Richard paused in thought as he looked between two colour samples. Cream or Almost White were the choices his wife had presented him with. If he held them apart they looked the same, if he held them together they blurred.
"That one" he said waving one of the cards not knowing which colour it represented.
"I was veering towards the other one" Julia said.
Richard nodded to placate, never one to argue, marriage had enforced his meekness. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Five years on from his mission and he was still living at home, lost and without a single goal in life. Then Julia, the new girl in town, as it happened the girl next door had wandered into his life. Julia worshipped at the same temple, she was a couple years younger than Richard, fairly pretty, fairly wealthy and available.
Richard regretted several times the rash decisions he made but, he saw his chance to get out of there and he took it.
After the wedding they'd moved away from the small town Richard had grown up in and all the stagnant memories it held. They'd bought a four bedroomed house, which Richard had questioned before noticing their food bill was nearly double what it usually was and Julia had bought herself a new loose and stretchy wardrobe.
When Julia had confirmed that she was pregnant with their first child Richard felt numb at first but then he just wanted to be left alone to cry. He didn't know how to be a good father first of all, he couldn't follow by example that was for sure. He'd pulled out his old mission scrapbook and had to hold it away from his face lest tears fall and smudge the dates.
There they all were, the ten elders of district nine. The misfits and the losers all trying to spread the word of a religion that had forsaken most of them at birth.
He wanted to smile back at his younger self. A fresh faced, naïve missionary who did not know what he had in store for him. That picture of them all together was taken shortly after the church had excommunicated them all. The shame it had brought on his family, the shouting, the swearing, the bruising, was all so vivid. Yet here they all were grinning like the stupid idiots he knew them now to be.
He turned the page and there he was sitting on the edge of a well he'd helped the village build. He'd always assumed he was a good man. He didn't think the mission had changed him into a philanthropist, he always thought he was one. Not even in an arrogant way, he just wanted to help people.
The next picture made him feel a bit sick. They used to help out at the orphanage every once in a while, and here he was holding a smiling child. Could he do this every day?
He looked at ease but that might have had something to do with the comforting hand on his shoulder. Yes there he was, smiling down the lens, one hand resting on Richard. Freddie Davis.
Richard hadn't seen Freddie in a long while. He'd debated inviting him to the wedding, maybe even make him his best man but, he couldn't bring himself to do it. Couldn't bring himself to make vows to devote the rest of his life to one person that wasn't Freddie. Couldn't bring himself to force Freddie to watch it.
He flicked another page of the scrapbook and was confronted with another picture of the two of them. Richard's arm was round Freddie's waist. He could almost feel the shape of Freddie's body next to him, remember the feel of clinging protectively to his shirt and never wanting to let go.
He had let go. And now here, in this decorating store shopping for the colour of nursery walls, it was too late. Freddie was gone and as much as he pretended he was happy with Julia he sometimes couldn't bring himself to smile at her.
"Now the cream will go better with the curtains we've picked out, but the Almost White has more scope. What do you think darling?"
Richard had zoned out, trying to remember when they'd picked curtains. He presumed it would be Julia's final decision anyway. He looked down at her stomach where a small bump was just beginning to show. Was he ready for this? He was still young, there was still time. He told himself there was still hope. Of what? Of finding Freddie?
They left the store and continued round the mall. Richard let Julia pick out everything. He didn't say much.
There was once a time when every man in the distance with a crop of floppy brown hair and a leggy gait excited him. He would rush over and then feel embarrassed once he saw that they were not who he was looking for. So the sight of a man with such an appearance just stepping off the bottom of an escalator below them didn't catch his attention. His eyes flittered straight over the man as he stepped off and carried on his way.
"The Warners have invited us over for dinner next week dear"
Richard made a non committed grunt, still subconsciously scanning crowds.
"That's nice isn't it Richard? That someone's welcoming. We should invite more people over"
"We don't know anyone here"
"What about some of your old mission companions? They must want some sort of reunion and we could hold it here"
"I don't know where half of them are anymore"
"Don't you want to catch up on all that Joseph Smith banter?"
Richard buried his head in a rack of suit jackets, searching for nothing just so he wouldn't have to answer.
Freddie Davis didn't like to go out by himself much. He liked company and when he was alone he felt vulnerable, like everyone around him was against him. As he flicked through some ties he thought he heard a woman nearby mention the name Joseph Smith. The only conclusion as to why that he could think of was that they were making fun of him. Why else would she mention that name? So, always one to avoid confrontation he moved away without looking at her or the man she was with.
"I'm very hungry"
"You always are"
"Do not get snappy with me Richard, I'm pregnant"
Richard winced at the reminder that he was trying to cushion his mind from.
"What about the salad place opposite?"
"Are you kidding? I want food not lettuce, let's go to the ice cream place"
Richard nodded and reluctantly held her hand as they made their way to the food court.
Julia had a sundae whilst Richard had a scoop of coffee flavour and a scoop of strawberry. Those tastes and smells always took him back. Back to when he was blinder but happier. Back when contraband coffee and strawberry poptarts seemed like the most dangerous thing in the world.
A similar combination was being eaten by the man a few tables over. His back was turned but he could still overhear a conversation about natural birth versus an epidural. He quickly tuned out, nothing about this concerned him, and he turned back to his ice cream.
All Freddie had to do was open his eyes to see that he wasn't as lonely as he thought.
All Richard had to do was turn around to see that the happiest days of his life, although behind him, could still be ahead of him once more.