This time we rode with Liz and Abby, heading to the shops in the nearby village that appeared to be the town’s only purpose, the whole reason it existed. Unlike yesterday there seemed to be an invisible wall between Clay and me. I had no interest in bridging the distance and it appeared he didn’t either. As awkward silence filled the car, I was grateful our destination wasn’t more than 15 minutes away.
Pulling into the spot next to Mike’s SUV we all gathered. The group was a little more subdued than we had been, the tension evident. Lilly suggested we split up and then meet at a restaurant by the river at noon for lunch. I wanted to disagree, after all I had come on vacation to be with them, but realizing I was the only one who didn’t like this plan I didn’t voice my opinion. It was probably for the best to have a break from them anyway.
We walked without a word, passing storefronts but never pausing to look in the windows or enter them. Something had changed between us and I wasn’t sure how to fix it. Lost in thought, I kept my head down, shoulders slumped, hands in my pockets. In the past, Clay’s mood had improved when we were alone, but not that day.
Reaching the end of a block we stopped for a traffic signal. Lifting my gaze I saw an art gallery filled with unusual but interesting pieces. I knew Clay considered himself an aestete, a true aficionado, and I was about to suggest we go in when the light changed. The moment passed and we kept walking.
Looking around now I spotted a park. I put my hand on his arm to get his attention, then suggested we walk through the garden since neither of us were particularly interested in shopping. Our eyes met for the first time since we’d arrived. As I watched, I saw his internal storm clouds clear, his expression changing from one of hostility, or possibly anger, to a more affectionate one.
Relieved, I grasped his hand and led him up the steps to where flowers were blooming in abundance. We wandered slowly down the path and eventually he let go of my hand to wrap his arm around my shoulders. When we stopped to admire a blooming Magnolia tree I rested my head on his chest.
He kissed the top of my head and tears began to fall unbidden. Suddenly memories overwhelmed me, thoughts of my mother flashed through my mind, times before she passed away. The tree before us looked almost exactly like the one my father and I had planted in her memory. Clay ran his fingers through my hair, then rubbed my back soothingly.
He shushed tenderly me, like a parent comforting a child, like my mother consoled me when I was upset. It was like he knew, as if he understood without having to say a word.
This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Striving and is part of something longer I am working on.
This post is a part of the story about the ex and comes after What Is More Important Than Love?.