There you were. I was looking for you.
You stopped by the door, turning toward me. Did you see me waiting? You turned your head down as the wind picked up, threatening to blow you away. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I smelled your floral perfume in the breeze as it came past me. You only wore it for special occasions. You only wore it for me.
I watched through the window as the manager personally greeted you and took you to our table. Did you think about our first date when you sat down, too? You hated that it was in the middle of the room. I wanted everyone to see you. We never changed it. You didn’t hate me then.
He stopped to take your hand, spilling sincere words over you. You thanked him. He insisted to send over a bottle of wine on the house. Our wine. You thanked him again, your voice was then barely a whisper. I heard the words you didn’t say.
The waitress arrived, a thin perky girl with large stained teeth and tightly pulled back hair. She placed the bottle of merlot on the table. She managed to get the cork screw in, but had grown impatient with the stubbornness of the cork. The knuckles on her hand that was wrapped around the bottle’s neck turned white. She gave a final huff. You gave a small smile at the soft pop as it came out. I smiled with you. The girl sighed, happy, and started to pour. The rich, ruby-red liquid flowed out like velvet into the ugly bulbous glass. You didn’t drink it. Not yet. You just watched quietly as she poured the second glass of wine. Mine. The bottle was left on the right side of the table, the cork was left beside it. A drop had fallen and stained the white table cloth. Stupid girl. But you didn’t think that. You kept watch over the second glass.
I knew deep down that you felt like you should say something. These things bothered you, my love, but you lacked the strength to speak out. I never made a fuss with such things. Now you can’t either.
After a while, as I started to wonder if you would ever move again, you pulled the ridiculous glass toward you. You smiled, knowing I would have disapproved and bought a set at my earliest convenience. I would say I remembered that you said you liked them. You would laugh your pretty laugh, and pour my wine into one of the old glasses chipped from years of use.
Our moment doesn’t last. They never do. The girl returns wanting to know what you would like to eat. The menu sits on the left side, unopened. You slowly shake your head, still smiling softly, until she leaved you. There was no rush. It wasn’t time yet.
A sudden chill passed through me when you turned your head to the window. Did you see me? I was determined to stay there, to be with you one last time. It was our special night. I was so tired. You looked so small, waiting, and all alone in the middle of the restaurant. The tables around you were filled with young and old. I knew you felt like you didn’t belong between flickering candles, beautiful food and mirthful spirits. Their laughter and happy chatter passed through you, unable to take a hold on your still healing heart. During the days leading up to that night, you felt at peace with your decision. It was our last promise. I knew the turbulent thoughts that coursed through your mind when you stepped into the restaurant and was greeted like an old friend. I felt your heart rate increase as you sat down and the girl poured the second glass of wine. My palms were moist like yours as you watched the lovely couple beside you. My heart ached with yours when they kissed.
The waitress left you until she saw you flick through the laminated pages of the menu. You place your finger on the salmon. You never cared if your wine matched your food. I always insisted. She later brings you a silver framed basket lined with waxy paper and filled with fresh baked buns and a small dish of cold butter. You spun the glass in your fingers and watched the liquid dance.
You refused at first to look at the bread. I saw the tears brimming on the delicate lids of your eyes. I moved my heavy feet forward watching, waiting to see them spill. I had caused many tears through the years. But you were determined not to make a fuss there and then, and you angrily wiped them away with one hand while the other still spun the glass. Those tears were for me, my love, I knew. I still made you cry even after.
You hadn’t been eating properly since it happened. The shock of it all killed that love affair, and then it slowly started to kill you. I spent many nights by your side, lovingly, tenderly pleading with you as you wept into your pillow. Your mother and sister sat beside me. You never looked up toward me. Did you hear me? Did you feel my hand stroking through your curly hair? I tried to cry with you as they did, but tears wouldn’t come. I couldn’t cry anymore.
There was a moment of hope, a beautiful glimmer, as you picked up one of the perfectly round buns. You tore it open with your fingers, exposing the soft bread inside. You held it up to your nose. It was still warm. I could feel it, too. You thought of me then and smiled. I smiled with you. I could taste the creamy butter on your tongue. I thought of my childhood when I used to run into my mother’s kitchen, smelling the freshly baked bread. She would always lather it in butter as you always did for me, as you did then in the restaurant.
You bring the glass closer. Was it time already? To me it felt as if I could see and experience everything at once. I felt cold, and confused since it happened. Lost and on the verge of being found. You held up the glass to your lips, but you paused, and put it back down. I smelled the sweet berries and chocolate with you. It smelled of nights spent with you, beautiful memories of what we had and it warmed me where my heart used to be. It fought against the cold I felt until you put it away from you.
We both knew when you tasted the wine it would be over. I wanted you to stop hurting, but I didn’t want to be gone forever.
You drink water instead. Your salmon came and you picked half-heartedly at the pink flesh and potatoes. The waitress came by to ask if you were still okay. She eyed the second glass of wine and your untouched drink. I knew she wanted to take it away. I could hear her wonder what was wrong with you.
But there was nothing wrong with you, my love. You simply chose to take your time. I understood. She didn’t know. How could she? Saying goodbye never came easily for you. She didn’t know you like I did.
Did you see me come inside? Did you see me take the seat across from you? The glasses sit perfectly between us. I felt that you would never know that I came. I didn’t know how to make you see me. My hands were too heavy to move. Like many times before I simply watched you instead.
Did you know how beautiful you still were? How I could still see behind your tired eyes the girl I married? I could see you kissing the children we planned to have, and you whistle as you fixed my tie before I left in the mornings. The late nights spent laughing and dreaming. Fresh, happy morning, coffee, our honeymoon in your parent’s old beach house. I remembered every kind word and gesture, every angry comment and fight. But above all, I felt the love we shared prickle my cold skin and in anger and frustration I slammed my fist against the table. I wanted you to know I was there, with you.
No rattles or sounds came from it. I knew it would be silent. But you looked up. You looked at me. There was no glance to something just behind me. You saw me.
“I didn’t know if you were here,” you said. Your voice was soft.
I couldn’t speak. I could only watch you with my tired eyes. In your heart I could see that you didn’t hate me anymore for leaving you then.
You picked up your glass, holding it up to the heavens. A toast to the little time we had together. My glass stood untouched. I nodded. I knew you saw it. I was ready to go, to be at peace. You promised me that night in the hospital. It was fulfilled.
“To you, my sweet Barry. On our anniversary.”
You sipped and I let go.