"What the hell..." Joyce squeals as a figure appears in the heart of the road. Like a statue, it stood still, not attempting to move out of the Toyota's path. Joyce hit the brakes immediately. The quick stop throws her car into a spin, and now it sits half buried in a deep ditch, overlooking the frozen lake. Joyce steps out of the car and looks for the figure, but no one is in sight. She kicks the back tire, and a flow of tears starts.
The snow begins to turn to rain, and needles of ice sting her face. Returning to her car, she rambles through her purse seeking her cell phone. After she finds it, there is no reception. Her tears repeat, and warm her face.
Suddenly a shadow appears on her left and a woman is standing beside her car. Her heart pounds like the sleet, until she realizes it is Mrs. Reunken, Ethan’s mother. Quickly she rolls down her window. "Hi, Mom" Mrs. Reunken is the only person Joyce feels comfortable calling Mom, beside her own.
"Joyce, get out of the car. It's not a good day to visit the cemetery. Ethan wouldn’t want you traveling in this weather. He was always so protective of you. I work at the inn around the bend, come with me and I’ll heat up some soup.”
Joyce gets out of her car and embraces the woman. The two walk down the road, arms intertwine and keep each other from falling as they reminisce.
“Joyce,I was crushed when you broke up with Ethan. What happened? He didn’t say much, I'd always hoped the two of you would marry.”
“Mom I loved Ethan and wanted to marry him, however he had a mistress, and I couldn't compete."
"Ethan wasn't seeing anyone that I know of Joyce. You are a smart girl, beautiful, funny and loving. Who was it?"
Joyce fights back tears and is about to start blubbering, when they reach White's Inn. As the women enter the kitchen a myriad of aromas saturate Joyce's nose, yeast from freshly made bread, onions and beef from stew, apples from a crisp fresh from the oven, and the unusual scent Joyce couldn't place, but knew well.
"Take your coat off Joyce, and I'll get you some soup." Mrs. Reunken continues to talk "I can't believe you're here! How long has it been?”
"Twenty years? I'm not sure, although it seems like yesterday." Joyce thought back to the time she spent with Mom while dating Ethan. Mom and Joyce would prepare meals, go to the hairdressers, play hearts, and other mother/daughter activities. "When did you start working here?"
"I live here. The house was empty without the kids and Jerry gone, so I took the live in cook position here. I make all the breads, soups, desserts, and salads. Guess it has been 17 years or so. I love the work, and I can see Ethan's grave across the lake. See it? What about you Joyce, are you married? Kids?" Mrs. Reunken keeps chattering as she gives Joyce a bowl of minestrone.
"I’ve been divorced for ten years. No children, it's one of many regrets. I could never love a man as I did Ethan." Joyce stops and tastes the soup. "This soup is wonderful."
"Thanks, dear. You mentioned a mistress of Ethan‘s. Who was it?"
"It was not a who, but a what. Drugs, I am surprised you didn't know."
"Oh sweetie, I knew. However, I'd always thought he started using drugs because you broke up with him. Gee I wish I had known, you should have told me."
"I was young,scared, and it never occurred to me to talk with you.I did everything else, threatened, screamed and broke up with him. I thought that he would come to his senses, but he didn't." Joyce takes another spoonful of soup. "You are a wonderful cook, always were. Did Ethan die from a drug overdose?"
"That’s what they say, but I think he died of a broken heart. Ethan was lost without you. He stopped using drugs for long time... and then one night he....slipped. I never told him."
"Told him what?"
"Ethan was doing well, but so lost. He mentioned, he wanted to find you and try to work things out, but he didn't know where you were. A few days later, I ran into your friend Jane, she told me, you were living in Boston. I never told Ethan where you were. I thought you would hurt him again. I feel so guilty." Mrs. Reunken wipes a tear with the back of her hand.
"Mom, I'm so sorry." Joyce says and gives the woman a hug. "I'd run back to him barefoot in a snowstorm."
"I know that now sweetie, I will need to let him know."
"How will you do that?"
"Prayers, I'll tell him in my prayers, and hope he’ll forgive me."
"He'll forgive you. You're his Mom." Joyce kisses Mrs. Reunken’s cheek.
"I just hope he forgives me for moving away. Mom, I have to go to the cemetery.”
"The storm will be over in an hour or so. Can't you wait?"
"No, I must go now."
"Joyce, you need to wait, now is not the time."
With Mom’s words trailing behind her, Joyce runs out the door.
"Miss, do you know where you are? Dr. Pulio’s voice stirred Joyce.
“Yes, I am in a hospital, or God looks a lot like a Doctor.”
“Glad you have a sense of humor. Why did you try to kill yourself?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“Your car was in a ditch with the tailpipe in dirt, and your
engine was running. Carbon monoxide filled your car. What were we to
think? What were you doing on that road? “
“I was going to St. Mary’s Cemetery when I made a wrong turn and someone was standing in the road. After hitting the brakes, my car went into a spin and then the ditch. I went to White's Inn with ...”
“White’s Inn? That closed 17 years ago. It’s all but in
shambles now.” The doctor tone, tells Joyce to stop while she is ahead.
"Maybe I imagined going there, while I was out."
"Probably. An admirer sent you some beautiful flowers.”
Joyce’s turns and sees the largest bouquet of gardenias she ever
witnessed. "Is there a card?"
Dr. Pulio checks the flowers and hands her a card.
Our love is living and everlasting.
Stay here my love until the time is right,
Then I’ll carry you in my arms to heaven
Where we shall share our love forever.
Happy Valentines Day