I see him first from a distance. Well-built, broad shoulders straining against his jersey, brown hair buzzed close to his scalp. I watch him run up and down the field, each stride smooth and strong. He stops, puts his whistle to his lips and blows, and on his command all movement ceases. I know immediately that this is the man I will marry.
I ask around. His name is Niall, spelled N-i-a-double l. My name is Lynda, with a y. Both common names with exotic spellings. If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.
I download the soccer schedule. Teams are named; officials aren’t. I attend every game on every pitch just in case. The regulars recognize me. I don’t waste time making small talk with them. I can’t be distracted. I’m on the sidelines at his seventh game of the season and as he runs by, I catch his eye and he nods. His proximity and that nod almost stop my heart. I’ve made the right choice.
When he leaves, I follow his truck at a discreet distance and watch him pull up at a green bungalow. It’s in a nice part of town, modest but well-kept. I’m pleased there’s no second car in the driveway and no children’s toys in the yard. Who needs complications? I turn off the ignition and wait across the street, giving him time to get settled.
A cat slinks across the lawn and stretches out near a shrub. If it’s Niall’s, it’ll have to go. I hate cats and their superior air. It irritates me to see it sprawled on the grass like it owns the place. Reaching into the back seat, I grab a tennis ball. I roll down the window and take aim. The ball lands with a thud near the animal’s tail and bounces toward the path to the front door. Though it misses its mark, it does the job and the cat leaps up and runs away.
I consider retrieving the ball before deciding against it. Tomorrow, on his way to work, Niall will spot it there. He’ll pick it up, examine it briefly and look around, wondering where it came from. It’ll be the first item bearing both his DNA and mine. The first of many. I like that.
When the time is right, I exit the car and make my way to the back of the house. Light lures me to the bedroom window. I watch from behind as he strips. He turns, takes a few steps and stops short when he sees me through the glass. I smile and give a wiggle-fingered wave. He stands motionless and stares. He doesn’t cover his private parts. He wants me to see. His eyebrows are raised; his mouth is agape. I know that look. It’s like when you open an unexpected gift and it’s exactly what you wanted.
He’s pleased. Obviously, he loves me.
They met, fittingly, in the spring. The dark curtain lifted. Rain cleansed the city and colour returned to the world. Trees came alive: Buds swelled like popcorn; leaves unfurled; birds twittered as only birds can. Animals and people emerged from hibernation.
She was content to sit alone, warming her sun-starved skin, but there was more in store for her.
“Hello,” he said.
She looked up into eyes as green as grass and smiled. Her smile hijacked his heart.
It played out against a backdrop of scudding clouds and double rainbows. He brought her tulips. They strolled hand-in-hand along streets blanketed in cherry blossoms. They shared baguettes and cheese, imagining they were in Paris. At night the scent of hyacinths wafted in the open window and a chorus of frogs performed for their entertainment.
He told her funny stories. She taught him to dance.
She was curious and he laughed easily. They fit well together.
“We’re the luckiest people in the world,” he said.
She smiled. “I know.”
The sun rose higher in the sky and the days grew longer. Flowers burst from the ground. Clematis climbed and lizards lazed in the sun.
“Come hiking with me,” he urged and she did.
“Let’s learn to paint,” she suggested. He agreed.
They sat in the shade and read, periodically glancing over to find that the other had done the same thing in the same moment.
He made Beef Wellington, lit candles and poured wine with a tea towel draped over his arm.
“Exquisite,” she declared.
He leaned over and kissed the top of her head.
She was refined and he was gregarious. They learned from each other.
After dark, dozens of phantom crickets chirped for prospective mates. She spread a blanket on the grass. They lay side-by-side with their eyes closed and were soothed by the sound.
Many nights they stood outside and watched the sun stain the sky as it went down in a blaze of glory. Most mornings they lounged in bed rather than witness its resurrection.
“I love you,” she said.
His eyes gleamed. “I love you, too,” he replied.
The temperature dropped in small increments. Trees were aglow, their branches enveloped in a riotous mix of red and orange and yellow.
Sometimes fog hung heavy over the fields. They walked through it and mist dampened their faces. He licked the drops from her cheek.
“Ew,” she said.
She was slight and felt the chill. They walked less.
“We should see this film,” she suggested.
He sighed. “Just once can’t we see a movie in English?”
They stayed in instead.
Leaves darkened, shrivelled and began to fall. A few clung to the branches in a valiant last stand before they too loosened and drifted to the ground. He scooped up handfuls and threw them in the air. She caught them as they floated down. They were crisp and despite her gentle touch, crumbled in her hands.
Rakes came out all over town. Plumes of smoke rose into the air from burning piles of fallen foliage.
He inhaled deeply. “I love that smell.”
“Me too,” she said. Actually, the smoke burned her eyes.
Squirrels gathered acorns and pine cones and buried them in lawns and compost heaps. She stood on the deck and watched them work, filled with a sadness she didn’t understand.
He told her, “There’s a party Friday.”
“I’m away for work,” she reminded him.
He frowned. “Again?”
The sun hid behind clouds mottled like bruises. Gardens wilted. Lawns turned brown.
He grew a beard she didn’t like, claiming it warmed his face. Sometimes she turned her head when he reached in to kiss her.
“It scratches,” she explained, but he only laughed.
They liked different programs so they bought a second TV.
They hunkered down in woollen sweaters while snow accumulated. The furnace chugged noisily, blasting dry air through the vents. Electricity crackled when they touched metal. The house felt small.
She told him about something that had happened to her. He laughed loudly.
“Everything isn’t a joke,” she said.
He apologized, “I misunderstood.”
They made promises to each other. When they broke those, they made new ones.
He asked if she knew where he’d left his phone. She answered, “Somewhere it doesn’t belong, obviously.”
The wind howled and rattled the windows. The noise disturbed their sleep. They were unnerved, fearing someone had broken in.
He found her crying in the bathtub. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
She replied, “Nothing,” and smiled weakly.
He didn’t press.
The landscape froze, thawed and froze again. They were driven mad by the relentless drip, drip, drip of icicles hanging from the eaves, the drops boring holes deep into the snowdrifts below. Several times one of them went out and shattered the icicles with a broom. They always grew back so they gave up.
“I can’t stand this much longer,” he said.
“Neither can I,” she agreed.