At first he thought he never wanted to see it again, the little gazebo on campus.
How perfect it was when he last saw it.
He couldn’t have orchestrated things better than they’d played out: the June sunlight just beginning to wane after dinner, shining in a deep, golden slant through the magnolias, the fragrance of the last blooms heavy in the air.
At last, and again, for they’d broken upon once. This time he knew it was meant to be. Side by side they sat, and he gave her the ring.
She started to cry.
“Will you marry me?”
She wiped her tears, laughed, hugged him. “Yes!”
Perfect. That one afternoon, in the whole of his life, was perfect.
In two weeks she was gone.
Not ready, she told him. They were too young.
That’s it then, he told her. Not now, not ever.
His friends consoled him: “You ARE too young. Just enjoy life before you worry about getting tied down.”
Trouble was, he didn’t know how.
For days, all he wanted to do was sleep. He slept the rest of the summer away. He ate his way through autumn into the winter until he decided (while standing on the scales) that enough was enough.
He started walking, counting his calories. He lost seventy pounds.
He reconnected with old friends.
One asked, “Whatever happened, exactly?”
He told her all of it, just as they were driving past the campus. On the spur of the moment, he said, “I’ll even show you the gazebo where I gave her the ring.”
It was getting dark. He parked the car. They got out, walked the magnolia path. Lights in the lampposts flickered on. It was chilly; he hadn’t thought to wear a coat but he hadn’t planned on strolling to the gazebo tonight, or any night. He shivered as they stepped into the clearing . . .
The gazebo wasn’t there.
For a minute he thought he was dreaming. He looked every which way—yes, this is where it was. This is where it stood.
“Gone? How could it be gone?” asked his friend. “Are you sure this is the right place? That you haven’t made a mistake?”
“I made a mistake here, all right, but it wasn’t forgetting where the gazebo is. Was. I even used to ride my bike past it when I was little. Right here.” He scratched his head. “This is like something out of the Twilight Zone.”
His friend laughed. “Well, it’s twilight anyway. And maybe that gazebo didn’t disappear. Maybe it never existed at all, and maybe you never made that mistake because it’s been erased. It just never was.”
To this day, he hasn’t asked anyone who might know what happened to the gazebo, because, as far as he’s concerned, his friend is right.
Although he still occasionally checks, when he happens to think of it, which is less and less often.
It’s not there.
As if it never was.