The pain was not as raw as it once was, but it was still there, and the bone deep questions loomed larger than ever. She had never been one to easily let things go, but this was different—bigger. Her loss had carved a wedge deep in her soul. Christmas was just around the corner, and the dreams were coming again. Though she busied herself in the day, the nights conspired to rob her new found joy.
And it was a joy. At first, she hesitated to even admit it to herself how much she enjoyed Blaise’s company. The Friday afternoon meet ups had expanded to texts and emails and even occasional calls. Every morning, there was an inspiring Scripture verse in her In-box. She had not read much of her Bible in a long time except for occasional desperate kamikaze runs to pinpoint a verse or two that might have a message for her. So, these thoughtfully chosen verses every morning from Blaise not only encouraged her floundering spirit, but also gave her a new hope that real friendship could exist without the trappings of unrealistic obligation and pressured transparency with the untrustworthy.
She had gotten a call early in the morning from Graham’s mom. She called as a ritual every year the day before the anniversary of Graham’s death to see how she was doing and ask if she wanted to come “home” for Christmas. Home it was not—and never had been—but that did not seem to matter to Clare. She had let it go to voicemail. Of course, she would return the call, but only when she was ready. And only after she had formulated a new and fresh excuse.
Harper busied herself adding more LED twinkle lights to the front display windows. Past years, her decorations had been rather wimpy, but she felt more motivated now to push the holiday spirit a bit harder. As she stretched to hang a line in the corner, she knocked over a stack of children’s books which had a domino effect on the stuffed snowman, the elf, and finally the crèche. She glanced up from her mess to see Ava’s grinning face peering through the glass. Ava mouthed the words, “Oops!” Harper did not mouth anything back, just stared blankly. And she was ashamed at the first thought that came to her mind.
“Sorry about your big mess,” Ava said as she flounced through the doorway. “I was just on my way to coffee and thought I’d pop in to say hi.” She had had little contact with her of late and had not missed it.
Harper extricated herself from the window with a sigh. “Well, that was certainly not in my plans today. But maybe it’s a sign I need to do a bit of dusting and reorganizing.” She managed to fake a smile.
“And maybe in a bit more creative display. I would offer to stay and help, of course.”
“But I am meeting Blaise at the Starbucks on 5th. We have been meeting up regularly, you know, and I am really enjoying our time together.”
Ava rattled on and on, and Harper felt a sickening in her stomach. Her face must have gotten the message because Ava seemed very concerned that she did not look well. “I’m fine. I think I just pushed myself a bit too much on an empty stomach.”
“Well, I would invite you to tag along with me, but I’m sure you can’t leave the wee shop; and besides, these times with Blaise are very special to me. As close as you and I are, I would not want to jeopardize the real communication Blaise and I are having.” She fiddled with her blouse, making sure it was tucked in nicely. She seemed oblivious to the darkness that had descended.
“So how long have you two been meeting up?” Harper worked hard at sounding nonchalant.
“Oh, pretty much shortly after he arrived. I know he meets with others, too—you know that church thing. But our times together aren’t like that. The others are projects, and we are true friends, I think. Maybe even more.” She winked. “Well, I must be off.”
Ava’s strong perfume lingered long after the door closed, as did the weight of her words. Harper stood fixed to the same spot for a good five minutes as anger, disappointment, and grief swirled inside her chest. When she could move again, she locked the door, turned the Closed sign around, and retreated to the back of the shop. She sank deep into a chair and let the tears flow.