Ducky recalls the last meal he and Jethro shared.
An established relationship story.
Written: February 2007. Word count: 2,594.
I can recall quite clearly the last meal we shared together.
Before you walked away from me.
Before I let you walk away from me.
Before I made you walk away from me.
You see, I knew.
I'd seen it in your eyes, in your face, in your body language, in your smile; heard it your voice when you talked about her. This one was different. This one was real. This one would last.
And I was glad for you; really I was.
I loved you just enough to want you to be happy, even if it that happiness couldn't be found with me. I loved you just enough not to 'fight' for you. Just enough not to make it any more difficult for you than I knew it already was.
It was the perfect evening. Everything was wonderful, faultless.
The weather - warm but not too warm.
The restaurant - 'our' restaurant - not empty, but not overfull.
The music - neither too loud, nor too jarring.
The waiter - our usual one. The one who seemed not to think it strange or ugly that two men were so clearly a couple.
The food - splendidly cooked; the chef excelled himself. Piping hot, superbly presented, with just the right amount of time between courses.
The wine - excellent, as it always was, smooth, mellow. I have never drunk that vintage since.
And you. Most of all you were perfection. Attentive, loving, romantic, caring; you listened to my every word, you gazed into my eyes, you held my hand.
And I knew.
You didn't tell me.
I told you.
And I have never seen so much pain in one person as I saw in you as I spoke the words you couldn't say. I hoped I'd never see that much pain again.
Finally you did speak, your voice heavy with the same pain, as well as guilt, as I'd seen in your eyes. "It's different, Duck. She's different."
"I know, my dear," I said. "I know."
"I . . . I'm sorry, Duck. So damn sorry. I . . ." For the first time ever, I saw tears in your eyes.
I took your hand. "I know, my dear." I repeated. "I know."
And I did know.
And I was happy. At that moment I believe I was happier for you than you were for yourself.
And then I knew something else.
Despite everything, I was the one who had to end it.
I'm not entirely certain that you could.
So I did the only thing a gentleman could do. The only thing a person who loved someone as much as I loved you could do.
I leaned across the table and kissed you. It was nothing more than an affirmation, a brief brush of my lips over your own; chaste, tender, full of love, hope and forgiveness. "Be happy," I murmured.
It no longer mattered what anyone might have thought, had they seen what I did. We were not going to be returning to the restaurant; the worst that could have happened was that they threw us out.
Instead you tried to speak. "Duck. I -" But I cut you off with a shake of my head. There wasn't anything you could say.
I willed you to be the one to get up and leave. You had to. It had to be that way.
And after a moment or two, you did. But not before I saw your eyes again. If I had thought I had seen pain in them minutes before, I had been mistaken.
As you stood to go, you brushed your hand over my hair; you'd always loved to touch it, to stroke it, to caress it. It had always fascinated you, especially as I wore it so much longer than the other men with whom you associated did.
And then you turned and walked away.
Walked away from me.
Walked out of my life.
And you took with you more than I realized that I had given to you.
Maybe one day I would love again.
Maybe one day I would . . .
Forget you? The chances of that were as realistic as the sun not rising.
Stop loving you? Again, the odds would not have been good ones.
But time heals all wounds, and I did begin to form a life again. I resumed my travels around the world; learnt new stories; had exciting experiences, and I suspect that is how I would have ended my days.
Until the postman brought me a letter.
A letter with at typewritten address.
A letter postmarked from the States.
A letter that had clearly come from a firm of Solicitors.
A letter I sat and studied for more than half an hour before I had the courage to open it.
A letter than contained a second envelope, addressed by hand, in writing I did not recognize.
The covering letter was brief, and told me nothing. Merely that the firm was acting upon the instructions of their client to send the enclosed letter to me.
So for another few minutes I sat and stared at the second letter. Suddenly I was not certain that I wished to open it.
But I am, as you know, endlessly curious; my masters at Eton often commented on that fact. So of course I did slit the envelope and pull out the contents.
I have seen so much in my lifetime that little surprises me any longer. Indeed I wasn't certain that anything could. Until I read the letter.
Dear Ducky, it said.
I hope you don't mind if I call you Ducky, especially as we never met, but it's what Jethro always called you, when he spoke about you - which was often.
If you're reading this, then I am dead. And Jethro needs you. He may not realize this yet; he may not be prepared to admit it, but he does. I hope by now that he's forgiven himself for what he did to you, but I'm not certain he ever will.
You're probably surprised, I was, that I know about you. I know I would be if I was in your place, but I do. Jethro told me all about you and him, and the relationship the two of you had. He said it was only fair to me, that I should know the truth before we married. And I knew as he spoke about you, that he was still in love with you. I saw it every time he mentioned your name, which, once he'd told me about you, and I'd assured him that it didn't matter to me, that it was the same as any other relationship he'd had before we became serious, he did more and more.
Had I been as strong as you, as good as you, I'd have let him go. I'd have made him go; go back to you. But I wasn't. I loved him dearly, and I believed I could make him happy. And I did. I'm sorry if that hurts you, Ducky, really I am. But we were happy, we were very much in love, I loved him and he loved me.
And it's because I loved him so much, that I'm writing to you. I couldn't let him go when I was alive, but I owe it to him, to you, to me, to us all, to do so now I'm dead. So go to him, Ducky. Love him, care for him, be with him, give him the peace and forgiveness he'll think he doesn't deserve.
It won't be as easy, I know that, as I make it sound, because only I know how guilty he's felt over the years. Not just for walking out on you, but for continuing to love you. But it you're only half the man I think you are, then you'll make it work. You'll find a way. You'll be there for him; you'll give him what he needs, even though he doesn't know he needs it.
It also won't be easy because of Kelly; our daughter. Jethro may feel he has to marry again just to give her a mother, and he might be right. But children grow up, they stop needing a mother and . . .
Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe it's wrong of me to write to you, to ask you to do this. Maybe you're found a new life, happiness, love, contentment, peace, joy. And if you have, then I'll understand; but I hope that you haven't. I know that must make me sound awful, but that's how much I love Jethro. I think you'll understand that.
And before you think I must be a saint to be writing this letter; I'm not. Part of me hates you. Part of me wishes Jethro had never met you. Part of me hopes you are happy. But just as you loved Jethro enough to let him go when he met me, I love him enough to hope that he can be happy again now that I'm dead.
I'm not sure you and I would have gotten on, Ducky. I hope we would have, but I guess the truth is, we couldn't have. We would always have been rivals.
Is it possible to love someone and hate them at the same time? Yes, it is. Because that's what I think I feel about you. I love you for loving Jethro enough to let him go. I hate you for letting him fall in love with you, for loving him. I hate that you ever came to America and met him. I love that you did, and that he'll have someone now I've gone. I hate the thought that you'll be with him again. I hate you because he never really forgot you. I hate myself for writing to you. But that's how much I love Jethro. And I love you because I know that you'll understand in a way that no one else could.
My English teacher would be frowning now, because of the mixed tenses in this letter and because I don't know how to end it. What do I say?
Yours truly, Shannon?
Yours faithfully, Shannon?
Yours sincerely, Shannon?
Best wishes, Shannon?
None of those will do. None of those fit. Nothing does. Nothing can. But I must end the letter somehow.
Please take care of Jethro for me.
There. It's not 'correct' but it will do.
And that was how the letter ended.
By the time I had fully taken in not only her words, but the implications behind them, it had grown dark.
The reason I knew that it was possible to love someone and hate them at the same time was because at that moment I both loved and hated Shannon Gibbs. I loved and hated her for writing to me. For putting such a burden on me. For living. For dying. For loving you. For talking to me as if she knew me. For judging me. For hating me. For loving me. For taking you away from me. For loving you enough to write to me.
Most of all for presuming.
For presuming that I still loved you. Which I did.
That I still wanted you. Which I did.
That I didn't have anyone else. Which I didn't.
That I could just up and leave everything and move back to the States. Which I could.
For presuming that you still loved me. Do you? Is she correct?
That you still wanted me. Can you possibly?
That you would want us to be together again. How can you want that?
That you would want me to move back to the States. Would you want that?
I even momentarily hated you.
I hated you for telling Shannon about us.
I hated you for still loving me.
I hated you for not being able to let go.
I hated you for putting me in this position.
And I loved you for all of those things.
But maybe love wasn't enough.
Maybe Shannon had misread you.
What did I do?
Just get on a plane; fly to Washington; find you and say . . . Find you and say what? What the hell could I say? Shannon Gibbs had placed me in an impossible situation. Damn her.
And damn you. Why should I let my entire life be controlled by you? So you'd lost your wife, so what? Other men suffered the same loss. Other men . . .
But that was fear talking. Not me.
And that was the crux of the matter: I was afraid.
I was afraid that you still loved me.
I was afraid that you no longer loved me.
I was afraid that you still wanted me.
I was afraid that you no longer wanted me.
I was afraid that you had never forgotten me.
I was afraid that you had forgotten me.
I was afraid that you needed me.
I was afraid that you didn't need me.
I was afraid that if I saw you again I would never be able to walk away again.
I was afraid that if I saw you again I would turn around and walk away.
I was afraid that the depth of the feelings I still had for you was too deep.
I was afraid that the depth of my feelings for you wasn't deep enough.
I was afraid that I still loved you.
I was afraid that I no longer loved you enough.
I was afraid that I still wanted you.
I was afraid that I no longer wanted you enough.
I was afraid that . . .
I was afraid.
So that is why I am sitting in the restaurant where we shared our final meal. Sitting and waiting and trying to decide what to do. There is no one here whom I remember; no one who would remember us. The place has changed beyond my expectations.
Maybe that is a good thing.
Maybe that is a bad thing.
Maybe . . .
Maybe I should do something other than just sit and think and wait and remember.
I know where you live.
I know that you were granted an honorable discharge.
I know where you work.
I know that your daughter is also dead.
I know that you are alone.
I know that I still love you.
I know that I still want you.
I know that neither thing will ever change.
Maybe that is a good thing.
Maybe that is a bad thing.
Maybe . . .
Maybe for now it will be enough.
Maybe it is time that I found out.
Maybe it is time to forget the past.
Maybe it is time to think about the future.
Maybe you'll just close the door on me.
Maybe you'll invite me in.
Maybe I shouldn't think about which option scares me the most.
Maybe I should just . . .
I make my decision. In truth the only one I could make. The one I made the moment I read Shannon's letter.
I shall go to your home and what will be will be.
Instinct tells me what will be.
And just as with love and hate, I simultaneously both hope and fear that my instinct is correct. In everything she said in her letter the one thing about which she was completely and utterly accurate was 'it won't be easy'.
But maybe something worthwhile never is.
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