Yesterday's Journey

(David Berardelli)

Yesterday's Journey

Chapter 1


His picture pressed snugly against her bosom, she sat alone in the heavy darkness of her bedroom, letting the fresh tears warm her cheeks.

She’d made the room dark because she didn’t want to see anything. Her bed, the apartment window, her closet—everything about her room, her surroundings, reminded her of him. Darkness was the only way she knew to keep it away. To prevent it from devouring her.

She also experienced a sense of peace in the darkness. And a warm silence, which she desperately needed right now. She was content just to sit there all alone, her eyes closed, letting the silence and the peace caress and warm her.

She could no longer force herself to look at his picture. Having it pressed against her bosom gave her a sense of warmth, of security, but she could no longer bear to look at his face. She couldn’t stand to be reminded of how handsome he was, how full of life… How wonderful he’d made her feel when she gazed into his beautiful dark-brown eyes. She could no longer bear to see his smile. The crinkly laugh-lines that gathered around his eyes whenever something caught his fancy. The tiny crescent-shaped dimple on the right side of his mouth that showed so faintly whenever his mouth edged gradually in that direction for one of his sexy half-smiles.

It had been six weeks since the nightmare. A day she would never forget. It was a day like any other, starting with breakfast and her usual twenty-minute drive to the bank on Penn Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh. But just a few hours later, the day—as well as her world—had turned dark and cold and terrifying the instant a few soft, well-chosen words had wrenched her heart out of her chest to turn her life into the shambles it had become since that horrible day.

She’d cried every hour of every day ever since. This day should be no different, should it? But somehow, it was. Somehow, it felt different. The tears continued to drift down her cheeks, but right now she had the strange feeling that one day the well would eventually run dry altogether.

Somehow, that did not seem very likely. The grief was there. It had set up shop and intended to remain for an extended stay.

Why shouldn’t the tears continue as well?

The first few moments right after she had been given the horrifying news had been a blur. Her mind was trying to cope with the shock by bathing everything in a soft shade of gray. By doing this, it somehow softened the blow, made it less painful. Less devastating. Otherwise, she might have collapsed. Or suffered a heart attack.

She’d been working at her cage that morning. She just finished a transaction and closed her drawer. She remembered finishing up with Mrs. Dillinger, the nice, quiet old lady who came in once a month to deposit her pension check. Just moments after she’d sent the gentle lady on her way, Mr. Engel, the bank president, walked over very quickly. In his usual soft, high-pitched whisper, he asked her to accompany him to his office. He’d looked so pale, so grim and morose. He always wore dark suits, spent considerable money on his nails and thinning gray hair and looked very much like a mortician. However, on this particular day, he seemed even gloomier than usual.

Her first reaction, of course, was that she had done something wrong. As she followed her boss’s tall, slender frame down the carpeted hall, her mind instantly looped, going back to all the things she’d done during the last few days. A miscalculation, perhaps? Or maybe she hadn’t accurately recorded the correct amount for her tallies the day before.

She found herself worrying about that extra break she’d taken the afternoon before. Derek had asked her to pick up something for him at the drugstore across the street. What was it? Benydril? Ibuprophen? She remembered that it was definitely Benydril. His sinuses had been acting up lately. And it had to be the non-drowsy kind so he could take it during working hours.

The errand had only taken her ten minutes. And since she’d done it during a slow time, when most of their customers had gone back to work after lunch, she didn’t think there would be a problem. All the cashiers did quick errands during the day. Mr. Engel was strict, but he’d never been one to quibble about such minor issues.

Even so, she was nervous about what she might have done. Why Mr. Engle looked so glum. When she worried about something, her mind tended to go blank, turning everything hazy and indistinct. This time, the blankness had, for some reason, eclipsed that important detail. That tiny sliver that would shed light on the situation, telling her what she’d done. Even so, she couldn’t help feeling nervous and somewhat frightened as she followed her boss into his office, where the words Ronald L. Engel, Bank President, showed in bold black letters on a shiny square silver plaque over the polished cedar door.

In no time at all, she would realize that this emergency meeting had nothing whatsoever to do with bank business. Or that tiny errand the day before.

Derek was dead.

Her fiancé, the love of her life, had been shot and killed in a botched burglary at a 7-Eleven just two blocks away.

Derek Manning, the handsome loving man who, in just eight weeks, would have become her husband, had been shot and left for dead by an armed robber less than half a mile away.

According to what Mr. Engel had been told by the police, the senseless crime had taken place just half an hour earlier. Just a few minutes before that, she’d just taken her break, gone to the ladies’ room and slipped into the break room for a cup of vanilla coffee so she could sit down and enjoy her glazed doughnut.

All the while, her beloved soulmate lay bleeding to death on the filthy floor of the 7-Eleven a mere two blocks down the street…

A fresh batch of tears came back, covering her cheeks with warmth.

Even after six weeks, she still couldn’t accept it, couldn’t come to terms with the fact that Derek was dead. Even after the showing, the funeral services and the burial, she still couldn’t admit to herself that Derek was no longer here with her. That he’d never come to see her again. That she’d never again feel his arms around her, his warm lips on hers. Never again would he tell her in his soft, special whisper how much he loved her, how much she meant to him, what they would do once they were married. Where they’d live. How many kids they should raise…

Derek was gone, but she didn’t want to believe it. Or think it. Or say it. Or even whisper it…

Not even to herself.

Whispering it, saying it aloud would make it real, and she didn’t want it to ever be real. It had somehow become less real in the darkness, less horrifying in the silence.

But she couldn’t ignore that one cold, undeniable fact. He hadn’t come for her in the last six weeks. Hadn’t talked to her. Or called her. Or shown himself. It told her the horrible truth. That even though she could never accept what had happened, she would one day have to stand in front of the mirror, look at herself and say it.

But not now.

Maybe not even tomorrow. Or the day after. Or next week.

Right now, darkness suited her best. It kept everything away—the grief, the sadness, the agony. She knew she couldn’t escape what happened, but the darkness somehow insulated her from all of it, keeping it far enough away. At least for right now. 

She sat curled up in her chair and let the numbing sensation take over once again. Hopefully, she would fall asleep. If not, she’d take another pill. The last six weeks, she had taken a pill each night. Otherwise, she’d be forced to spend another night fully awake in this very chair, the one Derek had bought her just three months ago for her thirty-second birthday. Another long, excruciatingly lonely night of sitting here, thinking about him, and reliving their two-year relationship.

Keeping her wet eyes tightly shut, she used one hand to clutch the velvety arm of the chair. It was the same arm Derek had gripped dozens of times earlier while he knelt facing her, smiling lovingly at her, telling her how much he loved her.

I love you, Paula. I always have, always will.

Even now, after all that had happened, she could still hear his loving words caressing her. It was like a warm breeze flowing gently in the moonlight.

Just then, someone knocked quietly on her door.

As always, she ignored it. It was probably Mom or Dad. She didn’t want to see them right now. She didn’t want to see anyone right now.

Except Derek. And she knew it wasn’t him.

Or was it?

Was there even one slim chance in a million that he’d actually come back to see her?

Anything was possible. Derek had said that before—many times. He’d said that when you truly loved someone, nothing was impossible. There would always be a connection. A constant blending of two souls that would survive as long as their love remained strong. He also said that something as wonderful as true love could never really die.

Perhaps he was right. Perhaps even after the agonizing horror of what had happened, something good could come out of this. Something wonderful. Something miraculous.

Something that would never die.

But even as the dark, cold terror slithered toward her, reminding her that what had happened six weeks ago was very, very bad, that she would never see Derek again, something else struggled to show itself. This sensation was bright and warm, and felt wonderful. It kept telling her that the last six weeks hadn’t happened at all. That there was a chance after all that Derek would indeed call on her again.

It was this bright, warm sensation that made her open her eyes and turn toward the door. For nearly half a minute, she struggled to see into the darkness, hoping to visualize a glimmer of Derek’s face, his eyes. For one instant, she thought she might have seen something. Then realized it was just her imagination.

There was nothing.

Another quiet knock.

Sighing, she cleared her throat. “Y-Yes?”

The door opened. A slim vertical beam of harsh yellow light widened slowly.

“Paula baby?” A dark ball penetrated the beam of light almost in mid-center. Mom poked her head in the doorway.

Her heart sank. “Yes, Mom?”

“Baby, we were wondering if…if you’d like some dinner…”

“No, thanks.”

Her mother sighed. “Baby, you haven’t eaten in—“

“I’m really not hungry, Mom.”

“Listen, Paulie, I can understand what you’re going through. We all can. We can because we’ve been going through this with you. But you’ve really got to eat something. It’s been several days. You haven’t eaten enough to keep a bird alive. It’s been two days since you sat with us at the kitchen table. You only picked at your food, and—“

“I’m all right, Mom…”        

“No, dear. You’re not all right. You’ve got to keep up your strength…“

“Mom, I really don’t wanna talk about this or anything else right now.”

“Paula baby…”

“Mom, please respect my wishes and just leave me be.” It was so difficult, keeping the heat of anger, frustration, and heartbreak inside. She wanted so much to let it all out. To scream. To shriek. And force the badness and the anger and the panic out of her spirit in one gigantic burst. Her heart thundered as she watched her mother’s dark silhouette remain in the doorway those few tense seconds before it finally withdrew and was replaced by the beam of light. Then, finally, the beam grew slender once again. A moment later, it disappeared entirely and turned right back into the comforting darkness that made her sigh in instant relief.

The door clicked quietly shut. The silence came right back to soothe and protect her.     

The terror all snug and comfortable inside her once again, Paula closed her eyes and sat back. Derek’s photo still pressed snugly against her bosom, she let the darkness overpower her and take her gently into a soft shade of hazy grayness.