(Conclusion of last week’s installment, Faithfulness.)
She stared at her feet. The sun danced through the open door, and his shadow passed through it too and stopped in front of her. I’ve made such a mess. How could he come here? Then she felt a finger under her chin, raising it. He was too good for her house, her gaze, but she looked at him anyway.
His eyes—worn at the edges—smiled. “I’m here.”
She bit her lower lip; the reality of her surroundings stabbed her. Floor boards warped from storm waters, tiles shattered by abuse, and wallpaper beaten up by life—a far cry from the glorious architectural model he had created, sitting outside the front door. She tightened her muscles, bracing herself for the accusations.
Instead, he pointed to the kitchen. “May I?”
She nodded, and he bustled into the other room with his tool bag. A tool bag? She hiked an eyebrow and followed him.
He worked throughout the afternoon and evening, replacing the kitchen cabinetry and countertops, installing a marble sink and new faucet, tearing up the old tile and laying the new. Stunned by his precision and artistry, she observed his quick work. But it was soon too much. Exhausted, she dragged herself into the living room, sank down on the dusty sofa, and curled up in a ball.
She awoke to one small lamp glowing in the room. The darkness outside snuffed out the rest of the world. What time was it? Had she slept hours—or days? He appeared in front of her, holding a tray, the same smile from earlier playing in his eyes. “Eat. And then we’ll talk.”
He feeds me too. She devoured the delicate pastry crust, filled with savory vegetables and meat, and drank the juice that tasted like exotic fruits with honey. Had she ever been so hungry or thirsty? Finally satisfied, she dabbed her mouth with a napkin.
He settled into an armchair near her. And then we’ll talk. Her heart sank. Would the shredding words come now? After the kitchen renovation and delicious meal, would he slice her to pieces for all her sins? But then he spoke, his voice rich and musical, and explained his plans for her house. Only the best for his beloved, he said. Warmth filled her chest.
He stood and extended his hand to her. “Come. Let’s go for a walk.”
But the old fears slithered in again; things out there in the dark had snatched her away before. “I’d rather stay inside.”
“I’m here.” The soft eyes; the steady gaze. Love in flesh.
She put out both her hands, and he drew her to himself. Tears spilled from her eyes, and she didn’t know why. He thumbed them away.
“Okay. We can go now,” she said after a moment.
One night, she tossed and turned in bed. She thought of her old life and the marks it had left in her soul. Then Regret climbed onto the mattress next to her, and it was just as well; she had made her bed, hadn’t she?
The next morning, ragged from the sleepless hours, she held her cup of coffee in the sunroom and stared at a wall. But then he sat down next to her, and memories of Regret skittered away.
She set down her cup and grasped his hand. “Thank you.”
“I have something to show you.” He stood and led the way up the spiral staircase and into the ballroom on the second floor. She hadn’t visited that room in a while; her hips had begun to hurt too much for the climb, and she was satisfied living on the house’s first level anyway.
He escorted her to the east side of the room, which was covered with windows. The early sun flooded the space, drenching the parquet floor.
She looked through the glass and furrowed her brow. “But this is a different view.”
“Yes.” He ran his hand along the wood trim and then eyed her. “I washed the windows.”
A cluster of ladies walked at a brisk clip on the road beyond her driveway. And then a young man and woman ambled by, pushing a baby in a stroller.
She tucked a piece of her hair behind an ear. “Have they always passed by here?”
He nodded. “Always.”
“But I haven’t seen people out there before.” She stepped closer to the glass, squinting.
“You weren’t looking.”
But her eyes were open now.
Over the years, he mended the house, room by room. He breathed new life into the old and restored the broken pieces to wholeness. The neighbors noticed the change.
“Good work.” They smiled and congratulated her. “You’ve really pulled it together.”
She held up a hand. “No. It was all him.”
The years creased her face, but his beauty in her life was louder. Her joints grew achier, but his strength was enough for the two of them. They shared coffee in the mornings; they strolled together on the gravel road or in the garden in the evenings. She tried to recall her life before him, but her old self was too blurry to make out anymore, and so she released it for good.
One day, she received news from her doctor—the kind of news a person dreads throughout life and then hears at last.
She twisted a tissue in her hands. “How much time do I have?”
“It’s hard to say, really, since everyone’s different.” The doctor bunched her lips to one side. “Six months?”
“Oh,” she said, her chin wobbling. But as usual, he was sitting beside her, and so she turned to him. “You’ll help me, won’t you?”
His eyes smiled again. “I’m here.”
“What did you say?” the doctor said, cocking her head.
“Nothing.” She stood, looping her purse on her arm. “Thank you.”
While illness gnawed away at her life over the following months, the house became more beautiful. In his gentleness, he worked at it, because as long as she drew breath, he had a plan.
“This is hard,” she said one day on their walk. She plodded along. Everything hurt now, but if she stopped moving, she worried she might never move again. “And I’m scared.”
“I know.” He curved his arm around her, pulling her snug to his side. She heard his heartbeat.
“Don’t leave me.”
But his eyes still smiled. “I’m here.”
She squeezed him back as much as she could. “I love you too.”
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.