Mike smiled as Jenny approached holding an ice-cream in each hand. She gave him one and sat beside him, her green eyes glinting with childish excitement.
‘Did I give you the right money?’ asked Mike as he chased a dribble of melting ice-cream with his tongue.
Jenny gave him a reassuring smile. ‘Yes, you did.’
They lapsed into a companionable silence as they enjoyed their ice-creams. From their vantage point high on the cliff they could see the coastline, with its ragged rocks, turquoise water and secluded sandy coves, stretching far into the distance. Despite the bright sunshine, a blue haze had settled where the sky met the sea. Between this illusive plain and the land, were two solitary islands breaking the surface of an otherwise calm sea. Deserted lands, always present but no longer visited.
Mike sometimes felt like an island, battling to remain steady when the sea became rough. He exchanged a smile with Jenny and instantly felt better. Her unfiltered smile always brightened his mood. This spot, an old wooden bench, had quickly become a firm favourite of theirs and still provided a peaceful oasis and a place to reminisce … How time had flown since their first date. It felt no more than a few weeks ago, yet Mike now felt he knew Jenny better than he knew himself. He knew her favourite films and music, how she couldn’t quite reach the top notes of the song she liked to sing in the bath, her tendency to use too much bubble bath so the bubbles threatened to flow over the side, her habit of stirring her coffee both ways then tapping the teaspoon on the side of the mug with a rat-a-tat-tat. The noise – and her singing – had the power to both annoy and comfort him, but that was because Jenny was the love of his life.
He reached for her hand and gave it a little squeeze. Jenny smiled broadly back at him before returning her attention back to the sea.
‘I don’t think I will ever get tired of coming here,’ she said before popping the last of her ice-cream cone into her mouth. She reached for a tissue and began to wipe her fingers dry of the melting ice-cream. She glanced at his shirt. ‘You dropped a little on your shirt. You are a messy eater.’ She searched for a new tissue and dabbed his shirt with it as she fretted that it would stain.
‘Are you looking after me again?’ he teased as he caught her hand in his. He removed the tissue from her fingers and kissed them before she could protest. ‘Nobody’s looking. How about a kiss?’
Jenny frowned. ‘Someone might see us.’
Mike leaned towards her and arched a brow. ‘Does it matter?’ he whispered.
Jenny tilted her head to one side and pretended to consider it. His heart skipped a beat when she shook her head. The kiss was quick – a mixture of fun and shared friendship, framed with the promise of commitment.
Mike noticed a car drawing up to the curb of the nearby road and sighed. ‘It’s time for us to leave. The car has arrived.’
Jenny’s smile faded a little, ‘Must we? So soon?’
Mike hated being the cause of her disappointment, but the car was here and it would be wrong to send it away.
‘Yes, I am afraid we do.’ He stood and reached out his hand to her. ‘Come on.’
They walked, hand in hand, to the waiting car and climbed in.
‘Did you have a nice time?’ asked the driver.
Mike and Jenny looked at each other, ‘We had a wonderful time,’ they replied in unison.
‘Where is the driver going to take us now?’ asked Jenny.
‘We are going home. We have a cake to eat.’
Mike glanced at the rear view mirror and caught the disappointment in the man’s eyes. He looked away again.
The car journey was soon over. They pulled into a quiet cul-de-sac and got out. Mike opened the gate and Jenny walked along the garden path to wait patiently by their front door.
‘I think she is getting worse, dad. She thought I was a taxi driver.’
‘I’m sorry. I should’ve reminded her, but sometimes it’s easier to let things slide.’
‘One day she will forget who you are too. Perhaps it is time we discussed putting her in a home …’
Mike clenched his hand into a fist in his pocket. His son’s suggestion had been on everyone’s lips, but no one, until now, had dared to voice it.
‘She’s not ready yet. I am not ready yet. I promised in sickness and in health, and that is what I intend to do.’
‘But Mum is not going to get any better. She doesn’t even remember how long you have been married.’
His son was right, Jenny still believed they had only been married a year, but in reality they had just had their Golden Wedding Anniversary. A party was out of the question, of course – it would have been too overwhelming for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. Mike had baked a cake instead – for just the two of them. There was still a lot of cake left to eat as few friends visited now. They had faded away, like the memory of her life.
‘We met on that bench when we were teenagers. When we sit on it, her sparkle returns and I can see my Jenny in her green eyes and know she is still with me.’ He braced his shoulders, ‘So no more talk of putting her in a home. She has been my rock for all these years; it’s my time to be hers. Same time next week?’
His son nodded. ‘Of course, dad. You better go. Mum’s waiting for you.’
Mike smiled. ‘And it makes me the proudest man on earth to know that it is me she is waiting for.’