“All my little plans and schemes.
Lost like some forgotten things.
Seems that all I really was doing.
Was waiting for you.”
- John Lennon
Most people only live every day once. After today though, Braden Harper was no longer going to be like most people. He would live this day again. He had no way of knowing this however, because even though this day was going to be a special day in more ways than one, with one of those ways being very good and the other way being very bad, it started just like every other day. His alarm wrestled him from his slumber, its shrill shrieking cutting through his dreams with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. Braden sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, the hardwood floor felt cool against his bare feet. He silenced his alarm and ran one hand through his shaggy brown hair as he let out a yawn and stretched. Once that was done the second part of his morning ritual began, he looked back over his shoulder at his girlfriend’s side of the bed. Taylor was already gone, an errant ray of sunlight coming through the window occupied the space she left behind. He briefly wondered where she was and soon had his answer as the smell and sound of frying bacon wafted through the bedroom door. Braden stood up and scratched at the stubble on his face. He had a solid three day’s growth going on, while normally this wouldn’t be an issue he figured a shave was in order as he didn’t want to look like a hobo for what he had planned this evening. Smiling, he shuffled out of the bedroom and made his way to the bathroom.
Braden made his way into the kitchen freshly showered and shaved just as Taylor was plating their breakfast. He wrapped his arms around her waist from behind and gave her kiss on the cheek as she was putting her dirty skillet in the sink. On a normal day, the skillet would be rinsed and deposited into the dishwasher after dinner but that wasn’t going to happen today.
“Good morning,” he said.
“How did you sleep?” Taylor asked as she nestled back into him.
“Like a baby,” he replied as he let her go and started towards the kitchen table.
Like a baby? More like the dead? Taylor thought to herself. Once Braden was down she was convinced someone could drop a hydrogen bomb outside their window and he’d sleep through it. She envied the way he could sleep; her sleep was always so restless. Some nights she would toss and turn, other nights she would be up and down. She seemed to sleep in cycles. First, she wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. It was all binge-watching shows like Grey’s Anatomy or How to Get Away with Murder on Netflix deep in the throes of insomnia while he snored away next to her. This would last about a month or so then the second cycle would begin, sleep would come but staying asleep was not permitted. There would be the tossing and turning, the up and down, the tiniest noise rousing her from her slumber. She would sleep in starts and stops never long enough to be restful and by time morning came it would feel like she hadn’t slept at all. This too would last about a month and then the final stage would start. The final stage was by far Taylor’s favorite stage because it was the stage where she would sleep. The exhaustion caused by the first two stages would finally catch up to her and she would crash and then it was her turn to sleep like the dead. Then in another month the cycle would start anew. This morning she was chipper and making breakfast because she was currently in the middle of that blissful last cycle.
“Any big plans today?” she asked as she joined him at the table.
“Nope, just a lazy day,” Braden lied and smiled.
There was something mischievous in his smile and he had that twinkle in his eye that he always had when he was up to something but Taylor didn’t press it. She knew she would find out when it was time. She was patient and she liked surprises. She smiled and took a bite of her toast.
“So, we’re still on for dinner then?” She asked.
“Definitely,” he replied.
“I finally get to see the fabled ring,” Nathan said. His tone was playful but Braden didn’t miss the pointed jab.
“I didn’t realize I had to bring you in for a consultation before deciding on which one to buy,” Braden replied.
The give and take came easy to them, they had been friends since the two of them were put on the same football team when they were eight years old. Most things did tend to come easy when you were friends for fourteen years.
“Alright, let me get a good look at it,” Nathan said as they walked out of the jewelry store. Braden opened the box and let him see it. It was a simple ring, nothing too extravagant. The band was white gold with a single diamond in the center. The diamond itself was one karat.
“I like it,” Nathan said.
“Then maybe I should ask you to marry me,” Braden replied.
“You’re cute but you’re not my type. You know I like them bad boys,” Nathan replied.
Braden closed the box and laughed, Nathan was nowhere near the ballpark of being gay but he was still able to make it sound convincing.
“So tonight is the big night, are you sure you’re ready?” Nathan asked.
“I’m as ready as I’m going to be,” Braden replied and exhaled heavily. His heart rate started playing double time just at the thought.
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. You and Taylor have been together since tenth grade. If she was going to send you packing she would have done it long before now,” Nathan said.
Nathan took off his ball cap and adjusted his black, wavy hair before putting the cap back on. It was an old Pittsburgh Steelers cap, the black fabric had long since faded to the point where it almost looked like a dingy gray and the bill had a sweat ring from years of wear.
“So, are you taking that mangy hat with you to MIT? Deep into the heart of Brady country?” Braden asked.
“Man, fuck Tom Brady and the Patriots,” Nathan replied as they crossed the street.
“You are going to get yourself beat up in Boston,” Braden said.
“Let em try. People always think that just because I’m a physicist I can’t start some shit,” Nathan replied.
“That language is not very becoming of a doctorate candidate,” Braden said as they headed down the sidewalk. Nathan shot him a look that Braden didn’t need words to know what it meant. He had seen that look many times over the years. It was a look that said, eat me.
“Do you really think she will say yes?” Braden asked.
While the morning was cool and even had a little bite when the wind blew he was feeling quite hot. Braden put a hand up to his head and felt sweat. He made a mental note to put on extra deodorant tonight for the event itself. They walked into the parking garage and he audibly sighed. It was like walking into an air-conditioned room. The temperature was a good five degrees lower in here.
“You have nothing to worry about. I’m sure you have an immaculate plan that will leave her no choice but to say yes, but if it all goes tits up you can just come back and ask again once I build my time machine,” Nathan joked.
They arrived at his car now, it was a junker by every definition of the word. It was an old four door that had been a midnight blue once but was now more of purple due to the paint being faded from years of the sun. The rear right quarter panel was magenta, it had to be replaced four years ago after a fender bender. Braden laughed to himself, a fender bender was putting it nicely. If one wanted to be more accurate the cause would be listed as young stupidity.
It had been the middle of winter and there had just been a massive snowfall. Nathan had picked him up to go do donuts and drifts which was a favorite past time of the teenage boys in their town. They hailed from a small town and like most small towns there was absolutely nothing to do so you had to make your own fun. There was a steep hill that lead down from his house to intersect with the town’s main road. They had climbed in the car and taken said hill at about thirty-five miles an hour, that was ten miles over the speed limit even when there was no snow on the ground. When they reached the bottom, Nathan spun the wheel to the left with one hand and pulled the e-brake with the other. The tires instantly lost traction on the snow-covered road and they went drifting through the intersection in a wide arc. It was a good thing the roads were empty because if a car had been coming from the opposite direction in that moment they would have both been dead, but when the snow hit in their town everyone stayed home, at least the ones who were smart did. Braden grabbed the handle above his door that everyone in the world referred to as the oh shit handle with one hand and braced himself against the dashboard with the other. That would have been a great way to break his arm but he didn’t think about that. They both grimaced as they continued to slide. Neither one of them thought they were in any real danger but there was still enough speed in the slide to create a little ball of fear in their stomachs. The tiny ball grew to a medium sized ball as the back of the car fishtailed out wider, there was nothing they could do now but go with it. The back of the car jumped the curb and went up onto the sidewalk and they came to a jarring stop when the back collided with one of the aluminum light poles that lined the sidewalk. They both climbed out of the car and inspected the back from Braden’s side. The quarter panel had a fantastic dent, it was deep as if the car tried to literally wrap itself around the pole. The base of the pole had completely crumpled, it looked like an empty pop can that someone had crushed with their foot. Nathan looked at Braden.
“Eh, it’s not too bad, bet no one even notices,” he said smiling.
Then with a long drawn out crunch, the light pole came down. It hit the trunk of the car and slid off into the road. If Braden had to guess, he would say the pole stood about twenty feet high, now it was lying across both lanes of the road.
“You were saying,” Braden replied.
Braden looked at the magenta quarter panel and chuckled again, this time it was loud enough for Nathan to hear. He followed Braden’s eyes to the quarter panel and laughed himself.
“That light pole came out of nowhere,” Nathan said and climbed in the car.
“Uh huh,” Braden replied and got in himself.
Taylor had been the first one to leave the house after breakfast. The act of breakfast had taken longer than anticipated and now she was running late. She grabbed her work satchel that contained her laptop and notebooks, and threw it over her shoulder as she ran out the door. The early morning was chilly and slightly windy. Her golden curls bounced and swayed in the wind as she ran down the front steps to her car. After graduating with her Bachelor’s in English she was able to get a job with the local newspaper. At the age of 22 she was the youngest journalist in her building. As the youngest she was paired with the oldest, someone who could show her the ropes. After her first day, she had very excitedly told Braden about the articles he had framed on the wall that he had written about such noteworthy events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Pulling away from the curb now she wondered when she would get a chance at a big story. September 11th had happened when she was six years old. She remembered being sent home from school early and people talking about airplanes flying into buildings but she really hadn’t been old enough to really grasp the gravity of what was happening until much later. Although, North Korea was getting rowdier all the time. Instead, her big story of the day was a small article about a group of break ins that had been occurring near their neighborhood. She knew she just had to bide her time, as she turned off their road she thought about the details of the break ins. As a journalist, it was her job to notice the details and she was good at it. That’s why she was already pretty confident that she knew what Braden had planned for tonight. If it was what she was thinking, it was going to be goodbye Taylor Shaw and hello Taylor Harper.
“Taylor Harper,” she said out loud to the empty car, trying it on. She liked it.
Part of her wondered why he waited so long, but another part of her knew that he had been smart about it. They were both done with school now, she had her journalism job and he was in public relations and marketing. They had recently bought their house and now it was time. He was always good with planning and time. It was like he knew precisely when things were just supposed to happen. A baby would be next, it wasn’t going to happen for another year or two but they had already had the discussion. She was excited and part of her didn’t want to wait. She had loved Braden since the first time she saw him and she couldn’t wait to complete their family.
She pulled into work five minutes late and figured that was why she was told to report to the editor’s office as soon as she reached her desk. She stopped long enough to put her satchel down on her desk and then made her way to his office as quick as she could. She didn’t think breakfast was a suitable excuse for being late and thought about maybe blaming her alarm or traffic. She knocked on the door before sticking her head in.
“You wanted to see me sir?” She asked.
Ben Rhodes, editor of the Washington Tribune, looked up from his desk and stopped what he was doing. He was an older man but still looked to be in shape. His suit fit the way it should and his hair was a mixture of salt and pepper. At this point the ratio was still skewed in pepper’s favor. He had a beard that was neatly groomed and he wore a cologne that reminded her of her father. He smoothed out his tie and gestured towards the empty chair in front of his desk.
“Close the door behind you and have a seat,” he said.
Braden glanced nervously at his watch for what seemed like the one-hundredth time and noted the time. It was five after eight, she wasn’t late yet as their dinner date was scheduled for eight thirty. He was dressed in the same suit that he had worn to his first interview, the ring was burning a hole in the front left pocket. He looked around the restaurant and took another drink of his water. He felt parched, he knew it was just nerves but that information did nothing to help. He did remember to wear the extra deodorant so he had that going in his favor. He mentally went over the plan in his head. First, they would have a nice dinner and dessert but the proposal wouldn’t happen here. It was way too public of a place to receive a crushing rejection. Instead, after dinner, they would take a walk. The roller rink where they had their first date was only a couple of blocks down the street. It was no longer open so they would be able to be alone. He reached into his front pocket and felt the bulky ring box in his hand. Everything is going to be fine, you’re going to do fine. He told himself.
Ten minutes later Taylor walked through the door and their eyes met through the crowd of people. Braden thought she looked absolutely stunning. She was wearing a little, black, dress with a matching purse. Her blonde hair was curled into tight ringlets, her lipstick a bright shade of red. When she saw him she smiled. Braden thought she looked down right giddy. As she approached the table he stood up and pulled out her chair. She was talking before she fully sat down.
“You’ll never guess what happened to me at work today,” she said.
Braden pushed her chair in and took his seat across from her. He felt infinitely better just being in her presence. She had a calming effect on him, always had.
“Tell me about it,” he said as he sat back down across from her.
“I got called into the editor’s office this morning, I thought I was in trouble because I was five minutes late getting to work but that wasn’t what it was at all. He wants to send me to cover the flooding in Houston!” Taylor finished, her voice rising an octave at the end. A few people at the neighboring tables turned their heads to see what all the fuss was about but quickly went back to their meals and own conversations.
“That is amazing, I’m so happy for you,” Braden said and he meant it. He knew how big of a deal this was for her.
“So, how long will you be gone?” He asked.
“Shouldn’t be more than a week, is that something that is workable?” Taylor asked.
“I would move heaven itself to make sure you get there,” he replied.
This was why she loved him. He was never jealous or petty or selfish, as a matter of fact he was probably the most unselfish person she had ever met. Any success that one of them had was success for them both. So, when he said he was happy for her she absolutely believed it. She also fell in love with him all over again.
“How was your day?” She asked.
“Nothing compared to yours. I want to hear all about it,” Braden said as their waitress approached.
After dinner Braden paid the tab and led her out the door. Part of her was confused that he hadn’t proposed yet. Maybe she was mistaken but she was so sure. She was even more confused when instead of going to their cars he took her hand and lead her down the street. She didn’t know where they were going but she hoped it wasn’t going to be a long walk because her high heels were not going to cooperate that long.
“Where are you taking me?” She asked.
“Do you remember where we had our first date?” Braden asked her.
That was a silly question, of course she remembered. Like she would ever be able to forget the roller rink. Their first date wasn’t the only first that they had there.
“Didn’t the roller rink close down years ago?” She asked as it came into view.
The parking lot was empty, the asphalt had given away to many cracks that now had grass and assorted weeds popping up through. It was like now that it was closed, nature was trying to reclaim its place. Her high heels echoed with each step they took. Clack, clack, clack. It was so quiet out here. The building however, was no worse for wear. It looked the same as it always had except now it was always dark. There were five lights in the parking lot, only two of them still worked and one of them blinked continuously as if it was under attack from a constant power surge. It was so quiet, almost eerily quiet. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little creeped.
“Okay, what are we doing here?” She asked as he took her by the hand and lead her up onto the sidewalk. It was almost like he was going for the door but that didn’t make sense. Besides, even if there was a way in there was no way she was going in there. She was relieved when he pulled up short and leaned against the wall.
“Do you remember what happened right here?” Braden asked.
Taylor looked at the wall, she could see the two of them standing there like it was yesterday.
Braden opened the door and lead Taylor outside. The loud music escaped through the open door breaking the stillness and quiet of the parking lot. The glass door swung shut behind them but she could still hear they rhythmic bass dully through the door. Boom... boom... boom… boom… in a steady rhythm, the glass shaking a little with the beat. They were both sixteen and had been dating for a month. They were both on roller blades and he put his hands on her hips and gently glided towards the wall. Taylor leaned back against the wall, both of her hands on his shoulders. Her heart began to race and the places where his hands were on her hips felt like they were on fire. He looked down at this watch.
“Its midnight. Perfect,” he said.
“Why, what happens at midnight?” Taylor asked, her voice hitching a little in her throat. They were very close to each other now. She swallowed and the air felt thick in her throat.
“The first thing I want to do today,” Braden said.
He leaned in and kissed her. His lips on hers was like an explosion. She kissed him back greedily, her hands leaving his shoulders and going into his hair. Her heart now thudding in beat and with the same intensity as the bass.
“This is where we had our first kiss,” Taylor said and leaned back against the wall.
“Uh huh,” Braden replied and put his hands on her hips. He kissed her again now just like he did then. Her heart sped up and she closed her eyes. Again, her hands went to his hair. They kissed for a minute or two before he pulled away. When she opened her eyes, he was down on one knee. The ring box was open in his outstretched hand.
“Taylor Shaw, I have loved you since the tenth grade. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” He asked.
“Yes,” she could barely get the word out. Tears were stinging her eyes and she was so overwhelmed that it took legitimate effort to talk.
Braden stood up and she held out her hand. He took the ring out of the box and slid it on her finger. They kissed again and this broke her muteness.
“Yes,” she repeated.
“A thousand times yes,” she added.
Later that night they made love and both blissfully nodded off to sleep. It was the middle of the night when the crash from downstairs woke Taylor up. She sat up and looked around. Next to her Braden continued to snore. A hydrogen bomb... the thought from this morning resurfaced. She got out of bed and made her way to the door. She tried to remember if they left the window over the kitchen sink open again. It wouldn’t be the first time and when a nice breeze came in through that window it had a way of knocking things off the counter. She made her way downstairs without having to turn on any of the lights, she already knew their house like the back of her hand. She wasn’t sure exactly what time it was but it was still dark so that meant she could still go back to sleep. Taylor hit the bottom of the stair and headed into the kitchen. When she got there, she stopped in her tracks and any vestiges of sleep were instantly gone. There was someone rifling through their kitchen drawers. She remembered her story about the break ins now and mentally kicked herself for not waking Braden up. She stepped backwards and a tiny cry escaped her lips as she backed into the door frame. The person going through their drawers abruptly stood up and spun around.
BANG! The sound was deafening in the silent house. Braden sat bolt upright in bed and instantly checked for Taylor and found her side of the bed empty. He jumped out of bed and ran for the bedroom door. Calm down, it could have just been a car backfiring. Where is Taylor? His inner voice asked. Maybe the bathroom he thought back. He stepped out into the hall and looked around. The hall was dark and the bathroom door was open. She wasn’t in there.
“Taylor?” Braden called out.
“Braden…” he heard her voice from downstairs. It sounded weak.
His heart leapt into his throat and he ran down the stairs taking them two at a time. The first thing he noticed when he hit the bottom was that their front door was standing wide open. The screen door was swaying in the breeze.
“Taylor!” He called out again, panic in his voice now.
“I’m here,” she replied, sounding out of breath.
He found her in the doorway of the kitchen. She was lying on her back, her hands over her stomach. He turned on the light and that was when he saw the blood. He dropped to his knees.
“Oh, no no no, what happened?” He asked, his voice breaking.
She looked so pale. Her blonde hair was spread out under her head. Her forehead was covered in sweat but when he touched it she felt clammy. There was a puddle of blood pooling out underneath her. There was blood seeping through her hands too. So much blood. His eyes locked onto her engagement ring, the white gold was completely red. He scooped her up onto his lap. Her blood felt warm and sticky against his legs.
“I heard a noise, came down, there was someone in the kitchen,” Taylor said, she sounded so weak. The words came out as if they were physically hard to say, like she had to push them through her lips.
“I have to call an ambulance,” Braden said.
Taylor shook her head.
“Don’t leave me,” she said.
“It hurts so bad,” she added.
“I have to call an ambulance, you’ll die if I don’t,” he said.
“It’s too late for that,” Taylor said.
She smiled up at him and brought her bloody left hand, the hand with the engagement ring up to his face and cupped his cheek. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she took her final breath.
“I love you,” she said.
One last gasp of air escaped her lungs and then her chest moved no more. He pulled her up to his chest and held her tight.
“I love you too, please don’t go,” he said.
Her body was limp in his arms, her hands dangled lifelessly at her sides. She was gone.