“Good morning, sir. Coffee?” the waitress asked holding up the glass pot. Ben had been lost in thought and was startled back to reality. “Yes, please. And could I have a poached egg on multigrain toast.” She jotted down his order and poured him a steaming cup of coffee before moving on to the next table. The wonderful aroma brought memories tumbling back . Ben’s icy blue eyes faded into dark pools of thought as he gazed out the window thinking how many times he and Sara had sat at this very table. This had been where they shared their first cup of coffee. He could almost hear her laugh while she tossed her long auburn hair, her freckles and amber eyes dancing with delight. She had always found such joy in even the smallest things in life. It had been a long time, about three years, since she disappeared so suddenly. To Ben it seemed like yesterday. The pain still felt raw. When he had found that ‘dear John’ letter she had slipped under his door, his life had turned into this cesspool of pain, anger and grief. What had gone wrong? He had been over it so many times in his head searching for an answer. He was still desperate to understand how something so right went so wrong.
A scattering of delicate flakes of snow drifted down lazily as he stepped out of the warmth of the coffee shop. The occasional flake of snow clung to his five o’clock shadow sparkling against his rugged jaw line. He turned up the collar of his navy pea jacket against his dark curls and tossed his scarf around his neck to protect against the winter chill. He had to go back to his suite to finish packing. He had received a call that his father had a heart attack and his mother was not taking it well. His father had survived but Ben had made a quick decision to return to LA to work so he could be there for his mother and father during this stressful time. There was nothing to keep him here in Watson Lake any more. He had moved here five years ago after graduating and wanted to get away from the city crazies to somewhere peaceful and simple. Watson Lake, here in Washington, was perfect. His first position teaching the third grade at Kennedy Elementary seemed to be just waiting for him. It was as if the universe was aligning---looking after him.
“Ben!” someone called out. Ben looked across the street seeing Jenny Morrison rushing toward him in a bright red jacket, blue jeans and a white fuzzy cap pulled down over her ears. When Ben had first moved to Watson Lake, Jenny was the first grade teacher at Kennedy Elementary. She had very kindly shown him around and they had become good friends and eventually dated for a while. That was, however, until Ben had met Sara. Ben and Jenny did remain friends and when Sara left so suddenly, Jenny had tried to rekindle their relationship but Ben’s heart could not let go of Sara.
“I just heard that you put in your resignation. That true?”
“Yes. My father has had a heart attack and my mother is not doing well. Nothing is holding me here so decided to head back to LA.”
“Oh I am so sorry, Ben. How is he doing?”
“He’s one of the lucky ones, Jen. Caught it in time and with good medical care is doing well. Just needs to start to look after himself better; diet, exercise, lose some weight---all of those things we have all heard about and let it go in one ear and out the other,” Ben said. “We all think we are invincible and life pretty well has to give us a good kick in the ass to make us realize we are not.”
“I’ll say a little prayer for him, Ben,” said Jenny as she squeezed his hand.
Jenny was quiet for a moment. She looked up at him and smiled, Ben’s six feet towering over her. It made her very sad that he found nothing to hold him here but she had accepted that Ben’s heart was not free, even with Sara gone for three years.
“If there is anything I can do let me know. I’ll miss you,” she said giving him a hug. Ben felt badly that he couldn’t return her feelings. She was a wonderful person---a wonderful friend.
They said their goodbyes and he walked the few short blocks back to his suite to pack up the last of his belongings. He didn’t have much to pack, only some personal items since he had rented a furnished suite in a wonderful old heritage house. He quickly put the last of the items in a box and piled the few boxes by the door. Double-checking the rooms to make sure nothing was left behind, he found a small wooden box in the closet that had been overlooked; a box of photos. Sitting on the bed he lifted the beautifully carved lid. Ben was hesitant to look inside. It was like opening a Pandora’s box. So many memories that he was trying to forget that would open up the wound that was still so raw.
The first picture made him smile. It was the first photo he had taken of Sara in her nurse uniform. She was the first person to autograph the cast on his broken leg. That was how they had met. He had been out skiing the day before and had broken his leg quite severely. Sara was the attending nurse that day at the hospital. She was so gentle and kind. It seemed like once again the universe was aligning.
“Novice skiers should stick to the bunny slope,” she teased as she gave him a mischievous smile with a glint in her eye as she autographed his cast.
“I think I need some lessons from an expert,” Ben had laughed. “Will you be free in about six weeks?” he joked as she handed him his pen back after signing his cast.
“You, sir,” she smiled, “could not afford me”
Ben had instantly been drawn to her gentle spirit and humor. He had never felt this way before. He knew she had walked into his life like it was meant to be. Magic. That is what his mother had told him when Ben was young when he had asked her how he would know when he was in love.
“Love is like you are both wrapped in a warm blanket; safe and comfortable---a kind of magical peace. You will know,” she had said.
The magic had grown with every touch--with every kiss. He loved how she had such a natural beauty which was never hidden under makeup. Her lips were full and red and she had a flush of pink under faint freckles on her cheeks. Her amber eyes were like jewels from an artist’s palette. A multitude of soft colors and depth, just like her soul. It didn’t matter what they had shared whether it was a cup of coffee, going to the fair to ride the ferris wheel or even walking in the rain. It always had brought joy and laughter. The magic had only grown deeper.
Ben put the photo back into the box and closed the lid with a sad sigh. He had to load up his car and get on the road. He had too much to do. No time to wallow. “Stop whining! Woman-up,” Sara used to say. She always had made him laugh at himself. It always brought him back down to Earth.
Ben had already applied for a teaching position in a school close to where his mother lived in LA. He didn’t want to get caught up in the never ending morning rush hour traffic. He had heard back from the school that morning that his application was successful. That was a load off his mind.
The trip was long and tiring but as he pulled in to his mother’s drive, he felt happy and he was confident that he had made the right move. His mother was overjoyed to have him back. His calming manner and unconditional love and support was what she needed right now. Leaving Watson Lake might help him to start over, too. He had spent so much time desperately trying to find Sara after she had slid that fateful note under his door. She had left her apartment with no forwarding address. She had resigned her position at the hospital without telling a soul where she was going or what her plans were. She seemed to have just vanished. If she hadn’t left the note Ben would have been very worried for her safety. He realized what she had done was personal. But he couldn’t understand and an answer seemed nowhere to be found.
The next morning he and his mother drove up to Thompson Memorial to check on his father. His father was on the city council and was well known for his hard work and dedication to the community so the press was anxious to get any of the latest updates on his recovery. His father, who never cries, wept as he hugged Ben. Ben knew his father was healing but his emotions were obviously still very delicate from the scare. Ben held his hand as he sat with him and chatted at length.
After seeing his father and talking to the attending physicians, he gave the press the good news that his father was doing well. When he got home he went online to see what had been written about this incident so he could take all the information into his father when he visited him the next morning. His father wanted to be prepared for when he left the hospital. That was what made him so good at his job---always prepared.
Ben scanned the numerous sites for anything relevant. He found a photo of his father’s ambulance arriving at Thompson Memorial. ‘I’ll just check this photo then I need to shut it down for the night,’ he said to himself. Ben was tired. The move and the long trip were finally catching up. He was just about to shut his computer down when he glanced at the photo of the ambulance. Ben felt like he had been hit by a bolt of lightning. In the background there were a couple of nurses and doctors there to meet the ambulance. There, in plain view, was Sara. There was his long lost love. He enlarged the photo to get a better view to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. There was no mistake. Ben was filled with joy and disbelief. Maybe now he would find out what went so wrong. How was he going to do this? His heart was racing with adrenalin. He didn’t want to scare her away. He had to approach her with care. How was he ever going to sleep? But he knew he had to. His body was exhausted. Maybe in the light of a new day he would figure out what he must do. He had tossed and turned but finally fell into a badly needed restless sleep.
When he reached the hospital the next morning, his mind was filled with fear and doubt, but he had to find out what went so wrong. He asked the head nurse on his father’s floor if a nurse by the name of Sara O’Connor was stationed on that floor. The nurse checked the staff records and once again the universe was aligning. Sara would be coming into work within the next hour. ‘Stay calm, ‘ Ben said to himself as his heart started to race.
Ben cleared his throat tying to seem matter-of-fact as he said, “Sara is an old friend and we would love it if she could be assigned to my father’s room.
“Well you are living under a lucky star,” she said. “Nurse Jenkins was the attending nurse and she has called in sick this morning.”
Ben grinned. “Yes, a lucky star.”
Ben could barely breath. What was he going to say? He just knew he had to see her and was hoping she wouldn’t turn and run.
Ben sat in the chair beside his sleeping father’s bed--- book in hand. The words were a blur as he watched the minutes tick by on the clock. Sara should be here at the hospital by now. Breath. Breath. She would be checking in with her assigned patients as soon as she got here. Breath. Breath. He heard the door squeak as it was pushed open. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity. ‘Stop whining! Woman-up!’ went through his mind. Then like a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, there she stood. She seemed thinner and she had cut her beautiful auburn hair into a short style but her beauty still shone through. When their eyes met it was like a moment in time had frozen. Ben slowly stood up and walked toward her his mind racing with questions, not knowing where to start. A tear silently ran down Sara’s cheek as he approached.
“Not here. Not now,” she whispered. She took a pen from her pocket and jotted down her address and handed it to Ben.
“I’ll be home by 7pm,” Sara said softly as she disappeared out the door.
Ben was overwhelmed with emotions but tears didn’t fall. He felt like his mind and body had turned to cement as he sat down in the chair beside his father. 7pm was an eternity away. Ben was glad that his father was sleeping. He didn’t want to have to explain right now. He didn’t know himself what was going on. He had to leave. He had to think.
Sitting in his car, the floodgates opened and he cried tears that had been dammed up for three years. Tonight he finally will get the answer.
The sun had disappeared for the day leaving a cold wintery stillness in the night air.
Walking up the stairs to Sara’s apartment felt like he was walking the plank to his doom. He was petrified that now he had found her he would lose her again. But he had to find out the answers to why she had left so suddenly. The soft taps of the door knocker echoed loudly through the empty hallway. A memory came rushing in. Ben was 10yrs old. His name was called. The door opened to a huge empty hall like the doorway to hell. At the far end of the room sat a be-speckled man at a desk beside the piano where Ben would have to play his 6th level classical practical test. Each step clicked against the wooden floor echoing like a death knell. That same feeling of dread was how he felt at this moment. Then there she was. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a simple pink button-up sweater. She still looked like a princess.
Sara was cool and distant as she invited him in. Her apartment was all Sara---homey with a scattering of interesting memorabilia from her travels. Ben sat in a comfortable looking overstuffed red chair.
“Would you like something to drink?” Sara asked before sitting down herself. There was this wall between them that seemed impossible to surmount.
“A cold beer if you have it,” Ben said.
A small smile came to Sara’s face. “Some things never change,” She said as she walked into the kitchen.
‘Maybe if I took a minute to splash some water on my face it might help,’ Ben thought.
“Could I use your washroom while you make those drinks?” he called out.
“Of course. It’s the first door on your left down the hall.” Sara replied.
Ben splashed some water on his face and when he reached for a towel, his eyes fell on a medicine bottle sitting on the back of the shelf above the sink. Picking it up he read the label. “Tamoxifen,” he whispered to himself.
He took out his phone and punched in the name to find out for what is was prescribed. He put his hand over his mouth in disbelief. He didn’t know if he should cry or be happy that he finally found his answer. He had to go to her. He had to hold her. He had to let her know how much he loved her.
The streetlight shining through the kitchen window bathed the room in a blue hue. Ben put his hands on Sara’s shoulders and slowly turned her to face him. Her eyes seemed to have lost the joy that had always been there. Ben took the medicine bottle he held in his hand and gently placed it in Sara’s. She looked into Ben’s eyes and her stoic façade melted into a pool of tears.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ben said softly as he held her close.
“I loved you too much,” Sara whispered through muffled tears.
Taking her hand he led her to the sofa where they sat, clinging in a silent embrace until her tears subsided.
“When I first found out, I was devastated and wanted to run to you,” she explained, “but I am a nurse. I knew what was ahead. It would be a lengthy physical and emotional journey. I couldn’t do that to you.”
The pain of reliving that moment was visible in Sara’s eyes as any courage she had portrayed waned. Any bit of strength she had mustered up became defeated by the grief that she had hidden inside for three years suffocating her words to a whisper.
Ben took her hand in his and kissed it softly trying to give her strength to go on.
“I lost all my hair. I lost the physical feminine gift that was part of our beautiful love making,” she said in whisper.” You were too precious to me. You deserved more. I loved you. I couldn’t do that to you.”
Sara started to quietly weep again feeling totally defeated.
Ben picked Sara up in his arms. She was like a rag doll with emotional exhaustion. He carried her to her bedroom where he lay her gently down on the bed. Slowly he unbuttoned her sweater as she wept. Then he gently removed her bra exposing the long scar on her chest. Sara cried for her loss. She cried for her love for Ben as he looked lovingly at her as she lay there beside him.
“Don’t you know that you are beautiful just the way you are. I love you, my beautiful Sara. I love you,” Ben whispered. “I fell in love with your beautiful heart. I fell in love with your generous spirit. I fell in love with you, dear Sara. I fell in love with you”
He gently ran his finger over the scar on her chest where her breast had once been then leaned over and softly touched it with a kiss. Sara wept releasing the fear she had held inside for so long. When he kissed her lips their hearts overflowed with the love for which they both had yearned for those long three years. Ben softly wiped her tears with a tissue.
cry, my love. I am here. I will always be here.”