Love and Magic
Ryan parked his UPS truck. He picked up a brown cardboard box and placed it on the front porch of Old Lady Snell's mansion. He'd been delivering it monthly for a few years now, but he still felt tingling run down his spine.
As a kid, he was terrified of Old Lady Snell. He and the other kids used to walk by her house, yelling, "Old Lady Smells!" But they ran away if they saw the old lady with the grey robe. It seemed like she'd always been old. Ryan's parents said they'd been afraid of her when they were kids.
Ryan last saw her the night of senior prom, though his memories were fuzzy. The gang had been pre-drinking in the park behind her house. He didn't want to go to prom; Elena would be there with Chad. Elena's parents convinced her that since she was going to Princeton in the fall, ending her relationship with Ryan was the proper thing. Seeing her with Chad would hurt. The last of the cheap vodka was gone, and the guys were eager to get to the prom. Ryan told them he would catch up.
As he wobbled past Old Lady Snell's house, she called out to him. "Young man, forget about Elena, you're too good for her. Be patient, Ryan. You will find the love of your life right where she's always been."
Ryan froze. He noticed the glint in her pale blue eyes. "How do you know my name?"
"My name is Belle. I know all about you and your friends. Foolish lot the bunch of them. Except for you. You have an aura that is timeless. Someday you will understand love when it looks into your eyes."
Ryan couldn't help but laugh. "Your name is Belle Snell? You have got to be kidding me!" He thought he saw flames flicker in the air around her as she vanished back into the house.
Ryan shook off the memory and put the UPS truck into gear. Old Lady Snell couldn't possibly still be alive. For months he tried to see who was collecting the boxes, but he never caught them.
Ryan's fiancé, Julie, occupied most of his free time. She insisted that he help with every aspect of their wedding planning. When Ryan suggested eloping, she told him he was silly. It baffled him why he was included since Julie overruled him on every detail.
"What do you think of these darling wedding favors for our guests?" Asked Julie. "It'll be fun. They’ll have a competition between tables to get us to kiss!" She rang the bell and looked at Ryan.
"That's a terrible idea," Ryan replied. It'll be annoying. We won't enjoy dinner with the ringing and kissing."
Julie stopped ringing the bell and scowled at Ryan. "What's the matter with kissing? Who cares about dinner? It's our wedding day! It's supposed to be the day we show off how perfect we are together."
"Show off? Is that what this day means to you? An opportunity to be ostentatious? Ryan stared at Julie. "You do realize you are marrying someone who delivers parcels for a living, right? I'm not the CEO of the company?"
Julie rang the bell and reached up and kissed him. "I just want to have fun at my wedding. The bells stay. Now, let's go pick out the candies for the treat table. That's more in your wheelhouse."
Ryan grimaced. "Candy is in my wheelhouse and silver bells it is for YOUR wedding! Got it."
"Stop being a Groomzilla, and let's go pick out some candy." She took his hand, and he reluctantly followed her out of the store.
As expected, the candy selection didn't go any smoother. He had to find a way to get out of this uber planning.
The next day, his boss called him into the office. “I'm looking for someone for extra runs. I thought you could use a little extra honeymoon cash. You interested?"
"Hell yes!" Ryan jumped at the opportunity.
His boss snickered. "I thought you might need a break from wedding stuff. You're welcome!"
Ryan scanned his manifest; he noticed a delivery for Old Lady Snell's house. That seemed odd; he'd just delivered a package yesterday. At the end of his run, he dropped it off on the porch, hoping to see who fetched it.
His cell rang, and he groaned. "Yes, sweetheart, what can I do for you? I'm at work."
"It's 7 pm. Why are you still at work? You're going to have to quit if your boss won't cooperate. I’ll have a chat with him."
Ryan pressed end on his phone. He let it ring a few times before he picked up. "What do you want? I told you I'm at work!" He could hear Julie crying on the other end.
"You hung up on me. I can't believe you were so rude!" Julie sniffled. "The wedding is in two weeks. I need support from the man I love!"
"Fine, I will be home in about an hour. But Julie, don't ever threaten to talk to my boss. I won't tolerate it."
Julie gave a little gasp but composed herself. "Okay, I will be waiting for you with bells on!" Get it?"
Ryan rolled his eyes but said, "See you soon."
The front door of Old Lady Snell's house opened, from beneath the hood of a grey cloak, a pair of dazzling pale blue eyes flashed, and the package disappeared.
Ryan was stunned. How could it be her? It was impossible. He delivered a small brown box every day now, always hoping to catch another glimpse of the hooded woman.
The wedding tension increased. Ryan tried to let it slide. He loved her, but he didn't enjoy the new diva side. He focused on last summer when they met on the beach. The chemistry was immediate. She was intrigued by his surfing skills, he thought she was perfection. All was good until wedding planning took over their lives. Ryan wanted to get on with their lives.
Last night at the rehearsal party had been tense. She objected to him drinking beer with his buddies. Ryan tried to reason with her. "The country club has an impressive selection of beers. It's perfectly acceptable for my friends and me to enjoy them."
Julie crinkled her nose. "Well, I need you. There are important people I want you to meet. People who can be great contacts when you look for a new job."
Ryan grabbed her arm. "What part of I'm not looking for a new job did you not understand? We've been through this. I have absolutely no interest in a desk job. Why are you trying to make me fit into a cookie-cutter corporate hack?"
Julie held her finger up to her lips. "Shhhh! People will think we're fighting!"
"That's because we are fighting! You can't change your expectations of our lives together the night before our wedding."
"Fine, you're right." Julie grabbed his hands; her eyes pleaded with him to be calm. "Just come and say hi, have a champagne toast, and then go back to your friends."
Ryan had never liked making a scene, so he acquiesced. He exchanged pleasantries, but the champagne was bitter on his tongue.
Ryan didn't sleep well. He decided a good run would help put the doubts out of his mind. As he jogged past Old Lady Snell's house, the door opened. A figure stepped out onto the porch. A hand extended from the folds of the robe and beckoned him closer. Ryan felt cold sweat trickle down his back. He heard a woman laugh as he turned and ran.
After showering, Ryan styled his hair and got dressed. He felt restricted in the skinny fit tux Julie picked out. His best man, Brad, arrived and helped with the cufflinks.
Brad asked, "Well, my friend, are you ready to do this thing? You still have a few minutes to back out."
Ryan replied, "I told you, I love her. She's been a little high maintenance, but everything will be fine after the wedding. Let's roll!"
They met the groomsmen at the church. They had seated all the guests.
Ryan's parents wiped at tears as they hugged him. "We’re so proud of you, son. You're going to have a wonderful life with Julie.” His father said. His mother nodded, too emotional to speak.
Julie’s mother blew kisses at people as she walked down the aisle. The musicians began to play as the bridesmaids walked down the aisle. The doors swung open. All turned to see the bride. Except there was no bride. Instead, her father walked up to Ryan and handed him a note.
“I’m sorry, Ryan, I tried to reason with her.” Julie’s dad patted him on the shoulder.
Julie wrote, ‘I’m sorry, but I feel this is the best for both of us. I realized our worlds aren’t in sync. I was in the limo after we took photos in the park. I suddenly got chills and was overwhelmed by a sense of doom. I hope you can forgive me someday.’
Ryan announced. “I’m sorry there won’t be a wedding today. If you all will excuse me, I’m going to get very drunk right now.” He walked down the aisle, avoiding everyone’s eyes. His best man and groomsmen followed him.
The limo was well stocked with top-shelf liquor. Brad suggested they go to the park. “It’s what we did back in the day, we hung out in the park, and we drank. It seems like a good time to revive the tradition.” He asked the limo driver to wait in the parking lot.
The guys headed to the pond at the back of the park. They drank and chatted about sports and silly pranks to distract Ryan from focusing on his pain. It was dusk when they ran out of chatter.
“The fog’s rolling in over the pond. I’m starving; let’s go to the Roadhouse and get some ribs. There’s a good band; it will be rocking in there.” Brad reached out to help Ryan up.
Ryan shook it off. “You guys go ahead. Take the limo. It’s paid for. You might as well enjoy it.”
They tried to talk him out of it, but it was clear he wasn’t going to change his mind.
Ryan let the fog envelop him. He liked feeling invisible and wished he could disappear. Finally, he started slowly walking home. At the park exit, he heard music. It was Peter Gabriel's “In Your Eyes.” The wedding song he picked out for their first dance. He hoped Julie had changed her mind, and this was a ‘Say Anything’ moment. But the music came from Old Lady Snell’s. He watched as a woman stepped out onto the porch and dropped the grey robe revealing long raven hair and a beautiful white dress.
Without thinking, he stepped onto the porch. “Who are you? Why are you playing that song?”
“I’m Belle, and I’m playing OUR song. I told you a long time ago that you will find the love of your life right where she's always been, and that you will understand love when it looks into your eyes!” Her pale blue eyes glittered like diamonds, and Ryan found that he couldn’t look away.
“But how? How could you possibly be Belle?” He asked. I saw you years ago, and you were old.”
Belle smiled, “It’s the serum.” She held out her hand and pulled her to him. She kissed him, and electricity surged through Ryan’s body. Something sweet rolled down his throat. Belle pulled him into the house. "I gave you just a little taste of the serum. We’ll drink it together and stay young for the rest of eternity."
Ryan looked around the foyer of the mansion. Stacks of small brown packages lined every wall. He started to leave but paused. He looked deeply into her eyes and closed the door.
About the author
Mary Haynes splits her time between a romantic old sailboat in tropical waters and a beach home in Ontario. A wanderer, by fate, she embraces wherever she roams! Mary recently completed her first children’s book, “Who Ate My Peppers?”