Soul Mates by Su­san Black­burn

Har­ri­son and I were made for each other. There was just one prob­lem . . .

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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.”

I chuck­led.

“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

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