Sometimes it takes years for the simplest truth to make sense. Sometimes only a night.
She is an old woman now. She sits alone on the veranda, and stares at nothing in particular. Just the wind, that moves soft breezes around her shoulders, gently pushing the hair away from her face, like he used to do, such a very long time ago.
The tea cup shakes in her hand as she lifts it to her lips. Memories race through her mind, like clips of a broadway play, about the night that changed her life.
With just a close of her eyes, Elizabeth is standing once again in the station, beside the train, a long black tube of anticipation, puffing smoke and squeeling noises. The bittersweet feel of excitement is still as fresh as when she first felt it, stepping on board and finding her seat beside the window. The disappointment just as real too, as it moved away from the station without his goodbye. In her mind’s her eye she still searches the crowds, thinking she may have missed him as she pressed her face against the glass, looking for his familiar tall frame. He didn’t show like he said he would, on the phone, earlier that afternoon, a slight cough in his voice as he spoke to her. Yes, he said, he’d see her off, after all, it would be awhile before they saw each other again.
The train picked up speed, leaving the small town platform behind in what seemed like seconds. She’d sat back in her seat, and closed her eyes. His face etched its way into her mind, the dark hair, close cropped against his head, a strong chin that protruded just a bit, and eyes as dark as the night she’d said goodbye to him in.
A tiny promise ring lay on her finger. She’d turned it stone side up, and tried to catch the small overhead light to reflect innocent shapes and colours, like their conversations in the past. The ring was only for now, he’d told her, his eyes intense on her face. She bathed in the memory of that stare when he first gave it to her, feeling the warmth of what seemed like love at the time. He would have a new one waiting for her, he’d said, a bigger one, when she came back.
But she didn’t know if she was coming back. “It’s not that simple,” she’d tried to explain again, the night before she left, when he asked her how much time she needed. “My whole life I’ve wanted out of this town, and now with you, well, that means I have to stay Allen. I love you, but...”
“But life is more than love, I know,” he said. With that, he’d kissed her on the forehead, and gently said, “Let me know when it becomes the other way around.”
She still has the letters he’d sent her, with her old New York address. Kept them bundled with a ribbon frayed now from reading over and over. She’d only sent him quickly scribbled postcards. “Two auditions yesterday, and a call-back today, love, Elizabeth.”
Weeks turned into months, and the letters and postcards slowed down. Until the last one she got from him, tucked at the very back of her pile now. All it said was, “Hope you found everything you were looking for. Goodbye, Love, Allen”
And she didn’t pursue an explanation.
Elizabeth sits now in the wooden rocker, on the veranda of her home. Things didn’t work out the way she’d planned and she took the same train home only a few years later. In time to read about his marriage, in time to sit across the street from the church in her car, and watch it happen, so many years ago.
He lived his life across town while she lived her’s teaching theatre in the local high school. “You look amazing,” he’d told her, with a quick kiss on her cheek, when she first came back. “Sorry things didn’t work out for you the way you planned.” His voice matter of fact, cool.
“Yes,” she’d said. “Thank you.” And walked away.
She sits alone on the veranda and shields her eyes against the afternoon sun that bounces colored lights from a tiny stone on her finger. A train whistle howls softly in the background. It must be 5:00 p.m. she thinks, right on schedule, and smiles slightly as she takes another sip of tea.
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