Why isn’t he here yet? Amber wondered as she stood in their meeting place. She could feel a soft breeze gliding through the stalks of corn, lightly touching her face, and gently lifting the brown fedora that she wore.
Amber’s heart was thumping in her chest as she walked the familiar path through the cornfield. Guilt stabbed at her, making her stomach clench in knots. She was not supposed to be here. She was not supposed to see him anymore, but she had to. His was the only face that could bring her comfort these days. She only hoped that he would still come after she had not.
The first time they had met here had been nearly two months ago. She had come here on her own, and ran into him completely by chance. Since then she had stopped here every evening on her way home from the diner. He was always happy to see her. They would spend a few hours together, until the sun would lower behind the cornstalks, and then she would tell him that she needed to get home. Larry, her husband, would be waiting for her.
At first she confided in no one. What would people think if they knew that she met him here every evening? But then people had started asking questions. It got back to her husband at the auto shop, and when he confronted her, there was nothing she could do but confess. She remembered how her face had burned with shame as she told him the truth.
She hadn’t gone back in over a week, but today had been a terrible day. He was the only one who could console her. She stood there listening until finally she heard his steps on the other side of the cornstalks.
“Amber?” his familiar voice called.
“It’s me,” she answered through the cornstalks.
He emerged from the stalks, and stood in front of her, his gray flannel shirt tucked into his worn blue jeans. “You haven’t been here in a while,” he said. It was a mild observation, not an accusation.
“Larry didn’t want me to come,” she said softly.
“Ahhhh,” he said understandingly. “So Larry knows now, does he?”
“Yes,” she replied, and before she could suppress them, tears began to flood her eyes.
“It’s okay to cry,” he said in his soft gravelly voice, and he stepped through the cornstalks to put a reassuring arm around her shoulders.
“I lost my job at the diner today,” Amber sobbed into his shoulder. “They said I needed to get things together in my personal life.”
“Well, it’s okay,” he said. “You’ll find another job. In fact, I think that this was meant to happen. You’re so young, and bright, and there’s so many opportunities out there for you.”
“But what’s Larry going to say?” She said, feeling her voice shake as she thought of how they struggled to make ends meet.
“He’ll be cloudy and broody at first, but he’ll come around, you’ll see. Especially when he sees that you’re happier. The thing is, you have to allow yourself to be happier.”
Amber pulled away gently and looked into his face. His suntanned skin was deeply lined, especially around his mouth and eyes. A lifetime of smiling, laughing, and loving. “What do you mean?” she asked.
He smiled softly and ran a finger along the brim of the fedora that she wore. “You still wear this?” he asked.
“It’s all that I have left of you,” she whispered, dropping her eyes down.
“It’s been six months now, Amber,” he said. “You were sad and that’s okay, but now you have to let yourself live again.”
“But you raised me, grandpa,” she said, tears running down her cheeks. “And I didn’t even get to see you before you…” She couldn’t get the words out.
“Before I passed on,” he finished for her. “Honey, it happened so fast that no one got to see me. One minute I was coming down here, getting the tractor ready, the next minute the chest pains had taken over and I was gone.”
The tears were coming freely now. “Everybody thinks I’m crazy. Even Larry.”
“They’re worried for you, Amber,” her grandfather said. “I know you think Larry doesn’t understand, but it’s hard on him. He misses that bright, lively girl he married.”
“But coming here makes it better, grandpa,” Amber said earnestly. “When they came to the diner and told me you had died, I thought that I was going to die too. But then I came here that day, and I saw you walking through the cornfield, and it was just like it used to be.”
“I’m not real, Amber,” her grandfather said kindly. “You needed me at first, but you don’t need me now.” He put his hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eye again. “This needs to be our last meeting. Grief is natural, but you can’t live on it, honey. You have to let go now, do you understand?”
She trembled. Her grandpa had always been the one that she could talk to. His good humor and wisdom had always made his advice easy to follow. “I understand,” she said softly.
She hugged him tightly one last time, taking in the scent of old spice cologne and tobacco. The warmth of his aged but still strong arms. The feel of the worn flannel shirt. “I’ll miss you,” she said.
He patted her back. “You’re going to be fine, honey.” She released him, and he was gone.
She looked around her. She was alone in the cornfield. You’re going to be fine. She took the brown fedora off, and gently she laid it down in the spot where he had been found on that horrible day. You have to allow yourself to be happier. She weighted it down with rocks around the brim. Then she left the meeting place for the last time.
Kristin Beaven is an English major at Arizona State University. Her short story “Ashes” was published in Issue 14 of Canyon Voices Literary Magazine, and her short story “The Genie of Aizdihar” was published in Volume 23 of Sucarnochee Review. She currently lives and writes in Knoxville, TN.