Sketches and Words
(Week 4 of The Maple Bookshelf's War of the Words)
All characters and canon situations are the property of JK Rowling and Warner Brothers and I make no money from the writing or publishing of this story. Thank You.
There she was again, sitting on a bench across the path from him, just as she had done the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, and so on and so forth. She had been coming to this park, and had been sitting upon that bench for almost as long as he'd been coming, which was for eight months now.
He wondered why she was here. What was her name? Did she have a sad story to tell? Did she work? She was always writing things down in a journal, so was she a writer? Was she married? Did she have kids? Why did she hardly ever smile and why did it matter so much to him?
Mostly he wondered if she ever wondered about him.
She was here when it was sunny, when it rained, when it was foggy outside. Now that it was turning colder she still came every single day… well, except for two days in a row last week. He was slightly worried for her when she didn't show up for two days straight. At the time, he found himself imagining that perhaps she was ill, or had moved away, or had found some other way of coping with her grief.
For he knew she grieved. She grieved for something or someone. She wore her grief around her like a cloak. He should know. He wore a similar cloak of grief and had for as long as he had been coming here, which was just slightly longer than she had been coming.
After her unexpected two days away, she reappeared and for some odd reason he felt relieved. He found he felt better with her nearby, even though they had yet to speak to each other. They hadn't even ever said 'hello'. He didn't know her name or occupation or age or anything save for the fact that she was a very pretty woman, she was around his age, and she wrote in her journal constantly. Oh, and she always had a book with her.
They would occasionally smile at each other, or nod in acknowledgement. How could they not? They did sit on benches just across the path from one another. Not close enough to touch, but certainly close enough to speak if they wanted to. Apparently, neither of them wanted to, seeing as a simple nod or a sad smile was the extent of their interaction.
He drew her almost everyday. He wasn't a great artist – like his brother had been – but he was more than competent, and since he always brought a sketch pad with him when he came to the park, he drew. At first, he drew scenes of the seashore. He used to spend his holidays at the sea. Drawing it helped him to feel at peace. He drew waves, the sunset over the water, the cliffs, and the stone cottage where he spent many a summer. Then he started to draw her. First he just drew her hands or shoes or hat. Then he started drawing her body, but never a face.
One day last month he began drawing her face. He started with her eyes, and then her mouth. Now he always drew her entire face. Everyday, he drew her. Sometimes he drew her relaxed, sometimes reposed, occasionally worried and recently – just recently – he drew her smiling. That was because she was sometimes relaxed, sometimes reposed, occasionally worried, and recently, just recently, she had begun to smile. He felt his heart skip a beat the first time she smiled.
It was at his dog, of all things. He had a yellow Labrador retriever named Walter. One day Walter ran from his side to chase a child's ball and bounced in a puddle near the woman. Walter splashed water all over her. She looked up, smiled the prettiest smile Dalton had ever seen, and then gave Walter a big hug.
He called out, "Walter, leave that woman alone."
And she had said, "Walter's a funny name for a dog," and she continued to smile.
That smile drifted through her mask of grief that day and ebbed away at his own, and all he could think was that she was the prettiest he'd ever seen her when she smiled. In fact, she was downright beautiful.
And she hadn't smiled once since that time, but he understood, really he did. But still, he could draw her smiling any time he wanted to – and he wanted to draw her smiling all the time. No. That's a lie. What he really wanted was to MAKE her smile all the time.
But that was silly. He didn't even know her name.
For some reason, the man who always sat across the path from her in the park looked familiar to Hermione. She thought that from day one. It was as if she'd seen his face on someone else before, although that was silly. He was a stranger to her. Still, she almost felt as if she had met him before – his looks and demeanor were achingly familiar.
She had been coming to this park everyday since her husband died. Eight months now, she had been coming to this park – a park he once told her he had played at as a child – and ever since the first day this man had been here too.
For eight months her heart had been filled with grief. Being here, at a place that her husband once held dear, made her feel closer to him. It made her feel safe. It made her remember. It made her forget. It made her sad. It made her happy.
And the man sitting across from her made her feel all the same things – and wasn't that odd? She wondered why he was here everyday. He was here rain or shine, cold weather or warm weather, crowded or deserted. He came with a sketch pad, a pencil, and his large, yellow Labrador (apparently named Walter). She thought that was a funny name for a dog and had said so aloud.
She caught him staring at her a few times. She knew he stared at her because she often stared back at him.
She was staring at him right now. He was staring at her. He smiled at her and instead of smiling back she quickly looked away. Then she wrote in her journal… 'He's handsome when he smiles'.
Here she comes again. She was rather late today. Although they rarely came at the same time as each other, or even a set time for either of them, she was still usually here long before now. Sometimes he would pick up his things and leave before her, and other times she would leave first. Yet today, just when he thought she wasn't coming, she finally sat down at her bench.
She looked upset. He wasn't close enough to her to see if she'd been crying, or if her nose was red, or if she had tear stains on her cheeks, but there was something about the way she carried herself today that told him that she was indeed upset.
He knew that he was especially upset today. Today would have been his brother's 30th birthday if he had lived. He would rather not dwell on that little fact, however.
There was barely anyone in the park today. It was cold, as days in December tended to be, but the sky was also gray and dreary today, and there was a mighty northern wind blowing, shifting leaves and debris at his feet. He closed the sketch pad that was on his lap, gave Walter a pat on his side and called over, "It's cold today, isn't it?" The weather was always a safe topic between strangers. He had wanted to talk to her for months, and didn't count their little exchange from yesterday as conversation, so he figured today might as well be the day he started. Besides, they were basically alone in the park and she did look upset.
She closed her journal, looked up at him and replied, "Yes, very cold. It looks like it might snow."
"Better than the rain we usually have here in England," he said with a short laugh.
"Yes," she responded.
When neither said another word, he picked up his sketch pad, she picked up her journal. But then she said, "I like your dog."
With a smile he said, "I do, too." He gave Walter another pat.
"Walter is an unusual name for a dog… I heard you call his name yesterday and remarked on it, but I don't know if you heard me."
"My brother named him when I first got him." He didn't know why he told her that. He hadn't intended to talk about Cole to anyone, especially this woman.
"Well, he's beautiful," she said.
"I'm sure he'd thank you if he could speak," he said in return.
As if he sensed they were talking about him, Walter trotted over to the woman's bench, sat down beside her, and waited for her to pet him.
His dog looked content sitting there beside her. Perhaps he should use this moment to further their encounter. He should stand, walk over to them, and sit down beside her. Picking up his things, he walked toward her. The closer he got, the more he realized how very beautiful she was. His drawings of her didn't do her justice.
Standing in front of her, he tried to think of all the ways he had approached her in his imagination. For weeks he had wanted to do this very thing – had even rehearsed it in his head – and now that he was finally doing it, he couldn't think of one single thing to say. Didn't that make him a pathetic fool?
He didn't sit down. He felt as if he didn't have the right. He asked, "Are you a writer? I always see you writing in your journal."
"I'm a 'wannabe' writer. I've never been published. I'm writing my thoughts and recollections of a particular place… a little cottage near the sea. I hope to make it into a children's book, or I'm trying to." She closed her journal and placed it on the book she always carried with her. She turned them both face down on the bench beside her. "And I imagine you're an artist of some sort." She nodded her head toward his sketch pad.
"Amateur," he replied. He clutched his sketch pad to his chest, with the cover away from her, as if it were a lifeline. "The odd thing is that I've been illustrating scenes of the sea, and a little cottage. It's a place where my mother used to take my brother and I when we were small. Isn't that a coincidence?"
"We should combine our efforts," she said with a grin, "and together we could publish one hell of a children's book, I'd gather."
He sat down on the opposite end of her bench. "My brother was the true artist in the family. He had a gift – a true gift. All he ever wanted to do was to be an artist, so he left home, came to London and pursued his dream while I went into law." He certainly was awfully chatty about his brother today. Most days he hated to even think about him. "I'm Dalton, by the way." He held out his hand to her.
"Hermione," she answered, placing her hand in his. Her hand was small. It was cold. And for some reason, it seemed to fit in his hand almost perfectly. That thought scared him.
That fact made him uneasy. He had the sudden urge to flee. Standing quickly, he said, "It was nice to finally meet you, Hermione. I must go." He started to walk away. "Walter, come," he called for the dog. He started to walk down the path, his dog trotting at his heel.
He cursed himself the entire way out of the park, feeling as if he had revealed too much of his pain and grief to this woman, even though he had barely said more than four sentences to her. He turned back to give her another look, but she was already on her feet and was walking the opposite way.
It was probably for the best.
Hermione wondered if Dalton would be here today. When he left yesterday, he seemed mildly upset. From the things he had said to her, she assumed he was grieving for his brother, who must have died, although he didn't confirm that fact per sa. Perhaps they were merely estranged. Her husband had been estranged from his brother when she first met him, and she knew how much that had grieved him. Grief was something she was also painfully familiar with, so she wanted to tell Dalton that she understood, if only he would return.
Her husband of 18 months died a short eight months ago. He was a Muggleborn, like her, and he simply loved anything fast, especially his 1952 Harley Davidson. He was driving along a country lane one day, presumably too fast, the surface was wet, and he hydroplaned when he took a sharp corner. He wasn't wearing a helmet. He suffered a major head injury as he wasn't wearing a helmet. He didn't die immediately. She had to make the decision to take him off Muggle life support, and she was still having trouble reconciling that fact. Her grief was twofold – she was grieving for his death and for her part in it.
He left behind a wife and a son… their son… who was fifteen months old when he died. Her son would never know his own father. That was the hardest pill for Hermione to swallow. She grieved for her own loss, but she mourned deeply the loss of a father for her son. She knew how hard it was for her friend, Harry Potter, not having a father. But as least her baby had her. It would have to be enough.
Dalton told her yesterday that he was a lawyer. Her husband told her that his brother was a lawyer. Wasn't that odd. What a coincidence that Dalton would have the same profession as her husband's brother.
Sitting down on her bench she noticed that his was empty. She was slightly worried for him. She wondered what he would think if he knew she was concerned for him, since he was practically a stranger. Somehow, this stranger, this distant and aloof man, had become an unfailing comfort to Hermione in her time of need. He had become a 'constant' in her often chaotic life. She found she was consoled by his closeness, and had for a very long time.
Looking down the path, she wondered why he was late. She was late yesterday, but that couldn't be helped. Her child's nanny was late, causing Hermione to be late. She smiled to herself. How strange had her life become that she felt an obligation not to be late for an appointment sitting in a park across from a stranger.
Everything in her normally mundane and orderly life turned upside down when Cole died. She pushed aside that thought and opened her journal. She was writing stories for her son. Cole had told her that his mother used to take him and his brother to a small cottage at the sea on school holidays and long weekends. He once confided to Hermione that he couldn't wait for their son to grow a bit older so he could take him there someday. Now he would never have the chance – he didn't even get to tell their baby any of the stories that he used to tell her, hence the reason she was writing down as many of them as she could recall.
The problem was that she couldn't recall very many of them, only a few.
When Hermione was pregnant, Cole would lean down to her stomach and whisper one or two of the stories to their unborn baby. It was endearing. Remembering it broke her heart.
Her son was the only bright spot in her otherwise dark life, at least until now. She felt instantly better when she spied a yellow dog running toward her. Perking up, she thought 'he's here' and she couldn't help but to smile. Walter bounded toward her, ears flopping as he ran, tongue wagging out the corner of his mouth. She sighed with relief, gave the dog a brief hug, then looked up at the dog's owner even as the man called out, "Behave, Walter."
This man was her steady companion whether he knew it or not. He was here rain or shine, seven days a week and she couldn't help but to smile as he drew closer.
It was colder today than it was yesterday, so he had on a wool, navy blue, pea coat, a gray scarf wrapped around his neck. Her own wool coat was red, her scarf cream and black.
"Hello," she called out breathlessly. She felt oddly relieved to see him, yet somewhat embarrassed by that same fact. Without preamble, he sat down on the other end of her bench, took out a yellow apple, and answered, "Good afternoon to you, too."
He took a bite of his apple, crunching loud. Chewing, he reached in his other pocket, drew out another apple, and held it aloft toward her. Taking it without qualm, she took a large bite, and then when she was able she said, "That's heavenly. It's been a while since I've had an apple."
"Where's your journal today?" he asked.
"Call me a rebel," she started, "but I felt like leaving it at home today. I thought we might talk instead. Unless you don't want to talk." She felt like such a fool again. Of course he didn't want to talk. He brought his sketch book with him. He probably wanted to draw.
She decided to amend her statement, even if it was a lie. "Actually, call me forgetful instead. I forgot it today." There, that didn't sound as feeble, did it? "I had a busy morning, and I didn't want to be late again today." Oh no… pathetic again.
He threw his apple core toward a rubbish bin. It hit the side and landed on the ground. "Why were you late yesterday?" he asked.
"Why were you late today?" she returned.
Swiveling his body toward hers even as he put the sketchpad under his hip, he placed his arm across the back of the bench so that his hand was very close to her shoulder. "You tell me first," he urged with a smile. He had one dimple. Just one. She liked that.
What should she reveal to this man? Did she want him to know another personal aspect of her life, or did she want to keep 'this life' and her 'real life' separate? Deciding on honesty, she said, "I was late because my nanny was late, and I couldn't leave my son alone." There. That was the truth. After telling the lie about 'forgetting' her journal, she was glad to tell the truth.
"How old is your son?" he inquired, reaching down to scratch his dog's ear.
"He's a toddler. Not quite two." She reached down to scratch the dog's nose. The dog was in heaven.
"Ah," was his only response as he opened his sketch book and began to draw.
Hermione gave Walter one final stroke and clasped her hands on her lap. Would this man think it was odd that she had become so reliant on this place and him? That coming here was like some sort of touch stone, a safe haven, a place to be normal, a place where no one knew her troubles, no one knew her strives.
She gave him a sideways glance. He didn't even appear to want to talk to her. Perhaps he needed silence as much as she had thought she needed it. Perhaps he wasn't aware that she now needed the exact opposite. Some days her mind was so still and quiet that it made her want to run screaming.
Did he even care? Apparently not, he was drawing beside her; oblivious to her pain and suffering, and here she was, without her journal, without her book, and without a person to talk to. What was she to do now? It would appear that the long silence that preceded their short-lived conversation yesterday had returned.
More the pity.
No matter. Taking a long cleansing breath in and then out, she decided she didn't need his friendship anyway. She had too many friends suffocating her with their good intentions. That was the very reason she had begun coming here eight months ago. She needed someplace silent. She needed someplace where she could think and be alone. This man was giving her exactly what she wanted. Who was she to complain?
Although, it appeared that in her woolgathering he had actually just asked her a question.
"Pardon?" She turned to him.
"Nothing, never mind, I didn't mean to interrupt your thinking," he said from beside her. "You probably don't want to talk."
"No… I mean, yes, I do want to talk, if you do," she told him. "What did you ask me?"
"I asked you what you did for a living, since you told me you weren't a writer yesterday," he repeated. "You know I'm a lawyer, so I feel at a disadvantage, not knowing what you do. I should have told you I was a professional dog watcher so you wouldn't wonder why I was in the park everyday." He laughed.
"I'm in the park everyday as well, you know," she returned. "I was in the law, also." She didn't know the Muggle equivalent of what she did at the Ministry. She really worked with the Auror's office as an investigator, at least that's what she did before her husband died. Now she merely sat on a park bench most of the day. Should she tell this man the truth?
She looked at him. He seemed to be genuinely curious. "I mean, I worked as an investigator for the police, but I've been on sabbatical for a while. You see, my husband died." There… it wasn't as hard to admit as she thought it would be. Would he be as forthcoming as her and tell her why he was here everyday?
"My husband used to always joke that I was a writer wannabe, and that I should open my own bookstore, seeing how I loved to read so much."
Hesitating, he waited a few moments and then asked, "When did your husband die?"
"Almost nine months ago," she revealed.
He nodded. "And you started coming here to get over your grief?" He said it like it was a statement, but she knew it was a question.
"Something like that. Why are you here everyday?" She found she really wanted to know.
He didn't answer. He picked up his sketch book, stood, and started walking away, just as he did yesterday. It was maddening! Fine. He didn't have to talk to her if he didn't want to! He didn't have to answer a single question! They didn't have to be friends! She didn't have to find him so damn attractive! She didn't have to feel as if she was betraying her dead husband by having such thoughts about this stranger.
She was oddly hurt by his abrupt departure. She blinked back tears, but then was shocked when he rushed back toward the bench. Leaning over her, with one hand on the back of the bench, he said, "I'm sorry, Hermione. Please, forgive my rudeness. I knew you were hurting, because I've been hurting, too. You see, I too lost someone, very recently, whom I loved with all my heart. That doesn't give me the right to be rude, though. Forgive me?" He didn't wait for an answer. Instead, he leaned closer still and kissed her cheek.
She reached up with one hand and held it to the same cheek even as he rushed away, calling out, "I'll talk to you tomorrow. Goodbye!"
Now she was oddly pleased. He didn't say, 'I'll see you tomorrow' but instead he said, 'I'll talk to you tomorrow'. Good. She wanted to talk to him.
Why did he leave so abruptly yesterday? What was wrong with him? And why in the name of all that was holy did he KISS her? He barely knew her, yet he kissed her. Yes, on the cheek, but it was still a kiss. A kiss from a stranger. A nice kiss.
He wanted to kiss her again. He wanted to talk to her, get to know her, kiss her, and perhaps draw her (clothing optional). Where was she? He was sitting on her bench today, Walter asleep on the sidewalk near his feet. He only just arrived, but he was anxious to see her again.
He thought over the things he knew of her thus far. She was beautiful. She was in pain. She was a writer, even though she claimed she was only a 'wanna be'. She had a child. She didn't wear a ring. She was grieving for her husband who had died, just as he was grieving for his brother who also died.
Pushing that thought aside, he thought about her child. Didn't she say 'he' was almost two? That meant it was a boy, didn't it? Was the baby naturally born or adopted? Legitimate or illegitimate? What was his name?
And why did it all matter so much to him? She was just a woman who sat across from him in a public park. No, that wasn't true. She had become so much more. She had become his lifeline. She had become his anchor. He felt as if he couldn't breathe, and then suddenly, he would look up, see her across from him, and everything felt better.
He decided he would finally tell her about his brother today. He would tell her everything about him. It was time, and she seemed as if she was someone who would be open and receptive to his story.
Unbuttoning his coat, he looked up to the sky, closed his eyes, and soaked in the sun. It was a beautiful day. It was still cold, but the sky was blue, the sun bright, and the clouds floated by as if they didn't have a care in the world. He envied those stupid clouds. How he envied them.
While he waited for her to arrive, he opened his sketch book and decided to draw her. Leafing past the first few pages, he stopped to look at the drawings there. They weren't his. The drawings in the beginning of the book were done by his brother many years ago. His brother had been a gifted man that was certain. The pictures he drew of the cottage where they had spent their summers by the sea were so lifelike that Dalton could almost 'feel' himself back there. They were happy when they were there. There was no stress, no strive, no bitter rivalries or jealousy. They were happy.
He hadn't been happy in a very long time.
He moved onward until he found a blank page near the back and began to draw her… Hermione. He found he didn't need her in front of him to draw a favorable likeness. That was one thing he was always better at than his brother – drawing portraits. There were a few portraits by his brother's hand in the front of the book, yet he hadn't been brave enough to look at them.
He found this book while going through his brother's things after his brother died. A trunk was sent to him by his brother's wife. It contained pictures from their childhood, a few of his brother's school mementos, and this sketch book. There was a note from his wife that said, 'Cole wanted you to have these, so I'm sending them to you. I hope they give you peace'.
They did. But how did this woman, a woman he had never met, know that a trunk full of things from his brother would give him the peace of mind that he needed after all these years?
Hermione gave him peace, too. It was odd, and he would be hard press to explain 'why', but she did. Opening the book once more, he continued to draw her. He concentrated on her smile. Her smile could light up the darkness night.
And suddenly, there was her smile in real life. She sat down beside him, leaned over and gave Walter a pat, then said, "What are you drawing today?"
He closed the book suddenly. "Oh, nothing, really, nothing. What do you have there?" He indicated with his head a book she had in her hand. It wasn't the usual black journal that she carried everyday, but instead it appeared to be a children's book. He just realized it was the book she always carried with her.
She hugged the book to her chest and said, "This is a book that my late husband illustrated. I bring it with me every day, to this park, for inspiration. For some reason, I wanted you to see it, you know, since you're an artist." She was silent for a moment, and he felt compelled to let her bask in her silence instead of urging her along.
She said, "I went home yesterday, after you left, and I thought seriously about my suggestion that we might write a book together. I know that we barely know each other, but you see, I feel, I don't know… I feel close to you in someway. I'm not sure I understand it myself. I feel as if you understand me, yet I barely know you. I want you to know me. Will you let me tell you my story?"
He nodded, realizing that was exactly what he wanted to. "I'll listen, and then, with your permission, I'd like to tell you my story, too."
"I'd like that," she said with a smile. She tucked the book under her hip and started. "I met my late husband a few years ago. We used to go to the same café, every day. He always sat at the counter, and I always sat at a booth. It was sort of like you and I and this park, actually."
She smiled that devastating smile just as the wind picked up, blowing her hair forward. Dalton reached out and tucked it behind her ear. Lowering her chin to her chest, she continued. "After a few months, he sat down on the seat across from me and introduced himself. We began to talk, and it was so easy with him. I can't explain it, but it was as if I'd known him forever. And I want you to know, Dalton, I had never felt that way before, except for then, and… well, now again, with you."
"I'm honored," he said truthfully.
Biting her lip, she took a deep breath. "We fell in love so quickly, yet in a way it felt as if we were always in love."
At first he thought she meant 'them' but quickly realized she was still talking about her husband and her.
"He asked me what I did for a living, and I told him I was a solicitor, like I told you, but that I wasn't happy. He laughed and asked me if I had a chance, what would I want to do instead and I said, 'I want to be a children's author'. And I did, but the thing was, I had never, ever once told that dream to another living soul. Not to my best friends, not to my parents, no one. I used to write stories all the time growing up, and I loved it, and I missed it, and I told him so."
"He told me that he wanted to be an illustrator, and that he had even gone to school for commercial art, but he gave it up. He never told me why, and I didn't pry. But he did tell me that he thought we should try writing a story together. He would do the illustrations and I would write the story." She looked down at the book, turned it so the cover was against the bench, under her leg. "This is it. This is the book we wrote together."
Dalton smiled. "So you lied to me. You ARE a published author."
Hermione laughed. "No, I'm not. We wrote this and published it ourselves. When our son was born, we gave it to him. It was the only story we ever did together and this is the only copy." She looked wistful, yet sad. He wanted to take her in his arms and ease her pain. He wanted it so much his arms ached to hold her.
"That's where I got the idea that perhaps you and I should write a story together, but this time I would really like to publish it. There, that's my confession for now. It's your turn. Tell me something about you."
When she said no more, he said, "First, about yesterday, I'm sorry I left so suddenly. I won't apologize about the kiss, because as rashly as you felt mentioning that we should write a book together, I felt just as rash after kissing you, but I'm not sorry for it, anymore than you're apparently sorry for your suggestion. I wanted to get that out of the way first."
She nodded, and then grinned. "Noted. It was a good suggestion, if not rash, and it was a good kiss, too."
"It was." He edged closer to her. "Here's my confession. I've been in a dark place for a long time. "
He didn't know how to proceed until she asked, "Why have you been in your dark place?"
That simple acknowledgement that she too had been in a dark place gave him the courage to continue. To admit his sins. To right his wrongs.
"I haven't talked to anyone about this, ever, but I think it's time." Clearing his throat, he said, "I've been grieving for my brother. My younger brother. He was my best friend in the whole world and I miss him terribly."
"Are you estranged?" she finally asked.
"We became estranged two years ago, although the reasons no longer matter." He gave Walter a pat, leaning over, and then gave him a hug. "That's a lie. The reasons are THE REASON why I can't get over my grief." Closing his eyes briefly and swallowing tears that threatened to clog his throat, he explained, "My estrangement with my brother was over a ring, if you can believe it. A bloody ring. My mother had a ring that she was given by my father when they became engaged. My dad died when I was twelve, my brother ten. When he died, she told me that my father wanted me to have the ring when I was older. She said that someday, when I found a woman I wanted to marry, she would give the ring to me."
He opened his eyes and looked right at her. "My mother ended up giving it to my brother instead. She was dying, you see, and my brother came to her deathbed, after having not seen her in months, and told her that he had met a woman and he was going to ask her to marry him. My mother had a spark in her eyes when he told her that, a spark I hadn't seen in all the months that I had taken care of her while she was sick. Anyway, she told him how happy that made her, and then she told him to get her jewelry box from her dresser. He did. The entire time I was standing in the doorway, watching them. She told him to open that damn box, and to take out her ruby and diamond ring… the one given to her by my father."
"Ruby and diamond?" Hermione asked with her hands clenched in her lap.
"Yes, it was a ruby ring with diamonds all around it," he explained. "Anyway, she had promised the ring to me long ago, but gave it to my brother, and he took it. She died not even ten minutes later. And instead of leaning on each other in our time of grief, as brothers and best friends should have, I was enraged about that effing ring." He realized that he had begun to cry. Feeling embarrassed, he swiped at the tears rolling down his face.
Hermione looked at her bare hands, then into his face. "And you never reconciled?"
He shook his head no.
"And is it too late to make amends?" she asked softly, reaching over and taking one of his hands in hers.
"It's too late, because he died, you see. He's dead. My little brother, my best friend in the world, died two years after my mum died, and I had stopped talking to him because of my selfishness over a bloody ring."
Suddenly, Walter stood, placing his head in Hermione's lap. She gave him a pet, and then yelped in surprise as the dog snatched her book right out from under her leg. She was shocked and could only say, "My book!"
The dog started running toward the exit of the park. Dalton stood from the bench, his sketch pad falling to the ground by his feet. Hermione reached out and picked up the sketch pad as he yelled, "Walter! Come back here! Bring back that book!" He ran away from the bench toward his wayward dog.
Hermione turned the sketch pad over in her hands, already knowing what she would see. Still, she gasped when she saw the embossed name on the front. 'Colton Edward Darlington' it said in raised letters. Her fingers smoothed over the familiar name… the name of Dalton's brother… the name of her deceased husband.
Feeling tears burning her eyes, she opened the pages. This was the sketch book that her husband had specifically asked her to give to his brother, along with his school things, if anything should ever happen to him. When he died, she had them shipped to the man, even though she had never met him. She hadn't even known his name. She knew his first initial, 'D' and his last name and address, but nothing else.
Sitting quietly on the bench, the sketchpad tightly in her arms, she remembered the day her then fiancé gave her a ruby and diamond engagement ring. He had told her that it belonged to his mother. Over the next few months, he told her stories of his brother, of how they used to take holidays at the sea, and how his brother was a better artist than him. Thumbing through the book on her lap, she saw that Cole had been right. This man… her husband's brother… her new 'friend', was a true artist. She sat staring at pictures that he had apparently drawn of her and began to cry in earnest.
Dalton ran back to her, the book she had written with Cole in his hand, Walter by his side. "Don't cry, please don't cry," he pleaded, sitting next to her. "It's only ruined a bit. There are only a few teeth marks. Oh, I'm so sorry."
He tried to hand her the book but stopped when he saw that his sketchbook was in her hands, and it was opened to the last drawing he had done of her. "Ah… let me explain," he began.
She shook her head no. "Look at the book in your hands," she said instead.
He looked confused, but turned his attention to the book he held toward her. Frowning as he looked at the illustration on the cover, he opened it slowly, and then gasped. Reading the title page aloud, he said, "Two brothers and a cottage by the sea, written by Hermione Granger and illustrated by Colton Darlington." He looked up at her. "Colton Darlington? I don't understand."
And she didn't have time to explain as an unexpected visitor took that moment to appear. A little dark haired toddler came running toward them, yelling, "Doggie, doggie. I want the doggie."
Hermione scooped her son into her arms after placing the sketch book on the bench beside her. Nodding hello to his nanny who was walking behind the child, she said, "I have him now, Mildred. You may go sit over there." She turned toward Dalton, her son in her lap. "Dalton," she said in almost a whisper, "I'd like you to meet my son… Walter."
"Walter?" he said in return, so softly she barely heard him.
She smiled. "I told you I thought it was a strange name for a dog. I thought that because my husband named our son that. He said he named it after someone important to him." She laughed. "He forgot to tell me it was after a dog."
He laughed, too. "This is too bizarre," he said, reaching out a hand to stroke his nephew's hair. "Walter." He laughed again. "Nice to meet you, Walter." His dog looked up at him and he said, "I'm not talking to you, dog. I meant my nephew."
Hermione placed her son on the ground beside them, and watched as he played with the dog. With a heavy sigh, she turned to Dalton and said, "I think it was fate that brought me into this park eight months ago. I was in so much pain. My husband had just died, and he left me with a baby, and I loved him so much. And there you were, and I knew immediately you were hurting every bit as much as I was. I knew that with every molecule and atom in my body that we share a similar pain and that we also shared something so much more."
"I thought you were the missing half of my soul," he said, unembarrassed. "I felt an instant connection to you, and now I know why. You were my baby brother's wife. You know, he wrote me a letter about you. He was trying to reunite with me, and he wrote me all about you. It was when you were pregnant with this little lad here." He looked down at the child at his feet. "He told me you were magical, like he was, and which, by the way, I'm not."
She laughed. "That's okay, I won't hold it against you," she teased.
"Good and I won't hold it against you, either." He reached out and took her hand in his. "He told me he loved you and that he wanted me to meet you. He said you had just had a baby boy, and that he thought it was time our fighting was over, and that it was time to reconcile. I wrote him back, but he never responded to my letter, so I left it alone."
Hermione began to cry again. She motioned to her son's nanny that the woman should come and sit with the child. "Shall we walk?" she asked the man next to her as soon as the older woman sat down on the bench near 'the Walters'.
Walking side by side, her hand still in his, she said, "He never read that letter. He had the accident, a motorcycle accident by the way, two days before it arrived in the post. He had a massive brain injury, and died two months later. I sent you a letter telling you of his death, but you never came to the funeral. Now I know why. You thought your brother had refused your attempts at reconciliation. He didn't though. He merely didn't know of them."
They stopped walking when they reached a small stone bridge covering a creek. "I know my letter was short and to the point, and you didn't know he had been in hospital for months. You must have thought he had just died suddenly from the crash, but it wasn't like that. If he had known that you had written him back, he would have been so happy."
She cried solemnly after that, and he took her naturally in his arms and held her tightly in his embrace. With her head resting on his chest she said, "He talked of you often, and of the cottage by the sea, and how he couldn't wait to take our baby there. He wanted to reconnect with you more than anything. He loved you so much."
"I loved him, too." He lifted her head from his chest by cupping her cheek with his hand. "I wish I had known he was as sorry for our estrangement as I was. I wish I hadn't acted as I did. I'm so, so sorry."
He blinked back his own tears, and she reached up and framed his face with her hands. "I think he knows it. I think, in some odd way, he brought us together… not to write a blasted book – although I still think it's a good idea – but he brought us together so we could heal each other's pain."
He nodded, then lowered his head and kissed her lips gently, swiftly, softly. "I hope he doesn't mind that I just kissed his wife." He smiled at her.
She smiled radiantly back at him and confirmed, "I think he'd be upset if you hadn't kissed me. I think he would want us to be happy. I feel happy, being with you, in your arms, here in the park. I feel happy for the first time in a long time."
"I feel happy for the first time in a long time, too," he echoed, bringing her back to his chest, rubbing his hands up and down her back.
Walter (the toddler) came running up on the cobbled stones of the bridge toward them, wrapped his arms around his uncle's legs, while Walter the dog lagged behind him.
Dalton swung the boy up into his arms, and held his mother with his other arm. "Did Cole ever tell you about the time he almost drowned in the sea, and I had to save him?"
He told her that story, and many more. When the day turned to night they went back to her house, talked some more, wrote a bit of their first story together, and most importantly, began their new life, together.