Nicholas locked the door behind them as Serendipity waited on the sidewalk. She looked up the large tree in his front yard.
“Ugly thing, isn’t it?” he said.
She stared at it.
“Why do you say that?”
“It got struck by lightning a few months ago. Half of it is completely gone. Had to hire people to come chop it up and haul it away. I should have had them take the entire tree.”
“Why didn’t you?”
He shrugged. “When they chopped up the rest of it, they said the trunk was still alive.”
“It is,” she said, walking over to the tree. She reached up and pulled down one of the branches. “Some of it is still green, and look. There’s new growth.”
Nicholas looked at it.
“I hadn’t noticed that. I honestly thought it was going to linger and die.”
They stared up at the tree.
“It doesn’t even seem like the same tree anymore,” Nicholas said. “I wonder if Emily would love it like she used to.”
Serendipity put her hand on the trunk where there was a gash of having lost its half.
“If she really loved this tree, wouldn’t she love it’s capacity to change, to grow back?”
Nicholas looked at her.
“What if it doesn’t?”
“Why wouldn’t it?”
“I almost cut it down,” he said. He met her eyes. “I almost ended it.”
Serendipity searched his eyes, the air heavy between them.
“Let’s go get our coffee,” she said.
They sat on the street, in the shade of the patio.
“I’m sorry if we already talked about this – but where’s home for you? Where do you come from?”
She fell silent for a few moments, looking up at the old trees that lined main street as they swayed in the breeze.
“I was overseas before this. I live on the road.”
“What’s the most interesting place you’ve been?” he asked.
“Oh wow, that’s a really hard question.”
She thought for a while.
“I adore islands. My love and I sailed around Polynesia, literally letting the wind take us. It was absolutely wondrous. Some people don’t seem to appreciate how beautiful this world is. It’s so full of life.”
“Where is he now?”
“I don’t know. We don’t get to be with each other as much as we would like, but I am supposed to meet him soon. Something urgent came up. I plan on leaving tonight.”
They sat, both enjoying another breeze as it came over them, carrying the scent and salt of the ocean.
“Well, I appreciate you spending this time with me,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.”
She took a sip of her coffee, then looked over at him.
“I’m bothered by something, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“Go ahead,” Nicholas said.
“You had a bottle of pills on your counter.”
Nicholas was quiet for a few moments.
“They’re for pain. I had an outpatient surgery a while ago,” he said.
“Do you have to take them often?”
“I haven’t taken any,” he said.
She looked out at the street.
“I’m glad you didn’t cut down the tree. It’s still alive, you know.”
Nicholas looked down at his coffee.
“Doesn’t seem like it, sometimes it seems dead.”
“You can’t give up on it.”
Nicholas shook his head, “Sometimes you should.”
They sat in silence. A couple cars drove past them. Serendipity looked back over at him.
“How long ago?” she asked.
“How long ago what?”
“You thought you should give up,” she said.
He avoided eye contact with her.
“A couple years ago.”
They sat in silence for a while. Nicholas looked down the street.
“I don’t talk about this,” he said.
“I’m sorry – you don’t have to.”
Nicholas shifted in his seat.
“No. I don’t because … I can’t. Anytime I start to open up to anyone, it’s like I can’t connect with the words. They well up but … stop. There have been people I’ve really cared about and I knew cared about me, but … I choke. It’s like I physically forget how to speak.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” she said.
Another breeze passed over them. Nicholas stared at the label on his coffee. He began to talk, but he felt like he was talking about someone else, almost as if he were in the third person.