His footsteps were heavy on the delicate piles of dried up leaves.
Cursing under his breath, he brushed past miles of trees and bushes, ignoring the sting of the harsh winter air till finally, he stopped under a Weeping Willow.
Muttering, he sat under the tree and sheepishly pulled a bar of chocolate out of his tracks.
Ha! He thought. Let me see Betty stop me now!
Taking a huge bite off the chunky delight, he sighed in bliss.
Just as he was relaxing, he saw something from the corner of his eye.
What is that? He wondered, as he bent forward.
A slip of white paper peeped back at him.
Digging into the sand, he pulled it out, realizing it was a sealed envelope.
It looked dirty and was torn around the edges.
Probably from being buried in the sand for too long, he presumed.
At first, he was reluctant to open it.
Mom always told you not to pry, He reminded himself. Besides, Betty would kill you!
The thought of his wife brought about disturbing feelings in him.
She was always angry with him, anyway. What difference would this make?
Carefully, aware that what he was doing could almost be counted as a sin, he tore open the envelope the way he would a gift wrapping paper, looking up from time to time to make sure no one was watching him.
As he turned the envelope upside down and began shaking it, a small heap of dust fell out.
Thinking it was ashes, he jumped in fright and dusted his pants, throwing the envelope away.
But curiosity was killing him and so, in less than a minute, he found himself slowly inching forward to pick it up again.
The park was unusually quiet that day.
That was very helpful because he didn’t want anyone to notice him.
Not that anyone would. He wasn’t all that charming. Or young.
Betty no longer thought he was attractive, anyway.
That’s what years of marriage did to a relationship, he realized, in a moment of melancholy.
Picking the envelope up, he pulled a bunch of papers out of it and began smoothing them out.
“Hey there, young man!”
Startled, he turned around and saw a middle aged jogger wave at him.
“Hello, sir. Beautiful day” He responded, out of courtesy, hiding the papers behind his back, his face straining from the pressure of his fake smile.
“Care to join me for a jog?”
“I’m actually done for the day, I’m afraid!” He lied, silently crushing the chocolate wrapper under his feet.
“Oh well, maybe tomorrow then!”
Still smiling, he bid farewell to the jogger and got back to the papers in his hand.
It was like he had struck gold yet he was reluctant to believe it was actually his.
This was the most exciting day he had had in years.
Yet, it took him another fifteen minutes to make up his mind to read what was in these stapled sheets.
Clearing his throat, he looked at the clear and precise handwriting that flowed through the pages.
“My Darling…!” He read out loud and then stopped.
Enough to know that this was a love letter.
Should he continue reading it?
Would he be alright with some stranger reading his love letters to Betty?
Did he ever even write love letters to her?
As his conscience tortured his thoughts, his eyes automatically began reading the letter.
It was hopeless, he decided. Nothing was going to stop him from reading it now.
Settling down, he pulled out another chocolate bar from his pocket and started on the letter.
Words fail to express how much you have always meant to me and how much I will always love you.
And so, I start off by calling you ‘My Darling’.
But that’s not even a fraction of what I actually feel for you.
Do you remember when we first met?
It was behind that dumpster where we always took out the trash.
That beautiful starry night, for the first time, I saw you standing there, torn garbage bag in hand.
Oh, how frustrated you were!
Your long, golden hair falling freely at your waist and your beautiful face wrinkled in anger as you stared at the floor that was strewn with all the rubbish you didn’t need.
“Can I help you?” I had asked, very aware that my voice had come out all squeaky.
I will never forget what you said to me then.
“Beware! I’m armed” You had shouted, waving the empty, torn bag at my face.
My dear, you looked like an angel that night.
He breathed in deeply at the sincerity of those words and realized that he had never been capable of emoting so freely.
It was a gift, the ability to love so dearly and to be able to express it.
He wondered if Betty knew that he loved her.
I’ll tell her as soon as I get home, he decided.
I fell for you that instant.
But I knew you’d never be mine.
Not when I was beyond hideous looking in comparison.
How would your gorgeous, sparkling eyes be able to tolerate looking at mine when they were so tiny and bead-like?
Why would your magnificent, rosy lips want to say yes to my pathetic proposal?
In what world would I ever be able to compare to your beauty?
We’d be like Beauty and the Beast.
Only, we’d be called Miss Gorgeous and Humpty Dumpty.
And so, with great reluctance, I killed my instant love for you that night and walked away, my garbage bag still in my hand.
His phone began to ring and he reluctantly set the letter aside to answer it.
“Where did you go? Get back this instant! Do you know how…”
“I needed some fresh air, Betty. Calm down, will you?”
Cutting the call, he sighed, realizing how in a fraction of a second his feelings for Betty could turn from adoration to hatred to frustration.
I never expected to see you again after that night.
But God must have heard the rapid beating of my heart because he decided to bring you into my life the very next day.
I still remember how I was panicking because I was getting late for my presentation at work.
I had burnt my tongue on boiling hot coffee and ran out the front door hoping not to get fired.
But I stopped in my tracks because there you were, standing in front of my car, your hair windblown and your expression embarrassed.
I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, my love, but you manage to look spectacular no matter what you do.
And looking at you that day, in front of my house, I knew that I was the luckiest man on the planet to have set sight on such an exquisite creation.
“Excuse me, Sir” You said, timidly.
Your voice was music to my ears.
My tongue dried up and my awkwardness decided to make a grand appearance because even though you were saying something to me, I couldn’t hear the words. I could only look at you and pray that I’d see you again.
“…and so, I hope you understand… Yesterday… I’m really sorry.”
I nodded, unsure of whether you were asking me something or saying something.
“Are you ok?” You asked.
Nodding again, I had pointed at my car.
Thinking back now, it makes me chuckle but back then, I felt pathetic.
You moved aside as I got into the driving seat and managed to start the car after stalling it thrice.
I remember giving you a nervous smile and driving away.
At least, that’s what you thought.
But dearie, I’m telling you now, I had come back that day.
Exactly ten minutes and four miles of wasted gas later. Just to look at you.
But you had gone.
The sadness that engulfed me that moment made me realize that I needed you in my life to survive.
He stopped there, crushing the chocolate wrapper in his hand.
He wondered what it would feel like to love someone that deeply.
Putting his fingers to his mouth, Love, he whispered, trying to understand the meaning of that word.
Empty hot air shot back at him.
Was it weird that Betty’s face didn’t pop into his mind when he was reading this?
I knew I looked like an idiot that day, standing on your doorstep, two big mugs in my hand, grinning from ear to ear.
But you seemed to have found it amusing because you laughed and that sound still makes me the happiest man alive.
“Don’t you have to go to work?”
I thought of the wittiest thing to say. But as usual, stupidity overtook me.
“But then the coffee will get cold” I said.
You laughed again and took a mug from me.
“Don’t worry.” I smiled. “I didn’t make it”
You were really easy to be around.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
You looked like something that gracefully tumbled off the sky and I looked like something that was dug up from the bottom of the Earth.
How was it possible that you liked me and my jokes?
“I’m so lucky we live right next to one another” You said, a gleam in your eyes.
“Good to have a clown around the corner, eh?”
God, your laughter.
He turned the pages of the letter and realized that he had almost finished half of it.
For some weird reason that he couldn’t explain, that worried him.
It felt like his purpose was to read this letter.
Like, somehow, it was meant for him.
Clutching it tighter, as if he would somehow lose it before he got to the end, he read on.
I started to get jealous every time some random guy came to your house.
Will you believe that I once actually chased the plumber and asked him if he was married?
Standing at my window, I would peek into your house, wondering who you were talking to or worse, laughing with.
I felt like your laughter was supposed to be reserved for me.
It tore me apart.
Do you know that you turned me into a mad chef, darling?
Because I felt like food was my only excuse to come spend some time with you.
And you seemed to love it.
“Oh, Patrick” I giggled, imitating you, one lovely summer morning over blueberry pie. “I love your jokes”
“And I love you” You exclaimed and then quickly covered your mouth with both your palms.
Your face flushed the most marvelous pink I’ve ever known to exist.
I don’t know if you noticed, but my heart was beating so fast and so loud, that I bet our neighbours could hear it.
“I… I’m so sorry!” You said, biting your lower lip, your eyes filled with tears.
I don’t know what got into me then, because I leaned forward and kissed you softly.
It was the most genuine response I could think of.
I think it’s safe to say that my heart exploded that moment.
I’ll tell our kids that story. I’ll tell them that it was that day that I had figured out what love meant.
He felt a doubt beat in his heart.
Then, a vibration in his pocket.
Irritated, he picked up the call.
“Where are you?”
He sighed. She wasn’t going to let this go.
“On my way home” He lied, wondering how it had felt when he first met Betty, 20 years ago.
He didn’t recall a magical love story.
Theirs was a marriage of convenience that turned into love as they gradually got used to spending hours together in that mansion of theirs.
“I’m coming home. Tell the driver to get to Lake Park in ten.”
She was still saying something when he cut the call.
I expected you to throw me out of your house or at least hit me.
But you did neither.
Instead, you insisted that it was your turn.
Honey, I most definitely had no problem with that.
We didn’t talk much that day. We didn’t need words anymore.
Those six months with you were the best I’ve ever had in my life.
But now, I’m writing this to you, sweetheart, and I wish that I didn’t have to.
You see, forever was a term I never believed in till I met you.
But I’m forgetting the meaning of that word.
Please come back and show me what it means…
“I’m going to move in with you” You had said excitedly, one warm evening on our half year anniversary.
“In that tiny house of mine?” I laughed, hugging you to me.
You glared at me in that cute chipmunk way of yours and sighed.
“Who cares?” You exclaimed. “The lesser the place, the closer together we’ll be”
“We’ll have to eat bread every morning.”
“And Porridge every night”
“And take turns in my second hand car”
“Or take long drives in it together”
“And watch as it slowly falls apart”
We laughed so loudly at the mental image of that.
He wondered if it was possible to be married to someone for twenty long years and still have these kinds of feelings.
He wondered why people got married in the first place when love was eventually going to wilt away anyway.
He wondered a lot of things.
But mostly, he wondered how this magnificent love story was going to end.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve seen you and I’m falling apart.
Why won’t you answer my calls anymore?
Your door is always closed these days and your lovely green curtains that match your eyes are gone.
The house is bare and you’re nowhere around except in my heart.
It feels like my life is being taken away from me.
But mostly, it feels empty.
Because without you, there is no me.
Silly me! I thought you felt the same way.
This is my last letter to you, sweetheart.
My only letter.
Think of it as my life In 5 pages.
And please do notice that you’re in every page.
In every sentence.
In every breath.
His own breathing got louder and he felt his heart constrict.
He knew what was coming next.
Behind him, the sound of screeching tires.
His driver was here.
He hurried on, knowing that he’d never get the privacy to read this letter at home.
Not with Betty around.
I write this to you, my heart heavy.
I’m leaving this letter, along with the petals of your favourite flower at our favourite spot under the tree where we carved our names.
Please don’t take too long to get here, darling.
Because I’m sitting under this tree, writing this and I shall sit here till you arrive.
Even if it means I die here.
Remember, I’m always going to be yours.
I love you, Betty.
His heart nearly stopped at the last four words.
‘I love you, Betty’
It couldn’t be.
Searching frantically for the envelope, he read the date.
Twenty years ago on his and Betty’s wedding day.
He closed his eyes, imagining this young man, sitting under the tree, writing this letter.
The same tree, under which he himself had read the same letter.
Did Patrick die here?
He didn’t know what to feel anymore.
Recalling that day, he now understood why it had taken Betty so long to get used to his presence in the house. He understood now, why she would stare out the window for hours. He also understood why she had never, in their twenty years of marriage, accompanied him to this park.
His mind no longer stable, he pushed the letter back into its envelope, dug a small pit and covered it with sand, leaving it where he felt it belonged.
Standing up, he dusted his pants as he silently made his way to the car, back to his house and back to his life.
He knew it would never be the same again.
One letter, three lives.
Silently watching, the Weeping Willow danced in the wind.
On its bark, 4 words carved.
‘Betty and Patrick forever’