The sound of the old grandfather clock in the hallway shook Vernon out of his momentary stupor, as he struggled out of his armchair. Rubbing his eyes, Vernon made his way out of the study and into his dressing room where he promptly sat himself down and began to recalibrate just one of the many watches at his disposal.
Looking into the mirror, Vernon could see his age catching up to him in his reflection. His temples were greying, his cheeks growing ever more hollow and there was a hint of exhaustion in his eyes that betrayed his effervescent exuberance. Time had made it’s presence felt at last and Vernon was no longer the boy with “the cherubic face.” He was just like the rest of them as he used to put it; Old and terribly boring.
Vernon poured himself a glass of scotch whilst picking out the evening’s attire. “Rowena!”, he exclaimed once more. “Rowena, how much longer?”
“Ten minutes!”, came a reply from the bathroom.
Vernon sighed as he put on his dinner jacket. Few things in the world annoyed him as much as a lack of punctuality, a trait Rowena his wife, possessed in abundance. With time to spare, Vernon made his way down into the courtyard to make sure everything was in order for the evening’s proceedings.
The pathway had never looked better. Firefly lights draped the shrubbery. Lanterns hung from the branches of trees, emitting a warm glow into the night sky. Even the moon had decided to make an appearance, out in full glow as Vernon walked the pathway to the gazebo by the lake.
In the gazebo lay a solitary table with a lantern placed firmly in the middle. Two chairs flanked the table on either side, a bottle of champagne lay chilling in an ice-box in one of the corners whilst an old record player sat silently near the stairway. Vernon looked around the gazebo, admiring his handiwork. Months had gone into crafting tonight’s experience and after all that work, it was finally ready. No sooner had Vernon pulled up a chair than he heard a door in the distance shut close.
Out strode Rowena, a beautiful long evening gown draped across her slender frame. Her long black hair cajoled it’s way onto her lower back, with two golden bracelets adorning her wrists, catching the light as she walked towards Vernon. As she climbed up the stairs Vernon couldn’t help but smile as he caught her gaze; Married for all of ten years and it still felt like he was seeing her for the very first time.
With a wry small on her face, Rowena stopped dead center of him. “Table for two?”, she asked teasingly. Vernon smiled. “Of course madame.”, he said, bowing his head in mock courtesy whilst pulling aside a chair for her to sit on. Vernon quickly made his way to the record player, before returning to the table and seating himself opposite Rowena. Soon the opening bars from Billy Joel’s Scenes From An Italian Restaurant filled the night sky and Vernon could not help but mouth the lyrics to the song himself.
“A bottle of White?
A bottle of Red?
Perhaps a bottle of Rosé , instead?”
Rowena chuckled. “Seeing how that none of those options are at our disposal, how about we just settle for some champagne instead, darling?”
“Haha, I suppose that would, err be the best thing , rather the only thing for us to do.” said Vernon as he uncorked the bottle and poured two glasses. “Not much of a wine drinker, anyway. Well, not anymore. ”
Rowena stared at him ruefully. “How have you been, my love?”
Vernon smiled back.” I’m alright darling. Tired, but alright. Work’s been a living nightmare though, usually is around the holidays, but it paid for all of this ,so I guess at the end of it all, I should be a little grateful.”, he said gesturing at the decorations. “How have things been on your side? I haven’t seen you in weeks thanks to all your traveling, what adventures have you been off on?”
Rowena laughed. “Adventures? Sure, let’s call them that.” She leaned over the table and whispered. ” I really shouldn’t be telling you this but just last week, I saved a company from the jaws of the Beast of Bankruptcy and rescued their fair CEO from being locked up in a tower that suspiciously resembles a jail cell.” Vernon leaned in as well.” Oh really? Do they now sing songs of your name, decorate the aisles and cubicles as you walk by? Have paintings of their saviour adorned on their walls as a sign of gratefulness?”
“Oh but of course. How could they not? After all, I am the one the prophecy spoke of, “the chosen one” and all that jazz”, said Rowena, still leaning over.
A brief silence impregnated the air as the two just stared at each other across the table. Unable to contain herself anymore, Rowena began to snort slowly at first and then intensively as she doubled up in her chair, laughing. Vernon leant back in his own, smiling and chuckling to himself, whilst downing his glass in the process.
“I could use another”, said Vernon, jumping to his feet and pulling out the bottle once more. “May I indulge you some more, madame?”, he said, bowing graciously.
“But of course, good sir.” said Rowena. “But not here, I do believe the hour for formalities has passed.” She lifted the bottle and pointed to the edge of the gazebo where the lake began. “Over there”, she pointed. “For old times’ sake.”
Vernon duly obliged and soon the two had kicked off their shoes and had cozied up right near the edge of the lake, bottle in hand. Vernon took his wife’s hand in his and stared out into the night.
“We really don’t do this as often as we should.”
Rowena turned towards him. “I know times are difficult my love, but hold tight for just a bit longer. We’ll get through this, just like the hundred other obstacles that have stood in our way.”, she said, running her hands through his hair.
Vernon took a swig from the bottle as he continued to stare out into the horizon. “It’s bit strange isn’t it? For someone’s who’s been helping people stay abreast with time for over a decade, the one thing I’ve been unable to do is make some time for us.”, he said looking down at his watch.
Rowena chuckled. “Darling, you’re a watch-maker. I highly doubt that even with your skill and technique, time is not exactly something you can control.”
Vernon smiled. “Still the best out there though.”
Rowena swiftly kissed him on the cheek. “The one and only.” She broke off as she pulled his arm over hers, nestling her neck on the nape of his shoulder. Vernon ran his fingers through the base of her palm, intertwining with her fingers, as their hands knotted.
“Remember the first time we came here?” asked Rowena, nuzzling her head against Vernon’s. “You were SO nervous!”
“I was nervous?” said Vernon, feigning mock indignation. ” Please woman, I was many things that night. Nervous wasn’t one of them. ”
“You were so nervous that you got drunk and passed out halfway through the date.”said Rowena, as a matter-0f-factly.
Vernon shrugged. “Would you believe me if I said I just happened to err, really enjoy the alcohol that night?”, he said almost hopefully.
“No.” came the very swift reply.
“Oh alright, I was nervous.”said Vernon, raising his hands in defeat. “How could I not be? It was the first time I’d ever brought anyone to this place. Not to mention how mum was behaving, kept going on about how I had to seize the moment, that time waits for none, and bizarrely enough, if I liked it than I should put a ring on it..”
“Hahahaha, you know I always loved that woman.” laughed Rowena.”Never a frown in the room if she could help it. ”
“Ha, she loved you as well. Said you were the only thing that was keeping me grounded.” said Vernon. The pair continued to stare into the distance. Vernon cocked his head to the left and turned to Rowena. “She was right, you know?”
“It may sound like an old cliche, but you are completely responsible for who I am today and I mean that as the greatest compliment I could ever possibly give. And you know how I am when it comes to compliments.”
Rowena smiled and yet said nothing. Vernon continued to stare at her. He could feel his emotions slowly trying to get the better of him, try as he may to keep them at bay. Rowena simply sighed, moving herself closer to Vernon.
“I love you, Ro.”
Rowena laughed. “That’s what I get for Christmas is it?” she teased.
“Darling, there’s really nothing I can get you that would truly encapsulate the way I feel about you.” Vernon replied.
It was then Rowena kissed him full on the mouth. Vernon lurched back momentarily in surprise, before finally succumbing to his emotions. He could feel his walls breaking down momentarily and it would be here any moment, but he was too overwhelmed to care. The only thing that truly mattered to him was holding him in her arms, her hands on his temple, her nose brushing against his. It was as it always, a moment of absolute perfection captured perfectly in time.
It seemed like an eternity had passed when the two finally broke off. They still had their arms draped around the shoulders of the other, their heads pressed against the other.
“Listen.” whispered Rowena.
“Yes darling”, replied Vernon.
“Let me get back from this trip. ” said Rowena.” We can take the year off, go live on an island for a year! Live the lives we’ve always wanted to and get away from all this noise that we’ve given ourselves to. We can actually have all those adventures you and I make fun about. Just you and me, darling. Us against the world.”
Vernon said nothing.
“Please Vernon, we owe ourselves that much. It’s about time.”
Vernon smiled at Rowena, still maintaining his silence. And we’re here now, he thought to himself. He reached out and held her hand once more, pulling her in as closely as he possibly could. One hand held her tight as the other gently clasped her cheek, as Vernon, still saying nothing, quickly stole a glance at their reflection in the lake.
An old man wearing Vernon’s clothes stared back. It was definitely Vernon, but he’d aged more since he had last visited this place. His hair was almost gone, his eyes had grown beady, his face wrinkled with time. In his hands, he held thin air where Rowena should have been. The watch, still pristine as ever, hung dangerously off Vernon’s now spindly arms, glistening in the moonlight.
Vernon looked back at Rowena, his walls finally breached, his heart cracking into several thousand pieces with each passing moment. He could hear the arms of his watch, ticking towards the inevitable; Soon, she would be lost to him again and this time, he knew age would not permit him to see her again. Not like this anyway.
A solitary tear trickled down his face as he sat there, holding the only woman he had ever truly loved, for what would seem like the very last time. Rowena or the memory of her from that night, dried his face, smiling at him all the while.
“There, there. I appreciate sentiment, but it is only a month, darling. ” laughed Rowena.
Pulling himself together, Vernon mustered the best smile he could. From the expression on Rowena’s face, he knew that she could see straight through him, but in that moment, he could not just could not contain himself anymore. As luck would have it, before Rowena could say another word, the record switched to the Elvis classic, Can’t Help Falling in Love, completely diverting her attention in the process.
“Oh, oh oh!” she exclaimed, joyously. “Get up you old buffoon, your lady would like a dance.”
Smiling through the tears, Vernon pulled himself and placed one arm on Rowena’s hip whilst the other held her hand. Just as they had done every year since Rowena’s death, they began to glide along the gazebo as Elvis crooned.
“…..Wise men say..
……Only fools rush in…”
“We really need a new song, Vernon.” said Rowena, sarcastically. “We’ve been doing this every year since college, and it’s starting to get repetitive.”
“Oh please.” said Vernon, rolling his eyes. “We do this only cause you insist.”
Rowena chuckled. “Oh well. Insist is a strong word. How about suggest? That would be more apt.”
“Pretty sure you insist, love.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“……Like a river flows, surely to the sea…..
……Darling so it goes, somethings are meant to be….”
Vernon could hear the song coming to a close, and as soon as the record player fell silent, the memory would start to fade. He knew, that it was time. Without’s a moment’s hesitation, he kissed his beloved wife full on the mouth, catching her unaware but for a moment. Rowena responded in kind, with a bit more vigour as the two stood still in the middle of the gazebo, locked tightly, in each other’s arms as the song came to an end.
Rowena pulled away from Vernon and kissed him on his cheek. Vernon could have sworn he saw a gleam of a tear in her eye as she smiled at him. “I love you, Vernon. Thank you, for the most special evening, I’ve had in a long, long time.”
Silently, Vernon kissed her once more as the memory around him began to fade. ” I love you too, my darling. Always have and always will.” he said, breaking down once more.
Rowena smiled up at him. “Same time next year, yeah?”
Vernon looked back at her, as she began to fade slowly. Choking back the tears, he replied, “But of course, how can we not?”, with mock incredulity
“Hahaha,” Rowena laughed as she kissed him, for what would be the final time. The gazebo around her was bare once more, slowly turning back into the untended mess it had become over the years. However, it was the least of Vernon’s concerns as he could feel Rowena’s arms and body slowly start to dissipate into the night air. For the last time ever, Vernon hugged his beloved wife and whispered, “Merry Christmas, my darling.”
Rowena smiled, as she began to fade.
“Merry Christmas, love.”