He had never really left her. He would stay in her thoughts, night and day, week after week; year after tiresome year; every birthday, every holiday, every single day of her life. He was in her mind, in her heart, in her empty soul; her empty being made up of thousands of thoughts of him. Nothing would free her, exonerate her or rescue her from the endless consummation of his presence, or from the encumbering prison in which he had sentenced her. Nothing was consummate, everything was undetermined, indefinite, unjustifiable except for the thought of this one person, Justin.

Justin in his blue jeans and sandals, Justin in his Sunday best, Justin laying naked upon her bed, welcoming her into the eternity of his open arms, swallowing her in with the taste of his full sensuous lips. Justin, slamming the door in her face the day he dispensed with her to enter a safe little world of money and pedigree. She had fretted over this for years, until she met that something, that someone new in her life.

Justin and Amy had known each other in the neighborhood and felt more like brother and sister. Having been thrown into the tumultuous world of high school, by sophomore year they became closer than friends. Parties and dances, football games and bonfires melted together throughout their four years. He was her date for both junior and senior prom; in between, their summers were spent lying on the beach, having cookouts and pool parties and in senior year, planning for their college days and careers. By graduation day, life seemed to hold a bright future. Although they’d be attending different universities they planned on keeping in touch and seeing each other on holidays. The weekend before they left for their individual schools was bound in a love and passion that Amy would never forget. They said their goodbyes with tears and promises.

At first they called each other every night, then every weekend. But slowly the calls from Justin got less and less. By Thanksgiving weekend he broke the news that he wanted his freedom to date. Never one to hold anyone from what they wanted, reluctantly they both agreed to remain friends forever. Through the years she prospered in school and her career. Justin remained in and out of touch but was busy in Europe extending his education. Their contact lessened and those high school days were nothing but bittersweet memories. Memories that she tried to let go of through other relationships and affairs, but ones that never left.

Then one day years ago, she had received a note from her mother that Justin was getting married. He was marrying into one of Society’s better known families. He hadn’t even thought of inviting her to the wedding and she couldn’t understand how years of friendship and love could disappear over time. She had read in the papers about his success in the business world, his rise into the upper echelons of the European and American hierarchies, and wondered if he ever thought of her. Obviously not; he had married, moved on and not even given her a second thought. She was a candle in the wind for him whose flame had faded years ago.

As she sat at the little outside cafe in Rome this afternoon, she thought about how far she’d come, both professionally and personally. She was going over a proposal that had been made to her a week ago. She had been accepted. It was the biggest chance of her life and it entailed moving to Italy. The job was for "an established and well esteemed firm" and would require all of her time and dedication. She had lived a prosperous and full life, and despite having never married, she was weighing this proposal with her past, present and future combined.

Staring ahead she felt someone staring at her. Her mind must be playing tricks on her. Suddenly he stood up and slowly walked over to her table. It was him. From across the ocean, over the years and straight across her path, Justin was standing there. His hair had greyed slightly at the temples, his mouth was set firmer, his eyes more direct. But the years had been good to him. He smiled tenuously and he managed to say her name in a silent, hoarse whisper. “Amy”? She felt like she was melting. All these years of memories and bitterness, wondering and trying to forget, and he was here.

“May I sit down?” he asked. “Certainly” she replied. There was an uneasy silence, and all at once they both spoke simultaneously. “How are you?” “Can’t believe you’re here!” “What are you doing in Rome?” Polite questions, trite answers, all insignificant; until that monstrous, leering question lurched out and exploded like a hydrogen bomb overtaking their little universe. What happened to us? Were we just in love with love, was it a high school romance, or like the old Paul Anka song do we call it “puppy love?” Four plus years of friendship, then romance, then passion. Hormones, endorphins, or real love? How could it have faded? She wanted to address all these issues, but instead she listened. She listened to him and to the voice inside her that had led her this far.

She listened to him about his climb to the top, his whirlwind flight of fancy, his entry into society, and his years of climbing, striving, trying to stay afloat in career, prestige and marriage. Little time was spent on the latter. He had grabbed the brass ring, put on the golden band, and lost it all in a minuscule matter of time. His wife had left him, the marriage was childless and the only thing left in his life was his career.

They sat and talked awhile, then left the café. They walked and talked well into the wee hours of the night, stopping for a drink and watching the bubbles in their wine effervesce like their lives had. Justin was going back to America permanently. There was new research being done out west and he wanted to be part of it. It wasn’t far from where they grew up. Perhaps they could get together soon. Perhaps they could try again.

This was the moment she had thought of throughout her life. Her chance to rekindle their love from years ago. A second chance? This was the test that life was throwing her way, the ultimate challenge. “I’d love to do that Justin. But I’ve taken a job here in Italy. I start my “internship” next week. It’s going to take a couple years and will require fulltime commitment. “Sounds important. What is it Secret Service” he laughed. “No nothing secret about it” she replied. “In fact I plan on spreading the good news once I’m fully professed.” “It’s a very important job for me Justin. I found someone who doesn’t replace you, but someone who believes in me as much as I believe in him. You might say meeting you here at the cafe answered all my questions and doubts. It was rather providential”. “Well I’m happy for you Amy. What are you going to be doing?”, he asked.

“I’m here to start my novitiate next week. I’m becoming a missionary nun.” He looked at her shocked and then smiled. They hugged each other and said goodbye. As he stared after her, she felt his gaze and turned around. “Don't forget to pray for me” he said. “I’ve never stopped”, she answered. As the bells chimed in the background, calling people to early morning mass, she walked away from her past, and opening the church door, took a step into her future.      

August 14, 2020 01:33

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