Stage 1: Denial
Somewhere, tucked away between the edge of town and the pinewood forest, laid the Midnight Owl, a bar only known to the locals. Open everyday, all year long. A soft, warm glow emanating from it, lighten from the fairy lights that were spun around it like the final thread holding the place together.
It’s almost Christmas.” The bartender told me.
“I know.” I whispered into my nearly empty glass of old fashioned.
“You know, I don’t recognize you. Are you new to town?’
“Huh, well you should come by more often. And talk more, too. Been here an hour and just started talking now.”
“I don’t think I ever got your name, stranger.”
“Have you seen the birds?!” A short, young, man plopped down beside me, interrupting my conversation.
“The birds?” I asked.
“The birds! The government’s birds!” He exclaimed. “They’re watching me!” He leaned in too close to me and whispered. “Just this morning, after I got out of the shower, I saw one. Looking at me. Dead in the eyes. While I was naked.”
“That’s an image.” The bartender muttered to herself.
“I’m telling you! They’re on to me! The government is watching because I know the truth!”
“The truth?” I echoed.
“I know the truth about the Milborrow Fire!”
“Oh, I heard about that!” The bartender gasped. “Didn’t it kill like five people?”
“Four citizens and one fireman!” The man exclaimed.
“Tsk. A real tragedy.”
“You know, I was nearly killed by it too!” The man claimed. “I had an interview near there the day of the fire! But then, the bus I was on had a flat tire going over a pothole I never made it there!”
“That’s lucky.” The bartender commented.
“No it not! I’ve been unemployed for four months! Every time I try to get a job, something goes wrong! And it’s all the government’s fault!”
“That can’t be true.”
“Yes it is! The government takes care of the roads! They left that pothole there on purpose! Just so I would miss my interview.”
The bartender had a puzzled expression. “You can’t seriously blame the government for that, can you?”
The man pouted. “It is the government’s fault that I can’t get a job. Not mine. They should have made a better economy. It’s all their fault.”
I quietly finished off my drink, unsettled by the talk of the Milborrow. It’s a tragedy I’d rather not talk about.
Besides, I’ll see him tomorrow. I always do. Nothing’s changed. But for now, I just need another drink.
Stage 2: Anger
The next day, I plowed my way through a growing snowstorm to get to the Midnight Owl. Though, I’m not sure how there was even any snow left, considering the angry steam from my ears should have been enough to melt it all.
I took a seat at the bar next to a brunette man with a bushy mustache and a tomato-red face. “Hey, stranger.” The bartender greeted.
“I’ll have a whiskey on the rocks.”
“Sure, thing.” She slid me a drink. “I still don’t know your name, though.”
“ARGH!” The man next to me exclaimed. “I hate this snow!”
“Woah, Frank. What’s got your underwear in a bunch?”
“The roads are fully plowed so I accidentally drove my car into a snowbank on the way here! The engine was smoking and everything! It’s gonna take a fortune to replace!” He screamed with his face turning ruby-red now.
“Easy there, Frank. You know what the doctor said about your stress levels. Once your face gets to crimson, I’m gonna have to call Dr. Loward.” The bartender teased. They turned to me. “Don’t worry about, Frank.” They told me. “He’s normally like this. Frank’s a sweet guy, though. A real family guy. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without his signature red face. Ain’t that right, Frank?”
“How am I SUPPOSED TO PAY FOR MY DAUGHTER’S BALLET LESSONS NOW?!” He hollered. “JIMMY HOW COULD YOU LET ME DOWN?!”
“Jimmy?” The bartender asked.
“Jimmy Douer! He usually plows the roads, and he was the best damn plower this city has ever seen! But he was volunteering as a fireman during the Milborrow Fire!” Frank screamed. “We may have never met, but I’ll always miss you and you’re plowed roads, Jimmy!”
“And that’s it, you’re crimson. I’m calling the doctor.” The bartender declared.
“What?! I can’t afford a medical bill now!!!”
“It’s for your own good! You want to live a long life and see your daughter grow up, don’t you?”
“YES I DO! I LOVE MY DAUGHTER WITH ALL MY HEART!!!!”
While, they continued to argue, I began to fade off into my own head. He didn’t come home today. It’s always those freaking jobs that keeps him away from me. I hate it. I’m still angry.
Stage 3: Bargaining
When I walked into the bar the next day, the bartender was in the midst of an argument with another man. “Oh come on!”
“Sorry, you have to pay for drinks here.” The bartender noticed me sitting down. “What can I get you, valued, paying customer?”
“Hitting the heavy stuff? Alright.” She filled up a shot. “But you have to tell me your name this time.”
The broke man cut me off. “I’m only a few short! Cut a guy some slack. I’ve been a regular here for years!”
The bartender crossed her arms. “Well, I just started working here, so that doesn’t really matter to me.”
“But, Jimmy always used to cover me!”
“Jimmy? Jimmy Douer?”
“Yeah! You know the guy! Shame what happened to him. I didn’t know much about his personal life, but he was a great guy. I heard he got married just before the whole fire. So can’t you cut me a break? For poor Jimmy’s old drinking buddy?”
“A sob story doesn’t change the price of alcohol.”
The man grumbled and settled on one of the cheaper beers.
I stared down the middle of my glass. I never should have let him go. Maybe I should go to church more often. See if I can strike a few favors.
Stage 4: Depression
I didn’t go to church. Only the bar. Always the bar. This time, I didn’t talk much--not that I ever did. No, this time, I didn’t talk at all. I just listened.
On Christmas night, there was only one other customer at the bar there: a college girl who just had her heart stomped on. With puffy eyes and a sore throat, she cried into her tequila as the bartender fetched more tissues from the back.
“I just…” She sniffled. “I just loved him.”
I loved him.
“I thought he would have loved me back!” She wailed. “But the only person he loved was that slutty stripper!” The girl sobbed. “What does she have that I don’t? A crappy boob job?”
Her mascara ran down her cheeks. “And on Christmas? That’s when I find him hooking up with another?”
The girl collapsed on the bar in a fit of sobs and sniffles. I gazed down at my drink. Tequila as well. I felt my eyes sting. Carefully, I got up to leave. I didn’t want to be here any longer.
Just as I headed out the door, the bartender called open behind me. “Oh, hey. It’s you again. Lady, are you ever gonna tell me your name?”
“April Douer.” I calmly replied as I stepped out and into the chilling night.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The next night, I didn’t go to the bar. I didn’t go to church. I didn’t go anywhere in town. I went to the forest. Just the edge of it. Just to the graveyard. I stared at the mossy, carved stones from outside the iron gates. Keeping me out. I’m always on the outside now. Always alone.
Slowly, I pulled the gates open. In a state of semi-awareness, I walked inside.
All the graves had names, but to me, there wasn't anyone I knew. Just letters in stone.
I stopped. I knew these letters.
This is the first time I’ve seen those letters. The first time I’ve accepted his death.
Somehow, I managed to choke out the words. “Happy one month anniversary, love.”
out of love
Nothing lasts forever.
But what about love?
Maybe it always ends in heartbreak.
Bad timing and endings without goodbyes.
Accidents, deaths, and grieving losses.
Insults and abuse; crying on the floor.
Falling out of love for the same reasons you once fell in it.
Separation, divorce, and custody battles.
Fighting without being fought for.
Holding on to someone who's already gone.
Fights and breakups and lonely nights.
Drunk calls and mistaken makeups and one night stands.
Ignoring and being ignored.
Wondering how they moved on so easily.
Maybe love, like everything else, is bound to disappear eventually.
Don’t Be True
My first book signing. I adjusted the tight dress my manager forced me to wear and put a smile on. Britt looked at the crowd and straightened a book.
"You ready for this kid?" she asked.
I shrugged since my heartbeat was choking me. For years, I had dreamed of being someone iconic and now I had a line of fans waiting to meet me. Britt noticed my face and started with her ridiculous rules.
"Now no signing anything weird. I mean it. If I see one picture of a neon green potato in a book, I will lose my mind."
I rolled my eyes. I sign one kid's shirt with a piece of pizza and Britt loses her mind. She continued for a couple of minutes before I cut her off.
"It's almost time. If you're done laying down the hammer, I have to pretend to be an adult for three hours."
Britt gave me a side-eye. "Just have fun, okay? And remember, Rick and Danielle will keep any fans from being weirdos."
"My whole fanbase is weirdos. Just tell them to do smell checks on anyone that tries to hug me and to Febreeze the ones that don't pass."
"Funny. I'll be over here if you need me."
Britt disappeared and Danielle unclipped the fake velvet rope that separated a line of interested people from my little booth. A sea of people swarmed me, asking questions and getting their books signed. I was about eighty people in when my hand started cramping. All of my practice had apparently gone out of the window. I signed a couple more with random pictures (I couldn't help it) before I was anxious to sneak off and take a break. The life of a Y List celebrity was hard. Another book was slid quietly over to me and I instantly drew a purple Sharpie carton of milk.
"Who am I making this out to?"
"Your biggest fan," an oddly familiar voice said.
I made a face but wrote out To my biggest fan in sloppy slanted cursive. I looked up to see the owner of the voice. My mouth dropped, and my hands went limp. He smiled.
"You act like you saw a ghost."
"Dude, I thought you were dead," I murmured.
"I"m sorry I never came back. Couldn't remember your damn username."
I felt my face get hot. My stupid younger self had made my username a bunch of random letters. I looked back down to avoid being embarrassed and saw the huge purple blot I made on the inside of the book. I capped the marker and put it down, rubbing my thumb roughly against my palm.
"I need a break. Wanna wander with me for a couple minutes?"
He smiled and my whole body got twenty degrees warmer. I motioned for my manager to take over and distract the crowd and wandered towards the bookshelves with him alongside me. We walked quietly, mainly because I had no idea what to say. It wasn't like I had words. All the thoughts I had pushed down and ignored were all trying to escape me at once. After a few seconds, he spoke up.
"I told you you'd be famous one day."
"Yeah, but you didn't get to be my manager. I definitely wouldn't be wearing this shit."
"You look nice in a dress."
"Well enjoy it. I already have on basketball shorts on under this. I just have to take this off and I'll be at peak comfort again."
He chuckled. "I really liked the book."
"I'm surprised you even read it. Wouldn't peg a horror book as your thing."
"You told me it wasn't what you wrote. I was really surprised I liked it so much. But, you were talented when we met. Time only made you better."
"Yeah, something like that," I said, looking down at the floor.
"I'm really sorry I never came back. I mean, I really wanted to. I just couldn't. Actually, when I saw you were doing a book signing here, I was surprised."
"I told you I always wanted to come to Canada. I got a free trip here. Plus, it's only the beginning. I'm finally going to see Oregon like I wanted. Oh! Guess where I went recently?"
"Auckland! I got to help deliver a baby sheep. I even named her Shaun. The farmer was not happy about that.""You've done a lot in the past three years."
"Whatever. What about you? How's farming going?"
"Oh, I gave up on that. I work at some company now."
"Booooo. You sold out." I said, pushing his arm.
He smiled. "Yeah, something like that."
We reached the corridor to the bathroom, by the time my brain made up its mind. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed him tight.
"I really missed you."
"I missed you too."
I looked up at him with a smile and kissed his cheek. He pulled away.
"No, listen, I'm married."
He said more words after that but I couldn't hear him. My whole body went limp. I felt all of the romantical thoughts and feelings die. My body went ice cold. I tuned into the word friends and an apologetic look. I forced a smile and nodded. Before he could hug me, I pulled away, murmured something about pee, and speed-walked to the bathroom. The door had barely closed before the tears started falling. I slid against the door and broke down into my knees. It took years to suppress those feelings and they finally came out.
After five minutes, I heard a knocking. I locked the door and went in the mirror to fix the damage. The tears had wiped away most of the foundation, blush, and mascara that had been thrust upon me. I pressed some rough paper towels against my face and scraped the make-up off of my face. I wiped my eyes until the running mascara was barely noticeable against the bags under my eyes. I tossed the paper and opened the door to see Danielle looking at me.
"Geez, you look worse than normal. Who died?"
"No one. I watched the wrong WorldStar video."
"Told you have to stop watching that crap. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, can you get my hoodie though?"
"I was surprised you made it this long looking presentable."
I smirked but saw him leaving, and it disappeared. Danielle came back and frowned at the sight of me. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. That poor squirrel just didn't make it in time."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. Do you need a hug?"
I pulled my hoodie on and let Danielle hug me. It took everything in me not to breakdown again. I had to get through this. I could cry on the way to Montreal. Danielle pulled the hood off of my head, scolding me for even trying it, and ushered me back to the table. Britt made a face at the sight of me, but her face softened after Danielle whispered something to her. I plopped back into the chair. I was greeted by a smiling girl and her mom, clutching my book to her chest.
"It's awesome to meet you. I love your book."
I feigned a smile in response. She handed me her book, and I drew an electric blue smiley face in a corner of the page.
"Can I ask how you got the inspiration for a book?"
"A friend of mine suddenly stopped talking to me and I was really worried, so I basically took all of the bad thoughts I had and put them into this book."
"That's deep," her mother murmured as she gave me her book.
"Are you going to continue the story of Alex and Taylor?"
A tear fell onto the page. I wiped it off, smudging the ink, and kept writing. "I have no choice but to finish it, you know?"
'Come on, pick up the phone,' she muttered anxiously as she dialled Steve. Continuously she watched the news, flipping to numerous channels, silently praying that her fiancè was safe in Russia.
Reaching the Russia's premier news channel, she let out a sigh of relief. In the city Steve was staying for his business trip, there's a small riot reported nearby.
Amid the crowded atmosphere, the reporter spewed out words as loud as possible. Then, her worst nightmare came true.
• • •
Grabbing a bouquet of fresh crimson roses, he held out a couple of dollars then strode out of the store. The lemon-gold glow slowly reached the horizon where heaven met earth. The world was blanketed with the breathtaking gradient of purple-aureate. The fragrant whiff accompanied the soft breeze as he waltzed by park, heading towards The Flavour, one of the most restaurant known for its scrumptious ambrosia.
After uttering his fiancée name, Felicia, to the receptionist, a waiter dressed in a monochromatic suit ushered the way. The sophisticated dining area was in a glass dome. A quartz chandelier glimmered as it hung from the ceiling. Aromatic smell entered his nostrils as he passed by diners who were indulging the dishes. The clashing of his heels against the floor were muffled by the burgundy carpet laid across the room.
Arriving at the table with the reserved sign, he sat on the ornate cushioned chair. The roses glistened with dews on its divine petals under the glitter from the lighting. Tapping his fingers ebony table, he gazed out the floor-to-ceiling glass. The celestial moonlight shone over the serene waves. The cream crescent hung up in the pitch black sky with tiny sparkles scattered across its boundless canvas.
Waiting for Felicia, his excitement bubbled up at the thought meeting her after a long gruelling period of work kept them apart.
After an hour, anxiety kicked in. He pressed 'call' on his phone. The moment he got hold of her, he uttered her name urgently.
' Steve, I want to ask something,' she mumbled, her words sounded cold and distant.
' Anything,' he answered readily.
' What was the colour I wore during last year's Valentine? ' she questioned.
Without a second thought, he threw out the word 'Orange,' The moment that word got out, a lady in an orange ruched lace up mini dress sashayed towards him. The recognition made he feel a cold shiver down his spine. His face whitened. She knew...
' Hi, honey,' the escort called seductively, her hem was riding up as she strode along the red carpet.
' Goodbye.' she whispered and phone went dead. The world came crushing down. The petal turned brown at the short of water.
• • •
She squinted on the television screen. A couple passed by at the background. Silver blond hair, tan skin and familiar sky blue eyes now shone with delight. She caught a glimpse of the ruby, glinting at top his button-down shirt with the sliver chains around in the symbol of infinity. An early Valentine gift she made for him was now witnessing the betrayal unfold.
A gasp fell out of her. Tears spilling down her cheeks without knowing. She cupped her faces and let go her floodgates as she lied on her couch, silently telling herself that he would come back and confess his mistake. Everything would go back to where it belonged.
A pristine diamond sat elegantly on her finger as she waited.
A year passed.
He never did.
• • •
After hanging up the last call they would ever have, she looked at the calm sea. Waves of water accompanied her pain as she stood at the pavement of London Bridge.
Letting go a deep breath, the band was removed. Every second was agonizing. Flashbacks of their lives together bombarded her mind. Her broken heart beating could be heard among the noisy street as she blanked out. With a great might, she threw it into the water. No dropping sound could be heard, as insignificant as how their future would ever be.