by Danika Ashton
(Calpine, California, USA)
They woke at dawn from their sleep.
The man, tired and unmotivated, rolled over to meet his lover's gaze. She was a lovely young woman, recently out of school, with a part-time job at the Tackle Shop at the Bay Park.
The woman stared at the man with huge, admiring eyes. Only a thin white sheet covered her slender body, but she didn't mind at all.
The golden morning light peeked through the long white curtains covering the great windows, making the world around the couple seem like a fairytale.
The man smiled at his lover. It was a very sad, serene smile, for, he knew what was to become of that day. She did not.
He kissed her gently and pushed himself to a sitting position, feet dangling off the bed. The woman watched him as if every move he made was a gift to her. The man pulled his trousers on and started to button up his cotton shirt, only to be distracted by the lust of the beautiful young woman who lay behind him. He carefully laid his head back on his lover's stomach and kissed it, so gingerly it was hardly there.
The woman ran her fingers through the man's sandy blonde hair as he continued to kiss her stomach. Things would be different now, now that they both knew what would be in that stomach in just a few weeks time. But the man knew he wouldn't see this woman again, let alone his own child.
He didn't know how he was going to tell her the truth, but it would have to happen today. For today was the day for him to leave. Leave his lover, his home, his unborn child...
But he wouldn't tell her just yet. This moment was too perfect to ruin.
"Harold..." she sighed, sounding just as tired as he was, but she spoke with a smile. "What are we going to do today?"
Harold chuckled softly and brushed a lock of golden, wavy hair from the girl's face. "Let's go to the Bay Park. It's so peaceful there, and you know me. I always have to be around the ocean."
"What? Are you crazy? I work at the Tackle Shop right by Bay Park. If my boss sees me out there on a work day -"
"Screw your boss," Harold said simply.
This made the woman laugh. "Okay, we'll go. But if I lose my job, it's on you."
"I can live with that," he said casually. "As long as you're with me, nothing else matters to me. You know that, don't you?"
She sat up and leaned forward to kiss him. "Of course I do."
Harold took her sitting up as a final cue to start getting out bed and getting dressed.
"Elizabeth?" Harold called from the bathroom during his morning shave. "What would your boss do if he saw you with me out there?"
Elizabeth was in the middle of untangling her locket when she replied. "Oh, probably nothing. I was only kidding. My boss is a nice old man. I'm sure he'll think nothing of it since I've known him for so long."
"How long?" Harold asked.
But Elizabeth shrugged. "For as long as I can remember. He's like a grandfather to me, really. I know him through my mother."
Harold nodded as he rinsed his blade and reached for a towel. Even though he knew he was leaving in nearly less than an hour, he didn't want any other man near Elizabeth. She was too special to be treated like a toy to beasts unlike him.
"Can you put this on?" Elizabeth asked, seeming to finally untangle the locket, but having trouble fastening it. "I don't know how it managed to come off last night."
Harold made a laughing sound under his breath as he fumbled with the little golden clasp on the locket. "I'm not even sure how anything managed to happen last night."
She turned around, questions printed on her face. "What do you mean?" was the best one that could sum up most of the questions.
"Well, let's face it," he took his hands in hers, "I had a few drinks in me, and you obviously didn't want anything to do with me at the bar last night, and yet, here we are."
"Ah, yes, but that was before what you said to me that made me fall for you. What was it? Your hair is like a waterfall or something like that?"
They were both laughing, something Harold had always wanted; to be laughing with the girl he loved most like they knew each other for decades. "I believe it was your hair reminds me of a beautiful waterfall I once saw in paradise. That was the whiskey talking, believe me. Like I said, I was guzzling by the bottle last night."
"Clearly," she said.
When they'd both finished making themselves presentable for a leisurely stroll in the park, the headed off. Elizabeth didn't seem to notice anything strange or off about Harold, and he was both grateful and ashamed.
The Hotel was massive, proud and flashy in its entire splendor. It was one of the most luxurious and grand hotels around, and if you were courting a lady, The Pink Pearl Hotel was the place to be.
Elizabeth and Harold ran holding hands the entire way to the sweet little park by the bay. People stared and laughed as they passed, enjoying the warm February morning.
Elizabeth kicked off her heels when they reached the grassy area of the park. They came crashing down onto the cool cut grass, laughing hysterically as they went.
There were a few people here and there. A little boy with his grandmother was collecting rocks by the shore and an old man sat on an iron bench feeding some pigeons. But, other than that, it was peaceful. Even peaceful enough to fall back asleep.
But both Harold and Elizabeth knew that they could never sleep through a day like this. For Harold knew this time with Elizabeth would soon come to an end.
"Elizabeth?" Harold asked her, leaned up against an old oak while Elizabeth lay against his chest. "If I didn't have to leave, would you consider marrying me?"
She craned her neck to face his gentle gaze. "You- you're l-leaving? Why? When?"
Harold sighed. "Look, I know I didn't tell you. I didn't really see the point. After all, I didn't think I'd be this much into you. I've only known you for a night and I already want to spend the rest of my life with you, Elizabeth."
"Well, what's the point of asking me to marry you if you're just going to leave?" Her tone blended into a soft whimper, a definitely noticeable lump forming in her throat.
"Maybe the only reason I brought it up was because I wanted to show my true feelings for you. I love you, and ?"
"You didn't answer my question. Why are you leaving?" She embossed.
But Harold didn't seem to give much of an answer. Instead, he stood up and shuffled towards the sea, stopping when he was flush with the lapping waves by the dock.
"Look," he said, placing both hands on either side of her face. "You just have to understand that I have to leave, okay? I must go."
Hot tears spilled down Elizabeth's pretty face. It nearly broke Harold's heart to see her this way.
"I'll never forget you, Harold. I wish you could tell me."
"Sshh, love," was the last thing Harold ever said to Elizabeth. He knew it wasn't the best goodbye, but what was he supposed to do about it?
With much strength of mind, Harold let go of the love of his life and began walking down the dock to his sailboat for one. A sailboat of solitude.
Elizabeth didn't move. Her knees were too shaky. All she could do was cry hopelessly and helplessly, as if weeping was the only real solution.
She watched in sorrow as Harold sailed off into the sunset. She knew she would never see him again. She could sense it in his voice and see it in his eyes.
The day that Harold left changed everything. He picked possibly the worst day to leave, the best woman to leave, and, the best child to leave. I know that wherever he had run off to was a mystery to everyone that knew him, especially to Elizabeth.
I also know that the day Harold left was Cupid's special day. The day he shot arrows at Harold and Elizabeth. I know that that day.
It was Valentine's Day.