Nothing

Hmmmm.... Confusing... Isn't it? Well that's the point of... Nothing.

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1. Nothing

“What do you want for breakfast, Jan?”

“Nothing, mom, I’m already late. Nothing, thanks.”

Alison’s daughter hurried past her mother, snatching up her school books from the kitchen table. “I have a late class this evening, my English final. I’m meeting Barb for some last minute cramming.” She yawned and grabbed a breakfast bar.

“You really shouldn’t stay up so late studying. You need your rest, and your nourishment.”

Jan kissed her mother’s cheek. “You worry too much about nothing.” She headed out the kitchen’s wooden screen door then paused, “Hey… I’m eighteen… invincible! I need nothing… except to pass this final. By the way, happy birthday! You and dad have a nice time up in Montreal.”

The silk blue bow at the end of her braided brown ponytail bounced against Jan’s sun freckled neck as she bounced down the single step leading to the driveway. Alison watched her daughter climb into the passenger seat of Barb’s green Mustang. As the convertible drove off, she was startled by a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, you’re as jumpy as a cat. I hate it when we argue. Do you still feel the same as last night?” Alison’s husband tried to kiss the back of his wife’s neck but she pulled away.

“I told you, Bryan, I don’t want to discuss it.”

“You’re not making any sense, Ali. But like you said, ‘There’s nothing to discuss, nothing!’” Taking a large drink from a mug inscribed World’s Best Daughter, Bryan jumped and cursed.

“You know that coffee’s hot. I just poured it for Jan.” Alison began to wipe the counter where Bryan had slammed down the mug.

“Nothing goes right in the morning when you go to bed angry… nothing,” Bryan muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing… I’ll call you from the office later, Ali, to see if you’ve changed your mind,” Bryan replied. He strode off to the living room for his brief case, then out the front door.

Alison sighed, stooping to mop some coffee off the floor. ‘Maybe he’s right,’ she thought. ‘Maybe I’m just being silly. After all, it is my birthday. Jan can take care of herself. There’s no reason we shouldn’t go.’

As she rose, the sound of the wooden screen door slamming shut made her jump. Moving to the sink to rinse the coffee soaked rag, she could see Jan through the window.

“That’s odd…” she said aloud.

She watched as her daughter climbed into the back of Barb’s red Mustang. A girl Alison didn’t know sat in the passenger seat. As the convertible pulled away, Jan’s red bow bounced in the breeze.

Alison felt a kiss on the back of her neck. Her husband Bryan smiled as she turned. “Good morning, beautiful.” He handed her a single yellow rose. “Happy birthday… this is for last night.”

Alison looked puzzled. She took the flower and put it to her nose. The sweet fragrance flooded her brain, making her feel dizzy.

“Are you alright, honey?”

“Yes, fine… just one of those crazy feelings of déjà vu. You’re not mad about last night?”

“Mad? Why would I be mad?” Bryan studied his wife. “You sure you’re ok? You don’t remember last night?”

She shook her head. “No… yes… I mean… I don’t know…”

Bryan slipped an arm around his wife’s waist pulling her to him. “Hey… that’s no way to treat a guy’s ego.” He kissed her ear. “I may not be as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was!” He laughed at his own joke as he always did and reached for the mug inscribed World’s Best Daughter.

“No… don’t! That’s…”

“Cold,” he said, making a face and taking another drink. “That’s ok, Honey. I don’t mind.” Setting the mug down, he smiled and checked his watch. “Nothing can change the mood I’m in… nothing. I’ll be back in an hour. Be ready. We have a long drive.”

Bryan gave Alison a light swat on the behind, winked, retrieved his brief case from the kitchen chair, and walked out the wooden screen door. As it slammed shut, Alison turned. Her elbow bumped something on the counter. With a nerve jarring crash, Jan’s coffee mug lay in pieces, shattered on the kitchen floor.

Next...

“No, I had the Caesar salad.”

“Sorry.” The waiter switched bowls, smiled nervously and left.

“Honestly, I don’t know why you insist on coming here. It always takes three or four tries to get things right.” Alison cut through the bubbling layer of melted cheese with her spoon. The scent of fresh, steaming onions filled the small restaurant.

“Me? You’re the one who’s got to have her weekly fix of Soup Ala Onion.”

“You’re crazy, Liz. It’s been what, a month or two since we’ve been here.” Alison savored a deep breath. The sweet onions made her think of Montreal in the spring.

Alison’s friend Liz stopped in mid-bite, cocking her head to one side. “Ali, are you sure you are alright? This is your favorite restaurant. Pete and Bryan and you and I were just here for your birthday.”

“Don’t be silly, Liz. My birthday isn’t for another month.”

“Honey,” Liz touched her friend’s hand and looked at her. “This has been a terrible and stressful time for you. I can’t imagine what you must be going through… the accident and all… But the four of us were here two weeks ago last Thursday… the night before your birthday. Before Bryan and you went to Montreal.”

Alison looked around, then back at Liz. “Montreal… are you… we were here?”

“Don’t you remember?” She pointed with her fork. “We sat right there, in the corner booth.”

Alison stared blankly.

“You really don’t remember, do you?”

“No,” Alison replied, “Nothing”

“Maybe we should go… maybe it’s too soon…”

“No, don’t be silly, Liz. Let’s just eat.”

The two women ate in silence. Alison’s soup was good. The dark brown bread croutons tasted of garlic. Just the way they did at that quaint café in Montreal. It was the night she and Bryan were caught in an unexpected shower.

But Alison wasn’t sure if it was a memory or a dream.

She and Bryan had ducked into the nearest doorway for shelter. The café was closed but as they huddled there trying to stay dry, the door opened. A friendly looking gentleman with a curled mustache and red velvet waistcoat invited them inside. He explained in broken English he was the owner and offered them steaming onion soup and fresh hot baguettes. His name was Maurice and the three of them drank chilled red wine and talked and laughed late into the night. It was her birthday. Bryan bought her a single yellow rose from a vendor. They kissed beneath a street lamp. It was the night Jan called them at their Bed and Breakfast, excited about passing her English final… the night Jan and Barb and another girl were headed to their first frat party…

A sudden fragrance of roses filled the air. Alison’s head swam. Everything blurred and she felt faint.

She picked up a goblet of water and took a deep drink. She almost choked. It was red wine.

“Are you ok, Honey?” Bryan patted his wife’s back.

“Yes… ok… I think,” she managed through coughs and gaps for breath. “It just went down the wrong way. It’s nothing.”

Alison opened her eyes. It was evening. She sat in the corner booth in her favorite restaurant. Bryan was next to her. Liz and her husband Pete were with them. There was a large, half eaten birthday cake with delicate yellow rosettes and spent candles on the table.

“You gave us quite a scare,” Pete said.

“You sure you are ok, Sweetheart?”

Alison shook her head to clear it. “Yeah, I’m ok. I’m just a little bit shaken, that’s all.”

“Well, maybe this will help.” Bryan pulled a folded brochure and a single yellow rose out of his pocket and laid them on the table.

“What’s this?”

“Oh… nothing…”

Alison looked at her husband and then picked up the brochure and flower. “Le Chalet Petite,” she read, “An intimate Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Old Montreal.”

“We leave tomorrow morning. I’ve a few things to clear up at the office. Then we drive up and arrive in Montreal in time for your birthday dinner at one of those authentic quaint French Cafes you are always talking about.”

Alison threw her arms around her husband. “Oh, I love you, Bryan!”

Oh but wait...

“What do you want for breakfast, Jan?”

“Nothing, mom, I’m already late. Nothing, thanks.”

Alison’s daughter hurried past her mother, snatching up her school books from the kitchen table. “I have a late class this evening, my English final. I’m meeting Barb for some last minute cramming.” She yawned and grabbed a breakfast bar.

“You really shouldn’t stay up so late studying. You need your rest… and your nourishment.”

Jan kissed her mother’s cheek. “You worry too much about nothing.” She headed out the kitchen’s wooden screen door and then paused, “Hey… I’m eighteen… invincible! I need nothing… except to pass this final. By the way, happy birthday! You and dad have a nice time up in Montreal.”

The old wooden screen door slammed shut behind her.

The silk blue bow at the end of her braided brown ponytail bounced against Jan’s sun freckled neck as she bounced down the single step leading to the drive way. Alison watched her daughter climb into the back of Barb’s green Mustang. In the passenger seat was a girl Alison didn’t know. But somehow she expected her to be there. As the convertible drove off, she was startled by a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, you’re as jumpy as a cat. I hate it when we argue. Do you still feel the same as last night?” Alison’s husband tried to kiss the back of his wife’s neck but she pulled away.

“I told you, Bryan, I don’t want to discuss it.”

“You’re not making any sense, Ali. But like you said, ‘There’s nothing to discuss… nothing.’ My wife refuses to go off with me for a few days for her birthday, and she won’t tell me why. But there’s nothing to discuss. Nothing makes any sense… nothing.” Taking a large drink from a mug inscribed World’s Best Daughter, Bryan jumped and cursed.

Alison took note of the mug, smiling to herself. “You know that’s hot, I just poured it for Jan.”

“Nothing goes right in the morning when you go to bed at night angry… nothing.” Bryan sighed, setting the mug on the counter. “I’ll call you later. I might as well go to work,” he said and strode off to the living room for his brief case, and then out the front door.

 

The sound of the wooden screen door slamming shut woke Alison from her fitful sleep in the recliner. Jan entered the living room.

“What are you doing here, mom?”

“There was a change of plans. We didn’t go. Your father’s already in bed.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. I’m just going to change. Barb is waiting. I’m sure I passed my English final! We’ve been invited to a frat party to celebrate.”

“And is that new girl I saw you with this morning going, too?”

“Anna? Yes,” Jan replied, “it was her idea. She knows the frat guys.”

Alison bit her lower lip and looked at her daughter. “No. Go tell Barb you can’t go and come right back inside.”

“What… why… why can’t I go… what’s the problem?”

“Nothing,” her mother said. “Just do as I say, then go up to your room, please. There’s nothing to discuss.”

Jan didn’t understand but she reluctantly did as told.

The next morning Jan burst into her parent’s bedroom upset and crying. “Oh, mamma… it’s terrible…”

“What’s the matter, Kitten? What is it?” her father asked.

Jan could barely speak through her tears. “It’s Barb… and our friend Anna… they’re… they… they’re dead, mamma… last night… Barb’s car was struck by a big truck not two miles from here.” She threw herself into her mother’s outstretched arms.

“It’s ok, Baby, it’s ok,” Alison said, holding her daughter. “I’m sorry, Honey… I’m so, so sorry…”

“But mamma… you … you saved my life…”

Alison looked at the folded brochure and single yellow rose on the night stand. “It’s nothing, Honey… nothing…”

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