Jen DeSantis’ Picture Choice: 1
Marie knew the spot when she saw it; weeping willows were always his favorite. She let a little smile touch her lips as she walked the last hundred yards or so over to the benches. A weeping willow…. A fitting place for an ending.
She was deliberately early, knowing that he prided himself on always being on time. She wanted the time to breathe before he arrived and stole her breath away with all of his plans.
Marie had known Marc for almost ten years now. He joined the institute where she worked then and they’d been working together ever since. She’d been in love with him for almost all of that time. And the time before she loved him? It barely registered on her radar. All of the important things in her life had happened since she met him. The rest was just noise in the background.
And now, it was ending. She wondered whether life would just cease to have any color or meaning once she walked away from this bench. That would be a bitter pill to swallow after ten years full of music, color, and passion. Still, this was the way of the world. Ebb and flow. She thought, while she was in it, that it might never end. That’s never the way of things, though.
Marc bounded toward her over the grassy hills. She saw the little spring in his step that belied his excitement. Though her heart ached in her chest, Marie couldn’t help but smile for him. He was happy; it was all she ever wanted for him. She took a deep breath and counted to four, then exhaled deeply. She had to hold it together for him now. She wouldn’t let her sadness taint his joy. Not now.
“You came,” Marc said, a smile growing across his face as he squinted into the sunlight.
“Of course,” Marie replied. “Have I ever not come when you asked?”
He snickered. “No, I suppose not. How are you?”
He sat down next to her on the bench, the fleshy part of his leg nudging against hers. She felt her heart flutter and took another deep breath.
“Alright, I suppose. Been a bit busy. You? You sounded very excited on the phone.”
“I am!” Marc exclaimed, and he took her hand absentmindedly. “It’s all so thrilling really.”
“Well, I’m on the edge of my seat. Tell me before I burst.”
Marie concentrated on the sway of the branches around them to block out the dizzy feeling his hand on hers caused. Breathe in, breathe out. Hold it together.
“The grant money finally came through,” he said breathlessly. “We’re going!”
Marie exhaled hard. She felt her face crumpling and worked hard to keep it together. Of course, she had already known what his news had to be. It was only thing he’d working on since he joined the institute those ten years ago. The only thing that brought out his fire.
When he joined the Institute, he’d done so to work on a theory about long term space travel. He believed he could harness the science and make it a reality for humans to reach the outer edges of our solar system and beyond. It was all he talked about, all he worked towards, and all he dreamed of. When the money came through, he talked of nothing else but hopping on a spaceship and leaving this world behind. For him, no time at all would pass as he slept away the journey to the galaxies beyond. But for her, earth bound and awake, he’d be gone. Completely and forever.
“You’re not happy,” Marc said softly.
“Of course I am,” Marie said too quickly, trying to recover. “I am so happy. Your dream is finally a reality and you’ll finally get to go.”
Marc looked at her and squeezed the hand he still held. “We,” he said again. “Unless….”
“We?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”
“I always thought that you…”
All of the reminders she’d given herself to breathe failed as she stared into his bright eyes. The excitement was still hectic on his face, but there hesitation there now as well.
“Thought that I what, Marc? What did you think?”
“I thought that you would want to come with me.”
She exhaled and moved her other hand on top of his. “I didn’t think…. You see, I always assumed you meant to go alone, with just the astronauts. I didn’t think you’d want me there.”
He tilted his head to the side, a faint smile playing at his lips. “How would I ever get by without you?”
“I didn’t think…. Let me understand. You want me there as your assistant, yes? You are simply worried about the experiments and the data?”
Marie knew it didn’t matter. Should he say that that was the only reason he wanted her to make the journey, she would go home and settle all of her affairs immediately. It wouldn’t matter in the slightest that she’d be only his assistant. But, suddenly, she needed to know where she stood. It would be a very long time in that spaceship to always only wonder.
“You are very good at your job,” Marc replied slowly. “But, no. I had hoped, perhaps, there was a little more there than that.”
Marie leaned in closer to him. “There has always been more than that for me. But, I never thought…”
He kissed her without warning and the world around them seemed to stop. She breathed him in, her heart feeling like it might beat straight out of her chest.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered as the broke apart. “I always thought you knew.”
Marie laughed softly. “Of course you did,” she replied. “It’s forgiven. And yes. I’d go to the end of the world with you.”
“And beyond?” he asked with a smile.
“Anywhere,” she said. “Anywhere at all.”
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Jennifer DeSantis is a Horror and Paranormal Author. She lives near Philly with her family. Tweet her at @JenD_Author