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I know I miss him as I fill my mouth with bitter coffee. It tastes like a memory – six years ago in Albuquerque, his voice in my ear under a cover of clouds. Around us blew the desert wind, sand filled and shockingly chill. All this time later, I remember it still as vividly as if it were only a day ago. He did not smell like coffee, but rather cigarettes. That is what we would do on those long nights; retreat to the abbey walking trails for a smoke and chat. The coffee, I know, is the taste of each morning after. For reasons beyond my understanding these smells have grown synonymous with one another, working as one to pull me deep into the past. Much deeper and I will begin to drown.
My fingers unfold from around the coffee mug, shrinking away from these memories. I feel in my heart some desire to surrender to them, but this is not the time and far from the place. Around me swells a venue of similar memories; photographs, faces, and other small flashes of people and places that litter my history. Some of these things have become faded over the natural course of time, others I have worked tirelessly to suppress. Amid them all, there floats bits and pieces that have weathered the years and remain as familiar as ever. One such unforgettable thing makes its way to me now, slithering into the seat beside me.
She is stunning in opal, her auburn hair falling in silky waves far different from the untamable curls I remember from those distant college days. I must remind myself that it is now hardly two years since we said our goodbyes in the meditation garden outside of Lawdry Hall. Somehow it seems much longer.
“These tables sit eight,” she says, her green eyes the perfect match for her shimmering gown. A thin strap hooks at the back of her long neck, allowing the loose fabric to drape down over her breasts while exposing a freckled back to the flickering candle light.
I smile, though it is a timid expression. “Coincidence?”
Kassidy shakes her head, a sheath of auburn swaying into her face. With a graceful move of her hand, it is pushed away. I eye the unfamiliar ring now adorning her finger. It neighbors the blue stone she bought in Acoma and compliments her grandmother’s Austria band that sits two knuckles over. These two are well known to me, but the new band is something foreign. It dons a lone diamond on that elusive second finger – the one finger she vowed would never be bound by a ring. It is bound now and I cannot deny the uncomfortable tick in my stomach as I begin to process just how different our circumstances are now than they were two years ago.
“Nothing here is without design. Care of course has each detail micromanaged.”
This need not be said. It is evident enough in the perfect elegance around us and the clear memory of Caroline Orbell’s perfection in everything she did during the four years that I knew her. The venue is beautiful, each detail meticulously planned and skillfully orchestrated. Each flower picked in prime and each napkin folded to sharp seams. Even the guests seem choreographed to meet the host’s fine taste. They move and sway with such grace, Caroline could be nothing but pleased.
“She hasn’t changed,” I tease, eyes still wandering the room as it begins to grow busy.
Though I wish to say it is a subconscious thought, I am quite aware of my search for his face among the crowd. Each passerby and new arrival, every stranger to cross the flower weaved door frame falls under my searching eye. I wonder if he will come in that grey suit he wore to my sister’s wedding. If not a suit, then slacks and a simple button up – the nice blue one that I picked out for him during seminar. Or perhaps he will not come at all. I am crestfallen each time this possibility crosses my mind, and thus I banish it. I think only of his face, anxious to see it again. That scares me somewhat, and so I return the mug to my lips for a long sip.
I believe Kassidy reads my mind.
“I haven’t seen him yet.”
How she does it, I do not know. I am reduced to another long taste of bitter black as I reel my eyes back to focus. She smiles sadly, drawing from her lap a folded photograph. It is dated in green ink with a short message on the back. I remember my habit of marking our prints with sentimental notes, but this particular one I cannot draw from the dozens that must exist, each detailing some faint memories from our school days.
“Do you remember this day?” She asks, laying the image on the plate before me. I need only a quick glance to be submerged in the captured moment.
I laugh a little. “We were babies.”
And I was the youngest of us all, barely eighteen at the time. My face was rounder then than it is now. It has thinned out nicely, becoming more angular in the chin and cheekbones over these six years since the photograph was taken. I am grateful for that, though something about the rounded, childlike cheeks made me look happier. Perhaps I was – happier then, that is. My fingers trail across the surface of my own tiny face, rain soaked and beaming, eyes filled with stars. I cannot help but thing that though I have since lost weight, it is the girl in the photograph who is lighter. She does not carry the same terrible knowledge and the burdens that I do, and for this I envy her.
“Innocents.” Kassidy’s voice echoes the melancholy that I feel within. We are neither one ignorant to the truth of the photograph and the events it preludes. I read the date and the message written in my own script:
8/22/14 Reunion at TSP. A good day. Love and Peace.
I find the words remarkable, unable to relate them to something I could ever think or feel today. I cannot remember the last time I was so full of hope and so blinded by what Kassidy has labeled as innocence. Slowly, stealing one last glance at the young faces depicted on the print, I return it to Kassidy. She takes it gingerly and I cannot help but think she did not want it back. Perhaps it has plagued her to possess such a vivid reminder of those days. Her long, slender fingers bend the photograph in half before tucking it away in a black clutch, sealing inside what is only the first of many unwanted memories sure to surface before the night is over.