The Early-Morning Walks

Carol still grieved the loss of her husband, Bill. Twelve months had slipped away, but forty-six loving years of marriage wouldn’t allow her to let go of her beloved. Living without him was like living without air. Sadly, they couldn’t have children of their own and Bill wasn’t keen on adopting. So, they lived their life together spending time in the outdoors and traveling when they could. At seventy-three years old, Carol recognized that her friends circle had shrunk. She had several acquaintances to occasionally meet for lunch, but she no longer had that best friend to rely on for laughter or tears or to confess her deepest anxieties. The friends she thought would be in her life forever had drifted away like the wind carrying a lonely leaf over a meadow. But Charlie, her friendly pug, needed love and attention, so he filled that role in this chapter of her life. She talked to her furry friend all the time and he was an intent listener. She swore that he could understand every spoken word. He was quick to pick up on her emotions by giving her a lick on her cheek or a nudge from his tiny wet nose.

Because of Charlie, Carol couldn’t wallow in the stronghold of sadness. By eight o’clock each morning, she had locked the door behind her, and she and Charlie were walking around the neighborhood. She had remained in pretty good shape and maintained to keep it that way. Carol and Charlie usually spotted Jenna who lived around the block and who was the first to introduce herself over a decade ago. During that initial conversation, Carol learned that Jenna was married to Tom, and they had one son, Jack. They had moved into their home shortly before the two women had met.

It was a Friday morning when Carol and Charlie were about to reach Jenna’s house on their walk. She was standing by her car but walked over to meet them. “Hi Carol, it’s good to see you,” Jenna said as she bent down to pet Charlie on his soft little head.

“Hi Jenna, how are you? Why the long face?”

“Well, I’m afraid I have some bad news…Tom and I are getting a divorce. I haven’t seen you all week to tell you.”

“Oh, I’ve had a nasty cold that kept me inside. I’m so sorry, Jenna! I didn’t see this coming!

“I didn’t either, even though we’ve had some rocky moments. But after Tom and I talked, we thought it was for the best. I’m glad you’re feeling better, but I wish I had happier news to share.”

“Don’t worry about me. I feel bad this is happening, but it’s good you and Tom reached an agreement. I hope you’re staying in the house…”

“Actually, I’m moving out, but Tom didn’t ask me to. It’s my choice. I already found an apartment where Jack will live with me part of the time, and the move is Sunday.”

“This weekend? That’s so fast, Jenna. I’m at a loss for words, except that I’ll really miss you.”

“I’ll miss you, too, and our morning chats. You and Charlie need to take good care of each other.” Jenna wrapped Carol in a good-bye hug before the two women parted ways.

Carol felt the beginning of tears pushing through as she and Charlie continued their walk. She would miss her friend, but she was also saddened by the news of their impending divorce. So many young couples were separating, and these statistics made her heart ache. She missed Bill so much and wondered, why can’t couples find what we treasured for what felt like a lifetime? Ironically, Jenna had been friendlier than many of the new residents in the neighborhood – one of the reasons Carol felt a pang of sympathy and concern for this lovely young woman.

The neighborhood had changed since Bill and Carol moved into town decades ago. She recalled former neighbors with nostalgia. Mr. Angelino across the street no longer played his accordion – no music flowed from his backyard patio. Mrs. Miller didn’t toss saltwater taffy from her kitchen window for the youngsters; her kind gesture always brought high-pitched laughter that could be heard over the noise of cars rolling up and down the street. Then there was Mrs. Arnold who extended a generous invitation to the neighbors for a swim in her pool that amusingly resembled a kidney. Her joy in cooling off in the aquamarine water on those scorching summer days should be shared with others; that’s how she saw it. I enjoyed so many refreshing dips thanks to kindhearted Mrs. Arnold. These three lovely friends had passed away long ago, and these times are now distant, precious memories. Therefore, Jenna’s affable demeanor brightened Carol’s days. And now Jenna’s moving, she thought with a heavy heart.

Younger couples lived in these older homes now, but they seemed nonexistent. They were probably busy with their jobs, and occasionally, the cries of a baby escaped through billowing curtains. Maybe computer screens had become their new companions. Computers are terrific tools, but they can also be sneaky time thieves! When Carol does happen to see any of these young people, they don’t smile or wave much, not like her old neighbors did.

The following week when Carol and Charlie spotted Jenna’s house on their walk, it was apparent that Jenna had moved out. Her green SUV no longer hugged the curb in its normal spot. Two living room chairs, a worn sofa and ottoman, and a dresser sat on the dried-up brown grass. The roses and lantana in the front yard that once blossomed in soft pinks and rich reds had wilted, looking sad and forlorn. Tom’s black truck was still there, sitting in the driveway. But the tan stucco house looked exhausted, probably from emotions pulling its walls in several directions.

It was Thursday of that week when Carol paused for a moment…I want to believe this house could tell joyful tales from the past, but now I feel that if this house could talk, it might shed a tear or two from the second story windows, and those tears would fall into the neglected garden.

Carol missed Jenna, a bright light on those early-morning walks. Perhaps after experiencing the loss of my old friends, then losing Bill, Jenna’s move is one more loss added to the list. It’s a heavy burden Carol will have to bear but then let go of when the time is right. She was aware the stages of grieving differ for everyone.

Despite my own sadness, I hope this family can gather courage for acceptance of a new trajectory that lies in their future. I suppose I need to do the same thing. A year has come and gone and I’m no better off than the day I scattered Bill’s ashes on his favorite mountain.

Charlie nudged Carol out of her deep thoughts with his tiny wet nose as they began to turn another corner.

Lauren Scott (c) 2021

A Timely Surprise

 “Am I worthy of love again after all these years? I think I am, but it sure hasn’t worked in my favor,” Kate said.

“If you believe, that’s half the battle.”

Kate found herself stopped in the road of the campground, wondering whose gentle voice that was. Turning around, she looked into the handsome face of a man with a splash of graying hair. His azure blue eyes expressed sincerity and caused unexpected butterflies in her stomach.
“I can’t believe I said that out loud!” Kate was mortified!

“It’s okay…I do it all the time. My name’s Jim, by the way,” he said while holding out his hand as he climbed out of his golf cart. “I work here, but I’m actually retired. I keep telling myself that, but tending to these grounds is just something I love to do so it’s hard to let go.” He smiled and those butterflies became active again.

“I can see why you love working here – it’s so beautiful. I’m only staying for the weekend…my name’s Kate.” She shook his hand unable to ignore the powerful surge of electricity. Butterflies and electricity. Where in the world did these come from? Jim also felt that spark, a feeling he hadn’t felt in over two years. But by the few words he accidentally heard her say, he knew she was upset about something. He probably heard too much already and it was certainly none of his business.

Within seconds, Kate’s mind drifted to when she arrived earlier that afternoon. After unpacking, she sat in the rocker by the window and opened up the Sandra Brown book she’s been reading. She read the same line twenty times and still couldn’t recite it by memory. Kate thought the silence and peace would be good for her. Instead, the quiet was more pronounced in the small cabin than when she lived in the big house with her ex. Words between them were anything but present – which led to this temporary get-away. It took both partners to communicate in order for any relationship to work, yet, she was the one doing all the talking.

Getting away for a few days to regroup was a perfect prescription for her heart and mind. She wanted to rent a cabin with a front porch and was able to find one. Even if uncertainty joined her for a sip, she couldn’t wait to enjoy a glass of wine that evening on the porch while attempting to combat the turmoil in her life. Kate was not going to let her ex control her self-esteem, and she certainly wasn’t too old to let love in her life again. She’s often read encouraging stories of people finding romance later in life. So why should she be exempt? Not that she’s looking this very moment, but it wouldn’t matter. The candle went out years ago in her marriage. She just kept looking for the good and fighting for this relationship that may soon end.

Before Kate left for the campground, she called her sister, Jane, who lived an hour away.

“Hey, Sis, how’re you doing?” Jane asked as she put the call on speaker phone.

“Hi Jane. I’m alright, but I need your advice because you’re the more logical one.”

“Uh oh, what’s this about?”

 “Well, honestly, I don’t know what to do. Should I accept my marriage as it is with hope that it’ll get better? Or would it be best for both of us if we divorced? I want to keep my marriage going, but if I’m the only one trying, then I feel like I’m stuck with no way out and I don’t want to settle. What do you think I should do?”

“Oh, Kate, you know I can’t tell you what to do. But I know you’ve been unhappy for years and nothing’s going to change on his end. I think deep down inside you know that, too, even though it breaks your heart into tiny pieces. I honestly believe the ball is in your court – the decision has to be yours for any changes to occur, and whether you know this or not, you are worthy of happiness! He’s a good man, we both know that, but couples grow apart over time. So, if you acknowledge this, then it’s okay to move forward. You’ve given your marriage your all and it’s been twenty-two years! When will it be time to think about your happiness? Guilt shouldn’t be your best friend.” Jane sighed, hoping beyond hope that she didn’t say anything she’ll regret. All she heard was silence. “Kate, are you okay? Are you there?”

“Hmm…I’m here, just thinking over your words. You’re right; it’s just that taking that step feels like walking in sinking sand. It’ll be a slow process.”

“And that’s okay. Go at your pace, but once you make the choice, everything will become easier and fall into place.”

“I know. Oh, and by the way, I hung up my RN uniform for the weekend, heading to Pine Lakes.” Kate and Jane shared fond memories of the lake when they were little. Those memories evoked many great times that they wanted to carry the tradition into their adult lives.

“That’s good to hear. Nature’s always good at clearing up messy minds, Kate.”

“Yeah, I can’t wait to be in the mountains, walking among the pines and hanging out with the birds and squirrels. I should probably go, so I’ll keep you posted. Love you, and thanks for everything.”

 “Love you, too, and you know I always have your back. Stay safe, Sis!” Jane wanted nothing more than her sister to find joy and love again and she had no doubt that it was more than possible. But it would take her sister to open her eyes to new possibilities. Right now, Kate had the shades of possibilities closed securely because she had drained all of her energy into her marriage that became stagnant. She’s exhausted. However, she deserves to have that same attention by someone who truly cares about her.

Suddenly, with a soft touch on the arm from Jim, Kate returned to reality. “Kate, are you alright?” he asked, sounding a little worried. It was too soon to know why he felt concerned since he didn’t know her, but the feeling was significant.  “You were in another world.”

“Uh, yes…yes, I’m okay. My mind just wandered. It does that sometimes,” Kate answered with a nervous chuckle because embarrassment rapidly washed over her. She hoped her face wasn’t the shade of a pomegranate!

“Those things happen. My mind drifts all the time, so don’t worry about it. Look, we hardly know each other, but I wonder if you’d want to go for a walk sometime? I know the grounds pretty well around here,” he said with a smile. “Unless, of course, I’m being too forward. I know we just met,” he added, but his baby blues were a bit too irresistible.

She has no reason not to trust Jim, but she has no reason to trust him, either, so it’s a fifty-fifty chance either way. Kate chuckled at his subtle humor – of course, he knew his way around the campground. She also admired his welcomed honesty, not to mention again, her interest was surely piqued by this sudden attraction. Her messy mind deserved some good company and an interesting distraction from the rocky road ahead. After getting the green light from her sister and now meeting Jim unexpectedly, she gladly opened up those shades of possibilities and could already feel warmth from promises on the horizon.

 “Sure. I’d like that. I’m still settling in today, though, so would tomorrow afternoon work?”

“Tomorrow afternoon would be great. I work in the morning, so the afternoon is free. Why don’t we meet in the lobby at 3:00?”

“Sounds great,” she replies. Kate, what are you doing?!

Lauren Scott (c) 2020

CHANGES

You don’t listen anymore
You don’t offer your heart
You don’t smile
when I walk through the door

We’re together, yet, so far apart

You don’t bring flowers
at the end of the day
You look right through me
when I have words to say

You don’t kiss me
hello or good-bye
My head is spinning with questions
I ask myself, “why?”

Where have you gone
What have I done
What happened to us
I ask you because
I still love you

© LScott 2012

Author’s note: Fiction