But not in heart and mind
The ground was hard and unforgiving. Arthur tracked snow prints up the hill beside another smaller pair, and he knew he’d soon find out if she — Catherine — were here. His stomach fluttered between lightness and heaviness. He didn’t know what to do with his hands. They were freezing, so he slipped them into his pockets.
His guts jerked and spasmed while cresting the hill as he laid eyes on Catherine. How long had it been since they worked together? She wore a white tweed jacket, long and form-fitting. Her head bowed down, her back to him. Overhead, two birds chirped and flew together, landing on the sparse tree branches overlooking the cemetery.
He cleared his throat, closing the distance between himself, Catherine, and the grave. Yet deep in his heart, Arthur knew closing the distance on Catherine wasn’t attainable. She’d be forever out of reach.
Catherine turned and smiled at him, and he lost his breath. A tear trickled down her cheek. “Arthur.” She tugged on his arm and came in for a hug, her body warm.
“She would have liked this. You and me here visiting her,” Arthur said, instantly regretting it.
She smiled, but it didn’t meet her eyes, and pulled away, saying, “The gravestone’s…perfect.”
“It’s what she would have wanted.” The snow accumulation overtook the granite stone. He made work of pushing the snow off the top, sides, and the face to read the inscription ‘The woman who dared to dream often.’
“She loved you like a daughter,” Arthur said, gesturing to the grave, knowing that was as far as he could go.
“I felt that truly and always,” she said looking at him. The space between them stuck. Her nose and cheeks were vibrant and pink, so full of life.
Snowflakes passed between them landing on her long eyelashes. He should tell her. But Martha wouldn’t hear of it. The very reason for his visit. Arthur needed to hash this out with Martha, even if she was frozen in the ground.
Instead, he said, “The bakery isn’t the same without you.” There he went again, giving away too much. “No one can make a gluten-free, dairy-free scone quite the way you can.”
She hugged herself. “It’s been such a long time. I’ve been meaning to stop by. It’s been hard knowing she won’t be there. I’ve walked over to Riley Street many times, thinking I’ll go in and have a chat. But this pull stops me dead. This void in my stomach bottoms out, and I can’t catch my breath,” she paused.
“I feel it too,” Arthur said, and the moment held and stretched. The void was in his heart, and this was his chance, but the words were frozen in his throat.
Catherine shifted and broke the silence. “It was nice seeing you again, but I’ve got to get back to the office.”
“You can always come back,” he said taking one step toward her.
She nodded and smiled and started across the snow-covered grass.
He watched her leave, the familiar fire in his chest burned. He walked around the grave in a circle, deciding what to do. He wanted to run to her and tell her. But, in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to go anywhere.
Instead, the slow burn in his heart smothered itself out, and he stared down at the grave. And he remembered the woman in it and how she’d saved his life.
Their oath bound him and he said to the gravestone, “Martha, this isn’t fair! She should know the truth; she’s your daughter. And I should take a chance and tell her I’m in love with her.”