It was Daniel and Bethany’s time. It was a gift from life or, perhaps, it was life’s little joke to itself. Dan and Beth were not laughing. It was too important and promising. It did not take long for Dan to turn to Beth one day and say, “If I asked you to marry me, would you say yes?” Beth was surprised; such a serious question. Daniel’s eyes would not let hers turn away. They were tunnelling with the demand, Answer me, now.
Before her mind could manage to push forth some reasonable concerns, even objections, a smile jumped into the arena and smoothed itself over Beth’s mouth. The deal was sealed in the passing of a few seconds. For the shortest breathing space, Dan and Beth relaxed as if before the storm. The moment was so piercingly innocent that both felt naked and embarrassed. Perhaps, too much of themselves had been shown to the other. It was a marriage proposal that would go horribly wrong.
In retrospect, the signs were clear but Beth didn’t want to believe them. The coming months grew more and more confusing until she could not remember if Dan even vaguely liked her. One final day, he casually announced to her, as if it was of little relevance, that he had been lately meeting up with an old friend. They had reignited their friendship and he was going to move to her city, start a relationship, and live with her. Beth was incredulous.
The sorrow would have been debilitating except that Daniel, in his guilt, had decided that the best approach was to act like there was no reason why Beth would be anything but happy for his new adventure. This brought the fire out in Bethany. How dare he hurt her like that, ask for her love and trust, and then disregard it as if it never happened. Dan was much bigger than Beth and he was a man not challenged lightly. She hit him and didn’t hold back. It was not the first time Beth had hit Dan. He hated it intensely because he could not hit her back. He seethed with fury and both stared at each other like the world was about to explode. At least, it was an even match. Seeing that Dan meant to carry through with his plan and do so with no remorse, Beth threw herself towards the door with disgust that knew no bounds.
After a while, the anger faded but something worse took its place – grief. Every morning, following on the heels of waking consciousness, Beth would hear the words, It’s over. Accept it. A thousand times she scolded herself, Why did you give him your heart? You knew it was a dreadful idea. But she did give him her heart. It was already done. Once the contract is signed, it can only be nullified by a painful untangling. Beth wondered how Dan was going in his new relationship. She felt that he must have adjusted by now. He must be happy. It was his decision, after all. Every day, she would release him in her soul. How many times must one release the same person? she wondered.
Sometimes, Beth would dream of a friend from another land. The friend had many disguises, however, she always recognised it by the way it talked, the advice it gave, and the energy field it left behind. “If you didn’t give Daniel your heart,” said the friend, “he could not heal. It’s the price you paid for healing.” Beth wondered if the price was worth it. Maybe, it was all for naught.
“Will I see him again?” asked Beth.
“Yes, you will see him,” replied the friend. “He never went to live with the girl. He didn’t even start the relationship. There was no need of it once you left. He didn’t love her but he needed a reason to make you leave. If one cannot trust that one will be loved even at one’s worst, the healing cannot begin. One will always be lying about what is inside oneself.”
“Will he heal?” asked Bethany.
“That, my dear Bethany, is the enthralling story of life. It is written by the most brilliant of writers, you know. For now, it is enough for you to know that love is its own reward.”
Five years later, Bethany was looking at the rundown cottage. It was perfect. For some reason, Dan seemed to think otherwise as he looked suspiciously at the wildly creaking floorboards. Beth was too busy to notice as she gazed with mounting excitement at the ceiling with an array of house spiders and other insects happily living their communal life. Dan glanced sideways at the real estate agent of the quiet village, Why in God’s name did you bring us here? It’s a disaster. The real estate agent couldn’t help but have an apologetic look on his face. He was of the same ilk as Dan.
When Bethany was a child, her family would often set out on the five-hour drive to their relatives’ farm. It was a long drive for a little girl. Although she never mentioned it to anyone, she had a game that she played. Bethany knew the houses on the way well. Her favourites were the rundown ones with rusty roofs, tall grass, and broken fences. For each forgotten cottage, she dreamed about how she would fix it up. She imagined living there and, every day, making a little progress with the restoration of her charge. She thought about the sweeping, painting, rubbish removal, and gardening. She knew that given a chance, her charges would turn into beautiful, loving, and loved homes. She never told anyone her game because no-one ever told her to do it. It was an idea from the ether and it seemed best that it remained there. Bethany turned brightly to Dan and held his arm, “Can you feel it? It’s wonderful.”
“No Beth,” he said emphatically. “I can’t feel anything except disgust. The plaster is falling off the walls. The roof is leaking. God only knows how much asbestos is lying around the house. There are rat droppings everywhere. The garden is full of rubbish. I hate it.” To make sure Bethany had no doubt in her mind of his position on the matter, he stared into her eyes and repeated firmly, “Bethany, no. It’s horrible. Let’s go.” Ben walked out the door in disgust. The agent looked awkward and followed Ben sympathetically.
Bethany glanced through the dirty, broken window and spotted a rose flowering beneath an overgrown mass of blackberry bushes. A little bird bobbed its head and seemed to say, This garden has life. It has just been forgotten for a long time. You are the one. Unfortunately, Dan didn’t want to be any part of that one. And so the search went on for the perfect house.
Dan tried being conciliatory, “Come on, Beth. That house is only fit for the bulldozer. Let’s look at all the other houses that the agent has lined up for us. We will find some other place that you will love even more.” It was a very sensible suggestion if only Beth could bring herself to believe it. They spent the afternoon driving around. As they pulled up outside the houses, she made a conscientious effort not to look completely disinterested. Bethany felt that the original cottage was the most beautiful in the village. She almost felt sorry for the other residents of the town. However, there was no need for pity because no-one else seemed to think the same way. Mostly, they preferred their own large and fabulous houses. After some months, the rundown cottage was so cheap and everything else was so expensive that Dan took a deep breath, wondered why he was agreeing, and they bought the little house.
As much as Dan resented the broken and fragile state of the cottage, he also secretly hoped that it could be saved. Soon, it became one of the loveliest cottages in the village. Although it wasn’t an instant love affair for Dan, he grew to love it. He felt happy and relaxed there. Every little improvement, somehow, reassured him that healing is not only possible but inevitable. As for Bethany, she loved it from when she was a young child looking out the window of their family car, watching the passing paddocks dotted with the neglected homes that needed another chance.