One Last Time
Is this really the final anniversary trip for Jake and Sienna?
We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. The tires crunched on the dirty, leftover snow and the lonely wind whistled through the barren trees that lined the narrow gravel road. Inside the car it was silent.
I'd turned off the radio when we started losing signal an hour ago because the patchy static was making me angry and no music had sounded good to me in a long time anyway. Jake sure wasn't saying anything to fill the silence and I'd been pretty quiet too. Occasional mutterings about other drivers and how much they suck but there wasn't anything else worth commenting on. Actually, there wasn't much to say these days at all.
This trip was a bad idea. We wouldn't have even tried to come this year except that we'd had the cabin booked for months and months and nothing else sounded like something worth doing to kill the time on our anniversary weekend. Yeah, I probably could have gotten a refund but I just didn't feel like dealing with it. Oh, and Jake had insisted on keeping the tradition alive.
I roll my eyes at the thought of that word. Tradition...that was pretty much the only thing left alive in our relationship anymore.
Of course, it hadn't always been this bad but it also hadn't always been smooth sailing. Jake and I had seemed like a weird couple from the very beginning, at least, according to our friends. "I'd never have pictured you with someone like Jake" and "We'd never have imagined you going for someone like Sienna" were things we'd both heard over the years more than a few times. What they meant but were too polite to actually say to our faces was that Jake was movie-star handsome, brilliant, and witty and I've always just been the forgettable girl next door with an equally forgettable intellect and sense of humor.
I'd never had much luck with relationships and Jake had felt so out of my league at the beginning that I'd performed a lot of stupid sabotage to try and end it myself before I ended up getting hurt again. Thanks mostly to Jake's easy going ways, our relationship had survived those early hiccups though and as time ticked on, I had started to believe that he actually loved me as much as I loved him.
It had been ten years since we became "official" and eight years since our wedding. Once we'd made it through the infamous, relationship-sinking, "seven year itch" I had felt like Jake and I might truly be a forever thing...something worthy of celebrating traditions.
Jake and I had come to this cabin together to celebrate our first dating anniversary and we'd come back here every year since, because, tradition. The first trip had been because we couldn't afford a fancy vacation and a weekend cabin getaway had sounded perfect. Even after we'd graduated, gotten "real" jobs, and become comfortable financially, Jake still wanted to come to this little cabin in the nearby mountains, year after year.
If our anniversary hadn't been in January (AKA the most miserable month of the year) it probably would have been nice to come hike in the mountains or sit on the porch swing and enjoy the unpolluted mountain air together. As it was though, it was always too cold and blustery to go outside without a parka and some Hot Hands shoved into our gloves.
Whenever I'd get brave and suggest a beach trip or fancy hotel in the city for our anniversary trip, Jake's face would take on a horribly pained expression, like a tail-stomped puppy. He'd say something like "Sienna, we have to go to the cabin for our anniversary because our love lives there" and he'd say it with such sincerity that I had no choice but to fall in love a little more, kiss him and agree. Even though what I really wanted to do was burst out laughing at such a Hallmark holiday movie comment. Jake is always so ridiculously cheesy but, somehow, heart-rendingly sincere at the same time.
Well, he used to be.
He had changed so much over the past year. I glance over sideways at him as I drive. I wish things could go back to the way they were before...
As I pilot the car up the final stretch of gravel my mind jumps back to the beginning. The weather was so crappy the first time we'd come here that we had barely made it up the long gravel driveway. Once we did make it, the snow started in earnest and we'd had to stay in the cabin the whole weekend, surviving off of instant cocoa and a case of chicken ramen noodles that the owners had left in the pantry in case of emergencies!
It felt different back then though. We'd been so head over heels in love and so much was still new in our relationship that being snowed in for our first anniversary felt like the start of a romance novel rather than a failed vacation. I wonder what it will feel like this time if the snow picks up and the car can't make it back down the driveway? Probably more like the start of a horror movie.
"Well, should we do this?" I ask, halfheartedly.
I try a smile as I turn off the car and unbuckle my seatbelt.
Jake doesn't answer me.
I sigh. I just wish we could talk to each other the way we used to, before things went south.
It doesn't take long to unpack the car but I go straight to work in the tiny kitchen unloading the provisions. I did, at least, remember to bring some food so that there would be something to eat other than instant ramen if the weather took a turn and the one pizza delivery guy who is willing to come out this far can't make it. I say "food" but that's probably a bit of a stretch for three bottles of cheap red wine, a slightly stale box of cereal, and a half gallon of milk. We'll be livin' it up this weekend!
As I place the bottles of wine on the peeling laminate countertop, I see the tiny wicker basket by the toaster. Rick and Marianne, the owners of this cabin, always leave a little welcome basket for renters. How had I forgotten that detail? Instant cocoa packets and little plastic baggies of mini marshmallows are nestled in each of the two basic forest green souvenir mugs that I've also seen for sale at the local gas station. They cost $3 there but Rick and Marianne probably bought their stash at a bulk discount. A little laminated notecard sits between the mugs. I feel myself smile as I read it...maybe because it hasn't changed a bit in the decade that we've been coming here...
Welcome to our cozy cabin!
Remember, we are just a phone call away if you need anything.
Enjoy the cocoa and feel free to take the mugs with you when you go!
Please leave the basket!
-Rick and Marianne
They really meant the "just a phone call away" part of that note. They also own the newer, larger cabin at the bottom of this hill and they live in that one fulltime while they rent this one out. The second year that we stayed here, we did have to call them about a leak under the kitchen sink and Rick showed up less than 2 minutes after we hung up! Marianne came with him and brought us some blueberry muffins that she had made that morning as an apology for the inconvenience.
Rick and Marianne were sweethearts and we'd really connected with them, mostly over a mutual appreciation for blueberry muffins and our chosen childfree lifestyles. The sink had never leaked again but Marianne had taken to leaving some freshly baked blueberry muffins on the counter for us now as a joke and also as something of an anniversary present.
And yes, there they are by the coffee pot. Half a dozen blueberry muffins wrapped in a red checkered cloth napkin. There is another note here too.
"Call if you need anything, we're here for you! - Marianne"
That's kinda weird... she's never left a note with the muffins before. I let out my breath in a huff. I bet Jake called Rick and told him what was going on. Great. That's just what I need this weekend. More well-intentioned advice.
I really hope they don't stop by to chat this year. I'd hate to disappoint them but I just can't fake it anymore.
The sun sets so early this time of year and before I know it, darkness descends over the mountain. The pizza guy does manage to make it out though so between a large extra sauce extra cheese and one and a half of the bottles of red wine the evening passes by in what I'd like to think of as companionable silence. But I know better.
I think tomorrow will be the day that I finally tell him. I don't want to drag it out until the very last morning but I also don't think that tonight is the night. I'm way past tipsy now and so very tired.
Okay... One last night pretending that everything is fine. Then I'll bite the bullet and tell him.
Tomorrow will be goodbye.
I nod off on the couch and sleep fitfully through the night. I wake up at around 6 to a delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the sound of the automatic coffee maker percolating in the kitchen. Did Jake make coffee? He knows I can't function without it, especially after a night of wine. For a second it feels like every other anniversary weekend.
No. I shake the sleep from my mind. Of course he didn't think to get up early and make me coffee. He hasn't done anything like that for me in a long time. I must have set it up myself before I passed out on the couch last night.
I glance over to Jake's favorite chair by the fireplace. He used to love to fall asleep there in the recliner watching the flames flicker and die. We didn't even bother lighting a fire last night. Maybe tonight. Today is supposed to be cold and windy so a fire and some cocoa will be comforting. Especially after what I have planned for us today.
After two cups of coffee, some stale cereal, and one very long shower in which I run out of hot water and stay there anyway, I start to feel like I really can't put it off any longer.
We never spent much time on the porch swing here but Jake always joked about sitting out there rocking in the snow. It feels like the right place.
It's cold out here and the wind is whipping my hair around my face but the sun is actually shining for once.
"Jake," I say as I sit beside him on the swing. But then my voice catches and I can't look at him.
I swallow heavily and close my eyes. I don't know how to do this. I don't know what to say to him. I don't know if he is even listening.
"It's time to say goodbye now. I know you fought as hard as you could so that we could stay together but it's time for me to let you go."
I open my eyes and turn toward him. My hands reach out and lift the silver urn and I think again of how surprisingly light his remains are... and of how small and sick and fragile he had seemed to me at the end. Even then, after we knew for sure that the end was coming, he had never stopped telling me that he wanted to get strong enough that we could come to the cabin one last time for our anniversary.
He didn't ask me to scatter his ashes here but I know he would have loved the idea. I walk to the edge of the porch and release his spirit into the wind. I watch as the sunlight catches on the swirling ashes, glinting and mystical.
Jake will be happy resting here. And, now, since some part of me died too when Jake did, I guess our love kind of does live here now?
In the midst of the pain, I feel peace. At first, I didn't think I'd ever want to come back here again but now, I think, just maybe I'll keep the tradition alive for Jake. Not forever. That would be creepy. But until it doesn't feel right anymore.
Jake would like that.
Maybe I'll make some cocoa and call Rick and Marianne in a little while after all. I could use some company and someone to talk to...
Jake would like that too.
About the Creator
Hi! Thanks for reading! My hobbies include making coffee, drinking coffee, and starting to write a story and then rage-deleting it when I get the slightest bit frustrated.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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Wow, Donna, I'm glad I followed the link to this one. It really showcases your incredible talent!
I actually read this a couple days ago (late at night), and I wanted to come back and write something of how it made me feel. This is just so moving, and so beautifully written, that I had to mention it in Ephemeral Beauties. The twist at the end was so perfectly done and balanced with the rest of the story, making it so poignant in her peaceful acceptance. More people need to read this💙Anneliese
Woah, why does this not have more likes? (I mean for the writing, not the sadness invoked) It's fairly rare I don't see, or at least suspect, a twist coming but this one got me Donna. Gut punch right to the solar plexus! I just hope Marianne and Rick don't wait for an invite to drop by.
Gurlllll, my jaw dropped! Now it makes sense why Jake wasn't talking or doing anything. I did not see that coming! Sienna's character resonated with me. I too always self sabotage to get people to leave before I get hurt and I too have trouble letting go. Rick and Marianne are such wonderful people! I just loved your story so much!
Great story. Really well written.
I too was surprised at the end. My story is a bit similar (talking to someone who really isn't there any more) if you'd care to read it.
You definitely caught me at the end with that unexpected twist! Nice work!
This was really good. I loved the twist at the end. Well done!