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Undying Love MAG
The warmth from her smooth, soft hand passing through his cold palm warms his heart and fuels his passion as he gently tightens his grip. Glancing down at her, he studies her porcelain complexion, watching her pink lips move as she laughs sweetly. She breaks away and runs barefoot to the sea, a spring wind leading the way. She stands at the end of the weathered dock, her chestnut curls blowing toward the water, her eyes the green of the sparkling ocean. She faces the world unafraid. He proposes. There is nothing else his heart will let him do. He has to have her forever. Laurel. He loves her.
A wet wind splashed into Charley’s weathered face, startling him from his daydream. The sun was just waking the day as he stared at the cold gray ocean. His dream faded with the translucent moon and he was disorientied in the mist he had been struggling to climb out of for the past week. It was too early to leave for work, but trying to sleep would be useless. His nightmares had become too horrible, flooding the darkest corners of his aged memory with harsh light, forcing him to recall.
He’d left the rumpled, damp sheets of the small blue bedroom in an attempt to clear his mind with the fresh, early morning air, but it was of no avail. Charley’s nerves were shrieking, insisting he stay home and rest, but he knew he couldn’t. He had only one clear thought: beat Laurel’s cancer. She had to get better. He slowly made his way down the well-worn path of grass back to the stone cottage he had shared with Laurel for 50 years. It was time for one more day.
“I don’t know, Sandy. He just doesn’t seem capable anymore!” Simon nervously clasped and unclasped his hands. “He was in the wrong classroom Tuesday, and just yesterday I found him wandering down to the shore in the middle of fifth hour. He obviously needs some time off.”
“I hear you, Simon,” Sandy sighed. I’ve tried but he won’t listen. Besides, how could I let him go? He’s long past retirement but he’s good at his job, and loves it. He says he needs the money.” The young principal of Blue Meadow High wearily sank into a shabby chair in her cramped office and glanced at her second-in-command.
“I’ll give him until the end of this year. Charley has been like a father to me, making sure I have everything I need, even inviting me to his home,” Sandy said patiently. “It’s the least I can do; after all he has done for this school and for me. But he has been acting abnormal. He must be going through a hard time. I’ll keep an eye on him, all right?” Appeased, Simon sighed and turned back to his office, tugging long fingers through short black hair.
“Whatever you say, Sandy.”
Sandy smiled reassuringly, not wanting to reveal that she, too, was worried. She saw his health deteriorating, and lately he had not been himself. But the man refused to take even one day off. She pushed open a small window to let the sea air steady her. Soon her thoughts shifted to other concerns, and Charley Jones fluttered out the window, dissolving in the mist.
The stairs towered dreamlike above Charley. His body ached from the night of restless dreaming. Even after the brisk walk he couldn’t pull himself out of the haze. The dreams had been too real. He painfully began the climb to where he had taught geometry for 45 years. He loved his students, with their eagerness for life, and they loved him in return, his droopy face and bushy white eyebrows. He was a good teacher, and no one had ever told him otherwise. People had tried to tell him it was long past the time to pack up and take off for Florida, but he couldn’t leave. He had been in the musty building when it was new and fresh, growing older with each graduating class as his vibrant tan faded into age spots and wrinkles and his once-golden hair became only a memory. Besides, he knew Laurel loved it by the sea, in their cottage made home by her touch and love for anything blue. Maine was where he would always live and Blue Meadow where he would teach. Laurel. The thought flashed through his troubled mind.
“Mr. Jones, would you mind going over the assignment with me before school today?” Startled, Charley glanced at the brunette looking up with hopeful eyes. Big green eyes, like Laurel’s. She reminded him so much of his wife. “Of course,” Charley replied kindly. “Why don’t you come to my room right now.” Anything for Laurel, anything.
The bell rang. As he scanned the class a wave of nausea coursed though his body. Charley slowly creaked into his worn brown chair, molded to his body. He was worse than he thought. He thought he was used to the nightmares after a week. He addressed the class differently, discovering he did not have the energy to teach.
“All right class, I am going to give you the period to work on any assignments you may be missing and to discuss assignment 28 in pairs. Do your best and try to be quiet.” He relaxed, trying to breathe the sick feeling out of his body, but with each wheeze the room filled with a disorienting fog. He fumbled for his lesson plans, but, dizzy, he allowed his body to sink back into the chair. Far off in the hazy classroom, the green-eyed girl laughed. The melody rang in his ears long after it had dissolved, and he succumbed to the memories that haunted him.
“Oh, Charley, I do love how you can make me laugh so hard.” Laurel was lying across a blue blanket on a warm spring evening, her rich dark hair blowing across her face, the fading sun illuminating her green eyes. She stretched a creamy hand to brush his golden face. With horror he watched her transform; she became pale and weak, old and wrinkled, white as the starched sheets she lay on, her shriveled hand reaching out for help, pleading, “Charley, I can’t take the pain, please, I can’t take it, help me, oh please, help me.”
“No!” whimpered Charley, tears running down his face.
“Mr. Jones? Mr. Jones, are you okay?” The girl with green eyes asked, concerned. A pain in his chest left him numb and confused. He had to get better; he had to help Laurel. Cancer, her cancer. That’s what he couldn’t remember. He turned in his chair and tried to get up, shaking and wheezing. He felt his heart might break.
“I’m sorry, class, I have to go home. My wife, she needs me.” His voice trailed off and he blacked out.
Sandy was in a panic. Kids were hysterical and the school was in chaos. Guilt tugged at her heart.
Once the paramedics cleared out, Sandy sent all his students home, left Simon in charge and rushed to the hospital. She waited, crying and blaming herself.
The emergency room was in an uproar. “Heart failure,” the ER doctor said unfeelingly. “He doesn’t have much of a chance,” he told Sandy. Nurses scrambled to hook up IV’s. Charley opened his eyes.
“Laurel, Laurel, I have to help her, she needs me.” His voice melted as he succumbed to endless sleep.
A nurse came into the waiting area, startling a young child. “Sandy Paige!” she barked.
“How is he? Please, tell me he’s okay,” she said.
“I’m sorry, Miss Paige, but Mr. Jones passed away.” Sandy sobbed, tears smearing her heavy makeup.
“It’s all my fault!” Sandy declared angrily. “I should have made him retire! His wife, what will she do?” The nurse, taken aback, patted her trembling back. “You’re needed at billing.” Sandy followed the nurse.
“Any information you can give us would be helpful, Miss Paige,” said the young woman at the desk. Sandy rummaged through her purse for the thick file on Charley Jones that Simon had handed her.
“His wife’s name is Laurel. Here’s his address,” Sandy shakily replied. Although she had never met her, Sandy knew how much Laurel meant by the way he talked about her. “Please, call me when you get in touch with Laurel. Here’s my number. If she needs any help, she can call me.”
“Thank you, Miss Paige, we’ll be in touch.”
Later, the loud ring of the phone startled Sandy out of her deep but troubled sleep. “Hello?” she mumbled, confused by the darkness of the room.
“Sandy Paige? This is Officer Johnson of the police department. I’m afraid I have some disturbing news. Laurel Jones passed away about a week ago. We found her at home, on a hospital cot.” Officer Johnson cleared his throat. “It seems Mr. Jones was in an acute state of denial, which would account for his reportedly strange behavior. Very unfortunate case, but not too uncommon.” Officer Johnson wished her a good night quickly, and hung up before Sandy could recover enough to speak.
Shivers scampered up and down her spine as she thought of the horror Charley must have had, unable to accept Laurel’s death. Her heart broke, and letting the warmth of her down comfortor suffocate her noisy thoughts, she wept until she saw faint pink creep over the ocean. In the dawn’s light, blurred through tears, she thought she saw two figures walking hand in hand near the water, but they vanished with the brightening of day. Crawling under the covers, she slept. It would be a long time before her dreams were quiet.