Eve wiped her tears from her face as she climbed out of bed, casting a glance in her husband’s direction to make sure she hadn’t awakened him. The steady sound of TC’s breathing reassured her that he was still in a deep sleep. Stepping carefully onto the carpeted floor, she headed toward the window of their lodge bedroom, following the inviting beam of light that peeked through the partially open blinds.
Grasping the cord with her fingers, Eve opened the blinds a bit further, letting in more of the hypnotizing glare that had called to her as she had struggled to sleep. The piercing light of the full moon seemed to soothe her as she gazed out into the night sky, her eyes seeking comfort in the vastness and freedom of the heavens. Lost in thought, she stood still, mesmerized by the sheer magic of a world that seemed to eclipse all of her troubles with one brilliant, nighttime ray.
A sudden sound from behind startled her back to reality. Turning quickly, she feared meeting the eyes of her husband. A quick scan of the bed showed that TC had simply rolled over, the sound of his steady breathing putting her fears to rest. She let out a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted was to wake TC. She couldn’t face him now. Not now, not after what had just happened… ‘Oh, Eve, what have you done? What kind of a mess have you made of your life?’ she muttered to herself, knowing there would be no answer. Fresh tears streamed down her cheeks as her head fell against the pane, her forehead resting on the cold, damp glass. ‘All I ever wanted was a happy family. That’s it. That’s all I wanted. And now…’ Was it too much to ask for? Had she been living on borrowed time for far too long? Had the key that turned her heart and released her from her self-imposed prison also destroyed the only thing she had of meaning in her life? And if so, how could she go on?
Eve lifted her hands to her eyes and wept, that quiet crying that women do when they don’t want anyone to hear them…when the tears fall just as hard into a silent, painful vacuum. The power of the moonlight would no longer be of assistance in masking her pain and troubles. She would have to find her way in what was living, she knew, in what was tangible and present and real.
Wiping the fresh flood of tears from her face, Eve gazed toward the ground, toward reality. If she was going to find a solution to the mess she had made of her life, it would have to start here, at the ski lodge. It wouldn’t be found in the stars. She was the one who would have to work things out for herself.
Spotting a familiar form in the darkness below, she nodded. It had to be a sign…a sign of the path she needed to take to heal. Remembering the time-honored phrase, “Physician, heal thyself,” Eve knew her future was in her hands, and hers alone. She must be the one to find a way out of the labyrinth of uncertainty that had become her life.
Julian pulled his coat tighter around his chest as he sat on the bench near the resort’s closest ski lift. The hill, teeming with laughter and the glide of skis upon smooth, clean snow just hours before, now sat in eerie silence. The air was nippy even though temperatures were above normal for this time of year. He took a deep breath and released it, watching as it swirled from his lips, turning to cloud the instant it mixed with the cooler night air. His eyes roamed from the frosty exhalation to the stars above before focusing on the bright mistress watching over him in the dark. The moon appeared to be directing her light at him, like a watchful maiden with a lantern, wanting him to follow her path out of the darkness. Instead, he tightened his scarf and cast his eyes toward the ground, losing himself in the endless blanket of white that lay stretched out before him.
His thoughts ventured to the events of the day, the day he had been waiting on for years. He finally had his beloved Eve back in his arms, if only for a handful of hours. The time they spent in his room was nothing but sheer pleasure, a dream come true for him. They had opened their hearts to one another, and had allowed the love and passion that had long been stored within to come gushing out. Once unleashed, there was no stopping it. The two had basked in their desire for one another more times than he could count. Had he been a young man in the prime of his days as a playboy, what transpired in that room would have seemed an almost impossible feat. But for someone his age… He smiled, knowing exactly what had enabled his almost mythical stamina this afternoon, and it had nothing to do with age or strength or fitness…only love. His love for Eve, and the desire he had for her, was so overpowering, it could feed his drive forever. They had always had such a passion for each other, but to be denied the expression of it for two and a half decades…it was a wonder they could tear themselves apart enough for Eve to go back to her room, to get ready for dinner…but that is exactly what they had to do.
Julian hated being apart from her for even a short time, and it had been hours. Seeing her at dinner that evening had been hard for him, because she was there with TC. But at least he had the chance to see how she was doing. She had looked a bit shaken at the sight of him and Rebecca, he remembered, but he didn’t think TC seemed to notice. That, at least, was a good thing. Oh, maybe it would be better if he had. Maybe it would help bring all of this to a close… ‘No,’ he whispered. ‘Let Eve have all the time she needs to work through this. She has the hard part. Let her sort through things, do what’s right for her. I’ll wait. I’ll wait forever for her if I have to.’
“I hope you don’t have to.”
“Eve!” Julian stood up, his face lighting up at the sight of the woman he loved. “Where did you come from? I didn’t hear your footsteps.” He caressed her arms with his gloved hands and then pulled her in for a welcome hug.
“It feels so good to be back in your arms. I feel so safe here.” She pulled away enough to look into his eyes, which were just visible in the moonlight. “You don’t know how hard it’s been…” Her eyes filled with tears once more.
“Oh darling, what’s wrong? There, there, it’s going to be OK. We’ll make it through this, we will. I promise you.”
“Just hold me, Julian. Hold me.”
The two embraced in the frigid night air, clinging to each other out of the desperate need to get close to one another. Staying warm was simply an added bonus.
Eve sobbed in Julian’s arms. It hurt him to see her in such pain. He only wanted to be able to erase her troubles with the warmth of his arms around her. When her tears subsided, he pulled back and took her chin in his hand, tilting her head up so he could look into her bright hazel eyes, now red-rimmed from crying. “Eve, darling, I know it’s hard. If there’s anything I can do…”
“Oh, Julian, you don’t know the half of it!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck and pressing him close to her once more. He held her there, for the longest time, not caring if his arms grew numb or his fingers frozen. He would stand there forever if it made her feel better.
Finally, Eve lifted her head from his chest and looked into his eyes once more. “Julian…I…I…” her words tapered off in another wave of sobs.
“Darling, what is it? Let me help you. I can’t do that unless you tell me what’s wrong. Is it TC?”
She nodded, looking down at the snow, glistening in the moonlight. “TC…tonight…he, he wanted to…well, as soon as we got back to the room, he had this idea that we were going to…you know.”
“Make love?” Julian finished for her, his heart sinking at the thought of what must have occurred between her and TC. He closed his eyes ever briefly, to summon all his strength, and then opened them, the calmness of his hazel orbs masking his inner pain and turmoil.
Eve nodded once more, her eyes averting his. “TC and I have always had that same room. It’s sort of an annual tradition for us. We come up here to ski and then…”
“And then the two of you make love?” he asked, his voice low but steady. How he wanted to be the only man to make love to her!
“Yes, and then we make love. Only this time…” she stopped, taking in a deep breath. “This time it wasn’t that easy. This time, Heavenly Trails was about you and me.”
“You couldn’t go through with it then?” Julian asked, his voice a mixture of little-boy-pleading and hopeful, but resigned strength.
“I tried everything I could to get out of it, Julian, everything…” She looked up into his eyes, and he saw for the first time the fear that was there – fear that he wouldn’t forgive her, wouldn’t love her anymore.
“Eve, listen, no matter what happened in that room, I will always be here for you. I love you. TC and you are married, so who am I to say you can’t…” His voice choked up a bit but he took a deep breath to regain his composure. “I have no right to get angry at you for anything you may have done, Eve. No right. If anything, this is all my fault. Here I am, trying to come into your life after all this time, asking for a second chance. Sometimes, it’s just too late for second chances.”
“No, Julian, don’t you ever say that,” Eve pleaded, reaching up to touch his cheek. The warmth from within the smooth leather material of her glove felt good against his chilled skin. “I love you. You know that. And what happened between us today was like heaven to me. Oh, don’t ever regret that, because I won’t. It was meant to be. And I will always cherish those memories, no matter what.”
Julian’s heart sank at her words. He knew he should be grateful for what she said; it was more than he deserved. But he had always had a sliver of hope that the two of them would end up together one day, and he thought for sure this might just be their chance. He knew he needed to be strong though, for her sake. “It’s OK, Eve. I’ll be all right. And you know I’ll always be here for you. Whenever you need me, just call. You and TC, you’ll be fine…”
Eve’s eyes suddenly grew big with alarm. “No, Julian, you don’t understand. We’re not fine, TC and I. And I don’t know if we can ever be fine again. We, I, couldn’t make love…”
“You couldn’t?!” The excited rise in Julian’s voice betrayed his elation at her words.
“No, Julian, I couldn’t,” Eve said sadly. “I didn’t want to, but TC practically forced me into bed.”
“Did he force himself on you?” Julian asked, clenching his fists. “Because if he did, Eve, so help me…”
“No, Julian. He didn’t force me. He tried every way he could to guilt me into it. But, you know, I can’t blame him. I am guilty…guilty of loving you, guilty of making love to you all afternoon when I am married to him. I guess…I guess I felt in the end I owed him, no matter how much that would hurt me and hurt you. But I couldn’t go through with it, and we had an awful fight. I lay in bed, crying, until he fell asleep.”
“Oh, darling, I don’t like to see you in pain. I wish you had called me. I wish I could have somehow helped take your pain and tears away.” He pulled her in for a hug.
“You have, Julian,” she said, closing her eyes and breathing in the scent of his wool coat. “You make me feel so safe when I am with you, as if all my troubles simply disappear. I know it’s not real, but you are.”
“Yes, Eve, I am real. What we have is real. I hope you can give it a chance…give us a chance.”
Eve pulled back and took his hand in hers. Even through their gloves, he could feel the warmth and magic of her touch. “This is so hard for me, Julian. You know I want to be with you desperately. What we have together, there are no words to describe it, no words to match the joy you bring to me. But, I have a family too, and a husband of more than twenty years. It’s hard to just turn my back on all of that. I just don’t know what to do. I wish…I wish I didn’t have to make this decision; I do. You know how I hate having to decide anything. I just can’t seem to do it. I never could, not even over something simple." She paused for a moment. "Do you remember how hard it was for me to decide what kind of mustard I wanted on my pastrami and cheese?”
He smiled at the memory. Yes, Eve always had trouble selecting her flavor of mustard. He remembered the time he finally began to count backwards for her, a countdown from five, hoping that would help her choose one before they ended up spending the entire day in the deli. He chuckled, remembering how she had playfully tapped him in the stomach at his brashness, but how in the end, it had helped her decide. If only things were as simple now as a countdown in a deli…
Julian perked up at a sudden thought. Yes, that may help ease Eve’s pain, and keep her from drowning in indecisiveness forever. But to do it would mean taking a risk, a very big risk. He shook off his fears, knowing this was best for Eve. He cleared his throat. “Darling, I have an idea. Come sit with me over here on the bench and let me explain it to you.”
The two sat down, Julian with his arm protectively around her shoulders. “Now, call me crazy, but this just might work. It might be a way for you to decide once and for all what it is you want. And I will try to make it as easy on you as I can.”
“How, Julian?” she asked, her eyebrows furrowed.
“Well, what if, just like in the deli so long ago…what if I give you a deadline to decide between who you want, me or TC?”
“A deadline? Julian!”
“No, hear me out. I am not trying to pressure you, quite the contrary. I am trying to take some of this burden of how and when you decide, off your shoulders. The 'who' should be enough to concentrate on, without having to worry about everything else…including me. So I tell you what, I am going to stay away from you for the next month, the next 31 days. How’s that? You will see neither hide nor hair of me until you make your decision. And then when you do, if you don’t choose me, well, then I will make it easy on you. You won’t have to even come and tell me. I’ll know.”
“How will you know, Julian? What do you mean?”
“Have you ever seen the movie ‘An Affair to Remember,’ Eve?”
“The one with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr? Where they agree to meet…? Oh! Julian! You’re not thinking…”
“Yes, my dear, I am. Only we won’t wait six months. I don’t need that long to build up my cash reserves so I can support you.” He chuckled. “So how about a month, like I said? That should be long enough, right? And if after that time, you don’t choose to be with me, well, you don’t have to meet me. I’ll understand what that means.”
“Julian, I couldn’t do that to you! And are you suggesting if I choose you, that we meet in New York on top of the Empire State Building?”
“No, no, let’s make it easy on both of us. How about…” He looked around, smiling. “I’ve got it. How about we meet here, in one month…here at Heavenly Trails, on this very bench? I suppose the middle of the night wouldn't be too good, so let's say, five o'clock? What do you think?”
“I think you’re crazy, Julian Crane,” Eve said, smiling. “You’re crazy, but I love you so much.” She leaned in toward his mouth, gently brushing her lips against his. He kissed her back, relishing in the sweetness of her soft, delicate mouth.
“Now, Julian,” Eve said, worried once more. “What if something happens to prevent me from meeting you?”
“You mean like an errant taxi cab?” He grinned. “Don’t worry. I’ll find you if that happens. But, if you stay at home, and decide that that is where you belong, I won’t blame you. And I will stay out of your life if at all possible, as much as it kills me…” He reached up to touch her face. “I want to do what’s best for you, Eve. Your happiness is what matters. If you see a future for the two of us, then I will spend the rest of my life trying to make you the happiest woman on earth. And just having you at my side will make me the happiest man. But, if you decide that being with TC makes you happier, then I will respect that decision. I won’t try to come between the two of you ever again.”
Eve nodded at the wisdom behind his corny plan. “So if I agree to this, then one month from today, I’ll either stay at home, or…”
“Or you’ll come here, to me…right here.” He smiled sweetly, patting the bench beside him. Tears welled up in his eyes as he thought of Eve making her way to him there, free from her burden of guilt and indecisiveness. If only real life worked like the movies, if only this could work.
“Well, I think that doing nothing isn’t going to solve anything, except make us all older and sadder and lonelier. So, yes, I’ll take you up on your offer. In one month, I’ll make my choice. God help me, I will.”
“And until that time, I’ll have no contact with you, Eve. I will keep my distance, even at the hospital. I want to make this as easy on you as possible. And Eve, if you choose to stay with TC, know that I won’t hold that against you. I’ll just be grateful for the time we have had together, for our cherished memories. And I’ll be happy because you’re happy, even if that means your future lies with TC.”
“Thank you, Julian. I don’t know what else to say, except that I love you. God knows how much I love you.” She hugged him tightly, and then moved toward his lips once more with her own. He parted his, inviting her to deepen the kiss. They enjoyed the taste of one another’s mouths for as long as they could, finally parting for air. “I love you, Julian,” she whispered against his parted lips.
“I love you, Eve. More than anything in this world, I love you. But now, it’s time that I got you back inside, or you’ll catch your death out here. Come on, I’ll walk you in.”
They held hands as they made their way through the moonlit snow, taking their time as they headed for the lodge. Both of them realized this could be the last time they were alone together ever again. Julian knew that one way or another, in a month’s time, he’d have his answer. He'd know then if he earned that second chance at heaven.