Winter still caught Rume unawares, even after all these years of living in New York. She had accepted it a while ago; she would never get used to the cold or snow or any of the things winter brought along with it.
It was early December with no sign of snow, yet she was already using the down coat Naru had given her last Christmas.
It was strange really; the way the people who once mattered so much easily became after thoughts, and memories attached to the things they left behind. If someone had told her that a day would come when she didn’t think of Naru in present tense, she would have laughed in their faces.
She heard from one of their friends that Naru was looking to transfer to LA. That had been way back in March. The money was good, he told them. It was also far, far away from her.
He hadn’t said that last part of course. He was too nice to say such a thing to anyone but Rume knew she was the one thing that could make Naru leave the city he had been born in.
Naru was one of those people who had the dibs on what it meant to be nice. He was nice to everyone and everything. He was so nice that she had heard a few of their friends make statements like ‘That guy/girl is nice but not as nice as Naru’ or ‘She is so nice, kind of like how Naru is nice.’ He had become a standard for niceness within their circle of friends and Rume hated it. Mostly because she was one of those people who no one ever used the word ‘nice’ to describe unless they were really reaching.
The door bell was ringing. She wondered how long it had been – she had been so lost in thought, remembering Naru.
It was Akin, she knew. Tonight was date night and he was taking her to see Wicked. Akin loved Broadway. She was okay with it; frankly she preferred staying at home, her legs in his lap, both of them drinking wine while falling over each other with laughter at Bernie Mac’s theatrics. That was what she and Naru had done most date nights.
But Akin’s love was a different kind of love from Naru’s love. It was a love she had come to accept, a love she often wondered if she was doing right. With Naru, there had never been room for doubt. With Akin, she didn’t think she could ever be enough.
“I love the way you love me” Akin told her over and over again because he somehow knew she was one of those people who needed validation. She put the coat on the bed and skipped to answer the door.
“I am coming oh, Mr. latey latey comer,” She said in welcome as she opened the door.
But it was only Naru.
“No,” was the first thing that came out of her mouth.
“Hi,” was the first thing that came out of his.
They said it simultaneously so that neither of them heard what the other had said.
“You can’t be here,” Rume said, trying again.
This time, Naru didn’t interrupt her. He just stared silently while she held the door with one hand and clenched the other hand over and over again.
“Akin will be here soon. Today is date night. We are going to see Wicked. So you can’t be here.”
“You have to go. I don’t want Akin seeing you here. I don’t want you here. There was a time when every time the door bell rang I hoped it was you. Not today Naru. Not anymore.”
Still he said nothing and Rume started weeping without knowing why.
“I love Akin. Not like I loved you. It is a different type of love. He makes me laugh. He is almost my best friend. I saw him at Tiffany’s last week. He was in the engagement rings section. I didn’t let him see me. I am good at being invisible. Remember how I used to creep up and scare you when we were teenagers? He is getting me a ring. He wants to spend the rest of his life with me. All it took him was 6 months to make up his mind. That is love, right? The love that stays, that lasts, that just knows? So you see Naru, do you see why you can’t be here?”
She had fallen to the floor around the time she started the Tiffany story. For Naru, who had loved this woman all his life, since he saw her for the first time in the elementary school down the street from where he still lived, there was nothing left to do than to join her on the floor and let both their tears soak his uniform while wishing he had taken that transfer and gone to LA so he wouldn’t have to break her heart twice.
“Tell me,” She said when she was all cried out.
“He was buying flowers in East Harlem when a fight broke out. Gang related. The bullet was from a revolver. We have the shooter, 16-year-old kid, in custody. He is scared shitless. The flower shop owner got shot too but the doctors think he is going to make it. Akin was DOA at the hospital. He didn’t suffer and somehow I am sure his last thoughts were of you and flowers. In his pockets we found tickets to Wicked and a wallet that had his ID and three different photos of you. That is when I told my supervisor I had to be the one to do this. I am sorry Rume. So sorry.”
From the floor where they sat Naru could see the snow falling heavily. The weather people had promised only rain. The cars outside were already covered. He would be going nowhere in a hurry so he let his body form a cradle for the woman.
In his pocket were two engagement rings; one newly purchased by the man whose body he had peeled off the streets an hour ago, the other he had bought last Christmas before everything went to pieces. He had carried it everywhere with him since he bought it. Both rings were rightfully hers, as were the hearts they represented.
One day maybe, probably when they were old and the pain of years gone by was nothing more than a pin prick, he would give her the dead man’s ring too and tell her about how sometimes second chances were preceded by a dying. Like winter before spring. For now though, he held her and thanked God for second chances and unpredictable weather conditions.
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