A lot had changed since they first met so many years ago. The maple tree was still there but a majority of the trees around it had been cleared to make way for a large park with pathways, duck ponds, wading pools, playgrounds, and picnic areas. The view was now of a town that became a small city. Generations had come and gone. Just like she and Chris had left and returned.
They left for university, to embark on their careers, raise their family, and build the foundation for their future. They hoped it would be a long future together. While their child rearing years were spent in a city not far away, it didn’t feel like home. Once the children left, although they knew their home town had changed, it was still home. They still had family there. So, they moved back to where their future together began.
She turned her thoughts back to Chris as he made his way up the hill. He still walked ram rod straight, had great physical endurance for a man his age, dressed well, and had a positive attitude which never left him. His hair and impeccably groomed mustache had gotten whiter but the sparkle in his eyes never changed.
He looked up the hill and smiled at her. This was the woman he was fortunate enough to keep in his life. Every time he looked at her, he felt joy in his heart. That isn’t to imply their life was joyful all the time but with her by his side, he knew they could weather any storm. She smiled back and he got a lightness in his step. What more could a man ask for?
While he didn’t know she was thinking about their first meaningful encounter, he was also thinking about it. He thought about how he had kept his cool when she showed up that warm summer day. What he really wanted to do was run down the hill like a scared five year old because he was afraid of what he might say or do. He’s glad he stayed and had the courage to get out a “Hello Ellie” without stumbling over the words or having his voice unexpectedly crack. He was also very happy she didn’t want to talk as he didn’t know how he would have carried the conversation.
He remembered how after a period of quiet, he opened his eyes and looked over at her, only to see her looking at him with a smile on her face. He knows he blushed. He wasn’t expecting to see a smile. She was sitting there in the same position as when he closed his eyes.
“This is really nice,” she said. “I’ve never just sat and listened before. You’re right, it is peaceful. I think I need to come up here more. Do you think you might come back again soon? What time do you usually show up?”
He had a lump in his throat. There was no way he was going to miss a chance to see her again. “I come here quite a bit. The next time you come there’s a good chance you’ll see me. I usually come about this time.” With that, she nodded, got up and walked away.
He was hoping the next time he’d see her would be very soon! Unbeknownst to her, he made a point of going to the hill everyday about the same time for four days. She didn’t show up. He was starting to feel let down but on the fifth day, there she was! Their friendship and then their romance grew.
While their time apart during his first two years of university were pure torture for him, their love for each other endured. He came home whenever he could. They spent as much time together as they could. She became a graceful young woman whose need to get good grades was more important than a romance which she had no fear of losing. When she graduated from high school, on the honour role incidentally, she went to the same university.
Once he was finished university and employed, they got married. She finished university and became a professional in her own right. He was very proud of her accomplishments.
Now, he made his way up to her and gave her a kiss. They always kissed hello and goodbye. You never know when it may be the last kiss.
They’d decided to have a picnic under the old tree for perhaps the last time. The city said it was old and unstable and needed to be taken down. Losing it would be heart breaking. So, it was picnic time to celebrate its meaning to them and say a heartfelt goodbye to what was an old friend.
They’d prepared their favourite picnic foods. Homemade potato salad, devilled eggs, coleslaw, fried chicken, and strawberry cheesecake for dessert. They brought a bottle of good white wine chilled on ice in the cooler. Ellie had laid out the picnic blanket. They could have used one of the picnic tables but it was quieter here and to them a picnic needed a blanket and ants.
They sat down and began enjoying the meal. This was how most things were done in their life. Together. They talked about the kids and grandkids, how poor old Jack (who was really only a couple of years older than them) needed a hip replacement, and what was happening in each of their social circles. It was like they had never talked about these things before but they never got tired of talking to each other. You always gleaned some piece of information you didn’t have before.
When they finished eating, they put away the leftovers, folded the blanket in half, and with unfinished wine in hand moved it closer to the tree and sat down. Almost simultaneously, they started talking about their first encounter under this tree and felt a warmth enveloped them again.
They sat quietly and looked over the park and the surrounding city. While the sound of vehicles had replaced most of the nature sounds, there was still enough of a buffer around the park they could hear the birds and the leaves. It was a beautiful day.
She tilted her head and rested it on his shoulder. Peace and contentment filled her. Perhaps it was the wine or just the calmness she felt, but she fell into a peaceful slumber.
She awoke with a start! Where was she? Where is the tree? Is this a bed she feels? She was completely disoriented. What had happened? She looked to her left and saw Chris, her husband of 3 years staring at her with a worried look on his face.
“What’s wrong Ellie?” he said with no small degree of concern in his voice. After all, she was eight months pregnant with their first child.
“Oh, Chris! I had the most incredible dream. I was sure it was all real. You know how I’ve been having very vivid dreams lately. This one was different.”
“Was it a nightmare?”
“No, it was something very special. I’ll tell you about it but not right now. Go back to sleep.” With that, she turned to him and gave him a kiss and big hug. “I love you Chris.” “I love you too Ellie and always will.”
She knew the words to be true. She had seen their future together and it was good.