Gus and Alice
"Letters from Heaven's Gateway 3"
by Sally Law
As love goes, sometimes we put off telling the other person how we feel. Is it ever too late to convey what we've held in our hearts for so long? I say, unequivocally no!
Story number three~
Gus and Alice
You're not here today at the diner where I have grown accustomed to your smile, your voice.
Vera brought me the blue plate special today, and I thought, "she is the polar opposite of the woman I love."
Alice, I am so shy and inward, and it has taken me years to admit my love for you. Men are essentially stupid sometimes, and I am an extreme case.
Today I worked up the nerve to tell you how much I love you, and that was after my buddy slapped some sense into me.
Here's the thing. I've had cancer, and it has progressed to the point I will be letting my contractor's job go. It's just too painful to move around these days. I could barely climb in and out of my truck cab this morning.
Then, I saw you were out. A sign from God, I think.
Why do we waste days? I decided that I wouldn't waste another one from here on out.
I love you, Alice Shipley. You are so beautiful to me, always so sweet with kind eyes.
I often asked around, inquiring if there was a man in your life. Everyone I spoke with said you were married once. I take it from their hushed tones and the bruise I saw once on your cheek, that he was abusive to you. I can't even fathom that. To me, you are a treasure. To me, a daily blessing I don't want to live without any longer.
Maybe you've seen past my shy exterior and know this. I've eaten at Bob's Big Burgers daily for years. Really, I just wanted to visit with you for a few minutes every day.
Forgive me, but minutes just aren't cutting it anymore.
My oncologist has begged me for weeks to get checked into the hospital. Today or tomorrow sounds good, as I want to make sure this important letter gets to you. Your boss gave me your home address and I will be enclosing this with some red roses. Red roses symbolize 'eternal love.' I know as I approach eternity, it is my eternal love for you that burns in my heart.
My love, forever~
Alice Shipley was enjoying her day off with her daughter, Dana. Chocolate chip pancakes topped with warm maple syrup were called for by her sixteen-year-old.
"Mom, this is divine! You should open up your own diner," she said, licking her fingers one by one.
"I will admit, these are pretty darn good."
A delivery van pulled into their nanosized driveway. The custom floral-painted van read, "Masterpiece Florist."
"I'll get it," hollered Dana. "It's probably another apology bouquet from Dad."
"I doubt it," said Alice. "He wouldn't send me flowers from the finest florist in Memphis, my darling."
"How romantic. A secret admirer!" Dana ran for the door and yanked it open before her mother could catch up.
"Good morning," said the delivery man. "I have three deliveries for Ms. Alice Shipley."
"I'm Alice Shipley," she said, calming her giddy daughter. "Did you say three?"
"Yes, ma'am. Large ones. I'll need to carry them one at a time. Would you ladies mind holding the door for me?"
"Certainly," they said in unison.
Up the front walk marched Randy, the delivery man, with three of the most exquisite red rose arrangements Alice had ever seen. Dana thought so too, and gasped in delight. "Mom, may I put one in my room?"
Alice searched for a card, typically fastened to delivered arrangements.
"Excuse me, sir. There doesn't appear to be a card or personal message of any kind."
Randy thoroughly searched himself and smiled nervously. "There was a letter with these. It's probably in the truck. I'll be right back."
The Shipley girls inhaled the delicious aroma of the roses as they waited for Randy to retrieve the letter. But, it was nowhere to be found. Randy felt sickened, and knew this would pull down their five-star Google rating.
"I apologize. I can't seem to find the letter anywhere. I know a way to track the name on the receipt, and I will get back to you with that information," said Randy.
"That would be great," replied Alice. "Here's my cellphone number on my catering card."
"Yes, ma'am. Again, I'm so sorry for misplacing the letter."
Sunday was Alice's busiest day at the diner, and the day her ex-husband usually dropped by, looking for a free breakfast. However, in all the rush, she noticed Gus was not sitting in his usual seat. His handsome face was easy to spot in her crowd of regulars. It's awfully late for Gus not to be here for his double expresso. I better grind those exotic coffee beans he likes--just in case.
Alice made her food deliveries, but kept her eye on the front door. A gray-headed gentleman stepped inside, but it wasn't Gus. She felt her heart drop. Suddenly, like a bad dream, the familiar cold hand of her ex-husband latched onto her.
"Hey there, doll. Got some of that good coffee and maybe a little breakfast for me? I've had a rough night."
Alice pulled away and trembled. "My section is full. Bob will take care of you." She turned and continued down the line of tables and back into the kitchen. "I've got to get a grip, and just let it go." Just as she said that, her cellphone vibrated. It was Masterpiece Florist.
"This is Alice."
"Yes, Ms. Shipley, this is Randy from Masterpiece Florist. I can't find the letter that was supposed to be enclosed with your flowers. It's like it disappeared. But, the owner said the order was placed by a walk-in customer, a gentleman with gray hair named Gus. He paid cash and left in a hurry."
"Thank you, Randy. That's all I needed to know." She hung up the phone and smiled. "So, he must have feelings for me, too."
Alice jumped inwardly every time someome came in the diner, hoping it was Gus. She was in love with him, and he had finally made a move. It was hard to love again, but she saw many good qualities in Gus, undeniably so. She was not used to such attention and every tasteful compliment had meant so much.
Every night as she brushed out her hair before bed, she thought of Gus and all the kind things he had said, or his smile. When she awoke, Gus was still in her thoughts.
Bob jolted her from her romantic musings. "Excuse me, dreamy girl. You have a customer looking for you. Leonard somebody. A friend to Gus."
Alice set the coffee beans aside and wiped her hands on her apron. She hurried out to the lobby to see Leonard taking a seat.
"Leonard... Hi! Where's Gus?"
Leonard spoke in a serious tone. "Did you get his letter, the one with the flowers?"
"No, I mean--yes. I received the flowers, but the florist lost the letter!"
"You need to come with me as soon as you can, or come over to the Baptist hospital. He hasn't much time, and has been asking for you."
"Oh no, this can't be happening! Let me freshen up. I'll meet you over there within the hour."
"Leonard, I'm in love with Gus."
"He needs to hear that, Alice. More than anything."
Alice made her way to oncology ICU and through the double-entry doors to the nurse's station.
Leonard saw her coming down the hallway and waved. "I'll let you two visit for a while. I'm going down to the cafeteria to get some coffee. Are you good?"
"Yes, thank you, Len."
Alice rapped gently as she entered Gus's room. "Hello, Gus. I missed seeing you today and thought I'd stop by."
"Spare me pleasantries, woman. Come close so I can see your beautiful face. May I hold your hand?"
"Of course. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I should have told you in person. I hope that I conveyed my love for you in the letter. I do love you, Alice. I didn't think I'd ever love again, and then, you came bearing pie." They both laughed for a moment, then tears flowed between them. Alice kissed his hand, then he reached to kiss her fully on the lips.
The sweetest kisses she had ever known held her there for a long time.
"The letter was lost," she confessed. "But the flowers are gorgeous. Dana has taken one of the arrangements into her room and holds it captive! You should've seen her face when the bouquets arrived. They are truly magnificent. Thank you, Gus."
The moon shone faintly through the blinds, casting a silver beam upon them.
"Alice, may I have this dance?"
"I'd be delighted. Let me get you a sweater. How is it that you've escaped wearing those horrid gowns?"
"My doctor said he just wants me to be comfortable. This is my third tumor, and there are no treatments left for me. I asked if I could please die in my own clothes with the woman I love by my side."
"Wish granted. Let me help you. Can you slide to the edge of the bed?"
Gus balanced himself as Alice helped with his sweater. She wrapped her arms around him as he stood up. To embrace her felt like heaven on earth.
They slow danced in the moonlight as they spoke their love in words and sighs, long and deep.
"Come now, Gus. I can't exhaust you. Let me help you back to bed."
"You're leaving already, my love?"
"Only to arrange a cot and a blanket. I'll sleep right next to you and be here until you go. I'll put the cot as close as the nurse will allow."
"She's a former army nurse, but she can be bought. Apple pie from Bob's should do it."
"I'll call Dana and have her bring over my things. I just happen to have a whole pie in my refrigerator."
"Before I go, let me help you," said Gus.
"I have arranged to give you my house, truck, and savings account. I insist and have made up my mind. There should be enough money to pay for Dana's college tuition or a down payment for your own diner."
Alice burst into tears. "Gus, this is just too much!" She lay down next to him and held him close.
"There's no such thing as too much love," said Gus.
The pale moon faded as Gus and Alice slept side by side on his last night on earth.
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