He wasn’t the kind of man who made promises like that. He didn’t know what had come over him; he felt a shock of surprise at hearing the words pass his lips, and at knowing he meant them. Perhaps he had allowed himself to be carried away by the moment. He pulled her close so that he could bask in the scent of her hair and the feel of her skin against him. He was afraid of the emotions suddenly surging through him. His world was whirling away from him, out of control, and she was the only solid, stable point. The only thing for him to cling to. She laughed in reply to his gallant statement, and he smiled, knowing that he would never — could never — bring himself to disappoint her. If she wanted flowers every day, that was just what she would get.
“Okay, then,” she said, “I guess I’ll have to stay with you forever. Just to hold you to your promise.”
He stood in the drizzling rain with his hair plastered to his head and his suit — the shabby one with the too-short sleeves — soaked through. He clutched the bedraggled bouquet of flowers in his fist, feeling the lines of their stems pressing into the flesh of his palm. The rain hadn’t been kind to them. They drooped and flopped over his clenched fingers, their heads heavy with water.
He frowned down at their wilted lifelessness. They weren’t good enough for her, but they were all he had.
It had been eighty-seven days … twelve hours … fifteen minutes … and ten seconds since she left. Every moment of her absence sliced through him — a hollow ache that made him realize how alone he was, and a despair that swallowed everything in its wake. For a short time, he had been … more. He had been the hero on a white horse, riding to the rescue of his fair maiden. He had been silly and romantic and carefree. He had believed in fairy tales and happy endings. But, no. That hadn’t been him — not really. He had come crashing back to earth to find out he was just this: a wet man in a shabby suit with a bunch of wilted flowers.
With each passing second, the knowledge of it chewed him up, only to spit him back out into the world as a shadow of the man he had been. He dreamed about her every night — the smell of her hair, the silky-soft feel of her skin, the sound of her laughing in the dark — and woke up to find his cheeks wet with tears and his arms aching for her. He would do anything, give anything, promise anything to have her back. He wasn’t a proud man; he would happily fall to his knees and beg her to return. She had made him better and stronger. Now, he was none of that. He was no one, adrift without an anchor to keep him from floating away into nothingness. He held tightly to his golden-tinged memories of her. Without those, he wouldn’t have known whether or not he was real; he wouldn’t know whether or not he had ever existed.
He wanted to tell her all of this. But he knew it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t change anything. So he knelt on the ground, not even feeling the cold wet of the grass soaking through the knees of his pants, and placed the flowers on her grave. He paused long enough to let his fingers brush the dirt in a gentle caress as he whispered, “I love you.”