Nora stood next to the hospital bed holding his hand, rubbing her thumb over his wedding band as monitors beeped and a nurse bustled around her.
She looked at his slack face, the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. He had been floating in and out of consciousness for days. The doctors were not optimistic.
Nora looked down at his silver band as she continued to caress it gently. So different from the gold band he had previously worn in his last life. The band he said, he often took off and sometimes left off, because of his physical work as a professional landscape artist. He would forget about it until he would find his ring placed prominently on his pillow or on his wallet. His former wife interpreted this as a statement on the overall health of their marriage, and perhaps, he said later, she was right.
Nora told him she didn't expect him to wear a ring, there was no need. It didn't matter to her. She knew how he felt about their love, and their second chance at happiness. The fact that he wanted to marry her, despite the deep burns he suffered at the hands of his first wife, was enough. But, Bill took Nora's face in his hands and looking her in the eyes he said,
"I want to wear a ring- your ring. I want everyone to know how much I believe in us, in our love."
And he had not taken it off once since Nora had placed the silver circle on his finger.
Oh, it wasn't easy, remarrying with the scars of the past etched deeply on their hearts. They were passionate lovers and they made love and occasionally war with equal passion.
"But we didn't give up, did we darling?" Nora spoke softly to his still form. " We believed in our second chance. We took our happiness with both hands and we didn't let go. I've never regretted a single moment with you, no matter how difficult."
Nora had been married before, and had a grown son and daughter. When her daughter left for college, Nora took a trip to the mountains and stayed at their cabin for the summer to think about her life, now that her primary job of raising the kids was over. Nora didn't return home that fall. She stayed on and found seasonal work at an apple farm. She enjoyed being around the tourists all day, and then retreating to the solitude of her cabin in the evenings. She was alone, but never lonely.
She went back home twice- once for the holidays, and once more the following March to tell her husband she was moving into the cabin permanently. He barely noticed she was gone to begin with, so the divorce was only a formality. They had become strangers years before.
Nora continued working at the apple farm, and met Bill when she stopped to admire the spring flowers around the town square. Bill and his crew were creating beautiful borders around the bandshell.
Nora told him how she would like to plant bulbs on the slope in front of her cabin so she could create a carpet of daffodils and tulips next spring. Bill began to talk, becoming passionate as he explained how to order the best bulbs and when to plant.
He invited her to have a cup of coffee. She accepted. Soon they were spending their weekends at local nurseries, and cleaning up her own neglected flower beds.
There was a gentleness in Bill and a shine of admiration in his eyes, when Nora baked Bill an apple pie, or gave him a soft afghan she had knitted.
Bill began to spend more time at Nora's place than his own apartment over an antiques store in town. Nora was content with the arrangements. She was in no rush to jump into another marriage.
They planted in the fall, spent the winter curled up in front of the fire, and when spring arrived the explosion of tulips and daffodils created a tapestry of color. The lawn was transformed into an Impressionist painting. One warm afternoon Bill and Nora stood in the middle of yard admiring their efforts when Bill turned to her.
"Let's get married," he said. Nora was shocked. They had both agreed marriage was not their thing.
" I love you and I want you to be with me for this adventure. This is the second half of our lives, and you're the one I want strapped next to me for this crazy ride of life."
Nora was momentarily speechless, but she realized that she did not want to date or be alone anymore. She wanted to be with Bill, and no one else.
They married at the town courthouse and spent four glorious years, walking around their little town, going to concerts on the green, visiting area wineries, and taking trips to see her kids.
Then Bill caught a cold, that turned into a persistent cough that would not go away. The doctors weren't concerned. They kept giving him antibiotics and cough medicines, but the cough lasted all winter. An x-ray showed spots on his lungs, and by the time the tulips and daffodils bloomed, Bill was hospitalized with stage 4 lung cancer.
Nora's tears dripped down her cheeks and onto Bill's silver band. She knew she was going to be alone again very soon. Bill was fading quickly.
"I love you," came a hoarse voice from behind the oxygen mask. Nora looked up. Bill was staring at her with shiny eyes. Nora leaned closer so he did not have to strain. She looked deep in his eyes.
"Thank you my darling, for giving me a lifetime of memories these past four years," Nora said.
"It was a helluva ride, eh sweetie? And like all the best adventures, too short. But I'm glad I found you." Bill was breathless and wheezing with effort.
He stared at Nora as tears spilled from his eyes, then his eyes closed and he slipped back into his coma.
Nora lifted his hand and kissed his ring. It had been a helluva ride.
Causes Annette Talbert Supports
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, RIF (Reading is Fundamental),
Hands On Foundation, Dignity U Wear, Girls, Inc.