Epilogue - Remind Me to Forget
“Baby, it hit so hard, I’m holding on to my chest / Maybe you left your mark, reminding me to forget / It doesn’t matter where you are, you can keep my regret / ’Cause baby, I got these scars, reminding me to forget” – Remind me to Forget, Kygo
One Year and Four Months Later
“I like this dress, Arya,” James says as we put our winter coats on to step out on the porch. I look down at the green dress that is my favourite. The dark memory that this dress holds doesn’t haunt me anymore because the person that caused them was held responsible for his actions. While not charged, he was driven out by a whole town turning against him. “Looks expensive.”
“It is,” I say. We step out onto the porch to say goodbye.
“It was nice of your family to have me over for dinner tonight,” James says to me on the porch. It’s snowing outside, perfect weather for the Christmas season. James and I just got back from our final university exams to spend the Christmas holidays at home. We both are at the University of British Columbia (UBC). James is doing a degree in Mechanical Engineering, while I am doing a degree in Biomedical Engineering. It was a busy first semester, with lots of work and a lot of soccer, but we still have remained together through it all. School will get easier as the terms go, they say. Hopefully that’s true. James was a bit nervous about being so far away from his family, but UBC was always where he wanted to go and it’s where both of us got a soccer scholarship. It only made sense for both of us to go there. All our friends are slowly coming back into town as well. It’ll be great to see everyone and how they have been since we parted at the end of summer.
Diana went to MIT to do a combined Chemistry and Biology degree; Lincoln went to the University of Amsterdam for Archeology; Teddy went to Dalhousie University for Marine Biology; Eleanor went off to travel the world with just a backpack and her passport; George went to Algonquin College to become an Aircraft Mechanic; Sarah went to Queen’s University for Fine Arts; Samson went to McGill for a Bachelor of Science; Richard is working at his dad’s restaurant to save up some more money before he decides what to do; Malcolm went Loyalist College to become a Survey Technician. Malcolm could go to any school he wanted and do whatever career he wanted, but he chose to do a hands-on job that is out in the field.
Oh, and if you’d like to know, Lisa went to the California Institute of Learning to do a Chemistry Major. Even though I don’t know for sure, I am certain that Alan followed her out there. The pretty popular girl and the science geek make a good combination, especially since she’s a science geek as well. Lexi is in the States as well on a hockey scholarship at Boston University. We don’t talk much anymore, which is not surprising, but we are both happy for each other.
“You know that you are always welcome here,” I say to James.
“My mom wants you to come over tomorrow night,” James says.
“Happily.” I smile and kiss his lips.
“I think she’s more excited to see you than me,” James says.
“Can’t blame her,” I say and then wink at him.
“How’s your uncle’s company?” I ask, “You never told me now that they have lost their star employee.”
James smiles. “Really well actually. There are expanding and doing more projects.” Thankfully the type of construction James’ uncle does, does not compete with Henri’s dad who does large-scale city projects.
“That’s great!” I say sincerely, but I see that James is distracted.
He looks beyond me to the driveway. “Expecting someone?”
I turn to see a car come into the driveway. I don’t recognize the car. Who could it be? But when the tall figure emerges from the driver’s seat, I know exactly who it is. Henri walks up the pathway to the door. I’m shocked to see him. I haven’t seen or heard from him since the day he was last here in front of our house. That would be over a year and a half ago. He hasn’t changed much in that time. His hair is short now. He doesn’t have that arrogant look anymore and he seems to walk taller if that’s possible.
“What are you doing here?” James asks sternly.
Henri stops right in front of us. “James, Arya.” Henri says, “I’m visiting my father for the Christmas holidays this year.”
“That doesn’t explain why you are here though,” James says sternly.
“I know I shouldn’t be doing this.” Henri says and looks to me, “But I just wanted to talk to Mia one last time.”
“Are you kidding me?!” James yells at him, but Henri doesn’t take his eyes off me.
“Please, Arya,” Henri says.
“What could you possibly want to say to her?” James says, “Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage. That girl has healed on her own without you, don’t you think you’re just going to bring up unwanted memories and emotions?”
“Arya,” Henri says, “I’ve changed a lot since you last saw me. After my year at boarding school, I joined the military. I did Basic Training over the summer and now I’m at the Royal Military College studying to become an engineer. I’m not that guy you knew in high school. I’m different. I…” Henri hesitates, “I just want to speak to your sister one last time. Please.”
“No,” James says immediately. “She doesn’t want to talk to you. No one cares if you are in the military now. That doesn’t change who you are or what you did.”
“James,” I say, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Arya, please.” Henri looks at me.
“Leave her alone!” James yells at Henri, coming up right to him. Henri has a good head over James, but it doesn’t seem to matter. “Stop bothering my girlfriend and her sister. Now get out of here. Don’t make me tell you again.” James and Henri just stare at each other for what seems like forever. I guess Henri must have seen an angry fire in James’ eye because he concedes and starts walking back to his car, leaving in silence.
James comes back up to me. “Are you okay?”
“What did he want to say?” I ask.
“What does it matter.” James says, “There’s nothing he can say. There are no words.”
“But it’s Mia’s choice if she wants to listen to him and you just took that choice away,” I say.
“Mia doesn’t want to listen to him.” James says, “Just mentioning that he was here would probably upset her.”
“She could handle it if she wanted to,” I say.
“His voice is a trigger for her, Arya.” James says, “The last thing she needs is him coming in here and bringing back all the memories of the trauma he caused. She’s never going to forgive him.”
“It still should be her choice if she wants to talk to him,” I say.
“Arya,” James grabs onto my arms, “please, please don’t mention this to Mia. She’s been doing great, why should she have to relive that part of her past?”
“But, James,” I begin.
“Promise me, Arya,” James says, looking me in the eyes. “Please.”
I nod. “Okay.” But I don’t feel good about it.
“One chai tea latte, please,” I say to the girl at the counter of my favourite coffee shops in town. When she hands the to-go cup to me, I turn to leave but then bump into someone. “I’m so sorry,” I say.
The person I have run into is a guy who looks my age with short brown hair and is the same height as me. “No worries.” He says, “It was my fault. My name is Damon.”
“Arya,” I say.
“You look familiar,” Damon says. I don’t know how? I’ve never met this boy in my life. “I think my friend, Young, pointed you out the other day walking in the street.”
“Oh,” Damon says, “I’m just used to calling him by his last name. I mean Henri.”
“You’re friends with Henri?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Damon says, “he’s a great guy. Invited me to spend Christmas out here with him because I had nowhere to go.”
“How kind of him,” I say, trying not to let the sarcasm show.
“Look,” Damon says, “Henri hasn’t given me all the details of his past, but I do know that he did something bad to your sister.” I stare at him. “I don’t know the type of guy he used to be, but he’s someone looked up to now with all the lads in the military.”
“That’s nice,” I say flatly.
“Arya,” Damon says. It feels weird that he is addressing me like a friend instead of a stranger he has just met. “Henri has shaped the lads up better than any commander could have. He calls them out on their lude comments about girls. The girls in Basic Training and at our school feel safer with him around. He defends girls when the guys get too drunk and want to feel them up, he takes care of girls if they have drunk too much themselves. He’s prevented bad things from happening to other girls.”
“Is this a coincidence that we are meeting, or did Henri send you to follow me?” I ask.
“I may have seen you come in here before,” Damon says, “but Henri didn’t send me. And everything I told you is true. I think Henri was hoping to talk to your sister before he left, but he understands that some things just can’t be undone.”
“I think I should go,” I say, starting towards the door.
“Just think about it,” Damon says as I leave.
I wait 30 minutes to muster up the courage to go downstairs and talk to Mia. If I tell her, I’m breaking my promise with James. But if I don’t, I’m depriving her of a choice. I’m curious to know what Henri has to say, wouldn’t she be? James says there are no words he could say, but how would he know?
I walk down the stairs slowly and when I turn into the living room to see Mia reading on the couch, I almost turn away and decide to abort the whole mission.
“Arya?” Mia says. I look at her carefully, she looks up from her book, a look of concern on her face. I can’t keep this from her, I’ll spend the rest of my life wondering if taking the choice away from her was right. It should be her choice.
“Mia,” I say and come to sit next to her on the couch. “I have something to tell you.”
“It sounds serious,” Mia says, putting her book aside.
The doorbell rings and I go to answer it. I told him that he could only come between 2 and 3 pm because that was when my parents would be out. He stands there on the doorstep, looking everywhere but at me.
“Henri?” I say.
“Arya,” Henri says, finally looking at me. “Thank you so much for this.”
I step aside to let him in the house. “My sister is in the living room.” I walk behind him as he steps into the living room. Mia is on the edge of the couch, her face and body frozen like ice.
“Mia,” Henri says.
“Henri,” Mia says. He slowly sits on a chair to keep his distance from her. I stay by the doorway, refusing to leave my sister alone with him.
“Mia,” Henri says, “Thank you so much for agreeing to see me.”
“My sister said that you had something you wanted to tell me,” Mia says.
“Yes.” Henri says, “I wanted to tell you that I joined the military after graduating high school. I’ve changed from the guy you used to know. The guys in the military can be terrible with what they say to girls and how they act towards them. I try to stop it the best I can. When I stopped and opened my eyes, I saw how bad it is for girls. It’s not fair. I want to prevent that kind of behaviour. I try to prevent what happened to you to happen to someone else. Mia, you changed me. Because of you, I am a better person. I am a person I am proud of. I’m doing good for people and the world. I would never be where I am if not for you. I needed you to know that.”
“Is you becoming this great person worth what I had to go through?” Mia asks.
“No.” Henri says slowly, “I just wanted you to know that you sharing your pain for everyone to see wasn’t done in vain. It changed me. I’m so sorry for what I did to you. I will be sorry for the rest of my life. You are the biggest mistake I have ever made and there’s nothing I can do to fix it.”
“You’re right that you can’t fix it.” Mia says, “I am glad that you have changed. I’m happy for the person that you have become. There’s probably a lot of girls that appreciate all that you have done for them. A lot of girls probably love you now and feel safe around you, that you’ll always protect them.” Mia takes a deep breath. “But I can’t be one of those girls.” Mia looks away for a moment and then back at Henri. “I can’t forgive the unforgivable.”
“I know,” Henri says, and now it is him that realizes that there are no words. There is nothing he can do or say. He rubs his hands on his thighs before he gets up from the chair. I see the hurt on his face. Henri will spend the rest of his life trying to make amends for the past he can’t make right. It doesn’t matter how many people he helps or what he does. He will forever be haunted by the girl that will never forgive him. Henri left a permanent scar on Mia. Now Mia has left an unfillable void in Henri. “Thank you, Arya,” Henri says as he walks out of the house.
“Are you okay?” I come up to Mia and sit next to her. She’s barely moved a muscle since Henri stepped in.
“I can’t forgive him, Arya,” Mia says, and I see the tears she’s holding back, and I wrap my arms around her. “It doesn’t matter what he does or what he says. He can’t unwrite the past. I can’t see him in any other way.”
“Was this a mistake?” I ask her.
“No.” Mia says, “I just had to know what he wanted to say, even though I knew there were no words he could say to make things right.”
“I’m proud of you, Mia,” I say and she pulls back from me so we can look at each other.
“I’m proud of me too,” Mia says and then smiles. “Thank you, Arya. Thank you for always being there for me.”
“Of course.” I say, “Now, I think Mom hid the Lindor chocolates in the basement. Care to join me on an adventure?”
“You do this every year,” Mia says.
“It’s an addiction,” I say, and then I grab her hand so we can go to the basement.
“I’ve missed you,” I say, standing in front of the tombstone I haven’t seen in four months. I brushed off the snow when I came in so I could see the writing. “School’s good. The first semester was really busy with soccer on top of schoolwork, but I managed. I wish you could come and see me play, I know you would be the loudest one there.” I just stare at the name on the tombstone for a while. The wind is picking up and it’s starting to snow again. “Arya and I are still together. She’s the one, Dad. I’ve known it for a long time. There’s no one else that can make me feel the way she does. There’s no one else that pushes me like she does to be a better person, and she does it without even trying. Is this how it felt with Mom?” Silence. No answer. Nothing but the sound of the wind blowing. “Mom made her shortbread yesterday that you always used to eat too much of. I remember her always yelling at you that it’s for the kids, but it never stopped you. I always think of you when she makes it.”
“James.” I hear a voice coming from beside me, I turn my head to the sound of the voice.
“Mom,” I say as she approaches and stands next to me to look at the grave of her late husband. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“You’re not the only one that still comes and visits here, James Bartholomew,” Mom says, looking at the tombstone.
“I wanted to tell him about school,” I say, “I haven’t been here since before I left.”
“Well, I was going to tell him that he has three children he should be very proud of,” Mom says.
“Mom,” I say, not looking at her. There’s something I’ve always wanted to ask her, but I was scared, scared of bringing up unwanted emotions or memories.
“What was the last thing Dad said to you?” I ask. I can tell she is looking at me, but I don’t turn my head from the tombstone.
“He told me I looked beautiful, said he loved me and told me not to wait up for him,” Mom says. Mom looks at me to see my reaction. “What did he say to you?” I think back on it and I almost want to laugh, but I smile instead, which my mom sees. “What is it, James?”
“I tried to change the thermostat, but before I even touched it, he yelled at me, ‘What do you think you are doing?!’” Mom and I laugh, “I told him I was cold, and he told me to put a sweater on.” We are both silent. “I miss him all the time, Mom.”
“So do I.” Mom says, “But I know he is still watching over us, making sure we are okay.”
“I’d kill to hear his voice again, his laugh.” I say, “Even if he was yelling at me.”
“James.” Mom says, “You have no idea what I would do to have him here again. He was my partner, my everything. I was supposed to grow old with him. I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with him. ’Til death do us part came too soon, but I am grateful for the time I did have with him. I am grateful for the kids he has given me. I look forward to seeing him again, but for now, I am happy being here with you and your sisters.”
“I’m glad you’re still here too, Mom,” I say and wrap an arm around her shoulders as we both look at the grave. “One of the four most important women in my life.”
“Remember to treat all four of them right,” Mom says.
“Don’t worry.” I say, “I learned from the best.”
“I love it.” Sarah says, “I finally feel like I can just be creative and express myself. No more math and science classes to drag me down.”
All of us are in Diana’s basement for a reunion now that all of us are back home for the holidays, even the world travelers Lincoln and Eleanor are home. It’s great to see everyone again. We’ve already made new friends and adjusted to a new life, but I don’t think we’ll ever forget the town we grew up in and the memories and friends we have here.
“Glad to see that the dream couple is still together,” Diana says, tipping her cup to James and me.
“I call being best man!” Malcolm says.
“No way!” Richard yells at Malcolm.
“I’m the reason they met,” Malcolm says.
“Please don’t remind me,” James says.
“It’s exactly why you shouldn’t be the best man,” Richard says to Malcolm.
“Guys,” James says, “please don’t argue about this. There’s plenty of time for you to try and bribe me later.” Everyone laughs.
“Well, we already know who the maid of honour will be,” Diana says standing up with a smile on her face.
“Don’t do it, Arya.” Teddy says, “Your wedding will become her wedding.” Diana throws a pillow at Teddy. “Hey!”
“Why don’t we change the subject?” I say.
“How about a game?” George says.
“Never have I ever?” Eleanor suggests.
“No,” Richard says flatly, and I laugh. Clearly, he doesn’t want his best friends ganging up on him again.
“Drunk Jenga!” Malcolm calls out.
“I do have a Jenga set,” Diana says, “but you are not allowed to put sharpie on any of them.”
“Put tape on the Jenga pieces and then write on them,” Lincoln suggests.
While they start concocting this drinking game that is sure to be interesting, James pulls me aside.
“What?” I ask him.
“Just had to tell you that you look beautiful today,” James says.
I smile at him. “James.” I say, “I have to tell you something.”
“You told Mia about Henri,” James says.
“Well, I…” I start.
“How did you know?” I ask.
“You don’t listen to me.” James says, “You always choose to do the right thing even if it is exactly the opposite of what I say.”
“I’m so sorry, James,” I say.
“No, you were right.” James says, “It was Mia’s choice. It wasn’t right for me to take that from her.”
“It didn’t make a difference.” I say, “You were right. There are no words. She can’t forgive him the unforgivable and he’s just going to have to live with that.”
“Proud of both of you,” James says.
“Thank you, James.” I say, “I honestly don’t know what I would do without you.”
“I don’t know what you would do without me either.” James smiles.
“Ha-ha.” I say, “A year and a half later and you’re still a bugger.”
James touches the watch he gave me over a year ago. I love it. I wear it all the time. “A bugger who gets you nice things.”
“Come on, love birds!” someone calls out to us.
“I love you, Arya,” James says.
“I love you, too,” I say and then I put a hand to his face and kiss him. He wraps his arms around me, holding me close. But then, I feel a pillow hit us and we break apart. James and I both look towards everyone.
Richard and Malcolm just point at each other. “You guys are impossible,” James says.
“You love us anyway!” Richard calls out.
“Unfortunately, yes,” James says and then whips the pillow back at them.
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