The taxi should be here any minute now. It’s too cold to stand outside, especially with a very active wind. The café is busier than normal as dozens of people huddle around the counter and wait impatiently for their hot drinks.
Once a week, I come here to study and I always prefer the two-seat table next to the large windows. I enjoy observing the busy town, such as pedestrians taking a stroll, musicians playing soulfully on the sidewalk, and restaurants writing their specials on their chalk board stands.
Something large and yellow maneuvers in front of the café and I see it’s my taxi. Collecting my belongings and my drink, I push my way through the thirsty customers toward the front door. Exiting out, I accidentally collide into someone and nearly spill my drink over my chest.
“I’m very sorry.” I quickly apologize to the person and hoof it to the taxi completely embarrassed.
My hand grabs the handle of the taxi door and the thought of forgetting something pops up. I know I have everything but I can’t figure out what’s bugging me. The taxi driver honks his horn aggressively and raises both hands up. I explain to him that I believe I forgot something inside the café and to give me a few minutes. He rolls his eyes and points at the running meter.
When I pivot around, the person I bumped into is standing in front of the café smiling at me. He is tall with chin-length hair colored light brown, a trim beard, and dark blue eyes. He wears a brown bomber jacket, a band T-shirt, and clean jeans.
“Nikolai.” I whisper in disbelief. He smiles brightly and walks off without a single word to me.
There is no way he is getting away from me this time. I follow him down the sidewalk through crowds of people who made it difficult for me to catch up. It just had to be the hour where work shifts change and school ends for the day. Every street corner I approached, he was already on the other side of the street. Despite my purse and heavy laptop bag weighing me down, I continue my pursuit. Catching up to him is the most important thing for me to do right now.
I find him at a park surrounding a lake. Nikolai is sitting in one of the swings at the playground. He sees me and smiles. I smile back, taking a deep breathe to calm my heart rate, and I walk toward him. It’s surprising that he brought me here. The swings were where we first met as kids. I step within ten feet from him, and he immediately gets up and jogs away. The chase starts again.
The cat and mouse game seems to have lasted for several hours. Nikolai led me all over town and when I was close enough to reach him, he ran off again. He can be so frustrating. But each place he took me to held special memories between me and him. The movie theater was where we had our first date. The deck on the lake was where we had our first kiss. Our first fight was in front of his mother’s house. He took me past our favorite Mexican restaurant. Seeing all this makes me wish that things were different for us. He and I wouldn’t be like this.
Somehow along the chase, I find myself in front of my apartment building. Nikolai is nowhere in sight. That jerk. He always wants to play games. I’m amazed that I am still holding onto my cup of hot chocolate which has since turned cold. I dump the drink into a trash can and my achy feet drags me upstairs.
My calves burn when I reach the third level of the building and I expect a good night sleep after all that running. I walk down the hall, turn to the last apartment on the right, and… Whoa! Nikolai is standing in front of my door.
“Nikolai.” I shake my head, feeling annoyed yet happy to see him. He stands there smiling. Without wasting another second, we embrace each other. No words need to be exchanged. He knew and I knew. It has been too long since he has been gone. The apartment door is unlocked and, with hands laced together, I bring him inside away from the cold weather.
The coat rack barely catches our jackets as we move into the living room. Nikolai walks over to the old CD-player and radio sitting on the mantle of the fireplace and pushes the play button. Norah Jones’ cover of “Love Me Tender” begins to play. He gently pulls me toward him and we lock together for a slow dance. My head rests against his broad chest. I smell his favorite cologne and hear his strong heartbeat.
As the song comes to an end, Nikolai lifts my chin up and whispers with his misty eyes, I’ve missed you very much. Forcing back the tears, I share the same look to him. He chuckles softly and I do the same. Cupping my face with his strong hands, he leans down and presses his warm lips against mine. My heart sings joyfully and happiness breaks through the dam of loneliness. The sensation of his kiss is like finally eating after weeks of starvation; I haven’t been able to live without his love.
We slowly head toward the bedroom, careful of where we were stepping, and all the while remain fixated in each other’s kisses. Pushing the door open, shoes and socks quickly come off. We break apart so that Nikolai could pull his shirt off and the sight made my jaw drop. His chest is covered in deep scars. I’ve never seen anything like it but he distracts me with another deep kiss.
Suddenly, I find myself on my back on the bed and Nikolai is hovering over me with a bright smile. His smile has always been contagious. It’s hard to be sad around him. For the first time in a long time, I’m overwhelmed with joy of seeing him again. I hope he is here to stay.
Leaning down to my ear, he whispers, “Stay strong, Emma. I promise to protect you since I couldn’t do it before. I love you, always and forever.” His body presses on top of mine and a flood of warmth overtakes my body.
The alarm goes off and I wake up to a bright morning. Unfortunately, Nikolai is missing. What a fool I am. I smile and smile hard to myself. Tears escape me and I cover my eyes with a pillow. I can’t tell if I’m sobbing out of happiness or heartbreak. Removing the pillow from my face, I sit up and reach over the dresser to turn the alarm off.
Next to the alarm is a picture frame holding a picture of Nikolai and me. We are standing in front of our wedding cake and we’re both holding a saber to cut it with. He is dashing in his military uniform. A small box rests front of the frame.
Nikolai’s Purple Heart medal.