Sometimes she paced in random patterns. Others, she simply stood there. Looking. Wishing. And regardless of whether she paced or stood still, her feelings remained the same. She could think of nothing else but…him.
My poor Tom, Olivia thought, as her eyes scanned the horizon for anything that looked alien to the water. Are you still out there? Her eyes started to fill again, when she thought of her dearest Tom all alone. She ached for him terribly but refused to believe that he actually dead. The Coast Guard and marine search parties had given up weeks ago, officially declaring him “lost at sea.” They apologized for giving up, not that it made her feel any better.
How could she accept that he was gone without seeing his body? Didn’t people need to see for themselves in order to have closure and move on? It was much easier to believe that he was somewhere out there, clinging to life and successfully exercising the survival skills he’d learned in the military.
Her gaze moved upwards, as if to address the Gods that might have been watching from their place in the Heavens. ‘Can’t you give me a sign?’ she asked, in a soft voice, initially. Before she knew it, she was screaming. ‘Come ON! YOU know! YOU KNOW WHERE HE IS!!! It’s NOT FAIR! I NEED to know if my TOM is still WITH ME!!!’ She punctuated her outburst by crumpling to the ground, surprised she had anymore tears left. Her body ached from all the crying she had done since Tom disappeared all those weeks ago.
If only I hadn’t insisted on the weekend getaway to the coast… she thought, still feeling pangs of guilt. If only I hadn’t suggested going sailing….STOP it! You’ve been through this a million times already.
On that fateful day, everything had been perfect. The weather. The food. The conversation. And especially the time spent together. Quality time was a luxury back at home. Interruptions, schedules, deadlines. They’d always joked about being two ships passing in the night. Hence the suggestion to “be on the same ship for once.”
“Let’s go sailing after lunch,” she proposed, as he pulled her into his embrace. “Remember? Just like we did on our honeymoon.”
“Can you believe that was eight years ago, Livvy?” he marvelled. “Where does the time go, sweetheart?”
She giggled as he kissed her nose, affectionately. “Well, I would tell you, but we agreed not to discuss reality.”
“So let’s talk about fantasy, then,” he said, with a playful smirk.
The kiss she gave him, in response, said, ‘I am so with you, baby.’
The boat was magnificent, for a rental. The fee was far less than expected, too. She remembered wondering why the fee had been so reasonable, but decided that the owner of the boat was simply being generous. They had been too distracted to care. So many mistakes, she thought, wistfully.
When the boat had sailed a fair distance from the dock, things started to unravel. Horribly. The man who rented them the boat didn’t even own it, nor did he have much skill in sailing. He was simply “borrowing it” to make money for himself. Tom, just wishing to make small talk, asked the man questions about sailing. Too many questions. When it became apparent that the man was a fraud, Tom demanded to be brought back to the marina. Only, the man didn’t take kindly to being ordered about. A fight ensued. She had tried to interfere, but wound up being pushed to the ground…which had incensed Tom even more. Things happened far too quickly after that; all she could do was stand there and watch helplessly, knowing that neither would stop fighting until one of them fell, unable to fight anymore. She remembered her cell and, with trembling fingers, dialled 911.
When Tom fell off the boat, she screamed. As he hit the water, her eyes widened in horror. Oh God…he doesn’t have his lifejacket on. She tried to tell herself that he would be okay; he was a good swimmer.
The police arrived, soon after, with the Coast Guard, via boat, and made a hasty arrest. The Coast Guard sent numerous divers to search the water. All Olivia could do was wait. And pray.
Her prayers remained unanswered. Yet she still came to this spot every day, to hold vigil. She was tired and she hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks. Part of her knew she had to move on and accept the possibility that she had lost him forever. Yet, she still could not stay away. What if he comes back and…I’m not here?
Then, it happened. Olivia saw a family in the distance, just walking along the empty beach, laughing and playing. She watched them for a while, feeling sad that she and Tom never got the chance to start a family of their own. They had planned to have children “one day” but the day never came. And now, it probably never would. Not with my Tom, anyway. The very idea of there being “someone else” was too painful to consider, but she was starting to realize that coming here every day was not helping her to move on with her life. It’s time to stop. She decided that she would return to the spot once more to say ‘goodbye’ and then do what he would have wanted ~ live on and be happy.
For this visit, she brought a blanket and some food. She was going to sit comfortably, eat her favorite foods, drink a glass of wine and relive their life together. As she ate, she realized that she could actually taste the flavors of food again. Her thoughts drifted to all of the highlights of her life with Tom: the day they met…the first time he ever kissed her…their blissful wedding day…the way he looked after her when she was ill…the presents he gave her, “just because”…the way he called her “sweetheart”…the morning of the day he disappeared, when he told her how much he cherished her with all of his heart…
She was extremely glad for the time they’d taken to reaffirm their love for each other; it was almost as if they somehow “knew” that the separation was inevitably coming. The tears flowed again but, this time, for reasons different from all the other times she’d come here. In her mind, she knew Tom was “telling” her that it was time to say goodbye, that he would be with her always, that his love for her would never falter, despite the physical separation. A tear fell into her glass of wine, as she drank and mustered the courage to speak aloud. There was no more *thinking* her “farewell”. She had to say it. Believe it.
Inhaling deeply, she stood and pulled her coat more snugly around her form. She scanned the horizon one last time and, closing her eyes tightly, she said aloud, in a firm but sincere tone, “I love you and always will, my sweet Tom. goodbye, darling…” As soon as she finished speaking, a strong gust of wind suddenly swept over her, causing her to open her eyes, in surprise. As the wind died down, she felt a sense of inner peace taking hold of her entire being. It was almost as if the wind had taken some of the intensity of the pain with it, acting as a filter somehow.
Gathering up the blanket and remnants of her picnic, she took a final look at the water and left the beach, with no intention of ever returning.
“Hello?” she said into the receiver as she typed the last line of a report she’d been working on all morning.
“Livvy…it’s almost exactly an hour until we can do the lunch thing,” reminded her friend, Mary. “I want you in front of DiMarco’s, and bring your heartiest appetite because I’m payin’ girl. You DO know what today is, right?”
“Today? Hmmmmm…” She glanced at her calendar and froze. “Ohhh…”
“Uh-huh…Mikey’s debut gig! He’s SO nervous, girl. I have to keep telling him that he’s going to do fine…”
She was no longer paying attention to what Mary was saying; the date on her calendar was now in the foreground, reminding her that it had been exactly a year since Tom’s disappearance.
“Livvy? You still there?” Mary was asking. “Livvy?”
“Sorry, yes,” she answered.
Hesitation. “Well, I just noticed the date…and…it was…when…Tom…”
“Oh Liv…I’m SO sorry! How terribly stupid of me…jeez, I feel like such an idiot!”
“Listen, I’ll talk to you later. Someone knocking on my door here.”
“Will you be okay?”
“Yes. Let me get back to you.”
“I’m sorry, Liv. Really.”
“Yes, I know. It’s okay. I’ll call you later.” She put the phone down, hoping that Mary didn’t think she was hanging up out of anger. “Come in!”
Her door opened a little and her secretary poked her head in. “Liv, a Mister Gregory Benson is here to see you. He says it’s important.”
Liv nodded. “Okay.”
Tess stepped aside to make way for the visitor to enter the office. Gregory Benson was a very distinguished looking gentleman. Olivia judged him to be in his late 40’s. His hair was mostly brown, with a bit of greying at the temples; crows feet and a few other laugh lines added character to his handsome face. Olivia noticed that he was very well dressed and walked with an air of class.
When he reached the spot just opposite her, in front of her desk, he bowed to her slightly and extended his arm. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Schaefer.”
“And you, Mr. Benson. Please, sit down. May I offer you some tea or coffee?”
He nodded, in gratitude. “That would be lovely. Tea, milk, no sugar.”
Olivia glanced at Tess briefly, as if to say, “Did you get that?”
She nodded. “Would you like one, too, Liv?”
Tess nodded and disappeared from sight.
Olivia turned her attention to the man opposite her. “What may I do for you, Mr. Benson?”
“Please, call me Greg. And it’s not what you may do for me. I have come here as per a important request.”
“A request? What sort of request?”
“Well, allow me to explain.” He paused, as if to consider his words before speaking them. “Last weekend, I visited the coast with some friends of mine, just near Scarborough. We were walking along the beach…”
The word “beach” jumped out at Olivia, causing her pulse to quicken. She couldn’t help but think how odd it was that on this day, the anniversary of Tom’s disappearance, someone would come forth and mention a beach.
“…and I discovered a bottle that was sticking up out of the sand. How long it had been there, I don’t really know. I noticed there was something in it and immediately thought of the song, ‘Message In a Bottle’. My companions thought it was a silly notion, but something pressed me to dig it up and examine the contents.” He hesitated once more, appearing reluctant to continue.
“What was in the bottle?” Olivia asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Her instincts told her that it was something to do with Tom…the beach, a message in a bottle, this man ~ a stranger to her ~ who had found it and came to tell her about it…
He retrieved a cylinder from the bag he was holding and offered it to her. “There’s a note in there that I believe you’ll want to read.”
Her hands trembled as she held the cylinder in her hands. Part of her was afraid to look inside but curiosity took over and she pulled off the lid. Tipping the container downwards, a sheet of paper, rolled up in scroll-like fashion slid out. Yellowed and slightly wrinkled, she unfurled it carefully and gasped at the sight of the familiar penmanship, which had formed the words:
To whomever may find this…
Please honor this request, for it is the final one of a dying man.
Do not be sad for me, regardless of my destiny.
My time on this earth, however brief, was beautifully enhanced ~
By the remarkable woman I called my wife.
My final gift to her ~ my precious band of gold ~ shall forever be:
Her source of comfort, equivalent of more hugs than I was ever able to give her in my lifetime;
Her strength to move on and find the happiness so deserved;
Her understanding that I shall always be alive in her loving heart and soul;
Her knowledge that our final days together were spent upon the same ship;
Her assurance that my final thoughts belonged only to her and that my love for her shall last until the end of time.
To My Liv…Forever Your Tom xxxxxx
Her vision blurry from tears, she realized that Greg was now offering her a tissue. “Thank you,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
He stood, overcome with emotion himself, and slid his card over to her with his forefinger. “I will leave you for now, but should you ever wish for a shoulder to lean on, please phone me. Anytime. I only wish we could have met under happier circumstances, Mrs. Schaefer.”
Olivia started to stand, but Greg held his hand up. “There is no need. I understand. I will see myself out.”
She could only offer her hand to him. He took hold of it and squeezed it, affectionately. She squeezed his, in return. They remained that way, for a few more moments, and then mutually let go. With a final nod of respect, he turned and left Olivia to her grief.
Again, she read what Tom had lovingly written and noticed his instructions for finding her on the back of the paper:
If, indeed, this is found please return it to its rightful owner, Mrs Olivia Schaefer, who may be found at her office located at DesignerType, Ltd., Great George Street, Leeds.
Tess’s voice broke the silence. “What happened, Livvy? Did Mr Benson upset you?”
She shook her head. “No, no. He was brilliant. He…took the time to bring me something he found…” She indicated the note on her desk, then remembered Tom’s mention of a ring. Looking inside the tube again, she saw it…and tipped it into her hand. Holding it now seemed almost surreal and, suddenly, it became her most prized possession. She closed her hand tightly around it and held it to her heart. She would buy a chain so that she could keep it there permanently.
Tess was in tears by the time she had finished reading the note. “Oh Liv…I am SO sorry. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?”
“No, I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“You read for yourself.” She opened her hand once again, displaying the ring. “This is my comfort, strength, understanding, knowledge and assurance. He may not be physically with me anymore but for now, I have everything I need.”
(Note: I wrote this story, sometime in 2008, when a writer friend of mine asked me to write a story based on the picture he sent me. I didn’t change anything, apart from the formatting to make it look nice here. I’m posting it because I found it in a folder that I’d forgotten about and thought it would be something different to share.)