An old woman sat at the table alone, even though it was set for two. Her frail body, worn and wrinkled from years of decay, was hunched over a small bowl of soup – all that she was really able to eat lately. A silver charm bracelet that said Susan & Alan clinked softly against the bowl every time her hand and spoon swooped down to retrieve the creamy liquid and vegetables. The restaurant was buzzing with life and excitement, contrary to the lingering death and depression that was radiating from her. Her 93rd birthday had just past and it suddenly felt as if her entire life had flown by. So, she sat alone in the restaurant, sipping on her soup, people watching and reminiscing on the past 93 years.
The table across from her was occupied by a young couple, maybe in their twenties. Their eyes revealed that they were in love and their body language revealed that they couldn’t get enough of each other. They were leaning towards each other, using big gestures with their hands and talking excitedly with mouths full of food.
“I’ll pay half, it’s really okay! This place is wildly expensive,” she said.
“I can’t let you do that! If you pay half, I guess I’ll owe you one,” he said.
Under the table, their ankles were intertwined. Above the table, their eyes locked with mutual understanding and lust. Susan averted her eyes away from the couple, trying to fight the memories that came tumbling in.
It was the summer of 1915. The skies had been clear for three weeks straight and the smell of fresh flowers lingered in the air. Every morning, the birds chirped and every evening the crickets chimed their soothing melodies. Susan had spent the entire season indoors, babysitting her sister and helping her mother with the housework. Her father had just gone off to fight in the war and her mother was working a part time job at a clothing factory to make ends meet.
“I have to go, I’ll catch the train home and be back around midnight,” her mother explained as she hurried out the door. “Make sure Sarah is in bed by ten and just make sandwiches for dinner.”
“Mama, you’ve been out every night this week! I’m tired of sandwiches,” Susan whined. “Can’t you just stay home one time?”
Her mom paused, guilt creeping across her face. “Here’s a few dollars, go to the carnival but be careful.”
Susan snatched the money out of her mother’s grip and ran upstairs, yelling for her sister to get dressed.
A lonely summer and an absent father seems like the perfect time for a 15 year old girl to meet a boy.
He approached her while she was trying to make that stupid bell hit the top of the high striker. She threw the hammer over her shoulder but an unfamiliar pressure was keeping her from swinging it back.
“Be careful there, little lady. You might knock an eye out. Or knock anything out, really.”
Susan whipped her head around to see that her hammer was being held back by a handsome stranger with a smile that could take anyone’s breath away. But not her’s, at least not at first.
“Give that back, I haven’t even had my second swing yet!” Susan snapped as she tried to pull the hammer out of his firm grip. She was a tiny girl; even at 15, she only weighed about one hundred pounds. The boy laughed as his shoulders, tanned from the summer sun, flexed beneath his cut off t-shirt.
“I’ll give it back when you agree to go out to dinner with me,” the boy smirked, his blue eyes twinkling under the ferris wheel lights.
“Go out to dinner with you? I don’t even know your name.”
“It’s Alan. You’re Susan right?”
Susan stopped her pulling and took a minute to really look at Alan’s face. She didn’t recognize him at all. She felt the blood rush to her lightly freckled cheeks and she quickly looked at her feet, hoping he wouldn’t notice. “Yes… how did you know that?”
“We go to school together, you’re two grades below me. I’ve seen you around.”
“Well, if you’re a senior, I think you’re a little too old to take me out to dinner.” She yanked the hammer towards her and Alan came with it. She took a step back. “Mama would never approve.”
Alan yanked back on the hammer, this time bringing Susan so close to him that she almost melted right there, in front of everyone at the carnival. She kept a stern look on her face, even though the butterflies in her stomach were multiplying and might have just flown out of her mouth if she opened it.
“Just one dinner is all I ask,” he said, still smiling.
Susan pushed her blonde hair away from her face and locked eyes with him. The butterflies flew down to her legs and into her arms. “Fine,” she said. “One dinner.”
The couple got up to leave and Susan watched them make their way out, tripping over each other’s feet out of pure excitement and young love. Susan felt her eyes bubble up with tears as the memories of her young-turned-to-old love flooded her head. She looked down at her charm bracelet and the tears began to fall. Alan had given her that bracelet on their wedding day.
“Promise that if you ever leave me, you’ll give this baby back. It cost me a fortune,” Alan had joked as he clasped the bracelet onto Susan’s wrist. “Or you can just promise to love me forever.”
Yes, they did get married. That one dinner led into several more, and those dinners led into long summer nights and sneaking out while her mother was sleeping. They got into a lot of trouble together, but it was all pure fun. They were just kids in love, just stealers of beer and dancers of the night.
“Shhhh!” Alan whispered, pointing frantically at Susans shoes. “Take those things off before you wake up the whole town!”
Susan slipped off her sandals as they tiptoed to the cellar where Alan’s father kept all the good alcohol. “I don’t know if this is a good idea. What happens if we get caught?”
Alan scoffed at the idea but Susan’s hands were shaking with paranoia. They had never stolen alcohol from their parents before, just beers from the local convenience store. That wasn’t such a crime was it?
“Alan, we should turn around.”
“Will you relax already? I used to do this all the time when I had fires with the guys.” Alan reached towards the door and tugged it open; a devious grin stretched across his face. “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Above them, they heard the floor shake with footsteps and Susan slapped her hand over her mouth to fight back her squeals of fear. Her heart started beating a hundred miles an hour and her eyes widened to the diameter of a soda cap.
“Alan, we have to get out of here,” she whispered, but she felt like she was screaming.
Alan’s head turned from side to side, his eyes scanning the cellar for a place to hide.
“Here!” he grabbed Susan’s hand and pulled her behind a shelf in the back corner. Susan started to cry but Alan kissed her tears away.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart… my parents are away for the weekend. That’s just my brother and he doesn’t give a damn about what I do.”
“ALAN!” Susan practically screamed as she started to beat against his chest. “Why would you do that?! Do you want me to have a heart attack?”
“What fun would stealin’ my folks’ alcohol have been if you knew they weren’t home? I had to spice it up a little bit. Don’t you understand, Susie?” Alan laughed.
Susan stopped her fussing and gave Alan a blank stare. Suddenly, she burst into a fit of laughter.
“You idiot!” she squealed in between giggles. “You stupid, no good idiot! I love you more than the sun and the stars.”
And they laughed until the break of dawn.
Susan reached into her purse and pulled out a small photograph. She smiled down at it and perched it up against her glass of water. She picked up her spoon and went to finish the last couple sips of her soup, not taking her eyes off of the picture.
Suddenly, the spoon fell to the floor. Susan gripped at her chest with her left hand, trying to catch her breath. With her right hand, she reached towards the picture she had pullen from her purse. It felt as if the world was resting upon her chest and her heart ached. It ached more than it had when her father was killed in World War II, it ached more than it had when her first and only child died inside of her just two months before it was due. It even ached more than it had when she gave Alan the last kiss she would ever give to him as they said their goodbyes in his hospital room.
She heard voices calling to each other frantically. She felt hands on her body, trying to pull her up. And just like that, everything went black. The picture she had held so tightly fluttered to the floor. It was of her and Alan, back in their thirties, smiling at the camera with all of the happiness in the world. On the back, a Post-It was attached to it.
I’ll be waiting for you in heaven, Susie. And we’ll start just where we left off.