To see parts I, II, III, and IV of this story, click here, here, here, and here.

Caroline had always had poor vision, but the fog and the low-hanging street lights made it very hard to determine whether or not Adam was still standing at the church. But then, a gust of wind tugged his scarf out of the shadows for a moment, and her gaze zoomed in on him. He shifted from foot to foot, then pulled out his phone, a small square of illumination cutting through the night air.

“Hey,” he whispered into the phone. “Yeah, I’m okay. But it didn’t go as planned.”

Who was he speaking with?

“No, I’m not sure. I don’t want to talk about it now, but . . . well I just needed to hear a kind voice.”

Caroline imagined many possibilities: Adam’s brother in New York City, his good friend Brian in Willamette, even a few of his co-workers, the two he had beers with on Thursday nights . . . what where their names again?

Adam lowered his voice, uttering something that Caroline couldn’t hear. She craned her neck forward, careful to stay hidden, but no luck on gaining any further information. Adam ended the call and leaned back against the stone, his eyes closed, breathing even. What was he thinking? She’d done the right thing by walking away, asking for time, but had she hurt him too much? And did she really need the time?

Caroline turned all their memories over in her mind and selected a few to consider: a walk along the river the night Adam’s grandfather passed away, a run around the arboretum on a muddy spring evening, the January afternoon at the art institute when they’d almost gotten locked in, a morning they’d shared too many cups of coffee, the night kazoo playing took over conversation in the car. She’d loved Adam, absolutely, at least in the past tense sort of way. And he’d always be a part of her history. But loving someone meant trusting them, and over the last ten weeks—or was it longer?—she’d lost that trust in him. Hell, maybe he’d lost that trust in her, too. She once read a conversation between two people in a book. “We could be right,” the man had said, “but we’re not right, right now.” Caroline understood that sentiment exactly.

As Caroline stood there and pondered her next move, a slight rustling drew her attention. A woman moved out of the shadows, furtively, slipped an arm around Adam’s waist, and placed her head against his shoulders. Her gestures, all meant to comfort, were so casual and yet so intimate really, and what rose in Caroline’s gut wasn’t jealously, but contentment. She felt the pull between Adam and this unknown woman. A tension, not bad, just heightened, existed between them. It told her that these two were meant to be together—they they could be “right, right now”—and Caroline, still lurking in the darkened night, served as nothing more than a voyeur. Did Adam not recognize what he had?

Maybe not, and just like she’d done for the rest of their relationship, Caroline would take it upon herself to educate him. He deserved better than she could give him, and she deserved better, too. Quietly placing one foot in front of the other, she moved toward the couple. A slight scuffle of her feet against the wet pavement and the two glanced up. In the muted lighting, Caroline couldn’t tell if Adam blushed or not, but the woman, someone she didn’t recognize, held tighter to Adam’s arm, and Caroline smiled.

“I think you have your answer,” Caroline said and tipped her head toward the woman.

Adam did blush then, and his eyes widened a touch. “But . . .”

“No buts. And no hard feelings. In fact, and we can talk about this another time, should you want, I’m feeling good right now. Free—” She held up her hand to keep Adam from interrupting. A few habits of his, she knew too well. “I’ve learned a lot. About me, about you, about life, and about love. All good things. I want to see you happy and I want to be happy.”

“Caroline, I’m—”

“Don’t apologize.” Caroline shifted a few steps away and gave a slight wave of her hand. “It’s time. Enjoy the rest of the weekend. Enjoy your life.” She punctuated the sentence with a smile, hoping he’d realize she wasn’t trying to be flippant.

“But—” Adam tried again.

“No buts, Adam.” She smiled one more time.

Adam’s own smile wobbled, and he moved his gaze back and forth, from Caroline to the woman and then back again. He gripped the woman tighter, drawing her farther into him, and Caroline looked away, then turned around. Their conversation was over.

The mist still held, but a short walk would help clear her mind. She wasn’t going to pretend that she wasn’t hurt. Months ago, she’d contemplated forever with Adam. That vision had populated her mind intermittently, and she’d been able to see it, clearly. And while she couldn’t pinpoint exactly what had happened, or why, now she was walking away. She never thought she’d have the courage, but her legs were strong, confident as she moved down the street.

She placed a hand over heart, beating solidly within her chest, proof that something broken and cracked could make a comeback. She wound her way around the corner, looking one more time at the people in the windows of the houses she passed. A warm feeling engulfed her.

The End.

 

Image of cookie broken heart by Matvevna at Pixabay.com.

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