Route 202. That’s where my life changed. Who would have thought that visiting this dusky little piano bar would change my life; who I am, and who I would be. The night she appeared is one I often go back to. One that made me wonder about chance and circumstance. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my days.
Her emerald colored swing dress rustled softly as she walked across the room with a certain familiarity that I’d only seen from regulars at this establishment. Her caramel skin and mahogany hair glowed against her sparkling dress. I studied her as I nursed my whiskey from a table in the corner of the room. It was as if all eyes were on her, her aura behaving as a tractor beam for those gathered. Her magnetism rumbled across the room with a ferocity I had never seen before.
I watched as the patrons drank her in as she sat down and ordered a beverage from the bartender. I couldn’t make out what she ordered, but I observed the gentle way she spoke.
At that time Earl, the bar's piano man stepped on the stage to scattered applause though out the place. He took his seat and began playing a soulful toon I had never heard before. The spell now broken for a moment, I sipped by whiskey watching as Earl got lost in the melody. He swayed back and forth, the normally unassuming man transforming before our eyes. His dark eyes closed as his fingers danced over the keys.
“Hello,” a warm whisper tumbled into my ears.
Startled I looked up quickly, sloshing a bit of golden liquid onto the white linen tablecloth.
There she stood, her dress catching in the light, her amber eyes burning into mine.
“Hello,” I said breathlessly. I stood up with haste, not wanting to let my manners fail me in such a time.
She smiled, her soft pink lips parting slightly. “I’m Rebecca.”
“David,” I replied, extending my hand. She took it in hers and gently shook it. A beat passed as my brain played catch up. Out of all the people in the bar, she was speaking with me.
“Would you like to join me?” I asked motioning to the empty chair beside my own.
“Certainly.” She said in a silvery voice. As she took a seat a gentle floral scent wafted my way. I began to think quickly for something to say.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” I said, releasing my breath as I realized I’d been holding it.
“I, erm,” she paused, “I’m not exactly local,” she finished, as if that was enough of an explanation.
A million questions flooded my head, I had to know this woman. What made her tick, what was her favorite ice cream, what did she look like after a night of love making? I bit my tongue. That wasn’t exactly appropriate small talk for meeting a stranger in a piano bar.
Instead, I decided on “What brings you here tonight?” I asked gesturing to the rest of the room.
“I’m not exactly sure,” she shrugged. “Do you ever just get a feeling? Like you’re supposed to be somewhere, but you have no idea why."
“Yeah, yeah I’ve had that feeling before.”
“And?” She inquired.
“What ended up happening?” She inquired as the waiter set her drink down in front of her. She picked the wine glass up by the stem, and gently swirled the rose-colored liquid in her nimble fingers.
“Well, that’s how I ended up getting my dog Rascal.” I smiled. “I had no plans to go to the park that day, but somehow I ended up there and found a box of free puppies. Rascal was the runt, and he had a broken tail. I couldn’t leave him there. I knew no one else would want such a scrappy looking little guy. Rascal’s the best dog I’ve ever had, though. Fate, I suppose.” I picked up my own drink and took a small sip, the liquid warming my throat all the way down.
“Well,” she grinned, “I have a feeling tonight is one of those nights.”
The room seemed to disappear around us as we talked through the evening. Earl finished his set and the place emptied out. She told me about her job back home, her own dog, Chester, and that her all-time favorite ice cream was cookie dough mixed with M&M’s.
“Hey folks, it’s about that time,” the barkeep called out. For the first time in hours, we took in our surroundings. The barkeep, with his furrowed brow, polished the bar with fervor while another man swept the faded wooden floor. Apart from them, the room was empty. Only we remained. Blushing slightly, we gathered our things and stepped outside into the still, warm night. The stars danced above us, just like her beautiful eyes, and the inky sky seemed to stretch on forever.
“Do you have any plans for the night?” I asked sheepishly. She chuckled and placed a hand on my cheek.
"Maybe another time. I really should be going. I have an early flight."
"Really? Where to?"
"Back home. My father's ill and I'm just laid over for the night."
My heart sank. I knew that she wasn't local, but I didn't expect her to go so soon.
"Write to me," I said taking her hand in mine and holding it to my chest. A smile played at her lips.
"Of course, have you got a piece of paper?" She asked. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my small black notebook. I kept it with me to jot things down if I was in a hurry.
"Here," I said extending the notebook triumphantly. She fished a pen out of her black pocketbook and wrote her address down in flowery and swooping letters.
"This is where I'll be staying." she explained as she handed the book back to me. With a farewell kiss placed tenderly on my cheek, she departed into the night.
We wrote each other fervently over the next few months. Rebecca let me know of her father's health and what it was like in her hometown. I wrote her of my everyday life and Rascal's antics. I fell in love with her over those pages. Time passed and I implored her to come and see me, or to let me come and see her.
'I'm sorry, my love. The time is just not right. Someday we will be together again.' she wrote in the same beautiful handwriting from the night that we met.
Months later her letters became fewer and far between. I couldn't forget her, and I couldn't move on.
It has been so long since I last heard from you. My heart aches in your absence. My deepest hope is that you are happy and cared for, always. I dream of seeing you again someday. Please let me know you haven’t forgotten me.
No reply every came. Time went on and I continued my life, but not without feeling something was missing from my very soul.
After returning from my evening walk with Rascal, I stopped to check the mail. The old tin mailbox opened with a squeak.
"Excuse me, sir?" I heard a man's voice from behind me say.
"Yes?" I said turning to find a man with graying hair. He stood in a tan, plaid button down shirt, crisply tucked into his khaki pants.
"Are you David Ashford?"
"Yes, that's me. Can I help you?" I asked raising one eyebrow.
"I'm Rebecca's father, Richard" he said. My heart rate quickened, and my ears began to burn red.
"Rebecca?" I uttered, "But... she told me you passed away."
Her father's face flushed, and he looked down at his hands. In them he held a delicate box.
"I came to give you this,” he said extending the elegant box towards me. "Rebecca wanted you to have it before... well before she passed away."
I steadied myself. The blood drained from my body and a chill touched my soul. My brain couldn't process what he was saying. How could this have happened? He was sick, not her.
"I... I don't understand. She said that you were sick..."
"I'm so sorry," Richard said, grief written all over his face. "It all happened so fast. The doctors told her she had cancer and gave her a poor prognosis. She moved home after finding out. We took care of her until the end... Please, she wanted you to have this." I took the box from his hands.
"I- I'm sorry, I have to go," tears blurred my vision. The old wooden screen door slammed behind me. I hurried to my room and set the box on my desk. I paced back and forth, wringing my hands. This wasn't true. This man was an imposter, a cruel conman. I sat down on the edge of the bed rubbing my eyes with the palms of my hand.
I looked over to the box. With a sob escaping my throat I moved across the room and peered at the box. A million thoughts raced through my head. How could you do this Rebecca? How could you not let me be one of the last people to hold you? Did our love mean nothing to you? I carried the box over to the bed and sat down, tracing every inch of it with my fingers, hoping to soak up some lingering bit of her.
I untied the ribbon, tears blurring my eyes as I did so. Slowly I lifted the lid and looked inside. On top was a letter written in her handwriting. I gingerly unfolded the letter.
I am so sorry for this letter to find you like this. My hope was to shield you from the pain, but now I fear I may have only made it worse. I didn't want to tell you that I was sick, that wasn't how I wanted you to remember me. I suppose that telling you that it was my father who was ill was a way for me to deal with what was happening to me instead. I know it was selfish, but I pray you'll forgive me. I know these are my last days, and they have been filled with thoughts of you.
I wish there was some way I could make this all right, but I know that there isn't. I hope that you'll accept the gift I have given you enclosed in this box. I know it is nothing compared to us being together, but I would have used it for our future together. Please keep me in your heart, that’s where I’ll remain always. Goodbye my love.
Sobbing miserably, I set the letter to the side and looked down into the box. I couldn't understand what she meant by a gift that we would've used for our future, but curiosity overcame me. I moved the tissue paper aside and came face to face with money, $20,000 in all.
Days went by, and ideas of what to do with the money hung heavy on my heart. I knew I couldn't keep it, but didn't know what I wanted to do with it. I thought about the lost future Rebecca and I could've had. I pictured children and growing old together; a simple but perfect life. Suddenly, it dawned on me. I knew exactly what to do with the money. In sweet Rebecca's name I donated all $20,000 to research for cancer in hopes that no one would ever have to go through what I did, that no one would have to endure a stolen future.
The night she appeared is one I often go back to. One that made me wonder about chance and circumstance. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my days.