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The Cherry Tree
There was a cherry tree that grew above the bench on which I sat. In the late-spring, the light pink blossoms always blew in clouds, coating the ground and drifting lazily through the air. It made me feel blissful, somehow, gazing at the blossoms drifting in the afternoon sun, though I couldn’t quite say why.
A man walked slowly toward me and then gingerly sat next to me, groaning softly as he did. He walked with a limp, but he didn’t have the odd air of most of the people walking around the small courtyard. He seemed to have a purpose, to know where he was going. I glanced at old Mrs. Abercrombie, who I had met earlier that day. She was being told that it was time to go inside, but didn’t quite understand. She didn’t speak much, and the dull look in her eyes showed that she understood even less. It’s unfair for a woman to be that sweet and have to suffer so much, I thought. She lives with a mind that is nearly gone. No one should have to bear that.
The man sitting next to me cleared his throat, but didn’t look up. He was boring a hole in the Puget Sound, staring unwaveringly and absentmindedly at the shimmering surface. He cleared his throat and looked up at me, a forced smile on his face.
“How have you been, old friend?” he asked in a gravely tone. I wasn’t surprised he called me friend. Everyone who visited me seemed to know me from somewhere, even if I couldn’t remember where they knew me from.
“They just bought new beds in the 300 wing,” I said, glad to share it with him. He nodded sadly.
“That 300 wing must be bursting with beds by now,” he muttered, almost chuckling to himself. I frowned and furrowed my brow, unable to understand. He must not realize that they get rid of the old ones, I decided. “Listen,” he said to me suddenly. “I know this’ll seem strange to you, but I have a story to tell you. A story I should have told you a long time ago.”
I smiled, confused at his seriousness, but happy regardless. Strangers often came to tell me stories, and I’d grown to enjoy them. “What is it about?” I asked curiously.
The man smiled weakly. “A man and a woman. Love. My wife and I were best friends with these two for years. Still are, in some ways.” I thought I caught sight of a slight tear forming in the corner of his eye, but he wiped it away quickly and cleared his throat again. “It all began 50 years ago at the Century 21 Exposition. My buddy and I were on military leave, and this was the place to be…”
The sun shone brilliantly in the noon-day sky. Children screamed for cotton candy and couples ran holding hands, eager to reach the next attraction. Two such couples walked side by side, but it was obvious that one couple was more affectionate than the other. Marguerite was hanging off of Benjamin’s arm, giggling as he spoke to her. He was a strong, sailor type with a black crew cut and a 5 o-clock shadow. Ben and his friend Charlie were on military leave from the Navy, and Ben had tried to set Charlie up with Liza Jane, Marguerite’s best friend. Liza and Charlie were however, standing nearly 2 feet apart and trying intermittently to join in on Ben and Marguerite’s conversation, yet not quite speaking to each other.
Ben glanced over at his tall, built friend and rolled his eyes. Despite his uniform, medals, and military bravado, he looked like a shy child in Liza’s presence. His hands were clasped nervously behind his back and he was constantly glancing between Liza and the ground.
“Who wants to try some funnel cake?” Ben asked. The two girls piped up with approval. “You two go on ahead, we’ll catch up,” Ben added smiling. The girls linked arms and went towards an open air café nearby, talking and laughing as they went. Ben put his arm around Charlie and gestured towards Liza. “That,” he said, “is one of the hottest dames that you will ever have the pleasure of knowing. Stop being a dumba** and just relax!” he laughed, punching Charlie in the arm.
Charlie smiled but shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ben, but I’m just not like you! I can’t just make a girl fall in love with me, it doesn’t work like that for me,” he said in a frustrated tone.
Ben scoffed. “Don’t be a boy scout, Charlie! You’re missing an opportunity here!” They stood silently, facing each other for a moment, before Ben sighed and spoke again. “Look, man… I’ll try to get you two some alone time. Just… be yourself, Charlie. Alright?”
Charlie gave a half smile. “I’ll try. Thanks, Ben.”
Ben went inside to pay for the cake and a few drinks, then came back out with the girls. Ben gave Charlie a beer and then put his arm around Marguerite. “We’re going to go check out the art exhibit. You two can do whatever you like, just meet us back at the Space Needle by dusk,” he said, turning his back and strolling away with Marguerite.
Liza looked pleadingly at Marguerite, but she only grinned back at her. Soon it was the just the two of them standing awkwardly outside the café.
“So, uh… What would you like to do?” Charlie asked quickly.
Liza sighed. “Whatever you would like, I suppose,” she replied. Charlie frowned, but remained undaunted.
“Perhaps… perhaps we could try some carnival games?” Charlie questioned slowly.
Liza half-laughed but then gestured with her hand. “Lead the way,” she replied with disinterest.
Charlie studied Liza as she played. Her hair was long, brown and wavy. It bobbed as she attempted to shoot down plastic ducks on a toy shooting range. She was focused, but her grey-blue eyes seemed distant. She seemed to be trying to ignore Charlie’s presence, but he attempted to make conversation nonetheless.
“So… Liza? Are you going to college? What do you like to do?” he asked honestly.
Liza glanced at Charlie in an almost cautious manner, and then replied. “I’m studying psychology at Yale and I’m the leader of the debate team. Does that disappoint you?” she asked sarcastically, still focused on the game. “Do you prefer your women uneducated and silent?”
Charlie laughed and shook his head. “If I wanted you to be silent, I wouldn’t have asked you anything,” he replied. “I want to learn more about you.”
Liza looked back at him smiling and was about to reply, but then she caught herself, blushed, and returned her attention to the game.
They continued to walk around seeing the various attractions, all the while talking more and more. While mostly driven by Charlie, Liza’s disposition was unmistakably growing warmer. As they got off the monorail near a botanical garden, Liza spoke to Charlie.
“What do you think of Ben and Marguerite’s relationship? Do you approve? Do you think Marguerite is too clingy?” she asked pointedly.
“Well,” Charlie said slowly, pondering the question as he spoke, “I do think that Ben can be… very rude to her, really. He’s a good friend, but a scoundrel to women. It’s always been that way with him.” Liza opened her mouth to reply, but before she could Charlie was already on to another thought.
“Here are the gardens! They have plants and trees from all over the world in here!” Charlie exclaimed. He looked slightly embarrassed once the words left his mouth, but he continued regardless. “Would you uh… would you like to go inside?”
Liza grinned at him and nodded. “Sure,” she replied.
They strolled together, talking and laughing for a while. As they approached a small enclosure, a man bolted through the arch leading into the enclosure and slammed into
Charlie, causing him to spill his beer down the front of his shirt.
Charlie looked mortified. At first he stood perfectly still, and then frantically began trying to wipe himself down. Charlie and Liza went into the enclosure and began trying to get the uniform dry as they sat on a bench underneath a Japanese cherry tree. It was in full bloom.
For a moment, they were frantic, but after a few moments they both stopped and began to laugh.
“I really have made an absolute fool of myself today, haven’t I?” Charlie asked, laughing as he spoke. Liza tried to reply through her laughter, shaking her head and saying no.
“Not at all, Charlie! I’m the one who’s been incorrigible. It took me so long to realize that you’re a perfect gentleman, not another fool Marguerite saw fit to set me up with. You have been perfectly wonderful, Charlie.”
Charlie blushed and glanced downward, but Liza brought his chin up and looked into his eyes, smiling. “Shall we just… start over?” she asked, an honest smile on her face
“That sounds grand,” Charlie replied, grinning back at her. As they spoke, a cherry blossom fell from the tree that was overshadowing them and into Charlie’s hand. He put it into Liza’s hair, got up from the bench, and then held her hand as she stood. As they continued to walk through the garden, Liza put her arm around Charlie’s.
“We should probably head back to the Space Needle,” Charlie said, glancing up at the now dusk sky and the lights from the always visible, towering structure.
Liza clung to his arm a little tighter. “I think they’ll forgive us if we’re a little late,” she replied, smiling up at him.
When Benjamin finished telling the story, I realized that I was holding a cherry blossom in my hand. I studied the large flower-like blossom. It was so beautiful and so tender.
“Are those two still in love?” I asked curiously.
Ben took in a deep breath. He looked near tears as he spoke again. “I’m… afraid that Liza died last month,” he said slowly, “and I’m not even sure if Charlie is still around.” He was crying now, and he was looking straight at me. “But I know this much is true: no matter where those two are, they will never stop loving each other.”
I felt tears pouring down my face. I felt my face to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I didn’t understand. I wasn’t really sad. They came down in streams onto my stark white uniform.
“Charlie! Charlie, are you alright?” Ben asked, almost hopefully. “Why are you crying?” I shook my head and looked down at my feet.
“I don’t know… I don’t know…”