Giving Up

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Howard was dead.

Pamela had known it would happen sooner or later - it was why her mother had disapproved of her getting involved with him, and it seemed she had been proven right. Even as the romantic vision they'd had of their future began to fade and blur, she always worried for his safety. The clothes and the shoes and the expensive perfume came with an invisible asterisk that seemed to hang over Howard every time she'd seen him.

So this is the end, she thought to herself as she held his final missive, the silence in the empty house only broken by the faint hum of the air conditioner. I wish Howard hadn't been so…dramatic. This silly letter is what I have to remember him by?

I remember the petty fights where we got mad about where to put the furniture, or what we would call our kids.

Howard had always had a habit of romanticizing the past. She hadn't wanted kids, and their myriad arguments on the topic was one of the many, many reasons she'd been worried about what would happen when he decided to make their relationship permanent. Guess it doesn't matter now…

I've worked hard for the ring within this envelope. Please, wear it. That way, we'll be together no matter how far apart we are.

And he'd also never seemed to drag his mind out of the dime store romance novels he was so inexplicably fond of. A wedding ring may have meant something to an aging widow, but it felt meaningless to wear it without the weight of years attached to it. It was pretty and expensive, but so were her earrings.

Will you marry a dead man?

I can't, you silly romantic. But would I?

She wasn't sure.

It was finally done.

When he'd first moved on from Pamela's plane of existence to the little pocket dimension that had come with the pair of rings, he'd worried about what would happen if she had come to see him before the house he'd spent years building had been completed. After all, waking up in an empty clearing surrounded by construction tools after jumping to his death took more than a little while to get used to and accept. The mystic he'd bought the ring from assured him that it wouldn't happen - Time will stand still until the abode for the ring wearers is complete, her words had been - but he couldn't keep the concern out of his mind regardless.

Now, however, it was a moot point. The house was a simple thing, made of stone and thatching, but it would protect his beloved from the elements and keep them warmer than his own tent had in the dark days of winter. He placed the final stone on top of the wet cement, marveling at his own ability to complete the task by his lonesome. Taking a few steps backward, he recited the incantation the mysterious woman of magic had told him so long ago.

"House of stone, built with labors of love,
Hear my call among the heavens above.
Give me that which makes a house a home,
And things we may keep in our forever alone."

He walked back to the house, took a deep breath, and opened the front door.

It was beautiful. Mahogany bookshelves stood next to the fireplace he'd carved into the wall, flanking an exquisitely crafted set of living room chairs. The bed that had appeared on the opposite end was clearly made for two, and looked as inviting as anything he could ever remember seeing in his lifetime after living outdoors for so long. The kitchen was primitive, but had enough in it for Pam to make something delicious (and himself; he remembered the promise he'd made to her to try to learn how to cook).

He grabbed a random book off of one of the shelves and sat down in a chair. The time for work had come, stayed for quite awhile, and finally gone. Now the place he'd labored so tirelessly over was ready for the love of his life.

It was time to wait.

"Five hundred bucks."

The pawn shop owner stared at Pamela skeptically, hoping to make a slight profit off of the woman's presumed ignorance. He had no such luck as Pamela countered by raising the asking price to $600.

"Six hundred? You're reachin', lady. The ring is nice, but I've seen nicer. And something tells me you want to get rid of it fast."

She shifted uncomfortably and quickly gave away her negotiating power in the hopes of finding sympathy. "It was my…partner's. He was going to propose to me before he passed."

"Oh really? What would ya have said?"

"Excuse me, I don't think that's any of your business."

"So 'No', then." He continued to fiddle with the ring, as if turning it over in his fingers would somehow make it appreciate in value. "Tell ya what. You're a nice gal, so I'll go for five hundred fifty. Not a dollar more."

"Fine." She pulled her debit card out of her purse and tried to push it into the chip reader, realizing she was too quick after being met with a red X on the screen.

"Calm down, it ain't a race. Gimme a minute to get it up and runnin'." As he did so, she stared at the ring for a final time. What would Howard have thought if he knew she was doing this? Why did the little thing make her so uncomfortable that she had to pawn it?

"It reminds you of him, don't it?" The store owner again interrupted her stream of consciousness. "I understand. I had a friend of mine whose fiance died right after he popped the question. He wouldn't get rid of that damn ring for almost a decade."

"It's more than that," she replied, putting her card in the reader once more as the man nodded in confirmation. "He wrote this silly letter before he passed, about how with the rings we would always be together. It feels like a piece of him, somehow."

"It's all in yer head. Like they always say, you can't take it with you."

She wasn't coming.

He had finished the last book on the second shelf. The years had long ceased to have continuity in his mind; time blurred and twisted onto itself as he had waited for Pamela. He didn't want to admit the truth he was increasingly dreading, but the final volume he had digested - Homer's Odyssey - spelled it out for him.

After an uncertain but painful amount of time, he had made a pact with himself. He would read every book on the shelves, but he would read the Odyssey last. Like Penelope waiting for Odysseus, he would wait for Pam amidst the silence of his cabin and the soft, soothing sounds of the pocket dimension in permanent springtime. The trees beyond his home became his Suitors, calling for him to lose himself in their embrace even as his heart demanded he stay still.

But the final page had been shut. Ithaca was at peace, and Penelope and Odysseus were reunited once more. Yet here he sat.

"I'm sorry, Pam," he said aloud to nobody in particular. "But I can't wait any longer."

He walked out the front door, and closed it behind him. As he looked back upon his pointless creation one final time, he felt tears roll down his face.

All she had to do was wear the ring.

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