Soul Mates by Susan Blackburn
Harrison and I were made for each other. There was just one problem . . .
HARRISON poured the golden, foaming liquid into two champagne flutes. Then, handing one to me, he raised his own glass.
“To us,” he said, leaning over to give me a kiss.
“I’ll drink to that,” I said happily.
I’d often thought how blessed I was to have found, in the course of a single lifetime, two soul mates.
Then Harrison produced from his pocket a little box. With a few groans he went down on one leg, which provoked in me a fit of the giggles.
“Don’t you dare laugh at a man and his afflictions,” Harrison admonished me with a chortle.
“Seriously, though,” he went on, “I never thought I would meet another woman who could make me as happy as my dearest Cara.”
He opened the box, revealing the most beautiful sapphire and diamond ring.
“Ellen, darling, will you marry me?”
Getting up with another loud groan or two, he handed the box over to me. That’s when it happened. Ice crawled up my spine as I gazed down at the wedding and engagement rings my late husband Tim had given me. The rings that signified the majority of my life.
Involuntarily, I put my fingers protectively over them.
“So?” Harrison’s beaming smile faltered, fading altogether as an expression of anxiety spread across his attractive features. “Ellen?”
I was dumbstruck. I just didn’t know what to say.
“Er,” I began valiantly. “Well . . .”
“Well, I would say that answers my question pretty comprehensively.” Harrison’s words were accompanied by an expression of desolation on his face.
“I really thought you loved me, Ellen,” he whispered as he passed me.
“Harrison,” I said helplessly.
Then the door closed behind him with such exaggerated gentleness it went right through me. He might as well have given it a vicious slam.
I crumpled into a chair, my legs no longer capable of holding me up.
What was I to do? As I’d gazed down at Tim’s rings, it had come home to me exactly what they meant – all they signified – and the doubts had overwhelmed me.
In that moment, I’d felt I was betraying Tim by moving on without him.
Shakily, I moved into the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water. Gulping it down, I gazed over the garden Tim and I had designed and nurtured so lovingly over the years.
Although I knew I loved Harrison very much, I’d never thought beyond our day-to-day existence. I suppose I’d thought things would just go on as they were. I’d never expected a proposal of marriage.
Yet I’d been overjoyed and excited when I realised Harrison was about to ask me. And I knew Tim would never hold me back.
So what was my problem?
I knew what it was. It was the thought of removing Tim’s rings from where they’d nestled for over 40 years. Somehow that did seem like a betrayal.
When Harrison had left me, anguished and hurt, I’d known in that moment just how much I loved him. That I wanted to spend whatever future we were both granted alongside him.
But how would he be able to understand my affinity to rings belonging to another part of my life? Rings on my finger where his ring should now go?
Exhausted and overcome, I stumbled off to bed, but was immediately tortured by doubts and uncertainty.
Chaotic thoughts of my life with Tim, and then later with Harrison, tumbled around my brain, preventing my longed-for escape into sleep.
I’d met Harrison in a lift, of all places. He couldn’t have been more different from Tim, who’d been the epitome of tall, dark and handsome, towering over me.
From the day he knocked me flying as we both braved the gates on the first morning we started secondary school, he’d made me feel safe.
“Sorry!” he’d cried, reaching down and helping me to my feet. “Are you OK?”
Even at eleven he was much taller than I was. Then his face lit up with a smile that I could tell was just for me. From then on, we were inseparable.
We were engaged on my eighteenth birthday, three weeks after Tim’s, and got married on my twenty-first.
Tim was successfully working his way up the family firm of accountants, and I’d
followed my heart, becoming the secretary I’d always wanted to be from childhood.
We found a tiny flat we could just about afford, and life couldn’t have been much sweeter.
Two children and a large family home later, we’d not long celebrated our ruby anniversary when Tim was killed in a car crash.
My daughters and I supported each other to the best of our ability.
Friends and relatives were kind, but the one person we craved was no longer there.
Then I met Harrison in the lift two years later. Well, to be precise, we’d been stuck in the lift together.
I’d held the doors as this big bear of a man rushed towards them, and the smile he’d given me was so beautiful it caused the frozen organ masquerading as my heart to thaw ever so slightly – for the first time since Tim’s death.
“Thanks for waiting,” he said, as the lift doors shut behind him and the machine juddered into action.
Then it promptly jerked to a halt between floors. Harrison went pale. “Oh, no,” he murmured, easing his tie from his collar, then wiping the perspiration that had appeared on his forehead.
“Are you ill?” I asked him in alarm.
“Claustrophobic,” he muttered, looking wildly around, as if hoping a wide open door leading to freedom would materialise. “I never use lifts, but I’m late for an appointment.”
I jabbed at the emergency button and a tinny voice responded.
“Thank goodness,” Harrison said in fervent tones.
“We’re stuck in the lift, between floors,” I quavered.
“Don’t worry. We’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.” The tinny tones even managed to have in them a semblance of reassurance.
“There you go,” he said. “We’ll be out in a jiffy,” I repeated confidently, even though my heart was hammering at the thought of being stuck in the lift for what could be hours with a claustrophobic stranger.
“I’m sure it won’t be long,” I nevertheless continued, with as much assurance as I could muster.
“My name is Ellen, and you are . . .?”
“Harrison Latham. Hello, Ellen.” He wiped his brow again, then started pacing.
“Let’s sit down,” I suggested quietly. “We’ll talk. Take our mind off things.”
We manoeuvred ourselves to the floor. Apart from the odd groan and the occasional mop of the forehead, talking did distract him.
I told him about Tim and our life together. Harrison told me he’d followed his passion for painting, and he supposed he’d made a bit of a name for himself in doing so.
His paintings, I discovered later, were the kind I loved; ones you could gaze at for hours and imagine yourself walking into them; ones where every time you looked at them you saw something different.
He had two children and was a widower, his wife having passed away three years previously.
We sang silly songs, and even resorted to “I Spy”, collapsing with laughter at the silly things we came up with, as there really aren’t that many objects in a lift.
And, just like it had been with Tim, that was it.
I tossed and turned all night, falling into a fitful sleep just before the dawn, before waking to the strident ring of the doorbell.
Patting my hair into some sort of order, I flung my dressing-gown around me and shoved my feet into my slippers.
Quickly, I padded to the door.
“Ellen, I’m so sorry I left you like that last night.” Harrison’s face was ashen, and he looked as if he’d aged overnight. “I should have stayed; we should have talked. It was too much of a shock. I should have done things better, I’m so sorry.”
He raked his hands through his hair.
I pulled him inside and kissed him.
“You’d every right to be shocked and upset at my reaction,” I said, “and I’m sorry, too. I do love you, you know.”
I made coffee, put the remains of a lemon drizzle cake on a plate, then took it all through to the conservatory where Harrison was sitting, still looking miserable.
“So,” Harrison began, not touching his cake, “if you love me, and I love you, what’s the problem?”
I gazed at him, not knowing what to say, unconsciously twiddling my rings as I always did when I was anxious or upset.
His eyes rested on my hand, then understanding dawned on his face.
“It’s your rings, isn’t it?” he asked. “I never thought. I would never expect you to stop wearing Tim’s rings.”
He gazed at his own wedding ring.
“Any more,” he began thoughtfully, “than I would want to take off Cara’s.”
He reached over and squeezed my hand.
“Don’t worry, love. We’ll work it out.” He stopped suddenly. “You never did say you’d marry me. So will you, Ellen?”
I laughed, thinking how blessed I was to have experienced two such understanding and caring men in my life.
“I will,” I whispered.
“That’s all right, then.” Harrison winked, “I can enjoy my cake now.”
I made a special meal for us that evening to celebrate our engagement.
“Delectable, as ever,” Harrison said, refilling our glasses, then raising his to me.
“To us,” he went on, “and to our future. And a satisfactory solution to the ring problem.”
“We’ll work it out,” I said as the certainty overcame me that, no matter what, with Harrison beside me, we would always work things out.
Harrison went over to my laptop, opened it, and started typing away. He called me over after a moment or two.
“Have a look at this. See what you think.”
It was a website showing designs of various pieces of jewellery – rings, pendants and bracelets, all making me gasp at their beauty and delicacy.
“Whose designs are they?” I asked in wonder. “They’re exquisite, Harrison.”
“They’re by a very old friend of mine. I’ve known him all my life. He went
The one person we craved was no longer there
into jewellery design and I chose painting.
“I’ve spoken to him, and we thought,” Harrison continued hesitantly, “that perhaps our old rings could be melted down and mixed with some new gold.
“Then Jonathan could fashion rings to our own designs. What do you think?”
“Oh, Harrison, that’s the most beautiful idea,” I said, a huge lump forming in my throat as I gazed at my wonderful, sensitive man.
“A perfect solution.” A couple of months later, as we exchanged rings in the company of our family and friends, I felt my old existence move seamlessly into the new.
Just like the circle of life. ■
His eyes rested on my hand, then understanding dawned on his face