"What does she want me to forgive her of?" Steven sat at the kitchen table, a bowl of soggy, colorful Lucky Charms with milk before him. His hand on a spoon, he lifted it to his mouth and realized it was empty.
All he tasted was metal.
All he could feel was confusion.
His phone also sat on the table, its screen boasting of an empty inbox. Julia's wouldn't be empty though-he'd sent her over thirty messages that night. Perhaps his service was down again, it wouldn't be the first time that Rogers had let him down.
"I'm not used to seeing you up this early." His father came into the kitchen, donning a bathrobe. Under his eyes, which were duller then usual, dark bags underlined them. Wrinkles, many more then before, were spreading over his haggard face.
Only his smile suggested that he was still doing okay.
"First day of school." Steven ate a spoonful of cereal, cringing at how soggy it'd become.
"But it's your last." He plugged in the coffeemaker, filled it with water, and put in a new filter with Folgers' coffee grinds to go with it. Taking a mug from out of the cupboards, he set it on the table in front of Steven. "You're going to need a good brew for today."
"Yeah, but not Folgers." He laughed, swallowing another spoonful of sugary mush. "If I'm going to get my fix, it's going to be from Timmies."
"What's wrong with Folgers?"
"Everything," Steven put his spoon down; wiping his mouth clean of the remaining milk.
"Oh." He hobbled back to the table, reaching for Steven's mug.
Before he could, Steven glanced at the coffeemaker and had a brief, disturbing vision of it sitting on the corner of the counter, covered in dust. The Folgers coffee was in the garbage, right along with his father's best and favorite bathrobe he wore every morning.
"You know what; I'll try some of it today." He smiled weakly, grabbing the mug before his father got to it. "Forget about Timmies."
His father paused, withdrew his hand while a smile crept back onto his face. "You know I'm still here, Steven. No matter what the doctors may say, God has me here on this earth for a reason. Now go, I know you're in a rush, and waiting for your old man's burnt coffee isn't going to help matters."
Steven shook his head, the mug still in his hand. "But for how long?" He wanted him to say that the doctors were indeed wrong, that he still had years remaining. Decades. All he wanted was his father to receive a miracle that he claimed to believe happened.
"How long? That is a good question for all of us, I suppose. Really, what time is guaranteed for us? Who says that the terminally ill will die before the healthy? Nothing is for sure. Today could be your last day, it could also be mine. No matter what Steven don't fear death-it comes to us all. I will pass away, be it in a month, or years to come. Just, as long as we're still alive, focus on that."
"How can I focus on life, when death is so present?"
His father only shrugged, grabbing a mug for himself. "You just do. Death should be a reminder to treasure our lives, not fear for its demise. Now, you're going to be late." He took the mug from his son's hands, placing it back in the cupboard.
He stared at his empty hands, a sliver of a tear running down his face. "Okay, goodbye Dad." He walked around the table, giving his dad a tight hug. "Just don't pass away today. Promise me that."
He only hugged his son back, a content sigh on his lips.
He went back for the bowl of cereal, emptying it into the sink. Without another word, he picked his bag off the floor, took his keys off the counter and went out the door. Outside, the air was still, cool-promising another chilly day in the late summer. A few leaves fell from the tree in his yard, twirling and falling to the ground.
One of them landed underfoot, which he crushed with his blue Nike shoe.
Getting into his car, he drove down the driveway, and then towards his school. Most days, his father wouldn't let him take the car, but today, his father had no appointments and told Steven he was going to spend the day working on some of his music.
The last time he'd written a song was a month before his mom died.
Traffic was light on that Thursday morning, which was a relief to Steven, who actually was running quite late. He didn't even bother to grab a coffee; there'd be no time this morning. Later on at lunch, he'd go out to Timmies and grab his java.
A mixture of dread and anticipation filled his stomach as he came towards Christian Lighthouse Collegiate. While he dearly missed his friends, and the great times they'd had in grade eleven, he was not anticipating the tests, homework, lectures and unnecessary drama.
"Here it goes," Steven signaled he was turning right, spun the wheel and drove into the crowded parking lot. One of his friends, Jasper, walked in the middle of the road. Laughing, Steven laid on the horn, startling a couple girls beside his car as they gave him bewildered looks.
Jasper only turned around, a dopey smile on his face. He shouted something, but Steven couldn't hear, so he rolled down his window and drove closer to his friend. "What was that?"
"Steven! You still drive your dad's wheels?"
"Of course, it's a great car." Both of them laughed, while Jasper waved and waited for Steven to park his car.
The two friends quickly embraced one another, and then strolled through the parking lot towards the school.
"So, what's new?" Jasper asked, his green eyes now framed with thick, dark glasses.
"Nothing really, it's been a relaxing summer. What about you? Nice glasses by the way." He elbowed his friend, a teasing smirk on his face. He remembered when his friend refused to wear glasses, saying that he could see fine by simply squinting.
"You like them? Have them if you want, it's only been a few weeks since I got them and I'm sick of them already. I swear, how do people get used to these?" He adjusted them on his face, doing so in the geekiest manner in which he could.
"Nah, they're sexy. You'll be getting all the hunnies now." Steven laughed, while his friend gave him a slight shove.
"I don't need glasses to do that." He winked, catching the door to the front of the school before it closed. Holding it open for both of them, he smiled. "Speaking of which, how was camp? You finally meet someone?"
"No." Steven shook his head, moving slowly beside his friend through the crowded hall. Glancing around at the numerous students, he smiled at those he recognized, whil greeting those who came up to them. Jasper did likewise.
"Is your father doing better?" Jasper asked as they entered a less-crowded, dark hallway.
Steven shook his head, taking his cell from his pocket and looking for a text from Julia.
Not surprisingly, he was met by an empty inbox.
Inside, he felt a sickening, worried feeling growing.
"The cancer's spread, nothing worked." With a grim frown, Steven switched the conversation. He didn't want to cry on his first day of school. "What's your first class?"
"Nice," Steven was about to say more, but someone down the hall caught his attention. She simply stood there, waving at him, her brown hair blowing in a wind that wasn't there. For just a second, her smile, warm and sincere, nearly brought him to his knees.
Then, Julia was gone.
And Steven felt his phone vibrate.
"Here's your Pumpkin Spice Latte." A young man working at the Starbucks drive-thru window handed her the steaming, hot drink. Smiling at the pretty girl, he leaned on his counter, sticking his frizzy-hair covered head out of the window.
With a half-smile, his head cocked, he began what Cerise had heard an awful lot. "I never do this, like ever." He chuckled, wiping a greasy, curly strand of hair out of his eyes. "But are you busy this weekend?"
"No." She sipped from her drink, "What's your name?" Cerise grinned, amused by the passionate twinkle in the man's gaze. She took another sip from her drink, relishing the warm, sweet taste.
"Liam." Again, he chuckled, just like he'd said something irresistible and charming. "Here, give me your number and you can think about it." He took a napkin from a dispenser nearby, glancing behind him to make sure his manager hadn't noticed.
"Thanks," she took the napkin, using it wipe some of the latte from her upper lip. "But I don't have a pen, Liam. And you should really consider this a lesson learned: when a woman asks for a coffee-that's all she wants." Winking at him, she closed her window and drove away.
Laughing, she took another sip from her latte, but only ended up spewing it on the dash of her car. Wiping her mouth, she muttered something about karma, and concentrated on driving to school.
Desmond had texted her.
Turned out, though he hadn't told anyone back in Winnipeg, there'd been a horrible accident where he was visiting. His cousin and a few of his friends were involved in a fatal crash on Tuesday night. The funeral would be next week, but Desmond was in too much shock to stay with his extended family, so he came home early yesterday, Wednesday afternoon.
Early in the morning, before she'd gone to school, Cerise had finally received a text from him. Several, actually; detailing what had happened in Alberta. Although she didn't notice it at first, when she read them over, she could see that something had deeply changed in Desmond.
Perhaps it was the shock, but there was no empathy in his words.
He'd only told her the facts, said he'd like to get together for lunch and then ended with a weak, trite goodbye. There was no "I love you" or "miss you so much" from him-not even a symbolized heart.
All he wanted was to get together for lunch.
Cerise could hardly wait; her stomach was tied in knots, while her heart hammered away in her chest.
For the entire morning, no matter what she did, her mind was plagued relentlessly by thoughts of Desmond. What would she say to him? Should she run up to him, smothering him in kisses, or gently approach, since he'd lost his cousin? Should she even bring up him not texting her and ignoring her? Was she even looking good today?
A quick check in the school's bathroom mirror confirmed that she wasn't.
When the bell rang for the end of her third class, Cerise quickly stood up. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, binders in hand, she ran to her locker. Ignoring one of her friends, probably Marie, she put away her binders, left the hall and walked quickly down the stairs. Weaving in and out of the crowds of teenagers, she hurried through the lobby towards the front doors of the school.
Inside the lobby, a tree was positioned in the centre, guarded by padded benches. On the bench, her friend Andrea sat with her boyfriend Tyler.
"Cerise!" Andrea stood up while Tyler was in the middle of a story, embracing her friend with an enthusiastic shriek. "It's been so long! Sorry I couldn't make it to Tim Horton's! Oh my gosh, I love your hair, how did you get your curls to look like that?" She gushed out, while Cerise opened her mouth to speak.
"Awe thanks." She returned the hug, giving Tyler a short wave as he stared at them with an amused smirk. "Its okay about Tim Horton's, I went with-never mind, I have to go out and meet Desmond." She wished she could spend more time with her best friend, but she didn't want to disappoint her boyfriend. Knowing him, he was probably already outside, waiting for her with that cute, half-grin.
"Desmond's here? Awe, that's so cute! What are your plans?" She lowered her voice, a knowing look in her eyes.
"Just lunch." Laughing, she turned away from her.
"That's how it all starts." Grinning, she sat back beside her boyfriend, watching her open the front doors. Her friend then let out an excited scream, as she took off down the pavement.
Cerise had only taken one step out the door when she saw Desmond standing outside. He stood in front of the school, out on the pavement, his muscular arms folded across his chest. Sunglasses, with a white outline, sat on his tanned, handsome face.
Instead of a smile, he had a frown plastered to his face. Removing the glasses, he gave her a short wave. "Hey, Cerise."
"Desmond!" She screamed his name, gawked at by other teenagers leaving the school, and ran to him. Opening her arms, she embraced him in a passionate hug, waiting for him to return the gesture.
He did not.
Limply, he patted her on the back, chuckling slightly.
His body, usually familiar and warm, was so rigid and distant that she took a step back, making sure this actually was Desmond. One look into his green eyes, told her that this was the same man that had promised to love her forever.
The same man that had broken her heart numerous times, only to beg her if she'd let him put it back together. The silly girl in her had always relented, letting the tornado fix the town it had just demolished. Perhaps she deserved all this heartbreak for letting the destroyer become the fixer, only to destroy all over again.
"I'm so sorry about your cousin, Desmond." She reached for his hand, but he drew it behind his back. Putting his shades back on, he nodded his head.
"Me too." Walking back down the sidewalk, Cerise followed him. In awkward silence they strolled down the pavement, towards the parking lot sitting outside of the school. Not even the cool breeze was as cold as his tone as he told her they were going to Olive Garden for lunch.
Cerise opened his car door, remembering this as the place where he told her that he would marry her. Being the gentleman, he had opened her door, watching as she stepped out of the car. She'd thanked him for the amazing date, when he'd wrapped her in his arms, kissing her lightly on the lips, then passionately as she kissed him back.
Falling to his knees, her body leaning against the side of the car, he looked straight in her eyes.
He didn't even blink.
"I love you Cerise, and I always will. Maybe this is crazy, maybe this is too soon. But I don't care." He opened up a little box, which he'd kept in his jacket pocket. Inside, a golden ring, bejeweled by a marvelous, sparkling diamond awaited her appraisal. "This is a promise, Cerise. Not a question, not an invitation, or a suggestion. A promise. I want you to remember every word. I will marry you, Cerise, I love you. Some day, when both of us are older, and more in love, I will give you this ring."
He'd closed the box, putting it back in his jacket. "But I couldn't wait that long to tell you that I love you-and want to spend the rest of my days with you."
Cerise did not remember her response, or what happened after that. All she could recall was his promise, which as he asked, she remembered every word of.
Now, however, when she looked at Desmond, she couldn't help but wonder if he'd forgotten his promise.
"You remember what you said to me, here?" She asked, standing at the side of the car, staring at Desmond with a smile. "The promise?"
His sunglass-covered eyes stared at her for a second, before he opened his door and got into the driver's seat.
She swallowed nervously, getting in as well.
"Do you?" She asked, putting her buckle on.
Keys in hand, he started the car and slowly backed out. When they were out on the road, he finally answered, his voice husky. "Of course. I still have it, you know." He reached into his pocket, pulling out the little box.
Cerise only smiled, missing the significance of him carrying that box with him.
The rest of the ride was filled with silence, broken apart only when another car pulled ahead of them and Desmond commented that it was time to race. Cerise made no additional comment, choosing, instead, to stare out the window, contemplating why Desmond was in such a strange mood.
He'd never been the one for theatrics, which had always been her part to play.
No matter the stupid mistakes he made, Desmond had always been the pillar in the relationship. He made the calls, comforted her when she was sad, reassured her when days went bad, and always kept an optimistic outlook on life.
Only his anger, which would erupt occasionally, made him weak.
Inside the restaurant, after they'd been served, he began to open up. Breadstick in hand, about to take a bite, he asked how her day was.
"It was good," she answered, taking a sip of her Iced Tea. "Yours?"
"Busy. A lot of stuff piled up at work that I needed to take care of." He tore off a piece of the breadstick, chewing it thoughtfully. "But, things aren't going so well for me."
"What do you mean?"
"For us, I should say."
"You ignored me pretty well all week," she took the chance to get in a quick jab, relieving some of her anger, before putting back on a nice façade. With a smile, she ate some of her salad. "Were you busy?"
"No. Cerise," he paused, shook his head, then said the few words she hadn't expected to hear from him. "I'm just going to say it," he cringed, her heart stopped. "We're over." Putting down the breadstick, he stood up from the table.
Cerise only stared at him, her eyes dull and glazed over.
"I'll pay for the bill at the front, but I have to go. I can't do this." He pushed his chair back in, glancing at Cerise. "I'm sorry."
"We're over. But… you just can't say that. That doesn't make any sense." Her prior shock was slowly giving away to a torrent of emotions that she hadn't felt in ages. Shaking, her hand reached for his.
This time, he didn't draw back. His fingers wrapped around hers, squeezed, and then let go. "I just can't do this. I don't want a huge fight, or argument. No tears. Just goodbye." He put his hands in his pocket, walking away from the table.
"Desmond… no. No, no, no, please no!" Cerise realized what was happening, that this was for real. She stood up as well, pulling on his arm, her eyes beginning to fill with tears. "None of this makes sense; you can't just leave me like this!"
"Please, let me go."
A few people in the restaurant stared at them, their curiosity piqued by her raised voice.
"I can't! I wont! You promised, damn it! You promised to love me forever!" Her voice shook, while her fingers tightened on his arm. Memories of all their good times filled her head; while the passionate love they once shared roared to life in her.
"Cerise, let me go, please!" He yanked his arm away from her grip.
"You can't do this to me, Desmond! What about all those times I forgave you, asked for you back! I love you!"
"I have to go."
"What did I do wrong, Desmond please, I'm sorry." She couldn't help but breakdown, realizing that he was actually leaving her. Tears poured down her face, ruining the makeup she'd put on just for him.
Everyone in the restaurant disappeared from view; all she could see was Desmond walking away from her.
"Don't go, Desmond." Her voice fell, and then broke as she was taken over by tears. She tried to run after him, but her eyes were blurred by those tears, and she tripped on the leg of a nearby table. Falling to the ground, she heard others come to her aid.
"I'm sorry, let me help you." A man's voice came from behind her, but Cerise ignored it. She got back to her feet, brushing off a few crumbs from her shirt. Those who had gathered around her slinked back to their chairs, staring at her out of the corner of their eyes.
A waitress, with a pretty smile asked if she was alright.
Cerise only went back to her table.
Staring at the breadstick that Desmond had eaten only half of, she wondered if he would come back for it. An odd thought, but it was that hope that kept Cerise sitting at the table, crying her eyes out until her waitress interrupted her.
He never did come back for that breadstick.
But he did leave the ring on the table-the one he'd promised to give to her when they engaged. It sat on the table, its diamond glistening lonely and forgotten.
Picking it up, she slowly slid it on her finger.
But it was just a ring, empty of all its love.
And its promises.