smiling and laughing as he walks away, with the occasional smiling glance behind.
Then the world turns black and I'm staring at my bedroom ceiling. There. I fell from the sky. I'm not smiling anymore. No, I'm crying. I sob and stain my face and pillow with tears. I cry myself to sleep.
Here I am, staring at the apple tree. I'm scared, upset confused. I'm confused about where to go, how to go, who to go. Uncertainty is so much worse than the pain because the pain never goes away.
I press my hand to bark. I wish I wasn't so scared.
I would love to move on. But I'm too terrified of trying, of failing, of losing. Of not knowing where I'll go if I do.
That's when I heard his voice, surer and softer than my breath.
Hey, you don't have to be afraid.
My breath hitches, vision blurs, and I'm faintly aware that my legs give way and I'm sitting, leaning into the trunk for support.
You're allowed to move on, Lily
Allowed to eat another kind of pie, go to the apple field, allowed to swing on your own
You've found someone kind and patient and handsome
And he'll maybe give you the best life
So take that ring off your finger and don't cry anymore
I'm crying and smiling and feeling like a weight has been yanked off my shoulders. I sit there for several minutes, shocked and raw with emotion. I can let go, I tell myself again.
Half an hour later, ringless, I call Jon and ask him to meet me at the apple field.
"We're going apple picking,"
"Because it's autumn and you pick apples," I say impatiently with the first reason in my mind. I don't know what I'm doing or why. But for the first time since the thirteenth, I'm not afraid.
When I see him there, I smile affectionately. His hair is all over the place and there's shadowy stubble on his jaw and chin. It's a familiar, comfortable sight.
He brought his own basket, and I have one that gives me this weird feeling it's Milo's, but instead of feeling upset, I'm glad. Maybe it's a sign. And together, with occasional small talk, we fill them. Now that autumn's nearly over, most of the good ones are gone. But it's okay, I'm not here for apples.
It's almost dark when we're done. I'm satisfied with our pickings. He smiles, but there's an inquisitive pull in his brow.
"Why are we here exactly? You didn't specify,"
I chuckle to myself. Only intelligent Jon would use a word like specify. Only Jon would wear a peacoat to autumn apple picking. Only Jon would make casseroles for my sake. Only Jon will make me smile and laugh and love again. I'm feeling strangely brave realizing all this.
So I'm not afraid, not in the slightest, when I put my hands on his chest, gaze at him softly, and press my mouth to his. It's been a while, but I still got it, I think. He's soft and tentative and so surprised he makes something like a squeak.
His arms find my waist, and my hands are in his hair and neck. He's prickly on the stubble and tastes strangely of apples, and I can feel his huge smile. Or mine. I really don't care.
When I pull myself off him, There's a light in his eyes, and when he opens his mouth to speak, he laughs instead. It's that bright, airy sound, just like when he first bombarded into my house. I put my arms around his neck and hug him like I'm never letting go.
Maybe it's my imagination. But I can swear it smells like nutmeg.