Receiving an Honourable Mention in Romantic Shorts™ Summer 2021 Writers’ Competition, Alexandra Meryn shines with this story of a love that joins two people by love alone. Her remarkable skill with dialogue carries this tale. Her characters’ voices are as distinct as they are real, making a long-distance relationship perfectly believable.
Welcome. And, enjoy!
by Alexandra Meryn
The awkward expression on the stranger’s face registered in Amy’s mind as quickly as it vanished. She was used to it. “Can I help you?”
He leaned uncomfortably toward her, as exceptionally tall people often did. “I’m sorry to bother you,” he started carefully, “but I’m looking for Amanda Rivers?”
“And who would you be?” The level of caution exceeded that simply dictated by a pair of x chromosomes.
“My name is Zach. Zach Taylor. I am Matthew – Matt – Taylor’s son.”
Amy stared into the man’s eyes. They were kind. Honest. And sad. There was also a level of confusion that seemed to match her own.
“I don’t understand,” she confessed. “Matt. You’re his son? But how… Why…”
“I can show you some ID, whatever. But yeah. Can I come in. We need to talk. You’re Amanda, right?”
She nodded numbly. Nothing was making any sense.
“I… Is it okay if I come in?”
“Yeah,” she agreed, moving back so he could enter. She heard him close the door behind her and simply expected him to follow her straight down the hall to the kitchen. “Have a seat,” she ordered over her shoulder. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“I can get it,” he started, stepping toward her.
She turned quickly, almost knocking him over. “I can do it, thank you. I just need you to be a little patient and sit down.”
Zach sat, placing a large shoe box sized package on the table. It was wrapped in plain brown paper, and was addressed to Amanda Rivers, 1257 Willowdale Drive, apartment 3. HAND DELIVER.
He waited patiently, fighting the urge to help her as she struggled to get two cans of soda from the fridge. She brought them to the table one at a time, her hands shaking, head down avoiding eye contact. After what seemed forever, he finally popped the tops on both cans, handing one back to her, and turned his chair to face her. Despite everything he’d read so far, he’d thought he was simply dropping off a package to an old friend. But as she looked up into his eyes, he suddenly realized he’d walked into something much bigger. “You knew my dad?” he asked quietly.
Tears filled her eyes, her breath caught painfully as her shoulders slumped, her chin rested against her chest as she fell into sobs. At a complete loss as to what to do, he found a dish towel and reached over to wipe the tears, wishing she would stop crying. She seemed to be deaf to his consolations, until at last, she took the cloth awkwardly, blew her nose, and looked up with red eyes, her bottom lip quivering.
“Knew,” she said simply. “So he’s gone then?”
“Last Sunday, yeah.”
“Cancer. Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was diagnosed actually about eleven years ago, but it took a turn for the worst about a year ago. Once it went bad, it went quickly.”
Amy nodded, the corner of her mouth turning up. The bugger never said; she guessed he was entitled to his secrets as much as she was. Though they had talked about death a lot. She looked into Zach’s eyes suddenly. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
He accepted her condolence with a nod of his head. “And I am sorry for yours.”
Amy smiled gently at him. “You had no idea, did you?”
“About you? No. About you and him? Not a clue.” He moved the box toward her. “He wanted me to bring this to you.”
She looked at it, trying to imagine what could be inside.
“There’s a letter with it. Instructions for me.”
“Read them to me?”
Zach. All my affairs are in order for you, and I’m sure you’ll have a few questions by now. There’s one more thing I’ll ask you to do for me – and this should clear it all up. There’s a package under my bed. I need you to deliver it. In person. It’s for a very special woman. I’ve never mentioned her to you, but she’s been such an important part of my life these past ten years. She’s made me a happy man. But there are a lot of things she doesn’t know. I want you to give her this, go through it with her, listen to her stories. Make sure she’s okay. Tell her I love her. Dad.
Amy sniffed loudly, smiling through the tears. “I love him, too,” she admitted shyly, peeking at Zach through her lashes. “Open the box.”
“I have to admit, the curiosity is killing me,” he swore, as he ripped the packaging open loudly.
Pulling the lid off, the first thing he saw was a CD. On it, in his father’s slanted scrawl, was written PLAY THIS NOW.
“You don’t have a CD player, do you?”
“Straight through there,” she pointed with her chin.
Within moments, the apartment filled with the crooning vocals of Johnny Mathis. Her eyes closed tightly as he softly explored his chances.
Zach sat back down across from her at the table. “My dad loved this song.”
“I know,” she grinned.
* * * * * * *
“Hello?” Amy asked loudly, but politely. The new speaker phone was still causing her problems. But calls were so few and far between that she didn’t want to risk offending anyone who wanted to talk to her.
“Uh, hi there. Is this the radio station?”
Amy smiled. “No sir, no it’s not. You have the wrong number.”
“Really? Cause I’m pretty sure I called the radio station.”
“Nope, I’m pretty sure this is not a radio station.”
“Oh.” He sounded entirely disappointed. “Okay then.”
Amy felt bad for him; he’d sounded so sad. But promptly forgot about him.
Until the next day, about the same time, when she answered again. “Hello?”
“Wait. Is that you again? Not the radio station?”
She laughed. “No. It’s definitely me again. Not the radio station. There’s probably nothing I can help you with.”
“I doubt that,” he chuckled. “You sound friendly enough. And I wouldn’t ask you for anything inappropriate.” She could hear his smile.
“As do you. Maybe check the number and try again.”
“See? That’s helpful. I’ll do that.”
“You have a nice day.”
“I will now. I talked to a pretty lady.”
Amy found herself smiling a little more over the rest of her day, though she didn’t give any more thought as to why.
Until the next day, at about the same time, when the phone rang. “Thank you for calling the radio station,” she said brightly, “what can I do for you?”
He laughed. And she had no choice but to laugh with him.
“Smart ass,” he said finally, as he caught his breath.
“What’s with the radio. What are you up to?”
“Aw. I just wanted to hear my favourite song. It’s been on my mind lately.”
“What song is it?”
“Chances Are, by Johnny Mathis.”
“I don’t know it.”
“What are you, twelve? How do you not know it?”
“I am not twelve. And maybe I just don’t know that I know it.”
And with that, in the smoothest tenor voice she’d ever heard, this stranger on the phone launched into the sexiest rendition of the song she would ever hear. She was rapt with an unexpected longing as she listened to him. When he finished, she sighed audibly.
“It’s a good song.”
“You sing it well,” she agreed. “A little too well, I think.”
“Well, thank you. And thank you for listening; I don’t feel like I need to hear it anymore. Which is good because that damn radio station won’t answer the phone!”
“I’m glad I could help,” she laughed, feeling quite uncharacteristically happy.
“I am too. I have to go, but so you know, you made my day, girlie!”
“I think you made mine, too!”
He hung up and Amy found herself smiling the rest of the day. Except that now, she remembered why.
He phoned her every day after that. Never missed a single one. Until last Monday.
* * * * * * *
Zach eyed Amy. He’d had no idea what his father had been up to. He was shaking his head, grinning.
“What’s next,” she asked him, eager now to know what else was in the box.
He reached in and pulled out a flashlight. It fit easily within his hand. He clicked the button, and it flashed on. He turned it off and looked at Amy expectantly.
It took a moment, but when the memory came, it came flooding back.
* * * * * * *
“Hey, is your power off, too?”
“Well hello to you. And yeah, it went off about a half hour ago.”
“Same here. I’m hearing it’s off everywhere! Like half of Canada and the U.S.”
“What? That’s crazy!”
“Yeah, I’m listening to my transistor, and that’s what they’re saying.”
“You have a transistor radio?”
“Of course, don’t you?”
“So how are the phones working?”
“They use different power supplies. Are you okay? Do you have food and stuff? Cause they’re saying it’s going to be a while. Somebody’s saying maybe even a day or two.”
“I’m good,” she assured him. “I’m always stocked up.”
“Oh. One of them survival nuts, are you?”
“I am definitely a survivor,” she told him.
They’d talked for about an hour that day, chatting as they had done for the past year. After she’d hung up, she’d spent the rest of the day reading until darkness made it too hard to see. She’d searched the apartment for a flashlight and discovered she had none. And there was no way there’d be a candle and matches around. She sat in the dark, alone, for more than two hours. She could hear the neighbours through the walls in the silence, but didn’t know the name of a single one. Finally, she gave in and called Matt.
“Are you okay?” he answered in a bit of a panic.
“Yeah, I’m just alone in the dark and bored and, truthfully, more than a little scared.”
“Aw darlin’, scared of what?”
He stayed on the phone with her all night. She’d hung up a few times so she could get into bed or grab a bite to eat. But he was there with her when she fell asleep, and there when she woke up, the bulky phone still lodged between her head and the pillow.
“Good morning, sunshine,” she heard him clearly the third time he tried.
She smiled at his voice in her ear. “Good morning, handsome.”
“Mmmm, I like waking up with you.”
“Me, too. You stayed with me all night?”
“No thank you. You have the cutest snore, by the way.”
“Oh, I didn’t, did I?”
“Yeah, but it sounds kind of soft and sweet. Not like a small bear. More like a purr.”
“A little embarrassing, none the less.”
“Don’t be. I don’t think there’s anything you could do to put me off.”
“Ha! I wouldn’t bet on it,” she laughed.
“Nah, Amy. I haven’t found anything about you that I don’t like.”
And with that, the conversation turned. After a year of chatting and laughing, arguing and debating, things turned personal.
“I like you, too, Matt.”
He called her again the next night, worried that she’d be holed up in the dark again, scared. And she was. He told her she’d need to get out and get a flashlight at some point, but she insisted she’d wait until it felt safe to go to the store again.
It took three days to get power back. But from then on, their night time calls became a regular thing as well.
* * * * * * *
“What’s next,” she smiled, liking this.
Zach looked in and found a pair of blingy silver peep toe mules, with a kitten heel, and a soft fuzzy pouffe.
He looked at Amy, down to her feet, and back to her face, feeling embarrassed.
She, though, just grinned and nodded.
“Can you put them on me?”
“Of course,” he agreed, reaching down to take one of her feet in his hands. Gently, he slid the slipper onto her foot and set it back down. When he’d finished with the other, she looked down, an expression of pure joy spreading across her face.
“That’s perfect,” she announced with an enthusiasm he didn’t understand.
* * * * * * *
“So Amy, what would you say if I told you I had a little bit of a foot fetish?”
Amy had looked down at her feet, far too bony and big for her liking. She remembered a time when she’d head out with friends for an afternoon of pampering, coming home with bright red toe nails and skin as soft as the day she’d been born. But no more. The appendages on the ends of her skinny legs now more resembled chicken feet, with long pointy toes and webs of blue veins. “What do you mean by foot fetish? Like in a sexy way? Or just a little pervy way?”
“More of a little pervy way, I think. I love rubbing a woman’s feet. Massaging, with oils. Cleaning and scrubbing. I even like doing a pedicure, with the nail polish.”
“That’s not pervy. That’s pampering.”
“If I’m naked?”
“Ah! I get it!”
“I could go along with that.”
“Yeah?” He sounded quite happy.
“Yeah. For sure. If I’m leaned back in a big comfy chair, feet up on your knees.”
“Oh, bloody hell! I like where this is going!”
“You can massage my feet, maybe up my legs?”
“I can do that.”
“Maybe a little more than that?”
“Maybe a lot more than that.”
* * * * * * *
Startled from the memory, Amy bit her lip. “Sorry. But it did go there. Some of the most intimate interactions I’ve ever had were with Matt. And I get that you don’t want to hear the details. But I spent ten years with your dad. He was my everything.”
Zach looked at her. The big red-rimmed, earnest, blue eyes. The crudely cropped chestnut hair. The deep crease between her eyebrows. She looked tired, battered by time and life, but couldn’t be any older than he was. “Amy, did you know how old he was?”
She shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t think I ever thought about it. He would mention things that made me think he was much older than me. But then he was on top of everything new and techy. He was all excited to get one of those new home computers when they came out. He wanted me to get one so we could use it to talk, but I wouldn’t be able to use it, and we were already talking. We never really talked about the past and when we were younger. Or the future for that matter. We just really stayed in the moment.” She looked at Zach, trying to gauge his age. “I guess he was a lot older than me, after all.”
“Does it bother you, knowing that now?”
She thought for a minute. “No, actually. It never mattered before. I guess we were both on borrowed time, so what we had in the moment was all that mattered. We’d talked about death and dying – in ways I’ve never been able to talk to anyone else before. I guess it makes sense now. Between his age and the cancer, he’d thought about it. And obviously, so had I.”
“So, to be clear. You never actually met.”
She shook her head, a knowing smile stretching her lips. “No. Not in person.”
“No pictures, no Facetime.”
“No. I don’t have a way to do video calls yet. I can’t replace my equipment as fast as most people seem to be able to. And no, we never sent each other anything. Our entire relationship happened on the phone.”
“Ten years, though!”
“Yeah. Almost a third of my life.”
She broke down in a sudden burst of sobs as the reality of losing him hit her again.
Zach reached over and placed a hand gently on her arm. It looked huge in comparison, and he wasn’t even sure if she felt the touch. But it made him feel better. He waited patiently for the pain to pass.
She wiped her eyes again, catching her breath, and not bothering to apologize. Zach had his father’s patience.
“What else is in the box, Zach?” she sniffed.
He pulled out a rock, about the size of a golf ball. Just a plain old rock. He turned it over in his hand, surprised to see the name ‘Steve’ painted on the bottom. He handed it to her and was surprised to see her clutch it to her chest, eyes shut tightly, lips moving in silent speech.
* * * * * * *
“Do you have any kids, Matt?”
“I have a son. Zach.”
“That’s nice. Are you close?”
“I suppose, yeah. He’s at a stage where he’s busy and doesn’t want much to do with family. He’ll grow out of it when he gets married and starts thinking about a family of his own. But he’s a good boy. Smart as shit. Probably too smart for his own good. And probably the funniest guy I know.”
“And his mom? Where is she in the picture?”
“She was a great lady. Such a kind heart. But she died…”
* * * * * * *
Amy looked up suddenly at Zach, her eyes searching his.
“She killed herself when I was four. I don’t remember her much.”
Amy nodded solemnly.
* * * * * * *
“She committed suicide. Zach was just a small boy. She’d fought the depression after having him. We didn’t know then as much as we know now. They still called it baby blues, and she was just expected to get over it. By the time he was two or three, it was just how she was. I feel guilty as shit about it now, but we didn’t know. She dropped him off at daycare one day. They called me to pick him up when she was an hour late. I found her in the garage.”
Amy’s heart broke for him. And his wife. And the little boy who was left behind. “You never married again?”
“No,” he groaned. “I threw myself into my work. Built a company, and just forgot how to be human. I know I should have done better with Zach, but he’s a strong kid and some day I hope he understands that I did my best. Even if it wasn’t good enough.”
“Wow. That’s a story.”
“Everybody’s got one. What about you? What’s your family situation? How come you’re not married?”
She’d known it was coming eventually.
“Well, my mom buggered off when I was three. Left me and my little brother with Dad. Dad remarried when I was eight. Then Dad died when I was twelve, leaving us with Step-Mom. Then she remarried when I was sixteen. I lasted barely two years and left for school. Never went back. Step-Dad favoured my brother, so when I left, and it was messy, brother stayed with the steps. Last I heard he’s married with a couple kids.
“I met a guy after college. We dated for two years, and he asked me to marry him. A week before the wedding we were at our Stag and Doe, all drunked up, neither one of us realized how drunk. He was driving and wrecked the car. Killed himself and two people in the other car. In a way I was lucky. If that had happened now, I probably would have been charged with something too, for letting him drive. But there’s enough PTSD to cover my debt.
“So yeah, no marriage. No kids. I can’t even handle looking after a pet. It does get lonely, though.”
“I understand the lonely, too.”
“I bet you do.”
“Do you work?”
“Yeah. I do some freelance editing from home. Helps pay the bills.”
“But you’re still young. You don’t think you’ll want a family one day?”
“Are you asking if I’m going to dump you and go get married?”
“Thought never crossed my mind.”
“Truthfully, I don’t see it.”
“Maybe one day.”
“In the meantime, you should get a pet. Maybe a dog.”
“Poor thing would never get walked.”
“A cat then. They’re pretty independent.”
“You’re really trying.”
“I just don’t like to think about you being alone.”
“Okay. Maybe a fish. And I could call him Steve.”
“Steve. Good name.”
“It’s settled. But a fish is still a huge commitment.”
* * * * * * *
“So Steve is a…? A rock?” Zach asked skeptically.
“A pet rock. Yes. Very low on the commitment scale. And I love him already. What’s next?”
Zach reached in and pulled out a lanyard. He looked at Amy, eyebrows raised, and she nodded. He reached out and placed the bright, hot pink strap around her neck. The shiny hook rested perfectly in the middle of her chest.
“I can’t wait to hear this one,” Zach prompted.
Her cheeks blushed as she took a deep breath.
* * * * * * *
Amy could hear the cries through the closed window. How long would it be before somebody did something? She was on her way to bed; Sheila should be arriving shortly. But how long could a baby cry?
After what had to be at least fifteen minutes, she went to the window. She cranked it open a crack, catching her breath as the icy blast of winter hit her in the face. “Hello!” she called. “Hello! Is anybody out there?”
There was no answer, but the cries sounded louder than before, the wind amplifying them in the darkness. She couldn’t believe that no one else could hear it. Somebody should be doing something. She warred with herself about what to do. Was it worth going down to take a look? The sidewalks had been cleared. It was windy, but the snow had stopped. She couldn’t very well sit and listen to it any longer.
Finally, determination set in, and she left her apartment to head downstairs to see if there was anything she could do. The elevator came quickly, taking her down the one floor to the lobby. She managed to push open the heavy inner door, bracing herself for the chill in the foyer between the floor-to-ceiling glass doors. The door slammed behind her as she pushed open the outer one to listen. Again, the wind took her breath away, the cold reaching painfully down into her lungs.
“Hello?” she called. “Hello?? Anyone out there?”
As the wind whipped past, she heard the cries again. They were closer, clearer down here.
Once more, the baby screamed, as if in agony, and she had no choice but to venture outside. Just onto the patio, she promised herself. Wrestling with ice and snow on a good day was a challenge, but in this wind, in the dark, she knew how foolish she was being.
Only a few feet out and the outer door slammed loudly in the wind. She heard the crying clearly, close by. Inching closer to the bushes, she leaned as far as she dared, moving branches with her arm, trying to see.
Who would leave a baby in a bush outside in winter? She swore loudly, feeling how ridiculous this whole situation seemed.
The entire scene exploded in her face as she struggled to comprehend what was happening. Snow was flying everywhere, branches swiped at her arms and face like a broom at a curling rink, and patches of black, white, and orange flew in every direction at once. Pushing her hair out of her face with her arm, she caught a glimpse of a giant orange tabby bolting around the corner of the building, as a black and white blur that could only be another cat ran straight on down the path.
Understanding dawned as she recalled some distant memory of a story like this one. A story that warned that mating cats sound very much like crying babies. And in the middle of a cold winter’s wind, it seemed it was hard to tell the difference.
Amy felt the fool.
Suddenly hoping no one had seen her, she rubbed her hands together and headed back inside.
Except that inside was now locked behind a solid glass door.
A slight panic gave her the boost of adrenaline she needed to get back into the foyer, but this was a small six-unit apartment. There was no buzzer panel. The building didn’t have a live-in super. And Amy hadn’t thought to grab her keys.
She swore under her breath. What an idiot she’d been. What was she thinking? And what did she think she could have done if there was a baby?
But she hadn’t been thinking. She’d been reacting.
And now here she was, stuck in an unheated foyer, with no coat, and no way to get back into the building. Her only hope was that someone would come along and find her.
Sheila should be coming, she thought. She usually comes about now.
When she shows up on time.
Which was rare.
Surely someone else would come. But it was just after midnight on a Sunday night. She could be here a while.
Amy had no idea how long she’d been sitting there in the foyer. Anyone walking down the street would have been able to see her. But they wouldn’t have been able to do much to help if they didn’t have a key.
She was shivering and starting to get quite scared. Trying to think through her options, she was coming up with nothing. She felt like she could break down and cry if she hadn’t been so angry with herself. She was tired and cold. And she didn’t know how much of the tired was because she was cold. After what must have been hours, she fell into a painful, fitful sleep.
When she awoke, she found herself comfortably snuggled beneath warmed flannel sheets, listening to the steady rhythm of a beeping something or other close by.
“Well, look who’s waking up,” a kind voice prodded her more fully alert.
She opened one eye, and spotted the nurse to her side. Spraining more than a few brain cells, she tried to piece together how she’d come to be here.
“How you feeling, honey? Do you know where you are?”
“Hospital. Warm.” She wanted to dig deeper into the covers.
“You’re a lucky one. They brought you in a couple hours ago. Some pretty good hypothermia, and maybe a little bit of frostbite, but you’re okay. You’ll be able to go home today.”
The pieces fell into place and Amy wanted to hide. How much did the nurse actually know?
“Are you awake enough for a phone call?”
Amy shook her head. “Huh?”
“I’ve got instructions here to help you make a phone call as soon as you’re awake.”
Confused, but willing, Amy agreed.
“Good,” the nurse said. “He’s already called me three times. Maybe you can get him to stop.” She dialed the phone next to the bed and handed her the receiver.
The phone picked up on the first ring.
“Amy! Amy! Are you there? Are you okay?”
“Matt? Oh my god. Why are you calling me? Here? How did you know?”
“Amy, jesus, you scared the shit out of me!”
“Matt, slow down, I just woke up. What happened?”
“I couldn’t find you. You wouldn’t answer. You never don’t answer. I tried forever. I finally phoned the police and they found you sitting in the foyer locked out of the building. In the middle of winter!! What were you doing out there??”
“Oh Matt, it’s a long story and not one I’m proud of. I’ll fill you in another time. I’m fine. They’ll let me go home today. I’m good.”
“I’m glad, baby. I glad you’re okay. I was so scared. You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m sure.” The nurse looked at her, nodding.
“Okay. Okay. Listen, you get some more sleep. And call me the minute you get home!”
“I promise, you worry-wart.”
She hung up smiling.
* * * * * * *
“You know, I never even wondered until just now about how he knew where I lived. Or to be worried. Or talked to the police about me. Or found me at the hospital. We don’t even live in the same country.
“But here he is now, making sure I never leave again without my key.” She sniffed loudly, a finger pulling gently on the lanyard around her neck.
Amy looked up at Zach expectantly.
“Dad absolutely had the resources to do all of that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Okay, so you never met him in person? Or shared pictures?”
“No. It never came up. And I never wanted to push it. I was happy with what it was: perfect.”
“Did you never wonder why he never brought it up?”
“No. I just assumed it was what he wanted as well. The border’s a bit of a barrier. Neither one of us drive. Drove,” she corrected, her face falling.
“Do you know why he didn’t drive?”
“I assumed it was a big city thing.”
“No. It was his health.”
“Ah. The cancer.”
“No, Amy. The stroke.”
“What? He had a stroke? When? He never said.”
“Well, looks like you were both holding back a card or two.”
She eyed him suspiciously.
“Eleven years ago, Dad had a stroke. It left him paralysed down his right side, with no use of his hand or leg. With all the exams for the stroke, they found the lymphoma. He had a really tough time with it. He’d been a really active man. The business, sports, travel. And then within a few months, he was an invalid.” Zach cringed at his use of the word. “He fell into a deep depression. And I think he would have killed himself if it wasn’t for me. He couldn’t let that happen to me twice.
“But he was home-bound, wasting away, and very clearly giving up. About a year later, he seemed to bounce back. He decided to fight the cancer. He started physiotherapy. He got his spark back. Then about a year ago, it caught up with him and finally took him.”
Amy’s tears were falling in a quiet steady stream down her cheeks. She looked deep into Zach’s eyes. “Because of me?”
“Yeah. You. Had to have been.”
He leaned toward her. “Amy. I have to tell you this, too.” She blinked, not sure she was ready to hear any more. “Dad put you in his will.”
“What? Why would he do that?”
Zach snorted. “Really? You have to ask?”
“But nothing. He’s left everything business to me and my kids. But he’s left a trust and his house to you.”
“His house? I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know how much of this I want to tell you. But I have to, so here goes.
“Dad owns this building. Or rather, now you own it.” Amy gasped. Zach held up his hand, “Hear me out. There’s time to work through details and put it all together. There’s no rush to absorb everything right now. You have time to think things through and decide what you want to do.
“After he started feeling better, he renovated his entire estate. The whole thing is accessible. From the bathrooms to the pool, the cars, everything. Ramps and lifts, grab bars, automation. He lived there alone, so it kinda made sense, even if it was overkill just for him. I didn’t know about you, but I get it now.”
He reached into the box and pulled out the last item. It was a small velvet box. He handed it to Amy.
She shrugged shyly, “Can you open it for me?”
Zach turned the box to face her and cracked it open so she could peek inside. Her face paled as she saw what it was.
“He wanted to marry you, Amy. He wanted you to come live with him. He rebuilt that house for you.”
“But how? But I never told him. About this,” she held her arms out, their braces exposed fully below her sleeves, bracketing her lap where unfeeling legs pressed together as feeling legs never do, supported by the bulky wheelchair that made life barely bearable. “About me.”
“He knew. The same as he knew you were freezing that night. The same as he knew you had no power. The same as he knew you needed a pet and what size your feet are. He knew. He just never wanted you to know he knew. He didn’t want you to ever have to be anyone you didn’t want to be. It was perfect the way it was. But he wanted it all.”
Zach took her left hand in his, loosened the brace, and slipped the ring onto her fourth finger.
“So he’s left you the house if you want it. If not, we’ll sell it and you can get anything you want. Or if you want, you can stay here – the building’s part of the trust. You can afford all the help you need. But he wants you to move on. To find love. To make a family. To be happy.
“I didn’t understand any of this when I found his papers. But I do now. I can see what he saw in you. And how much he loved you. How happy you made him.”
Amy was completely at a loss for words. This was too much for her to absorb. She clutched Steve tightly in her hand, her thumb hooked into her lanyard. She could see the pretty little pouffe trying to hide her numb, lifeless toes. She looked at the ring on her finger.
None of these things would ever bring Matt back to her. But every one of them would keep him with her. Every one of them had such deep meaning, but only for her and this incredible man who sang a song to her once upon a time. This incredible man who had gifted her ten years of happiness at a time when she wanted to die. This loving and kind man who watched over her, cared for her, strengthened her, all while granting her the dignity and respect she needed.
It had been a full week since she’d talked to him. And suddenly, with the weight of a life that was too heavy to bear, she realized that she would never talk to him again. How would she ever be able to let him go?
“Do you have a picture of him?” she blurted.
“Of course.” Zach had one of the new-fangled phones his dad had tried to convince her to get. He tapped some buttons and swiped his finger across the screen a few times. He held it out so she could see it.
It was a picture of a man, a tall, handsome man, with salt and pepper hair, soft brown eyes, a straight nose, and a sweet, lopsided grin. He was sitting on a porch swing, the sun shining, and a beautiful German shepherd dog sitting alertly to his side.
“Yeah. He’s had him about three years now. He’s staying with us for now. Great dog.”
“What’s his name?”
“You know what his name is.”
“Do you think it’s okay for me to have two Steves?”
“Yeah, Amy. I absolutely think you should have two Steves.”
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