There was more than darkness when she awoke. A keening loneliness lingered, sinking its crescent claws into her back, forcing her to feel the complete emptiness beside her in the bed. Slowly, she turned to regard the forlorn pillow, the undisturbed sheets. It was the same every morning. Sighing, she threw her own covers back, and thrust the heavy curtains open in her heart. Sunlight poured into her, filling up like a golden reservoir, but it did not warm her as it once had. Her complete happiness, the lightning beacon of her mind, was extinguished, and the apathy that plagued her would now be her lifelong companion. As if in deep water, she prepared for the day.
Dragging herself through her life was even harder than she imagined. The people around her still smiled, still laughed, still loved. She knew that feeling had died in her when he had. He was bright and shining and life itself. He never cowered at a new opportunity; he jumped at everything, often without thinking, but the ecstatic way he threw himself into his work somehow brought him success.
“Anne,” he would murmur, his fingers trailing down her face like an electric breeze, “it will be all right.”
She would believe him. She always believed in him, even when they were thrown out on the streets. Especially then, for she found that love kept even the most fragile people together. “George,” she was counter, tousling his black hair with true affection, “I know.”
She had known that day that everything would be okay. She was certain. She even answered that dreadful phone with cheer, oblivious in her own stupid happiness. That was the last time she smiled.
Of course, social decorum had deemed an emotional mask necessary. “Three years is an awful long mourning period, don’t you think?” Her mother had meant it kindly, but that did not excuse the blunt arrogance of such a statement. But it reminded her that she must at least appear to be recovering, though she knew her condition was terminal. She practiced smiles in the mirror, forced herself to make eye-contact. She could not, however, bring herself to speak to strangers. Any new association was a heartbreak waiting to happen. She was content to coast through the world, a stranger made of silent, sad smiles.
Fate would not tolerate such behavior. On the fourth anniversary of George’s passing, Anne met a woman.