Romance/A bank/A comic book
Funny Picture Books
He shuffled in to the bank, then was led across the plush carpeting towards his safe deposit box. He was always glad he'd paid extra for this service; the process was a little more bearable in such grand surrounds. Chase Holden was the sort of bank where gangsters kept blackmail items and sultans kept bars of pure gold. It was also where, for nearly 40 years, Tom Novak has kept his most treasured possession.
The receptionist smiled at him as she laid his box on the ancient oak table. She had clearly been told his story. They all had, the bankers and managers and office staff. Tom was a celebrity in this institution.
He opened the box, and then stared at it. All his hopes and dreams were trapped in here; all of them dashed in 1963 when she stopped writing. The contents of this box represented the last contact Tom had with his true love.
He lifted the comic book out of the box, and her final letter fell from its pages.
I saw this at the store and thought of you and your funny picture books.
All my love, forever,
It always perplexed him, the shortness of that final note, almost as much as the not-knowing did. Why did she stop writing? Why wouldn't her father pass on his messages? He had written to her every week for five years, and each one was returned to sender. All he had left were fading memories and this final present.
He stared at the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #1. Sarah was right, of course. He had spent his youth with his head buried in his “funny picture books”. Then Sarah, the Most Beautiful Girl In School, had taken a shining to young Tom Novak, and he had given her his heart completely. When he joined the army – a decent way for a poor boy to make a living - she promised to wait for him. But her family was old southern money; her father did not approve. Sarah could do much better. That fact still did not escape Tom, as he made his annual pilgrimage from Columbia to Atlanta, to the basement of Chase Holden, to remember Sarah.
He went cover to cover with Spider-Man, not so much reading as reciting from memory. Every year since he finished his tour of duty, since he returned to South Carolina to find Sarah gone and her family's lips sealed on her whereabouts, Tom had visited this book. At first, he kept it at home, but found himself yearning to caress its pages, once touched by Sarah, far too often. The comic became quite valuable – something he thought of as Sarah's legacy to him - and Tom decided to limit his visits and lock it up. The staff were under instruction to let him access the box only on 6 June – the anniversary of the last time he saw Sarah, the night before he left for base, the night they made love for the first time under the stars in the steamy summer air.
Tom read the letter again, tracing her old-fashioned lettering with his finger. He had never married, never even courted another lady - it would be unfaithful to Sarah. Friends had urged him to move on, but he couldn't. He had perfection, once, and it slipped through his fingers.
He remembered the argument he had with Sarah's father the day he returned. Remembered how it felt when the door slammed in his face. Remembered standing there, staring at the door, trying to work out what had gone wrong.
He cried until a hand on his shoulder interrupted his thoughts. Tom dried his tears but did not look up.
“I'm sorry, I'm making a scene. I'll leave now,” he mumbled.
“Sir,” apologised the hand. “You have a visitor.”
What? Everyone Tom knew was dead or far away. He had no family. He had no one and nothing but this comic book and his memories.
Tom turned, squinted, rubbed his face. Stared. There was no mistaking those eyes. Even though the bright blue had faded to grey, he knew right away it was her.
“Our son told me I'd find you here, Tommy.”
So many years he had imagined this reunion, and now he was speechless.
“I have missed you so, so much.” Sarah spoke quickly, as if trying to make up for lost years. “Daddy sent me away when he found out I was pregnant. Oh, he was so angry. He arranged a marriage for me once the baby was born. It was all rather hush-hush. Lucille raised our son, and I was sent to a new life in Virginia. I had no choice. After my husband passed, I wanted to look for you, but didn't know where to begin. And then our son started working here, and heard your story...”
“You were pregnant? I have a son?!”
“I never forgot you, my darling. I thought of you every single day.”
Tom shook his head. He was crying again, although he still couldn't bring himself to walk towards her lest she disappear. Nearing 70, he finds he has not just a son, but Sarah too?
Tom smiled, the first genuine smile in 50 years. He shuffled towards Sarah, planted a lingering kiss on her cheek, and offered her his arm.
“Miss Calvert? I'd be honoured if you would accompany me on a stroll.”
Sarah laughed, her eyes danced with joy. “Mr Novak, I'd be delighted.”
Tom handed in the key to his safe deposit box, winked at the receptionist, and left it all behind. All of it.