The Boy in the Coffeeshop had been gone for very close to a decade now. But Susan didn't really count time in that way anymore. She was going to be ninety-three they told her, on her upcoming birthday. And when she asked, which was rare, she was told that he had died nine years before. Their children, her attending nurses. She could see them smile sadly and indulge her with the answer. She missed him, but not in the way she missed her father or her sister or the galumphing great hound dog she and he had adopted the first year they were married. Not the way she missed her children when they were nursing babes in arms, inquisitive toddlers, sulky teenagers. Or how she missed patients, the operating theater, driving, or a breakfast of coffee and eggs in that coffeeshop. She missed all those things with a tangible longing, a wistful sadness that she chose to not linger upon.
She missed the man who had been the boy in a way that wasn't missing; it was the deep bone pain of cancered marrow. His absence was not a loss, it was a terrible gain. It was pain that never abated or lulled. It was constant and relentless and she carried it secretly inside of her. It reminded her of life, of living, of love, and loving.
When she would ask, they would answer and invariably pat her shoulder or her upper arm or the back of her hand. She was being patted a lot lately and the human contact was comforting but far and away from the years of her life she had spent in his arms, holding his hand, kissing his mouth, rubbing his tired shoulders. And that had been glorious, no question, but in some ways it had been borrowed, appropriated and made real from the very otherworldly and unreal week she had spent with the other.
She had worked hard and with great diligence and care to live in the present, to know her husband. Her lover and father of her children. To grow old together with grace and fidelity. To love him. And to never ever think of the other one, the first one, the last one.
But now, in the fading and dimming of her light, she remembered him, spent long hours in reverie. Re-remembering, re-living. She would close her eyes and he would appear as though summoned. Although he was her husband, in the beginning, the boy who became the man, he was not him. He was the lightning, the passion, the obsession. He was the someone she couldn't live without but had been given the gift to live without. She had accepted, she knew this, remembered it, had lived it and it had been everything her father had promised her it would be.
She had lived all of that life waiting for the end. Not consciously, not hurriedly, but with great patience and quiet forbearance. Now the end had arrived and she scanned her limited horizon for him. She wondered if he would come as he had before, but that didn't make sense. She wanted him corporeal, she wanted to put her hands on him, she wanted him to pull her into his arms and rock her to sleep. But when she thought on this, mused on it, it was ridiculous and she saw that. He would arrive in the dreaming.
So, she slept.
"Is it you?"
She moaned and her voice broke and he cradled her face between his palms and shushed her with his mouth upon her eyelids.
"I didn't know how much I've been missing you."
"I'm glad you didn't."
He nodded. "I missed you enough for both of us. Before. Before now."
She smiled. "Thank you."
"I love you now. I loved you then. I will love you always."