The Wedding Present
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Lydia opened her eyes. Her husband’s rhythmic breathing was the only sound in the room. The clock’s neon numbers read 2:59. It was that way every night. She eased out of bed and peered out the window. On the lawn she could see them dancing. He had his arm wrapped around her waist and she was resting her hand on his shoulder. The crickets were chirping and Lydia felt the warm air floating though the window.
When Eric’s alarm went off three hours later, Lydia was sound asleep next to him. She heard him take a shower, felt him kiss her cheek, and took a deep breath in when she heard the car leave the driveway. She closed her eyes as she let the first sip of coffee awakened her senses. It was strong, the way she liked it. Outside the cars raced down the road and the wind whipped the early fallen leaves across the ground and into the air. She could hear the for sale sign as it creaked back and forth.
She poured herself another cup of coffee and went outside. There were only a few flowers left around the base of the tree. Curling up on the old wooden bench they had found at a garage sale she pulled her cardigan tighter around her. Tiny bees buzzed inside the arbor, inspecting the last of the tangerine colored roses. A car pressed on its horn and hit its brakes.
“We have an offer. A good one,” Eric said as he helped himself to another pork chops.
“Who?” Lydia said as she built a mound with the rice on her plate.
“The real estate people said he was from out of town.”
“They said he.” Eric got up and placed his plate in the sink. “They’re stopping by tonight to go over some details. We may be able to get out of here before the holidays.”
An hour later the doorbell rang. Gina had her usual Sotheby’s pinstriped suit on and next to her was a burly man, five foot tall. They sat around the table and Lydia tried losing herself in a stack of papers detailing the improvements that had been made over the last several years. The new roof, the tiles in the master bathroom, and the extension of the kitchen she had waited so long for.
Gina was all smiles as she said, “Mr. Weiss has accepted your price. No negotiations. He is ready to take the property over immediately and is paying for the house in cash.”
Eric put his hand over his mouth as he cleared his throat. “Terrific. When do you want to move in?”
Mr. Weiss was round and bald. His hands were cracked and dry. The white button down shirt he wore was frayed near the collar but as Lydia’s gaze followed his face she found his eyes were kind and soft. The color brown one would find on a newborn fawn.
He sounded out of breath as he answered, “I’m a contractor. The county has approved this lot for six condominiums.”
Lydia didn’t recognize her own voice as she cried “No!"
Her face and neck were red and Eric could see her eyes glistening in the reflection of the light.
At the door, he assured Mr. Weiss the offer sounded great and Lydia would come around. The kitchen was dark when he came back in and upstairs he found Lydia cradling her pillow.
“We can’t stay here, it’s no good for you,” Eric said rubbing her back.
“This is their home now, where will they go?”
Eric looked down at the floor. “We have to leave. It’s over. It had nothing to do with us. Here is our chance to move out to the country.”
Eric searched through the medicine cabinet and came back with a glass of water and two small white pills. “Take these, you’ll sleep.”
Lydia wiped her eyes and let the pills sit on her tongue a few seconds before taking a sip of water. Eric closed the door and a tear ran down her cheek and onto the pillowcase.
She didn’t hear anything until three o’clock when she woke to the sounds of wailing and sobbing. She ran her hand over her face. It was dry. Eric was snoring as she tied the belt to her robe. She looked out the window and on the wooden bench she saw the girl holding her face in her hands. The boy tried to put his arm around her but she pushed him away. He paced around the bench, rubbing his own eyes and stopping to look up at the house. Lydia went downstairs and opened the door. The night air was cool and moist. She walked over near the tree where she could see the bench. The boy had the girl in his arms, rubbing her back. Lydia moved closer and they both looked up and directly at her. She could see the girl’s young eyes and the boy’s angular face. The kitchen door opened and they faded into the cloud-covered night.
“What are you doing out here?” Eric touched Lydia’s shoulder.
Eric closed his eyes, took a deep breath and rubbed his forehead. “I’m having you mother come stay with you for a few days.”
Her eyes grew cold and her face tightened. “There is nothing wrong with me.
Eric put his hand on her arm and said, “You have been through a traumatic experience.”
Lydia pushed his arm away and her body stiffened. “For the two weeks you were in Europe, I lived it every day. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be woken from a deep sleep by a crash so loud it sounds like it is in your soul? Or to be the only person looking into a mangled piece of steel with pleading eyes staring back at you? To have a young girl crying for her life and then see her close her eyes and slip away? To have parents wailing in the still night’s air being dragged back from the wreckage by uniformed men. To have these same parents beg you to tell them the last words their children may have said because you were the one with them when they died. Do you, Eric? Do you know what it is like to stand there with rain running down your face and pray to a God you don’t believe in?”
Eric stared at the ground as she stormed back to the house and cringed as the slamming door vibrated through the silent night.
The sun was shining in the room when Lydia opened her eyes. Her head felt heavy from the sleeping pills and the bed was empty next to her. The clock read ten and the illuminated date next to the time was the 11th. She made a cup of coffee and looked in the pantry for muffin mix. Blueberry, bran, chocolate chip, and banana. She picked the blueberry. At twelve noon she heard the knock. Lydia took a deep breath.
A small woman in her fifties stood at the door staring at the tree. Gray roots ran down the middle of her head separating her dark black hair. Her clothes were a size too big and her shoes were scuffed and worn.
“I hope you don’t mind me coming here today,” she said as she handed Lydia a bouquet of golden rod and heather.
“I was expecting you.”
The white porcelain table was set with two floral plates and matching coffee cups. The air was warm, laced with cinnamon and fresh coffee. They sat down and Judy looked around the kitchen as if it was the first time she had been in it. Lydia passed her a muffin and filled her cup. A frayed tissue in Judy’s left hand had conformed to the shape of her palm and looked as natural there as if she had been born with it. She picked the blueberries out of her muffin with her fork.
“Don’t you like blueberries?” Lydia said as she passed her a bowl of sugar cubes.
“I was going to save them for last." She took the cup to her lips and beads of coffee ran over the rim. “Tomorrow would have been the wedding. It was to be at three in the afternoon at the church on Main Street. They were coming back from dancing. Marianne loved to dance.” She dabbed her eyes with the tissue. “She was planning to use fall flowers from the garden, like those,” she pointed to the bouquet on the counter, “she loved the fall.”
Lydia reached for the flowers and brought them to her face. “How are Jack’s parents?”
“They went away for the weekend. They are trying to forget.”
Lydia nodded and said, “Let’s go outside.”
They placed the bouquet at the foot of the tree. Judy tried to say a prayer but the words were unrecognizable as her voice cracked and her body shook. Lydia took her hand, “Dear God, let these wonderful children smile and laugh in your company. May they find comfort in knowing they were loved here and may we find comfort in knowing they will live eternally in love.”
Lydia left a plate of dinner on the stove for Eric and went to bed early. Her eyes popped open at 2:55. She felt Eric’s body next to her and heard the rustling of leaves outside. As she pulled back the curtains she gasped.
Eric lifted his head and said, “What’s the matter?”
“They’re getting married.”
Eric threw the blankets back and walked to the window. “That’s it. I can’t do this anymore. I want you to—” She heard him take a deep breath and whisper, “Oh my God.”
The boy stood under the arbor. The girl was across the yard holding the bouquet of goldenrod and heather in her hands. She took one step at a time until she reached the boy. They faced each other for several minutes before they embraced into a tender kiss. Eric put his hand over Lydia’s and squeezed it. The girl threw the flowers to the empty lawn and they held each other and danced. Lydia nestled her head into Eric’s chest and they watched them waltz through the grass until dawn broke and they faded into the morning mist.