A man and a woman both 82-years-young. Wednesday morning was always a tradition for them. They arise from their very old bed in their very old Exeter cottage that used to be full of life, laughter, craziness and love. A family of five comprised of them, two boys and one girl. Now scattered across the world. Distracted by their own hectic lives but still manage to call every week and visit for holidays.
This couple, call them Mary and James Waterstones, had their first date at a bookstore coffee shop. A gloomy day, like today, 64 years ago. It wasn’t like any other first date, though.
This one was different. Conversation flowed like the River Exe. Eyes locked like keys on Paris’ Passerelle des Arts. Laughs filled the air loud as Big Ben’s hourly roar. The potential of love turned their faces red and blotchy.
Since that first date they were smitten. Through life’s trials and troubles there was always one apparent constant: each other. When they fought, and oh they fought, they always made up. When they annoyed one another, and oh how they did, it never overshadowed their infatuation with the other.
They both attended university in London. Mary studied medicine and James studied English. After graduation, James opened his own bookshop and Mary went on to medical school. During this time apart, they thought it’d be best to experience life without one another. Though this hurt, they had been together since they were teenagers. Being the intelligent people they were, they knew there was more to life. They took the four years to themselves.
Mary dated but never found someone exceptional as James. James dated but was never impressed with those sitting at the other side of the table, the way he was with Mary. During this time of self-discovery, though apart, they always found their way back to each other when closing their eyes at night and letting their subconscious take over.
When Mary graduated medical school she made her way back to Exeter for residency at the local hospital. James’ bookstore was such a success he opened five more scattered across England. He also purchased a worn-down cottage that he planned to renovate.
During the past four years, they didn’t keep in touch. They thought it was best to cut all communication. Ease the pain as much as possible. Because of this, James didn’t know Mary was back and Mary didn’t know James was still there. But fate works in funny ways.
On a rare sunny day James was on a ladder working on the roof of the cottage. It needed to be completely redone and he wanted to start straight away. Reaching for his hammer by his foot, he slipped and flew head-first two stories to the ground. A neighbor heard his screams, ran out, hoisted him into his vehicle and rushed him to the hospital.
The emergency room was quiet. There weren’t many people there so James was quickly seen. Two nurses rushed to his side, threw his arms over their necks, and hurdled him onto a bed. Throwing bandages over his large head wound and examining his probably-broken arm and ribs, they were hopeful he would be okay.
“You’re a lucky man” a red-haired 20-something-year-old nurse said to him.
“I haven’t felt lucky in a long time” he replied.
Then the blue and white striped curtain that surrounded his hospital bed slid open. A tall, sparkling woman almost floated into his section. He swore he was concussed for what he saw had to be a hallucination.
Holding his chart, she knew who she was walking into. He, on the other hand, was completely dumbfounded.
“I see you missed me so much you decided to throw yourself off a building” she said with a smile.
He was speechless.
As she stitched and wrapped his wounds all he could do was stare. She was so beautiful. A woman now. Her features were more pronounced. Her doe-like eyes, chocolate brown hair, apple cheekbones.
She was thinking the same thing. He was a man now. Large, muscular build, probably from working on the house and hauling hundreds of books all day, chizzled jaw, and distinct chin.
All the old feelings and memories came rushing back like a tsunami. All the laughs, cries, and choices of the last four years almost disappeared. They were different now. But the same core.
After reuniting they made a date for the next Wednesday. First thing in the morning they would meet at one of his bookshop cafes in town for a cup of coffee. They laughed and cried while sharing stories of their time apart.
They bonded over horrible dates and the hardships of life. They smiled over success stories. Mary was so proud of him for following his heart and opening his bookshops. James was elated to know she made it through school and was on her way to pursuing her dream of becoming an ER doctor.
Their feelings for each other were stronger than ever. After that Wednesday they spent the next two years together. Going to cafes every middle-of-the-week.
One special Wednesday, James came nervous and quiet. Mary was confused as to what was wrong. They drank their coffee, conversed about the days missed. What went on at the hospital and where the bookstores were opening next.
As they were getting up to leave James kneeled down to tie his shoe. Or at least it looked as though he was tying his shoe. Mary looked down. What she didn’t know was this moment would change the course of her life forever.
He told her how the years apart were the emptiest years of his life. He said how with every success and failure the only person he wanted to share it with was her. He told her that he couldn’t see a happy life without her. He said how he would never let her walk away again.
He asked her to spend the rest of their lives together. Through wet eyes and a running nose she said yes.
From then on it was them against the world. Their wedding was small and tasteful. Close friends and immediate family. She wore a white lace long-sleeve dress that fell down her body without hugging it. What her guests would soon learn was that they were about to welcome a beautiful baby boy into the world.
The next 20-something years were hectic to say the least. James finished the house before baby number one. Immaculate brick walls with a cream-colored roof and yellow accents and door. It was incredible. They were ready to build a family.
Raising three kids with two working parents was never easy. James’ parents were a huge help, living only a couple streets over. With love, sweat, tears and loads of laughter, three beautiful kids grew up and out. Exploring the world, excelling in their careers and creating families of their own.
James opened over 200 bookstores across Europe. Mary was now chief of the ER.
When they found themselves turning 65 they decided retirement was their next step. Though it was hard, they knew it was time for their lives to slow down. James gave his company to his eldest son. He found it important for such a massive franchise to stay in the family. His son proudly took it and grew it to what it is today.
Today, in 2019, they came to this bookstore. They arose from their very old bed in their very old Exeter cottage, got washed up and clothed, and took their 30-minute walk into town. Climbing the two flights of stairs to the café of this bookshop, they looked at each other and smiled. They ordered their usual: one chai latte and one black coffee.
Filled with only happy thoughts, Mary and James Waterstones sat at this small wooden table in the corner, on cushioned blue chairs, sipped their coffee while gazing out the window and reminisced on the life they built together. And what a wonderful life that was.