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Harlow turned around to see who tapped her on the shoulder. Her heart skipped a beat. It was Joel. So many emotions that have been pushed aside came rushing back instantly. He looked like she had always remembered. His brown hair still messy, covering one eye. His sweet smile filled with compassion and warmth.
They were just standing there, in the park. No one else around. His eyes glistened as the autumn sun shimmered. The crisp, chestnut leaves glided off of the branches.
“What are you doing here?” she finally asked.
He didn’t answer. He was standing and was not in his wheelchair. He swept his hair, and she saw he was wearing his wedding ring. She was still wearing hers too. It hadn’t been long since they were forced to split. He moved away, so far it was difficult to keep in contact. Harlow wondered who was watching Nate, their son. She wasn’t irresponsible; she just couldn't remember.
“How are you doing?” Joel asked.
“I’m a mess. I wish you never left.” Harlow whispered.
Joel stepped towards Harlow and kissed her forehead.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault, don’t ever think it was. If I could change that day, I would in a fraction of a second,” He said.
“How did you get here?” Harlow questioned.
Again, he didn’t answer. The questions she desperately wanted to know, he wouldn’t answer. But it didn’t really matter, he was here now.
Harlow started remembering their wedding day. She pictured the details of her dress. The spaghetti straps, the shape of the tiny sequins, its sweetheart neckline. She recalled how overjoyed they both were and when she saw her father cry.
“How are you doing?” Harlow asked.
“I’d be better if you weren’t hurting. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine. I got to see my dad again, which I really enjoyed,” he responded.
“It’s great to see you again.” She couldn't remember the last time she smiled.
“Everything’s falling back into place. You’re here. What could be better?” she beamed.
The memories all came back of when he was paralyzed. It was only three years since they got married. Joel bent over, picking up the “Magic Mint” crayon Nate dropped, when a disk from his spinal cord snapped. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Joel always had back problems but nothing was really ever done for it. Joel’s never been a gloomy person. He never once felt bad for himself. He embraced the fact that he was alive. Joel was grateful for his beautiful wife and son. Harlow wondered how he was walking. All of the doctors claimed he would never walk again.
“Would you like to get some breakfast?” Joel asked.
“Sure,” she agreed with excitement in her voice.
Going to breakfast with Joel was something she always took advantage of. But since they haven’t in a very long time, she cherished it. They walked to their favorite diner, the Pancake Factory. The streets were deserted and Harlow wondered why. Joel opened the door for her and they stepped inside. Their was no other customers and only one waitress. They sat in a booth. Harlow swallowed her coffee, along with the emotions she was feeling at this very moment. The waitress refilled their mugs.
“Can I get you two anything else?” she sweetly asked.
She was an older women. You could tell she was the type to bake homemade cookies and donate her money to charity.
“I will have chocolate chip pancakes please,” Harlow stated.
“And I will have two pieces of toast, two sunny-side-up eggs, and a side of bacon,” Joel said.
The waitress mouthed the order over while writing it down. She smiled and took the menus.
Harlow always scrunched her face when Joel would eat bacon. She hated it. She was so disgusted by it, the color, the texture, and that it came from a innocent, little pig. But this time she smiled. She smiled because she hasn’t seen Joel eat bacon in a very, very long time.
“How’s Nate?” Joel asked.
“He’s wonderful, the happiest five year old in the whole wide world.” she raved.
Harlow always wished Joel could spend more time with Nate, and now that he’s back, he will finally be able too.
“May we have the check?” Joel asked the waitress after they finished.
“No charge,” she smiled. They were both very thankful and Harlow was surprised.
They stepped out onto the side walk. It was snowing. Harlow didn’t remember it snowing when they went inside. Harlow stuck out her tongue tasting the fresh snow. As the snowflake melted away so did her agony. They walked down the street giggling while their feet sunk down into the white, fluffy snow. The snow was so pure, like their love. It was like they were two little toddlers playing. Harlow made a snowball and threw it at Joel. He gave her an elated expression. They walked down the pavement, which they couldn’t actually see.
Harlow blinked and when her eyes opened, all the snow was gone and it started pouring. Joel turned to Harlow and grabbed her hand. They danced, skipped and jumped to Harlow’s house. She unlocked the door and Nate came running. He sprang into Joel’s arms.
“I wanna show you my new toy, Daddy.”
He latched onto Joel’s arm and took him to the back-room. It was a lovely sight, the whole family back together. The way Harlow always aspired it to be.
“It stopped raining!” Harlow exclaimed.
She pushed the screen door open. They sat on the green grass and absorbed the warmth of the sun. Everything was complete.
“Mommy, Mommy, wake up!” Nate screamed while shaking Harlow.
She briskly opened her eyes, not accepting it was all a dream. It felt so real, like Joel was really here.
“Go on downstairs and get ready for breakfast. I’ll be there in a minute,” she said to Nat.
“Ok.” he said and waddled out of her bedroom. She kept her cool in front of Nate, but once she shut the door, the tears started pouring out.
Harlow sat on the bed and bowed her head. She wailed and wailed. She wished she could have slept for one more second. One more second to be with Joel.
The spine chilling memory reentered into her brain. It was June 13th, 2007. Harlow strapped Nate into his car-seat. She helped Joel into the passengers seat, folded up the wheelchair and put it into the trunk. Their family was on their way to Joel’s parents, Belle and Luke’s house. The windows were open, letting in the sweet breeze of summer. Nate was only three and a half. Harlow even remembered that their wedding song came on the radio: “I Do” by Mark Wills. It was just a simple, admirable day they would enjoy. Harlow, who was driving glanced at Joel, his face, panic-stricken. A car came head on with theirs.
Nat had minor injuries, thank goodness. Harlow needed thirty-two stitches. The stitches didn’t hurt. It was the guilt she felt that clawed at her heart. She always felt it was her fault Joel died on that luminous day.
“What’s taking you so long, Mommy?” she heard Nat yell while knocking on the door. Harlow wiped the last tears, or what she thought to be the last tears, onto a tissue. She opened the door and gave Nat a big smile to hide any clue that she was shaken up. One more tear trickled down her cheek.
“Why are you crying?” he asked concerned.
“I was just thinking about Daddy.” she whimpered.
“Oh.” he breathed, then opened his mouth to say more and stopped. Nate had a somber expression.
“What were you going to say sweetie?” she asked.
“Just that, that I don’t really remember daddy.” Her face dropped.
“Well, how about we make a deal... every day I will tell you something new about Daddy, starting today,” she said.
“Ok. What are you going to tell me?” he asked.
“Well, he loved bacon. Do you like bacon?” she said.
“Yeah.” he answered. She hugged him.
Harlow made Nate two pieces of toast, two sunny-side-up eggs, and a side of bacon. She knew he wouldn’t be able to finish all of it, but its what Joel had in her dream. He ended up eating a strip of bacon and a piece of toast without the crust.
Harlow opened the refrigerator and examined what was inside. She reached out for the broad brown paper bag of leftover chinese food.
“What day is it, Mommy?” Nat asked.
Harlow turned her head towards the calendar.
“June 13, 2009,” she gasped.
She placed her hand inside and grabbed hold of a fortune cookie. Harlow burst the air out of the plastic. She broke the cookie open. It read “learn chinese-dozen ? dá (da) lucky numbers 49, 23, 38, 32, 25, 2.” Harlow flipped the slip of paper over. “abandon guilt. love still grows when apart.”