WHEN LOVE CALLS

With a warm Romantic Shorts welcome, we present Canadian author and inspiration, Ronnie Dauber’s When Love Calls. Celebrating an anniversary is always a time to reflect and appreciate the wonder of love. But when circumstances threaten the very treasure you cherish, something vital becomes all-consuming. Join Catherine as she prepares for an evening of passion and devotion that only the bonds of unconditional love can fuel.

Welcome. And, enjoy!

When Love Calls

by Ronnie Dauber

The day started out as normal as any other work day, except that I was itching with excitement because it was Jack’s and my second wedding anniversary, and I was ecstatic about the evening we had planned together. I opened the patio blinds in our kitchen nook and was greeted by the morning sun that brought life to the busy Riverdale neighborhood below.  Amber stared up at me from her big, green pillow that took up a whole corner in the kitchen, and I rubbed her furry golden ears. I just wanted to rush through this day and get right to our romantic evening, and yet, I couldn’t get rid of the eerie chills that repeatedly flitted across my neck.

Jack and I sat together in the nook just like we did every other morning during the week and watched the early morning news on the small flat screen television that sat on the kitchen counter. Today’s top story was about a massive hurricane that tore along the east coast and now threatened cities for miles inland. I sipped my coffee slowly as a cold chill shot up my back and kissed the nape of my neck. Jack was going to fly to Boston this morning as he often does for the large advertising company that he works for. I always worried about him when he flew for these business trips, but somehow today it was more than a general worry. My insides churned, and I didn’t want him to go.

Jack could often sense my thoughts before I could express them, and his soft voice and the twinkle in his deep brown eyes always melted my heart. He reached over and squeezed my hand.

“Cat, you’ve got that look on your face again. Come on, stop worrying. I’ll be fine. It’s a quick trip there and back, nothing I haven’t done a hundred times before. I’ll be home long before any storm hits, and then I’m going to take you out for a delicious gourmet dinner and flatter you with your favorite wine, and then I’m going to smother you with a night of passion that you’ll never forget.”

He leaned forward and kissed me softly on the lips, and my insides jumped with excitement. His eyes twinkled and my chest fluttered as he leaned back in his chair and then pulled a small black velvet jewellery box from his jacket pocket. He winked at me and my heart skipped a beat as he placed it on the table in front of me.

“Your love keeps me alive, Cat. I was going to give this to you tonight, but I want you to have it now. Go ahead, open it.”

I opened it right away and gasped as I stared at a beautiful gold heart pennant that held a small, clear diamond at the top and draped from a dazzling gold chain. This was the very necklace that I’d been eying for several months at Bart’s Jewellers, and I was in awe as I gaped at it. I slowly took it out of the box and then stood up to look in the wall mirror as I held it against my throat. Jack moved in behind me and took the ends of the chain, locking the clasp so it hung gracefully around my neck.

“It was made just for you, Honey.”

He wrapped his arms around my chest and held me close to him as he smiled at me in the mirror. I’m not sure what excited me more that second, the necklace or his sexy smile. I turned around and stretched my arms around his neck as he held me tightly and kissed me passionately. I loved this man more than life itself, and his embrace sent flutters of excitement throughout my body.

A few minutes later, the loud, invading sound of the door buzzer interrupted us, and he held me even tighter as he groaned.

“Time to go.”

The cab driver had buzzed us to say that he was waiting downstairs for Jack. We said our goodbyes, and he darted out the front door as he shouted to me to get ready for our special night. I waved, and when he disappeared into the elevator, I scooted back to the living room and pulled back the white French sheers just in time to watch him drive off and disappear into the busy New York traffic.

I tidied up the kitchen and got ready for work. Amber was anxious to come to school with me and the children in my junior kindergarten class just loved her in spite of the fact that she was so big. I made her a second pillow for the classroom, and she’d stay there all day with the patience of a saint, except for those times when she was allowed to wander around.

During my lunch break my cell phone began to play “Hey, Jude,” and I knew it was an incoming text message from Jack. This was the first song we’d ever danced to so we made it “our” song, and I locked it into my cell phone just for him. My insides tingled when I read his message.

“Arrived safely. Another hour of boring meeting and I’m heading home. Get ready for a night you’ll never forget. Luv you, Jack.”

The afternoon seemed to drag by, but eventually the school day was over, and Amber and I took a cab right home afterwards. I spent the next couple of hours getting ready for my special evening because I wanted everything to be perfect, and I wanted to look my very best for Jack. As I ran through our living room to grab a cup of coffee from the kitchen, I stopped and stared at our wedding portrait on the living room wall. My heart melted as I looked into Jack’s deep brown, passionate eyes. His muscular physique was hidden under the white tuxedo, but his gentle, sweet character was illuminated through his smile. It sent a thrill of excitement through every inch of my body. Even in a picture he could capture my heart and make me feel like the luckiest woman in the world.

I was excited and I could barely wait for him to walk through the front door. Yet, there was something that gnawed at me and sent a wave of fear up my spine. I stared into his eyes and the shivers fell away as the love that we shared covered me, and for a few seconds I was lost in the memories of that wonderful day.

The phone had rung several times before I actually figured out what it was, but I managed to pull myself away from the picture and answer it. It was my sister, a hopeless romantic just like me, and I knew she was almost as excited about my evening with Jack as I was.

“So, where did you and Jack finally decide to go for dinner? Did you get everything planned?”

“Right down to the very last detail, Becki.”

We had reservations at the Evening Steakhouse near Amsterdam and Main, which is the restaurant where we’d dined together on our first date.  We returned last year for our first anniversary, and now tonight, we would return again to add one more notch to our accolade of memories there.

“Well, you guys have a great celebration, and I know you will. You’re really blessed to have a husband like Jack. I can’t wait until Paul and I get married.”

I hung up the phone and returned to my bedroom to put on the new gown that I’d purchased a few weeks earlier. It was a cobalt blue, chiffon dress with a low cut bodice that would show off just a little more than my new gold heart pennant. Jack didn’t know about it so I knew he’d be thrilled when he saw me in it, since blue was his favorite color on me. I left my dark hair loose so it would grace my shoulders just the way he liked it. My makeup was on, I was dressed and the only thing left was to wait for Jack.

The clock in the hallway chimed six o’clock, and I waited excitedly for him to come bursting through the front door. I waited and I waited, and with each minute that ticked by another hair on my neck stood up. Where was he?

By six-thirty I began to worry because he’d never really been late from a business trip before. I checked my cell phone constantly for messages from him, but there was nothing. The landline never rang, but out of desperation I checked for messages anyway. I phoned his office, but my call went right to his voice mail as I knew it would. The only consolation I could hold on to was that this might be one of those rare occasions when the flight was delayed. But as the minutes passed by my intuition grew into a real fear.

I tried to entertain myself by attempting to read one of my favorite romance books, but the distant rumbling in the ever-darkening skies outside only fed the torment that was quickly taking over my mind. My stomach churned as knots rose up into my chest. Jack knew that I always worried when he was gone, and he always called or texted me several times just to let me know that he was okay. So, I was really surprised that I didn’t hear from him at all.

When the clock struck seven I knew we’d be late for our reservation so I called the restaurant; the hostess said they’d keep it open for a while and not to worry. The wind outside had picked up, and it began to splatter heavy raindrops against the window panes. Just as the anxiety began to tighten my chest and send my imagination into a state of wild distress, the door buzzer rang, startling both Amber and me.

“Oh, finally, he’s home. Come on, let’s let him in.”

I moved down the hall anxiously and opened the door with my arms stretched out and ready to hug Jack, but instead of Jack standing there with a bouquet of pink and white roses, I was greeted by two police officers.

“Catherine Gage?”

My breath caught in my chest as I stared into their solemn faces. Something was wrong. My heart raced and my hands became numb. I swallowed hard and spoke through my quivering lips.

“Yes.”

“I’m Officer Kim Bales and this is Officer Chris Buckley. May we come in?”

I tried to maintain my composure, but my eyes began to well up as the officers stepped onto the hardwood floor of the hallway. I didn’t want to hear what I feared they had to say, but I looked into her eyes and bit my bottom lip as I tried to prepare myself.

“Has something happened to Jack?”

Officer Bales looked at me with sympathetic eyes as my body shook.

“We’re so sorry, but your husband’s plane encountered mechanical problems when it was preparing to land. It lost control and crashed down abruptly at the New York Airport.”

And then came the inevitable silence, followed seconds later by the most hurtful words ever spoken.

“There were no survivors.”

I felt as if someone had slammed me against a brick wall and punched me in the chest. I couldn’t breathe. My legs turned to rubber and I couldn’t feel my hands. The officers sat me down on the mahogany parson’s bench in the hallway and for a few seconds I couldn’t think about anything. Minutes later I was rocking back and forth with a million thoughts flooding my head.

Becki arrived some time later after Officer Buckley had managed to get her phone number from me. Then they left me alone with my worst fears and a sister who was soaking me with tears as she wrapped her arms around me and cried hysterically. The officer’s words still echoed in my ears, and I struggled to get passed them.

I had worried all day that something bad was going to happen, but I never imagined it would be this. I couldn’t believe that this could happen, and I couldn’t even bring myself to think that he had been killed. I wasn’t ready to lose him. We didn’t even get to have children yet or buy our house in the country.  My chest pounded like a bass drum, and my ears were deafened as the fear rang through them. I couldn’t live without Jack, and I couldn’t allow myself to accept that he was gone. I needed proof. I had to see for myself so I pushed away from Becki and took a deep breath.

“I have to go there.”

Becki grabbed my arm to pull me back.

“No, Cat, don’t do this to yourself. I know it’s really hard to accept, but you heard what they said. There were no survivors.”

“He can’t be gone, Becki. He’s my whole life. I can’t lose him. I have to go there. I have to find Jack.”

A boost of energy surged through me like a lightning bolt. I felt as if I had been recharged with an overwhelming hope that now flooded my insides and fluttered across my chest. I had to go there; I knew that I wasn’t going to accept this unless I saw it for myself. I ran into my bedroom to change my clothes with Becki right behind me.

“Cat, stop it! I know you don’t want to believe it. I don’t want to believe it, either. But you’re really scaring me. Look, it’s storming outside and we’ll be lucky if we can even get there.”

“I have to go there, Becki. I have to.”

“Come on, Cat, the whole thing is going to be too horrific to see. Do you really want this to be your last memories of Jack? Slow down! I mean it, you can’t go there.”

I quickly changed into my blue jeans and pink hoodie, the whole time the officer’s words echoing louder and louder through my mind so that I barely heard Becki’s urgent pleas. I ran back into the front hall with Becki on my heels, and when I pulled out my sneakers from the closet, she grabbed my arm and screamed at me to stop. I looked into her tearful eyes, and I saw a fear in them that I’d never seen before. A lump rose up into my throat, and for a few seconds I just stood still and stared at her.

She was right. I hadn’t really thought about what I might see there. What if I did see Jack lying dead on the ground, could I handle that? Or worse, what if I had to identify him as he lay broken or burned in a body bag? I stared at her as the thoughts in my mind began to scramble. The fear within me grew immensely. Did I really believe that there was a chance he was still alive? Or was I just trying to prove to myself that he was really gone?

I closed my eyes, and pictured Jack standing in front of me with his big grin that would break out from behind his five o’clock shadow. Then I remembered what he said to me earlier, “Your love will keep me alive”.

“Becki, I don’t believe he’s dead. I have to go and find him. Can I take your car?”

She wiped the tears from her eyes and grunted loudly as she grabbed two raincoats from the hall closet.

“I hope you’re right, Cat. But I’m going with you. And I’m driving.”

My heart pounded in my chest as the blinding rain came down in torrents and slammed onto the windshield. The thunder exploded all around us, and my body shook with each deafening crash. Driving visibility became a major challenge for Becki as she edged her way carefully along the road. Amber paced in the backseat, whining and panting as she moved from side to side.

We arrived at the gateway to the airport almost an hour later. There were police cars and ambulances spread all around. We could only drive a short distance onto the grounds before we were stopped by security guards and told to turn back. I wanted to yell at them, but Becki slapped my arm, assuring them that we’d leave.

She drove back out onto the main road and parked on the side by a ditch that was out of their sight. Her trunk was still loaded with her camping gear, so we grabbed two flashlights, and then slithered back into the airport through the shadows and out of the view of the guards. We headed toward the inferno that was blazing with all the muster of Hell, and as we crept closer my insides began to tremble beyond control. I tripped several times in the muddy rubble and scattered debris from the air craft that was strewn all over the ground. As we neared the wreckage, we both saw Becki’s fiancé at the same time.

“Come on, Cat. Paul will help us.”

For a few seconds I had a spark of hope, but it was almost stifled by Paul’s response. He stood in front of us, fully rigged in his firefighting gear, and yelled through the winds and rain for us to go back home.

“You shouldn’t have come here. I told Becki that I’d call you if we found Jack. But I don’t think you want to see him this way, so go back home. “

“No, I won’t. Did you find Jack yet, or not?”

“We can’t identify them all right now, Cat. We’ve found most of the bodies over on the left side there next to the crash, and now I hear that they’ve found some on the other side way over there. There’s still a few missing, but so far everyone we’ve found was burned or dismembered and some are beyond recognition. I don’t know if we’ve found Jack or not, but I don’t think there’s any hope that he survived this. I’m really sorry, Cat. Jack was like a brother to me and I wish he was alive. I really do.”

His words boomed in my ears, and sent waves of terror firing up my spine. The heavy rains pelted against my raincoat and the smell of burned garbage and rubber made my nose flinch. I looked to the side where there was a body being placed onto a gurney. It was small and the thoughts of it being a child made me feel sick inside. But it made me even more determined than ever to look for Jack – and nothing was going to stop me.

Becki yanked on my wet coat sleeve and tried to hold me back, but I broke away from her grasp and ran. Amber was at my side. We took off as fast as we could into the dark of night toward the left side of the fire. Paul’s voice quickly faded, drowned out by the fire’s deadly echoes of blazing destruction beneath the torrents of rain.

I looked back at the flood lights that backlit the vision of anxious airport security and rescue workers, and then to the right where fire fighters were struggling to control the inferno. My heart raced, and for a few short seconds, I didn’t know what I should do next. Suddenly, fear ripped through my chest as I thought about the charred body I’d just seen. What would I do if I found Jack like that?

I fell to the wet ground and panted as hot tears mingled with the freezing rain pellets streaming down my face. I couldn’t just walk away. I had to look for him. He had to be alive, and I couldn’t give up. Jack wouldn’t give up on me, and I wasn’t going to give up on him.

I edged my way frantically through some of the debris while flashes of romantic evenings with Jack passed through my thoughts. I could see his smile and hear his hardy laugh. I thought I could even feel his gentle touch and smell his spicy cologne. Suddenly a crash of thunder brought me back to reality and my insides began to shiver as my eerie feeling prevailed over me.

Amber darted off to the side toward a pile of rubble, and I instinctively followed her. I shone my light where she had stopped to sniff, and I watched in hope as she dug into the debris. I moved in right beside her and thought I heard a noise, a soft whimpering sound. When I heard it again I fell onto my knees and dug with her. Suddenly, a hand pushed out from under a huge piece of broken metal, and a rush of joy overtook my senses. I tore back the piece of metal and moved the debris away, and then stared into the worn and frail face of an elderly woman.

For a split second I was disappointed beyond words that it wasn’t Jack, and I had to force myself to shake it off so that I could move in close to speak to her. On the outside, I must have appeared calm as the woman thanked me over and over, but on the inside I cried uncontrollably. I anxiously waved my flash light back and forth through the rain and into the sky because I knew that was the way to get the attention of the rescue team workers. Several minutes later the paramedics came running toward us.

Soon they had all the rubble pulled off of the woman, and then they gently lifted her onto a gurney. One paramedic warned me to get back to the main gate. I said I would, but I had no intention of leaving. As they lifted up the gurney, the woman pulled the oxygen mask off her face and groaned.

“My husband.”

Her face was dirty, and tears flowed from her swollen eyes as she pointed behind me. My heart suddenly became heavy with the burden to find her husband, and I told her that I would keep looking for him. This woman inspired me because I knew that if she could survive the crash, then there was hope that maybe Jack did, too.

I began searching frantically, stumbling and crawling all around the place where the old woman was found. Minutes later, Amber and I were digging through another pile of burned rubble where we found an elderly man lying face down. He wasn’t moving. Was he dead?

I tapped him on his shoulder, and he flinched out of reflex. Seconds later I waved for the paramedics to come back ,and they returned to lift him gently onto a gurney. I was happy for him because I assumed that he was the older lady’s husband. I thought how wonderful and romantic that was, that they didn’t lose each other in this horrific crash.

Before long, Amber and I were alone in the rubble again. I stood up as the rain poured down on top of me and I walked around slowly and called out Jack’s name. I could barely hear my own voice because the rain and the thunder were so loud, rattling through my brain. It frustrated me to realize that he probably wouldn’t be able to hear me, either.

After a few minutes I saw that I was far from the place where I’d found the old couple. I scrambled through the debris as quickly as I could and returned to the general area where they had been buried with the hope that Jack might be buried there, too. I screamed his name over and over, but then I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. As Amber moved around and sniffed out the rubble, I fell to the ground and cried.

“God, please. Let Jack be alive. Please help me find him alive, please.”

I didn’t know what to do and I think I almost expected some miraculous light to shine on the spot where I’d find Jack alive. But the only light I saw was a glow from the burning inferno in the distance which had become a remnant of what it was. Then suddenly, a thought hit me, and I gasped.

“My phone! I’ll call him, and I’ll hear his phone ring.”

I grabbed my cell out of my hoodie pocket and keyed in Jack’s number, and then stood quietly as I tried to listen for the ring of his phone. But the rains were loud and the wind gusted with a rage, and I couldn’t hear any response. I wandered around for several minutes as I called out his name in desperation and keyed in his number repeatedly, but still there was no answer.

I collapsed again onto the murky ground and stared ahead as I took in some deep breaths to slow my heart down before I fainted. My chest ached and my entire body shivered. I stared blindly into my cell phone for a minute and waited for Jack to call and say that he missed his plane and that he was still in Boston. That would have been such a relief. If only.

A few minutes later Paul and Becki joined me, and he pulled me to my feet.

“Cat, you can stop now. The Chief says he thinks we’ve got them all.”

My heart fell as the news of defeat tore away at it.

“Did you see him? Do you know you have him for sure?”

Paul put his arm around me and tried to pull me toward the area where the searchers were gathered. I could hear the frustration in his voice, but I couldn’t give up.

“But that old couple made it. They’re alive, Paul! Maybe Jack’s alive, too.”

He shook his head.

“No, the Chief says that he thinks everyone is accounted for, and that the old couple were the only survivors. I’m really sorry, Cat, but there’s nothing more we can do. Come on.”

“He thinks? He thinks? Then Jack could still be out here!”

I felt as if my heart had just been ripped out of my chest and my reason for living was torn away with it. Jack was gone? I couldn’t accept that. I just wanted to die. Becki wrapped her arms around me and forced a smile.

“You saved that woman and her husband, Cat. Maybe that’s why you were meant to come here.”

I’ll never forget the look of relief on the old woman’s face, and I’m glad that I found her and her husband, but I couldn’t live with the fact that I didn’t find Jack. For one split second I hated the old couple for being found instead of him.

We took several more painful steps toward the wreckage, and my head got lighter by the second. I turned back and called out Jack’s name again, but he still didn’t answer. Amber walked at my side and then stopped to sniff at a pile of rubble. I clasped my cell phone in my hand inside my coat pocket while I called out his name again; my voice had become weak and shaky. I felt sick inside as the possibility of the gruesome truth began to flood my thoughts.

Suddenly, Amber began howling loudly and jumping around in circles as she was digging fervently at the rubble. My heart was thumping in my chest and a few seconds later my cell phone began vibrating in my hand. I held the phone close up to see who was calling, but I couldn’t see because my tears made everything so blurry. It continued to vibrate so I held it up to my ear, and that’s when I clearly heard, “Hey, Jude”.

 

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