As John parked his car in front of the house, he thought about what he would say. He hadn't seen Rachel in more than ten years and he wondered if she had changed -- if he had changed. He wondered what words he could find to tell her why he had come to see her.
John got out of the car and, for a moment, stood there just gazing at the two-story house. It was yellow with a red roof, and a large porch wrapped the house. On the front porch and next to the front door rested a couple of metal chairs and a small table.
A basket with red and yellow flowers hung from the ceiling and everything looked to be proper in its place. That was no surprise and, as John took everything in, he smiled as he remembered how particular his former wife Rachel was and how she wanted everything to be in its place. She wanted everything to be perfect, even him.
Well, there was no more putting it off, John had made the decision to come to Rachel some weeks ago and it was time to knock on the door. He walked slowly up to the front steps and, as he slowly maneuvered those four steps, he continued to wonder if he was doing the right thing.
If there was a button activating the doorbell, John didn't see it, so he just lightly knocked on the screen door. The interior door was open, and he could see into the home. The sunlight from the front living room window splashed across the wood floor, crept past the main room, and brightened what appeared to be the dining room.
It was as if he wanted to know everything about the house Rachel called home. He saw the colors on the walls, the color of leather on the sofa, and he counted the number of rugs that lay on the floor. He wondered if Rachel would welcome his visit. After all, it was unannounced, and it had been so many years.
"Just a minute," a voice from inside the house shouted. "I'll be right there."
John was now more nervous than he had been a minute ago. Something within him told him to run back to the car and drive away, but he knew he would forever regret that decision.
Then her image came into view. With a dishtowel draped over her arm and carrying a plate, she spoke. "Hi, can I," but then she stopped, and for a moment, there was silence.
"John, what a surprise."
"Hello, Rachel, it's been such a long time since I've seen you."
At first, it seemed awkward, but no more than a few seconds passed before Rachel once again spoke. "Well, come on in."
"Thanks, I just wanted to talk to you. Is this a good time, or am I interrupting you?"
"No, you're not interrupting me. The kids are in school, and Mike is at work. Come on in."
John's nervousness hadn't left him and the meaning of his visit and the words to be said filled his head.
"Have a seat," Rachel said as she pointed to a large leather chair situated across from the sofa. "I'll just put this dish away and, oh, can I get you something to drink? Would you like some tea or maybe a cup of coffee?"
"No thanks, nothing for me."
Rachel was as beautiful as ever. Just the sound of her voice brought back so many fond memories, and John couldn't take his eyes off her as she walked from the room. He could almost smell her hair, and he remembered the touch of her hand on his arm.
"Are you sure," she yelled, "it's no trouble."
"Yeah, I'm sure, but thanks anyway."
"Ok, I'll be right there."
Rachel returned to the room and sat near the end of the sofa. John wondered if that was her favorite resting place or if she was there because of his presence in the chair. So many details seemed to catch his eye.
"It's great to see you," she said. "Did you just stop by to say hello, or is there another reason for your visit.?"
"There's another reason, Rachel."
The mood and the expression on her face turned somber. Rachel knew the reason for John's visit was a serious one.
"Rachel, it's been ten years since the divorce and we've each gone our separate ways. You found a new life with Mike and your daughters Coleen and Brenda. I never found anyone else, so I've lived alone, but I guess that's the way it was meant to be."
Rachel didn't speak.
There was a pause as John thought of a way to make the words softer, but there was no way to do that.
"Rachel, I'm dying."
Rachel put her hand over her mouth. "Dying, that can't be."
John continued to speak. "It's true. I didn't come to see you, looking for sympathy or really looking for anything, but I wanted to give you the news."
John continued. "I didn't want you to hear about it from a friend or someone else. I just figured that it was something you needed to hear from me personally."
"But how? Why? What are you talking about?"
"I have cancer, and there's nothing that can be done about it. I'm told that I have a couple of months left."
"But you look fine." It was as if Rachel was searching for a way to make the news untrue. "Maybe you need to see another doctor."
"Rachel, I've seen all the doctors I care to see. There's no getting around the truth, and that truth is that I will soon die. I guess I've accepted the idea of it, and that's why I can talk so openly about the diagnosis."
Rachel began to cry. "John, I still have a special place in my heart for you. I love my husband and the two girls, but I also still love you. I don't know what happened to us, but I'll always love you."
"Rachel, I feel the same way about you. Maybe that's why I never remarried. I knew I could never find anyone like you."
John had a leatherbound book on his lap.
"This is the photo album you created many years ago. I guess you left it with me because you thought I wanted or needed it, and I did. I want to leave it here with you."
John raised himself from the chair and placed the album on Rachel's lap.
"John, sit here on the sofa next to me," she said as she opened the album.
The two looked at page after page of photos of the couple. They even found photographs that brought a smile and a laugh to the couple's faces. Then it was time to go.
"I have to be going," John said.
Rachel leaned over, hugged his neck, and kissed John's cheek.
"What can I do? How will I know if you need help? Will you have someone let me know something, anything?"
"No, Rachel, I don't want to interrupt your life any more than I already have. Just remember me and this afternoon. That's enough."
John returned her hug and kiss and gave one last look in Rachel's direction as he left.
"I love you," she said in a broken voice.
"Far beyond forever," he replied as he walked through the doorway and out of sight.
John died a couple of months later and somehow the news of his passing was kept relatively secret. There was no mention of it in the newspapers or anywhere else. She knew he wanted it that way. Rachel checked the papers for several months, but there came a day when she knew it was over.
In the years to come, she missed the birthday and Christmas cards from John, and she was saddened by the empty place in her heart. As for the photo album. Well, on dreary winter days and on warm summer afternoons and when she was all alone, she looked through that book. Rachel wiped away a tear or two, but she also smiled.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents, who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. The opinions expressed are those of the author.