It was just another day.
Alice turned off the alarm, and lay in bed for a moment, before heading off to the shower. Monday morning was always busy, but she was still grateful for the distraction of new stock arriving. Today the summer collection would be delivered, and Esme would need the window dressed to promote the new lines.
Alice concentrated on the water cascading over her head and back. It felt good, and she momentarily lost focus, remembering other showers at other times. Mentally chiding herself, she blasted the cold setting for a second before jumping out and grabbing a towel from the rail.
After a hurried breakfast, she was on her way to the boutique to immerse herself in the world of fashion. Esme, after seeing the determination on Alice’s face, left her too it. She watched as Alice looked through the dresses, deciding on the ones she wanted in the display.
I wonder if she’s eating properly, Esme thought to herself, deciding almost immediately that she would take Alice out to lunch later that day.
Alice resisted, but in the end Esme had her way, and they walked down the street to the little bistro in the square. They found a table near the back, and settled down to eat.
Esme knew what subjects were off limits, so she stuck to safe topics, such as the new line, Edward’s children, and the new series of “True Blood,” which they were both addicted to.
“You look tired,” Esme stated as they sipped their coffee.
“You need to take care of yourself, Alice,” Esme scolded gently.
“My nightmares don’t disappear when I go to sleep.”
Esme sighed. “I know.” She reached across and held Alice’s hand.
“It’s just another day, Esme, like every other day.”
Alice worked hard for the rest of the afternoon. She had a wonderful eye for color, and Esme was delighted when she went outside to view the final result.
“You are a genius, Alice,” she said, admiring the window. Alice’s answering smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Eventually, it was time to lock up and return home. Alice bade Esme goodnight, but she was reluctant to return to the empty apartment. Instead, she turned her car towards the lake, and parked. The weather was too cold for many people to be out in the gathering gloom, and she was alone with her thoughts.
Unbidden, his face appeared in her mind, and her heart clenched in pain.
“Jasper,” she whispered.
Two years ago it had not been just another day. Two years ago, she had barely been able to contain her excitement as she walked towards him, wanting nothing more than to run the last few meters between them, and throw herself into his arms. Instead, she had gripped her brother’s arm even tighter, and forced herself to walk slowly, as they had rehearsed.
Two years ago, he had promised that he would be there forever.
She angrily brushed the tears from her cheeks, and turned the ignition key. She drove home, fixing her face ahead and refusing to look at the hearts and balloons in every shop front.
Today was just another day.
She walked into the dark, cold apartment, and sat in the front room. She had cleaned and tidied obsessively, wanting only to keep moving and stop thinking. There wasn’t anything left to do. She didn’t watch TV or films anymore. She didn’t listen to music. She was like a zombie.
The phone rang, jerking her out of her comatose state, and she automatically answered.
“How are you doing?” Her brother’s voice was soft and laced with concern.
“I’m fine,” she said mechanically.
“Are you sure you won’t come over tonight? Bella would love to see you.”
“I’m sure, Edward. I’ll just get something to eat, and have an early night.”
“I don’t like to think of you all alone in that place. Especially today.”
“It’s just another day. “
“You can’t fool me, Alice. I’ve known you too long.”
She sighed. “I’m not good company, and I’m sure you and Bella have other plans.”
“They can change.”
“No they can’t. I’m not going to spoil val…today for you, too. Go out.”
Edward tried to argue for a few minutes, but they both knew it was futile. Stubbornness ran in the family. Eventually they finished their conversation, and Alice returned to the dark, the cold, and the silence.
She went to bed.
She put his T-shirt on, and laid on his side of the bed. The scent of him had finally faded, but she breathed deeply anyway, desperate for something of him. If she closed her eyes, she could clearly remember the last time she had seen him.
He had wanted to leave her sleeping, but she woke before he had chance to leave the apartment.
“You know this just makes it harder,” he whispered, as she clung to him. She just nodded. He cradled her in his arms, rocking her like a child. “The year will go by quickly. I’ll write when I can, Ali.”
“I know. I love you.”
“I love you too. I have to go now.” He gently peeled her arms from his neck and kissed her almost reverently on the lips. “Keep a candle burning for me.”
Then he was gone.
She opened her eyes and reached across to the bedside cabinet. Striking a match, she lit the new, white candle she had put in the holder that morning. She made a mental note to buy some more in the week.
She laid her head back on his pillow, ignoring the tears tracking down her face. He had been true to his word. They had exchanged letters for months until the day they stopped. The one letter she was dreading appearing in their place.
For everyone else, it had been a time to mourn. For months she had refused to give up hope, waiting for a phone call to say that they were wrong, that he had been found alive and was on his way back to her. It got harder everyday. Now she lived in limbo. How could she move on when he might be out there somewhere? Her family tried to understand, but they could only imagine what it was like, waiting for news that never arrived.
Now every day was just the same. It was something to endure, to get through without crying. Each night she mentally chalked another success up; she had survived. Most of the time it was easy. She went to work and came home. Sometimes, like today, it was almost impossible. Every corner reminded her of what she had lost. Every store mocked her dwindling hope. Every heart that flaunted itself threw a flaming dart in her own.
Eventually she drifted off to sleep.
She wasn’t sure what had woken her, hours later. She glanced at the clock to see that it was only 11pm. She groaned and turned her head back to the candle, which was now burning low, and closed her eyes again. Something stroked across her cheek and down her neck. Her eyes flew open and she found herself staring into a pair of brilliant blue eyes. Her breathing hitched and stopped. She gazed at his face, so familiar to her, for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, she found herself gasping for air.
He moved forward and softly placed his lips on hers. He laid the red rose he was holding on the pillow beside her.
“Happy anniversary,” he whispered.
He nodded. A sob wrenched from her throat as she shakily reached out to touch his face.
“Are you real?”
He laughed gently and stroked her cheek with his fingers, his eyes drinking her in like a man parched.
She sat up and looked at him closely. He was much thinner, and black circles ringed his eyes. His uniform hung from him as if it were two sizes too big.
“I was taken captive and kept in a cellar somewhere. When the village was overrun, they found me and managed to get me out. I wanted to surprise you, so I asked that they not tell you I was coming home. They flew me back today.”
“I’ve missed you so much,” she sobbed, as he pulled her into his arms.
“You are all I thought about,” he murmured in her hair. “I knew you wouldn’t give up on me.”
For the longest time they held each other. Alice breathed in his scent, her head whirling with unspoken questions. They would wait until tomorrow. Today, she was going to make the most of the best Valentine’s present she had ever been given.