"Are you sure you want to do this, Daniel?" Angela asked with a look of genuine concern on her face as she leaned on the bedroom doorway.
"Yes. I need to do it."
"Okay. I have to go to work. Take your time. I'll leave a key on the kitchen table. Lock up when you leave. I'll get the key from you later."
I nodded and watched silently as Angela Stevens walked down the stairs. Today, Angela would have become my mother-in-law, but fate conspired to keep us from having that relationship. Nicole died two weeks ago. Died senselessly as a drunken man crossed the centerline with his expensive SUV, lost control and plowed into Nicole's Geo as it sat waiting for the light to turn green. We had been waiting for her to come home, Angela and I, so we could go out to dinner. It was not to be.
Angela and I comforted one another as best we could through the funeral. Angela was able to focus on work and get past her grief a little. I, on the other hand, had nothing to focus on. Work was to have started in two weeks, after we returned from our honeymoon. Fresh out of college and engaged to the most beautiful woman on earth, I had the world in the palm of my hand.
Now I sat with my head in my hands on the only bed that Nicole had slept in. She was to have been a virgin bride, something that meant a great deal to her. Several times we came close to ending that dream of hers, but we never crossed that line. Neither of us believed that anything could come between that dream and us. But now it had.
Now that Nicole was gone, Angela was going to sell the house. It was too big for her, and the payments had strapped her for all of the five years since her husband had died. It was because of the house payments that Nicole worked. She could not afford to finish her degree without working.
I asked Angela if I could be the one who sorted through Nicole's things, packing her clothes away to give to Goodwill, saving that which meant something to either of us, and boxing up the rest. Angela had agreed, warily, worried that it would be too much for me.
She was right. It was too much. Each object I picked up brought a memory to mind. The pink top that she had worn on our first date. The red lace brassiere she wore the night she opened her blouse and placed my hands on her breasts the first time. Even the tennis shoes she wore to drub me each time we set foot on the tennis court. They all had a memory to show me.
I emptied her dresser one drawer at a time, mechanically, reliving a memory with each garment I folded and placed into the box. Finally the last drawer, her underwear drawer, was empty. There was an manila envelope on the bottom.
The envelope had my name on it. I carried it back to the bed and sat down. Turning it over, I unfastened the clasp holding the envelope closed. I emptied the contents onto my lap. Four pictures spilled out upside down, followed by a note.
"My darling Daniel. If you are reading this note something has happened to me. You have been so sweet and wonderful about not pushing me into sex, even though I know you wanted me badly. That is just one of the many things I have always loved about you. These pictures are for you. I had Meredith take them. I will love you forever, Nicole."
With tears in my eyes, I turned the pictures over. Each one was a masterpiece. Nicole revealed to the camera the body she promised to me, "Anyway, anywhere, any how, any time, but only after we are married". She may not have been a model, thin and perfect in her form and physique, but to me the pictures only confirmed my belief that she was the most beautiful woman on earth.