Old Oak

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Originally intended for the school magazine. Inspired by a favorite song of mine. I hope you like it!

Submitted: October 12, 2012

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Submitted: October 12, 2012

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“Michael? Michael!”

 

I paused and lifted my eyes from the black and white photograph I held in my hand. Charlie snorted more to hide a laugh than to clear his nasal passage, though I preferred that he let it out instead of keeping it to himself. I knew that I had spaced out while listening to his lengthy monologue, and as punishment I had to endure his knowing look and the smug line that was his excuse for a smile. “Ya left me for the clouds, lad. What’s swimmin’ in that head a yers?”

 

Despite the roiling feeling in my stomach, I forced myself to reply in even tones. “Nothing. Well, I was just… it’s been a long time and-”

 

“No need to say anythin’ lad. I’ve seen stuff like this happen to every man first time he sets foot outside irons. Ya ain’t no different from the rest.” Charlie momentarily took his eyes off of the road and leaned in closer to look at the picture I held in my hand. “I can sees how much ya miss her. She waitin’ for ya at the stop or are ya gonna have to walk home?”

 

I looked at the small portrait cradled in my palm. The last time I had seen her face was before being escorted into the cell that was to be my home for the next three years. I was, luckily, allowed to keep a few possessions in my cell. Her picture had been pinned to the frame of the bunk above mine.

 

Every morning I would wake up to her heart-shaped face. Even if the picture was toned in gray and sepia, I still saw the chocolate brown of her hair and the honey and amber of her eyes. I still could almost smell the fragrance of the spring meadow and of wind-borne leaves that always clung to her skin. Just thinking about the small things connected with her made me yearn for my freedom. I maintained my patience though, and now I was free.

 

But only physically. Inside, I was still trapped in fear of what lay ahead of me. I wasn’t afraid of what other people would say. They could talk behind my back for the rest of my life. I was afraid of what she would say, what she would do. I sighed and slipped the picture into my breast pocket. “I don’t know. I wrote her a letter in February and told her I would be released in a month. The rest is up to her to decide.”

 

Charlie frowned and regained concentration of the road. I turned my head and smiled a little as the rotund bus driver of the State Criminal Rehabilitation Center rubbed his jaw. Roughly twenty years older than me, and having worked at the facility since graduating high school, Charlie was allowed free access to the prison cells at the rehab. He was friendly to all of us, and never once have I heard him utter the word ‘convict.’ To him, we were all brothers.

 

“She ain’t written ya back?” he asked.

 

“It’s no wonder.” I said, feeling as if my heart was sinking in quicksand. “I messed up. I should have just listened to her and pawned the damn ring.”

 

“Stead ya had to feed yer pride and get busted for it.” The grin he flashed at me contradicted his reprimand. I chuckled despite my jangled nerves. My eyes closed as I laid back into the passenger seat, while behind me my comrades and the people with them were making tiny sounds. Some of them were asleep, snoring and mumbling incoherently. The others were chatting with relatives who decided to fetch them from the facility directly. There were eight of us, three of whom including me were unescorted. The five lucky men were met by wives, parents, siblings, friends or a combination of them.

 

The chirping of the birds and the rumble of the engine as we made our way through the winding country road served as a background to the idle chatter in the bus. Nothing seemed to calm me, so I opened my eyes again and drew a deep breath. “A yellow ribbon.”

 

“What’s that?” Charlie asked without breaking eye contact from the road.

 

“I told her I’d be getting off at the next stop. And I told her if, by some miracle, she still loves me, if she still wants me despite everything that has happened, to tie a yellow ribbon to the old oak.”

 

“The one above the hill by the stop?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“A yellow ribbon eh?” I nodded and settled down again. Of course Charlie didn’t know the significance of that yellow ribbon. In truth, it was the reason I met Jennifer. Her hair ribbon had been blown from her ponytail while she was out riding, and had been caught in the branches of one of the oaks in the garden where I worked. I knew I was a goner when she flashed that pretty smile of hers and asked me to retrieve it.

 

We tied the knot soon after, much to my in-laws’ dismay. The first and only year we were husband and wife wasn’t pretty. Jennifer was disowned and I, being a mere gardener, couldn’t bring home enough bacon to feed the two of us. All we had of value was the two-leveled hut I owned and her diamond wedding ring. She suggested we part with it since I was more important, but I couldn’t bear to see her lose something so dear to her. That’s why I did the thing that got me incarcerated.

 

Until now I couldn’t talk about what I did, because the memory of her eyes flooding with tears when I confessed to the deed still haunts me. Safe to say, nobody died because of my foolishness. Charlie’s voice broke through my thoughts. “What if she don’t?”

 

“Then,” I choked a bit before looking away and continuing “I’m not stopping. I’m heading to the city and finding an apartment and work.”

 

“Alrighty” was all Charlie had to say.

 

It was some time later when I opened my eyes. I could hear some of the people still talking. I checked the time on my watch and saw that it was a little after four. The way the sky glowed yellow confirmed it.

 

Suddenly, a lady sitting just behind Charlie gasped and pointed out the window. Soon the others followed suit. Since I was seated on the opposite side from the view, I had to crane my neck. But beyond Charlie’s and the other people’s heads, I could see nothing more.

 

“Ain’t that beautiful?”

 

“Oh heavens, that’s the prettiest sight I ever did saw!”

 

The comments rolled off different tongues as I tried in vain to peer through the huddled crowd. Then Charlie faced me, a grin on his round head. His hand pressed on the button that opened the folding door and said “What’re ya sittin’ ere for? Yer woman’s out there waitin’ for ya.”

Hope sprang into my chest as my head absorbed what Charlie was saying. I got my carry-all from under my seat and, still in a daze, stumbled out of the bus. Charlie started the engine and the vehicle rumbled away. There must have been shouts of goodbye and well-wishes. There must have been whistles of encouragement and heads sticking out of the bus windows to shout their farewells. I wasn’t sure, because I was completely held captive by the sight before me.

 

It was only when Jennifer, all long legs and chocolate hair flying, sprinted to me that I snapped out of my daze. My carry-all dropped to the ground as I ran towards her.

 

I caught her and twirled her around, absorbing the half-laugh, half-sobs that emanated from her beautiful lips. Once I found it annoying when she coddled me too much, but now I reveled in the giddy sensation as she rained me with kisses from forehead to chin. I hugged her tight, still trying to convince myself that at last I was home.

 

Jennifer, still clinging to my tear-soaked shirt, looked into my eyes and smiled. She reached for my face. “You’re crying.”

 

Yes, I was. But I didn’t care. I was happy. She put her arms around my neck as I rested my chin on her crown. I’ve never felt so free and so alive before. I buried my nose in her hair, breathing in the spring meadow and the wind-borne leaves. “So are you.”

 

We stayed that way for a long time. My eyes, watery with unshed tears, looked towards the hill where the old oak stood serenely, watching me and my love’s reunion. It hadn’t changed much in three years. Its roots still protruded from the ground in a mess of writhing and tangling curls. The bark was still dark brown and covered in a few spots with lichen. The leaves were still the same shade of green, and sparkled like emeralds with the setting of the sun. The branches still swaying gaily.

 

But now, they were tied with not one, but definitely more than a hundred yellow ribbons. They flapped in the wind… and it was a beautiful sight.


© Copyright 2020 Angelaine Espinosa. All rights reserved.

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