When his shadow fell over her, Jennifer knew who it was immediately. Her heart paused its beating momentarily as the memories of fifteen years rose and fell, like an ocean wave. She straightened the last of the cheap roses she’d bought for the grave, dusted imaginary dirt from her hands and sat herself back onto her heels to look at the man who at one point she considered to be her alpha and omega.
Fifteen years had barely changed him, at least outwardly. On the outside he was still the same young man who quit Stillwater filled with ambition and promise, all dark hair and dark eyes and cheeky boyish charm. His was the smile of a rogue, a subtle twist of his full pouty lips. In those features there was always something eternal about him, something that time would find hard to alter, and how true that seemed now after fifteen years. Sure, there were more lines around his mouth and eyes, and a deeper shade of blackness haunting his eyes... but outwardly... outwardly, this was the youth she’d given her soul to in those long ago days of innocence.
She was speechless, staring up at his face, haloed in dark hair which caught the final feeble rays of late summer sun. He stared back, his eyes appraising her, and she wondered, albeit briefly, what maelstrom of thoughts coursed through his mind. Was her appearance how he remembered it? Was he, like her, recalling the late teenage promises they had made, those last infantile regrets, those final acts of reconciliation?
He knelt down beside her and her nose filled with the familiar scent of him. Only there were other scents, too. Scents of fifteen years of life outside of Stillwater. Fifteen years of a different life, of different pressures, different experiences. These scents wafted to her, too, a confusion of smells. She felt in equal measures reassured and comforted, but also giddy and unstable. Old feelings floated once again to the surface; and old memories, flotsam on the ocean of time.
Time seemed to pass slowly, but it couldn’t have been more than half a minute since he hunkered down next to her. With his inspection of her complete, she watched his dark eyes blink, saw them shift focus to the precious tombstone before them. In the briefest passage of time, so swiftly she wondered if it happened at all, Drake blinked again, his face seeming to blanch as his eyes traced over the gold lettering on the tombstone.
“I never thought this would bring me back,” he said.
His voice was a hoarse whisper, sounding as if it were the first time in years since he had spoken. She noticed the dark shadow of stubble on his cheeks and chin and the way his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down now in uncontrolled spasms. He was suddenly new, yet, the same Curtis Drake she had always known.
She watched his long-fingered hand reach out to straighten the last rose that she thought she had straightened, only it had twitched over in the latest puff of breeze to caress the world. She found her eyes drawn to the plain gold band on his finger, saw the way it winked in the fading light. His hand played with the rose. He straightened it, only to have it fall over again.
“The stem is too short,” she said, offering the excuse without it being needed because it was abundantly obvious just what the problem was.
Drake gave one last futile attempt to straighten up the rose before allowing it to fall on its side atop the gravestone. A sound that could have been a heavy sigh escaped from his closed lips. Before she could register anything though, he was looking away, taking in row after row of neatly ordered tombstones. He could have been just generally taking in the sight, or his eyes could have been seeking an answer... but she had no way of knowing.
“I tried to call you,” Drake said. The hoarseness in his voice was still there. But there was something else too. Accusation? No. He wasn’t accusing her of anything. “The number you gave me...”
“Andrew and I are separated,” Jennifer told him. The words sounded hollow, deader than the denizens of the cemetery, coming from her lips in a flat staccato. Yet more memories rose in the ocean swell of her mind.
Drake appeared to digest the new information for a few seconds. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s ok. It was such a long time ago.”
Like everything else... she thought.
She watched Drake rub a hand across his chin, heard the dry rustle of his fingers over his stubble. “I never thought this would bring me back,” he repeated. “Anything but this.”
Jennifer could only sigh, because those articulated thoughts were the ones that were paramount in her own mind. After fifteen years, to have a tragedy reunite you was something that Jennifer did not want at all. Of all the situations under which a reunion could be made, this was the very last one Jennifer would have ever dreamt. Destiny, as we all learn through the process of living, tends to have a mind of its own.
More time passed. Seconds bled slowly into a few minutes, with neither of them speaking. Jennifer was looking now at the defeated rose, seemingly held by its soft pink lustre. A single tear etched its way over the dam of her eyelid and began its silent slide down her cheek. It was certainly not the first tear to make that particular journey in this past week; nor, Jennifer suspected, would it be the last. What made it different from those that had come before it though, was that part of her psyche that was suddenly hoping like hell that there were to be no more. At least not yet.
Beside her, Drake shuffled and regained his feet. In his trousers and business shirt, he was somewhat incongruous to the whole Stillwater scene. Jennifer wondered absently if there was a tie to match the outfit, or at least the expensive leather shoes that she was still at a level with. Of course that line of musing only threw itself down a dead end tunnel. She didn’t actually know what it was that Drake did in the city and whether that endeavour needed a tie or not. In all honesty, she knew very little about Drake after he had left Stillwater, and was certain that Drake knew just as little about what had become of her in that time. They were strangers, sharing a moment’s silence in the elongating shadows of a summer rapidly becoming autumn.
Drake lit a cigarette, blew a jet of smoke into the air. “Hard to believe I gave up smoking not long after I left here,” he confessed. “Old habits die hard, I guess.”
He smiled then, that semi-roguish smile of yesteryear. His free hand shot out to her, palm upward and when she took that hand in both of hers, he gently brought her to her feet. Standing no more than a few inches apart, she felt his eyes moving over her face, perhaps reacquainting himself with features he had long forgotten.
“I just wish I was able to get here earlier, you know. For the service, and all.”
He spoke in a deadpan, the last word punctuated by another jet of cigarette smoke. His gaze had left her face, hovered again at the small gravestone decorated with three perfect roses and one with a short stem.
“You don’t have to apologise, Curt,” she said. “I understand. Times change. We’re different people now.”
“That’s no excuse, though, is it?” he said, his voice still a deadpan. “You phoned me... what—? Four days ago? And I am only here now. Today.”
“At least you’re here... you could easily have not come at all.”
“I really don’t think that was an option.”
Drake’s words hung in the air for a moment. Though spoken softly, they contained within them an edge that could have been forceful. A casual bystander would have picked those words as being the throwaway retort of someone shouldering a burden of guilt. Jennifer though, could sense in that phrase a double meaning.
He was staring at her now, his eyes locking onto hers, holding her there. His eyes were glistening now, probably on the verge of running with tears. The last time she had seen him in that state was the very last time that they saw one another. It would seem then, that their separation would be bookended with tears. Tears, and the same lingering doubts.
“You think... it’s happening again?” she asked him.He didn’t answer, at least not with any words. But when the gap between them was closed by the press of their bodies, and the cold of the wind shielded from her by the warmth of Drake’s arms around her body, she knew without needing to be told that yes, it was happening again.