Sam huddled deeper into the over-sized cable-knit he was wearing, shivering in the cold wind that had blown up out of nowhere. Leaves skittered past his seat on the riverbank, crackling and tumbling, helpless in the grip of unseen forces.
Autumn in upstate New York was as beautiful as he remembered it. Trees everywhere, painted in red and gold, and a crisp temperature that always made him want to scrounge up a touch football game. How many times had he and Lisa escaped Manhattan and driven up the Thruway to spend the weekend in that quiet bed and breakfast? They had picnicked on this riverbank, made love on a blanket under the spreading limbs of that oak. He had proposed to her on this very spot, held her hand and slipped the ring on her slender finger while she brushed away tears. This place, this town, this time of year, had always been sacred to him, warming a spot in his heart long after the fire of their love had banked.
Now, he wondered if he would ever be able to stand it again.
She hadn't had the job for long, maybe six months. He'd sent her a congratulatory email, asking her how it felt to move downtown, and would she still speak to him now that she worked in such a prestigious locale? Her reply had been typical Lisa, exuberant and sarcastic all at once, describing the beautiful view of Jersey the new office provided her. That was the last he'd heard from her, and the last he ever would.
And, God, the nightmare that September had become. The initial, staggering news, the harried evacuation of the White House, the friends and colleagues lost at the Pentagon, the days of round-the-clock work to deal with the crisis and keep the country running, the rapid changes to both foreign and domestic policy and the speeches – God, the speeches. Sam couldn't remember the words he'd written to comfort a grieving nation, to encourage rescue workers, to mourn the dead. And all the words were meaningless, and they were all lies, for how could his feeble words compare to such a loss? How could he comfort a grieving nation when he knew no comfort himself?
Sam raised his head and looked out over the river. The water was lit with sunlight, flickering silver like the facets of a diamond. As he watched, the breeze picked up and the tiny waves sparkled faster, almost blinding him. And then the sun emerged fully from the clouds, and the glittering patch spread from one bank to the other, ending at his feet. In that moment he felt as though he could walk across the water, following the light like a path to God himself. Sam drew in a deep breath and held it, tears on his face, willing his mind to remember the sight. "Thank you," he murmured, swiping a hand across his cheeks.
Behind him, the sound of big feet crunching crisp leaves gave away Josh's approach. The footsteps stopped a few yards away, and Sam smiled. Josh was concerned, but showing uncharacteristic patience – trying to give him room to grieve. "I'm okay," he said, and though he'd said it often since September 11th, he thought that he might finally mean it. He levered himself up off the grass and brushed off the seat of his jeans. With one last glance at the water, he turned his back on the river and walked away for good.