The Darkest Evening
Between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Those words, penned by a poet of long ago, echoed in my head as I stared at the frozen pond. My ragged breath billowed out in clouds as I struggled to find some sort of level footing for my mind. Level footing for my mind? That didn’t sound right. Did my mind have feet? Maybe it did. That was the sort of question I would have liked to discuss with Brian—but I doubted that I would ever speak to Brian again.
I have promises to keep.
Promises. I hated promises. I glanced back over my shoulder at the house on the hill behind me. The grand estate with its polished floors, towering ceilings, and overpriced art that looked like a five-year-old could have drawn it. And the man who lived there—Brian. He had lassoed me with a charming smile and elaborate gifts. In a fog of adoration, I had made him a promise.
I wrapped my fur cloak tighter around me as the bite of the evening’s cold tried to sink into me. Till death do us part—that had been the promise. Now, just hours after making it, I realized my mistake.
“Carmen! Carmen, please.” His voice pierced me as he ran up behind me.
I turned to see his fine figure panting a few feet away from me.
“Come back inside,” he said. “I’ll explain everything. I know you’re upset, but—”
“Upset?” I echoed. “Upset? You ruined my family. My father…”
Brian’s face had no color whatsoever. He might vomit all over his two-thousand-dollar shoes. “I let him take the blame. It should have been me who went to prison.”
“Yeah, it should have. He died in prison with the entire world thinking he was a thief—including me. I can’t believe I apologized to you for him. I thought you were so kind for even looking at me after what he did. But it was you. It was all you.
“Yeah. It was me. But let’s talk about it inside, please.” He held out a hand, and I wondered why he didn’t try to come closer.
“At the very least, you should have told me. I had to find out from your drunk mother.”
“It’s as bad as it sounds. Please come inside.”
I frowned and crossed my arms. Yes, I was cold despite my enormous wedding gown and fur cape. My nose had already begun to drip. But I couldn’t stomach the thought of going anywhere with him.
“You’re standing on the pond,” he said. “The ice… I fell through when I was a kid. I’m worried about you.”
I glanced down. I had thought I had snow and solid ground beneath my feet, but now I realized he was right. I was on the ice. I still didn’t move, though. I didn’t move even when I heard the ice groan under my weight. I crossed my arms. “The highway is less than a mile from here,” I said. “Why shouldn’t I just hitch a ride back into the city?”
“Because…” He still hadn’t dropped his hand. “Because I love you. That’s why I didn’t tell you. The first time I met you, I didn’t plan on asking you out. I planned on apologizing. I lost my nerve. You were beautiful and charming and just… I couldn’t stand the idea of you walking away from me. I wanted to make you happy, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.”
“So diamond necklaces and trips to Europe were meant to replace my father?”
“No. No. Carmen…” He sighed. “Nothing can replace him. I’ll spend the rest of my life hurting because of that, and I want to spend the rest of it making his daughter the happiest woman on the planet. And I can do that without money. If you ask me too, I’ll give up the business, and I’ll take a minimum wage job. I’ll… I’ll do anything.”
“Now you just sound desperate.” Tears trickled from my eyes.
“I am desperate.” He came one step closer, his hand still stretching toward me. The ice didn’t seem to like that even though he hadn’t actually stepped onto the pond yet. At least, I didn’t think he had. I couldn’t tell with all the fresh snow around us.
“Stop,” I said. “Just… stop.” I moved toward him, but I didn’t accept his hand. Rather, I walked past him onto solid ground and tucked my fingers into the folds of my cape.
I have promises to keep.
Miles to go before I sleep.
“What do you think happens when people die?” I asked.
“I… you know me. I’m not really religious.”
“But everyone has an opinion. Do you think it’s the end? Or… or is there hope for my dad?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know, Carmen. But I know we’re alive. You and me. But I won’t be if you walk away. I might look like I’m alive to everyone else, but I won’t be.”
I wiped my tears away with frozen fingers. It would be nice to go back inside—but not to the reception. Not to his inebriated socialite friends who looked at me as if I were a stray dog that Brian had taken pity on before he brought it to the groomer, slapped a bow on it, and tried to call it a purebred.
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
“What?” Brian asked.
Oh. I had said it out loud. “It’s a Robert Frost poem. I think it’s about a guy contemplating suicide, and then he decides not to do it. But some of the imagery seems to fit our situation right now.”
“Yeah. It is a dark evening… but won’t the sun rise in the morning? For us?”
“I don’t know.” I sighed—the heaviest sigh of my life. But… I guess we can at least talk about it. My dad would want that. Come on.” This time, I was the one holding my hand out.
He regarded my hand as if I were a parent offering a cookie to a naughty child—as if he knew he had no right to take it. Still, he did take it, and we walked back to the house together.