The fields of May, exploding with color, had been mown down, and someone had taken the blossoms and piled them all together. A great mound, of every kind: Tiny lavender blossoms peeking out from among the tigerlillies, thorny rose stems stabbing the orchids, tulips pointing straight for the sky, irises, mums, and daisies all trying to outshine each other, and the wildflowers gathered by children and scrunched into hot handfuls resting on the grass. They were all there, smiling up at the warm blue arch of the sky, or out into their audience, whose dim eyes avoided their gaze.
Claire's deep periwinkle dress drew her out of the crowd and into the flowers' bright embrace. The spring sun drew near to the earth, and her heart grew hot with directionless love, streaming forth in a strange joy that did not know regret. She began to sing.
How sweet the sound
That led me straight to you
Within your heart
I've laid my own
Which now I cannot retrieve.
'Twas life which showed
Me how to love
And love that held me fast
The joy of your embrace
The sadness in your eyes
Makes all, that will go with me.
The crowd of people and flowers watched her from both sides, as she rocked slightly side to side, swaying to the internal rhythm of her song, but did not stir or shift. A bluejay screeched raucously, and a few men cleared their throats. The only sounds were those of the earth.
In the garden, a passion-purple iris stretched out of the dull mud, frightfully ahead of its time, but vibrant with daring. Claire's dreamy gaze drifted out the window, resting briefly on its unexpected, radiant color, before shifting back to Patrick's face, eyebrows slightly raised in a gentle question.
"I never planted it - it just popped up out of nowhere and bloomed last week. It makes me think of you every time I see it." He paused, shyly. "With you, it is always springtime."
She smiled, and kissed him softly on the corner of his mouth. "You're so silly."
"But I mean it!"
"I know, that's the best part."
Their happy times were like every other couple's happy times. The future was warm with promise, and happiness waited behind every door, beckoning them forward. As Claire once said to Geoff,
"I don't think it would be possible for either of us to leave at this point, no matter what. It's like this thing has been set in motion, and as time passes, we just get closer, more caught up in each other. I don't believe in fate, but at the same time, I can't deny its effects...It's like when I saw you in the bamboo forest - I know it wasn't real, but is that really the point?"
Geoff had simply smiled. "I hope we're actually in Japan at the same time eventually."
The fall when Claire sent off her applications to graduate programs in composition ushered in a moment of hope and expectation like a perpetual intake of breath that hovered within their life like no other ever would. She had sought Patrick's approval for every note of her portfolio, trusting in his elaborate, critical taste in all things artistic, and for every sentence of the written portion of her application. Together, they made an infallible team, a generous feedback loop of sound and sentiment; she no longer felt that the goal was hers alone, but for both of them - for their life. The sharing of her music had generated a sharing of souls like that which she had only before experienced in dreams.
It was in those few sweet months of waiting that Patrick formally proposed to her - their joint sense of expectation sending them tumbling inevitably deeper into a mutual existence. It was an unusually warm day in late December, just after Christmas, and being a practical man, he'd bought the ring at a post-holiday sale, and took Claire for a walk among the bare trees in the hills of the Blue Ridge. On a mossy wooden bridge across some sweet but nameless creek, he had dropped to one knee, taken Claire's hands in his own, and said,
"I know I say this all the time, but I really do want to spend the rest of my life with you. You're an amazing, beautiful, talented girl, and I think that together, we could really be something. Will you marry me?"
Wordlessly, Claire bent down and kissed him, tears of joy and excitement rising in her eyes. She whispered, "I love you," and bid him rise. They stood on the bridge holding each other for a long time, while the afternoon sun slipped deeply into the West and the little creek babbled away on its long path to the sea.