Annie had always thought the holidays were a beautiful time of year. She had not always viewed them as surviving them. There were happier times; times when she looked forward to the Thanksgiving turkey with family and friends around her table, but those times were long gone. Black Friday took on a different meaning now. She didn't participate in the shopping of that day. There was no joy in this time of year anymore. Her life had felt quite dark since he’d gone. She and Fred had been together for such a long time. Annie’s mind cascaded memory after memory of laughs and smiles from high school to so many years later. Face after face came to her mind until the tears welded in her eyes. She had to remember it all. Things weren't always good between them.
The doorbell rang causing her dog, Muffin to yelp a little bark. No one had rang her doorbell in years around the holidays, not since Fred. It just seemed more quiet somehow. Opening the door, Annie found her mail sitting on the porch with a small package. The box was so small that when she picked it up, it fit right in the palm of her hand. Annie studied the box and placed it on her kitchen counter. She knew that she hadn't ordered anything, and exactly who would send her something? She and Fred never had children, and the holidays usually came and went with Muffin. The address read Florida. In just reading the label, Annie was immediately transported to happier times. Before she knew it, she was turning the little package over and over, as she imagined Fred carrying her over the threshold of a Miami condo. They were just married. Fred looked into her eyes as he carried her to the bedroom. Gently laying her on the bed, he kissed her gently and said one word, " Forever". He pulled to her feet, holding her close, melting her in a slow rock that lasted all night. They hadn't even needed any music. All they needed were the love promises that placed them both on top of the world. She smiled at the memory.
Muffin looked up at her, turning her head inquisitively. "I know, Muffin. I gotta come out of that room. That door has been closed for a long time." Annie shook her head a little. There was something a little strange about the package. It had no street address, not even a city. It only said "Florida". She knew there was something strange about it when she first looked at it. It was also addressed to Annie Peebles, her maiden name. How strange! No one had called her that in thirty or more years. "Should I open this little thing, Muffin?"Annie asked her little companion. Annie grabbed a pair of scissors, cutting the packing tape from the package. Inside she found an even smaller box that contained only a key and instructions for a safety deposit box at the First Bank of Georgia, a branch right in town. She turned the key around and around in her hand. The curiosity was beginning to get to her. She needed to know what all this was. It made her think of Fred's playful ways before he'd gone. He had made sure to distract her at times with it. It wasn't always fun. She didn't laugh at his jokes when the endless women called their home, joking that they were calling the wrong house or whatever he could do to make her forget her concerns. They had so many ups and downs. One definite downer was that he hadn't even kept his promise of forever. Tears fell from her eyes and before taking a big heaving sigh, she rested on her elbows and looked into Muffin's eyes. "Girl, what is all this? It's the holidays, right girl? Go away, Fred!"
But somehow Fred hung about that room. It was the key. She couldn't explain it, but she knew it was him. Somehow, it was Fred. Grabbing the key, Annie walked out to her car and before she knew it, she was standing in front of the safety deposit box with the key in her hand. She could just walk away, just as he had done so many years ago. She couldn't ever understand how he could. Was life so horrible with her that she'd only deserved a letter with two words,"I'm sorry"? She honestly didn't want to give him anymore of her time wondering as she'd done before. She was done wondering. What was in this box?
Inside, Annie found a manila envelope, an old high school picture of herself, and a jewelry box. It was the envelope that took her breath. It was Fred's handwriting for sure written on the front, "Sweet Anne". It was his name for her in happier times. This gave Annie pause because after all this time, she assumed he had died. This fact drove her to look Inside. There were several pieces of paper. On the first page, she found more of his handwriting. A letter.
You deserve more than those two words from so long ago. I am sorry that it took me this many years to say more. It was me. It wasn't you. I watched your disappointment of me turn into resentment over time. Our love died when I didn't protect it. When I got cancer, I couldn't allow you to take care of me. I had to free you to live your life. I cannot make up for all those things, but I want you to remember the good times. I never stopped loving you. I wanted the life I had left to be something I could give you without the pain. I love you and I always have. I always will, Anne. Forever, Fred"
Annie couldn't stop the tears. These were words that she needed for so long. Wiping her tears, she flipped the remaining pages that appeared to be a deed to a condo in Miami, Florida. Gasping, she flipped the pages, feeling overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions at once. She needed to sit. Her legs were weak all of a sudden. There was no chair. There was only the floor. Annie's thoughts flooded with all kinds of questions. How did he do this? When did he do this? Where was he now? She kept flipping the pages and found a Last Will and Testament page that made her gasp. So, he was really gone? "I, Fred Williams, being of sound mind and body leave my bank account, property, and my business to Annie Williams...a sum of assets in the amount of $500,000." Annie held the envelope close to her chest and simply cried. "Wow, Fred, wow. You left me for good, huh?" When she opened her eyes, her eyes fell on the jewelry box. Inside, she found her wedding ring and his wedding ring on a silver chain with a small note that said, "I really did mean forever."