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 through doors of downtown shops. A gentle breeze carries scents of apple, cinnamon and pine through the air. Colored lights adorn shop windows and rows of garland sway overhead across the city street. I love this time of year. Especially early evening. Walking three blocks to my destination, excitement and nerves add to 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 Crissom voted quietest and most likely to succeed in our 1968 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? My heart is beating faster than I can remember. Somehow it matters.

I arrive at 159 Cambridge Street the address on the invitation. Music and voices from inside can be heard where I stand outside on the landing staring at a door knocker that once dropped will announce my arrival and no turning back. My emotions are all over the place. I feel like a nervous teenager. It’s as if the last three decades evaporated, as if they belonged to another woman in another lifetime. Where is she, the woman I know so well? She was here a few blocks ago, but the only sign of her is an image reflected in a windowpane set aside the door.

I take a deep breath, compose myself, raise the knocker then pause. Released, it’s echo mingles with the gaiety inside. A minute passes. I raise and release it again. Footsteps come towards the door. The door opens. It’s Colt.

             “Liv! I can’t believe my eyes!” He says with eagerness I hadn’t expected and before I can reply I am in his arms. I’m surprised but 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 and slowly releases me mindful there are others nearby. “I’m so glad to see you. Come in,” he says and gestures down the hall.

“Everyone, this is Liv,” cradling my waist at his side. “I think you know most everyone. Please excuse me and please make yourself at home,” he says, leans in, kisses my cheek and whispers, “We’ll talk later.”

It’s been years since I’ve seen our old friends. Tammy and Richard live in California now and arrived yesterday to spend the holidays with the daughter in Boston. Dianne and Selena, drove up from Connecticut. Roni and Shane now live in Tennessee. I say hello to Marie and Keith. They’ve just returned from Japan. I exchange season’s greetings with Cheryl and Kim. As I move about I recognize more faces, but I don't stop. I’m not fully present. My thoughts are on Colt and how the rest of the evening will play out.

The gala is festive and crowded amid a backdrop of Victorian décor. The home is an 1800s New England mill house restored to period. Most of the furnishings are period pieces an antique lover’s dream. The foyer where I stand feels like a grand hall with its burgundy floral wallpaper and ornate mahogany accents. The residence is spectacular, but I see nothing of the man I remember—the house lacks warmth and character. I move about some more and redecorate in my mind. The library would do better with lighter accents. The formal sitting room would benefit from upholstered furniture. The paintings on the walls scream wealth but lack taste.

             Then, I come upon a room unlike I’ve ever seen. A large immaculate kitchen encircled by a conservatory. White glass door cabinets hang above a long Corian counter. Drawers below 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 looks like 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 with its string of miniature lights hugging the top perimeter creating the perfect ambiance for the tables set for two in discrete locations around the room. An herb garden grows closest to the kitchen: basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, and more. Medicinal rosemary, sage, bee balm and caraway complement the mix. Oversized ceramic and clay pots hold Gardenia’s, Hibiscus, and Rose trees. I love rose trees. Zebra plants, milkweeds and emerald ferns provide a varied background to the petunias, geraniums, alyssum and jasmine mixed in between and crisscrossing above.

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

“Hi Sepp," I say with a big smile.

“Liv! How are you?”

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

“Colt said you might be coming.”

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

“Really?”

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

             “Colt?”

             I nod, yes.  

“It's all he could talk about. Liv. Liv. Liv,” he says, smiling. “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 you two like this.” An odd comment for me to make seeing as I haven’t seen either of them since we were young. But somehow, I feel I still know them.

With more of a grin than a smile, he replies, “You have to play the part, ya’ know. Its office and meeting space. And, as you can see, entertaining. Can’t beat downtown. You’re right, though,” and lets out a hearty laugh. “This is not where we unwind.”

             “How are you doing? Where are you living now?” He asks, and we get lost in conversation, reminiscing about school days and ruminate on all the changes in town.

I feel an arm wrap around my shoulder and at my waist and hear Colt whisper, “Can we go somewhere quiet to talk?” My heart begins to race—again. In truth, it never did regain resting mode.

             “I’d love that,” I say and as I turn feel Colt’s lips brush my cheek.

In this moment, my feelings are out of touch with reality. They are decades old: young, passionate, and in love. What is this? “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, the impetuous young lady takes a back seat and my composure stays intact. 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’re quiet as we walk the hallway and near a discreet part of the house. Seemingly out of nowhere an archway presents itself and we step through onto a wide landing sitting atop a spiral staircase. Ornate rod iron railings grace its sides and sea-green painted walls surround 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. “Oh, a patio must be there.” I surmise. 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 a hobby of mine.”

“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 and I’m in awe. How much effort went in to this creation? And, why? I wonder.

             “It’s a passion,” Colt answers as if reading my mind. “I’ve always loved the ocean, and the more time I spent diving, the deeper in love I fell.”

             “Who takes care of it?”

             “I do. It’s part of its charm.”

                 I look puzzled; I’m sure, as I think about the ten-gallon freshwater fish tank I had to give up because I couldn’t keep it clean.

“For me, anyway,” he says.

I feel Colt’s eyes fixed on me as mine are on the world beyond the glass. “He’s here. It’s like we haven’t missed a beat. After all these years.” A sound interrupts my thoughts. Colt has opened the hallway door and asks, “Will you join me?”

             I’m drawn to both, this world he’s created and to him. I move away from this sea and toward the man.