Nicole opened her eyes with the reluctance of one uneager to face the day. She hadn't slept well that night, nor on any other night for the past few days. Her mind screamed the reason for her lack of sleep, and she remembered all too clearly the importance of that day. Stumbling out of bed, Nicole staggered toward her desk, hoping against hope it would be any other month than June, any number than the seventeenth. But when her gaze focused on the large calendar angled artistically over her desk, her eyes riveted to a square circled in unforgiving red; it was Saturday, June seventeenth, and it was the day she had been dreading for a long time.
* * *
San Francisco was teeming with people walking up and down its sidewalks, some holding bags of vegetables bought cheap from Chinatown, some walking their dogs or children. Nicole sat near the window with her chin propped up in her hand, staring vacantly at the light beige house across the street. As the morning grew into afternoon, so did the hollowness in her stomach. She didn't stray from the chair all day, until the front door opened and her father was home.
"Nicole, have you been there all day?" he asked concernedly, glancing down at his only daughter. He knew today was a solemn day for her. But he also knew that today was necessary, for in order for Nicole to move on, she had to see her one last time. Carrying Heart's Roses
"Dad, why do we have to move?" Nicole asked quietly. He sighed wearily and sat down on the couch beside her.
"Nicole, we've been over this a thousand and one times. I've been offered a very good job out in Boston. It pays well, and I've checked out the schools and the environment there. They've gotten incredible reviews. All in all, the move will be good for us." Empty resignation tinted his voice when he added, "We have nothing here."
"I know," Nicole said wearily. The pair was silent for a moment.
"Ready to see her?" Nicole's father finally asked. Nicole nodded. But I'm not ready, she thought silently. I'll never be able to say good-bye.
Soon they were cruising down Clement Street. Passing various flower shops, her father suddenly asked, "Do you want to bring her flowers?"
"Good idea," Nicole agreed. They parked illegally by the curb and entered the small, dim flower shop. There was an old lady sitting behind a desk, jotting down what appeared to be numbers on a small pad of paper. She glanced up at them with no particular interest, then resumed her task. Nicole looked at all the clear plastic boxes stored inside refrigerators. A flower, she wondered, or a bouquet. Instinctively, she reached out and grabbed a beautiful arrangement of red roses, then selected a single white rose to slide in the center of the bouquet. She handed it to her father, who paid for them without a word, though she was sure he noted the extremely expensive price. Then they were on their way again. Nicole switched on the radio to her favorite station. A loud rap song filled the car, sounding brutal and sharp, and she quickly switched to a soft rock station. Somehow, that too, sounded too loud. Sometimes you don't know what you want, Nicole remembered her saying.
"It's been a long time since you've seen her," her father remarked in a half-hearted attempt at conversation. Nicole nodded briefly, and silence once again filled the car. The rest of the drive was tense and endless.
After what seemed like an eternity, they drove through the stylish black iron gate, finally stopping in the gravelly road. Nicole hesitantly opened her door, then closed it. The sound reverberated through the empty fields, on and on. To the end of the world, Nicole thought absently. Her father stayed in the car. He knew she needed to talk to her alone. Carrying the roses, Nicole stumbled across the dewy grass, toward the spot she'd memorized by heart. Three down, eight across.
Kneeling down to face her, Nicole lay the bouquet at the head of her mother's bed of lush green grass. Her fingers caressed the cold, wet marble, running over the engraved letters that marked her mother's final resting place.
"Hey, Mom," she said softly, a single tear sliding out of the corner of her eyes. She watched the salty drop splash onto her mother's headstone, then drip down the side into the grass. "Dad and I are moving to Massachusetts, so I won't see you for a while. We'll . . . miss you," she struggled to get out the words, her throat tightening on the last word.
Suddenly, a cool breeze rushed down from the heavens, despite the warm summer afternoon. It seemed to swirl around Nicole, chilling her body but warming her soul. Her hair blew around her, yet the leaves of nearby trees didn't waver. The sorrow and emotion she had locked inside herself finally bubbled out in the form of tears, but Nicole kissed the tombstone and smiled.
"I love you too."