As Lewis walked up to the door, it strangely felt like he had been here before. But he hadn't. She had moved here three years ago, and he never saw the place. It smelled like Nina's home alright, though. The faint whiff of hydrangeas, of roses, and of other flowers caught he keen nose, and he breathed in deeply and smiled reassuringly to himself. The he became serious, as if he had no right to smile.
Was this the right thing to do? He hoped so. Time would tell. It felt as if it was almost yesterday, instead of six years ago, as he knocked on her door.
After a few knocks, a minute or two, Nina opened the door to her house. Someone had to be home, for there was a car in the driveway. As she looked upon him, Lewis expected her to slam the door shut in his face, but she also acted as if she had just seen him yesterday. And it seemed like no big deal to her.
Without much emotion on her face, she left the screen door shut, but she kept the inner door open. Walking away, it was like she expected him to follower her non-verbal lead. He did, hesitantly.
In the kitchen, Nina poured him a cup of coffee. "You hungry?" she asked him. "I am about to put some cinnamon roles into the oven. I'm going to open up a can from the fridge."
"Oh?" Lewis responded, trying to be nonchalant, trying to hid the nervousness in his voice. "Not from scratch?" His heart was practically beating out of his chest.
Nina's back was towards him. She was finishing some dishes in the sink. "Yeah, I know I was always Betty Crocker. But I'be learned to make short cuts, and it tastes just fine. Makes life easier to not do everything like Grandma did it."
After she separated the rolls apart, and stuck them into the oven, she just kept going about her business. She started to open some mail and sorted the items into piles of importance and priority, and into a pile that could wait.
Lewis was shocked. He couldn't believe her composure. After a while, she turned around, leaned against the counter top, and she acted like she didn't have a care in the world. She didn't look one bit stressed, angry, sad, shocked, disgusted--or anything.
Finally, Lewis said, "Nina, I don't get it." He felt itchy, and tense, as if he could scratch his skin off, as if he was waiting for a bomb to drop. "Why aren't you telling me to get the hell out of her...to go ***** off...or call me every name in the book."
Nina just looked him up and down. He began to chuckle, nervously. "Come on, Nina! I am surprised you just don't grab that pan of hot rolls in the oven, and whack me in the head with them!"
In response, Nina still said nothing, acting as if nothing ever happened.
Becoming quite unsettled with her unexpected composure, he went on. "I mean...come on..scream at me. Cuss me out! Slap me! Punch me! Something, for God's sake!"
Nina raised an eyebrow, and tried to resist smiling. She was waiting patiently for him to explain himself, not to go on like this. "Is that what you want, Lewis? Is that why you came her? To beat you into oblivion with a pan of hot cinnamon rolls?" She didn't try to make him look foolish--he was doing a good job of that on his own.
Lewis turned red in embarrassment, and started to smirk. "Well...yeah...would make more sense to me."
The timer went off and the rolls were done. Putting her oven mitts on, Nina pulled them out of the oven and let them cool on top of the counter. The silence was eerie, awkward.
She poured him another cup of coffee, and finally addressed the elephant in the room. As he still looked up at her, dumbfounded by her, she said, "Lewis...if you have the ***** to come here...than I can certainly let you in and hear you out."
With that said, she filled a plate full of rolls, places them in the center of the table, pulled out a chair and sat down across from him at the table. "I'm listening", she said, her expressions still low-key. Yet Lewis thought that her eyes and mouth seemed ready to mock him, positioned to put him in his place. His guilt wouldn't allow him to think, otherwise.
Why would she serve him food and coffee? Why not just get it all into the open and demand that he spill his guts?
Lewis didn't want to beat around the bush any longer, but spoke plainly in his confession. "Nina, what can I say? I'm an ***." She didn't nod her head in agreement, nor say that he sure was an ***, yet a "look of suspicion was growing upon her face.
"OK, OK", he went on. "I should never have left you--of all days! What a frickin' wimp! I should have manned-up and told you I wasn't ready to get married. Instead, I stood you up at the church...of all places...in front of your family...your friends. A complete no-show--I made a mockery of that day! It was supposed to be one of the best...and I made it the worst! Some in my family haven't really gotten past it or have forgiven me. Not fully. A few barely talk to me. My best friend, Steve, thinks I'm a *****--a dumb fool!"
Nina sighed with relief. This was what she wanted to hear. The tears started flowing.
Lewis told her, "So I just don't get it. I don't get why you are not furious with me! It just blows my mind!"
Lewis grabbed for another cinnamon role, and Nina handed him a napkin. She wasn't crying anymore, and he was glad. Why was she being so nice though? So hospitable? Did she have something up her sleeve? Did she mean to get back at him? Maybe poison in one of his roles? Lewis had to laugh at himself. Actually, that might alleviate some of his guilt right now.
Picking at her role, Nina explained, first more sharply. Then she was soft in speech. "It's not all about you, ya know! Look, Lewis, don't think that for a moment that just because it is more OK now that it was OK back then! Well...I guess you already realize this. You see, I'm different now...changed...grown a lot since. I did a lot of soul searching, lots of growing."
"I can see that. It's wonderful."
"And I wondered what I did wrong...at first. Then I hated you, blamed you. I wished that I never said I would marry you. I did plenty of screaming at you--plenty. I bring things in a rage--mirrors, a clock, a dish or two--bruised my fists up pounding things."
She paused and continued, all the time looking at the intricate, lace doily on the center of the table, under a vase of fresh daisies. Finally, Lewis saw the gamut of emotions. In one moment, her face would pinch in frustration and anger. It would then evolve into a soft sadness, and other emotions within.
"Wasn't so composed about you back then, Lewis. Let's see...I swore at you. I wished you were dead. I ripped up every picture of you...put some in the shredder, wishing they were you, instead..prayed that you would die. Bitterness isn't event he word for it. I thought you were the worst thing that happened to me, that you ruined my life forever. I cursed you up and down, Lewis. I'm sure I even invented some new curse words."
That was enough said. She looked up at him and slightly smiled. Lewis smiled back, for at least she felt real to him now, quite natural. She admitted, But I think I cried far more than I hated you. I still loved you."
Lewis wanted to sit right next to her and hold her. "Oh, baby...I'm so sorry..."
Nina quickly interjected. "Honey, you weren't ready for marriage. We were both young, only in our mid twenties...we thought we had it so together. It took me a while, but I finally realized that you needed to find out who you really were, came to that conclusion for a while now. And, boy, did I need to get to know myself more, too!"
"No!", he insisted, emphatically. "Don't make excuses for me! I did not do right by you!"
Nina reached across the table and put her hand upon his. "It seemed like hell at the time, but I needed to learn about me, too! Crazy as it sounds....if it did not happen...I never would have..."
She stopped short. Lewis had tears in his eyes, and one began to roll down his cheek. "Met Gary", he said, finishing her sentence for her.
Surprise flashed across her face. "You did your homework!" Nina stated. She was quite impressed and smiled.
"I wanted to know what happened to you", Lewis responded. "You probably wonder why I didn't walk away for good. I intended to....but you deserve some answers, and I'm here to give them to you. Sure, I could have walked away, and stayed away. I could have saved myself the embarrassment of facing you, again. I could have pretended to have some dignity left."
"But you do have some dignity left", she insisted, sweetly. "It takes a lot of courage to do this. I'm glad you did."
"Are you happy now? I mean...I hope you are."
Lewis didn't even have to ask. He could already tell. They sat in silence for a moment. Nina finally said, excitedly, "Gary's a great guy! We both love art. We both love nature, the outdoors, to travel. He loves other cultures, and learning other things--like languages." Her face was beaming with pride. "Gary is trying to learn Portuguese and brush up on his Spanish. This year ,we are planning a trip to Portugal and Spain!"
Nina always did keep a nice home, and she decorated it with art that was acquired from different places. Where Lewis didn't have a sense of what looked good, she had a good sense of style. When they were both together, the talked of going to different places that they never traveled to--Africa, Asia, Australia--backpacking across Europe. They were big dreams.
Nina did not want Lewis to feel punished, but his agonizing expression of remorse would have been punishment enough. It already was for him, and it showed his sincerity.
"You know how I met Gary?"
Lewis shook his head. "A support group for divorced people! she admitted, gleefully, as if that was the most amazing thing to say.
Lewis looked embarrassed. Perhaps, he misunderstood her. "What? For divorced people? You were never married before Gary, were you?"
Perhaps, there was something she wasn't telling him. Nina burst out laughing, seeming so carefree as she threw her head back and clapped her hands. Her laughter was beautifully contagious, and Lewis loved to hear it. "No, of course not!" she said. I have no secret past before I met you...or even now. It's just that a divorce support group was the closest support I could get. After all, there are no support groups for jilted brides and grooms!" She laughed even more.
They were talking so easily now, getting along so well. But why? It still seemed so surreal. Lewis laughed along with her, as if this was just an encounter to revisit the good, old times. When hearing of Gary, Lewis felt the pain of his loss, as well as some jealousy rise up. As if he had the right!
He truly was an ***! He never deserved her!
Nina soon became serious, again. "So did you just come here to say you were sorry?" She was thinking he wanted something else from her, something else to say.
Lewis was once poised to take off in a real hurry. Now, he felt more at home. "Yeah...I came to say I was sorry to you...hoping to stop feeling sorry for myself... I guess. I'm wishing I could just turn back the clock. I swear I'd do it all again, differently."
"But the past cannot be change, and we both know it", Nina stated, resolutely.
He nodded in agreement. She didn't burst his bubble, for to think otherwise was a childish, fantasy.
"I don't know what else to say, Lewis". Nina's eyes reflected sorrow, not pity. "Life does really go on...if we let it. We have to let it, though." She now turned the conversation onto him. " So how about you? I hope you have some good news to tell me, something in your life."
He shrugged his shoulders. "I've had a few, short relationships", he admitted. Where there any displeasing looks on her face? Lewis didn't notice anything, now. "Not all that bad, I should say. But I just don't want to settle down until I finish my Masters in business. I'm nearly done."
"Good for you! That is great news!" Nina truly was glad for him, and it just showed him what a great woman she was. But then Lewis already knew this.
"Are you still teaching?" he asked, hoping she was, for she strove for the job, and loved it so much.
"Yes, I teach kindergarten, and Gary teaches science at Darland College."
"Well, what do you know? Both teachers. That sounds like a perfect match for you. And what about kids? None yet?"
"In time...sure. We just aren't ready right now."
She offered him more coffee, but Lewis declined. He was thinking he should go soon. He said. "You know we used to talk about having a boy and a girl--and in that order, too!"
Nina rolled her eyes. "Yeah, boy oh boy. Like we had complete control over it".
They both laughed. It was fine to reminisce, and they did for a while, Lewis realizing that this would be the last time. He lived three hours away. And why should he come back? He did what he set out to do.
Nina would tell Gary about the visit after he came home from work. As husband and wife, there were not secrets between them. Nina was sure he would be surprised,f or his ex-wife never came to apologize for the pain she caused him.
"Gary's wife had an affair on him, and then left to marry that man", Nina revealed. "Thank God there were no children from that marriage."
"Wow, that is ******! Thank God I never did that to you!. I would have never cheated with another woman...or I might never have tried to face you. It would be easier to slink back into the ditch and stay there! This is hard enough as it is!"
"Maybe so, Lewis. Maybe so." Nina quickly added, "You aren't a bad man. I know this and I wholeheartedly mean this, so don't keep beating up on yourself. I've forgiven you for everything. I forgave you then, and I forgive you now. "
"Nina, that means everything to me!" He started to choke up, and more tears came.
Listen, Lewis. You need to forgive you, too."
He lowered his gaze, as Nina held his hand and gave it a squeeze. Never was Lewis so contrite before. Like many men, he never was overly emotional, and so this different side of him was a refreshing experience.
"Yeah, it's time to move on", he stated, using a napkin as a tissue.
"Yes, it is. And I loved what you did. It was helpful for us both. It's the closure we need."
"Yep", he said, wiping away more tears.
"You are a guy with guts, Lewis. you do have courage, and more integrity than you think, and I hope you see it."
Nina offered him more coffee, and he accepted. Why couldn't they chat a little while longer? It was no harm, and it made the visit even more meaningful. Sitting and shooting the breeze more was not a bad thing.
The kitchen still held the fragrant smell of cinnamon, as they polished off more rolls and spoke more of good times.