Stories, Part 2:
“I liked your story,” I said. “It was very good. Are you writing a book?”
“Yes. I’d like to be an author someday. Or a painter. I haven’t decided. I love painting landscapes and everyone tells me I should be a professional artist. But I’m only fifteen.”
“You don’t have to be a certain age to be talented. And you don’t have to be talented at only one thing.” I sucked in a breath, then released it. “I knew someone like you before she left.”
“You’re talking about me. What was I like before things changed?”
“You loved telling ghost stories.”
“I still do.”
“Really? Like what? Will you tell me one?”
“I will.” And so she told me the following story:
Some women have voices like angels. And Angela was the perfect name for the angel following him.
Brian listened to the gentle cadence of her voice, smiling and feeling warm and love-struck wonderful.
“Did you remember to bring your new camera?” she asked.
Brian pushed hanging branches away from his face. This part of the woods on Myers Ridge was thick with broadleaf and coniferous trees, and infested with thorny blackberry and raspberry bushes. These barbed sentries were deep in cover, away from hungry predators and ambitious and adventurous gardeners with spades and pruning shears. But few people trespassed here on his land. The terrain was rough and steep in many places, challenging to walk over. Thick and thorny underbrush, stinging nettle, and rattlesnakes were common threats, including branches falling from trees infected by disease and acid rain attacking their roots.
Overall, it was a miserable place in the summer for anyone who ventured off the large deer trail they were on. And he did not intend to leave the trail and risk not being with Angela.
“I did,” he said, answering her question. “It’s in my pack.”
He was glad to have the heavy pack on his back again. Hiking always cleared his mind and made his lungs and legs stronger. Plus, it usually brought Angela to him.
“I’m glad you came along today,” he said.
“I’m glad, too,” Angela said.
He glanced back at her and liked what he saw. Her one-piece calico dress looked old-fashioned in its simple, baggy design, but it made her look like a woman. The same with her long, flowing red hair. Not short and tomboyish like so many of women’s’ hairstyles today
“What time is it?” she asked him before he returned his attention to the deer path.
“Almost four o’clock,” he said without looking at his watch.
“I wish it were earlier,” she said. “I don’t want the day to end. You make everything better just by letting me be with you.”
He cleared his throat, feeling awkward for the first time today. He smiled and remembered the same feeling when he was young and uncertain. “You make me feel new and alive,” he told her. “What’s even more amazing is that someone like you could be in love with me.”
“You’re a wonderful guy. Don’t sell yourself short.”
“My ex would disagree with that.” He stared at the shadows flickering along the pathway from the sunlight filtering through the treetops, and saw painful memories in them. Some of them grew before his eyes and he was certain he did not want to see them again. He looked away at the clearing ahead and was glad to know the memories would not follow him there. But a few pressed their way between him and Angela anyway and lurked behind him like overgrown thieves wanting to rob him of his happiness.
He refused to look back until Angela asked, “Is that why you burned all your paintings of her?”
“I had to let go. It was the only way to heal from the heartbreak and all those drunken nights of pity dates.”
“Your portraits are very good,” she said. “I like the one you’re doing of me.”
He smiled. “Has someone been in my studio?”
“I hope you don’t mind. It’s the only place indoors I’m able to go … for now.”
Brian’s smile became a grin. The memories left him and Angela hurried to decrease the distance between her and Brian. When she was close enough to touch him without reaching out, she said, “When you take my picture this time, I want you to stand next to me.”
“Can I hold your hand?”
“Yes. Please. I love you.”
Like every time before, Brian choked up when he tried to voice his love for her. Still, as his legs began to feel rubbery, he managed not to trip along the rutted trail that wound past scrub and fewer and smaller trees. Soon they would come to the clearing that had been a pasture when his grandfather owned the land. Brian thought of the pink and blue boulders that Grandpa Eric had dug from the ground and used as fencing for his bulls before he installed the electric fence. One of those rocks would make a good place to take Angela’s photo before her time to leave.
They passed the place where Grandpa’s barn had been. The structure had collapsed years ago, its timber now covered with field grass and hidden from sight by spruce, maple, ash, and poplar trees. He listened to Angela’s voice while she continued to talk. John again. She was reliving the phone call.
He glanced back at her when they entered the clearing and midafternoon sunshine. Her one-piece baggy calico dress billowed at her hips before a breeze pressed the material against her body, revealing her pleasant figure underneath. Brian looked away. She fiddled with her diamond engagement ring.
“After leaving the hospital, I thought I was strong enough to deal with it,” she said, “but after a few lonely nights at home, I began to fall to pieces. I called mother but she wouldn’t return any of my calls. We were never that close and I think she blamed me.
“So, I began sleeping during the days and drinking at night to help along the grieving, but the booze never stayed down, so I was miserably somewhere between sober and hung-over and sick to the stomach for a while until last Sunday when I got a call from John. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t coming home after all that happened to me.”
Brian said nothing. He barely heard the words she spoke. He had heard them so many times before.
“I’m glad you found me when you did,” she said. “It’s good to be connected to people who care about me.”
Brian led her to one of the rocks where sunlight brightened its salmon colored surface. Not too far in the distance, he heard the sound of bees buzzing. Angela’s time was short.
He took off his pack, took out the brand-new camera, and positioned it to face another pink rock. He set the timer and led her to the rock.
“Say cheese,” he said as he held her hand and smiled at the camera.
She kissed him on the cheek as the camera’s timer activated its shutter.
“I don’t want to go,” she said, her lips brushing his cheek.
The buzzing grew louder.
She brushed tears from her own cheeks.
He turned, took her in his arms and kissed her on the mouth.
Would she remember this tomorrow? Some days were like starting over.
He let his kiss linger on her lips before he released her. The buzzing sounded like a windy roar now.
He felt a faraway anger coming to him from the past and waited to see if it would make him cry. It did.
He felt electricity crawl across his skin. Angela’s body—her dress, too—turned silvery blue like a distant foggy sky. For a moment, she was there. Then she wasn’t.
The buzzing stopped.
Brian fetched his camera, returned it to his pack, and started back toward home, embracing tomorrow and aching to see Angela again.
To be continued.