In That Moment

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
If you could pick one moment to relive with the one you loved the most, which would it be?

Submitted: November 29, 2016

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Submitted: November 29, 2016

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You can't save her, Paul. You need to understand this. No matter how much you want it to happen, no matter how hard you try to make it happen, you can't stop it. Clara can't be brought back. This is not what I'm offering you. I'm sorry.”

 

11:45 p.m.

 

Paul sat on the sofa and leaned forward, his face buried in his palms. He breathed through his fingers and then sobbed once, but there was nothing.  His tears had dried up long ago. He was empty and raw inside. He curled his hands into fists then rapped his knuckles against his forehead, at first with light taps, then with audible, punishing thumps. He wanted to feel something, anything that would jar apart the blockage straining in his skull.

 

Yet there was nothing.

 

He opened his eyes and stared into the blackness of his living room. He had spent the last twenty-four hours practically unmoving upon his sofa. Night had come and gone and come again. Just outside his front door, he had heard the mailman deliver more cards and letters of condolence that he would never bother to read. He had yanked the answering machine from the wall and switched off his cellphone, losing it somewhere in the house.

 

Across the room on a shelf stood a row of picture frames. They were shrouded in shadow, ghostly sentries beyond the touch of the faint light that seeped into the room through the closed blinds. Yet Paul could envision the images of the people in the photographs as vividly as the days they were taken. Their unwavering eyes stared through the bleak darkness and right into his heart. He thought he could even hear them whispering to him, calling to him. Or maybe it was really just wishful thinking on his part, hoping they could offer him some soothing words of relief.

 

He poured himself another glass of wine. In the darkness, the red of the Merlot swirled into the glass like oil. He slugged it back. It wouldn't have mattered if he had sipped it, the liquid still would have tasted sour.

 

With a weary sigh he fell back against the sofa and lolled his head to the side. He watched the clock on the shelf tick steadily. Paul squinted at it. “11:50.”

 

Michael would be there in ten minutes.

 

* * * * *

 

Twenty-four hours earlier...

 

Paul never was one to pray to angels. He was more interested in tangible things: the sweet taste of fresh grilled sirloin on his tongue, the thrumming vibration of his car around his body, the tender softness of his lover's kiss. It was all about what he could see and touch.

 

But now he felt like he was falling forever into an endless void, his arms and hands grasping and flailing in the air, nothing to see, nothing to touch, nothing to hold onto. He felt totally lost in a dark vacuum as he sat alone on his sofa.

 

“Clara.” Paul never needed angels, yet he said the name like a quiet prayer, solemn and with conviction.

 

Even stranger still was his muted response when his prayer was unexpectedly answered.

 

“Paul,” a voice steady and crisp like the mist through the forest called to him.

 

Paul looked up with a remarkable calmness unexpected of a man confronted by a disembodied voice calling his name. Yet he watched in perplexed silence as strands and puffs of white light appeared in the middle of the room, seeping through a hole in the darkness. They floated and pulled and tangled in the air before him. A warmth filled the room and surrounded him. Not like the warmth of a fire, though, more like fingers of electricity dancing on his nerves, seizing him to attention. He knew this wasn't a dream, yet he didn't feel anything like fear or panic.

 

As the light continued to ebb and flow in front of him, an unexpected feeling of acceptance settled into Paul. His lips drifted apart and he forced a breath out, uttering the name, “Michael.”

 

Though he must have come across this most common name dozens of time during his life, it never held any personal significance to him. Yet when faced with something indescribable, when desperate to put a frame around an impossible shape, “Michael” was what came to mind.

 

The entity didn't take any exception to being christened by Paul. Instead, it spoke, “I know you're hurting.”

 

Paul swallowed and shuddered.

 

“I know that you miss her.”

 

I miss her so much, Paul thought.

 

“I want to offer you something,” it said, its words swirling around like embers above a fire.

 

Paul held his breath, a rattling pang of anticipation grinding in his gut.

 

“I'm giving you the chance to relive a moment with her again.”

 

He didn't care if he was drunk or if he was hallucinating or even if this was just a dream. Paul hung on Michael's every word like it was a rope twisting in a hurricane. He wanted to believe so much. Anxiously, as lucidly as he possibly could, he asked, “I can see her again?”

 

“A moment in your life,” Michael said, his light shifting and curling. “For one hour you can experience it again... be with Clara again.”

 

Clara. When Michael said her name, it was like a spur driven against Paul's ribs. He sucked in air with a gasp, covering his fluttering lips. His mind whirled. To be with her again, to touch her, to take her up in his arms and never let her go.

 

Never let her go.

 

Paul suddenly sat up, a thought igniting in his head. With a wild look of realization and hope in his eyes, he leaned forward and said, “I could… ”

 

“You can't.”

 

Paul froze. Michael’s words were a numbing injection of ice water into his veins. “I-I can't… ” he croaked. “Why?”

 

“You can't save her, Paul,” Michael repeated. “You need to understand this. No matter how much you want it to happen, no matter how hard you try to make it happen, you can't stop it.”

 

Each word was a hook rending his heart. Paul wanted to scream and plead but his voice died as an impotent squeak in throat.

 

“Clara can't be brought back. This is not what I'm offering you. I'm sorry.”

 

Paul sank back against the sofa. In his heart, he knew and accepted what he was being told even before Michael finished speaking.  Clara couldn’t be saved.  This was his reality, his punishment.  He closed his eyes, defeated.

 

Michael filled the silence with instruction. “I want you to recall every moment you've spent with Clara.”

 

Paul shook his head. “There are so many.  Too many.  I can’t even pull them apart.”

 

“I know. The strongest, most meaningful ones will stand out, though.  Concentrate and reach for them.”

 

Paul opened his eyes and thought for a fleeting second. A door within his mind opened a crack and a sliver of blinding light knifed through. It was overwhelming. Once more he shut his eyes tight. “It hurts too much,” he sighed. He relapsed and pleaded, “I just want her back here with me. Please.”

 

“There's nothing you can do, Paul,” Michael assured him. “You can warn her. You can take her away from where the accident happens. You can be with her and shield her. Still, she'll be gone and you will be left as empty and hollow as you are now. You will have squandered this opportunity I'm offering you.”

 

“What opportunity?” Paul groaned. “Without Clara, what's the point?”

 

“Don't think about the loneliness of this room. Don’t think about trying to fill this space around you.” Paul listened as Michael’s steady voice surrounded him.  Think of filling the void that's inside of you… here.”

 

A sudden warmth swelled within Paul's chest. It filled him completely, coursing through his lungs and heart, lighting up his eyes. He sat up and inhaled deep and loud as if he were a baby taking his first gasp of air. Just as suddenly, it disappeared. The emptiness returned, the darkness of the room draining his spirit once more. It was a brutal tease on Michael's part, but a necessary one. It left Paul bewildered and cold inside, but it also kindled a flickering thought which he couldn't quite place yet.

 

That is what I'm offering you,” Michael said.

 

As Paul stared at the shifting tendrils and mists of light before him, they seemed to settle and focus into one entity, like the hypnotic flame of a candle. He nodded slowly once, a tiny sense of understanding stirring in his head for the first time in days.

 

“What happens now?” Paul asked hesitantly.

 

“I will come back at midnight tomorrow,” Michael replied. “Together, we'll choose a moment for you to return.”

 

Again Paul nodded.

 

With that, the light slowly folded in on itself, collapsing to a pinpoint marble-sized ball before dispersing without a whisper of sound.

 

Paul was left alone once more, in the darkness, the emptiness, and silence. Within moments, countless puzzle pieces of memories of Clara washed over him and plunged him below like a violent undertow. He felt a sudden release burst through his chest.  His mouth agape, the tears finally streamed down his face once again. Like a rag doll, he fell on his side onto the sofa and cried and remembered.

 

* * * * *

 

Paul ignores the twigs and branches of the trees and bushes snatching at him as he runs through the dark ravine. He is leaving the cheers of the crowds and his raucous teammates behind him. Before this moment, he never thought anything could pull him away from them.  The excitement of the midnight rally filled him with everything he desired and surrounded him with everybody he needed.

 

Yet, in an instant, all of that is beyond his memory, his desire and need set on a singular path.

 

The floodlights from the sports field cast him in silhouette, but eventually he outruns them as well and soon he is covered only in the grey-blue glow of the full moon above. Despite the darkness, he charges headlong into the tangle of woods, laughing and whooping.

 

Clara leads him on this chase like a siren. She is also laughing and giggling as she skips and leaps through the woods like the dancer that she is.

 

The two are filled with a giddy, youthful excitement. It had all started back at the rally with an innocent kiss on Clara's pink cheek, an indecent whisper in her ear, and a playful but stiff slap against Paul's head. The pursuit was declared with rascally laughter.

 

Clara takes like a deer through the dark forest, claiming a head start.

 

“You're disappointing me, Paul!” she calls back teasingly.

 

Paul's running-back instincts kick in and he quickly makes up ground, aggressively driving his way through the clutch of branches around him, driven to have Clara in his arms.

 

He comes up fast and suddenly the chase becomes in earnest. Between running and laughing, he can't catch his breath. His heart pounds so hard, he has to swallow to keep it from beating up his throat.  Just steps ahead of him, Clara stumbles over a twist of undergrowth and she trips, nearly falling into a ditch.

Pulling up, she embraces the trunk of the tree, gasping for breath.

 

Paul is upon her the moment she turns. With Clara backed against the tree, he digs his fingers into her belly and sides, tickling her into near hysterics.

 

“No! No! No!” Clara begs and chokes through her tears of laughter. “Stop! I can't breathe!”

 

“Who's a disappointment? Huh? Who?” Paul probes with a sharp grin.

 

“Stop! Stop! I give up!”

 

Paul leans back and cocks an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

 

Clara swallows hard and nods. Even in the dark, her smile glows like a beacon.

 

Paul burns his gaze into her wide, chestnut eyes. He moves in closer, prowling his face around her, drawn to her like a magnet. He reaches up and tangles his fingers into the tresses of her silky, raven hair, steadying her, demanding her attention be focused on him and him alone.

 

Merely inches apart, they exchange wisps of breath in the cool night air. Clara pulls in her lips and moistens them, glosses them.

 

On that signal, Paul moves in with a forceful kiss as if he had been waiting to taste honey from the heavens. Her lips are impossibly soft and welcoming. He inhales deeply, her jasmine scent mixing with the smell of fresh earth and trees to make an unexpectedly potent and arousing concoction.

 

There, under the cover of darkness, in the solitude of the forest, they surrender their passions fully to each other, making love for the first time.  Paul has never felt so good in his life.

 

As he embraces Clara with his arms, heart, and mind, a spark of personal truth ignites within Paul and will dominate his being from that moment. Paul doesn’t need everyone.  He only needs her.

 

* * * * *

 

Paul and Clara stumble through the door, laughing. Their half-hearted attempt at Paul carrying her into the suite fails miserably but they barely seem to care. It had been a long day and night already spent with too many family and friends. They love each of them dearly, of course, but they thank every angel and demon that they are rid of them. With an agile kick, the door closes behind them and they may as well have been the only people, in the only hotel, in the only city, in all the world.

 

Their laughter eases and they face each other, holding each other at the waist and smiling.

 

Paul has to shake his head as he looks at her. How is it that she can be even more beautiful than she was just a minute before? That was the unshakeable mystery of Clara that just seemed to tow him a long from moment to moment.

 

“Mr. Price,” Clara says with a curt, playful nod.

 

“Mrs. Price,” Paul says through a curly grin. Mrs. Price. Yes, he likes that very much. “Would you care for a night cap?”

 

Clara rolls her twinkling eyes. “Sure,” she says. She gives him a kiss then adds, “But maybe afterwards.”

 

“After what?” Paul asks, flashing a cheeky grin.

She holds up her arms. “I’d like a dance.”

 

His expression morphs to a frown as he eyes her.  Her awaiting arms are magnets though and he’s drawn to them till he takes her soft hands into his. 

 

Clara begins to hum, a tune neither remembers the name of but it doesn’t matter.  It takes them both and sways them in unison till they are moving around the room as if step on clouds.

 

Paul takes this moment in. He long ago had etched the features of her face upon his permanent memory, but what his eyes take in now beyond a vision of beauty.  Clara smiles like the dawn, with all the hopes and dreams of a new day that encompasses it.

 

He never wants this moment to end.

 

* * * * *

 

Paul stands outside the door to his house. He's been standing there for five minutes, holding a bouquet of flowers. It's not as if he's locked himself out, though. He stands there because he's still trying to think of what to say to Clara.

 

Two hours earlier, he had stormed out of the house after they had another one of their heated arguments. He can't even seem to remember exactly how it began. Yet he winces as he recalls how he ended it with some hurtful things he said.

 

Paul looks down and shakes his head, smirking to himself. He doesn't know why he argues so much with Clara. Not as if he ever won an argument with her.

 

“Hi Paul,” someone calls out from behind.

 

He jumps, shook from his stupor, and turns. His neighbour is walking by with his dog on the sidewalk.

 

“Flowers for the little lady?” the neighbour asks.

 

Paul grins sheepishly. “Yeah.”

 

“Argument again?”

 

Paul shrugs.

 

The neighbour smiles and nods. “Good luck!”

 

Paul forces a chuckle. He looks at the bouquet and realizes how stupid he must appear. Finally he goes through the door.

 

He stands in the foyer and peers around the house to the kitchen and living room. “Clara?”

 

Hearing a thump from the floor above, he makes his way upstairs. He goes into the bedroom and finds it empty at first but then Clara emerges from the en-suite bathroom dressed in a bathrobe and a towel wrapped on her head.

 

Clara pauses and glares at him with dead eyes. Crossing her arms, she leans against the bathroom door frame and says, “Is that your form of apology?”

 

Paul frowns and grind his teeth. Even he thinks that he's a bit pathetic. Still, he shrugs and says, “Yeah… maybe?”

 

Clara shakes her head slowly.

 

“No?” Paul asks.

 

“Drop those in the trash, come here, and apologize properly,” Clara instructs.

 

Following her orders, Paul dispatches the flowers and walks over to her. He opens his mouth to say something but Clara smothers his lips with her hand.

 

“No. Shut up,” she tells him. “Don't say you're sorry with words. Action.”

 

“Action?” Paul mumbles through her fingers.

 

Clara arches her this dark brows and nods. “Yeah. Action.”

 

Paul offers all the resistance of a puppy as she pulls him down onto the bed.

 

Afterwards, for an immeasurable moment, Paul feels a sense of relief fall like a heavy blanket upon him.  It’s enough to almost make him cry.  Instead, he holds her close and whispers, “I’m so sorry.”

 

Clara curls into his embrace. “Apology accepted,” she says.

 

He holds her close, secure in her warmth, and thinks that in moments like this, her forgiveness is like the air he breathes.

 

* * * * *

 

11:55 p.m.

 

With few minutes remaining before Michael's return, Paul's mind was in overdrive. He clutched at his temples and tried to focus. Laughing together, crying together, travelling together, dancing, eating, running, sleeping… making love. He wanted to experience everything again but he couldn't think of one single moment that embodied all of that.

 

He decided that the times he made love to Clara were the best moments he could experience again. There could be no more significant point in time with her; he was certain of it.

 

Even then, how could he choose one moment?

 

A pin prick of light appeared in the air in front of him. It widened and grew, then a cascading white glow poured slowly into the space, shimmering and sparkling like crystal particles of dust.

 

Paul sat up and steeled his jaw as he watched the light emerge and form into what he recognized as Michael. He inhaled deeply to steady himself as a quivering feeling of anticipation swelled in his heart.

 

“Paul,” Michael said softly, “it's time to take you back.”

 

Boldly, Paul asked, “Is there any way I can have more than an hour?”

 

“No,” Michael replied, “not a minute more. I'm sorry.”

 

Paul nodded, acceptance coming more easily now. He waited, unsure of what was to happen next. Hesitantly, he asked, “Do I… tell you the moment I want to return to?”

 

The voice replied, “That's not necessary. You already have.”

 

Paul frowned, wary of what that might mean. “When?” he asked.

 

“A point when every minute spent will say all you want and need to say to Clara.”

 

Michael's light began to flare like the sun, the brilliance engulfing Paul's vision.

 

“But… ” Paul fumbled over his thoughts, “there's so much… I just want… I… ”

 

Michael reached for him, swallowed him up with fingers of light.

 

Paul wasn't on his sofa anymore. He wasn't in his living room, in his home, anymore. He felt like he was being thrown backward, spinning and spiralling through a twisting tunnel in complete freefall. He heard his heartbeat blending with his heavy breaths in his head. It was as if he were in a cloud, as if he was the cloud. He reached out blindly.

 

“Clara!”

 

Then nothing.

 

* * * * *

 

“So, Paul. Are you coming over?”

 

Paul blinks and shirks back in his sofa as if slapped in the face.  He looks around bewildered. It's still dark… except now it's raining outside, a downpour.

 

“Paul?”

 

Somehow, he finds himself holding his phone at his ear. The voice on the other end belongs to a woman. It's not Clara. He mouths the word 'What' three times before he finally utters it.

 

The woman giggles. “Don't tell me you're afraid of a bit of thunder and lightning?”

 

Paul stands up and looks around in the dark. Clara. Where is Clara? He struggles to figure out what's happening and reaches for the clock on the side table. It's 5:30 p.m. He shuts his eyes and thinks to himself, 5:30. A storm outside. Where's Clara? Think!

 

“Just this once. I'd really like to see you tonight, Paul,” the woman says. There's an enticing lilt in her tongue.

 

He freezes, a sudden realization smacking him across the face like a load of bricks. “Sylvie,” he drones.

 

The woman giggles, “You can say my name a little less like reading a road sign, don't you think?”

 

Paul spins on his heels, dragging his fingers through his hair then covering his mouth. It's that night. Oh no.

 

“You could be here in fifteen minutes even with the rain,” Sylvie says. “The trains aren't running with the tracks flooded. It'll probably take her over an hour or more to get home. You can just tell her you went to see a friend and got stuck with them during the storm.”

 

'Her'. Clara. Clara won't be home for almost another two hours… and on this night, two weeks before their last night, he won't be there to greet her when she finally did arrive.

 

No! Paul screams in his head.

 

“She'll never know,” Sylvie beckons. “Please, Paul. Just one moment together.”

 

Paul shouts aloud, “No!”

 

He hangs up on Sylvie, launches himself to the door and runs through the rain to the car. He strains the ignition and, as he backs out of the driveway, he dials Clara's cell number.

 

The number you have dialled is not in service… please hang… ”

 

He should have known better. Clara was always forgetting to charge her phone.

 

A normally thirty minute drive to her office downtown turns out to be an aggravating torture test of snarled traffic and flooded roads. Paul tries every shortcut he knows, cutting through parking lots and alleys, and against one way streets. As he drives he tries to gauge where she might be by recalling what Clara had told him of this night. How she walked through the blankets of rain to street corners where shuttle-buses were supposed to be waiting only to find a massive crowd huddled together at the bus stops. How she tried in vain to hail taxis only to get splashed as they drove by hitting the puddles on the streets.

 

She walked and walked to get home… because Paul would be there waiting for her.

 

Paul smacks the wheel of the car with his palm. He checks his watch: twenty-five minutes remaining.

 

How did Michael do this? Why this day? Why now? All Paul can think about is to see her. That's all. To see her, to hold her, to be with her. It didn't matter if they said nothing, if they did nothing else other than hold each other close. He just needs to share one more moment with Clara.

 

Fifteen minutes to go and he is wedged into bumper-to-bumper traffic. For half a heartbeat he considers ploughing his way through the other cars. It's no use. He looks around to get his bearings, figure out where he is. Then he opens the door, climbs out of the car and runs through the rain searching for Clara.

 

Even as the rain subsides, it's still a slog. The sidewalks are slick and crowded with people coming out from their shelters, walking in every direction. The lights of the storefronts are dizzying and seem to close in on him. Yet, desperation and urgency drives him on and focuses him on one thing, one person.

 

“Clara!” he shouts repeatedly till his lungs are ready to burst.

 

Five minutes.

 

He falls against a light pole and leans heavily against the cold, wet metal. Still, with each breath he pushes out her name. It's hopeless.

 

“Paul?”

 

Paul freezes, staring at the ground at his feet. The voice is like a tender caress upon his soul. He lifts his head slowly. As he turns, he closes his eyes.  When he opens them...

 

“What are you doing here?” Clara asks.

 

He soaks in the vision of her like the sand absorbs the rain. His heart beats so hard he feels as if he’s being shoved from within, and he stumbles back a step. “Cl… Clara,” he gasps, “I found you.”

 

Her coat is drenched, her shoes wrecked, and her hair is scraggly and pasted all over her face. She's never been more beautiful.

 

“Yeah? What are you nuts?” Clara says. A crooked, sweet smile tugs onto her lips as she eyes him and asks, “You didn't… did you come for me?”

 

Paul nods as he slowly steps towards her. “Yeah,” he says, “for you. I came for you.”

 

Clara's shoulders slump and she throws him a sympathetic look. “Oh, Paul, you didn't have to do that,” she says, “I could have caught a bus or taxi. It must have been awful trying to drive down here tonight.”

 

“I just… ” Paul says, choking back his breath, “I just needed to be with you now.”

 

“Right now?” Clara asks, grinning. “Right at this very moment?”

 

He almost laughs. “Yeah, right at this moment.”

 

She shrugs. “Okay. I'm fine with that.”

 

He reaches out and gathers her in an embrace. He instantly remembers how perfectly she fits in his arms.

 

“I'm glad that you came,” Clara says as she nuzzles up against him.

 

“I'm sorry,” Paul whispers. “I’m so sorry.”

 

She doesn't hear him. She simply settles into his embrace and hugs him back.

 

Paul is unaware of the people walking around them. He hears nothing else except her soft breathing. He feels nothing but her gentle frame in his arms. She's tangible and real and she's so warm. As he holds her, her warmth fills him completely mind, body and soul.

 

In two weeks, Clara will be gone.

 

With a minute left, Paul takes a deep breath of cleansing air and holds her a little closer, entrenching this gift of her essence into his heart.  It’s all he needs and wants.

 

"That is what I'm offering you."

 

A moment to last him forever.


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