“I’m sorry I’m late,” she said, removing her shawl and taking a seat at the table across from him. “I…well, I didn’t know what to wear, and then there was traffic…”
“You are beautiful,” he said. The familiar warmth in his brown eyes eased some of the nervous butterflies floating in her stomach.
She smiled and spread her fingers over the white tablecloth. “This is a lovely restaurant,” she said. “The fountain in the entrance is exquisite and the marble floors are a work of art.” She looked past his shoulder and her eyes widened. “Are those Corinthian columns? We should bring John here. He’d be in heaven.”
“We agreed not to speak of the children,” he reminded her. He smiled that lopsided grin of his, the one that had melted her insides into putty when they had first met.
“You’re right.” She attempted a smile but her lips refused to obey. Ducking her head, she nibbled on her lips.
“I know it’s been hard since they’ve both gone, but we rub along together alright, don’t we?” he asked.
She nodded and was dismayed to see the silverware, crisp and shining against the white background of the linen tablecloth, waver and blur before her eyes. She wiped at her eyes hoping he had not seen. Tears made him uncomfortable, and she had already erred once this evening in mentioning the children. She’d not risk making another mistake.
“Hey,” he said, his voice sounding more concerned than uncomfortable. “What’s this?” He passed her his handkerchief, and she took it, inhaling his familiar scent and holding it to her like a lifeline amidst the maelstrom of change and upheaval. No matter what occurred, his scent had never altered. It gave her the courage to speak.
“I don’t know who I am anymore without the children,” she whispered. “I don’t know who we are now that we aren’t parents.”
“You’re the same woman I married all those years ago.” His tone was brisk and brooked no disagreement, though a concerned frown marred his handsome features. Feelings made him uncomfortable, too.
“But I’m not,” she said. “I looked at myself in the mirror tonight, and barely recognized myself.”
His eyes swept over her, and he gave her appearance his full attention. When he had finished his lengthy perusal, he said, “You’re stunning. I barely recognized you, either, and I sleep in the same bed as you.”
“That’s not what I mean,” she said, waving off his compliment, more irritated he had not understood than flattered by his unexpected praise of her appearance.
“Then tell me.” His invitation to talk took her by surprise. They hadn’t really talked in years. Their children’s lives and their own careers had filled the empty space between them until now, nothing remained but silence.
She had never looked more beautiful or more vulnerable. When she had walked across the dining room towards him, her auburn hair piled atop her head in some artful cascade of silken curls, his heart had nearly stopped in his throat. She had always been the epitome of poised, confident womanhood.
Now here she sat, her head bowed, fingers white and bloodless as they clutched the table telling him she didn’t know who she was. Worse, she didn’t know who they were. Panic lodged in his gut, and he experienced a terrible moment of déjà-vu, a remembrance of his younger self waiting in a restaurant to ask this woman to be his wife while uncertainty and fear had plagued him.
“What do you think?” she asked, breaking into his thoughts.
She had been talking, pouring out her heart, and he had missed it. Oh, God. Everything he’d worked and hoped for meant nothing if he didn’t have this woman by his side. Fear spurred him to talk. He only prayed it was enough.
“I think you are the strongest, bravest most capable woman I have ever known. You are unfailingly kind and generous, even with those who might not deserve it. You never fail to see the good in people, and those of us who are fortunate to know you are better for it.”
Tears ran freely down her cheeks now, so he scooted his chair next to hers and grasped her chilled hands in his. “The boys still need you, and so do I. Before you were called mom, though, I called you friend, lover, and wife.”
“But who am I now?” she whispered, her eyes wet with brilliant despair. “Who are we?”
“I’m still Henry,” he said. “And you, my heart, are still Laura.”
“Say it again,” she said as she rested her head on his shoulder. “It’s been so long since anyone has called me by my name.”
“Laura.” He kissed her forehead and wiped away her tears. “Laura,” he repeated in awed wonder as he rained kisses over her cheeks and nose. This was his wife. He caressed her damp cheeks before resting his lips on hers.
“Henry.” His name spoken with reverence and awe told him she felt the same wonder and enchantment of finding each other after all these years.
They were Laura and Henry again.It wasn’t much, yet it was everything.
(C) Sara Ackerman 2017