He squinted up into the sun, using his hand as a shade against the glare. It felt like it hadn’t moved from directly above him in the entire hour he’d been sitting there. His bottle of water, full when he got to the park, was now nothing but a wisp of steam clinging to the inside of a crinkled plastic shell. In every direction were happy families having cookouts under shelters; directly ahead of him, a pair of squirrels skittered around a massive old maple tree, playing a seemingly never-ending game of tag. From time to time, a brave runner or walker chugged by, streaming sweat in the sweltering heat. In the distance was the low hum of passing traffic on the street that bordered the park. There were lots of things to see and hear. But she was none of those things.
He checked his Batman watch. Just looking at it gave him a pang of sadness. It had been a birthday present from her just six months ago. Its golden hands told him she was now more than 45 minutes late. He decided he would give her a whole hour. He checked his phone for about the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes. As he knew before he even actually looked, there were no texts from her. He put it face-down on the bench beside him, as if not looking at it might cause a message to magically appear.
Ten more minutes passed. It had been a full hour. One last time, he stared longingly at the blank screen, willing her to text him. Nothing. He had promised himself he wouldn’t do it, but he found himself swiping the screen and punching the text icon. He scrolled down until he found her name. He regretted it as soon as he pulled up the exchange. The last message she had sent to him, four months earlier, was emblazoned across the top of the screen.
“I wanted you to fight for me and you didn’t.”
Below that were the four messages he’d sent after that, when she wouldn’t take his calls, but she’d never responded. Finally, he’d sent her one last desperate message asking her to meet him on their bench. The bench where they’d met, what, five years ago? Yes, it had been five years. They felt like five weeks, whereas the last six months seemed more like years. She never replied, but he held out hope that she would come. He felt certain if he could just talk to her, just explain, she would understand. He had wanted to fight for her, to ask her not to go. But he was sure that wasn’t what she wanted of him. He thought he was doing the right thing. He thought she would see his act of sacrifice as just that—a sacrifice. A noble deed done for the woman he loved. He thought she wanted him to prove his love by letting her go, not by trying to stop her. If only she would listen.
He touched the bottom of the screen where it said, “Enter message.” The keyboard appeared. He typed haltingly, unsure what to say to convince her to come see him. To let him show her how much he still loved her. How much he would always love her. So that’s what he typed. His thumb hovered over the send button for a few seconds. Why was he hesitating? He couldn’t come up with a good reason, so he sent it, dropping the phone on the bench like it was burning his hand.
Thirty seconds later, his heart leapt when it chimed to inform him that he’d received a reply. He grabbed up the device and slid his finger across the phone to clear the lock screen. He read the words three times, unable to convince himself they were real. He closed the texting app, but activated it again immediately, convinced he’d read the wrong message. But he hadn’t.
“This number is no longer in service.”