I know I promised you all a special post on Monday and today is Wednesday. Also, unfortunately, this isn't the special post I promised you. This is a short story a I wrote a while ago.
The special post is coming. It's just taking me a long time. See, I have writer's block. I want to write the post. I know exactly what I want to say. But can I put it down on paper? Nope. Not a word.
So, you all have to wait a little longer.
And, in the meantime, a story from me:
The Message She Found on His Phone
I stared down at the table, covered with the contents of a man’s life. All he had left behind in this world. All his life was worth in material possessions.
His pocketknife, worn from use but in good shape. He always said a man needed to respect his knife if he wanted to get the most use out of it.
His watch, the one I’d bought him for his twenty-fifth birthday. The strap was frayed now and the buttons worn. They stuck when you pushed them sometimes but he refused to buy a new one.
His wallet, containing seven dollars, a few credit cards, a picture of me, and his license. I cried as I ran my finger over his smiling face. I would never see that smile on his face ever again.
His ring of keys, all different shapes and sizes, because he believed a man needed to be able to open whatever he wanted.
His phone, which was just an old school flip phone. He liked to tell me when I teased him about it that as long as it made calls, that was all that mattered.
And, a few odds and ends, because he never knew what he might need at any given time- a long bit of twine, a small flashlight, a comb, a pack of gum, a lighter, and a small bottle of ibuprofen.
“I’m very sorry, Miss Peterson,” the stern-faced man standing beside be said. He’d given the name Cullen when he’d introduced himself to me but, with the way security was run in this place, it could very have been an assumed name. “Did Ethan tell you what he was doing that day?”
I knew it was a trick question. He wasn’t asking because he wanted me to know, but in fact, the exact opposite. “No, he never told me anything. He said he couldn’t talk about it, it was top secret.”
He gave a small nod of approval and repeated, “I’m very sorry.”
I didn’t want to hear it again. Ever. But, I knew I would, after I explained to everyone how it was I lost a fiancé but didn’t know how. What on earth was I going to tell them? How was I going to explain?
I blinked back the tears, determined not to cry in front of this man. “Am- am I allowed to take these?”
“Of course,” he told me, moving to gather the things up and put them in a box for me. “That’s why we asked you here. We figured that you had more right to them than anyone else.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, wondering if I could really make it all the way out of here before I started to sob.
He handed me the box, saying, “Ethan often spoke of you. He always had the highest of praise. It was obvious that he loved you very much.”
The clutched the box to my chest, blinking back the moisture that was becoming too great to contain. There were too many past tenses. Too many reminders that he would never do it again.
“Thank you,” I whispered once more, turning toward the door, turning away from this man so he wouldn’t see me cry. But, as I turned, I found the guard who had brought me up waiting by the door. So he, rather than the stern-faced man, was the one who saw.
He reached out to put a gentle hand on my arm as he guided me out of the room. I let him touch me, let him lead me away. I no longer cared who saw. Why should I? As the grieving fiancée I had every right to cry.
We made it down the elevator, through the lobby, and into the parking lot. I saw nothing and honestly doubt I could have made it to my car on my own. The guard put his hand on the door as if to open it for me but hesitated.
“Are you sure you’re all right to drive home?” he asked, concern written all over his voice and face. “I could get someone else to drive you if you don’t feel up to it.”
I shook my head, wanting to be rid of this place forever. I didn’t need their help, didn’t want it. I could make it home on my own. “I’m- I’ll be fine.”
He nodded, still looking concerned, as he opened the driver’s door. I climbed in, setting the box gently on the passenger’s seat. After I was all in and situated, the guard shut the door for me and walked away.
That’s when I officially lost it.
Alone for my thoughts with the first time since I received the news, I leaned forward onto the steering wheel and began to sob. I wondered if maybe I should have accepted the offer for someone to drive me, wondered how long I could sit here bawling before this high security place would send someone out to shoo me away. Well, better to say here and face that than to drive like this.
I don’t know how long I sat there, crying and yelling, venting all of my anger, my hurt, my frustration, my pain. I should have known better than to fall for someone like him. All this secrecy, all this danger, never knowing where he was or what he was doing.
It had been hard, especially when someone like my mom asked what he did and I had to give her the “he’s a banker” cover-up lie. How was I going to explain how this banker got killed? How was I going to tell them what happened?
I didn’t even know myself.
All they had told me was that he was working and he died. Killed in the line of duty. Just like that, gone. We hadn’t even had a chance to say goodbye.
What I would give to hear him say he loved me one last time.
I began fumbling around for my phone, trying to remember where I’d left it. If I called his phone now, I’d get his voicemail; maybe I couldn’t hear him say what I wanted to hear, but I could listen to his voice, hear him speak.
I looked for a good while before I remembered that I’d left my phone at home, I’d been in such a hurry when I’d left. They’d said it was urgent and I had known deep down what they were going to say. So, I’d left without so much as my driver’s license- yet another reason why driving in this state would be a bad idea. If I got pulled over, I’d be in a whole mess of trouble.
And, I had enough trouble right now without adding more.
I wasn’t thinking straight when I pulled his phone out of the box. I guess in that moment I thought to use his phone to call him. It wasn’t until I was flipping it open that I realized that was impossible.
I started to close it when I saw the blue screen with a message. You Have One New Voicemail.
Without even really thinking about it, I pressed the button to let me listen to it. One thing Ethan hadn’t been secret about was his phone password because he’d always said he wanted me to know that while he couldn’t tell me things, he wanted me to trust him. It was his way of showing me that he wasn’t doing anything to betray me in his secrecy.
I’d never used it, but I’d kept it close for what it symbolized.
I punched in the numbers and waited while the automated voice told me how many new and saved messages there were. And then the new message began to play.
A voice rang through the speakers that I never expected to hear.
“Emily, it’s me, Ethan. I didn’t want to call and leave this on your phone because I might make it out alive and I don’t want to alarm you until it’s all over. But, if you’re listening to this now, I guess it is over and I guess I didn’t make it. No big surprise. It doesn’t look like I’ll make it.”
I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to keep back the sob until the message is through. I don’t want to miss a single word.
“I can’t tell you what I’m doing, top secret and all that, but I wish I could. I wish I could tell you everything, wish I never kept secrets from you. If I could do it all over, Em, I’d choose differently, I’d choose you over this. You’re worth so much more.”
Then why didn’t you choose me? I wanted to demand. The tears ran down my face in a steady stream and I choked back the sob that threatened to burst forth.
“For better or worse, this is the job I’ve chosen and I have to finish what I started. Maybe, after it’s all over, if I’m still here, we can start over, make things different. But, for now, this is the way it has to be.”
It could have been different. If we’d just been given more time. Just a little more time. Why? Why did it have to end this way?
“I love you, Em. Don’t ever forget that, okay? I know you’re going to go through a lot in the next few months, wondering why I’m not still there, wondering why it couldn’t have been different.”
He knew me well. So well that even just before he was going off to die somewhere, all he could think about was how I would react to it.
Oh, Ethan, I love you too. I’ll always love you.
“Just remember there’s someone up there with a plan. And, obviously, for us to be together isn’t part of it. He’s got someone even better for you, don’t mourn me so long that miss that, okay? I want you to promise me. You’ve got to move on, you can’t dwell in the past forever.”
But it wasn’t the past. He wasn’t the past. He was my everything. He was the one I had nearly vowed my heart and life to. Given a little more time I would have, and meant it with all I had in me.
I didn’t want someone else, I wanted him.
“If I die today, I want you to know, my last thoughts will be of you. I can’t think of anything better to go out with. Be well, my dear one. Remember it was me who died, not you. You keep on living. I love you, Em.”
It went dead and then the automated voice came on to tell me that was the end of the message. I flipped the phone closed, slamming it into the box beside me, tears falling freely.
How could he do that to me? How could he tell me to go on living when he was gone? How could he be so callous about his own death?
A little voice in the back of my head began to nag, telling me that it wasn’t callousness, it was love. He loved me so much he could tell me to live right before he died. That’s how much I meant to him.
There was a small tap on my window and I jumped, startled by the sound. I looked up and found the guard outside.
“Are you sure you don’t need someone to drive you home?” he asked after I’d put the window down.
I wiped at my eyes, wondering how dreadful I looked, and shook my head. “No, I can do it. I’ll be fine, thank you.”
And, as I said it, I knew I would be. I would still spend sleepless nights crying into my pillow over what I’d lost. I would still be hit with grief at every little thing that reminded me of him. I would still be plagued with doubts about why this had happened and why things couldn’t have been different. That was all natural, all part of mourning.
But, I would eventually be able to move on, like he had asked me to. I’d learn to live with the way things were and accept the fact that there was a plan, even if it was different than what I wanted it to be. I had to.
It was Ethan’s dying request that I live, and live to the fullest. How could I possibly do anything else?