This story is by Christian Nicholls and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The movers are coming tomorrow. I finished the living room and took the packed boxes with me to bring to the new place. That means you only have the bedroom to take care of. Lucky you!
I’ll be home later. See you then.
The note was hastily scrawled. A long diagonal tear spanning the page screamed of a mid-doorway thought. She had been in a rush; she was most known for running behind. Isaac set it down atop a flat stack of boxes and a roll of tape.
It had been a year since he’d been in this room, but that didn’t feel long enough. The dark hardwood floor and plain white walls kept the history of another life tucked away in every corner. He felt tension about the bedroom, as though the issues that lay in waiting were better left unresolved. Help me she’d asked, and he’d responded immediately, yes. Now, he wondered why he’d answered her request so readily.
A deep exhale and he took stock of the room with an idea of why she’d left it to him. She viewed the small room the way an artist views an empty canvas. Without him there to push back on her, she’d filled it accordingly: paintings and pictures covered the walls open spaces; shelves containing clothes, books, and decorations lined the walls; an enormous amount of jewelry was strewn about in organized clutter.
Isaac started with the little pieces, packing miscellaneous items into boxes marked fragile and handle with care. He wondered if the boxes would be enough to get through everything as he set to work.
While arranging the bedside table he noticed a work ID sitting face up, Adelaide’s smiling face next to the words Executive Vice President. Isaac thought back on delayed dinners, chance cancellations, and conversations about the future. He resolved that the cost of success always depended on whom you asked.
A painting hung from the wall slightly askew. He ran his fingers against the textured paint of the piece of department store abstract feeling the grooves, bumps, and rough edges. Isaac took hold of the corners, lifting the frame away from the wall revealing a series of faded pencil lines and empty holes. Echoes of a past laugh teased him and the difficulty he had in making it straight. They had fought then, but now a smile crept across his face at the number of tries it’d taken. He couldn’t help but wondered if finding a level would be as easy as the gradual decline.
There were only a few things left as he closed the last provided box and looked over the room. Something caught his eye then, a small jewelry box the shape of a chest, he didn’t know how he’d missed it. Curious, he opened the box. Inside lay a small innocuous piece of confetti that, orange in color and butterfly shaped, was anything but. All at once, Isaac felt an emotional explosion within his mind, time wound backward, as he recalled the last time he’d seen it.
Around them the music had crescendoed in unison with the roar of the crowd. It had felt as if a million people were gently trying to get his attention, as the confetti softly tapped against the top of Isaac’s head. But he wasn’t fazed by their need; his sole focus on the woman in front of him. He watched her dance under the falling orange confetti, the lights above shone through casting a warm glow over her. They had been together a year now, but, at that moment, he loved her more than he’d ever thought possible. She must’ve felt him staring and beamed a wide smile back. She ran a hand quickly through her hair and took an excited step towards him. She put one cupped hand in his and the other around the back of his neck and pulled him closer. Their lips met, and the world was silent, all he knew was her touch and the soft patter of the butterfly rain. When her hand had left his he’d felt something within it, a thin piece of confetti in the shape of a butterfly.
He held the piece in his hand now, the color faded, the edges torn, but the shape apparent. That was something.
“Hey, the place looks great.” A familiar voice said behind him. Startled, Isaac tucked the confetti into his pocket as he stood.
Adelaide stood in front of him. She looked slightly older now, but every bit the professional she aspired to be. The lines in her suit had carved her a harsh path with no room for deviation. He pushed aside the thought of how his own aspirations would be an impedance.
“Thanks. I wish I could’ve gotten more done. You know this is an apartment, right?” He gestured to both the filled boxes and all that remained unpacked. “You have enough shit here to fill a small house.” The curse came out less venomous than expected.
“I finally have a place to decorate. I made it my own.” Adelaide smiled, shrugging her shoulders.
“I found some of your things. I didn’t want you to pack them by accident.” She pointed to the backpack that now sat between them next to the bed.
“You didn’t think I’d recognize my own things?”
“In a year? Maybe. I know your propensity for forgetting things.” She said, playfully.
“Yeah. After a year, I wasn’t sure what else I’d find.”
“Ah, I hadn’t thought about that. Nothing to worry about there.” Adelaide said the words with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. Isaac felt a sudden urge to reach out to her, but stopped just short of the movement. This had all been a mistake. Just one more wrong choice in a series of others. How could he have been so blind?
Isaac reached for the backpack. He felt her hand touch his arm and recoiled, stepping away. He turned to say goodbye, but as he looked up at her his vision was beginning to blur. She stood there. He had always thought she was beautiful but had never told her enough. Her unruly blonde hair tied in a ponytail, tame for the moment and still looking for a chance to escape. Her nose that he knew she hated but he had always loved was reddening. Her bright eyes sat sadly looking back at him. Isaac scoured his mind, looking into the far reaches and through the moments they’d spent together, for the perfect thing to say, something that would make this moment more than what it was, but he came up empty. He steeled himself with a slight smirk and a shrug. “I guess that’s it then” the words broke slightly in his mouth and before he knew, she was hugging him.
Adelaide buried her head in his chest the way she always did. There was a fierceness to it as if she desired to be in his arms more than anything else. If she were lost, he was her true north. She squeezed him and his armor broke. Wrapping her in an embrace, Isaac lightly set his chin on the top of her head. It felt familiar yet different; a perspective changed with the passage of time. They stood there for a span, both feeling the finality of the moment.
He felt the soft racking of her body as tears ran down his cheeks. He wished there was more that could be done. Was there something that could be said, done, bought, or promised to correct their course? But most things in life aren’t that simple, he knew. He breathed deeply, placing hands on the sides of her face he tilted her head back, then gently kissed her forehead. “I hope I’ve changed you as much as you’ve changed me.” he said.
Adelaide kissed him awkwardly like a last-minute plan only breaching her mind a moment before. When their lips touched his heart leapt, and for a single moment the world was not as it was. She pulled away staring into his eyes before finally saying “Of course you did.”
He slowly bent down to pick up his bag as thoughts of the years they’d spent together raced through his mind. A thousand tiny moments of joy and sadness tugged at his heart. As they worked their way up catching briefly in his throat, he tested the weight of the backpack. It was strangely heavy and somehow, he knew that picking it up now he would never be able to rid himself of the weight. Adelaide was still standing nearby; he could feel her watching him. With a sigh, he lifted the backpack and slid it over his shoulders. Before he left said, “If we could do things differently, we wouldn’t be the same.”