Jen DeSantis’ Picture Choice: 2
Title: Bridgemere Park
He ran a gloved finger over the rusted metal and leaned more heavily upon his walking cane. The cool autumn breeze nipped at his face and he pulled the brim of his bowler hat down lower against the blast.
The old pathway, once clearly delineated with fresh gravel and carefully chosen flowers was barely visible amid the debris. It hurt his old heart to see it wasted away in such a way.
“Edward, come along,” his wife said, taking his arm. “It’s getting cold and it’ll be dark soon. We should head back.”
“Cara, dear, she’s just up this old path. I just want to see her one more time.”
His wife furrowed her old brow, but nodded just the same. He asked for so little; surely she could walk a little further so he could put his past to bed for for good.
He remembered walking up the path for the first time in the old days, back when he had no need of a cane. He was young then, arriving at the great manor for a job in service. It was quite an honor for a farm boy to be taken into service at one of the big houses, even as a lowly stable lad. Edward remembered the fear, and the awe, that filled him as he walked up that path for the first time. He never imagined the things he would see there, or the way it would alter the entire course of his life.
“I first saw you here,” he said, pointing with his cane.
Cara smiled, but didn’t say a word. Her own memories of this path, and this old house, were quite different than Edward’s. After all, while he was filled with memories of happy firsts, most of what remained here for Cara were difficult lasts.
“I never thought then that we’d be walking back, arm in arm, as an old married couple.”
“I should think not,” she replied with a laugh.
Edward stopped. “Did you see me that day?”
“What a strange question,” Cara said, color rising in her wrinkled cheeks. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s a simple question. That first day, I remember it like it was yesterday. I walked up this path with only a half-broken carpetbag filled with all of my earthly possessions. And then I nearly dropped it all when I spied you walking the grounds with your faithful hound. You were the fairest thing I’d ever seen.”
Cara sighed. Their love, their entire story, was so strange. No one from her former life had ever believed the way it unfolded. Certainly her family didn’t understand. They disowned her out of turn the minute she came to them. They’d eventually relented some, but the damage had been done. And she knew that her actions had caused the eventual downfall of their entire family structure. She loved him, but the price of that love never ceased to cause a burning pain in her chest.
“No, Edward. I didn’t see you that day. Or if I had, it made no impression on me then. You were just another hired hand then. And I was the daughter of the house.”
They turned and walked on, up the forgotten path, toward Bridgemere Park. As they walked, the high turrets began to be visible above the tangle of wild branches that had grown out of check over the years. Cara’s heart stopped for a moment in her chest. She knew that Edward’s would have done the same, though for quite different reasons. They were both coming home, but the ramifications of that homecoming were far different for the two old lovers.
“Do you remember it was here?” Edward said, his voice thick. “It was here that I asked you to marry me.”
“I do remember that,” Cara replied with a smile.
Warmth filled her chest as she remembered those first days with Edward. The thrill of finding her soulmate. The fear when she thought of the great divide that separated them. But there was always that warmth and comfort when she thought of those memories. Despite the intervening pain from her family, memories of falling in love with Edward filled her with happiness.
They could see the house plainly then. Once chestnut brown walls were now stained mostly black from years of exposure to the harsh rains. Twisted vines, dead in the harsh autumn months, snaked over most of the front door. They had once been artfully trained over the archway so that in the spring, the smell of wisteria wafted in every time the great door was open. Now, their pale brown skeletons seemed to warn off any visitors like a morbid gate.
“I remember the first and last time I walked through that front door,” Edward said softly. “It was right after you agreed to marry me. You took my hand and led me through the front door. I thought Claymore would fall over dead from the shock of seeing me in my grimy clothes walk through to the library.”
Cara laughed a little. She remembered Claymore fondly, the gentle butler who was more uncle than servant. He did not like anything out of order. And Edward, a stable lad, in the library with the first daughter of Bridgemere Park, was most definitely out of order.
“Does it make you happy, my dear?” Edward asked, concern washing over his face. “I’ve thought so long about reliving my happy memories here that I’m afraid I haven’t thought much about the pain that this might cause you.”
“It is bittersweet, I’m afraid. There is happiness when I think of you. There is sadness when I think of the horrid way we all parted. And there is the mixed emotion of remembering my childhood growing up within these walls.”
Edward nodded, and looked back at the once great house. “I am forever grateful for the luck that brought me here that day.”
Cara could hear the tears threatening in her husband’s voice. He loved her so. But also, he had loved Bridgemere so. Seeing her near ruin with nothing to be done to save her, pained him. It pained her too.
“Lainey wrote that they are thinking of turning it into a museum,” she said softly. “Fix her up a bit and fill her with beauty once again.”
“That would be good,” he said, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiping at his face. “It doesn’t do to see her dead inside and out.”
“No,” Cara agreed. “She was never that.”
The couple stared for several minutes longer before the wife finally had her way and they walked back to the village. As they left Bridgemere behind, the tightness that had filled her chest began to ease. The overwhelming happiness of her life came back and with it came the color around her. She was free of the life she’d led so many years ago.
She was free of all of the pain that going back had reminded her of. And like her Edward, she could be thankful for whatever hands of fate played a part in bringing him to Bridgemere all those years ago. Without them, she never would have left Bridgemore. But she also thought that she might never be so happy as she was when she laid down next to her husband and turned off the little lamp. He’d given her that, and that was worth so much more than whatever possibilities she’d left behind when she left Bridgemere.
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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author. She lives near Philly with her family. Tweet her at @JenD_Author