Chapter 34: New York City - December 6, 2017
The city skyline came into view as Cory drove over the Washington Bridge. The lights twinkled in the windows of the sky scrapers, lighting up the horizon. It was a sight that never got old to me, regardless of how many times I had seen it. I smiled, the lights looking bright in comparison of the ink black sky behind them. Cory easily made his way through the traffic, heading towards the upper west side where Sarah’s apartment was located. When we had gone home and told them about our plans, she offered us her place to stay. She offered to come along but I told her to spend the rest of her vacation with Marie who had finally kicked Pat out of her apartment. He had been confused at first but tried to come begging for her back. She held firm and he had no choice but to crash at his father’s house while Marie began the divorce process.
Parking in the secured parking garage, Cory locked his jeep and helped me carry our stuff to the lobby of Sarah’s building. It was very nice, resembling a hotel. I smiled at the door man and the woman behind the front counter as we walked over to the elevators. Cory looked around in awe, amazed by the sights and the sounds of the city. We climbed off the elevator on the fifth floor and I walked the familiar route to Sarah’s apartment. Unlocking the door, I pushed it open for him to squeak by.
It was a modest place but very modern. The walls were a light maroon color and the furniture was all white. Her kitchen had brand new stainless-steel appliances though she never cooked with them. Everything was clean, sleek and expensive looking. Walking into the back of the apartment, I showed Cory to the guest room where he was going to be sleeping. It was decorated with hues of yellows and greys, from the curtains down to the bed spread. I left him to unpack while I headed to her room. It was completely purple in here, her comforter a dark shade and the walls a lighter tone of the color. It was Sarah’s favorite and it was the only room she allowed herself to put it in. I could see why.
The next morning, I came out into the kitchen to find Cory flipping through the pages of the New York City phone book. A cup of coffee was in his hand and he was wearing a slept in white t-shirt and sweat pants. “Good morning.” He said when he noticed me.
“Hey. What are you doing?” I asked, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge.
“I found the number for Tiffany’s parents. I thought maybe you would want to call them and set something up for this afternoon.” I took a sip of the water, my stomach flopping the cold water around.
“I guess I should.” Cory grabbed the cordless phone from the wall dock and dialed the number. Holding out the phone, he watched as I took it from him. It rang as I brought it to my ear.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice said in my ear. I hesitated. “Hello?”
“Hi.” I finally said. “My name is Abigail Winters. I’m looking for the parents of Tiffany Lin.” I did my best to make sure my voice didn’t waiver.
“You’re Michael’s wife.” The woman said softly.
“What do you want?”
“I was just wondering if I would be able to meet with you today. I have some questions about Mike and Tiffany that I was hoping you could help me with. I don’t mean to intrude on your life. I mean no harm. I just want to know what happened before the accident.” There was silence on the other end. I almost assumed she had hung up until she spoke.
“I’ll be home at 1 pm. I would love to meet you. Please forgive me. It’s been a hard time for us as well.”
“I understand. Thank you.” I hung up the phone and set it on the counter. “Today at 1.” Cory nodded.
“What should we do until then?” I shrugged.
“Would you like to see the tree at Rockefeller? We can get something to eat and then head over.”
“Sure.” We both showered and dress quickly, heading to the lobby. I hailed a cab, choosing to leave Cory’s jeep here. He didn’t much enjoy driving in the city like I had warned him and the thought of braving the busiest place on earth wasn’t the best idea to him. We rode down to 49th street, getting dropped off in front of NBC Studios. Together, we walked through the growing crowd to a little diner where we had a quick bite to eat. Once we were done, we made our way back out onto the street where a large crowd was already heading to the tree. I took Cory’s arm and led him towards it, his mouth gaping at everything we passed. You could definitely tell he was a country boy in the city. He said, ‘excuse me’ whenever he bumped into any one where most people piled through like it was no big deal.
“You get used to it.” I said, telling he was getting frustrated. We were nearing the tree, the lights from it becoming visible in the windows of the buildings surrounding it. Cory smiled when we finally saw it, the massive pine tree towering over the large group of people under it. People were scattered everywhere, taking pictures of and with the tree. Reaching into his pocket, Cory pulled his cell phone out. Holding it up, he took a picture. Turning to me, he gestured towards the tree.
“Want a picture with it?” He asked. I smiled.
“Cory, I live in the city. It’s not a big deal to me anymore.”
“Okay. What about a picture with the tree and me?” He asked, grinning at me.
“Fine.” I stepped closer to him as he held the phone away from us. I saw ourselves on the screen of his phone. Wrapping an arm around my waist, he pulled me closer to him. As he went to push the shutter button, he pressed his lips against my cheek. I laughed, the phone capturing the moment.
“There.” He said, letting me go. He opened the picture on his phone to show me. “Now I have the perfect memory to keep with me.”
“You’re so corny.” I joked. He smiled at me, glancing at his watch.
“It’s noon. We should start heading to the Lin’s.” My smile faded as I nodded.
The taxi pulled up in front of the address we had found in the phone book. It was a large stone house with a beautiful structured archway, a huge wooden door set in the middle of it. Small Christmas tree lined both sides of the walkway that led to the front door and various decorations including bows and lights were set up on the house itself. Cory climbed out of the cab, taking my hand to help me out.
Walking up the stone pathway, my nerves reached a new point. My hands trembled no matter how much I tried to stop them. At the door, I stopped and looked up at Cory. “I can’t do this.”
“We can leave if you want. We can try this another day.” I nodded.
“I just don’t think I’m ready yet.”
“That’s fine.” He grabbed my hand, ready to turn when the large mahogany door opened. A middle aged Asian woman stood in the door way, soft brown hair framing her round face and the same almond shaped eyes that had looked up at me from Tiffany’s picture looked at me. Mrs. Lin folded her hands neatly in front of herself, her hands resting on the red sweater she was wearing. A long strand of elegant pearls hung from her neck.
“Are you Abby?” She asked. Her voice cracked slightly on the end of my name. It suddenly dawned on me that they had lost someone just like I had. Their daughter was gone and she hadn’t done anything to them to make them resent her actions before her death. To them, they were just hurting from her death. I nodded, turning to face her.
“Yes. You must be Mrs. Lin. It’s nice to meet you.” I held out my hand but she ignored it, stepping forward to wrap her arms around me in a tight hug.
“I’m so sorry about Michael.” She said softly, pulling away to hold me at arm’s length. “Please come in. I’ve made some tea and coffee.” She stepped back inside, motioning for us to follow. I did just that, making sure Cory was still behind me. He closed the door as we entered, both of us in awe over the size of their house. It was very large and very new looking, the walls painted a slight beige color and wonderful pieces of art lined the walls as we made our way towards the living room. Leather sofas were positioned towards a rustic fireplace, an expensive looking rug laid out underneath the furniture. She pointed at the one couch, telling us to sit as she disappeared into the next room. We sat, her returning a few moment later, carrying a silver tray with a kettle on it. She set it on the wooden coffee table between the couches before sitting herself. She poured hot water into three of the tea cups on the tray, handing Cory and I one before taking one herself. Tea bags and cocoa packets were arranged in a saucer next to the kettle. She opened a tea bag and set it in her cup before looking up at me. “I know this must be hard for you.”
“It is but I know you also lost a daughter in this.” I responded. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw several framed pictures on the mantle over the fireplace. On the end, there was a picture of Tiffany and Mike. His arm was wrapped around her waist and the two were standing in front of a ski lift, both dressed in skiing clothes. She was smiling brightly at the person taking the picture but his attention was all on her, giving her the same look he used to give me when we first got together. Something in my chest ached as I looked away from it. “Did you know Mike well?” I asked. Mrs. Lin nodded, setting her tea cup down.
“Yes. He was our next-door neighbor for a long time when my family lived in North Carolina.” She replied. I looked at her confused.
“You lived in North Carolina?”
“Yes, dear. My husband was the manager of a large factory in Newburg for a while. We lived there for about five years while he ran the plant. When he was promoted, we had to relocate closer to the city for his commute. It tore Tiffany apart, knowing she had to leave Mike. They had been friends since the fourth grade.”
“They knew each other before now.” I stated, answering my own question. She nodded.
“They dated for a little bit when they were in junior high. Nothing serious because all of us parents weren’t too keen on them having a relationship so young. When we decided to move, they both agreed to try and make it work. They’d call each other every day, write emails several times during the day. He even came up to visit for a week before his parents got divorced. That’s when him and Tiffany decided they should call things off until they were older. He promised to move here after he graduated so they could be together.” Well, that explains a whole lot about why he wanted to run off to New York so soon after graduating, I thought bitterly.
“We moved here in 2008. Did they reconnect then?” I asked, not wanting to know the answer really. She shook her head.
“Mike came to find Tiffany but she was off to college in Florida and had a boyfriend she was serious with. The two kept in touch though, I know that for sure. When she graduated from school, she came back home and he helped her get a job at one of the companies in his building. They were friendly but he was very serious about keeping things that way because he was married.” I sighed, looking down at my lap.
“Until about a year ago?” I asked. I glanced up at her again and saw she was looking at me with sad eyes.
“Mike came to a function my husband and I were holding back in February. We have an annual benefit to raise money for the children’s hospital that my husband is on the board of directors for. Him and Tiffany spent some time together. She told me he feared his marriage was over. He said that things between the two of you had gotten so bad, he knew you had contacted a divorce attorney. They didn’t plan on starting an affair. It just happened. At first, Tiffany was very worried about what might happen. She asked Mike to tell you all the time. She didn’t want you to get hurt any more than you already were.” She sighed, sitting back in the couch. “I know this isn’t easy to hear but the two of them we so happy together. Tiffany was so in love with him and Mike looked at her like no one else mattered. The two of them have been like that since they were kids. Tiffany was very sick when she was younger and Mike was the only friend she really had. They would spend hours together and he was so gentle with her in her condition. She was born with a heart disease and needed to have a transplant shortly after her eighth birthday. She couldn’t do very much but Mike didn’t seem to mind. I know it’s hard to believe that you can find your soul mate when you’re that young but I truly believe they did.” As she spoke, I looked over at Cory who was looking at me. He gave me a small smile, reaching over and grabbing my hand. Giving it a small squeeze, he let go.
“I understand. I’m very sorry about the loss you’ve suffered. From what I’ve learned about Tiffany, she was this bubbly, light hearted person that touched many people’s lives. I’m glad she was the one who Mike spent his last day with and was there with him in his final moments. I hope the two of them after together now.” Leaning over, I grabbed her hand and squeezed. “Thank you for allowing me to come into your home. I don’t blame Tiffany for what happened between Mike and me. It just wasn’t the same to what he felt with her. I would actually like to do something in their honor. Mike’s life insurance has been sitting around since I wasn’t sure what to really do with it. I would like to donate $100,000 to the children’s hospital in their names.”
“Really?” She asked, covering her mouth with her free hand. Tears welled in her eyes as I nodded. “That would be amazing. Hold on. I’d like to give you something.” Standing, she released my hand and walked out of the room. I glanced at Cory over my shoulder who rubbed my back. The sound of her heels made me turn back around. She walked back into the room, a small wooden box in hand. I stood as she held it out to me. “We bought this for her. It was supposed to be a present for Christmas but then the accident happened. I think her father would agree with me that you deserve to have it.”
“Thank you.” I said, taking the box from her. Opening it, I found a leather-bound book. Pulling it out, I saw there was gold lettering on the spine. Live, Laugh, Love: Stories of Love, was imprinted on the book. It was an older book, the small of the pages making me smile.
“She loved reading. It was all she could do when she was a kid. Mike helped us find the first edition of this book. I thought you should have it.”
The ride back to Sarah’s apartment was very quiet. The only sound came from the noisy streets of the city and the cab driver who barked for money when he came to a stop. I tossed him his fare as we climbed out. He sped away as we headed into the building. In the apartment, I could feel Cory watching me as I headed for Sarah’s room. My head felt heavy with information and my chest felt like someone had punched a hole into it. Not only had Mike cheated on me the last six months, all he ever wanted to do was end up back with Tiffany. She was the reason behind every move he made, regardless of what was going on in his life. Our life together was built on resentment that he couldn’t be with the person he wanted to be with in the first place.
As much as I wanted to be bitter and angry towards the idea, I understood it all too well. Where Mike wanted to be with Tiffany, all I wanted to do was to be with Cory. The only difference was that once Mike saw things between us weren’t working, he went behind my back to be with her instead of breaking things off with me. It did make me upset but I understood why he did it. I had been with Cory while we were together and knew why it had happened. The same thing occurred between Tiffany and him. Now, the two would be together forever in whatever type of afterlife there truly was.
I emerged from Sarah’s room an hour later, heading to the kitchen for some wine. Cory was sitting at the counter, an empty bowl in front of him that once had cereal in it. We locked eyes as I entered the kitchen. He didn’t say anything as he stood from the counter. He had changed from his street clothes, putting on a white wife beater and a pair of blue flannel pajama pants. I could smell his body wash, telling me he had showered since we had gotten back. His bare feet made a soft noise on the tile as he stepped towards me.
“You okay? You sort of disappeared on me when we came back.”
“I’m fine. I just had some thinking to do.” I walked by him to the fridge, pulling a water bottle out from inside of it. Shutting the door, I looked over at him. “Thank you for doing this with me, Cory. I know it’s not easy for you to listen to everything.” He shrugged.
“It’s something I can’t change. The past is the past. I’m just glad I get to spend some time with you.” Setting the water on the counter, I walked towards him.
“Cory, I still love you.” I whispered. “My feelings didn’t stop when I left even though I tried to suppress them as much as I could. They were never gone though. They came back the moment my eyes landed on you in my backyard.”
“I love you, too.” He said, closing the gap between us. Bending down, he pressed his lips against mine and pulled me into his body as close as he could. His lips moved quickly with mine as I ran my hands into his hair. His hands slid around to my backside, lifting me off of the ground. He walked backwards towards the guest bedroom, kicking the door opened as he reached it.
In the room, he carefully laid me down on the queen size bed. Cupping my face in his hands, he pressed his forehead against mine. “I want to love you forever and never let you go.” He whispered, kissing my lightly on the nose before devouring my mouth with his again. I fumbled with his wife beater, yanking it over his head, separating us for only moments. His hands slid down my body, unbuttoning my grey sweater as quickly as he could. When the last one was done, he pulled it down over my shoulders, kissing my right shoulder as he did. My black camisole followed the sweater, both landing on the floor by the dresser. I ran my hands over his torso, his toned muscles tightening as my fingers touched them. He undid the fly of my blue jeans, pulling them down slowly with my under wear. Once I was naked, he stood from the bed and looked down at me.
“What?” I asked, looking at him confused.
“I want to look at you and just take you in. The last time this happened, everything changed right afterwards and I never got the chance to burn this image to memory. I’m not going to let that happen again.” I pulled myself up so I was kneeling on the bed. Reaching out to him, I pulled him over so he was standing in front of me.
“I’m not going anywhere, Cory.” I whispered, kissing his forehead. Slipping my thumbs into the waist band of his pants, I slid them off. They fell to the floor, leaving us both naked in the pale moonlight that shone through the tall windows on the other side of the room. He scooped me up in his arms and laid the both of us down on the bed. Together, we made love. Our bodies moved together in a way that made me feel wanted, loved and protected. Cory’s arms held me tightly, making sure to not leave an single curve of my body untouched and unkissed. We tangled ourselves in the sheets of the bed, not stopping until we knew how the other person felt with every ounce of strength and love we had to offer.