Anniversary Gift

By Dan Coglianese

An iron gray sky pushed down on Richard, flinging cold stinging rain seemingly from every direction. He stood in front of the headstone that read, “Eliana Jameson Beloved wife March 7, 1977-October 26, 2014”. Richard clenched his arms and shoulders to keep his trench coat from being ripped open by the cold harsh wind. Huge orange and brown oak leaves swirled around him and stuck to his back and legs. Hadwyn stood one hundred feet behind, watching him. That’s what Hadwyn did; he watched when the boss needed watching. He listened when Richard needed someone to listen. He fed him when he was hungry. And he drove him when he needed to be driven.

An impartial observer would not be able to discern whether or not tears were leaking from Richard’s eyes or if it was the driving rain, but we know better, now don’t we? For a man not accustomed to losing what he holds dear, the sudden loss of his wife two years earlier had nearly crushed his soul. The past two years wore on Richard the way war makes a man weary after years of torment. His hair had grayed; lines had begun to form around his eyes and lips. Two years earlier, Richard looked all the part of a healthy and wealthy thirty nine year old man. On this day, exactly two years after his wife’s death, you could be forgiven for thinking Richard was approaching his sixties. Grief had stripped him down to his soul.

One thing that hadn’t taken too much of a beating was his wealth. A millionaire a few hundred times over, Richard would never lack anything that money could buy. But the one thing he treasured more than anything else in the world was gone and all the gold in the world could not bring her back. As Richard stood in his backyard, a vast expanse of lawn giving to a dense forest, he had the thought again that he would give up his entire fortune for another day with his beautiful bride.

After an hour of silent grieving, Richard’s face grew strained and achy. His hat was now soaked; the brim twisted and bent by the wind. Whether he spent that hour praying to God, or talking to his wife who lay six feet under the earth, or simply contemplating the untold years he would spend alone without the only woman who had ever truly loved him completely, we don’t know. What we can know, however, is that he grieved.

When Richard turned around to head back inside, Hadwyn paced across the soaked lawn, his black leather shoes sinking slightly into the muddy grass. He saw the pain in Richard’s eyes but, as usual, kept all thoughts to himself. He met Richard halfway between the back of the magnificent castle Richard called home and the site near the back of the yard where Eliana lay in her grave. Wealth afforded him the choice to have her buried so close to him. He visited her every day but on this day, October 26th, he spent long hours grieving his loss of her. A year earlier, the weather was kinder and allowed him to spend six hours at her grave without so much as a single drop of freezing rain or a brisk wind to chill his bones while showering wet leaves around him. Two years past her death, one hour was all Richard could bear. His appetite had decreased, leaving him weakened and more than depressed. He was morose, despondent…absolutely miserable.

Friends stopped visiting, or even calling. Business acquaintances dropped away one by one. Richard had no other family to speak of. Hadwyn was his only companion. And what a faithful and loyal companion he had been. He walked through the muddy waters of grief with Richard, by his side. Or behind him rather. He always kept out of eye sight but close enough to protect him. Richard and Eliana had always treated Hadwyn well and he repaid their kindness by sticking by the man who was so broken with grief.

As they walked back to the house, the rain cascaded from the steeply slanted roof in sheets. The large gray stone of the house was painted even darker by the cold rain, mirroring the iron blue-gray of the sky above. Hadwyn threw a second layer, another coat, over Richard but he hardly seemed to notice. The wind tore through the trees, ripping leaves from the limbs and yanking at tree trunks creating a rhythmic bending and bowing along both sides of the yard up to the house. As they approached the door to the kitchen, a gust of wind snatched the hat from Richard’s head and flung it back into the yard. Richard barely seemed to notice and Hadwyn made a mental note to retrieve it later after he had the broken down man in his charge warmed and fed.

Hadwyn opened the giant wooden door hung on huge black wrought iron antique hinges that creaked loudly in competition with the howling wind. He helped Richard inside as if he were an old man, one hand on his back and the other holding his elbow. Once they were inside, Hadwyn helped him with his coats and sat him down at the massive oak slab table in the kitchen. He ran to fetch a heavy blanket from the parlor. When he came back to the kitchen, Hadwyn saw a pitiful sight. Richard was slumped over, his shoulders hanging forward as if his head were too heavy to be supported. Even though Richard’s face was turned towards his lap, Hadwyn saw the tears trickling down his cheeks. He had never seen a man stricken with such grief for such a long time. He wondered if the man would be better off if he were to join his wife now.

Hadwyn slung the oversized knit blanket over Richard’s shoulders and was surprised at how dry he was under his coats. His feet were soaked and chilled to the bones though.

“Sir, can I get you a drink, some brandy perhaps? Or some soup? I have prepared another batch of lobster bisque-”

Richard lifted his head and met Hadwyn’s eyes. “I want to go to the club.”

Hadwyn’s eyes reflected mild alarm, “But sir, you haven’t been-”

Richard waved his hand at the air as his ice blue eyes held his gaze, “Never mind that.” He snapped. “Bring the car around.”

“Very good sir.”

Richard changed into a suit, Eliana’s favorite. A tailored blue pinstripe Yves Saint Laurent suit with the personalized cufflinks she gave him for Christmas the year she died. In all, his outfit cost more than most people make in three months, before taxes.

Hadwyn brought the limo around to the front of the house as Richard stood under the covered front entryway leading to the U-shaped driveway. A lump formed in his throat as he fought back a new wave of tears. A brisk wind threatened to carry Richard away and he grabbed the shoulder of one of the two gargoyles flanking the bottom stair leading to the driveway. Hadwyn hopped out and opened the passenger side door in the rear of the limo and grabbed Richard’s elbow to help him. Richard swatted away his hand.

Richard preferred the separation a limo afforded him. He liked Hadwyn very much, but sometimes he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. He liked to know he could keep his distance without obviously ignoring the man who had become more of a friend than a servant. Hadwyn sensed Richard’s moods two steps before Richard himself and never crossed any lines. He put the glass up between the driver’s seat and the rear compartment in hopes of giving Richard solace.

The sky was darkening quickly even though it was barely 5pm. The sun retreated behind clouds that seemed to chase the light away in anger. The rain continued to lash the car with a vengeance as they rode on an almost deserted highway to the Van Buren Club fifteen miles away.

Hadwyn was interrupted before he could mention the fact that Richard hadn’t been to the Van Buren Club in over two years. In fact the last time he was there, he was with Eliana on their fifteenth wedding anniversary the year she died. Their wedding was in June. That day was the abject antithesis of the vile joke that served as the two year anniversary of Eliana’s death. This was the first time Hadwyn drove him to the club alone. And the first time since his wife had died.

Richard knew everyone at the Van Buren Club. That was the point. They did not want any strangers there in the Van Buren Club. And you had to have achieved a certain level of wealth and respect within Richard’s community to even be considered as a member. He had purposely avoided the club since Eliana died because he knew that every face he saw would stumble and stammer awkward half-sincere apologies for his loss and sympathies for his sorrow. He didn’t dare allow them to see him so weak, so utterly destroyed. He knew they weren’t his true friends though. In fact, some of them were his enemies. Rutherford Henry for example. The man who was named after an American President. Rich folks were always trying to instill a sense of nobility in their children, naming them after Presidents and royalty. Either way you sliced him, Rutherford was as cunning and evil as they come. And for two years Richard had suspected he was somewhat or totally responsible for his wife’s death but knew it was pointless to try to prove it. He was too grief stricken to summon the energy anyway. No measure of justice on this Earth would be sufficient to quell his pain. Eliana was gone.

As they pulled up to the Van Buren Club, a doorman opened the limo door almost before it came to a complete stop. His eyes bulged as he helped Richard out of the car.

“Uhhh-welcome back sir. Will you be dining with us this evening or will you go to the bar room first?” He asked.

Hadwyn jumped out of his seat and approached the doorman with an outstretched hand holding a ridiculous amount of money folded up. The doorman snatched it away and leapt to the front door without another word. He pulled the door open and Hadwyn followed Richard inside where a hostess was waiting to take his coat. She could not have been more than twenty years old. Neither Richard nor Hadwyn recognized her. Thank the lord for small mercies.

The hostess smiled and nodded immeasurably to Richard. He barely saw her as he handed her his coat and moved towards the bar. Hadwyn walked silently behind him, scoping out the rooms. The club was utterly deserted for a Wednesday—well, for any night. Hadwyn felt relief at this. Whatever Richard had to do here would be accomplished less painfully if he ran into as few acquaintances as possible.

Yet another host met Richard at the open doorway to the bar room. It was a warm and cozy room with small square wooden tables that could seat four or could be brought together to serve a larger party. There was an expansive bar where three bartenders in tuxedos who waited on club members. There were two people sitting at the bar in the luxurious cherry wood stools with green padded seats. The entire room was bathed in sleepy yellow light. Brass twinkled lazily in the pool of deep cherry woods and the dark green of the luxuriously patterned frieze carpeting.

“One.” Richard said to the bar host.

“Very well sir, sit anywhere you like.”

Richard looked around and saw the place was nearly empty. He turned to his right and found a table along the far wall that invited him. He shuffled over and sat down facing the doorway from which he just entered. He counted six other people total, all facing away from him. Before he could even fold his hands in his lap, a waiter was at his side.

“Welcome back to the Van Buren sir, it is so good to see you again. Can I get you something to drink?”

Richard craned his neck to look up at the vaguely familiar gentleman standing next to him. He opened his mouth to speak but the words got caught in his throat for a moment.

“Perhaps your usual?” The waiter said as he nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Yes, of course.” Richard said.

The waiter turned to fetch his drink when Richard stopped him. “No…wait!”

The waiter turned back towards Richard. “Yes, sir?”

Richard shook his head. “Never mind, just bring me the scotch, two fingers-“

The waiter nodded, “Yes, I remember sir. Two fingers, neat. Coming right up sir!”

The waiter pranced off and Richard slowly turned his head downwards in exhaustion. He folded his hands in his lap and his eyes began to close on their own.

What seemed like a moment later a hand gently touched Richard’s shoulder. Before he could open his eyes again, he heard the clink of a scotch glass as it settled on the table.

“Are you all right sir? Can I get you anything else?”

Groggily, Richard shook his head and waved off the waiter. “No, this is fine. Thank you.”

Hadwyn stood by the entryway to the bar room watching Richard. His heart went out to the man who had employed him for so many years. He could almost see what was left of the man’s soul crumbling before his eyes. Yet, Hadwyn remained silent and still. He watched Richard take the first sip of his drink. The first drink, well, the first alcoholic drink since Eliana died. There was no concern for Richard falling off the wagon or anything like that. He rarely imbibed to begin with, but Richard had given up a lot of things since he had lost his beloved bride. He had even seemed to have given up on living. Hadwyn wondered what this abrupt change in routine had signified. Yes, it was the second anniversary of his wife’s death. Maybe it was just his way of celebrating the wonderful but brief life they had together. Maybe…

Richard relished the sweet burn that trickled down his throat with the first sip of his Glenlivet single malt scotch. He took the tiniest sip and let it warm his insides. A brief respite from an otherwise torturous life without Eliana.

He held the glass in his hands as it rested on the table in front of him. He watched how the light danced in the glass, bending and rippling through the amber liquid. A single tear slipped from his eye and hit the table. It made a small circle surrounded by even tinier tear drops encircling it. He made no attempt to wipe it away. The memories of the countless nights he had with Eliana began announcing themselves in his mind. He had held them at bay for so long but as he sat there, alone, he felt he no longer had the strength to hold back the insurmountable pain that awaited him on the other side of that heavy oak door he pushed against in his mind. The door to the room where he filed away the memories. Sure, sometimes a few snuck out like mischievous children sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night. But for the most part he lived a life utterly devoid of strong emotion. That morning, as he stood in the pounding rain and tornadic wind, he felt the last of his strength waning.

Richard lifted the glass up to his lips again and gently closed his eyes as he let another, larger gulp of the scotch slide into his mouth. When he opened his eyes again he noticed a handsome gentleman sitting directly across from him at the bar. The gentleman was looking right at him. He was thin and wore an immaculate black suit with a scarf around his neck instead of a tie. Richard held the glass up to his lips for a moment and gently dropped his hand to the table. He let his eyes break contact with the stranger as he followed his glass to the table and studied the grain of the wood on the table top. From the edges of his vision he could see the gentleman get up from his barstool and begin making his way over to Richard.

Richard waited until the gentleman was almost directly in front of him before he looked up. The gentleman approached with a warm and magnificent grin. He didn’t so much walk across the room as glide across. Like a man walking on water. In the short time Richard had been sitting there, wallowing in his sorrow, the room had filled up with about a dozen more club members. Richard vaguely recognized most of them. But the gentleman approaching him was a complete stranger.

The gentleman was holding a glass of his own. It looked like scotch as well, but ice cubes twinkled and swam in his drink as he floated to Richard’s table.

“Pardon me sir, but I couldn’t help but notice you look as though you’ve almost caught your death!” The gentleman said. He had a soft but charming English accent. Not cockney but a real gentleman. Noble blood surely ran through his veins.

“Excuse me?” Richard asked.

The gentleman moved liquidly around the chair next to Richard and slid into the seat effortlessly. “I’m terribly sorry sir, I just meant that I was watching you from over there,” he said as he pointed with the hand holding his drink towards the bar, “and I couldn’t help but notice you appear as though you are on the precipice of something dreadful.”

Richard just looked at the man. The gentleman. Gentle man. Not in anger or fear, he just looked, in pure curiosity.

“I’m so sorry, where are my manners?” The gentleman said as he stuck out his right hand to Richard. “Samil…Samil Romero. And you are?”

Richard felt like he was in a dream. He stuck out his hand to shake Samil’s. “Sam—meal did you say?”

Samil sat back in his chair, swung a leg over his knee and tilted his head back as he rolled his eyes up in good humor. “Well, you can just call me Sam, everyone does. Much easier that way now isn’t it?”

Richard sat back in his chair, never taking his eyes from Sam’s face. He took another sip of his drink and felt a noticeably hotter burn slide down his throat and into his belly. It lit up his entire abdomen in a not entirely unpleasant way. He realized he hadn’t eaten since breakfast and that was hardly a sufficient meal.

Sam’s eyes twinkled as he grinned and nodded towards Richard. “And, you are?”

Richard chuckled humorlessly as he put his empty glass on the table. “Sorry, I’m Richard, Richard Jameson.”

Sam nodded then grew solemn. His brow furrowed and he let his leg drop back under the table as he leaned towards Richard.

“Tell me friend, what troubles you?”

Ignoring Sam’s question, Richard said, “I’m sorry but I’ve never seen you here before. I know just about everyone in this place. I didn’t even know we had any new members.”

Sam grinned and winked at Richard. “Yes, you’ve never met me before, and yet…here I am.”

Richard just watched the man as he emptied his drink. Sam raised his glass in the air as he chewed on an ice cube and half yelled to no one, “Bar keep! Another drink for me and my new friend here!”

Richard noticed Sam was not directing his order at anyone in particular and saw nobody had responded. He met the eyes of a waiter and the waiter immediately rushed over to the table.

“What can I get you sir?”

“Another Glenlivet for me, and,” he turned to Sam, “looks like you’re drinking scotch too?”

Sam nodded.

“Two Glenlivets, one neat, one rocks.”

The waiter nodded his head and rushed off.

“Now where were we?” asked Sam. “Oh yes, I am Samil, and you are Richard Jameson. We are pleased to meet each other and you were about to tell me all your troubles.”

To Richard, Sam looked like he couldn’t have been more than thirty years old. He oozed charm and confidence. He couldn’t imagine a single person in the place wouldn’t like him. Richard hadn’t any desire to talk to another soul for any reason other than ordering a drink or a meal and yet he felt compelled to open up to this charming gentleman.

Richard folded his hands in front of him and rested them on the table. “I knew it was obvious but I honestly didn’t expect anyone, at least not anyone here, to notice.”

Sam moved his chair closer to Richard and placed a hand on his right shoulder. “Well, dammit man, if these people are too boorish to know when a friend is hurting, who needs them? Am I right?”

“Precisely the reason I came here.” Richard answered.

Sam remained silent, and still. He waited.

The waiter returned with two drinks and placed them on the table in front of Richard and Sam, glasses almost touching.

“Can I get you anything else sir?” The waiter asked.

Richard waved him away with a grunt.

He wrapped his hands around the glass of warm liquid and stared into it for a long time. Sam didn’t even touch his. He watched Richard and simply waited. Richard drew in a deep breath and Sam sat back in his chair and got comfortable. He smiled thinly and folded his hands in his lap as he sat back and listened.

Richard began with how his wife died. He told Sam he had suspected a business associate of his, not exactly a friend but more of a competitor, had been responsible for her death. Sam leaned forward at this and said, “I believe that man will burn in hell for eternity. I certainly don’t envy that deplorable beast!” As he sat back in his chair to allow Richard to continue, a tiny grin betrayed Samil’s lips for a moment.

Richard continued. He described the abject anguish with which he had lived for the past two years. He told Sam happy stories about times when his wife Eliana was still alive. He spoke of how they met, fell in love and were married. He described the countless lonely nights that passed between the night she died and the night he found himself meeting Samil in the club. Richard relived the pain of the past two years with indescribable exquisiteness as he regurgitated every emotion, every thought, every prayer of the previous two years. Sam listened quietly with the attention of a mother. He nodded in agreement, shook his head in sympathy, and gasped in horror. Richard felt immense relief at being able to disembogue the particulars of his torment, and at the same time felt tremendous sorrow that his wife was not there to comfort him. She was the only one able to make everything bright again.

After Richard had spoken every possible word he could think of, his eyes moist with the threat of fresh tears, Sam waited for Richard to compose himself. Neither drink had been touched since Richard began his deliberation. The ice cubes in Sam’s drink long melted. Richard picked up his glass and swirled the liquid around, watching the light dance on the miniature waves.

Sam studied his hands, folded in his lap. He closed his eyes for a moment as if in deep thought and nodded. Richard watched this with interest. When Sam opened his eyes he turned his head and looked directly into Richard’s eyes.

Sam leaned towards Richard. In almost a whisper, he said, “What if you could have one more day with her?”

Richard felt red hot anger well up inside of him. Maybe it was the alcohol. “What did you say?” he growled.

Sam put up his hands, “You said it yourself, you said you would give anything for one more day with her.”

“Yes. I would. So what? She’s gone. It’s just a wild fantasy. This is what broken men do, they bargain with God…or the devil.”

Sam smiled warmly. “Listen, I’m asking you, specifically, what would you give up to have one more day with your beautiful wife? The woman you love more than life itself.”

Richard felt the anger flare again. “Why are you asking me this? Can’t you see I’m broken? I’m done. Let me die in peace!”

Sam put his hands up again asking Richard to hear him out. “What if I told you it was possible? What would you be willing to part with? What would you truly give to have another day with your beloved Eliana?”

Richard picked up the glass and drained the liquid in one large gulp. The burn was exquisite as it laced his throat all the way down to his belly in a flash of fire. It felt divine. Richard leaned towards Sam.

“Anything. Everything! I’d give my soul, for one more day with Eliana. Even if it meant I had to die, I’d give my life to hold her in my arms again!”

“Listen to me Richard, I am a man who can give this to you.” Sam’s eyes were blazing. “I would like to offer you…a trade. I will grant you one more day and night, twenty four complete hours, with your beloved Eliana again. Complete in flesh and blood, in spirit, in-toto. Your wife, back in your arms again, to kiss, hold, to make love again!”

Richard slowly shook his head and chuckled. He looked down at the empty glass and watched as a single drip slid down the inside of the glass from its lip. “You really are one crazy son of a bitch, you know that?”

Sam’s mouth turned down in a frown. Richard grumbled, “Get the hell away from me before I have you thrown out on your ass!”

Sam stiffened in his chair. He sat back, looked around the room and grew serious. Not a soul was looking at them but Sam understood he had reached the limits of Richard’s patience. Without a word he pulled a single business card from his inside coat pocket and slid it across the table in front of Richard.

Sam stood up, straightened his jacket, tugged at his cuffs and brushed his pants to smooth them. Before leaving, he bent down towards Richard and put a hand on his shoulder again. He whispered, “Please consider my offer. I am a friend; I can give you what you so desperately want.”

Without waiting for a response, Sam left Richard alone at the table. He walked right past Hadwyn waiting at the entrance to the room and out into the cold rainy night. Richard plucked the card and studied it. It had nothing more than a name and a phone number.

Samil Romero

630-555-6116

Richard fingered the corner of the card. He thought about Eliana. That familiar lump was forming in his throat. He felt foolish for letting a stranger wrestle his innermost emotions and secrets from him. But we know he didn’t put up much of a fight, don’t we?

Richard met Hadwyn’s gaze and Hadwyn was at his side in a moment.

“Get the car. Take me home.”

Hadwyn nodded and said, “Very good sir.” He was off to fetch the porter and within two minutes Richard was back inside the limo as Hadwyn navigated the wet streets. The wind was threatening to swipe the car right off the road. Enormous brown, yellow, and orange leaves swirled around the car and littered the roads. Rain pelted the windows and hood, sounding like marbles being tossed against a steel wall.

When they got back into Richard’s massive home, a headache was already creeping up his neck and into the back of his head. Hadwyn insisted Richard eat something before going to bed. Richard was too tired to argue. His stomach was grumbling anyway and he knew he would have a nasty hangover if he didn’t get some food in him. As Hadwyn went about preparing a lavish meal of roasted Cornish Game Hen with Truffle Potato Puree and sweet peas, Richard thought about his conversation with Samil.

At first he tossed the idea around in his head. Then he started talking out loud to himself.

“I would give my soul for one more day with you Eliana. I’d give anything! Will you come back to me? Please! Please my dear, come back to me. I would have one more day with you if you will really come back to me.” Richard’s hands were clasped in front of his chest as if he were praying.

Richard sat at the dining room table, alone. Sobbing. Tears fell in his lap as he rested his chin on his chest. His eyes were clenched tight but the tears still escaped. Hadwyn was too preoccupied in the kitchen and too far away to hear him. This is what Richard preferred. He wanted to spend his final night alone. He had decided the pain was too great and he would end his life that night. He couldn’t bear the thought of spending another single night in their bed without her.

As Richard’s mind accepted the inevitability of his decision, his heart calmed and his eyes dried. He hoped that he would soon be with Eliana in whatever fate awaited him after death. A delightful smell began wafting from the kitchen and Richard felt the suddenness of his final meal. He opened his mouth to beckon Hadwyn but before he could speak, a loud knock at the front door filled the dining room. The dining room was between the entrance to the house and the kitchen and Richard figured Hadwyn hadn’t heard it.

Walking to the front door, Richard didn’t even think about how strange it was for anyone to be calling at this hour. Or at all, for that matter. He hadn’t had a visitor in over a year. The only people who came to his door anymore were delivery people.

Richard peered through the eye hole and sucked in a breath as he saw Samil’s grinning face looking back at him. Richard flung the door open and just stood there. A flash of hope rippled across his heart as he believed for a moment that Sam was indeed a man who could give him what he so desired.

“I knew you would change your mind my good man. I’m glad to hear it.” Sam cheered.

“Wha? What do you mean?” Richard asked, sincerely puzzled.

“You did say you would give your soul for one more day with Eliana, right? Or am I mistaken?” Sam asked.

“Well, yes, I said that but how-“

Sam shook his head and grinned even wider. For a moment Richard would have sworn he had seen two pointed fangs where teeth should be, hanging slightly lower in Sam’s mouth.

“Never mind that. We have a deal then?” Sam asked as he stuck out his hand.

“A deal?” Richard asked, dazed.

“Yes, you will have one full day and night with Eliana, and in exchange you agree to deliver your eternal soul to me, one Samil Romero.”

Richard’s mouth hung open. There was no way Sam could have known of the bargain he had made with nobody just moments earlier, right? Of course not; And yet, we know better now don’t we?

Sam laughed and waved his hands in the air. “I know, I know. It sounds so formal! No worries mate, we have an agreement then. Eliana will present herself to you, exactly at midnight tonight. You will have your day and evening with her, after which you will surrender your eternal soul to me, your keeper. These last moments of your life will be your most joyous. It has been an absolute pleasure knowing you Richard. Good eve to you sir!”

Richard watched as the charming gentleman he knew as Samil walked down the long winding driveway to the street. He had no car with him. It wasn’t until he had reached halfway to the street that Richard realized the wind had calmed to a dull breeze and the rain had stopped. He looked up into the dark night sky and saw a few clouds but for the most part they had parted and allowed the stars to shine through. The air chilled every living thing. A full moon was hanging low in the eastern sky and would move soundlessly over Richard as the night grew late.

He gently closed the door in disbelief. His heart leapt with insane hope that somehow Sam was actually a man who could grant him this most impossible of wishes. As he floated back to the dining room, Hadwyn was just setting down the food at Richard’s seat.

“Someone at the door sir?” Hadwyn asked.

Richard shook his head, eyes wide. He sat down and began eating. Hadwyn stood watching Richard for a moment then retired back to the kitchen. After he finished eating, Hadwyn cleared the dishes and asked if Richard would be needing anything else before he retired for the evening. Richard smiled at him and said he would not.

Hadwyn’s room was on the far side of the house from Richard’s bedroom. After they went to bed, it was as if they were in different buildings. Richard went to his room and lay down on the bed. He was still wearing the suit Eliana so adored. He purposely wore it even as he lay on the bed in the unlikely chance she really would come back to him again. The windows at the head of the bed were on the west side of the house and Richard pulled the heavy curtains open so he could see the moon as it crossed into the western sky during the night.

It was still too early for her arrival, but Richard’s energy plummeted as he lay waiting for his bride. He was convinced she was coming. He let his eyes close and when he found himself drifting to sleep, he forced them open again. He did this several times before succumbing to exhaustion. As the night approached the latest hour, the moon crept silently across the sky. First, a sliver of silver light struck the headboard. Then the sliver expanded to a strip. Then a long rectangle of light. The moonlight climbed Richard’s head and across his eyes as he heard the grandfather clock in the hallway chime the midnight hour. Twelve loud but pleasant notes signaled midnight. With his eyes still closed, Richard dared not open them for fear of utter disappointment at his foolish hopes.

As the sound of the final chime on the grandfather clock faded, Richard felt a soft caress on his cheek, like a kiss. In his ear he heard a woman’s voice. She whispered, “Wake up my darling.”

Richard’s eyes flew open but he didn’t move. He was paralyzed with fear that he had gone insane. His heart was pounding in his chest and he hadn’t taken a breath in what felt like an hour. His eyes searched the room but he found nothing. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he saw the outline of what could be nobody else but his dear Eliana. She was sitting on the bed next to him. The moonlight revealed just enough of her unmistakable silhouette for Richard to know she was really there. He sat up and just looked at her.

As his eyes adjusted more to the darkness, he praised the moon for illuminating this beautiful woman who sat before him, just enough so he could see her gorgeous smile. She was nodding her head.

“It’s really me darling. Were you expecting one of your girlfriends?”

Richard laughed as a tear fell from his eye. He hadn’t thought about that in such a long time. She always teased him that he was so handsome so he had better get rid of all of his other girlfriends if he wanted to marry her. Of course Richard had never betrayed his beautiful bride, and they would laugh every time she said this.

He couldn’t speak. She leaned towards him, closed her eyes and gently kissed his lips. Slowly, he wrapped his arms around her and drew her towards him. He kissed her deeply now. He felt her breath in his mouth as her lips, warm and bestial, danced with his. He drank her in with the eagerness of a newborn seeing the world for the first time.

“Oh my God, oh my God, you’re really here? Are you really here?” He demanded.

Eliana nodded her head and smiled. Richard hugged her again and felt like he couldn’t let go. Then he thought of the deal he had made with Samil. His heart leaped in horror for a moment.

“Twenty four hours! We’ve only got twenty four hours!” He gasped.

Eliana pulled back from him and took his hands in hers. She smiled warmly and said, “Oh Richard, don’t worry, we have eternity together. I’m here now! Be with me now.”

Richard noticed she was wearing the dress she was buried in. A chill of momentary revulsion tore through him as a particularly morbid thought flashed in his mind, but he ignored it. She was there, really there. He put his hands gently through her long black flowing hair. He gazed deeply into her green eyes. He kissed her shoulders just the way he always did. She sighed and moaned, just like she always did. He kissed her neck as her hands found his body.

They removed each other’s clothes, never dropping their gaze from each other’s eyes. She was even more gorgeous than he had remembered her.

“My favorite suit…you will be buried in it.” Eliana said.

Richard let his eyes wander after they were naked. Eliana gently pushed Richard onto his back in the bed and climbed on top of him. They made love for what seemed like hours as the moon descended lower in the western sky just outside of the bedroom window. Richard thought it looked so huge he could almost reach outside the window and grab it and put it in a jar as a gift for Eliana.

As the moon started to dip behind the tree line of their backyard, they lay in each other’s arms, exhausted. Richard lost count of how many times they had made love but he was in heaven. He grinned for the first time in two years at the pleasure his wife had given him. He couldn’t remember a single time she had loved him with such ecstasy. He held her close to him and they dozed underneath a single bed sheet despite the near freezing temperature outside. They slept like the dead.

As the sunlight began to fill the room shortly after 7am, Richard’s eyes flew open and he frantically looked around. Eliana was nowhere to be found. He was just about to call out to her when she came out from the master bath. She saw the alarmed look on Richard’s face and smiled.

“My angel, did you miss me?” She said as she climbed back into the bed. Richard wasn’t sure if she meant just while she was gone for the few minutes before he woke up, or the past two years she was–. He realized he didn’t care.

She planted a kiss on Richard’s lips as he mumbled, “Of course my dear. I never want to spend a moment away from you again.”

She pulled the sheet off of Richard and said, “Then don’t! Come on, let’s not waste the day! It’s been ages since we’ve spent the whole day together.”

Richard found this peculiar as it seemed perhaps she wasn’t entirely aware of what was happening. Or maybe she was? He didn’t want to think about it any longer and he jumped out of bed.

“Are you hungry my darling?” He asked.

Eliana nodded as she opened her old closet and pored over her old clothes.

Richard put on his robe and headed towards the kitchen to see if Hadwyn was awake yet. He found him sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee. He looked alarmed to see Richard. Was it because he was awake so early? Or because he was smiling for the first time in two years?

“Can I fix you something for breakfast sir?” Hadwyn asked.

“You certainly can! She’s back my friend, she’s back! See if you can whip something up for both of us! We’re starving! Eggs, bacon, potatoes, the works! Everything!”

Hadwyn cocked his head slightly to the side and said, “Sir?”

“You heard me correctly. Now hurry up, we’refamished!”

Richard scampered off back to the bedroom where he found Eliana feigning sleep. She was never good at holding the joke for long and began to giggle as soon as he crawled back under the covers. He grabbed her and pulled her on top of him and kissed her hard.

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. She asked, “Do you think we have time to go again before breakfast?”

Richard nodded and they made love just as the smell of coffee crept up the stairs. They felt like they were twenty-two years old again.

“I haven’t seen Hadwyn in ages…whatever he’s making I’m sure it will be delicious!” Eliana said as they put their robes on and headed downstairs to the dining room.

Richard told his beautiful bride to sit down and he would see if Hadwyn was done yet. When he returned to tell her that their food was finally ready, he saw Eliana had left the dining room. Hadwyn brought in plates of food and set them down at the dining room table. He had made enough to feed a family of four but Richard didn’t mind. He surmised they could probably eat all of it and have room for more if they wanted to.

Hadwyn returned to the kitchen and Richard grew worried about Eliana. Where had she gone? Just as he was about to go back upstairs to search for her, Eliana returned from the hallway.

“I just wanted to see my paintings again. I’ve missed them almost as much as I have you.” She said as she sat down and began filling a plate with food.

“Please don’t stray too far my dear, I don’t know how much time we have.” Richard said as he sat down next to her and filled his own plate.

Eliana stopped with the spoon hanging over the table between the plate of scrambled eggs and her own plate. It was as if she were frozen. She looked frightened.

“What is it Eliana?”

Eliana slowly turned her head towards Richard. “I’m here now Richard. That’s all that matters. You have me forever.”

Her eyes were wide and fear burned behind them. Richard tried to brush it off and he kissed her awkwardly. She let the spoon drop on her plate and she wrapped her hands around his head as their kiss turned passionate and natural. She held his face in her hands and pulled back. Her eyes were blazing as she held his eyes.

She whispered with the ferocity of a scream, “All that matters is that I’m here now! The debt must be paid when the bill comes due. There’s no escaping it Richard. So have me now and speak of it never again.”

Richard listened in horror as Eliana laid bare their reality. The grandfather clock at the top of the stairs chimed eight times as a reminder that their time was fleeting. After a minute in silence, Eliana grew cheerful again and soothed the sense of the inevitability of their shared verdict. Richard was amazed at how easily he let the feeling of their impending circumstance slink away as he marveled at his wife’s beauty. Whatever happened after midnight, she was with him for those precious moments. He decided he would not allow himself to lose the elation he felt being with her again.

After breakfast they went back to their bedroom and got back into bed. They did not even wait for Hadwyn to come and ask if they were done; they just left the dishes on the dining room table. Instead of making love though, they lay in each other’s arms, never allowing sleep to even flirt with them. They spent the rest of the morning talking and found themselves slipping effortlessly back into a routine they knew so well from when Eliana was alive.

They left the bedroom and decided to explore their house as if it were the first time they were there again. In a way, it was the first time. Richard had barely left the four rooms he spent his waking hours in since Eliana had died. There were twenty other rooms he neglected. He enjoyed rediscovering them and making new memories with his bride again.

For the first time in weeks, the sun bathed the house and filled every room with natural light, brightening everything. Richard and Eliana moved from room to room, kissing, hugging, talking. They danced too. With her head resting on his shoulder, eyes closed, they danced again. Just like on their wedding night. Time was falling away quickly but their time together was without measure. What felt like minutes was actually hours, and after they began to feel hungry again, it felt like it had been weeks since their breakfast together.

Richard ran down to the kitchen again and found Hadwyn waiting. He ordered his man to put together some cold sandwiches and other assortments and to bring them to the library. Richard ran back to Eliana and found her sitting at the desk reading one of her favorite books, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. He watched her as the sun lit up her face and made her look like an angel. She didn’t notice Richard for more than two minutes until he sighed loudly and told her she was more beautiful than the day he met her. She looked up and smiled in that special way that only she could. He felt excitement rush through his body at this and hurried over so he could hold her again to make sure this dream was still real.

He stood at the desk where Eliana was sitting and they hugged each other until Hadwyn arrived with their lunch. Richard turned around and told him to just set it on the table in front of the fireplace.

“I didn’t know what you wanted to drink so I brought you a selection. Are you feeling all right sir?” Hadwyn asked.

Richard looked down at Eliana and she smiled back up at him. “What do you think? I’ve never been happier!”

“Very good sir.” Hadwyn said as he nodded and walked back to the kitchen.

After lunch, they explored more rooms of their home and realized they hadn’t even made it to the south wing of the house. As they passed by the front door and approached the door to the garage, Richard got an idea. He ran to the door to the garage and grabbed the handle. He started to turn it.

“Let’s get out of here and go for a ride! We can go anywhere!” His hand dropped from the door handle as he watched the color evaporate from Eliana’s face.

She stood paralyzed and white. Richard rushed towards her and put his hands on her arms. “My God, you’re as white as a ghost! Are you going to faint?”

Eliana stared wide eyed at her husband. She was trembling. Her skin felt cold to the touch.

“I can’t go Richard, I’m sorry. I have to stay here.”

Richard laughed, “What do you mean? We can go anywhere!”

Eliana shook her head. Her hair floated around her like she was under water as she shook it. “No! Ican’t! If you love me, be with me here, now! This is all we have Richard.”

He stared at her in horror. He was shocked by how easily he had let their reality slip away again. He grabbed Eliana’s hand and they slowly went back to their bedroom in silence. She sat down on the bed and patted the space next to her. Richard sat down next to her and tried to shake the feeling of the hours slipping by towards midnight.

They spent the rest of the afternoon in the bedroom, slowly coming back to joy. They made love again and dozed in each other’s arms as the sun began to dip in the western sky and the room darkened. Richard noted that familiar lump in his throat as he felt the hour getting late. Could it really be true? Did they really only have this one day? What kind of a god would dangle something as precious as an opportunity to be with his long dead wife again and then snatch it away just as soon as he allowed himself to believe it was real? No god indeed.

As the hunger grew in their bellies again, Richard took a deep breath and said he would go down and order Hadwyn to prepare a banquet for them. And he would insist Hadwyn join them for it would be their final meal together and Hadwyn had served them both, as loyally as a family member for years. He wanted to keep Eliana all to himself but felt it was only fair that Hadwyn get to spend a few minutes with her as he was so fond of Eliana as well.

Richard and Eliana went back downstairs for the last time. They sat at the dining room table and watched Hadwyn bring dish after dish to the grand table. After the final dish was placed, Richard insisted Hadwyn join them. He politely refused, but then gave in as Richard was not going to back down.

Hadwyn ate silently. He looked up from his plate from time to time, to make sure Richard was ok. He was deeply troubled by Richard’s behavior the entire day. But Hadwyn kept his thoughts to himself and was firm in his duty to serve Richard’s wishes diligently.

Richard and Eliana conversed quietly as they sat next to each other, across from Hadwyn. Hadwyn appeared to not have heard a single word they said. But that was Hadwyn’s way. Always in the background, never part of the conversation. After Hadwyn finished his meal, he politely excused himself. Before he turned to bring his plate to the kitchen though, he looked down at the table and told Richard that it had been an honor serving him all these years and he would cherish their friendship.

Richard sat frozen by Hadwyn’s words. It appeared he was privy to quite a bit more than he had revealed. He never thought about how their inevitable departure from this mortal coil would affect Hadwyn. He had always been the stoic one. Professional to a fault. Richard felt a moment of regret as he had failed to contemplate the finality of his deal with respect to his relationship with Hadwyn. His love for Eliana trumped all. As they watched Hadwyn retire to the kitchen, they sat silently for the last time at the dining room table.

After a few minutes, Richard looked at Eliana, and realizing that Hadwyn was not coming back out until they were gone, they went back upstairs, for the final time.

They ascended the stairs, hand in hand. Neither speaking a word. The grandfather clocked chimed eight times to signal the evening hour. Richard closed the door behind him and led his bride to the bed. The lights were off but the curtains remained open. The moon, almost full, was cresting over the house and illuminated the bedroom just enough so they could see the sorrow on each other’s faces.

Eliana climbed into bed and gently pulled Richard’s hand so he would join her. They did not make love. They simply looked into each other’s eyes. Richard kissed his wife gently. Their eyes remaining open. They whispered to each other. They professed their love for one another. As the hours chimed on the grandfather clocked outside the bedroom, tears fell from their eyes. Richard’s heart began to beat faster as the final hour approached. He pulled his beloved bride towards him and held her tightly. He kissed her cheeks dampened by her tears. They could not bear to speak so they only whispered.

Outside the bedroom, the grandfather clock chimed eleven times. One hour until…

Richard’s mind raced as he silently bargained with Samil, with God, with whomever would listen. He saw Samil’s devilish grin and begged him for just one more day. Eliana just lay silently in her husband’s arms. She held him tightly but felt no panic or fear. She was grateful for the precious little time they had. Her tears still flowed and her heart still cried for more time, but she accepted her fate.

As the moon dipped in the western sky and filled the bedroom with pale blue light, the minute hand on the grandfather clock slipped to the fifty-ninth minute position. Richard felt his chest tighten. His throat was bulging with a lump filled with torture and fear. He couldn’t bear losing his bride again. They whispered their love to each other, over and over. As the seconds dropped from the clock, they pressed their cheeks together, then pressed their lips together. Their eyes locked forever, their lips pressed together in an eternal kiss. Richard’s heart beat for the last time as the grandfather clock chimed twelve.

They were frozen in that moment. After the twelfth chime sounded, the wind began to pick up outside and the first few pellets of freezing rain pelted Hadwyn’s bedroom window. The house had never felt emptier as he wrestled with sleeplessness.

Hadwyn waited until 9am to knock on the bedroom door. He thought he knew what he would find when he finally went in but he hoped against all hope that his fears were misguided. He knew at the Van Buren Club that Richard had decided his own fate. He saw the look in his eyes the moment Richard accepted his own demise as the only escape from his anguish. Hadwyn expected to find Richard alone in bed, dead. What he found were two people in the bed. As the bedroom door creaked open, he witnessed Richard’s lifeless body clinging to the body of a woman.

Hadwyn approached the bed with his mouth hung open and his hand clasped across it so he wouldn’t scream. It was Eliana! He recognized her by the dress. The dress Richard chose for her wake, the dress she was buried in. And now she was two years decomposed. How had she gotten here? When? What? They were locked in an embrace, looking peaceful and in love.

Hadwyn called the police and they quickly gathered at the Jameson residence. He told them of Richard’s bizarre behavior the day and night before. He told the police that Richard had been talking to himself in a sort of delirium all day, ordering Hadwyn to cook an over abundance of food and then consuming almost all of it. He told the police of how Richard had spent much of day in his bedroom, alone. He was stunned that Richard would be so distraught, so absolutely destroyed from his grief that he would actually dig up his wife and bring her to his bed. He supposed it was sort of romantic in a twisted Poe sort of way. But nevertheless, he had done it. Richard had sent Hadwyn to bed knowing he was going to dig up his dead wife’s grave by the moonlight. And then bring her to his bed so he could die next to her.

The police finished taking Hadwyn’s statement and the coroner concluded Richard had probably died of a heart attack but an autopsy would be needed to confirm. Eliana’s body was examined and they concluded her body had been decomposing for roughly two years. After the police and paramedics finished their business, Hadwyn brought the police out to the backyard to show them Eliana’s grave. He explained that Richard had her buried in the backyard so he could be close to her always. The police officer commented how sweet it was and asked Hadwyn to lead them to the grave site.

As they approached the grave site, Hadwyn grew more and more confused. They stopped a few feet in front of the headstone. A business card lay on it but, before anyone could grab it to see what was on the card, a breeze picked it up and carried it away into the forest. The ground around the grave site was completely undisturbed. There was no sign of digging. No chunks of earth, no deep hole. A forensics team concluded the ground hadn’t been disturbed in just over two years. When they dug up the grave, all they found was the hat Richard lost in the wind two days before in an otherwise empty casket.