The brilliant sunlight streaming through the window introduced me to the new day. Nothing but a pale blue surrounding a bright ball of fire far above the horizon. Another perfect day in paradise. Next to me, her head resting on my chest, Kelly slept...in a gentle peace. A peace I'd never seen before on her, or anyone.
Struggling to separate last night's memories from the dream, I forced my mind to recall each and every detail. Several complete trips later I felt fairly certain that we had kissed in both worlds, and then fallen asleep, exhausted by the events of the day.
As my mind cleared, the pains in my body amplified - my neck, my back, and especially my butt. I moved less than an inch to alleviate some of the soreness. Kelly moaned softly. Not willing to wake her, I resisted any further adjustments for the next several minutes. Just about to give in to the pain, I saw her eyes blink.
I studied her every movement, anticipating the final awakening. Her eyes registered a slight confusion, followed by recognition. She smiled at me. Happiness shot through me - heart, mind, and soul. I laughed. She mouthed the words "Good Morning, Scotty."
Without thinking, I responded immediately, "Marry me."
She continued smiling for a few seconds, before her simple, happy expression turned serious. In the same moment understanding dawned on both of us – I’d actually meant what I'd said.
"Marry me, Kelly," I repeated.
A winter dip in Bodega Bay couldn’t have woken her up more than my words. She looked away and then back to me…and away and back…and away and back…as if she had a piece of a puzzle that didn’t fit anywhere, and she didn’t know what to do with it.
Shock permeated the room. I sat there mouth half-opened and she did the same. If I hadn’t repeated the offer, I’m not sure I would have believed that I’d said it. And my words just kind of sat there, like a tasteless joke in the middle of a funeral. We both just stared at them as if we expected them to somehow morph into something less bizarre.
Her hand mimed a handwriting motion. Glad to remove myself from the tension, I fetched her something to write with and on. Handing them to her, I could see my heart beating through my chest. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride had nothing on my emotions. I took an absurdly sharp turn from the road of shock at making the offer to a side street of desperate hope that maybe she would say something less than painful.
She sat across from me. Hoping to interpret her writing as her hand moved across the page, I paid close attention. My best count totaled five or six letters before she put down the pen. Too long for ‘yes’, too long for ‘no’, and too short for ‘have you lost your fucking mind’.
Her eyes darted up and then back down. She handed the notepad back to me and I read the two words:
I nodded my head, resigned to the obvious. Of course, she couldn’t. What was I thinking? “I understand,” I responded.
Grabbing the notepad out of my hand she started writing again. Less than thirty seconds later, she handed it back to me. Now it read:
I do love you, Scotty
But I can’t
In spite of her declining my marriage proposal, I couldn’t keep myself from smiling. I may have lost the war, but I did win the battle of her heart. No matter what happened from that point on I felt I could face it. Kelly loved me…nothing else mattered.
“Kelly? Can I tell you something?”
She cocked her head slightly to the left waiting for me to continue. I’d practiced the speech fifty times since last night. A quick deep breath and a glance at the ceiling later, I began.
“Before I met you, I’d locked my heart up in the basement of my house. I needed to keep it safe…safe from hurt. I guarded that room night and day with a huge friggin’ two-by-four. And somehow you ended up with the key…the only one…and you unlocked the door and slipped right past my defenses. The light flooded my world and my heart ran free into the fresh air. Honestly, you scared the shit out of me, but I just couldn’t keep my mind off of you. No matter what argument I used to talk my heart back into the basement, it just kept saying, ‘I love her and I’m not going back to that place…ever.’”
A tear formed in my left eye and then ran down my cheek. Her eyes filled with moisture. Another deep breath passed through my lungs. With a shaky voice, I finished my monologue.
“I totally understand, Kelly. Of course, you can’t marry me. I do get it. I’m not exactly Mr. Right. Hell, I’m not even Mr. Barely Acceptable. But whatever happens I will never ever forget the moments we’ve had together. You have changed me. I owe you. Thank you, Kelly. Thank you.”
She scooted over next to me again. Reaching over and grabbing my arm, she put it around her. I turned my head toward her; she turned hers toward me. I studied her face, trying to read her intentions. The edges of her mouth turned up just slightly and she moved forward until she kissed me. A tender, passionate, you’re-welcome kiss.
Like I’d touched something hot I broke out of our magical moment. “Fuck!”
I answered the question mark written all over her face, “I got to go, Kelly. I need to take care of something. And I need to do it now. I’m so sorry. That was…..perfect. You can stay here as long as you want. There’s not much food in the pantry or in the fridge. Might be half a veggie smoothie left. You may want to go into town for breakfast. ”
I jumped up, threw some jeans on, grabbed my wallet, and handed her the forty bucks that I had found inside. She laughed…without a noise, but still a laugh.
“Sorry,” I said. “That was stupid. You probably have money. And I’m not your dad. Shit, that was stupid! Sorry.”
I reached out to take the money back. She pulled her hand away and shoved the money down the front of her low cut blouse. Her face lit up with a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile. I didn’t know how to interpret it – maybe go away, maybe chase the money, maybe….
“Oh shit! I really gotta go. Sorry. I’ll call you later. Shit! Sorry, that won’t work will it?”
I stopped worrying if I’d offended her when I noticed her entire body shaking from laughter. I smiled in return and headed toward the door. “I’ll see you later on, okay?”
She nodded and I exited the room, grabbed a few papers on the way out, and opened the front door of my apartment. I did a three-sixty, ran back into the bedroom and over to Kelly, still sitting in the corner, kissed her quickly, ran back the other direction, and out the front door.
The next several hours of my day revolved around discussing financial options with Jake. And every option led to a dead end, all centered around the timing issue.
“Come on, Jake. There has to be something. Someway to get my Tahoe place liquidated in the next 48 hours.”
“Mac, we’ve been over this twenty times. There’s just not enough time. It can’t be done. Can’t you get an extension on this deal? As your financial advisor I’ve got to tell you, again, that making rash decisions about large investments is just not a good idea. Ever.”
“Damn it, Jake!” I yelled. “If I wanted a fuckin’ mother, I wouldn’t have come to you in the first place! I don’t need to know why I shouldn’t do this, or how I can’t do it. I need some help to get it done!”
Everything became quiet. I’d never yelled at Jake. One of the few people, I’d never even raised my voice with. The kindest, most gentle soul I’d ever known and I’d just verbally abused him. I’d broken a trust with him and I could see it in his face.
“Jake, I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry. That was wrong of me. I appreciate all your help. Thanks for trying. You’re a great friend. I’ll figure out something. I gotta go.”
He didn’t move or change his expression. I blurted out another “I’m sorry” and left his office. I walked in long, fast strides over to the bank, feeling more anxious by the step. After that ‘no’ I found another bank. Then places closed down for the day. One day wasted; only 2 business days left. When I finally made it home at the end of the day, I was actually glad Kelly had found another place to be. I couldn’t face her. Not until I figured this thing out.
After a few hours of Internet research and finding the same answers that Jake gave me, I finally nodded off in my chair. I must have dreamed a dozen variations on the same theme – trying to accomplish some simple task and getting detoured and frustrated over and over again. I woke up in the morning even more pessimistic and angry than the night before.
Realizing I’d missed any sort of food the day before, I guzzled down the remains of a couple of smoothies. I returned to the computer for a couple more hours until businesses began to open. That day and the next, I hit every single place in town, called dozens of national and regional financial institutions, contacted individuals with money who I thought might be able to help. I pleaded. I begged. I offered everything I had plus all sorts of things I didn’t have.
I stopped sleeping and barely ate anything. I tried to avoid Kelly but the last night before my deadline, I ran into her at the pub. She smiled. I forced a smile. I didn’t look so good and she obviously noticed. I apologized, told her I’d been crazy busy, and said I would see her in the morning when Timmy came in. We only had a few minutes together but my sadness somehow traveled to her, like an extremely contagious virus. By the time I left her, my melancholy practically owned her.
My mood darkened with each block on the trip back to my place. When I arrived, I actually searched for “the mob” and “loan sharks” on the Internet. I even emailed a couple pretty scary sounding people and organizations, but didn’t get anything back. Finally, I retired to my living room and sat on the sofa, in the dark, as the reality of my failure poured over me like a steady, persistent rain…drenching me to the core.
When the sunlight finally broke the night, I felt like it mocked me. It could give life to the entire planet, keep the rest of our solar system revolving in a perfect dance, but I couldn’t even help one single person. A woman who meant everything to me.
As I thought about today and what it would bring, I felt some relief. At least the world would know, no more illusions, I’m not to be counted on, trusted…especially when it really matters. I briefly toyed with the idea of not showing up to the meeting with Timmy. And then the thought of how low I’d sunk almost made me sick to my stomach.
The minutes passed like hours as my time ran out. I threw some cold water on my face and headed out the door, forgetting to close it. My parents used to tell me stories about walking to school, uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot, with winds gusting around seventy miles an hour. Mostly tongue-in-cheek. But as I made my journey over to the pub, I thought their version of a difficult walk would have been a thousand times easier than mine. I had to will each foot to take its turn, and the reluctance grew and grew. It felt like days had passed by the time I reached out to grab the door handle at the pub.
Timmy and Kelly sat in the same booth we’d met in every other time, waiting for me. Instead of his normal courteous greeting, he glanced at my wrinkled shirt and then up to my unshaven face.
“Tough night, old boy?”
Ignoring his comment, I sat down next to Kelly and turned to her. I wanted to defend myself, but I couldn’t think of any argument that might possibly justify the terrible wrong I had brought into her life. Time had come to man-up. I glanced at Timmy and then turned and locked my gaze on her emerald green eyes. I could see sadness in them. I could feel the sadness in them. Nothing left to do but say the words.
“Kelly….I’m sorry. ”