Everyone could see that they were in love. It was written all over them for the world to read; written in their clasped hands, on their smiling faces, in their eyes. He loved her and she loved him and they talked pleasantly, so easily, as though they had been loving each other in this manner without trouble or hardship since they had exchanged their promises in the little country chapel, almost sixty years ago. Their relationship had not always been the blissful dream that they had imagined from their honeymoon days, but they had always leaned on each other through the turbulence. Somehow almost sixty years had flown by in a wonderful blur of fashion changes, rock music, Pampers and bunk beds, college applications and the throwing of rice, and then another more recent round of Pampers as their children's children were handed over for a few days at a time. It had been a happy, love-filled adventure together so far. What would the next sixty years bring?
The bus pulled over to the sidewalk to pick up another elderly couple who smiled and waved as soon as they boarded. The gentleman tipped his felt fedora to the bus driver - an original hat from the early thirties, the kind you had to crease yourself with regular use. The bus driver tipped his imaginary cap in return and waited patiently as they shuffled back. The first couple had moved to the back of the bus where the seating was better for four. Everyone took a few moments to catch up, the men about their women and the women of their men, and then with a knowing pause their conversation fell to Stephen.
Stephen had been a mutual friend from the days before the dinosaurs, when school was affordable and people came into fame and fortune by really accomplishing something or by the work of their hands and the sweat of their brow. The three men had been great pals from their youth. "Well, Jim was there too, but nobody sees him anymore. But he was there, old Jim."
"Right," nodded the other man, "but nobody sees him anymore."
They let a few more stops pass in silence. A heavy beat passed before the dialogue of a father and daughter nearby drew their attention to lighter things. They all smiled.
"Do you guys remember when Stephen and Jane tried hosting a formal English tea for all the kids in the neighbourhood?"
"Oh, heavens! The Brinkman boys started a food fight with the scones!"
"Little squares of butter all over Jane's poor dog. He was never quite the same."
"I remember one year for Stephen's birthday Jesse and Hannah took all of his left shoes and re-gifted them to him one at a time, wrapped up as pretty as ever. Jane laughed for days telling us that story. Stephen pretended to be miffed at the whole affair, but I'm pretty sure he loved the attention. Wow, I miss those kids. I haven't seen them in ages."
"Well, you'll see them in a few minutes, darling. It's just a shame that it's a visit under these circumstances. Jesse's whole family will be there today. We should get together this week and make them some dinners. They'll have plenty on their minds the next little while without the added stress of cooking for all those little ones."
Three more stops passed and the bus turned a corner into a grocery store parking lot. The driver opened the doors to a young teenaged couple who took the first set of empty seats. The boy was trying to get her attention but she shook him off and stared out the window in a tight-lipped silence.
The elderly man took the hand of his still-beautiful bride. Age had not withered her mind nor faded her spirit, thank God. Time had served only to specialize his affections and deepen their love. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. She felt the same.
The tall church steeple could be seen towering over the town, reminding everyone of its importance and centrality. It would have made Stephen happy to know that his life would wrap up in the same place it had really begun. The son of the pastor who married Stephen and Jane would give the service today; quite a coincidence, but Stephen wasn't a man who believed in happenstance. Jane had taught him to trust God in even the finicky details of life and he frequently credited his Heavenly Stage Manager. It was nice of Him to write his hero such a romantic exit.
The light and abrupt "ding" of a pulled cord announced the nearing end of their journey. As the bus coasted to a stop the elderly gentlemen took the arms of their wives, not so much physical support as emotional comfort. It was always a very hard thing, growing up and growing old, but laying a friend to rest forever was a horrible twist indeed. At least for the left-behinds. Stephen had always believed all those old hymns he sang so often. If he had it right, the angels would be tending to him and his lovely Jane would be with him again...
As the bus doors opened he let go of his wife for a moment as she stepped down onto the curb. He was not prepared to let go of her forever. He couldn't bear the idea of letting her go and never again taking her arm or holding her hand or sharing her love. Maybe it's time to put some thought and conversation into the whole heaven thing Stephen used to go on about. Maybe it was time to take a lesson from his friend's life and death before he followed to the graveyard.
He stood staring at the open door of the church from the open door of the bus, and still holding the yellow rail. He looked down at his wife and, taking her hand again, he vowed once more to lead her, off this bus, through this world, into this church. Perhaps not for the last time.
The old man's eyes seemed to glisten with both joy and remorse that he couldn't find the balance between. A tear rolled down his cheek, over the weathered mountains and valleys of his face that had seen so much, laughed with such bravery, cried in vulnerability and now smiled once more upon the love returned in the eyes of his wife. It was a tear that she didn't understand, but would be explained before too long.
Almost sixty years with this woman.
And there was still so much to talk about.