By Ekta R. Garg
(I’m continuing the story I started last week, because I sensed it wasn’t quite done yet. For the first part of this story, click here.)
Kylie stopped before the sliding doors of the library could swish open and took a deep breath.
Her knees began to wobble, but then she forced herself to recall a memory. This time it was of her husband’s reaction to the library job. Suzanna had suggested the approach: when feelings of grief threatened to overwhelm, Suzanna said to stop—physically stop—everything and think of a memory that anchored Daniel to the moment.
Kylie scoffed when her friend recommended it, yet she’d tried it. More than once. So far it had worked. At least, it kept her from screaming Daniel’s name and challenging the universe or God or whoever—she didn’t know anymore at this point who was responsible for taking her husband from her—to take her too.
Today the memory was of Daniel listening with animation as Kylie shared that the library had offered her a job. After years of yearning to be a part of the place that anchored her childhood, she’d get a chance to spend her days there. She would shelve books, help avid readers find new favorites, and run programs.
She could still feel Daniel’s breath on her cheek as he closed in to hug her and then nuzzle her neck.
A breeze blew some stray strands of hair onto her forehead, and she pushed them back. The library doors slid open, quiet, respectful of her return. She fingered the watch he’d sent her—his last, precious gift hanging loose on her wrist—swallowed hard and went inside.
“Kylie! Oh my goodness!”
Kylie turned from the cart where returned books sat waiting to go back onto shelves and allowed a grin to creep across her face. Molly—technically her boss but, really, her fellow book nerd—came to her and gave her a tight hug. Kylie stiffened for a moment and then relaxed. After a moment or two, Molly let go but kept a hold on Kylie’s shoulders.
“It’s so good to see you today,” she said.
Kylie nodded. “I’m glad…glad to be back.”
Molly squeezed her arms. “It’s okay if all of you isn’t ready yet. You just take the time you need.”
Kylie’s eyes burned, but she forced herself to smile and nodded with extra enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm, it seemed, was the buzz word of the day. Regular patrons came and told her how much they missed her. Other library staffers stopped for a moment to chat. No one mentioned Daniel exactly, but their carefully-chosen words formed an outline around him. Kylie could have drawn him from the way everyone kept not talking about him.
By the end of the day, she had to admit Suzanna’s suggestion to go back to the library had been another good one.
Why does she have to be so smart? Kylie thought as she gathered her purse and sweater from the staff room at the end of the day. Her lips twitched, which worried her, until she realized they were trying to form into a smile.
She drove home and settled into her cozy kitchen for a bowl of soup. It came from a can, but Kylie heated it up herself. She got herself some oyster crackers to go with it and sat at the small square table in the kitchen instead of retreating to the sofa in front of the big picture window. After weeks of eating all her meals in the living room, this was the third night in a row she was eating dinner sitting in a regular chair again.
It made the spot between her shoulder blades itch and her hands happy all at the same time. It left her confused and exhausted. It made her miss Daniel with such ferocity that she had to gulp what was in her mouth and screw her eyes shut.
Think of Daniel enjoying dinner. Think of Daniel’s favorite breakfast. Maybe I can make him his favorite tomorrow.
She refused to go deeper into the last thought. Instead, Kylie focused on her day off the next day and thought about going to Target or Marshalls, just wandering around, seeing what the world looked like since becoming a widow.
Widow. I’m a widow now. I’m 27 years old and…
Her heart cracked as she dropped her spoon into her bowl and covered her face with her hands.
Kylie blinked a few times and realized she had fallen asleep on the sofa. With a groan, she uncurled her body, images from the previous night flashing through her mind. The halfhearted attempt to finish her soup. Trudging to the sofa and sinking into it. Turning her face toward the picture window and wishing, with the marrow of her bones, that Daniel would come home.
A yawn made her jaw crack, and Kylie rubbed the back of her neck as she trudged to the bathroom. Over the whir of her electric brush, she heard the doorbell ring. She glanced at the clock and realized she’d slept later than she realized.
Hurrying to spit and rinse, Kylie rubbed her face with a towel and threw it on the bed before doing a power walk to the door and pulling it open.
The DHL guy again. The one wearing the unfortunate yellow uniform. Her eyes flitted up and down the young man’s frame, and she couldn’t hide a wince.
“I know, fashion statement, huh?” he said, a smile revealing dimples.
The delivery man held out his signature pad. “Got another package for you.”
She took the device, scribbled something on it, and handed it back. The man held a padded envelope. “Do you have a lot of family overseas?”
Kylie’s eyebrows furrowed at the customs tag. It gave an address in Italy, but the sender’s name looked as much like chicken scratch as what she’d scrawled on the signature line. “No, just…my husband. He’s, um…he’s…”
The dimples disappeared, and Kylie saw it: an onset of sympathy. She didn’t want his condolences. It was bad enough handling them from her family and friends.
“Um, thank you,” she said. “Have a nice day.”
Without waiting for a response, she shut the door and took the padded envelope to the sofa. Her heart refused to beat in regular rhythm. The watch had made sense, but this? Daniel wasn’t even in Italy when he was killed.
She fumbled with the rip tab and got it to cut the top of the envelope on the third try then let her hand snake inside. Her fingers closed around a stick of cold metal, and her heart rate increased. Had someone sent her something to threaten her?
Kylie’s face flushed as she pulled her hand out of the envelope.
A whirling pattern at the end of the handle made it kind of pretty, but Kylie had no idea what it was supposed to mean. She peeked inside the envelope and saw the note her hand had missed. Dropping the spoon back into the envelope, she pulled out the note.
Someday we’ll eat gelato in Italy, it read. I love you. D.
Gelato… Kylie thought as the world started to go black at the edges. She and Daniel had the entire honeymoon planned out. They’d wait until he had at least a week of leave and then meet in Tuscany. That week of leave, Daniel’s CO told them, would probably come about 18 months after their wedding.
Ten months from now.
The package from Italy had been postmarked 10 days earlier.
She dropped both the note and the envelope. They slipped to the floor, and Kylie nearly stepped on both as she ran to where her cell phone sat on the counter. Her fingers trembled as she brought up Suzanna’s name on her contacts list and dialed the number.