“Keisha, is this a real word?” Spencer asked, glancing up from the board.
They were playing Scrabble but Keisha’s mind wasn’t on the game. She was thinking about Johann and rehearsing in her mind how she was going to tell him that their relationship was over. All of last night she wrestled with the decision, her heart breaking at the thought but she couldn’t continue seeing a man who was still hung up on his deceased wife. The gold and diamond encrusted wedding band was a constant reminder of the woman who used to be her English professor.
“KEISHA!” Spencer’s shrill cry jolted her.
She glared at him, “You don’t have to yell,” she scolded him.
“Well, you didn’t answer my question.”
“Is this a real word?”
She glanced at the board where the word ASSAY was spelled out. “Yes, it is and I think it’s worth seven points.”
Spencer looked quite pleased. “What does it mean?”
“It has several meanings such as to try out or test, to analyze or examine in order to judge, to evaluate and to try or attempt.” She sighed. “Spencer, I don’t feel like playing anymore.”
His lips pursed. “Is it because I’m winning?”
“Of course not,” she retorted as she got up from the floor. “I’m going out for a while.” She walked out of the room.
Johann was in his study, sitting at his desk, with papers spread out in front of him but he couldn’t concentrate. All he could think about was Keisha and how she had seemed a bit distracted last night when they were together. He couldn’t shake the fear that she might be losing interest in him although last night their lovemaking had been as passionate as usual. Was she seeing someone else? The thought filled with him with dread and jealousy.
He leaned back in his chair, dragging his fingers through his hair. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing her. After losing Abby, he didn’t think he could fall in love again but fall he did and hard. Agitated, he got up from the desk and began to pace restlessly about the room. The first time he met Keisha was four years ago when he went to the university to meet Abby for lunch. Keisha was with her in the classroom.
He remembered how Keisha stood in front of the congregation and recited Abby’s favorite poem Hope is the Thing with Features by Emily Dickinson before she gave a short and moving tribute. When it was his turn to give his eulogy, he kept his eyes trained on her and it helped him to get through the tough moments. After the service, he went up to her and thanked her for being there. He invited her to drive over to the cemetery with him. It was comforting having her stand there beside him as they lowered the coffin and covered it.
When the funeral service was over, he asked her to go to the house with him. He didn’t want to be alone. They didn’t speak on the ride over or even when he let them into the bungalow. He helped Keisha remove her coat and hung the coats in the closet. “Where’s the kitchen?” she asked. After he pointed it out, she went and put the kettle on. She fixed them some hot chocolate.
They sat on the sofa for several minutes, not saying anything. Having her there made a tremendous difference and he was grateful that she stayed with him for as long as she did. Before she left, she fixed him something to eat and promised that she would drop by the next day. Not surprisingly, he didn’t sleep well that night and was exhausted when he got up. Keisha stopped by in the afternoon and he was happy to see her. She brought over dinner she had prepared and after some coaxing, she got him to eat. After they finished eating she stacked the dishes in the dishwasher and then joined him in the living-room.
She found him standing by the fireplace, looking at the frame photos. He picked one up and took it over to the sofa, showing it to her when she sat down next to him. It was a photo of Abby and him in what looked like an orphanage with beautiful children. “That was taken on the day Abby found out that she was pregnant. She looked so radiant. We had been trying for a while and it finally happened. She was over the moon because she wanted so much to be a mother. And she would have been a terrific one too…” his voice broke.
“What happened?” Keisha asked gently.
“The baby was stillborn. It was a boy.”
“I’m so sorry,” Keisha whispered. She reached out and covered his hand with his. “I can’t imagine how devastated the two of you must have been.”
“All Abby wanted to know what why did our son die and she was afraid to try again in case the same thing happened again. The doctor explained that it was placental insufficiency. She advised us to take time to grieve and to consult her before trying to conceive again. It took a long time for us to get over the loss of our son but before she died, Abby told me that she wanted to get pregnant again. It was great seeing the sparkle back in her eyes and then one afternoon that sparkle is gone for good…” His voice trailed off as he remembered the awful moment when he learned that Abby had been struck down by a car which ran a red light as she was crossing the street on her way to the drugstore.
Without saying a word, Keisha put her arms around him and held him as he sobbed. They sat like that for a long time. It soon became a regular thing for her to stop by and check up on him. When he was ready, she helped him to sort through Abby’s clothes, trinkets, books, etc and pack them in boxes to donate to her favorite charities and the library. And when he decided that it was time to sell the house and move to a flat, she went with him to find a new place and helped him to move in. The first night he was there, she prepared something for them to eat and they sat on the balcony facing the Thames.
Getting through the first year was though, especially when it was Abby’s birthday and Christmas but having Keisha around helped tremendously. They saw each other several times a week and by the following year he was beginning to live again.
He remembered the night when things between them changed. It was after dinner and he was getting the movie that they were going to watch ready. She joined him as usual on the sofa. They watched the movie and then it was time for her to go because it was a Sunday night and it was work the next day.
At the door, she wished him a goodnight but this time, she reached up and kissed him on the cheek. When she drew back, he was staring at her and she swallowed when she saw the expression on his face. Wordlessly, he caught her by the shoulders and pulled her against him. She watched mesmerized as his lips got closer until they were moving on hers. Closing her eyes, she put her arms around his neck as she kissed him back. The kisses became passionate and they were clawing at each other as feelings that had been held in check leapt to the surface.
He closed his eyes now as he remembered how they had made wild love on the rug in front of the fireplace. She aroused passions in him he never even knew existed and that night was the first of many such trysts. Suddenly the desire to see her overwhelmed him and he went over to the desk about to call her when the doorbell rang. Frowning, he hurried from the study and went to answer the door. His heart leapt when he peered through the keyhole and saw Keisha standing there.
Eagerly, he opened the door, his eyes running over her small frame. “I was just about to call you,” he said as he stepped aside to let her in. After closing and locking the door, he turned to face her. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”
“I wanted to talk to you about—you’re not wearing your ring,” she exclaimed, staring at his left hand which looked conspicuously bare.
He glanced down at his hand and then back at her. “I took it off last night when I came home. It’s in a box in my bureau.”
“Why did you take it off?” she asked.
“I’m ready to move on—with you,” he told her. “I love you, Keisha. I didn’t think I could be lucky to find love a second time but I did.”
Tears sprang to Keisha’s eyes. “I love you too, Johann. And, to be honest, I came here this afternoon to break up with you because I thought you weren’t ready to move on. I felt that you were still hung up on Abby and that there was no room for me. Now that I am saying this, I feel so ashamed. I sound selfish and insensitive. I’m so sorry. You loved her for fifteen years. I can’t expect you to let go of the memories and the love you have for her because of me and insecurities. I think you should wear the ring.”
He took her hands and pulled her toward him. “You’re not being selfish or insensitive. If I were in your shoes I would probably feel the same way. Abby will always have a place in my heart. The memories will always be there and I will keep the ring but I’m fine with not wearing it anymore. This bare finger is my way of letting you know that I’m ready to move on.”
She smiled through her tears. “I hope that I can make you as happy as Abby did.”
“You make me happy in a way no one else can,” he assured her huskily, cupping her face between his hands before lowering his head to kiss her.
Two years later, they got married and after returning from their honeymoon in the Bahamas, they got the news that Keisha was pregnant–with twin girls whom they named Abby and Alyssa. And to date, Johann still hasn’t worn the old ring. It is still in the box in the bureau in their new home.