This story is by Joyce Leonard and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Daylight had quickly slipped to night. Lawrence shivered as he closed his jacket for the night air had a chill to it. He put his newspaper under his arm and jammed both his hands in his pockets as he walked home. A smile curled the corner of his lips as he neared Kellerman’s Corner Store. Tilting his head to the sky, he took a deep breath. Turning the doorknob he went in and headed straight for the cappuccino machine.
“Hey Mr. Kellerman,” he yelled out. “I smelled your pumpkin spice outside.” He took a sip almost burning his tongue. “This is the best! You should make it all year long.”
A stout red faced man appeared from behind the counter. “Larry who else would buy it but you,” Mr. Kellerman chuckled. “Is that all?”
“Let me get a pack of Marlboros and a quick pick on the lotto. If I win I’m going where it’s warm all year round.”
“What’s wrong with Vermont, it’s beautiful in the fall,” Mr. Kellerman smiled. “Romance is in the air. You never know, you might find Mrs. Right.”
“Yeah right,” He waved his ticket yelling, “Wish me luck!”
Stepping out into the cold night he stopped to take another sip of his drink. He thought he saw something move out the corner of his eye. He narrowed his eyes into the dark alley. Not seeing anything he shrugged it off and kept walking.
Upon entering his apartment building he saw the two sisters from the 2nd floor getting on the elevator. Holding the doors they whispered while he limped in their direction. The ride seemed an eternity. As they stepped off he heard their laughter.
Once in his apartment he sat his things down and fell back into his recliner. Lawrence couldn’t help but feel he should’ve told them off. Replaying the events only aggravated him more. Frustrated he got up, opened the window and stepped out onto the fire escape. He drew the collar of his blazer tightly about his neck.
He began his climb to the roof. As he moved up the ladder he could feel his feet slipping. The coldness of each rung made it difficult to grasp. It seemed as if the climb was longer than usual tonight.
Once on the roof Lawrence slid down the wall in a crumpled heap. He clasped both hands together, rubbing them trying to warm them. He pulled himself up on the ledge and swung his legs over. Reaching his hand in his pocket, he took out a cigarette and lit it. He took a deep drag exposing the red cherry of the cigarette. He watched as the smoke rings he blew drifted and disappeared into the night air.
“Funny, that’s how life is,” came a shaky voice behind him.
Lawrence jumped almost falling over. A cold dirty hand reached out and grabbed him. He gripped the hand for dear life as he swung his leg back over to the rooftop. He fell onto his back clasping his chest. Breathing heavily he belted out, “Don’t ever do that!”
The tiny figure shrunk back as Lawrence swiveled around and sat up. His eyes squinted, “Come into the light.”
A tiny woman with matted dirty hair and filthy clothes stepped out. She was cautious as he beckoned her to come closer. “Who are you?”
“Cecille,” she answered.
“Where’d you come from?” he asked lighting another cigarette.
Ignoring him she questioned, “Why you always come up here? You gonna jump?”
“No! I come up here to clear my head. You’ve been watching me?”
She nodded her head yes. “So that was you I heard in the alley. You live back there?” he asked pointing toward the store.
“No! Mr. Kellerman lets me… He talks with me.” She grinned. “He’s a really nice man.”
Lawrence agreed. “Hey, what’d you say before you almost killed me?”
“That’s how life is, “She pointed to the drifting smoke. “It’s here one minute then it fades away before our eyes. What’s your name?”
“Lawrence” As Cecille leaned over the edge looking around he watched her closely.
Turning back to him she stated, “I’ll call you Larry.”
He was intrigued. He couldn’t help but wonder what she looked like under all that dirt. She smiled at him as she passed to the other side of the roof.
As she pointed at the cars in the distance, “Have you ever noticed that the lights look like dancing fireflies?”
She hummed, swaying back and forth dancing. As she spun around she fell up against him. She put her hands on his chest to steady herself. As Larry looked down at her with his intense dark brown eyes she melted.
Lawrence couldn’t help but notice her amber eyes sparkling. As a wisp of her matted hair fell across her face, he brushed it behind her ear with his fingertip. Freeing herself she turned and bolted calling out, “See you Larry!”
Lawrence watched as she hit the ground and disappeared around the corner. He climbed back down and stepped inside his window. Later that night in bed he couldn’t get Cecille off his mind. There was something familiar about her. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ he thought. ‘I must be a desperate loser, the woman’s a bum.’
The next morning he looked for her in the alley. She wasn’t there. He got dressed and went next door to ask Mr. Kellerman about Cecille. Mr. Kellerman explained that she lives in the shelter across town. She lost the love of her life and all she had in a house fire. Every day she digs through the rubble hoping to find something to hold on to. He felt foolish for thinking his life was so terrible.
As he was heading home he was surprised to hear Cecille calling his name from the rooftop. He climbed up as fast as he could. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail exposing more of her face. She was really beautiful.
With an outstretched hand she said, “I hear that this is your favorite.” She had a paper cup of pumpkin spice.
Smiling he took the cup from her, “I’m glad to see you again.”
“Drink it before it gets cold,” she was humming again.
His eyebrows crinkled, “Have we met before? I feel like I know you,” he said rubbing his forehead. As Lawrence sat staring at the two cups he didn’t notice that her eyes filled with tears. In a flash she was over the edge.
For the next two weeks Lawrence didn’t see Cecille. There was just a cup of pumpkin spice outside his window every morning. On this particular morning the cup had the words ROOF on the side with a red button taped to it.
He went up to meet her. He almost didn’t recognize her. She was showered and sitting with a red sweater and blue jeans on. Her cheeks were pink and hair was blowing in the wind. Puzzled he looked at her while clasping the button. He looked down at her sweater and noticed the missing button.
Cecille could be heard humming as he focused on the button. He saw flashes of them spinning around on a bed of colorful leaves. He’s holding her close and dancing. They’re running and falling into the leaves. As they roll around her button from that red sweater got stuck on his jacket zipper. The air is filled with their laughter.
“Larry,” she gasped. “You remember don’t you?”
Confused he sat down. What? I don’t understand?”
Cecille explained, “One night our house caught on fire. You were trapped under a beam, that’s why the limp. I couldn’t get to you. I barely made it out myself. The firemen rescued you and took you to the hospital. You were there for months learning how to walk again.”
He could feel her pain as she continued her story. “They told me not to push you that you’d remember in time. I gave you the space you needed.” Tears were rolling down both cheeks. ““My heart ached longing to be with you. I watched as your life went on with no memory of me.”
“My Cilly!” He grabbed her and kissed her. “You waited all this time for me.”
“Yes, I’d wait forever if I had to. That’s why I kept coming around here. Mr. Kellerman let me watch. I visit our old house hoping to find something to get you to remember me. I got lucky and found this button.”
“I love you! I never stopped believing. I didn’t have time to waste. I was willing to do whatever it took,” she sobbed. “Life is but a vapor, it passes by before we know it.
As he wiped the tears from her cheeks he whispered. “I remember!”
As he hugged her tightly in his arms he grinned and said, “Ok Mr. Kellerman you were right. I did find Mrs. Right!”