Friday, November 04, 2005
SHORT STORY - Someone To Watch Over Me
Someone to watch over me
Jennifer and Bryan had been high school sweethearts. They attended college, North Carolina State, together and married after graduation. Their lives were perfect. He was moving up the corporate ladder, and had just been promoted to human resources director. She was teaching third grade and loved every minute. Storybook was an understatement when referring to them and that made what happened totally devastating to her. Her world was never going to be the same.
Bryan left the house that morning walking on cloud nine because she had told him that she was ready to start a family. Lunchtime was approaching when she was called to the principal's office for a phone call. The drive to the hospital was done in a zombie-like state. As she entered the room, the beeps of the machines echoed in her head. He was lying there so still with tubes and bandages everywhere.
A nurse came into the room followed by a slender man in a white coat. Jennifer thought to herself, "He was probably still in his residency." He looked so young, but as he began to speak all doubts disappeared. The young looking doctor obviously knew what he was doing, and she quickly started to trust him with the life of her most precious gem.
The injuries were extensive, including internal bleeding, so the prognosis was not good. She refused to give up hope; she wanted it to be a bad dream, a very bad dream. At the urging of both families, she finally had to realize that he was not returning to her. Bryan was only alive because of the machines. It took a few hours to decide, but she made the difficult decision. The doctors turned off his life lines; she held his hand in hers and listened as his heart stopped beating.
Four months had passed when she finally returned to work. During her daily walk to work, she ran into the mystery woman and in the same spot every Wednesday. The first day Jennifer saw her was the day that she returned to work. It was difficult day, but there was something about the woman's face and smile that soothed Jennifer as she walked past. The woman sat unobtrusively at the sidewalk café, totally engrossed in something happening across the street. Whenever Jennifer approached, she would look up and smile. No words were spoken, but she always felt better. Their nonverbal exchange carried on until she finally decided to stop.
"Hi. My name is Jennifer. I have seen you seated here and you always have the most pleasant smile on your face."
"Why, thank you. My name is Elizabeth. Would you like to have a seat?" The woman was middle aged with a salt and peppered colored haircut in a short feathered style. Her complexion of dark chocolate was flawless and obviously hid the years that the gray hair signified. Her large eyes of light amber shined as brightly as her smile.
"I was always told smiles are contagious, and you look so preoccupied when you walk by."
She looked down at her hands and twisted the wedding band on her finger.
"Preoccupied is an understatement." After taking a deep breath, she felt comfortable continuing her explanation.
Jennifer spoke about Bryan and their life together. As she began to discuss the accident, her eyes darkened with sadness. To put it out of her thoughts, she asked Elizabeth about the dance studio. Elizabeth smiled as she informed Jennifer that her daughter owned the studio, and she enjoyed watching her with the class.
The large window in front offered passers-by the opportunity to see the class in practice; Elizabeth's seat offered her the perfect and unobstructed view of the dance studio across the busy street. At that time of day, the littlest dancers had filed in and were practicing their dance moves. The instructor, a tall, slender woman with her hair neatly in a bun, always dressed in pastel colors that mixed well with her complexion of dark _mocha. She stood perfectly straight and walked with grace and confidence, obviously the result years of dance and training.
Elizabeth glanced at her watch and realized Jennifer was later than usual. Her new friend's pain and loss for her husband was so deep, and she was trying to hide it. There was no way that she would get over it in a few months. She needed to realize that, and Elizabeth knew that her presence was keeping her from acknowledging it.
Jennifer sat down out of breath. "Hi, Elizabeth, how are the girls doing today?"
"It's coming together. It better since the recital is next week."
Jennifer thought that she saw sadness on Elizabeth's face, but it disappeared as soon as she smiled. The rest of their hour was filled with the normal chatter of recent events. They both became quiet as Savannah glided across the floor in dance. Her solo signified the end of the class. It was Savannah's treat to the class for working hard during practice.
"My private dancer." Elizabeth's motherly pride exuded in that statement as her eyes never left her daughter dancing a ballet solo in front of the window. When the song ended, Savannah took a bow as the girls and their mothers applauded.
A week later, Jennifer walked the route that she had taken every Wednesday. Today, the traffic seemed lighter; she made each traffic light. The café was busy but the table where Elizabeth usually sat was empty. "She's not here." She said softly as she sat down.
The foot traffic passed her while she sat dazed and confused. As practice began, she watched but felt a sudden emptiness. She figured that there must be a good reason for Elizabeth not being there. Next week, she was definitely going to show.
The next Wednesday, Jennifer found herself seated alone again. How could she leave and not say goodbye? She left just like Bryan did. She was not aware that she was crying until she felt the tears fall onto her hand. The emptiness had returned, and it was just as bad as when Bryan died. She thought that she was over it — but was she?
The practice was over and the little girls were all out of the studio. Something pulled Jennifer across to the dance studio. Soft sounds of Boney James played while she stood by the door quietly until Savannah reappeared.
"Hi, may I help you?" Savannah smiled and greeted her.
She suddenly lost her nerve to ask about Elizabeth. The friendship that they had started was a missing part of her life, and she wanted to know what happened. Savannah asked again and she found her voice to speak.
"Hi, my name is Jennifer Sinclair. I came by because I am a friend of your
Savannah's face flashed sadness then she smiled and extended her hand. "My name is Savannah Williamson." She walked to the stereo and turned off the music.
Jennifer remembered some of the stories that Elizabeth shared with her about Savannah's early years. She still found it hard to believe that the woman who danced with such grace and confidence was ever clumsy. "You know your mother is so proud of you," Jennifer chimed in while Savannah's back was still to her.
"I'm sure." Savannah's smile softened but she would not look at her. "So, how did you know my mother?" She changed the subject around.
The question took Jennifer aback since Savannah spoke in past tense. "Excuse me?"
"You said that you were my mother's friend."
Jennifer's face showed her confusion. "Yes, I am. I actually stopped by to see how she is doing."
Savannah walked over to a shelf full of photographs on the far wall. Along with the photos, a few trophies were mixed in. She picked up an 8-by-10 photo of Elizabeth and a little girl. "This is my favorite picture of us together." It depicted Elizabeth with a 12-year-old Savannah dressed in a dance costume and wearing a huge smile.
"That is a lovely picture." She handed it back to her.
"It was our last picture together." Jennifer placed it back on the shelf.
It took a moment for the statement to sink in. They must be estranged and that explains why Elizabeth watched from across the street without ever walking over.
"Oh, I see."
"She was my biggest fan. She used to call me her private dancer." A tear rolled down Savannah's cheek.
"She still does." Curiosity got the best of her. "So, why aren't the two of you speaking?" It was obvious that she missed her relationship with Elizabeth.
Savannah pulled a memory book from the shelf. She opened the book to a page with a news clipping. Jennifer's eyes stretched. It was an obituary for Elizabeth Williamson. It asked mourners to contribute to the American Cancer Society in lieu of flowers. She read it again to be sure that she read it correctly.
"When was this?"
"I was 12 years old. Fifteen years ago." Savannah placed the book in its original place. She explained that her mother gave birth to her at 40 years old, and was the joy of her life.
"I see her all of the time. She is the reason that I dance after each class. It is my way of giving her what she always enjoyed." Savannah smiled softly. "I thought for so long that I was going crazy with grief and imagined seeing her." She wiped her tears because she knew that Jennifer had spoken with her mother. "But, she hasn't said anything to me."
Jennifer sat at her desk and stared at the ticket to the dance recital. Even after purchasing the ticket, she was still undecided on whether to attend or not. She had been spending a lot of time trying to figure out why Elizabeth came into her life. Why had she come and Bryan not returned to her? It made no sense.
The auditorium was filled with families and friends of the dancers. Parents were easily spotted because of the camcorders in hand and digital cameras draped around their necks. A few grandparents were guilty of possessing the same accessories. When the lights dimmed and the production began, she noticed that even the usual stumblers had a little grace. The show ended with a standing ovation as they took their bows.
"Did you enjoy the show?" Savannah came up behind her.
She startled her. "It was wonderful. They were adorable."
"They worked really hard for this show, I am so proud of them." Her face lit up and she realized that Jennifer was not smiling. "Are you OK?"
"I'll be fine." Jennifer walked off from Savannah without saying anything else, and leaving her speechless.
The recital was six months ago and Jennifer talked herself into taking her old route. It had taken her a couple of months for her to make an appointment with the therapist that was recommended to her. The weekly sessions helped her deal with the sadness of losing the love of her life. Now, she was able to talk about him without bursting into tears.
The sessions also made her realize that she had blamed herself for Bryan's death. There were "what ifs" that she needed to deal with. What if she had stayed a little longer for breakfast? What if she had taken the same route he did then she would have been in front of him? What if she had asked him to drop the laundry off and he would have gone a different direction. She realized that the accident was meant to be and there was nothing she could have done to prevent it. A smile crossed her face as she remembered that Elizabeth's name came into her conversations. The announcement would have surely caused even more sessions with the therapist since it involved seeing a ghost.
She found herself in front of the dance studio. When she entered, the sounds of Dave Koz filtered through the studio. Savannah appeared with her usual smile.
"Well, hello, stranger."
"I am sorry that I have not been by."
"I understand. You needed some time." From the sound of her voice, she was happy to see her and was not upset with her absence nor by the way had she abruptly left after the recital.
"How have things been going?"
"Fine. We have another recital coming up. 'Alice in Wonderland.' " Savannah smiled.
"I would like to purchase a ticket." The smile on Jennifer's face was genuine.
"That is wonderful. How are you?"
"I'm doing good." She knew that Bryan would not want her to feel sorry for herself and wallow in despair. He would want her to live and enjoy life.
"I'm glad." Savannah smiled as she looked over Jennifer's shoulder and out the window. She turned and went back to the stereo. "You know, practice ran over late tonight and I didn't get a chance to dance. How about joining me?"
Jennifer had a surprised look on her face.
"Come on, I know you know how to cha-cha." Savannah started the steps as she stared at her reflection in the wall of mirrors. "Girl, come on. It is easy."
Jennifer stood and watched for a moment, and the music hit her. She joined Savannah and while her movements were not as graceful, she kept the beat and felt rejuvenated. The tempo sped up and Savannah changed directions and moved the length of the room.
By the end of the song, Jennifer found herself perspiring and tired but was full of energy. She had not danced in a while, and she had to admit that it was fun.
"Why don't you take a look across at the café?" Savannah restarted the music.
Jennifer turned and looked across the street, and at her usual table sat Elizabeth smiling from ear to ear. However, she was not alone because seated next to her wearing a large smile was Bryan. Tears formed in her eyes, but they were from joy not sorrow.
"I guess we are both private dancers now." Savannah smiled at her as they returned to the dance.
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