October 11th, 1985

Briana was chewing on her fingernails again.

“Quit it, baby.”

She looked at me sheepishly, “Sorry, honey, I can’t help it. Bad habit.”

Our waitress came by with a fresh pitcher. Fall would soon be in full swing and Briana was wrapped in a large Burgundy sweater, her cheeks matching the colour of the garment. I wore my jean jacket, but I already felt warm from the love I felt for her. It was surprising, how quickly we fell in love. But then again, Briana turned every male head she walked past. She was beautiful, and exuded something that radiated from the inside, out. Her sex appeal.

“Are you cold?”

“Not yet. Let’s stay out here a little longer. I love the fresh air.”

Her hair was up. It was often up, and it danced in the breeze, one black elastic unable to tame it. I lit a cigarette. “Hungry Like the Wolf” played in the background and that’s exactly what I was. Hungry for Briana.

“Besides,” she said, “you can warm me up later.”

She winked at me and I recorded the moment in my memory. She was wearing a new pendant around her neck. We were in the market buying fresh tomatoes, and zucchini. We also had a weekly tradition starting — to sample a new type of cheese every weekend. Today, Camembert. Pretty simple, but neither of us had ever bought it before today. As the cashier completed the transaction, Briana had said to me, “Traditions make up the stories of our lives. Otherwise, you’d be reading a pretty boring biography.”

We stopped at a vendor’s booth selling crafts and her eye was drawn to it almost immediately. I wasn’t surprised. It suited her so well. A red leaf painted on white pottery tumbled by the sea on a short black leather cord. The vendor said it was from Nova Scotia. It was only a few dollars, but it made her happy and when I placed it around her neck, it hung just between her collar bones. She had kissed it and then she kissed me.

We were enjoying ourselves like we would a hundred times on this patio. A businessman in a turquoise coloured tie looked out of place until he put his Walkman on. He was joined by a Cyndi Lauper look-a-like and when they kissed across the table, his headphones cord kept dipping into his beer mug, making her giggle.

A flyer imprisoned by a gust of wind was floating around us. Briana had stepped on it in order to retrieve it and when she passed it over to me silently, I read it with relish: “Join us for a seductive evening of dance and wizardry. This Hallows Eve in the Byward Market…” Seductive. That was the right word for Briana, and she made her approval clear by blowing me a kiss when I folded the flyer and put it into the breast pocket of my jacket.

Just then and without warning, the peacefulness surrounding us died, threatening the promise of romance. A woman at the table next us was in heated conversation with her date. She had her arms crossed and he was gesturing with his hands. They looked to be around our age, mid to late thirties. When she raised her voice in anger, we could make out what they were saying.

“You’re breaking up with me? Here? Are you serious?”

He looked guilty, yet stoic, and the woman’s face changed colour to paint a portrait of how she was feeling. She wore her light brown hair teased, and she wore a black ribbon in it like Madonna. He had on a leather jacket and a biker’s helmet sat at his feet. A scar was clearly visible, running the length of his neck.

“Don’t cause a scene!”

Just as his voice broke the gentleness of the autumn breeze, he lowered it again just as quickly. Briana looked at me in a way that suggested she felt sorry for the woman. I strained to listen, finding out that she actually had it the other way around.

“I will not let you watch me die, Sarah,” he said through gritted teeth.

“But you just told me that you love me! I love you, Patrick! You know how much!”

He took her hand and what he said next made everything abundantly clear, “That’s exactly why I can’t let you watch me die, honey.”

Sarah started to cry.

“Oh, great, so I’m just supposed to walk away from you? Stop loving you!?”

Briana looked like she wanted to cry, herself. She leaned across the table and whispered to me, “That is so sad. He must be terminally ill.”

“So sad,” I whispered back in agreement, desperate to tell her how I felt, I added, “I would never leave you. Not for any reason, baby.”

Her words came just as quickly and it was almost as if I could see them in swirls of smoke, making their way across the table to me. “I feel the same way, my honey.”

Patrick now had his arms around Sarah, kneeling at her tableside. She had her head nuzzled in his shoulder and they stayed in that position for a long time. Had we just come into the patio now, we would have thought they were simply a young couple in love, maybe tipsy, and on their way home. Instead, their embrace was a personification of the Bible passage: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

They stood and left quietly, and I would forever wonder what happened to them. At Briana’s place later in the night, we snuggled and held each other just that much tighter. I smoothed her curly brown locks and kissed the top of her head as she rested it on my shoulder. Much like Sarah did earlier in the night with her lover. I hoped that they would stay together, regardless of him trying to be a martyr. I’m sure he thought he was trying to protect the girl, but love cannot just “go away.” Those words are not found in the wedding vows. I vow to love, and honour you, and go away and soon as things get tough.

I knew Briana was thinking what I was when she spoke. I’ve always remembered much of what she said. I loved her so much that she was like an extension of me and I wanted to remember all of her.

At her place, in the darkness of the night, holding me, she said, “It would take a thousand moons for me to stop loving you, Peter.” Mortality became my greatest enemy.

Barbara Avon

Barbara Avon is a multi-genre author. She has written since she was young, pursuing her dreams and vowing to write for as long as she can. She has worked at several different media publications and will continue to publish novels until “her pen runs dry”. In 2018 she won FACES Magazine’s “Best of Ottawa” award for female Author and Spillwords “Author of the Month”. She believes in paying it forward and you can read about this belief as the theme is given voice in most of her books. Avon lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, Danny, their tarantula, Betsy, and their houseplant, Romeo. Connect with Barbara on Twitter @barb_avon and find her website at barbaraavon.com.