It was in the middle of summer, not spring, because spring is what many people think about when they think of love and falling into it, with a wedding there on a grassy hill and everything is blooming and new. No, it was hot-summer-July, and Louis was home from the Army on leave. He had just two weeks, and these two weeks would be the best Louis could possibly have, because his sweet Janice said yes, and he had asked her daddy, nice and polite, if he could have his daughter’s hand. And Mr. Jackson said yes, and Louis danced that night…he danced.
His mama had roses growing near the side of their little house. It was a small house, but there was a grassy lawn and everything was trimmed real nice, because his mama took care of things, both inside and out. She tended the roses and somehow Louis learned just by watching her water the roses, and trim them, how to do it just right. Two days after Janice said she’d marry Louis, he picked a bouquet of roses for her (yellow and white roses, to be exact) and he took them and walked them to her.
It was late evening. Late for back then.
Dusk it was, really.
Some children were still playing in the streets, sitting on their bikes, playing hide-and-seek.
Louis went up the steps and knocked on Janice’s front door. A lifetime went by before the door opened, and Louis stared straight into Mr. Jackson’s eyes. They were flat and green, Louis was sure of it. He was thinking his fiancé got the blue eyes from Mrs. Jackson. His knees knocked together a little bit, but he forced a smile toward the old man, the old man who he was sure wasn’t happy with him standing on his front porch with the white and yellow roses.
“I’ve come to see Janice, Sir,” Louis said, in a strong voice. “If I may, I mean.”
Mr. Jackson frowned, but allowed his daughter to pass between them to the front porch. Janice gave her father a small smile, closed the door, and gave Louis a warm embrace.
“These are for you,” whispered Louis. “Straight from my mother’s yard. If we’re lucky, we will get roses blooming until the end of October.”
Janice smelled good, like lilacs. She took the flowers and breathed them in.
“They’re beautiful,” she said. “I’ll put them in water.”
“Just wait,” Louis said. “Let’s sit on the porch and talk. The wedding’s in two days, you know.”
Louis put his arms around Janice, and they sat there on the front porch and enjoyed a soft breeze, children’s voices in the distance, and every so often, a dog barked. A snow-ball bush was in full bloom in front of them.
“It’ll be a small wedding. Do you mind?” Louis took Janice’s hands in his. “I mean…just friends will come, whoever wants to. I know it was last minute, but I don’t have much time. The Army only gave me two weeks. In less than that, I’ll be gone again.”
Louis took Janice’s finger and turned the gold ring with the tiny diamond over and over. He bought the ring on base, and he guessed at the size, and it had fit just fine.
“After I leave, I’ll send for you. I want you to be sure. To be sure of us. There’s going to be a lot of moving around. Are you certain you won’t mind?”
“My home is with you,” Janice said. Her eyes were big and bright, and she kissed Louis on the cheek. “I’m ready to be with you. You know that, Silly.”
He pulled her close again, and took in her scent. A million things ran through his mind, like why did she love him, how did they really find each other, and what would their babies look like some day? Where would they live in five years, and if they ever had a fight, how long before they made up? They were crazy thoughts, but they poured through Louis’s head like a waterfall, the kind he saw a couple summers before up in the mountains. The waterfall wouldn’t stop, much like his thoughts. His fears.
What if he was making a mistake?
He glanced at the roses Janice had placed on the little wooden table next to the swing. Ever so slightly, they were starting to wilt. Roses needed water, and without water, without sustenance…like anything, they would wither.
“My mother wanted more time to make her only daughter’s wedding dress.” Smiling, Janice stood up and twirled around, and her skirt fanned. “But I told her why not wear your old wedding dress? So she’s fitting it to me. I don’t care if it’s my mother’s. I think it makes it more special. Besides, I don’t care about new things. New things, old things. As long as they’re pretty.” Her eyes snapped. “I’m a little bit scared, though. Aren’t you?”
“No. Not at all.” Louis straightened. It was a lie, but he wasn’t going to admit he was scared. Scared of the whole marriage thing. He wasn’t very old, and neither was she. He couldn’t admit to her how he was afraid of the whole thing, right down to who-drove-the-only-car-which-day, and the budget. And grocery shopping. And…well…everything else that applied to married life. Yeah. He was scared.
They sat next to each other again.
“My cousin died today.” Janice sighed. She said it in a very nonchalant way, like one would say when they wanted you to pass the green beans, for instance. “She was only twenty. Can you believe it?”
That’s when Louis learned Janice was good at hiding her true feelings.
Louis swallowed, but he couldn’t get rid of the lump in his throat.
“How’d she die?”
“She died giving birth. Caroline lived in Alabama. I got to visit her once, years ago. It’s really green out there.”
Shaking his head, Louis looked at Janice, and wondered why she didn’t show something, like tears or even sorrow, on her face. It was then he decided she hid it in her heart, trying to protect something, perhaps. Louis himself became teary-eyed, even though maybe it wasn’t right for a man to show sadness. To show emotion. But Louis did. He wanted Janice to look at him and see it on his face.
She saw it.
And she turned away.
“Life’s not fair.” Louis choked back his words. “Did the baby live?”
Janice nodded. He thought she said it was a boy, but he wasn’t quite sure. And then…he didn’t know what to say, or if he should say anything. He didn’t have anything profound to say, nothing interesting, nothing that he thought mattered. But the longer he sat next to Janice, the more of her pain he felt permeating his soul. It was a physical pain, passing from her to him. At first it startled him, then he accepted it and tears ran down his face. He dabbed at them, but his eyes kept spilling over. God, what was happening to him?
He thought back to his old dog, Ben. He died. But dogs aren’t people. But the pain was real. Dogs are part of the family. Louis thought of his grandmother and when she died. It was awful. The void was almost unbearable. But he got through it, the whole family got through it. Still, nothing seemed like the right thing to say.
“She sure got the short end of the deal.” After Louis said it, he regretted it, but he couldn’t stop talking. “She’ll never get to hold her son, or see him grow up, or be there for him. She’s gonna be nothing but a memory. Dang-it. Dang-it!”
Louis was actually mad. Why would God take someone like that, and right before they got married? God was making Janice sad, and the wedding was approaching.
Forgive me, Louis heard himself say, only it was days later that he’d say it.
“Thanks a lot!” Janice glared at Louis. “You really know how to make me feel good. You’re being a real jerk, you know that?”
No. He didn’t know that.
He was expressing his thoughts. Verbally. Very verbally.
“Listen. We’re getting married and you’re sitting here telling me about your cousin that died. I feel horrible. Did you consider my feelings?”
Janice’s eyes became large. They became saucers. Plates. Gigantic. Glaring. Red fire was starting to flare from them; he swore they were flares.
“Should I have not said anything?” He looked alarmed. Honestly. Alarmed.
Louis considered her words:
“Well, maybe. Yeah. You shouldn’t have said anything.”
Janice stood up, fists clenched.
She was younger, but wiser, and as is in most of the cases of love, when the older man loves the younger woman, the woman is right. Especially in this case. The woman knows. The woman is full of enlightenment. Knowledge. Wisdom. Yes, Wisdom.
“I’m trying to tell you I’m sad, and that my cousin died. And you think I should have not told you? I should spare your feelings?” Janice pushed back her curly hair from her beautiful face, and backed away from Louis. “You’re pathetic.”
Louis felt two inches tall.
No, one-inch tall.
God. He messed up. He really messed up.
All he could think about was marrying this woman, how he was going to sit here with her on the porch until the stars popped out of the sky, and he was going to kiss her into the small morning hours and they were going to talk about their hopes, and their dreams…and…
He screwed up.
He managed to say the Important Words. You know the ones.
“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”
But it was too late.
Words that are said, are said. Even if they are full of regrets, the words are spilled out and said.
One cannot un-do words.
Janice, Louis’s beautiful, lively, better-than-life dream slammed the front door, leaving Louis alone with the withering flowers…the flowers he so carefully picked, the flowers he so carefully chose for his soon-to-be-bride; the flowers he so carefully cut, based on looks and aroma and heartiness.
Louis wanted to take the flowers and throw them into the river, but he decided to spare them.
Instead, he left.
When he left, he felt Janice’s pain more than ever, and the regrets flooded down on him, like an ugly November rain, like a rain that comes hard and cold and unstoppable; a rain that kills.
All Louis could think of was marrying Janice, and being with her. All he had been thinking about was their first night together as husband and wife. Nothing else. And because he was unable to control his thoughts, his emotions…he said all the wrong things.
He didn’t know until then the fragileness of a woman, and he didn’t know until that night the strength of a woman.
Louis cried. Walking back to his old home, to his little home that was but a dot on the vastness of the universe…he cried. He wailed. He lost himself. He lost his heart. He lost hope. A part of him died.
The wedding, he knew, was off.
The moon was high and round that night. Not that Louis noticed. But it provided him light, and he made his way to his old, childhood home, even though he knew each turn by heart and each crack in the sidewalk. He knew when he had to step higher, and he knew when he had to step lower.
What he didn’t know was that a few blocks over was his Janice, crying, missing him, not knowing what to say. She recognized his weakness and she recognized hers, but neither were willing to say anything or do anything and all the while the moon kept on shining and the light kept pouring down, and both of them were oblivious to everything.
Yes, almost everything.
But love has a way of caring and mending, and like everything else…healing.
Somehow, they would find a way. Janice and Louis would find a way.
The beauty of a story is not just the beginning, but its ending.
And its middle.
And everything in and out and up and down and in front of it.
But now, that night, the moon kept shining in its brilliance and the sky lit up and even with the moon, even with the moon’s eyes wide open, the stars came and danced and were almost — almost– brighter than the sun.
They would write their own ending to the story. Or, rather, the beginning.
Tomorrow the sun was surely to come out and another hot, July day would begin.
People would mow their lawns at the break of dawn, and the dogs would begin to bark.
Children, free from the jail-house of school, would play in the streets and turn on water-hoses and spray water into the air.
And somehow, somehow, Louis and Janice would find their way back into each other’s hearts and arms and life would go on, and life would not stop.
They would finish the story.
They will finish the story.
This, I am sure of.