Arthur pulled the faded book from it's perch upon the shelf, running his finger down the well worn spine. Wuthering Heights had been her favorite book. Every year at this time she had read it, nestling into the overstuffed chair by the fire, near the big bay window he had installed when they bought the house. She would sit there and read the book from beginning to end, her socked feet curled under a blanket, a cup of tea on the window seal. She would sit there and read her favorite book every Christmas Eve.
Arthur traced the worn embossed letters on the front cover, the blues and gold faded to the dullest of sheen. The binding of the book had all but worn out, but she never wanted a new copy. This copy had been given to her by her mother, and she treasured that above all else, except she had said, maybe him. He remembered when he had first seen that book. It had been Christmas Eve and she was sitting in a cafe across from the hospital where she worked. A lot of girls worked there then, all clad in their white skirts and little blue cloaks, but his eyes had been drawn to her immediately. She was alone in a booth, her feet tucked under her, reading the book and sipping a tea. There was a light snowfall fluttering in the air, and several flakes had settled in her red hair, around the small white cap. He had been drawn to her immediately.
He limped into the cafe, snaking an orchid from a fresh bouquet of flowers at the hostess station. Sitting across from her, he rested his cane on the seat and watched her, the way she sipped her tea, the way she turned each page. He sat there watching her for over an hour, so complete was her immersion in the book. The embossed lettering was more pronounced then, still bright and vibrant. He had never thought to break her reading, to interrupt her reverie, he had only realized later how captivated he had been by the mere sight of her. It was only after she looked at her watch, and sighed, that she closed the book and got out of her seat.
He looked away, taking a deep gulp of his now cold coffee, and struggled to his feet, grabbing his cane. He felt a flair in his foot, from the bullet, but he limped on, trying to get to the register at the same time as her. She was dropping her change at the counter when he walked up. He would never forget the second their eyes locked, electricity bounding between them. Arthur gave her the orchid he had stolen, and walked her back to the hospital, Annette twirling the white flower in her fingers. He had spent the rest of his leave with her, every afternoon for lunch, every evening until way past dusk, talking, sharing. He had proposed the night before he shipped out, answered by a tearful yes.
That had been nearly 60 years ago. Many things had changed since then, though in recent years he had come to use that old cane again. Cancer had taken his wife this past May, a long and painful battle that in the end had finally been to much. Nowadays he spent most of his time wandering around the house aimlessly, lost without his Annette. This was the first Christmas he would spend without her, the first time that she wouldn't read Wuthering Heights.
Arthur finally opened the book, running his fingers over the worn cover page. It was only then that he noticed a page in the back that had been marked. He flipped open to the page in question, one of the last pages of the book, and saw it. A single crushed white orchid. Marked at what might have been thelast page she had read before meeting him. He felt his throat grow hot and thick with emotion, and wiped away the building tears in his eyes. Had she saved this flower for over 60 years? He gently touched the dried and aged flowers feeling it's papery petals and missed his Annette more now than he had ever before. He closed the book softly, holding it to his chest as he looked out the great bay window in their bedroom.
A thick layer of snow had fallen the night before and earlier today their great-grandchildren had come over. He could still see their footprints echoed in the snow and the jolly old snowman they had made in the front yard. A gentle breeze rustled the scarf they had put on him but the old hat he had dug out of the closet still rested on his head. He stared out that window a long time, holding that book, until a gentle snow begin to fall against the setting sun. It was only then that he left the room, limping along with his cane.
He returned a few minutes later, a steaming cup of tea in his hand. He settled down into his wife's chair by the window and slipped off his slippers, his stocking feet tucked beneath each other. He rested the tea on the window seal beside the great chair and picked back up his wife's copy of Wuthering Heights. The snow outside continued to fall as dusk settled deeper in the distance. He held the book, realizing now, why this old copy of Wuthering Heights had meant so much to her. It wasn't just her family history, it was their family history. In truth, the first page and the last page on the storybook of their life together. Arthur opened the book and began to read, feeling for the first time since her death, a connection to the woman he loved.
End of Line.