She averted her eyes and looked at his dad.
“Mr. Schroeder! I’m Dr. Richards. I’m the heart doctor”.
“Thanks for seeing me, Dr.”
She smiled and said,
“This is an odd time to mention a little nugget of information but your son and I used to be good friends.”
Why hadn’t she changed at all? How was she the same Amelie that he knew years ago? And why the hell did she take Isaac’s name?
She smiled at him. Jared felt a calm come over. There were no awkward moments with Amelie. There were no pregnant pauses. No excuses, no preambles. There were no uncomfortable blocks. She was the calmest force of nature that Life had created. One of the best works of the powers that be.
He heard her saying,
“It looks like you are having a minor heart attack. We might have to go in and look. Sometimes when we go in, we find something that might need opening up. If the buildup is in many blood vessels then we don’t do anything and get a cardiac surgeon to evaluate you for a bypass. If the build up is small then of course we can open it up during the catheterization”.
“Do you do the cardiac surgery too, Dr. Richards?” His dad asked innocently.
“No!” She said, smiling openly. “But we have a wonderful team here and if you want to do it in your hometown then we can probably allow you to do that too depending on the catheterization results”.
Dad looked relaxed with the information.
“Can I examine you now?” She asked gently.
As she put her stethoscope around her ears and on to his dad’s heart, Jared stared.
His dad’s cardiologist.
“Am I your girlfriend, Jared?”
“Am I your boyfriend, Amelie?”
“If my boyfriend is my most precious piece of heart then yes”.
“You’re not my girlfriend though. You’re my liver”.
“Didn’t you say that the liver controls all the operations in the body?”
“May be I did. It is true”.
“So you’re my liver”.
“But the body can live without a liver, Jared. It can’t live without the heart.”
“Don’t lie to me. You said that when liver failure happens and a new liver isn’t put in, the person dies in a few days”.
She smiled fondly.
“Why do you remember everything I say? I could be talking crap and you’re memorizing it as evidence-based medicine”.
“You can’t feed me crap, Amelie! You can never feed me crap”.
“I love you, Jared!”
“I love you too, Amelie!”
He heard her saying,
“That’s great, Mr. Schroeder! Let’s watch you for tonight and I’ll cath you first thing tomorrow morning”.
He turned and saw her standing close to him.
“Mr. Schroeder! In the event that you’re not able to make decisions for yourself, who will make them for you?”
His dad looked at Jared. He was fond of this son more than any other son. Him and his wife had inadvertently raised a sensitive and good man.
“I trust my son, Doctor! You won’t find a more trustworthy man”.
She looked Jared deep into his eyes and said softly,
“I agree with you, Mr. Schroeder! He’s one of a kind”.
He wanted to take her in his arms and jump off of the building, die with her and make their spirits free of everything that held them apart. Instead he said,
“Can I stay with him tonight?”
“You sure can. But first, you need to eat and your dad just had morphine so he needs to sleep”.
She took his hand, walked out into the busy emergency room and called the elevator to the cafeteria.
She motioned for him to sit in a chair and went to order food. He watched her talking to the cafeteria staff and felt oddly attracted. Just for one night may be, he thought, she’s my wife and getting me food.
His mind went to Shelby and the kids. Shelby hadn’t tried to reach him after he had called her immediately after coming to the hospital and explaining what had happened. He had texted her on the way to the cafeteria,
“Dad had a heart attack”.
“Oh no!” She had texted back. “I hope he gets better soon. Let me know how I can help”.
“Can you let my mom know?”
He had said “I love you” to her many times in hopes of igniting some love and romance between them. She had not returned it ever. She was really a military-style woman who spent her day yelling at the kids and ordering the house staff around.
She also needed an immense amount of help around the house and still didn’t take a shower for days.
Sex was good initially because her body was to die for. Jared had never thought he’d lose himself to a woman who just wanted to get it over with but that was Shelby. She didn’t like sex and made a point of mentioning that she didn’t like sex with him.
Their first night was a disappointment. She undressed immediately as he started and he was a little taken aback. He had never been this far with a woman and found this behavior a little weird. Did she not want to kiss or engage in some foreplay?
When he kissed her she didn’t know what to do. She didn’t engage at all. To this day, she didn’t kiss him or participate in a kiss.
Most nights when they had sex she’d be turned off by one thing or another.
“Don’t touch my hair”.
“Why can’t you not touch me there?”
“Is it necessary that I have an orgasm too? You enjoyed yourself, right? Now get off of me”.
Soon he lost interest.
Then the complaints changed.
“You used to touch me everywhere. Now you just look forward to getting off”.
“Can we have some foreplay before you decide to pounce on me?”
“No! No! No! That’s not how you do it. What happened to you? Are you having an affair?”
It went on and on.
He tried to talk to her. For the first year after they got married, Shelby spoke on occasion. She had made great friends with his mother. His parents lived with them and Shelby and his mom had become more of the type of soulmates that he wanted to be to her. They gossiped together, shopped together and took care of the kids together.
He took her to an exhibition. She was instantly bored .
“You know I have no interest in arts and crafts and performances”. She complained.
“Aren’t you an arts major?” He asked, surprised .
“That’s only because I hate science”. She said carelessly.
“I’ve never met a doctor who knows so much about paintings and music”.
“Is that odd?”
“But my dad was into arts and music and culture and heritage too”.
“Wow! Your family specializes in making odd doctors”.
“We sure do”, she said with a laugh.
“So what’s this stupid exhibition that we have to go to?”
“It’s not stupid. It’s an amateur artist so you’ll have to buy something there”.
“I’ll buy it and give it to you”.
They went to see the exhibition and Jared found himself listening to Amelie describe the different genres of painting and felt himself getting aroused and intrigued at the same time.
“Okay. So let me get it straight. Artists are smart people?”
“Are they smarter than doctors?”
“Brains don’t have much to do with arts or science. Brains are brains”.
“I’d die to have your brains. That’s the sexiest thing about you, Amelie! But you act like you’re a normal genius and all”.
“If you knew what you had that I could die for, you’d doubt my brains.”
He looked at her suspiciously.
“I can’t give you my killer looks”.
“That’s not what I want”.
“Or my prowess in bed.”
“We’ll see about that. Didn’t you say you’re a virgin?”
“Sure I am but I still know I can make women very happy”.
She raised an eyebrow.
“Spare some time to me, Jared! You think of other women all the time anyway”.
“Okay. I’ve run through my assets and I don’t think you’d want anything that I have. Kill the suspense now, please”.
“I’d have your heart”.
“Is it that special?”
She came closer to him and put her hand on his heart.
“It’s the most special thing in the whole world”.
“You’re in luck, missy”, he said, picking her up and swinging her around, “That I’ve already given it to you”.
“Can we go home now or the juice bar? This place sucks”. He was cruelly pulled back to reality by Shelby.
He looked up. Amelie was standing at the table, smiling. It was surreal that she was here and yet there was a feeling of this being totally normal and expected .
She put two chicken sandwiches, a coffee and a Diet Coke on the table.
He didn’t know what to say. She looked so different when he saw her in the emergency room and now, all of a sudden, she was the woman who stole his heart on a sunny morning in a loud restaurant.
“Is my dad going to be okay?”
“He’ll be fine!” She said, matter-of-factly. “I suspect his symptoms were so strong because he’s pretty healthy otherwise”.
How could she make this sound so sexy? Illness didn’t seem morbid when Amelie talked about it. But something didn’t make sense to him.
“So strong people have more symptoms?”
“Yes. The stronger the body’s response, the healthier we are. In order to feel a heart attack as minor as his with the intensity that he did, you have to have good nerves and a body that isn’t habitual of living in a state of chronic inflammation or subliminal insult. Then it detects it faster”.
He felt getting drawn to her again. She was never very expressive but the control that she had on her emotions was immense and something to emulate almost.
“Are you going to perform the procedure on him?”
“Yes. I’m on call until tomorrow so I have to do it. But if you want to meet with my partner and rather he did it, I understand that too. I can have him take a look at your dad’s stuff tonight and cath him in the morning”.
“I trust you, Amelie! I bet he’s not smarter than you”.
“How’s everything with you?” She asked with genuine interest. “How’s Shelby and the kids? They didn’t come with you to spend Thanksgiving here?”
“They’re good. Shelby likes to make her own plans. I let her. It’s easy that way”.
“No, not Amelie!”The inner guy said. “Don’t say anything about Shelby to her.”
“You don’t know us”. He told the guy resignedly. “She’ll know anyway. I can’t hide anything from her.”
Amelie looked at him with serious eyes. There was something else in them. Pity? Sympathy? Disappointment? Anger? Love, may be?
“You’re happy, Jared, right?” You could almost count on Amelie to never allow awkward openings to soul conversations. She had a knack for shooting straight to her target and never backing away from a conversation. And yet, their most important talk never happened.
“Why’re you asking that?” He asked.
“No reason”, she said calmly. “Just something in your voice”.
She took a swig from her can of soda. He sipped at his coffee. He wanted to tell her that Shelby was horrible but decided that Shelby couldn’t help it if she didn’t love him. He didn’t love her either.
He decided to lighten it up.
“So, Amelie ! How come you look so old?”
Amelie laughed. The same hoarse tinkling laugh that he loved. He was immediately mesmerized.
“Let’s just establish, first of all, that neither one of us looks young and delectable anymore”.
“Speak for yourself, Amelie!” He admonished her jokingly.
“Okay”, she said still laughing, “I have to agree that you look very distinguished and just as charming as before but do I look that bad?”
You look phenomenal, he thought, I wish the earth opens up and swallows us together and we could lay next to each other for eternity.
“You do look pretty bad. Issac isn’t taking care of you”.
“Why does Isaac have to take care of me? I can take care of myself.”
“He’s your husband, isn’t he? Does he realize he got the most amazing girl in the whole world and he is supposed to care for her?”
“He cares for me, silly! But I’m an adult who chooses to let go of the beauty standards that society values so much”.
She was still the same girl who came to see him in her pastel clothes and still was the prettiest girl in the room.
They talked for an hour. About their kids. He found out that Elizabeth was a writer. He wasn’t surprised.
Her son’s name was Albert. He was much younger than Sean.
Elizabeth and Albert! The kids they had thought they’d have one day. She still had had them. How come her life looked so much more put together than his? She was supposed to be messed up too.
He told her about Sean and Amelie. She could tell he was really fond of his son. He told her his Amelie was just like Amelie. Headstrong, philosophical and a realist.
“But I wasn’t a realist, Jared! I really lived in a world made of rainbows and colored clouds”.
“Are you kidding me? You are the most practical, the most realistic person ever. I sometimes wonder if you can dream like normal people.”
“I dream”, she said softly, “I’m afraid to dream but I can’t control them. Sometimes I dream of getting back everything I lost to love and distance”.
He knew he had hurt her. He knew she never wanted to see the mirror. It hurt him that she felt insulted but a little glow of satisfaction spread inside him. She had no idea the torment he had suffered all these years. She had no idea how slowly the body dies when the soul leaves it without taking the heart with it. The lines in her face got deeper. He hadn’t felt lighter in years.
He stayed the night in the hospital. He didn’t see her again. At 7 o’clock she came in with a team of doctors and they relayed overnight events to her. Jared’s dad had remained fine overnight and actually had had improvement in his blood work.
Amelie woke his dad up gently,
So is that how she wakes up people? By gently calling their name? Does she wake up Isaac like that too? He thought.
Amelie was painfully aware of his presence in the room.
“Isaac! Wake up, honey! We have to get ready in an hour. And drop the kids off to school too”.
“No! It’s my day off and I want to cuddle with my wife”.
Isaac said pulling her closer.
“Who said it’s your day off? We have work, silly!”
“I’m pretending that it’s my day off”.
She laughed loudly. He looked at her blearily. She was the most beautiful woman who ever came to this earth.
“I’m waking up the kids and then I’ll meet you in the kitchen”.
“No”. He said possessively and tackled her back to bed.
She laughed and tried to fight him off but gave up. His morning breath almost choked her but Amelie never embarrassed people. She kissed him and made sure he never detected that she found anything in him that turned her off.
She also loved him. Where Jared was wild and funny, Isaac was serious and directed. He became funny just by virtue of being with her but he was raised in a large family where he was given little attention. Some of his childhood stories about how he would go to sleep on an empty stomach because he wouldn’t eat until his mom fed him and she couldn’t with so many kids were horrifying.
So Amelie took care of him. Like a mother and a lover. She took extra care of his heart. She knew how much a broken heart hurt. Her own had been hurting for ages.
Amelie did a great job. His dad was better in about a day after the cath and could even be discharged home.
He hadn’t seen much of her after the cath because she was off the next day. It seemed like she had changed her phone number because he tried to call her and it went to voicemail.
“Amelie! Always pick up when I call. Immediately”.
“Jared! If I’m in class I can’t”.
“You have to”.
“Don’t bully me”.
“Amelie! My heart starts to sink when you don’t pick up”.
“Jared! You need to grow up”.
“I can’t. For this thing, I refuse to grow up”.
“Okay! Let’s make a truce. I will not pick up the phone but text you immediately and then we can talk later. Is that okay?”
“Nope. You will pick up the phone”.
“I have half a mind to change my number now. Really make you suffer”.
“Never do that, Amelie”, he said, fear gripping his insides, “Never ever do that! Do you want me to die?”
And yet he hadn’t died when she didn’t pick up this morning. Nothing killed him. Everything that he had counted on had deceived him.
She was signing his dad’s discharge paperwork. He approached her. She smiled broadly.
“Are you feeling better now that your dad is okay?”
“Yes”, he said. “Thanks for everything”.
“Look at this because I wanted to explain a few things to you before you left. His kidney numbers look good after the cath so that means he had no dye-related injury to the kidneys. I used a very small amount anyway. And look at this”, she showed him two EKGs.
“These here are ST and T waves. Look how they look slightly lower than this reference line here but are on the line here? That shows improvement. Your dad is recovering wonderfully well”.
“And what’s that?” He asked innocently.
“That’s a P wave but don’t worry about that. Your dad has a normal cardiac rhythm”.
“Amelie!” He said mock-seriously because he couldn’t let it go, “I really need to understand EKGs better so I can care for my dad better”.
“What else do you want to know?” She said, sounding impatient.
“Well for example, what’s an EKG?”
He could see her rolling her eyes inwardly .
“So shouldn’t it actually be an ECG?”
“Well it is ECG in many parts of the world still”.
“Hmm. So what are you going to do about it?”
“About the new abbreviation?”
“Why do I have to do anything about it?”
“Because you’re an old school person and I’d think you would stand up for things that you believe in”.
“Forgive me for my gentle rebuttal to being called old school”.
“I meant”, she said, seething at his calm vainness, “why the hell do you think I’m old school?”
“Don’t curse. You used to object so much to it before. Isaac taught you bad words or what?”
“Don’t bring my husband into it”.
“Don’t bring my husband into it”, he mimicked her. “I’m just saying you’re a reflection on him”.
“Is that so?”
“Yes. As I’m a reflection on Shelby”.
“Poor Shelby”, she muttered under her breath.
“And poor Isaac too. How he puts up with an old prude is beyond me”.
“Jared!” She said finally recollecting her calm, “I have to answer your questions as part of my job. So if you have no more questions then I’ll leave”.
“Who said I don’t have any more questions?” He said hastily, “I have seven or….” he pretended to count on his fingers, “may be a hundred more”.
She laughed again. He smiled broadly.
“Okay”, she said giving up, “what else is on your mind?”
“That you’re so rude that you didn’t even offer to show me around your town”.
“I didn’t think you had the time”.
“My dad has decided to go to the rehab center here so he can be close to his sister. I’m here for a full month now”.
He saw the color of her face changing and the pink rising higher in her gold cheeks.
He got into the car with her. It was strange for her to be driving. He had always been in charge of driving when they dated and had liked it that way. For some reason, Amelie looked sexy and sure of herself in the driver’s seat.
“Where do you want to go?” She asked pleasantly.
“I wanna go to the beach or I wanna walk by the river”.
She looked at him quizzically,
“So water is what you’re going to see in a new town? Jared! Are you not interested in the culture or the people?”
“Nope”, he said instantly .
“You’re so superficial. We won’t go to the water. I’m gonna take you to listen to some original music and we will eat some local food. How does that sound?”
“Womp womp”. He said.
“If it’s womp womp to you then you don’t need to hang out with me”.
“Okay, okay! I also wanna see your kids”.
“I was going to take you home one day. Now that you’re here for a full month, we can do enough together that you don’t call me a rude prude”.
“So you’ll spend everyday with me, Amelie?”
“Not everyday but as much as I can”.
They went to a local neighborhood and listened to jazz music being played. Amelie seemed to know a lot about it.
“Do you know how jazz came into being?”
“The slaves and black immigrants played it on Sundays because they weren’t allowed to have music any other day. They reserved a small area of the neighborhood to themselves and played music all day and all night long. They needed sophisticated instruments but didn’t have the money for it so they made acoustic instruments and made loads of heavenly music.”
He listened to her in a trance.
“You see how this area looks so European? It was inhabited by European people. So diverse and beautiful. Land was inexpensive initially and then became very expensive when river trade started.”
Twenty-five years hadn’t come between them.
“The food also shows a lot of slave traditions. If you come out with me tomorrow night, I’ll take you to the best gumbo place. After that we can go to my place for coffee”.
“Do they serve turducken here?”
“Yes they do! Would you like to eat that? This is the perfect time to eat it because it’s a Thanksgiving delicacy”.
“You know a lot about this place”.
Yes I do, she thought avoiding looking at him with anger in her eyes. When you left me, jazz and beignets saved me. I walked around these streets all night long and got wolf-whistled by more men than I can count and I wanted something so horrible to happen to me that the breakup with you didn’t hurt so much.
“This place is amazing. It’s so easy to get lost here”. She said softly.
Amelie’s home was like her. Small, simple and neat. There was a homey feeling in the city she had made her home and the same feeling carried into her home.
She had picked him up in the morning because they were going to listen to some more jazz music later. Jared was hooked.
She smiled as he sat in the car. He felt his heart stop for a minute.
On the way to her place he asked her if it was rude that he hadn’t gotten her a housewarming present.
She laughed and punched him on the arm.
“You and I don’t need to be so formal”.
Why, Amelie? He thought. Why don’t we have to be so formal? We can’t be informal. You’re Isaac’s wife and I’m Shelby’s husband.
Her home or things didn’t look expensive. It was so Amelie that he could’ve easily told it was hers just by looking at the many bean bags and book shelves.
She took him inside and he noticed many indoor plants. She had an open kitchen that was neat like a church. He remarked on that and she laughed and said that it looked clean because it was hardly ever used.
She asked him to sit in the living room while she took a quick call from the hospital and turned on the TV for him.
The door to the house opened and in walked someone. Jared turned around and life stood still.
If Jared had known anything about the powers it was that they were cruel. They hated him. They made living, breathing and existing difficult for him. Anytime he tried to be happy and content, they conspired against him. Anytime he found a new normal, they threw him for a loop. Anytime he made sure he had put the past to bed, the powers confronted him with it again.
The last few days with Amelie had been healing. So she wasn’t his and probably couldn’t be but he had come to accept that someone like her wouldn’t have been his anyway. That he should’ve been grateful to have had any time with her at all. That she was a miracle to ever happen to him. And miracles don’t last.
But something so painful would happen after all the peacemaking that he had to do quickly in the last few days just so he could have a good time with the love of his life was not what he had counted on. He stared at her, wishing the powers would take his breath away now and not let him live the past in the most agonizing way.
Standing in the doorway was Elizabeth, Amelie’s daughter and really the Amelie he had met many years ago. She had the same regal manner about her that her mother exuded effortlessly too. She had a clear gaze that Amelie was blessed with. Her hair was her mother’s thick unruly frizz that had a mind of its own. She had the same eyes, no one knew if they were black or brown, with a blue background.
She stared back and he noticed some subtle differences in them. While Amelie was generally shy and reserved, Elizabeth looked much more confident and imperial. Her eyes were exactly Amelie’s except Amelie could never hold eye contact for this long. She had a natural way of talking with her gaze averted and only spoke with perfect eye contact when she argued.
Amelie, he thought, you could’ve created her with me. Why did you leave me?
And what about your Amelie? The little guy said. If you created Elizabeth, little Amelie would’ve never been born.
He felt his head spinning. For the first time in twenty-five years he realized that Amelie wasn’t his family. She was just an allure. She was the magic that made every injustice small. She was the antidote to Shelby’s indifference. She was the path to recovery. But she wasn’t real. She was never real.
“Amelie! I dreamed about you last night.”
“What did you see?”
“That we lived on a farm and our chickens got stolen”.
“And we went looking for them and I lost you”.
And then I cried and cried and you finally came back. When I woke up, I was actually crying”.
She kissed him lightly.
“You’re silly. Why would we live on a farm? Why would you and I lose each other?”
“I don’t know. Can’t we lose each other?”
“Only if the powers want us to”.
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It came true. They lost each other. And when he found her, he found two of her.
Elizabeth came forward, smiling. He was stuck to the couch and couldn’t move.
“You must be Jared,” she said in a friendly manner .
He got up and wordlessly shook hands.
“Is your dad better?”
“Sorry I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Elizabeth, Dr. Atkins’s daughter”.
“You mean, Dr. Richards’s?”
Why was she avoiding using her father’s name?
She went in to look for Amelie and they came back out together.
“So you’ve met Elizabeth?” Amelie asked proudly.
“Yes. Has anyone told you guys you are like twins?”
“Oh all the time”, Elizabeth laughed. “But I’m not as smart as mom. Or so I’ve been told”. She ended with a bitter note.
“Aww”, Amelie said jokingly.
Elizabeth laughed and he was immediately transported to 25 years ago.
“Amelie! You need to stop being so smart. It’s scary and I feel like you read my mind all the time”.
“Yes you do. Are you a psychic?”
“Something like that when it comes to you,” she laughed.
“So you can’t read others’ mind?”
“No. Only yours”.
“Why just mine?”
“Cuz it has got electromagnetic waves coming to my mind”.
“Can you simplify that please?”
“Just that your mind and my mind love each other”.
He had kissed her so tenderly and with such abandon that she had slid her hands underneath his shirt and held on to him like she was afraid to lose him.
“Let me show you around”.
He could feel Elizabeth’s eyes on him and felt uncomfortable.
Amelie took him to the backyard. She had a vegetable patch that looked like it was tended carefully. She had bananas, peppers, zucchini and even pumpkins.
He looked at her with amusement in his eyes,
“So you’re a part time gardener?”
“She is”, Elizabeth chimed in. “She’s nuts about them”.
“I can’t believe your mom could be nuts about anything”, he said softly.
“Oh she can be very nuts. That’s the thing about her. She’s a genius who could easily pass off as a nut too”.
“Well if you really thought about it”, he said contemplating it, “geniuses are probably more nutso than we think”.
“Well, that’s true”, Elizabeth agreed at once.
“I’m not a genius”, Amelie protested. “Why can’t I be like you guys? It’s not my fault I have a higher IQ than you two”.
“It’s totally your fault, mom”, Elizabeth said, “It’s totally your fault to be so cool that not enough cool is left in the world so we could have some too”.
“You’re too good for my self-esteem, you two”.
“What do you do, Elizabeth?” Jared asked, genuinely interested.
“I run an organization for amateur writers and artists of all sorts. I was thinking I was gonna take you there. I’m sure when mom mentioned the town attractions she skipped over my little organization but it’s super visible and very very prominent in the circles here. We put out our float and all during Mardi Gras. We have our own slogan, emblem and manifesto. We are working to get people sued who don’t pay amateur artists for their work and feel that just by putting up their paintings in their expensive homes is homage enough. We fight for all of that”.
“He’s an amateur artist so you’ll have to buy something too”.
“I’ll buy it and give it to you”.
The inside of the home was very modest too. Amelie showed him Elizabeth’s room.
There was a huge wall of books.
“This is just half of them. Dad put up another book shelf for me in the basement. It’s massive”.
He peered at the book titles with interest. Did Amelie pass on the collection of Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl to Elizabeth? But it wasn’t there.
He was disappointed. Somehow it started to hit him worse now than it had before. Amelie had moved on and hadn’t thought much about what had happened between them. I am an idiot, he thought fuming at his own self.
Amelie took him to her room. There was a picture of her and Isaac from their wedding day on the bedside. For some reason it was small but the first thing he noticed. He picked it up.
She stood against a flower wall with her husband, in her wedding gown. Where most women cover themselves up on their wedding day, Amelie had her legs out and her breasts showed shamelessly. She hadn’t put her hair up in a bun and it was all over. She didn’t wear a veil and didn’t have flowers in her hair either. He realized he had always thought this would be her whole ensemble on her wedding day. She just didn’t seem the long gown, clipped manners and formal niceties bride ever.
“That’s some gown, huh?” Elizabeth chuckled.
He was startled but started laughing at the disapproving look on Amelie’s face in response to Elizabeth’s roguish comment.
“It is very….. unconventional”. He said politely, trying to control his laugh.
“Unconventional aka whorish, for the less sophisticated of us”. Elizabeth quipped. “I’m sure I was conceived that night”.
In any other setting this comment would’ve been funny. But the vision of Amelie and Isaac in bed, undressing, mating and bathing together later, was enough to drain life from him.
“Sorry”, Elizabeth deadpanned, “you seem like a prude too”.
“I’m not a prude. Just had never seen your mom’s legs”.
“They’re pretty amazing”, Elizabeth said fondly. “I sometimes ask dad what he did to score her?”
Nothing, Jared thought sadly, your dad did nothing. He just was on the good side of every power that could get him your mother.
Was there pain in his face, she wondered. Why is he in pain? Doesn’t he know I felt it all for the whole world? Now no one is in pain. I’m not in pain either but I was, only God knows I was.
She remembered Isaac kissing her and the rush of memories. Isaac undressing her and the number of times she had come close to taking her clothes off with Jared. Issac entering her and how she had felt Jared was inside her so many times even though he wasn’t.
Am I a whore, she thought with mounting guilt, that I love two men at the same time with the same intensity? Does that make me a whore?
They went to the basement. It was just as neat as the rest of the house. The presence of Amelie in everything in her house was so overwhelming that it suffocated him.
Elizabeth took him to her bookshelf proudly and showed him a shelf that sprawled against two walls. He was a little taken aback. She was truly Amelie’s daughter.
“What’s that?” He asked curiously. His eyes had just zeroed in on the far end of the basement where a smaller bookshelf was standing.
“Oh those are mom’s books”. She quickly added, “And you could say mine and Alby’s too”.
She took him over to the quaint-looking bookshelf.
“Don’t ask me where she got the bookshelf”, Elizabeth said rolling her eyes, “It was on auction at a princess’s palace in England. Mom had it shipped over and paid for it for two years. This thing delayed our buying the house for two years or so dad says”.
Jared looked at her with surprise. She shrugged her shoulders,
“Told you she’s nuts”.
He bent down and ran his hands over the short bookshelf. He ran his fingers over the twenty books in there. They whispered back, telling a story of love and loss, love and distance, love and unrequited passion. On someone’s birthday many years ago he had given these books as his promise to be hers forever. She had sunk low in his arms and watched the sunset with him. He had inhaled in her scent, wanting to ask the question, but was scared to jinx it all.
Elizabeth crouched down with him. She was oblivious of the storm that her mother and he had traveled through. She wasn’t aware of the stories that bound them and the love that never left.
“She used to read them to us every night”. She said softly. “Some of my best memories are when mom read these to me. She was so animated when she read these. She was just another person. You know mom, right? She doesn’t say much but she loves these writers so much. I wouldn’t have been a writer if mom didn’t read these to us. Do you want me to read something to you?”
He nodded his head, trying to hide the pain and love that threatened to spill over.
As she opened Matilda a little square of a paper slipped out.
He had found so many of these mysterious notes in his diary that Amelie gave him over the years that before he could see it he knew what it was. He picked it up,
“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love”. Dr. Seuss.
The knife of hot love and cold loneliness dug deeper in his heart. He heard a soft rustling. Amelie was standing behind them. Her eyes looked misty. Elizabeth had a calm expression on her face. For the first time since he had met her, Elizabeth didn’t make eye contact with either of them.
“Hey Amelie“, he recovered quickly and smiled at her.
“Hey”, she said in the same soft sad manner that was her signature giveaway for feeling rundown and battered.
“Elizabeth showed me the books“.
“I saw that”.
“You’ve kept them so well. They look brand new“.
“They are brand new“.
Aren’t they 25 years old? He thought.
“Come on guys, lunch is here“.
Amelie wasn’t a cook, he knew that.
She had remembered a comment made in passing. And then you ask why I can’t forget her? He asked the little guy.
There was turducken on the table.
“Thank you”, he said excitedly, “Amelie! I didn’t know you‘d get it right the next day“.
She smiled at his excitement. She knew food was one very important thing to him.
“Amelie! Can you come to bed now?”
“Coming, honey! The kids wanted to read a story.”
“Okay but not more than fifteen minutes”.
“Fifteen minutes is not enough. We might take thirty”, little Elizabeth pouted.
“I can’t win with you”, Isaac said, lovingly ruffling her hair.
Alby cuddled with her and Elizabeth too. She loved her mom’s voice and could see that the books gave her mom a lot of peace.
“Which one are we going to read, kids?”
“This one”. Alby picked up a book randomly and handed to Amelie.
It was a book of quotes by Dr. Seuss.
“Today you are you
That’s truer than true
There is no one alive
Who is youer than you”.
“What does it mean, mommy?”
“It means whoever you are is the best person”.
“So I’m the best person?”
“And me too?”
“And you too”.
“And you too?”
“And I too”.
“And daddy too?”
“And daddy too”.
“And Jared too?”
“Yes. Jared too”.
“We are all best people”.
“We all are”.
As she was tucking them in, Elizabeth turned over sleepily and hugged her,
“Mommy! I love Jared”.
“Really sweetie? I’m glad you do”.
“He’s the best person. He gave us all those books. Those are the best books to have”.
“They sure are”.
“Mommy! Can I meet him? Is he real?”
“I’m not sure, baby. May be he is”.
“Or may be he is from Star Wars, mommy?”
“Well”, she said, closing her eyes with dreams dancing in them already, “If you ever meet Jared, tell him he’s Lizzy’s favorite person.”
“I’m sure he’d love to hear that”.
She returned to her room and settled next to Isaac.
“Kids love Dr. Seuss”. He observed.
“Personally I’ve never been a fan. Doesn’t make sense to me”.
“It’s not to make sense”, she said caressing his cheek lovingly, endeared by the man she had made a life with and loved with all her heart. Whatever was left of her heart. “It’s to know that there is nothing that makes sense and that’s okay”.
He pulled her closer. Amelie, he thought, nothing makes sense for sure. If it did you wouldn’t be mine.
“Jared! I’m so bummed that you didn’t get to see Isaac and Albert today”.
“It’s okay”, he said easily, internally glad that he hadn’t seen Isaac. “I’m here for a month. You’re not cutting me off, are you?”
“No way”, Elizabeth said, “Mom has no friends and she’s not allowed to let you off the hook. You are entertaining her”.
Amelie laughed affectionately at her daughter.
“Elizabeth thinks I need more friends and cool clothes”.
“You absolutely do. What do you think, Jared?” Elizabeth looked at him for approval.
“Amelie! Please wash this dirty white coat. It’s nasty”.
“I wash it everyday”. She said with hurt in her eyes.
“Then why isn’t it white anymore?”
“Because I wash it everyday.”
“That made it look pale and yellow?”
“Okay put something on. I’m waiting here and then we will go to eat. Wear something”, he said teasingly, “that people don’t wonder why a handsome guy is with a smelly girl”.
She looked at him with narrowed eyes and disappeared inside the gates of her dormitory.
She had been gone for thirty minutes. He texted her twice and she didn’t reply. He knew she’d come back but he hated when she didn’t reply or answer his phone. She was fast becoming a habit.
She reappeared. His heart stopped. Amelie knew how to play with his heart. She came, sat in the car and asked huffily,
“Is this good enough for you, handsome guy?”
He couldn’t take her in, she radiated so much ethereal beauty. She had on a pink dress with gold accents and highlights. She had a pair of sapphire earrings on. He wondered why she would match those with that dress but they looked strangely coordinated.
“Amelie”, he began huskily, “It was all worth the wait”.
She smiled in spite of herself.
“I’d hate for you to think that I’m a slob”.
“Well you’re a very good looking slob so it’s okay”.
She blinked her eyes a few times, not sure how to take the compliment.
She finally held his hand,
“We are both very good looking. I really wanna see what our kids are gonna look like”.
He felt the need to get closer but knew she hadn’t eaten since morning. He drove them to their favorite restaurant. He could kiss her later.
“I think your mom doesn’t need people. People need your mom”.
Amelie felt her eyes getting wet. The power of love could never win with the power of distance.
He spent the next day with Elizabeth. As smart as she was, she was not her mother, Jared decided. Amelie was an original. Elizabeth reminded him painfully of young Amelie but she was much more opinionated than Amelie had ever been. She was also more worldly and aware. Amelie lived in a world of science and arts. She had a bubble that protected her from excessive social norms or polite conversations.
They ate at a roadside restaurant. He was strongly reminded of how little Amelie and Elizabeth were so similar in demeanor. How did two of the weakest people create strong children? He thought.
Elizabeth was an LGBTQ advocate. She showed a lot of legislative changes that they were attempting to accomplish and he was impressed.
Spending time with a young person is good for our soul, he thought. He had always been very involved with his kids and felt refreshed when they argued with him or disagreed.
Elizabeth was saying,
“So basically I have had much more success since the mayor has become dad’s friend. Now he has to listen to me”.
“What else do you want to do with your life?” He asked with interest.
“You wanna know what I want to do or what dad wants me to do?”
“Is it two different things?”
“Dad wants me to go to college and I want to be a friend to people”.
“But you can do both, right? You don’t have to choose”.
“You’re speaking like mom. She likes to do everything. Science, arts, work, be at home, raise vegetables and order out for food. I’d like a little more definition in my life”.
Jared hesitated before asking,
“You sound like you don’t like your dad.”
“I love him”, Elizabeth exclaimed. “Just because we don’t agree doesn’t mean I hate him or don’t like him. He’s the best guy that could’ve been chosen to be my dad. You’re meeting him tonight. I don’t want you to make a bad opinion of him. Alby is his favorite but he loves me loads too. Alby is actually everyone’s favorite. Especially the ladies'”
She laughed with a wink and Jared couldn’t help laughing.
Elizabeth was so much like his own daughter, it was hard to not like her immediately.
“So Elizabeth”, he said causally, “Is there a young man whose heart you’re breaking these days?”
“Not one! I’m polyamourous”.
“I have many boyfriends or currently I have 4”.
He thought he heard her wrong.
“Four boyfriends? Four active boyfriends?”
“I just get bored with dating the same guy for too long. I’m not intellectually stimulated by the same person for too long. Some might say I’m a sapiosexual”.
Jared smiled. You think that kid, he looked at her fondly, but one day every sapiosexual meets a mind of overwhelming intellect and love and knowledge and wisdom and then they become hooked to that mind for life.
He had the most wonderful day with Elizabeth. When she took him back home, Albert was home. He was also strikingly like Amelie. There was no doubt who had the dominant genes in Amelie and Isaac’s relationship.
They talked about games and sports. Alby was a baseball fanatic and it became evident quickly that he was just as competitive and intelligent as his sister. He didn’t have Elizabeth’s radiance or warmth or exuberance but he was self-assured and a little cocky. Was Isaac cocky too?
The door opened and Amelie entered with someone. Jared turned around and wanted to say something funny or light to take Amelie by surprise but he was paralyzed.
Standing next to Amelie was quite possibly the man who ruined his life forever. Who made an offer she couldn’t refuse. Who got to her before Jared could. Who had enjoyed her and loved her even though she wasn’t his to love or enjoy. Who had spent his life with her not knowing that she belonged to someone else. Who had laid claim on her and committed a crime. Then why wasn’t he punished? He stole her and yet was rewarded. He earned her and was still empty handed.
Even though she didn’t need to, she introduced him anyway,
“Jared! Isaac! I’m so glad you guys are meeting each other”.
All their lives collided and became one. The crushing of the stars blinded both their eyes forever.
Jared choked on his food many times during dinner. Amelie was quieter than usual. Elizabeth, Isaac and Albert chatted throughout.
Jared found himself comparing himself to Isaac the whole time. He couldn’t see what made Amelie choose Isaac over him but could see a loving, happy couple. He was jealous and confused.
Somehow each time he made peace with life, something else took him out.
“Thanks for giving Amelie company while you’re here. She doesn’t go out or make friends. Has she always been like this?”
I wouldn’t know, he thought. We met in a moment in time and then lost each other forever.
“She has always been a little reserved, Dad”, Elizabeth came to her mother’s rescue, “And how you force her to socialize more doesn’t help either”.
Everyone laughed. Amelie looked at her daughter lovingly and said,
“I’ve got my own lawyer here. She makes me complacent in my shortcomings”.
“You have no shortcomings”, he said wishing the room would empty out so he could take her in his arms “You’re nearly perfect”.
Isaac seemed oblivious to the conversation.
“Amelie may be shy but I’ve never met anyone smarter than her”.
“How could you fall for a regular person, Amelie?”
“I couldn’t control it”.
“Would you ever regret it?”
“I never regret anything I do”.
When dinner ended he went up to Amelie.
She was alone in the kitchen loading the dishwasher.
“I have to go now, Amelie”.
She turned in alarm,
“Why? Before dessert?”
“I can’t, Amelie. I’m too tired”.
“What happened, Jared? Is everything okay?”
“I mean I’m just tired. Am I not allowed to be tired?”
“Of course you are. But you look upset. Is everything okay? Did the kids or Isaac say something that you didn’t like?”
He felt his eyes getting hot. After Amelie left tears came easily. His heart had become weak and vulnerable. Shelby didn’t love him and that hurt too. He didn’t love Shelby and that was tough also.
“Jared?” She called his name softly.
“I’m dying, Amelie! I’m really dying. And I can’t pretend anymore. Please let me go”.
He turned away from her, said some last pleasantries to her family and stepped out in the cold winter night.
She lay in bed awake for hours after everyone went to sleep.
She had hated him and loved him. Then loved him some more. She loved Isaac too. What did that make her? Did it make her a bad woman? Was she disloyal to her husband? Had she not been completely fair to Jared? She had been content in the knowledge that her love was one-sided and hadn’t meant much to Jared but his eyes told a different story. He looked sad. He looked unhappy. Was it possible that he wasn’t happy that she left? Then why didn’t he stop her? Why didn’t he stop her? Why didn’t he ask her to come back to him?
She had spent the last 25 years ruminating over this question. When she had called him she wasn’t engaged. But she couldn’t bring herself to ask him after the ring on the string. What did that mean? Did he mean that she had a ring? Did he mean she had a string to hold on to? Her analytical brain had deceived her. She could’ve just seen the ring but she saw the string and was hesitant to ask him directly when Isaac proposed.
Jared had messed up her life and now had tears in his eyes. She just couldn’t understand it. Why were they both crying? He should’ve been happy. He let her go.
She texted him,
He answered as soon as she sent it.
“Wanna see me?”
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow. Go to sleep now”.
“I’m already asleep and dreaming that Amelie texted me”.
“Why’re you so sad looking and sad talking?”
“Because you left me”.
“Is that what you think?”
“Isn’t that what happened?”
“I would love for you to explain,Amelie, but I’m afraid you’d have to lie to exonerate yourself”.
“Exonerate? I’m not in court, am I?”
“You kind of are”.
“I think we both need to give each other an explanation”.
“Are you ending this conversation?”
“Okay. Because I don’t want you to”.
“I can talk to you all night”.
“Do you know what Tolstóy has said about love?”
“You know I don’t. What did he say?”
“He said “If it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts”.
“Beautiful? Yes beautiful too but what else comes to your mind?”
“You come to my mind”.
“You’re so crazy”.
“I’m crazy about you, Amelie! You’re just finding out”.
“Sometimes we miss signals and signs”.
“We both missed them, Amelie! We both missed them”.
The sun was setting as they reached the river. There was a stillness in the air that made everything quiet and sad. Amelie had picked him up and driven him down and now wondered if it would be easy to let go of him.
They didn’t speak at all on the drive to the riverside. They didn’t look at each other and didn’t say hi. Somehow, Amelie thought, this is the most profound conversation I have ever had with someone.
They sat down in the grass by the river and Amelie said,
“This is beautiful, right?”
He looked at her for a long minute and said,
“Everything pales in comparison with you”.
She blushed slightly. Her cheeks still lit up with pinkish hues on a skin that was mainly gold. Jared had never asked her but he wasn’t sure of her ethnicity.
“Do you have to go to work as soon as you get back?”
“May be”, he shrugged, “I’m an independent contractor so can be away from work for a bit”.
“Jared! I never asked you but what do you do?”
He laughed. She smiled. She said sheepishly,
“I have had to be the worst ex in the history of exes to not even know what their ex did”.
Somehow the word “ex” stung him. He recovered quickly.
“I’m a banker”.
“Do you like bankers?”
“I loved one once”. She murmured.
“And he loved you too. Why did you leave him with no recourse? Why did you leave him with a broken heart? Why did you leave him with sadness? We never made any memories. There’s a wound but there isn’t light coming in, Amelie! Because the light was going to be our memory. All that there is is a gaping wound. A raw, blood-draining wound. Why did you give it to me? Without a memory? I have asked myself this question and I know you must have answered it too, you’re so smart. But I don’t remember the answer. Tell me again, Amelie! Why did you leave me?”
Tears filled her eyes. The unfairness of it all. The socially awkward years with the type of laser-beam focus that people had expected of her in order to get into medical school. Then the quest for grades. Dealing with her dad’s death. Living her entire life with people just as awkward and career-driven as her. Never making friends successfully. When she found him, he quickly became a friend and later, a lover. She remembered the nights when they had sex over the phone and it was magically bonding. If the powers had said that that was all she could have with him, she’d have gladly agreed. But the powers wanted her soul. So she gave up her soul.
But when she talked her voice was even,
“I didn’t leave you. I couldn’t ask you whether you wanted me forever. I counted on you so much that I thought you’d ask me and it would all be so easy. I wasn’t engaged the night I called you. I just wanted you to say something, anything, to claim me. If you hadn’t given me a ring on a string I would’ve never hesitated. But I didn’t know what that meant. And when you congratulated me…..”
He cut her unceremoniously,
“I didn’t congratulate you. I died. I died and the last thing I did was to tell you I was happy for you. I was embarrassed when you told me you had been proposed by another guy and were engaged. Why did you go out with him, Amelie? Do you realize you cheated on me by going out with him? Do you realize that?”
“Then why didn’t you say”, she screamed louder than he had ever heard her, “hey! Wait a minute! Where are you going? We’ve been loving each other for over a year and have made plans for the future. Where are you going? Why didn’t you say that, Jared?”
He looked at her, aghast.
“Amelie! A woman totally out of my league tells me that she loves me. She is even more passionate about us than I am sometimes. She makes me believe our love story. Then she calls me one fine day and says she is getting married to someone else. Can’t you see how I always thought this was going to happen? You brought my worst nightmare to realization. Can you imagine how embarrassed I was when the girl who was my soulmate told me casually that she was going to marry someone else?”
“Why didn’t you stop me? Why didn’t you?”
She wept bitterly. He had tears running down his cheeks and he hated that they had to hash it all out. He felt stupid. Of course she was the most awkward girl who came into his life by chance and then left because she couldn’t propose to him. And he didn’t get that? The biggest tragedy of his life happened because of a bad conversation.
But that was the whole thing! They had never had dishonest, bad, or covertly delivered conversations. With each other they were themselves always. This shouldn’t have happened.
It all suddenly became clear. It was like Amelie knew this could happen and had counted on him to save her. He was just beginning to understand the pride of love and the brutality of distance. The powers of love and distance had fought for them and against them. Love had lost and distance had won. She was right. He should’ve blamed himself more. He was complacent and accepted defeat easily. She was worth fighting for. Every inch of hers was worth fighting for.
He went over and put an arm around her. She cuddled up to him and cried some more. Then she started snoring lightly.
She woke up after about an hour. She looked at him and smiled indulgently,
“Sorry! I’m a boring date that slept during the date”.
He kissed her forehead.
“It’s nice to cuddle with you in a non sexual way”.
“I would’ve never guessed if you didn’t name your daughter Amelie”.
“She couldn’t be any other name. Shelby wanted to name her Brianna”.
She turned to face him.
He saw the ring on the string at her throat and around her neck.
“Sorry for this stupid piece of jewelry. We should both blame everything on it”. He said apologetically.
“Why? I love it”.
“If I hadn’t given you this you would’ve never married Isaac”.
She touched his face and got closer,
“The powers play with us. They make us think that we did something so we make more mistakes. They mess with our head. Makes sense?”
“No. But it makes sense to you and I’m happy it does”.
They snuggled closer.
“Do you want a memory for your wound?”
“I don’t have a wound anymore, Amelie! I know that you love me and that’s all the light that I need”.
He returned home after a week. He hadn’t counted on it and knew that it wouldn’t be good for either one of them to stay too much in touch with each other. They sent birthday wishes and occasional texts but they never shared anything else.
He missed her but knew she was happy and he didn’t want to disturb her calm.
He hadn’t counted on seeing her again but the powers were at it again.