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Holiday

I walked into the Ballroom and immediately felt like I was being assaulted.

The music was too loud, pounding my eardrums until I thought they’d surely bleed.

The lights flashed brutally into my eyes, so forcefully ,that I thought they had penetrated into my brain.

Then came the abuse of hundreds of people, coming from all directions, talking, to me, to each other, each one seeming to echo off the walls and scrape my already frayed nerves, like nails on a chalkboard.

Everyone felt too close to me, I could smell each one’s sweat, their deodorant their perfume, their breath,mingling together and smelling so thick it was like I could taste each scent.

I wanted to throw up.

I could feel the panic building in me and making me want to run back out the door I’d just walked through a half hour before.

I retreated as much as I could, to a table near the wall at the far end of the room. I was concentrating on breathing. Just in and out as slowly as I could. Hoping nobody noticed the beads of perspiration that was gathering on my hairline, making my hair stick to my skin.

Breathe! Just Breathe! I kept telling myself.

Stay a few hours, then politely leave.

That was my plan.

I hoped my boss, Stella Rosenthal, would understand. I had come, hadn’t I? Surely that would count?

Who even demanded attendance to a New Year’s Eve party from their employees anyway? Stella, that’s who.

My fierce loyalty to Stella is why I continue to work for her. That, and I need to continue to get paid! Especially since my husband passed away last year. The hospital bills were piling up faster than I could pay them.

The legacy of a years-long battle with brain cancer.

At least we had that last year together. Knowing it was our last, we cherished every moment.

God, I miss Ben so much!

He was in a better place now, I truly believed that.

In fact, my faith is what got me through those last few brutal weeks.

Knowing all the pain he was in, watching him waste away to a fraction of the man he once was. It got to the point that all I wanted for him was peace. No more pain.

He finally closed his eyes that last time and never opened them again.

He was at peace But I wasn’t

I thought of how unfair it was that I kept living.

My heart kept beating.

My breath still moved in and out of my body. Even though I felt as though I’d been shattered, splintered into a million tiny pieces.

I couldn’t understand how I was still alive after he died.

I kept breathing even after he took his last breath.

After the funeral home came and took his body.

I breathed.

After they put him in his casket.

I breathed.

Even after they placed him in the ground.

I breathed.

Sometimes those breaths feel like they get stuck inside of my chest. At moments like that, I panic. It’s terrifying. I want so badly to have him back, but I know I can’t. I have to keep living no matter how hard it is sometimes.

So I keep breathing.

While I was trying to force myself to breathe, trying not to give in to the panic that was slowly gripping my heart, I hadn’t noticed that someone had joined me at my table.

Turning to look, I noticed an older — very much older — man sitting beside me, and watching me very closely. His look of concern was a little bothersome, as I was hoping to go unnoticed, but it was sweet nonetheless.

He wore a white tuxedo, with a red bow tie and red suspenders. He was small in stature and not so much frail looking as gentle.

He smiled. He looked quite dapper actually, and if he had been taller, and a tad heavier, I would have thought him to look like Mark Twain.

His thick white hair fell in a wave and brushed against his collar. His eyes were the darkest brown I’d ever seen, appearing black in this oddly lit room.

”Hello my dear,” he drawled. His voice was very southern and reminded me all the more of Mark Twain.

“I noticed you were alone over here and I hoped you wouldn’t mind some company. This table is the darkest and farthest away from that dreadful band.”

I laughed. So he wants to hide out with me over here? Well why not?

“You are quite welcome here,” I replied with a smile of my own.

“You look quite peaked my dear girl. Perhaps a glass of that cheap champagne would perk you up?”

Without waiting for my reply, he raised his hand and flagged down a server. There were several of them walking around with trays full of sparkling glasses of the stuff. He called it cheap. I’m no expert on champagne, but my guess is he was correct on that assessment.

Stella didn’t get to where she was in her business by throwing money around. She was pretty fair in the wages she paid her employees, but she accounted for every expense with the diligence that made her the leader in the essential oil industry. Her appointment to CEO was expected after Edward Rosenthal, her father, stepped down. Stella had stepped into her new role as though it was made for her. And in a way it was. As the only child of Edward, Stella had practically grown up in the very boardroom she now governed.

She may have been careful with her money, but she never skimped on her product. All of Stellas oils were exceptional and of the highest quality. It’s why I came to work for her.

Why I made myself come to this party.

I believed in what we made, and I also know how generous Stella is with her profits. A portion of which goes to stop human trafficking.

It was what Ben spent his career fighting for.

He was part of a team that searched for and rescued children who were being trafficked.

I feel like I’m still fighting in the only way that I can.

I work with the philanthropic arm of Stella’s organization. So I know how much Stella gives, and I’ve witnessed her money saving lives.

Stella’s Oils helped fund the rescue organization my husband worked for.

That was how Ben and I came to meet in the first place. At a New Year’s Eve party much like this one. But I didn’t have panic attacks back then. And I was younger and more light hearted than I am tonight. Sitting here, I felt I’d aged a hundred years since then, and I felt the weight of my grief pushing me down like a blanket made of lead.

Taking a sip from my fluted glass, my thoughts returned to the present, and I looked over at my new companion. He had that concerned look again.

I must really be a mess. So much for hiding!

“My name is Agnes,” I smiled while stretching out my hand to him.

“Charles is my name, but I’d be obliged if you would call me Charlie,” his smile was contagious, and as his hand took mine, it was warm and had a tremor.

Pulling his hand back he said, “Parkinson’s. That’s what they tell me I have. That shakiness. It is an annoyance”.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Charlie. It’s hardly noticeable though,” I replied, trying to be polite.

Catching me in my lie, Charlie chuckled. A deep and hearty rumble that didn’t just exit his mouth so much as it escaped from his belly.

”We all have our crosses to bear don’t we?“ he said with a wink.

He really does see me clearly. Am I that transparent?

“This is my first major social gathering since I lost my husband last year,” I was surprised at my honesty. I didn’t know why I felt compelled to tell this complete stranger my most personal story. But there was just something about him that told me I was safe. That he truly cared. I knew that sounded crazy, I heard how ridiculous those thoughts were, but I still couldn’t pull myself away. Instead of getting up, finding an excuse to get away from him, I allowed him to place his hand on my forearm and pat it soothingly.

“I lost my Love 30 years ago. I wish I could tell you the pain goes away, but it really doesn’t.”

“If you are trying to make me feel better you’re failing!” I laughed.

Immediately, a twinkle appeared in those dark eyes of his, and another chuckle escaped him.

“It does get easier though. I promise”. Another two pats and he removed his hand from my arm and leaned back in his chair.

Charlie and I talked for the rest of the evening. Sipping champagne and talking about life. He listened to me talk about Ben in a way no one else had since I lost him. It’s not something most people are comfortable talking about. But Charlie didn’t seem at all uncomfortable. He listened to it all. Even to my concerns about the hospital bills.

When I’d finally talked all I could, I was exhausted, but in a good way. Like some of that grief had been replaced with hope. Hope that like Charlie, I’d continue to live and have a happy life again. Someday.

Afrer I finished talking I listened to his stories too.

So many stories!

After his wife, “the love of his life”, died, he traveled to exotic countries, finding scents. That’s what he did for most of his life. He was a scent finder. He would develop perfumes and lotions from the many scents he discovered in his travels: flowers, oils, trees, plants from all over the world. And eventually he started his own business. It kept him busy, he said, and he loved every minute of his life.

“Even losing my Love was not something I would change. Because our love changed me. It made me the man you see before you today. A Father. Friend. Business man. Her love gives me my anchor. It always has. And one day, I’ll see her again. I’ve continued my life here without her, but we will have a new life together one day.”

While listening to him talk, telling me his adventures and about his sweet wife, Love, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t concentrating on my breathing anymore. I was relaxed and, dare I say, happy.

Suddenly the beautiful moment was interrupted by the band playing a drum roll and the countdown to midnight being shouted, “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1!”

I remembered Ben’s kiss, and a tear fell from my eye. At that moment I saw Charlie standing in front of me, his whole body trembling from the Parkinson's disease, and he held out his shaking hand to me. I placed my hand in his and rose from my chair.

“It’s bad luck to not be kissed on New Years,” he said, that twinkle back in his eyes.

I could’t help but laugh. What a dear sweet soul he was.

Charlie kissed me gently on my cheek then stepped back and kissed my hand.

“I want to thank you for spending New Years Eve with a wobbly old man. This was the best New Years Eve I’ve had in a very long time.”

“It‘s me that needs to say thank you. I wouldn’t have made it through this evening without you. Thank you Charlie. I hope we can be friends after tonight.”

Charlie smiled and nodded, looking more tired than he had all evening.

“I believe it’s time for me to call it a night, my dear girl. But you can always count me as your friend.”

He turned and walked out as the chorus of Auld Lang Syne broke out. I watched him leave, then turned and pushed my chair in. I looked at the one he was sitting in and walked over and pushed his in as well. “Good night, Charlie” I whispered. Somehow, I knew I’d never see him again.

As I was walking out, Stella stopped me and gave me one of her well-known hugs. When Stella hugged you your bones cracked! She just could not hug gently.

“I see you met my father!”

“Your father?”

I was stunned!

“But your father is named Edward.”

Stella smiled. “Edward Charles Rosenthal. He prefers his middle name.”

“Charlie is your dad? He never said a word. The sneak!”

“Don’t be mad!” Stella was laughing. “He likes being incognito. Even when he was still in charge around here, he spent most of his time in the field. Except for the board members and a few old timers, no one else would have recognized him either.

“It’s been years since he has come to the New Year’s Eve party, but he looked like he was really enjoying your company tonight, so I just kept my distance. It was good to see him happy. You too. I was surprised you came. But I’m so glad you did,” she ended with another bone crushing hug!

“Thank you. Charlie helped me get through it. I’m glad I came too. I’m really glad I met your dad.”

I left after saying a few more goodbyes.

Arriving home to my empty house was never easy, but it was a little less sad that night .

A few weeks later, Stella broke the news that her father had passed away. His funeral was a quiet graveside service where he was laid to rest next to his Love.

After the service, and a hug for Stella, I walked back to my car. I was remembering Charlie and smiling.

Just then, a man I’d seen at the graveside, though he stood back aways from the other mourners, approached me.

“Agnes Rogers?”

Taken aback by his knowing my name, I stammered a yes.

“Steve Randelson. I’m with the Law offices of Howard and Smith. I have something for you. It’s from Charlie.”

He handed me a slim white envelop, nodded his head, and left.

After slipping into my car, I sat staring at the envelope. From Charlie? I couldn’t imagine what was inside that envelope, and for some reason, I was hesitant to look. Eventually I opened it and pulled out a folded piece of paper. On it was a small, shaky script that must have been written by Charlie himself. It read:

Dear Agnes,

I cannot thank you enough for indulging me at the New Years Party. Truth be told, I almost didn’t go. My health aside, I’m just not a big fan of large gatherings. I much prefer my solitary life, or on the rare occasion, if I am blessed, I enjoy the company of an interesting companion. That is what I found in you that night. You listened to me tell you of my life. And you didn’t yawn once! Hearing you talk about Ben reminded me so much of my dear sweet Love.

As a token of my appreciation, I have taken the liberty of having all of Ben’s remaining hospital bills paid in full. I hope this helps ease some of your pain. You certainly helped ease mine.

Take care my dear girl, and keep breathing. There is so much more life left for you to live until you see Ben again in the next one.

Sincerly,

Edward “Charlie” Rosenthal

I could not believe this!

Tears ran freely dawn my face, dripping onto Charlie’s words.

Thank you Charlie

I’m happy

And I’m breathing.


December 30, 2019 05:27

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4 comments

Monica Haynes
02:52 Jan 09, 2020

Almost in tears, absolutely loved this story, especially after she met Charlie. The writing really came alive then.

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Allie Pittman
13:42 Jan 09, 2020

Thank you for saying this. I’ve never shared anything I’ve ever written. Your words mean so much.

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Chris Sharrock
21:18 Jan 27, 2020

This story is incredible and deep! You do a great job of conveying to the reader the feelings Agnes is having (at the part where you described her breath catching in her chest I felt that way a little bit too). I also love the messages in here: keeping faith while experiencing a tragedy, how two strangers with a similar hard experience can help each other get through it, and the part about her husband helping to fight human trafficking (which is a severe problem that I don’t think gets the scrutiny it needs) Really enjoyed this, can’t wai...

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Allie Pittman
21:38 Jan 27, 2020

Thank you. I am so happy you enjoyed reading it. This means so much!

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