Norah stilled talked to Ethan. They maintained a steady exchange of e-mails. He called her on her birthday. Sometimes he texted her and said unexpected things.
His e-mails were sometimes very sad. And just as she had when he was here, Norah wished she could take it away. She wished she could somehow magically allow him to know what she knew. She could sense that he was afraid. Of making a mistake. Of hurting people. Of disappointing the people he loved most in the world.
He wrote that his time in Lafayette had been some of the happiest of his life. That he had been more himself. Norah wondered at this. He had often seemed deeply sad in Lafayette. Sure, he enjoyed the music and his friends. He explored the Louisiana landscape and culture. And she hoped, had enjoyed being with her. Salads and walks and talking and music. Watching Friends and drinking wine. Norah hoped that his time with her had been to him what it was to her. But under it all was a pervasive despair. His life didn’t seem to be what he wanted it to be. Norah wasn’t sure if he knew how, or would allow himself to create the life he wanted.
She had moved on, of course. How could she not? He was never available to her and now he was a continent away. She had even come close to falling in love. But he had not been ready for what Norah was ready for and told her he wanted to continue to see other people. So Norah had let him go and nursed a broken heart, again.
Even so, there was one physical manifestation of the sliver of ridiculous hope that remained in the deepest recess of her heart. The bottle of Bouza. On her shelf was a bottle of Bouza Tannet with “N&E” written in pencil on the label. Norah had promised Ethan that she would only drink it with him, if he ever came back. Sometimes she imagined still having that bottle a decade later. She could see it dusty with the label peeling, put away somewhere behind a stack of books.
But then, something he said destroyed that sliver in her heart. Something he wrote made her understand that she would never see him again. Even if he were here, she wouldn’t allow herself to see him again. Not like that. Not again. She had no reason to feel differently about him. But that was why she knew she couldn’t drink that bottle with him.
The bottle became a symbol of a foolish wish. I hope that was wrong. It was time to let go.
So, when Norah had a special occasion, the opening of a photo exhibit, an exhibit Ethan had encouraged her to achieve, (he had been so proud of her) she took the bottle off the shelf and brought it to the opening. It was the “good stuff” behind the counter she offered to her special friends.
That was a good night for Norah. Her family and friends were there. Several subjects of her photographs showed up. She felt supported and appreciated. She felt like she had accomplished something, had done something good.
She didn’t tell Ethan she had opened their bottle. Maybe she wouldn’t have until he brought it up in an e-mail. “If you open the bottle you kept for me, I’ll be furious,” he teased. Norah felt sad and guilty when she read his words.
She had betrayed her promise.
But it wasn’t her right to make that promise. It wasn’t a promise that could be kept.
Besides, if by some miracle of fate……..no, not fate …..it would have to be the result of resolute intent……if Norah and Ethan ever met again, under very different circumstances, Norah was sure they could find a nice dry red to share, maybe even a bottle of Bouza Tannat.
So Norah decided to admit that she had broken the magic spell of the dream of the saved bottle of wine. She hoped that Ethan would take as consolation that she had consumed it on one of the happiest nights of her life and that he had been in her thoughts.
She couldn’t know what was in his imagination. She didn’t know if Ethan allowed himself to think about what might have been, but every now and again, when Norah allowed herself to delve into that silly, romantic part of her heart, she could picture him walking up to meet her in the park or up the stairs to her new place. And she would open her arms and hold him as close as she ever had before and never let him go.