Chapter 1 : A Spring Day
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Resting my hands on the wooden railing, I stop in the middle of the bridge and watch the sun glisten off the gently moving river below me. I lean over the railing and my long black hair falls in front of my face. Standing up, I pull my long black hair into a ponytail and secure it with an elastic that I always wear around my wrist. This time when I lean over, I meet my reflection. The water is still and I shift my wight as my reflection stares back at me. I don’t see the sad eyes that everyone always comments about. I turn my attention to the first blue sky we’ve had in weeks and watch the clouds float by. As the crisp air whistles in my ear, I can’t help but think that this is the kind of day that could chase away the shadows. Even five years after the Great War, the darkness that always lurks in the back of my mind would slowly creep in and consume me. That’s what makes these days so special: so necessary. I look down at my watch again. 11:13. He’s late. Some things never change.
“Cho!” A voice as familiar as my own calls out. I look across the park and can just make out a tiny figure moving only slighter faster than humanly possible. Zayed waves his hands back and forth as he expertly weaves through the joggers, makes way for the new parents with prams, and dodges running children. I return his wave and smile. I hold back a laugh as I see Zayed finally realize that the golden retriever he thought he passed is actually charging after him. Without missing a beat, Zayed grabs a stick off the ground and throws it to the left. The dog lets out a loud bark and takes off after its new target.
“That was close,” I say as Zayed reaches the bridge. “Just imagine what would have happened if you hadn’t used magic.”
“It was a tiny speed boost, Cho” Zayed laughs. “Nobody noticed. Besides I don’t know what you’re talking about - that dog didn’t stand a chance.” He wraps me in a tight hug. “It’s so good to see you. Has it really been five years?”
We pull apart and I see the face that I have grown up with. His golden brown eyes sparkle as he runs his hands through his thick black hair. It is slightly longer in the front than the last time I saw him. I can’t quite tell whether he has spent time carefully crafting this messy look or if he just happened to wake up tens minutes after he was supposed to meet me. His hairstyle being the result of a frantic scramble to get out of the house seems like the more probable option. Either way, it suits him.
“Good to see you too. I can’t believe it’s been that long,” I reply.
He gestures to the other side of the bridge and we walk side by side towards the grey stone path. As we walk through the park we exchange updates and quickly fall back into our easy rhythm. He is working as a healer at St. Mungo’s, I am a history teacher in London; he is appalled that I have given up magic, I can’t believe that he uses magic “secretly” in front of Muggles; he is planning on proposing to Marietta, I am single; he still has his unexplained fear of dogs, and I still miss flying every single day.
“I have the best idea,” he says stopping and turning to face me. “Why don’t you invite me to be a guest lecturer for your history class?” He eyes twinkle and he flashes me his mischievous grin.
“Oh, are you an expert on Muggle history now too?” I say hitting his shoulder.
“I’m sure it’s not that hard. I’ll come up with something. It’ll be good.”
“Oh come on, Cho. Don’t you remember that speech I gave in History of Magic? That was completely off the top of my head and I got the top mark in the class!”
I laugh. “You had that top spot for five minutes because you were the first one to present. It doesn’t count.”
“I was robbed. You know my speech was the only interesting thing to ever happen in that class.”
I catch the look he’s giving me and raise an eyebrow at him. “What?” I ask. Although he has a point, I am not going to give him an inch. Telling him that the whole class was enthralled by his entire speech would only encourage him.
“It’s just good to hear you laugh again,” he says looking away. I let his comment hang in the air for a moment. The past fews years had been difficult and it has only been over the last year or so that I have finally started to feel like my old self again.
He stops just before the cherry tree grove and gestures for me to walk in before him. The pink and white blossoms on either side of the grass aisle sway gently in the breeze. I can see some petals already on the ground and wonder how long we have left before the blossoms disappear. We walk silently between the trees.
“This is it,” he says breaking the silence. “What do you think?”
“I think she’ll love it,” I say slowly turning in a circle. “It’s so beautiful.”
“Oh thank Merlin,” he says letting out a sigh. “I always think of Mari when I walk through here, but I just wanted to make sure. I mean, with everything that’s happened, I want to give her as many happy memories as I can. You know her better than anybody, is this the kind of place she’s been dreaming about?”
I picture Marietta standing in my spot and can already see her reddish-blonde curls bouncing as she nods her head ‘yes’ to Zayed’s question. I grin at him.
“Right, so she’ll be here,” he says gently moving me over to the right. “And I’ll be here.” He takes a step back and gets down on one knee. “And then I’ll say - ”
As I look into Zayed’s light brown eyes and focus on the golden flecks that have seen me at my best, comforted me at my worst and been there for all the times in between, his voice drifts away. I watch in wonder as the happiest moments of my life play right before my eyes.
Zayed presenting me with a marshmallow mud pie for my fifth birthday...
Zayed and I excitedly reenacting the latest Tutshill Tornados Quidditch win...
Zayed running up to my house waving his Hogwarts letter and screaming my name...
Zayed and I soaring through the skies on our brooms....
Zayed’s infectious laugh, the soundtrack to my life, as we laugh so hard tears fall from our eyes...
My heart swells and flutters. It feels like the wind had been knocked out of me. My eyes brim with tears and it hits me like a ton of bricks. I’m in love with him ... It’s always been him. This time when I picture Marietta accepting his proposal, my stomach lurches. I feel like I’m going to throw up.
“Cho!” Zayed says snapping me back to reality. His hands are on my shoulders and he is looking down at me with a worried expression on his face. “Are you all right?” he asks.
“Yes. Of course. Sorry,” I say. I avoid his gaze and rummage in my bag looking for a tissue. “Just allergies, I think.” I shake my head to get rid of the swirling thoughts and gave him a smile that I hope looks somewhat realistic.
“Ok then,” he says. “But let’s have you sit down for a bit anyway.” His furrowed brow suggests that he doesn’t fully believe me, but I am grateful for the diversion. My legs feel like jelly as he leads me to a small bench not too far from where we were standing.
“Tell me the truth,” he says easing me down. “Was it so cheesy it made you ill?” He leans over me and I look up into his eyes. His attempt at humour is betrayed by the vulnerability that is written all over his face. My heart jumps.
“No.” I answer a little too quickly. “It was perfect. The spot is perfect. Everything is....”
“Perfect?” he finishes for me.
He sits down beside me and I can feel my heartbeat in my ears. I focus on the blossoming trees around us and try to think of something to say. This is the first time I’ve ever been speechless in front of Zayed. What’s wrong with me? Am I so scared of losing him that I’m tricking myself into thinking I’m in love? I breathe a sigh of relief. Of course. It’s so common it’s almost laughable. I turn to explain my strange behaviour to Zayed, but stop when I see him take a small black box from his jacket pocket. He places it carefully in his palm. His right leg starts to bounce the way it does when he’s thinking really hard about something.
“I was going to wait a few weeks,” he admits, “but days like this don’t happen very often. I don’t think I can wait any longer anyway.” A slight blush rises to his cheeks and I swallow the lump in my throat. “Would it be completely crazy if I just asked her today?”
Rather than look into his eyes, I focus on the small scar on his cheek. I remember the exact day he got that scar; it was the day he dismissed my warnings and tried broom surfing anyway.
I want to tell him ‘of course not,’ but I’m unable to get the words out. Instead I shake my head ‘no’. I know in this moment that my broken heart is real; I haven’t invented these feelings for him - they’ve been there all along. I want to get up and run out of this park so that I don’t have to hear his next words, but I just sit there. My heart is pounding so hard that I wonder if Zayed can hear it too.
“Ok!” he says, jumping up. “I’m going to do it!” My heart drops and my throat closes.
He sweeps me up into his arms and swings me around laughing. I wish I could freeze this moment and stay like this forever.
As my feet reach the ground, Zayed looks at me with concern. “Are you sure you’re ok? Do you want me to walk you home?”
“No, I’m fine. Go on,” I say gently pushing him away. “Good luck.”
As I watch him race away from me toward Marietta, toward the start of his new life, I feel a piece of my heart break. I am forever changed. The tears rush from my eyes and I sob. I wish I could be anywhere else but here, but the thought of leaving this spot is unbearable. I am frozen. Shackled to this bench I just sit with my hands in my lap and cry until I am numb.
A deep voice pulls me from the void. “Excuse me, miss. Do you mind if I sit beside you for a moment?” I wipe the tears away with the sleeve of my jacket and turn around. The bright sun feels like it’s piercing right through my eyes into my brain. I raise my hand to my forehead and squint at the older man in front of me. He is wearing a brown tweed jacket that is frayed at the cuffs and grey pants. He rests his weight on a shiny black cane and smiles widely at me. I shake my head and gave him a small smile.
He raises his hand in a gesture of thanks and I see that he’s holding a worn black leather journal. He lets out a small sigh of relief as he sits down. I catch the unusual scent combination of peppermint and spicy aftershave and am immediately reminded of my grandfather. His hand shakes slightly as he slowly unties the yellow bow that is wrapped around his leather book.
“This is one of my favourite places,” he says glancing up at the cherry blossoms. “Ever since my wife passed on, I can’t seem to get used to the constant silence in our house.” He looks down at his book and flips through the pages. “That’s why I like to come here. There’s always something happening.”
“Oh... I’m so sorry to hear that,” I whisper. As he continues flipping through the pages I see his tiny neat scrawl filling the pages. Although the colour of the ink changes every so often, the slant and size of his writing remains constant page after page.
“Thank you,” he says with genuine warmth. “Georgie would have loved this place...” His voice trails off as he surveys the beginning stages of spring and his eyes light up as if this is the first time he’s actually seeing it. He lifts his head up to the sky, closes his eyes and smiles. “But I’m not here to bore you with an old man’s stories,” he says. He holds the book open so that I can see and points to the page that has today’s date written at the top. “I’d like to thank you for allowing me to witness such a beautiful moment.”
Puzzled, I accept the book and begin to read.
Today I was in the presence of true love. I watched as a young man pledged his love and asked a beautiful young lady to be his wife. As I watched their faces light up with a glow that only love can create, I am reminded that each day holds something special, something beautiful. The possibility of new beginnings is all around us.
I look up at his face and find momentary comfort in the kindness behind his pale blue eyes. My stomach is in knots as I search for the right words. His lined face becomes a blur as the tears pool in my eyes.
“Th-th-thank you,” I stammer and pass the book back to him. “But that wasn’t a proposal or even a declaration of love.” I sigh. “What I mean is that....those moments you saw...well, they weren’t really mine.” I let the tears fall freely down my face.
His large hand takes my small hand in his and squeezes twice. “Oh love,” he says taking out a midnight blue cloth from his front jacket pocket. “My apologies for upsetting you.” I accept the handkerchief and look down at the gold embroidered letters.
“It’s not your fault,” I say dabbing the soft cloth over my face. “That moment you saw was just meant for someone else.”
“Well forgive me if this isn’t my place, but in the moment I saw, I saw love... and I know what that looks like.”
“I do love him,” I say slightly taken aback upon hearing those words aloud. I sit in silence and try to identify what it is I’m feeling. “But I’m too late. I realized it all too late.”
“I’m sorry. That must be very hard.”
“If I could just forget today entirely and go back to living blissfully unaware of my feelings, I would do anything. I would give anything...” I am fervently clutching to a tiny shred of hope as I look up into his eyes.
“I’m terribly sorry, love. I can’t help you with that.” I look back down at the handkerchief in my hands. I run my thumb back and forth over the embroidered ‘G.L.’ and let out a deep sigh.
I tuck my leg up under me and lean forward so that my elbows rest on my legs. “One of the hardest things in life is watching the person you love, love someone else,” I say slowly. I take a deep breath and turn my head to the side. “Before today I would have thought that the hardest thing in life would be to lose someone I loved. But this is worse. This is a hundred times harder than that.”
I feel his hand on my shoulder and look up at him. “Certainly both situations would break your heart,” he says leaning closer to me. “But in one of those scenarios there’s a chance to change the outcome. For me, I think having regrets would be harder to live with.” He starts to wind the yellow ribbon back around his journal and then places his hand on his knee.
“Oh?” He pushes down on his cane and slightly raises himself up off the bench, but sits back down again with a hard thud. I get up and offer him my arm.
“If nobody took a chance and revealed their feelings, what kind of place would this be to live? he asks. “But maybe the ramblings of an old man aren’t what you’re looking for.” He chuckles and tips his hat to me. “Make the choice that feels right for you, love. I wish you all the best.”
He sees me hold up his handkerchief and smiles. “Keep it for now. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again.”
As I watch him slowly walk down the cherry blossom path, so steady and sure of his direction, I feel a pang in my heart. As I turn back to the bench to gather my bag, I consider his advice. No way, I think. If I tell Zayed the truth, I run the risk of humiliating myself and losing two of my best friends.
I run through the cherry tree grove focusing only on the ground in front of me. I push myself harder, run faster, and feel a momentarily sense of relief as my body fights to keep up the momentum. In this moment the ache that now feels like a permanent fixture in my body is temporarily overshadowed. The pain dulls slightly and by the time I reach the stone path, I am gasping for air. Careful to avoid the sight of the cherry trees in bloom, I look down both directions of the path, almost desperately searching for a glimpse of the old man. There is no sight of him.
“The hardest thing would be to watch Zayed love someone else,” I say to myself, cringing at the sound of his name. “But there’s nothing I can do to change things now.” Without looking back, I continue on the path that will lead me home. I ignore the nagging voice inside my head that tells me I don’t sound very confident about my last declaration.
They say that people enter your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I can’t say whether that’s true or not. What I can tell you is that on a moonless winter night, I learned the reason, grieved for the season, and shared a kiss that will last a lifetime. But that’s a whole other story.
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