Daysong Graphics
Nochole R. Wagner

Nichole R. Wagner is an editor by day and writer by night. She began her professional career as an editor and columnist for SFO Magazine before starting her own business editing and designing Christian publications. Nichole has pursued Christian non-fiction as a writing assistant for “The Art of Faith” (being released in 2011), but her true love is for Christian fiction. She spends many late nights working on short stories and novel writing. She and her husband, Tammo, reside in the Midwest, though they thoroughly enjoy traveling around the world, especially to Tammo’s home country of Germany.

The Shoebox

The muscles in Rose’s neck tightened and pulsed with each breath. The tension spread to her temples. She rubbed them, knowing it would do no good. Her head weighed a hundred pounds, as did her heart.

Working in the coffee shop was not helping. Typically she loved making frothy drinks with jolts of espresso; it was a fun diversion from studying. But today customer service was taking its toll.

Emotional labor should pay more than $5.75 an hour.

Smiling at each customer, remembering to lift the corners of her mouth and eyes just enough to make it look sincere, Rose tried desperately to keep it together. But her heart was working against her. It was as if gravity pulled her lips downward into a line of grief. She tried swallowing, but the tension in her neck created a lump in her throat.

Why, Lord? What is wrong with me?

With moisture gathering in her eyes, she took a ragged breath.

“Rose, are you okay? You look pale,” Eddie said, his blue-eyed gaze floating along her every facial feature as if in search of something.

“Oh, I’m just feeling sick today.” Which is true, though not from the common bug.

“You should sit down. Why don’t you take your break now?”

Rose gave her manager a thankful glance. She needed the reprieve and obviously he saw that. She walked over to the fireplace in the corner and plopped down on the couch. The winter air wasn’t the only thing chilling her bones.

How could they?

It felt like only yesterday that she and Lance had broken up, yet it had been more than a year ago. And now this.

She had spent nearly two years of her life with him in hopes that he was the “one.” She had lost sight of all else when they were together. He was her sun that she revolved around, and when he told her he didn’t see a future for them, her solar system collapsed. She had been waiting for a ring, and he had dumped her days shy of their two-year anniversary.

And today … today had been the cherry on top. They had come into the shop, laughing and flirting. All smiles. And then the knife plunged through her heart. A ring? Molly had a ring on her finger. After less than a year with another girl, he had proposed to her. The rejection seared her. And the humiliation of serving them scones and lattes tipped her over the edge.

Thanks for rubbing it in my face, guys.

As she helped other customers that morning, it was hard not to be distracted by all the diamonds blinding her. She was envious, not of the rings, but of what they represented. Someone to share life with. To love and comfort. With whom to laugh and cry. She repeated her plea to God over and over in her head.

Why, Lord? What is wrong with me?

She shook her head as if to unburden herself of the thoughts that pained her. She looked up from where she sat and noticed Katherine Valen across the room, looking out the window, a woman of advanced years but with a vibrant soul. Rose had always enjoyed talking to her. She’d only met her husband once many months ago. Eddie said they used to come in together every afternoon for “tea time,” but recently her husband had been put into a hospice due to a relapse with cancer.

Feeling less consumed with herself, Rose got up to say hello.

“Good to see you this afternoon, Katherine.”

“Hello, Rose, my dear. How are you today?”

“Um, hanging in there. And you?”

“I’m not sure exactly. My emotions are hard to put into words … perhaps bittersweet.” Katherine took a long pause and gazed out at the red cardinals hopping from tree branch to tree branch. “You see … my George passed away last night.”

“Oh ... I am so sorry.” Rose’s own grief began to lessen as she realized the depth of Katherine’s loss. Dark circles with a white mask of powder stood out beneath Katherine’s glasses, which failed to hide her red-rimmed eyes.

“You are probably wondering why I’m here in the midst of all this.” Katherine sighed and then gave a small smile. “I was just reminiscing about our life together. I wanted to celebrate his life in my mind, our wonderful times together, before I face his death. I want to be strong tomorrow when I lay him to rest.”

“That’s a wonderful thing to do.” Rose slipped into the chair beside the elderly lady and laid her hand on Katherine’s wrinkled one.

Rose hesitated, then asked, “What were you thinking about exactly?”

Katherine’s nose and eyes crinkled with fondness. “About how our relationship began. You see, we were friends for a long time before we courted. George told me he was quite taken with me before that, though.” Katherine smiled again with a distant look in her eyes.

She sighed. “But my attention was elsewhere. In high school, I only had eyes for William.”

She went on to say how handsome William had been and how all the girls fancied him. “As graduation approached, I thought for sure he would propose to me or give me a promise ring, but he didn’t.”

Rose cringed as the story went down a familiar path.

Katherine continued. “He said he wanted to enlist in the army, and that being away would be too difficult for us.”

Rose empathized as Katherine explained how William had ended their relationship.

Katherine chuckled. “Seeing my hurt, George was bound and determined to cheer me up. Dear, you should have seen that man.”

She relayed how George tried over and over again to plan something fun, but how things would almost always go awry. The time he tried to teach her to bowl and she ended up with a score of 15 to his 125. About their walk in the park that turned into running home in a rainstorm. “Those mud puddles sure did a number on my new shoes.” And the worst, when she had to be hospitalized for food allergies after they had gone to a local fish fry.

Laughing deeply, Katherine put her index finger on her lip. “You know, they actually were fun times, but they didn’t go quite as planned. I guess that’s life. Through it all I realized that what I thought was brotherly love for George was a much deeper love. What I felt for George went beyond just attraction. I loved him with a love bigger than myself, something I hadn’t experienced before. And he loved me unconditionally and sacrificially.”

Katherine bit her bottom lip to keep from crying.

Working her lips, she began again. “Dear, sometimes what we think is best for ourselves is wrong. God knows what we need. Lean on Him to show you. That is one thing I learned throughout my lifetime.”

Rose knew God had answered her cry. Why, Lord? What is wrong with me?

It is not you who are wrong, beloved. It is your plan that is wrong. My plans are perfect. Trust Me.

Katherine stood on shaky legs. “Well, dear. I need to get home and get ready. There will be a visitation tonight with the family. It was so nice to talk to you for a little bit.”

Rose gave the frail woman a hug. “It was my pleasure. Thank you for sharing with me. I was deeply touched. More than you know.”

Stronger and more confident, Rose walked back to the counter. Smiling wholeheartedly at a customer, she asked, “What can I get for you today?”

Nichole Wagner © 2011