The black figure started walking towards him. As it got closer, it was illuminated by a street light.
Under it stood a woman in a blue floral dress and curly hair. Relief surged through his body. His relief was palpable.
‘Marissa!? Is that you?’ he called out.
‘George?’ she called back. ‘What are you doing out here?”
His heart skipped a beat and he ran to her, wrapping his arms around her.
‘Marissa, my gosh, are you OK!? He asked pulling her to him.
Marissa stepped backed slightly and took his hand.
‘Love, why are you so panicked?’ she asked. ‘What’s the matter?’. She looked back at him and felt herself shaking a little – but much less than he was.
‘I got home and I couldn’t find you! Where were you?’ he spluttered.
Marissa forced a reassuring smile.
‘I was just next door at Nancy’s, she called me because she was having trouble with her oxygen tank again so I went over and fixed it – temporarily at least. I need to make sure it gets repaired properly.’
Nancy Emerson had been their neighbour for the last twenty years. She was an elderly woman who suffered from Emphysema. She had been a smoker most of her life despite her kempt appearance and no evidence of cigarette stained teeth. She had also been a lovely friend that had helped George and Marissa many times over the years with armloads of vegetables from her garden, meals when Marissa was ill with breast cancer five years ago and always a cheery smile over the garden fence.
‘Oh, thank God,’ breathed George. ‘I thought that you were…that you had been…’
Her smile faded. ‘Thought I had been what, George?’
George put his hand into his pocket, feeling the note. He made a split-second decision.
‘I’m sorry, Marissa’, he said, releasing her hands and looking into her tired brown eyes – they looked more tired under the fluoresence of the street lamp.
‘You know Beryl Tipton from church? Well, her nephew went missing for a few weeks and she was telling me about it today and I just began to think what I would do if you ever disappeared. Then I couldn’t find you. I looked everywhere and you weren’t here. I’m sorry for being such a fool.’
Mary tucked her long curly hair behind her ear and touched his face.
‘Really?’ She said. ‘I’m sorry to hear about Beryl and her nephew but for it to affect you this way? You’ve been stressed lately, haven’t you?’
He didn’t need to lie about that.
‘Yes, yes I have,’ he sighed. ‘Listen, I’m sorry for giving you a fright, let’s go inside and eat this soup, it looks great.’
As the two sat at the table pretending to eat, there hovered in the air something unsaid. They could both feel it but neither acted on it.
Marissa stared at her husband’s pale face and tried to think what else she could do to comfort him. But the damage was done. He was a mess.
George could still feel his heart beating a mile a minute. He was so relieved to have found her but the pain of feeling, even for a moment, let alone ten minutes, that he had lost her, made him feel physically ill. Her near brush with death five years earlier had made him especially protective.
He recalled the day she came out of the shower and told him she had found a lump. While both felt some concern, they had faith that the lump would be benign. When they found out that it wasn’t and that she had had to have a partial mastectomy, the whole church had prayed. The day before the surgery, several people took time off work to pray around the clock and to comfort George when it came time for the procedure. He had been angry at God for putting his wife through this and felt like he had wasted people’s time.
He remembered her chemotherapy and the day the remainder of her beautiful long hair had fallen out. They had wept together, holding the last of it, tears dropping onto the soft downy mass. He never told Marissa that he had raged at God. He would shut himself in his study and swear and punch cushions. He demanded to know why she was being put through this and why he could not have taken this punishment instead. As she got better, and her once straight hair turned into beautiful dark, curly locks sprinkled with grey, his anger faded but still remained in a corner of his heart. He knew he could be overprotective so he tried to act as casually as possible.
‘Did you go and see Maureen as well?’ he asked eventually. ‘I rang Steve to see if you were there – she was home tonight too.’
Marissa shook her head. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I did think about it but I knew I couldn’t leave the soup for too long and I took longer at Nancy’s than I thought.’
‘Well I’m just glad you’re home safe.’ He smiled. ‘I feel like a bit of an idiot actually, making all that fuss when you were just next door.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ she grinned back. ‘I should have left a note. Perhaps you’d better ring Steve and let him know I haven’t been kidnapped.’ They both laughed awkwardly.
‘Good thinking,’ he said, picking up his cellphone. ‘Steve – hi. Yes, look, I’ve found Marissa, she was just next door. Sorry about that. Please let Maureen know.’ He paused and listened.
If his face had been pale before, it was positively white now.
‘What? Are you sure? Look, I’ll be over in a minute.’
Marissa looked at him with fear in her eyes. ‘What is it?’ she stammered.
‘It’s Maureen. She went out forty minutes ago for milk, well that’s as long as Steve’s been home anyway, and well, she hasn’t come home.’