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Amelia, Then and Now (Part 2 of 2)

Amelia takes her place in my heart forever

"She seems quite taken with you," Nadja said.

Nadja was one of the senior supervisors of the library. We often had lunch together and we talked about pretty much anything. Today, she caught me off guard."Who?" I asked.

"The young one. Short with brunette hair," she said, "Looks a bit like a fairy."

"Amelia?" I said quizzically, "Naw."

Amelia was sweet to everyone. She was energetic and spirited around everyone.

Nadja squinted through her glasses over her sharp nose. I tried to focus on my sandwich. Besides, it had been over a year since we went skating. That was the only time we were ever out alone together. And there was nothing much about that night, anyway. Ever since then, we just did the usual group things. The last Christmas just came and went, uneventful. I bought her a cake for her birthdays but I did that for all of the team. She was just a bit more openly gleeful when she expressed her appreciation.

But the older woman seated across from me just continued to squint at me even as I frowned and put down my sandwich. I sat back in my chair and sighed. She was trying to pull some confession out of me but I didn't feel like I had one to offer.

"You don't see it?" she asked.

I shook my head. Didn't she realize what kind of trouble I would be in if I even suggested something like she was implying? I replied, "No. I don't. I don't know what you're talking about."

Nadja sat back in her chair, arms crossed, eyes still planted firmly on me. "Okay. But I'm speaking to you as a friend here, not a co-worker," she said, "You be careful. That's all I'm going to say."

That's all she needed to say. The words were cold. I chewed on my lower lip as I thought about it. I had been convinced that there was nothing to be worried about between me and Amelia. But Nadja thought she saw something. That thought planted concerns in my head, or maybe drew the ones I already had out into the open.

*

Amelia quit the library less than two years after being hired. She didn't really want to but it was for a reason that was common for many student resignations.

"Looking forward to university?" I asked her.

"Not really," she sighed as she finished shelving her final book truck, "I really don't know what I'm doing. I'm not sure what I want to major in."

"You don't have to decide in first year," I commented, "Take your time. Besides you're good at everything you do."

She sighed, "I don't want to quit work either."

"Ah, well, it's the circle of life," I smirked, "You'll just be replaced by a younger, faster version."

Her face twinkled with shock and mock anger. She gasped, her mouth dropping open and she smacked my arm. "That's so cruel!" she remarked.

I laughed as I batted away her light fists.

She stopped swatting at me and looked at me thoughtfully. She raised a brow, "You'd better miss me."

I nodded and answered, "You can't be replaced, Amelia."

"Good." That seemed to appease her.

Amelia left the library that September. It was sad to see her go. The remaining student team was certainly dejected.

For myself, a guilty pall hung over me. Somewhere deep in my head, I was relieved to see her go. I didn't have to "be careful" anymore.

*

Even though she was attending a university in the city, we never called one another and we never met up. We kept in touch via weekly emails. They were sort of disjointed continuations of our banter when we worked together.

"It's so quiet here now that you've left," I typed to her, "It's such a relief!"

"Don't make me come back there and apply for work again!" She typed out her 'threats', "I'll do it! I'll come back and strangle you with your crooked collars!"

I laughed, but our joking was tinged with a cloud of seriousness. Amelia wasn't doing so well in her classes. She was struggling to stay afloat, and though she said would continue to do her best, each successive emails seemed less and less hopeful, lacking any of the usual energy and eagerness she used to exude. I did what I could to encourage her, to take her mind off of school.

"Thanks Patrick," she typed one time, "These little emails are really helpful for me. They mean a lot."

I leaned back in my chair staring at the computer. I saw the pretty face of a former co-worker on the screen. The image made me feel good inside. I wanted her to feel good. I was hoping she was smiling that warm smile of hers.

*

About a year and a half later, I was working at the public desk, my head looking down at the pile of papers in front of me. I could see someone approaching the desk and I looked up."Amelia!" I said.

My eyes lit up. Hers were already sparkling.

The small young woman scooted around the desk and I gave her a soft hug. She held me a little tighter, a little longer. I put my hands gently on her waist but just as quickly pulled them away, my heart skipping a beat.

She stepped back and smiled gently, looking me over like she was recovering her fond memories. Our emails had trickled to infrequent reviews by then.

I asked, "So how are you? How's school?”

"I dropped out!" She quipped still smiling.

"Oh."

"No worries! It's good!" She waved her hands. Her voice had that melodic spring to it that cheered my soul, " I couldn't stand that school anymore. I've enrolled in another one...out of town."

"Oh," I kept saying then added, "That should be good. A change of scenery might help."

She nodded quickly in agreement. I took note that the young teen I had hired four years ago was growing up. She had gone through hurdles in her life that showed in her eyes but not in a bad, wearing sort of way. There was a resolve and determination in her face that, combined with her happy and energetic nature, made for a young woman who was maturing and growing very attractively. But I always saw her as that young teen on her first day at work.

Her visit was brief. She didn't want to stay to say hello to anyone else even though I asked.

"Just wanted to tell you and go," she said.

We hugged again. This time I held her just as closely. I felt her body press up against mine. It felt good. She was so warm. My eyes rolled around the library, trying to see if anyone was looking.

Then Amelia left the library for the last time.

Our emails continued. Albeit infrequently. She was enjoying her new school much more and was having a good time at the dorms. That didn't surprise me.

In one of her last emails, she mentioned that she had started to see someone, another student. Upon reading this, I couldn't help but frown. I had this image of a man being hugged by a small young woman with a sunshine smile, being revitalized by her energy and warmth.

I crossed my arms and shook my head, smirking at myself. "Don't be stupid, Patrick," I said to myself, playing with my collar, "This is good. This is good."

The emails stopped and four years would pass before we met at the ice rink once again.

*

It had been 4 days since we met at the railings above the square. It was Christmas Eve. Amelia would be leaving for Australia in 3 days. It was crazy busy at the library in the days leading up to the Christmas holiday closures. I had barely enough time to stop and breath let alone tackle the pile of work on my desk. But I'd been lying if I said I didn't afford myself time to think of Amelia.

I'd have a line up of patrons at the desk waiting for service and I'd be lost in thought of the girl with the deep brown eyes and perpetual smile. She put a smile on my face...and a knot in my stomach.I looked around the department. I saw images of this sweet young girl working amongst the shelves. She would laugh and joke and move with a youthful exuberance that I admired. And whenever she came over to me, she was first and foremost in my mind. She was a person of pure innocent energy that I wanted to protect and guide. She was pretty and attractive. That was as far as I allowed myself to think of her even though deep down in my gut, in a dark place I never wanted to explore, I wanted her to stay close to me.

Now she was going to be pretty much gone from my life in 3 days. She had to tell me. And she wanted to know why we never went out. She had to ask. Each thought bounced off one another now and made my head hurt. Then she had just left me there and I wasn't sure if that was actually the end of it.

I went home after work carrying heavy loads in my bags, still agonizing over my thoughts about Amelia. I pushed my shoulder against the door to the lobby and nearly tumbled over as it was held open for me.

"Whup!" I yelped and tripped on my feet.

"Oh! Hey there, Mr.Santos! Careful," the concierge said, "Sorry. I was trying to hold the door open for you."

Composing myself, I smiled half-heartedly, "That's okay, Selby. Not your fault. I don't seem to be paying attention to anything."

The tall, earnest-looking man helped me with my bags to the lobby desk. "You have a package here."

He handed me something that seemed like a book wrapped in plain brown paper. Taking it from him, I examined it, turning it over. Written on one side was, "Patrick Santos".

I held it up and shrugged, "It wasn't mailed?"

Selby shook his head. "It was here when I came in for my shift. The morning guy must have received it," he said, "Probably someone just dropped it off."

I thanked him, wished him a Merry Christmas, gathered up my things and headed for the elevators.

As soon as I entered my apartment, I dropped everything to the floor. I still was looking at the curious package as I slipped off my coat, kicked off my shoes and shuffled over to the sofa. With a heavy sigh I sat down. The package sat on my lap. After staring at it for a long time, I simply tore off the brown wrapper.

It was a book, a memory album to be exact. The cover was slightly worn and weathered, the green colour fading and the gold leaf flaking off. The spine was creased and the cover was warped, the thin book overstuffed with material.

I opened it up. The first page was blank save for a single sentence written in the centre of it: "He was always there."

The next page had one photo. My eyes widened and my jaw shifted when I saw it. I stared at the picture that was overexposed, the flash having gone off too close to the faces in the photo. It was angled in a peculiar way and everything was slightly blurry. There were only two people in the photo. The man had a patchy red complexion, eyes frozen in a moment that made him look like he were drunk and his mouth was open like he was in the middle of saying something. The girl, brunette and sparkling wide-eyes, had a blue-ribbon smile that beamed delight and contentment. It was an odd picture of an odd couple.

I stared hard at it. Then I grinned crookedly. They fit. Somehow they fit together.

The next few pages were filled with photos of myself. I don't know when they were all taken but it was obvious that some had been cropped and blown up to focus on me. There were also movie stubs, restaurant receipts, a couple of birthday cards, print outs from email exchanges, on and on. I continued turning pages. There wasn't anything else on my mind except for the book. On one of the last pages there were several empty Hershey Kiss wrappers stuck on haphazardly around the words "Christmas 2004". The page behind that one really made me smile. It was a sheet of paper with the music and lyrics to "The Christmas Song" printed on it. There were little notes scribbled throughout the sheet, like someone was trying to write down the keys to the tune.

I reached the end of the book. Again, the last page was blank except for the sentence, "He will always be here."

I immediately flipped it back to the front and looked through it all over again, taking my time doing so. I would look at a picture then raise my head and stare at the wall, placing myself in the memory of each moment so vividly that I could recall where she was standing, watching me. If it had been anyone else, the thoughts would have made me feel uneasy. Instead, I felt warm inside.

I fell asleep on the sofa with the book in my lap.

Waking up a few hours later, I felt its weight in my lap and was oddly comforted by it. I finally closed it. As I stretched I noticed a small post-it note stuck to the back cover. It had a phone number written on it. It also had the words "3 more days" underlined.

I leaned my head back and thumped it against the wall, eyes closed. All I could see was her. My heart beat faster and my body ached. "Dammit," I mumbled. I stood up, then with the book in hand, I threw on my coat, grabbed my car keys and headed out the door.

*

I had driven around aimlessly for almost an hour. The streets were dark and empty. It was 2 a.m. Christmas morning. Not too many people on the roads except those making a beeline to be somewhere when everyone else woke up for Christmas. I wasn't sure where I was supposed to be.

The crisp winter air wasn't helping to clear my mind. I drove through residential streets, the constant twist and turns keeping me alert, butt finally something in my head said enough already. I pulled over to a curb and switched off the engine. I rubbed my eyes and thought for a moment. Finally I pulled out my cell phone and dialled.

"Hello?" a soft voice answered. It was sleepy but still had a gentle melody to it.

"Amelia," I managed to push her name through my lips. I hesitated then said, "It's Patrick."

"Patrick..." she said, her voice stronger yet still hushed. She whispered, "Is everything okay?"

No it wasn't okay, I thought. My head was swirling and my heart was beating like a drum. I stammered, "I-I have something for you."

There was a pause on the line, then she said, "Where are you?"

I looked around and instantly knew where I had parked. I should have been surprised but I wasn't. "I'm outside of your house," I said.

"Outside...?" her voice trailed off.

I looked at her house, up to the second floor. I saw some blinds shift in one of the windows, a petite silhouette peeking out. She waved.

"Can we talk?" I asked.

around to the backyard," she said adding, "I'll be out in a minute."

I didn't know what I was doing, sneaking quietly through the backyard gate in the middle of the night to see a young woman who had been causing my mind to do mental flip flops for the last 4 days. But my heart was beating faster, blood rushing through me adding to the heady confusion and undeniable anticipation.

I waited anxiously in the large open yard in the back, feeling conspicuous with the bag I had brought along, stepping around her family's pool. The moonlight reflected off the light snow on the ground, casting a ghostly glow on everything.

I turned quickly when I heard the back door creak open. Amelia stepped out. She was still in her pyjamas having just thrown on a coat and a scarf and slipping into a pair of boots.

"Amelia," I whispered, "I'm sorry..."

"Shh," she hushed. She walked silently past me to the pool house at the very back of the yard. She waved back at me to follow.

She flicked on a light switch as we entered. As I checked out the room, I was surprised to note how spacious it was. It was more like a little cottage and it was actually really well kept. The floor was tiled and clean, everything was stored in sealed plastic boxes, and a large wooden futon patio chair sat off to the side. I had a small 5 by 5 storage locker back at the apartment and it looked like a slaughterhouse compared to this place. It was surprisingly warm and well insulated as well.

We both opened up our jackets and took off our scarves and gloves. As I looked around the room, Amelia pulled out two iron patio chairs and sat them across from one another in the middle of the room. She sat down and waited for me to join her. She had a bemused look on her face but with us facing each other like that almost directly under the ceiling light, it felt like we were doing an interrogation.

I cleared my throat and spoke first, "I'm sorry about this. This is kind of weird, huh?"

She shook her head and smiled.

"I, uh..." I didn't know exactly what I wanted to say, but she just waited patiently for me to get my words out. Finally, I reached into my bag and pulled out the memory book. I said, "I brought you this."

She took it from me. With a gentle hand she stroked the cover, gazing at it as if it were some small treasure."You brought it back," she said, then looked up at me smiling, "Thanks."

"Yeah well," I remarked, "It really wasn't meant as a gift for me right? You didn't intend for me to keep it."

She looked a bit sheepish and said, "I wanted you to see it. I was hoping you'd return it. I was hoping you'd bring it back in person."

I nodded. "It's, um, no problem."

She leaned forward with a bit of a sparkle in her eye and asked, "So, what did you think?"

"Well," I said thoughtfully, "I didn't realize you were a stalker all these years."

She laughed softly then said, "You're a hard person to get a clear photo of, you know? You're like Big Foot."

"That's me," I chuckled, "Mysterious and elusive."

"Elusive maybe," she said whimsically, "But not so mysterious."

The unease settled within me again. She just gazed those dark maple brown eyes at me and all my facades faded away. I had always felt somehow exposed to her.

I shook my head and began to ask earnestly, "Amelia. Why...?"

She got up from her chair and began to walk around the room."When you interviewed me 8 years ago, I had interviews for two other jobs, one before and one after."

She moved around the room as she spoke picking up objects, looking at them, putting them down. She looked up in the air and laughed softly, "I was so nervous in both of them. I don't know why. One was even for a fast food place. I think if I had just repeated my name over and over again I would have gotten the job, but I couldn't even talk! I remembered I wanted to scream and cry and run out on both of them."

I stared at her as she told me this. This wasn't the bright, confident, sassy girl I had always known. I could hardly believe she was talking about herself.

"But not with you, Patrick," she turned to me and smiled, "I came into the interview room. There you were fumbling with a bunch of pencils. And of course your collar was a mess. You're going to hate me for this but all through the interview I was thinking about how much I wanted to reach over and just fix it!"

I chuckled quietly, shaking my head.

"It didn't feel like I was being interviewed. I felt like I was talking to you, with you. I felt at ease," Amelia continued, "And ever since then, I've always felt at ease with you."

As I listened to her, I couldn't help but hear a tinge of sadness in her voice. In all the time that I knew Amelia, I always saw her as the happy-go-lucky girl with the plucky attitude. She always seemed ready to take on the world and it, in turn, was laid out before her. And I was blinded by that youthful exuberance. For all of my notions about 'protecting' her, I never really did stop to consider the tell-tale signs of someone seeking to fill a void in their life.

She looked back at me and then said, "You were the one constantly good and true thing in my life, do you understand?"

Yes I did. I understood because she was the same for me.

I sat quietly, stunned, as she sat back down in front of me. She pulled her chair closer."Patrick, I'm sorry," she said with her gentle tone of voice, "I'm sorry about the other day, jumping on you like that with those silly questions about the two of us going out. I must have seemed like a school girl with a crush. Actually, it was a crush when I was 16."

I could see her words as she spoke. They floated in the air towards me then stuck onto my head and body before slowly being absorbed. It didn't make sense. My mind was telling me I was certain I wasn't understanding her words properly. Then I felt her tender and warm hands on top of mine.

"But I realized, year after year, it was more than that," she went on, "I wanted to give you everything I had. I wanted to see you happy, because I knew that would make me feel good inside."

I looked down, frowning hard.

“ There were times for awhile when I felt I couldn’t do that for you,” she continued, “And I had to get away from you because it really hurt -- really hurt-- but I knew I couldn’t keep away forever.”

She leaned forward, lowering and tilting her head, making sure I could see her face from the corner of my eye. She said, "I wanted to be with you, Patrick. I wanted to be close with you."

Her words were so fluid, spoken with a deliberate ease. It was intoxicating. But they didn't match with the image I had of a young wide-eyed teen whom I wanted to keep safe and protect. My head hurt and my heart raced as I struggled with this conflict.

"I still..." she took a deep hesitant breath then said, "I still want to be with you."

She gave my hand a gentle squeeze. She was still very warm and I sensed the slightest tremble in her touch.

I shut my eyes. I still saw her on the ice all those years ago singing so sweetly, so innocently. I couldn't think of her in any other way."Amelia, I...," I said, my breaths shallow and unsteady, "I, uh, don't think I can do this."

Her hand didn't move. I opened my eyes and looked at her. I swallowed then added, "You'll be gone in a couple of days. Why would we want to do this to one another?"

Amelia always had the answers to my doubts. She said, "Because I'd like to make one last memory of us, something that I can bring with me. I want to see you happy. I want to make you happy."

Images from the past raced through my head and crashed with the deep, dark yearnings I held in my heart for her now, thoughts I had never allowed myself to have.

She caressed my hand. I pulled it away.

"I'm sorry Amelia," I said my voice cracking as I pushed out my words, "I can't."

I stood up from the chair. My stomach ached as I looked at the young woman seated in front of me. I shook my head. "I can't."

Her face, smooth skinned and rosy cheeked, didn't show any sign of hurt or concern. Her red lips still had a soft smile on them. And her eyes were just pulling me in, holding me tight, as she gazed up at me.

"Well then," she said as she stood up, "Can we just do one thing together?”

I remained silent.

“ One kiss?"

A hard wind had picked up outside. The windows to the pool house rattled slightly but it was still very warm inside. I didn't say yes, but I didn't say no either. I just stood there. My mouth parted as if to say something but there was little left to be spoken.

Amelia stepped forward a little. She placed both of her hands barely against my chest as she pushed herself up onto her toes. Her eyes closed as she moved towards me. I watched as her lips parted slightly just before she touched them against mine. She didn't press them though, just brushing the outer parts of our lips together, up-and-down, side-to-side, running her bottom lip against the top of mine then vice versa with her top lip. She exhaled deeply and I breathed in her warm air. Finally she pressed her mouth up against mine, our lips coming together fully. I closed my eyes. In my mind I could still see her clearly and I listened to her breathe deeply. Her head lolled ever so slowly, pushing her soft mouth as she guided me in the kiss.

I felt a quiver on her lips and I'm certain she felt the same on mine. It sent a tingle through to my core, melting my mind before setting my heart on fire. And from deep within me, surging up and busting through all of my mental gates, was a wave of wanting and longing that would no longer be denied.

My arms moved and suddenly I was pulling her petite frame up against mine, pressing our bodies together. I held on tight as we continued to kiss. I felt a cry swell from within me, tickling at my throat, teasing my mind. I had let her stray away from me for so long, too long. I held her even tighter. I wouldn’t let her go again without letting her know how I felt. The warm, tender touch of her lips on mine told me she understood. The beat of her heart against my chest told me she felt the same.

Still kissing and holding one another, she guided me back, step-by-step like a slow waltz towards the futon. I pushed off her coat, she pushed off mine. By the time we settled onto the large seat, we were dropping our clothes onto the floor.

I held as close as I ever could for as long as I could, both of us swept up in the serenity of one another all through that peaceful Christmas night. We made love tenderly and passionately with a rhythm all our own.

I felt her softness. I felt her warmth. I felt her love.

We lay there afterward, fingers caressing skin or stroking hair, indulging in the silence and calm of the pool house. Our heartbeats steadied, our breaths subsided., but we couldn't stop smiling.

"Merry Christmas," I finally said, not feeling the least bit silly in doing so.

She laughed quietly and said, "Merry Christmas."

We kissed gently.

She gazed at me lovingly and asked, "You won't forget me, Patrick?"

No Amelia, I would never forget you. The young girl I wanted to laugh and skate with and to hear sing, the young woman I wanted to take hold of and make love to for as long as I could. I would never forget either of them.

She was gone 2 days later.

*

Kata Tjuta, Valley of the Winds, Australia

3 years later...

I sat there on a rock away from where the rest of the tour group had hunkered down to watch the sunrise over the high dome formations of red rock. We had driven there from our camp under cover of darkness shrouding the desert to see this.

As the first ray of sunlight pierced the horizon like a glowing diamond, I let the serenity of the moment take me away. The face and plateau of the red and mauve hills changed minute to minute, colours intensifying and cracks and crevices, once hidden, revealed. Then I felt the warmth. It swept over me like a wave then cradled me like a lover. It reminded me of her. I wished that she was there beside me.

Amelia had returned home from Australia about 2 months after she had left that Christmas. There was no internship, no job offer. She had no intentions of staying there as it turned out. She came home to be with her family for her last days on this earth.

I never found out until she was gone.

Three days before Christmas, I was working at the library when an older gentleman approached me. It was her father. He told me that she had passed away four months earlier.

I can't imagine what the expression on my face must have looked like. I just remember not actually believing what he was saying. Even after all those years, it felt like she was always right there beside me. Her voice, her touch, her warmth still resonated within me.

Her father gave me a package, wrapped in simple Christmas paper, white snowflakes on icy blue. She had requested that it be given to me before Christmas. He had asked her if she wanted me to come to the hospital to see her, but she didn't want that.

Looking at the package, at its shape, I wondered to myself if it was the memory book.

Her father looked at me closely and said, "You're the one in that album of hers, aren't you?"

I nodded, kind of in a daze.

He also nodded. "She asked to be buried with it."

He shook my hand and left. I just stood there holding the package.

I didn't open the package until Christmas. It's not that I wasn't tempted, always seeing it when I came and went as it sat on my coffee table. It just seemed appropriate, respectful, to wait. It was just like her to tease me like that.

After my family had finished opening all of their gifts, I disappeared to the basement and opened her present. It was another memory book. The first page had one sentence written on it, "I'm here."

The pages were filled with images of Amelia from around the time that I first met her to the time that she left the library and then through university. She grew up before my eyes with the flip of a few pages. The last couple of pages had photos of her in Australia. She looked so beautiful and so happy. There was one photo in particular which I just stared at forever; her essence just radiated so brilliantly in the photo, her wide-open eyes, her glowing cheeks, and mesmerizing smile. She looked at peace amongst the rock formations in the Australian desert.

There was a little post it note for these photos: "Patrick, you were right. Nice people. Nice cities. Nice weather." I had to chuckle.

The last page had one photo stuck in the middle. I touched it gently with my fingers. It was the only photo of just the two of us, a long time ago at that dinner.

There was also a sealed envelope stuck to the page. Below it she had written, "I will always be here."

A year later, I had finally made my way to Australia. When I arrived, I immediately sought out where she had been in that photo. Not just the location, the exact spot she had been sitting where the picture was taken. I wanted to see what she had been seeing, to know that peace she had found in her heart and shared with me in that photo.

Reaching into my pack, I pulled out the envelope she had left for me in the memory album and took out the letter inside. I don’t know how many times I had read it since I first opened it.

Dear Patrick,

I know now that the best thing that can ever happen to a person is that even for just one moment of their life they feel that they have been loved wholly and passionately by another.

I’ve also always felt that the greatest gift in life a person can give to another is their love, wholly and passionately.

Thank-you for loving me. Thank-you for allowing me to love you.

-Amelia”

I put away the letter.

You won’t forget me, Patrick?

There, on that rock, as the sun's warmth intensified and as the face of the hills changed right before my eyes, I didn't need to wish for her to be there with me. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, smiling. I could hear a sweet voice sing for me and me alone. She was there.

Amelia would always be with me.

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