"Come out here."
It was never a command, only an invitation, delivered in a subtle tone of voice that seemed to promise something wonderful.
On the afternoons when James took his daily walk to the harbor and back alone (in earlier years, because I was too lazy or preoccupied to go with him; more recently because I only had the stamina to go every other day), he would come home, kick off his walking shoes, grab his first glass of bubbly, and head out to the deck.
The kitties came scampering around, delighted to have a human out on their turf, putting on their usual show — racketing about, stretching out like little fur rugs in the sun, launching stealth aerial attacks on each other.
It was the hour that most people were transitioning into dinner mode, so it was usually pretty quiet in the neighborhood. No lawn mowers or gunning engines. Maybe some distant laughter a block or two away, maybe a neighbor's radio, but mostly birds and leaves rustling in the breeze. James always looked forward to this evening ritual, a chance to just sit down and savor it all.
On mild summer nights, after dinner, when I'd finished washing the dishes and he had dried enough to make room in the drainer, he would disappear outside again with his, er, next glass of bubbly (who's counting?) while I was still puttering around in the kitchen. "Come out here," he would urge me from the deck. "Come see the stars."
He knew I had a thing about the stars. I was always threatening to buy an astronomy book so I could identify all the constellations, although, like so many other things, I never quite got around to it. I knew Orion, however, which was always rising over the neighbor's roof at about this time, mainly because the three-star pattern of Orion's Belt is imprinted in freckles on my forearm. But whether or not we knew all their names, any summer night when the stars were visible before the fog rolled in was cause for celebration!
Of course, I always had some lame excuse. Okay, but just let me finish this one sentence, answer this one email, make this one note for tomorrow.
Okay, but just let me finish up in here, wipe down the counter, put on a sweater. What did I do with my shoes?
It was always something. Something I felt I had to do right this minute, one last chore before I'd permit myself to get out there and enjoy some down time. With you. Listen to the birds, laugh at the kitties. Gaze at those beautiful stars cocooned in black night. Cuddle up to my sweetie.
We thought we had an infinity of time, back in those days. Next time you ask, I thought, I'll be ready.
In retrospect, I'd say that 75% of the time, I finally managed to get out there with you. To take a break and just enjoy the peace and contentment, our reward for this life we somehow managed to cobble together from scratch. Against all odds.
But that means I squandered 25% of the time I could have spent with you. I regret every minute that I put you off with some feeble excuse. It appalls me that all those times when I still had the chance, I thought I had something more important to do.
Ask me again.