Short story: In the midnight hour

Drawing from my old fanfictions because I had an insane week and couldn’t write anything new. This still holds a special place in my heart (along with the person this was written for.)


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste

(Shakespeare, Sonnet 30)

/ / /

I prick up my ears and listen carefully at the unusual silence. Only when I look up from my laptop and glance around, do I realize the sun has already disappeared beyond the horizon and the floor is almost entirely in the darkness. My wristwatch says it’s well past ten.

My first thought goes to Kurt, and before I realize it, my hands are already texting my excuses for being so late. By now, he got used to my inhuman working hours, certainly faster than I got used to my sense of guilt for the same. I take off my glasses, lay them on the desk, then rub my fatigued eyes before glancing back up and in front of me. The lights in Alicia’s office are still on, but she’s not at her desk; or nowhere in sight. I conclude, she probably forgot to turn them off.

My gaze can’t help mentally annotating every little detail and piece of furniture she changed. From the gigantic painting on the wall, replaced with a smaller silver-framed one, to the wall light, now gone and traded for two pictures, to the solid light wood of the desk and the chairs. I’m still not used to the new visual, I might as well never be, though I admit it’s appealing and I fully understand the motives behind Alicia’s renovation choices. With a smile, I remember never liking the old painting, and still I sometimes miss it. I miss him. It’s almost one year since it happened and I’d lie if I said he’s not still in my inner thoughts. In these last days especially, it’s like the upcoming death date is only bringing back the old pain. Nobody dares to mention it, but it’s still there.

I should go home.

My coat hangs down my arm, my purse is in my hand, I turn everything off, then halt in front of Alicia’s office as a shadow catches my attention. For a moment my mind tricks me into believing it’s Will. It’s a déjà vu that lasts a twinkling. In front of the window, looking outside, there is Alicia. Lost in her musings, she doesn’t seem to acknowledge my presence, and I don’t want to interrupt whatever is crowding her mind right now. Even if I have a suspicion. But as I start to walk away, she must perceive she’s not alone anymore. Snapped back to a semi-reality, she turns around and stares at me, still absent in appearance.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude, thought you forgot the lights on,” I apologize, under my breath.

Her eyes widen, her chest swells in a deep heave as she finally seems to wake up from her tranche. “No, you didn’t, I was about to leave as well,” she smiles at me. But then, her actions contradict her words as she turns back towards the window.

I hesitate and stand undecidedly on the threshold, conflicted whether to leave her to her nightfall thoughts or join her. Even with one foot already out, my decision is swift and rather predictable. I’d only be fooling myself if I left. So I turn around, take a few steps in her direction, then dwell with her on the sight of the illuminated skyscrapers. Chicago has always been a stunning view at night.

A few minutes get by in quietness, as we just enjoy each other’s quiet company, with no need for words, for we both know where our thoughts lie right now. Eventually, it’s Alicia who breaks the silence.

“I still miss him,” she admits in a whisper.

I stare at her reflection, taking in her words. It’s probably the first time I hear her saying it, the first time I witness her doing something even remotely close to opening up. And still, despite those few words being spoken, she doesn’t completely lower her guard, she doesn’t shift her gaze to meet mine, even just for a blink. Beneath her impassive exterior, behind those elusive eyes, she must have hurt more than she’ll ever admit. “Me too,” I confess, remembering how much I lost that day. A partner, a friend, a confident. For too many years he’d been a constant in my life. Never, not even in my worst nightmares, could I have imagined that I might lose him one day. There was no writing on the wall to get me ready for it, no time to accept, to adjust, to understand why. No time to even say something so simple as goodbye. My eyes close briefly to wipe out the unsolicited memories. “Some days I don’t think about it, or I’m just too busy to think about everything. And it feels good. To not think.” I stare at her, searching with my eyes for some acknowledgement that my words make some sense to her too.

It takes a long while for her to stare back at me, then nod, almost imperceptibly. “This was his favorite moment of the day,” she says with a half-smile. But her voice, as she speaks these words then looks away, is brittle.

The memory brings a smile to my lips. “I know. Mine too.”

My gaze alights on Alicia. It never stops astounding me to notice how different we are and have always been in everything. I spent most of my life alone, committed to my job and my career, the thought of building a family of my own has never been more than a far notion, until I found someone who could complete me; until I met Kurt. For her? It’s definitely been the reverse; years dedicated to rejoicing her hearth and home, just to see everything break apart before her eyes. And yet, here we are. The affection, love and loss of the same man has brought us close together. It’s the one thing we have in common. It was. “I can’t believe it’s already one year tomorrow,” I realize with a sigh.

“Yep,” she barely whispers, then stares at me pensively.

I’d gladly give a penny for her thoughts.

“Are we supposed to do something?” she asks, eventually.

I ponder her words, thinking of what we would be doing if he were here with us. Then, an idea pops into my head, and it’s certainly the most befitting the occasion. “Hold on,” I beckon her to wait, as I walk back into my office and take a bottle from the bottom of my liquor cabinet. My stare lingers on its label. It says Jim Beam Black Bourbon. Will’s favorite. He never knew I had it, kept aside for some very special occasion that never came.

With no hesitation, I show the bottle to Alicia through the glass wall. Her lips, curled up in approval, are the answer I need.

No word is pronounced as we pour into the rock glasses, then make ourselves comfortable.

“To Will,” I toast.

“To Will,” Alicia repeats as our glasses clink in the silence.

I sample the liquor. Eyes closed, I let the small sip burn its way down my throat. It’s intense. I can taste ripe cherries and liquorice. Will would have loved it. Sunk in his sofa, he would have admired its color, sipped it slowly, handled it like liquefied gold; all with a satisfied, sly smirk. I cast a sidelong glance at Alicia. She doesn’t look like a bourbon kind, and for some inexplicable reason I find the thought amusing.

“Where do you think he is now?” she asks me, out of the blue.

And it’s the one question I don’t have an answer to. For a moment, I ponder all the possible set phrases that one is supposed to say on these occasions, but none seems to fit and none would probably make us feel better. So, I lean back on my chair and shrug. “Probably harassing some old glory of baseball.”

In the quietness, Alicia’s laughter resounds, deep, hearty, warming. I find myself laughing with her and by instinct I look up. Wherever Will is now, I hope he’s watching down and laughing with us.


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