Happily Ever After - Chapter 1


Happily Ever After

             -is not what I thought


by Christine Sarno-Doyle


“You don’t measure love in time. You measure love in transformation. Sometimes the longest connections yield very little growth, while the briefest of encounters change everything. The heart doesn’t wear a watch - it’s timeless. It doesn’t care how long you know someone. It doesn’t care if you had a 40 year anniversary if there is no juice in the connection. What the heart cares about is resonance. Resonance that opens it, resonance that enlivens it, resonance that calls it home. And when it finds it, the transformation begins…”                                                                                                                                   Jeff Brown, Author


Holiday music sifts out to the sidewalk from downtown shops and the scent of apple, cinnamon and pine waft in the air. Strings of lights glow in shop windows and strands of garland shimmer above city streets. I love this time of year, and as I walk three blocks this evening to my destination an excitement and nervousness mix with the joy I feel. I can’t tell which is more pronounced.


It’s been thirty-two years since I last saw Colt. Colter Derrick Crisson voted shyest and most likely to succeed in our senior high yearbook. I wonder if I will recognize him, or he me. Is he married? I heard he married. Is he still? If he is, will she answer the door? If she answers the door, why should it matter? The beating of my heart tells me, somehow it matters.


971 Cambridge Street is the address on the invitation and I hear music, voices and swells of laughter as I approach. I hesitate once at the door, stand and stare at the door knocker that once dropped will announce my arrival and there’ll be no turning back. I wait taking stock of my emotions which feel flighty as if belonging to a nervous teenager. As if the last three decades just evaporated, as if memories of them belong to another woman in another lifetime. Where is the mature woman I know so well? She was here a mere few blocks ago. But, now the only sign of her is an image reflecting in a windowpane set aside the door.


With a deep breath to compose myself, I raise the knocker and let it fall. I hear its echo mingle with the gaiety inside. A minute passes but feels like more. I raise and release the knocker again. Footsteps can be heard coming towards the door; it opens. It’s Colt.


             “Liv! I can’t believe my eyes!” He says with an eagerness I hadn’t expected. Before I can reply he has me in his arms. I return the favor. How long may I hold him? I wonder. I don’t want to let go.


“I can’t believe I found you,” he says as he eases his embrace. There are guests nearby. “I’m so glad to see you. Come in,” he says and gestures down the hall.


“Everyone, this is Liv,” he announces his arm securely at my waist. “I think you know most everyone. Excuse me. Please make yourself at home,” he says, kisses my cheek and whispers, “We’ll talk later.”


It’s been years since I’ve seen our old friends. Tammy and Richard all the way from California. Dianne and Selena from Connecticut. Roni and Shane now in Tennessee. Marie and Keith, Canada. Cheryl and Kim still live nearby. We exchange hugs and greetings and I continue on recognizing more faces but don't stop. I’ve never been one for small talk. Even more so this evening because I’m not fully present. My thoughts are on Colt and how the rest of the evening will play out.

The gala is festive amid a backdrop of Victorian décor set in an 1800s New England mill house restored to period. The furnishings are period pieces an antique lover’s dream. The foyer looks like a grand hall wallpapered in a burgundy floral motif accented with mahogany wainscoting and crown molding. The adjoining formal room is papered with blue striped and white rose panels continuing with the same mahogany accents. It’s extraordinary lacking a sense of warmth and comfort, for me anyway. I redecorate in my mind as I move along. The dark library walls would do better with lighter accents. The formal sitting room would benefit from light colored upholstery to better complement dark walls. Paintings on the walls look expensive but lack elegance. It’s spectacular but I don’t see anything that speaks to the man I remember.


             Finally, I come upon and enter a room unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s a spacious, immaculate kitchen encircled by a large conservatory. Beautiful, white and glass door cabinetry hang above a long Corian counter top. Drawers beneath complete the space. An island stove, sink, and prep area sit in the center of the room. Sparkling pots and pans hang from a rotating ceiling pan holder. It’s amazing, a picture from a culinary catalog. My cooking skills are maintenance-based, but I fully appreciate the beauty and detail that’s gone into its design.


I move through the kitchen into the conservatory. A string of miniature lights hugs the top perimeter creating the perfect atmosphere for the tables set for two dispersed around the room. An herb garden with basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, more grows closest to the kitchen. Medicinal rosemary, sage, bee balm and caraway complement the mix. Ceramic and clay pots hold Gardenia’s, Hibiscus, and Rose trees. I love rose trees. Annuals, ferns petunias, geraniums, alyssum and jasmine hang from crisscrossing rods above.


             I see Sepp standing in the far corner looking out a doorway onto the patio just beyond. Goodness, this place just keeps going. Sepp, Colt’s older brother, is four years my senior. Tall, dark and handsome just as I remember him even with his now thinning hair. He’s in deep thought and unaware of my presence. So, I stand quietly. His six-foot-four-inch stature and my not-so-quite five-two elevation striking me as funny right now.


“Liv! How are you?” He says finally.

“I’m fine. Thanks. I didn’t want to startle you. You were in a world all your own.”

“You haven't changed a bit!” he says.

“Thanks.” I take the complement in stride knowing full well the extra forty pounds and my gray hair lay in stark contrast to the 110-pound blonde he knew 32 years ago. Then again, he looks good to me too even with all those years behind us.

“Colt said you might be coming.”

“Yeah. I was surprised to get the invitation. Wasn't sure until the last minute.”


“It’s been a long time. I didn’t know what to expect.”


I nod, yes.

“It's all he could talk about. Liv. Liv. Liv. I’m glad you could make it. How do you like it?”

             “The party?”

             “Sure. And, the house?”

             “I’m having a nice time. The house…I don’t remember the two of you like this.” An odd comment for me make seeing as I haven’t seen either of them since we were young.

With more of a grin than a smile, he says, “You have to play the part, ya’ know. It’s a great location, office and meeting space. And, as you can see, entertaining. You’re right, though,” he says with a hearty laugh. “This is not where we unwind.”

             “How are you doing? Where are you living now?” We get lost in conversation, reminisce about school days and ruminate all the changes in town.


I feel Colt’s arm reach around the front of my shoulders and his other around my waist. “Can we go somewhere quiet to talk?” He whispers, and my heart starts racing. In truth, it never did regain resting mode.


             “I’d love that,” I say and as I turn towards him feel his lips brush my cheek.


In this moment, my feelings are out of touch with reality. I feel young, passionate, and in love. Feelings decades old. “Oh, please don’t act like a nervous school girl,” I tell myself. “You’re fifty-seven years old for heaven’s sake. Act like an adult!” And with that admonishment, an impetuous young lady takes a back seat and I hold my composure. Thank goodness.


“It was nice to see you,” I tell Sepp and excuse myself from our conversation. “I’d love to talk more sometime.”

“Look forward to it,” he replies.

             “This way,” Colt says as he takes my hand. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you, Liv. How many years has it been?”

             “Thirty-two.” I know exactly.

             We remain quiet as we walk down the hallway to a discreet part of the house where seemingly out of nowhere an archway appears. We step through onto a spacious landing set atop a broad spiral staircase. Ornate iron railings grace its sides and a sea-green painted walls finish the space. The lighting is dim but as we make our way down sensors illuminate each step then fall dark once we pass.

             “That’s interesting,” I say. “The lighting. I’ve never seen that before.”

             “It’s to keep this area as natural as possible,” he replies.

             “Natural?” I wonder aloud.

             At the bottom a long hallway stretches in front of us with a single door at the far end.

To my left is an unadorned wall in the same sea-green hue. To my right is a wall of glass stretching the length of the hall. “A patio must be on the other side.” But as my eyes adjust to the light, an ocean water aquarium comes into view.

“Oh my god, Colt. What is this?”

             “Beautiful, isn’t it?” He replies. “It’s my hobby.”

“Hobby? It’s incredible. How’d you …”

“Fifteen years…in the making. Let me turn up the light a bit.”

The scene reminds me of snorkeling in the Florida Keys or Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay. I’m in awe. How much effort went in to its creation? Why? I wonder.