Never Say Goodbye

There were so many little things Trent remembered when he and Katherine were a living, breathing couple. Today, was the twang in Tim McGraw’s voice singing one of their favorite songs on his truck radio. Moments like these brought tears to his eyes.

He grabbed his Aviators off the sun visor and placed them on his face. No need for anyone to see his emotions. Turning onto the tree-lined street, he noticed the beauty of the leaves turning color.  Most days he drove to work and back in a trance-like state, never noticing the beauty which surrounded him.

He pulled his truck into the circular driveway, and parked by the front doors. Kate didn’t like him parking there. She used to say, “What if someone drops in to see us? They’ll have a hard time backing out.” But these last few years, not too many people dropped by anymore. The first six months there seemed to be hordes of people showing up to see how he was doing, but they stopped coming around.

Kate was the social butterfly, not him.

As he entered the house, the security alarm sounded like a countdown to a nuclear blast.  He inserted the code and threw his keys in a bowl on the half table in the foyer.

“Honey, I’m home,” he shouted.

The silence was deafening.

He walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door and retrieved a beer. Twisting the cap off, he placed it between his forefinger and thumb. He pretended he was making a goal. Aiming for the trash can lid, he flicked it, and watched as the cap bi-passed the lid and fell to the floor.

“Tomorrow’s another day for a win,” he said to himself.

He shed his jacket and shoes as he headed towards the staircase, leaving them in a small pile by the kitchen entry. Kate wouldn’t like that either. In fact, she had trained him to put his stuff away where it belonged. It didn’t surprise him how easy it was to fall into his old habits without her around.

He took the steps two at a time. As he rounded the corner of the hallway leading to his bedroom, he stopped at the bookcase where all the family pictures were still displayed. He picked one up. It was one of his favorites, and he couldn’t part with it.

Their wedding day had been, at the time, the highlight of his life. In the photograph, they both were beaming, and he remembers the day as if it were yesterday. He wishes it was yesterday.

“God, I miss you so much, it hurts.” He said to the photo.

Placing the photo back on the shelf, he walked into his bedroom. It didn’t feel like his bedroom anymore. But he made the trip up the stairs at least twice a day. The couch had become his bed even though there was a perfectly good king size bed he could sleep on. Too many memories.

Almost two years since she left. Funny how fast the cancer took her. One day she was complaining about a small pain in her side, and the next, or so it seemed, she was dead. They had gone to the best doctors. By the time she had noticed any symptoms, the monster had been eating her from the inside out. They never stood a chance. They made the best of the time they had left together, and for that, he would be forever grateful. She made him promise to never say goodbye. She told him she would never leave him, and she would always be around to watch over him. It wasn’t long after that she slipped into a coma and then she was gone.

Prior to her diagnosis, they used to tease each other. If she died before him, she would come back and haunt him. He would do the same to her. No matter how hard he looked for signs, she never appeared.

Perusing through his closet, he came across his old fishing vest.

“I’ve got an idea. I should go up to our cabin. It’s been what? Two years? With the changing of the seasons and the fall colors, maybe it’s what I need to get out of my funk.” Trent talked to himself as if he were having a conversation with Kate, in hopes of hearing her voice answer back.

He threw sweats, underwear, and socks into the suitcase, which now lay open on the bed. Toothbrush, shaving kit, shampoo, soap; that should do it.  Closing the case, he carried it downstairs to the kitchen.  He grabbed a cooler from the garage, and began filling it with food supplies, enough to last the weekend.  He had no idea what condition the place was in since he hadn’t been up there since Kate’s death.

Fall, his favorite time of year, his and Kate’s.  The vivid colors of the aspen tree leaves, painted across the landscape, caused a delay in their journey every time. Kate, the amateur photographer, would want him to pull over every few miles.

Even though Trent remembered every place they had ever stopped, he drove straight through. Mile Marker 22 was unrecognizable with all the overgrown weeds and eroded dirt road. He put his truck in 4-wheel drive and drove a few miles until he came to a clearing. He stopped and stared at the log cabin with the wrap-around porch and swing for two overlooking the lake.

“Well, Kate if you’re here, you sure haven’t done much to the place.” He joked. He looked over to the passenger side of the truck. He remembered the first time they had come up there, right after they bought the place.

She was wearing white Capri jeans and a denim vest, buttoned-down so he could admire her cleavage. Her camera strap was around her neck. Her long brown hair was hanging straight, and she had on red lipstick. Her teeth were so white, they gleamed whenever she smiled. 

“I can’t believe this is our place,” she was so excited. She grabbed the door handle and jumped out. 

“Come on,” she said, “I can’t wait to see the inside.” She ran ahead of the truck, stopping every now and then to snap a picture. She ran up the three steps to the front door and disappeared inside.

Trent parked the truck and grabbed his suitcase. He’d go back for the cooler. Putting the key into the lock, he turned the knob. His stomach had butterflies flitting around, and his heart was racing. He knew once the door opened, it would flood him with more memories, but perhaps this was what he needed to get on with his life.

As soon as the door opened, he sensed something wasn’t right. He sniffed the stall air of the closed-up cabin, and a trace of lavender hit his nostrils.

“Hello? Is someone here?” he yelled out.

“Kate? Is that you?” he whispered.

Putting his suitcase down, he walked through the cabin. He ran his fingers along the furniture Kate had purchased from the little antique shop in town. He picked up the little potpourri bowl on the side table and took a long whiff.  Another memory came flooding back to him.

She had come back from a shopping spree with a bag of lavender potpourri and an antique pink crystal candy bowl. She poured the open bag into the dish and put it up for him to smell.

“This will make the cabin more welcoming; don’t you think?” she asked. “Even says so on the back of the bag. And when you come up here with your buddies, you’ll be reminded of me.” She kissed him on the cheek, and as she started to walk away, he grabbed her, pulling her close to him. He gave her a long, deep kiss on the lips.

“I don’t need potpourri to remember you.”

Putting his suitcase in the small bedroom, he went out to get the cooler. He needed a drink. Opening up kitchen cabinets, he knew he had a bottle of scotch hidden somewhere in one of them. Finding it, he poured himself a half glass, threw a few ice-cubes in to chill the warm liquid, and walked out to the swing on the porch. The cabin sat on a lake surrounded by forest on three sides. Not a soul in sight for miles and the quiet, except for a few birds, was deafening. The sun was sitting above the tree line, and it illuminated the colors of the aspens. If Kate were here, she would have taken a picture.

As Trent looked over the lake, he thought he saw something moving in the forest. The shadows were playing tricks with his eyes, or so he thought. And then he saw her, a woman, standing just at the edge of the tree line. She was wearing a yellow sundress, and her long brown hair was flowing in the breeze. He raised his hand in a wave-like gesture, but she disappeared into the forest.

“Kate?” he whispered.

* * * * *

When he didn’t show up for work that Monday morning, Trent’s boss assumed he was ill. But when he didn’t show up the following day, he called the police to do a welfare check. Finding nothing amiss, they shrugged it off. A few weeks later, a couple of hunters came across the body of a man in a camo colored fishing vest, sitting under a tree as if he were waiting for someone. After contacting the sheriff, the coroner determined the poor soul had died from exposure.

* ****

After Trent’s funeral, his brother went up to the cabin. What could have possessed him to go into the forest without proper attire? When he opened the cabin door, he could smell hints of lavender. The cooler was where Trent had left it. A half-empty bottle of scotch was sitting on the counter, next to an empty glass. Pouring himself a drink, he walked out to the porch, looking across the lake.  The sun was sitting above the tree line.  And that’s when he saw it, a dark-haired woman in a yellow sundress and behind her, a man in a camo colored fishing vest.