Under my umbrella

Jennifer Spang

On the day we met we weren’t more than some strangers whose paths had crossed.
It was a rainy day, the water kept pouring down from the sky and was also running down the street and pavement.
I was hurrying down the road, already late for work, carrying my enormous bag and about six cups of coffee with me (since I was the new one my colleagues insisted on their morning coffe), while trying to hold up my umbrella at the same time.
Out of nowhere an obstacle appeared right in front of me, causing me to bump into it hard. The coffeecups were pushed against my chest, the hot liquid slopped over and splashed all over my blouse.
The burning on my skin made me scream while I stumbled backwards. I didn’t have any doubt that I would fall to the wet floor in the next seconds.
And I definetely would have fallen, if a strong arm hadn’t caught me and helped me to stay on my feet.
„Oh shit, I’m so sorry“, a deep and husky voice said in a worried tone. „Are you okay?“
I looked up, ready to yell and curse at whoever this person was, but then stopped, unable to say anything.
I was looking into soft brown eyes that met my own with a guilty expression.
At the same time a shy smile appeared on his lips, letting two dimples on his cheeks show.
His hair was dark brown and short, he seemed to be about 20 centimetres taller than me and his body appeared thin but strong at the same time.
„Did you get hurt?“, he asked me again.
„No, it’s okay“, I managed to answer. „I think I’m fine.“
He seemed to be relieved and slowly let go off my arm. Only then he noticed the dark coffee stains on my blouse.
He started to apologize right away and the look on his face was so concerned that I couldn’t help smiling.
„It’s okay“, I told him, interrupting his apology. „I can just wash it.“
He didn’t look convinced. „Are you sure?“
„Okay“, he gave back slowly and smiled back at me. „I guess I better let you go then…before I get you killed or something.“
His comment made me laugh. „Yeah, that’s probably better.“
He winked at me and already began to walk away when I noticed that he had no protection from the rain.
„Oh, wait!“, I shouted after him.
He paused and slowly turned back to me.
„Here,  I think you need that“, I said and offered him the second umbrella that had been buried at the bottom of my bag.
His eyes widened in surprise. „You have two umbrellas?“
„Uhm…yes.“ I felt my cheeks blushing. „One of them could break. Or I lose one.“ Then I grinned. „And it’s also a good weapon if some crazy people decide to tackle me down in the street.“
For an instant he just looked at me blankly as if not sure if I was kidding or not. But then he bursted into laughter, which made his eyes turn into two halfmoons while his whole face was lit up.
It made him look even more handsome than before. Shit.
„I guess I better watch out in the future“, he gave back, still smiling. „Before I get attacked.“
We both laughed, looked at each other one last time and then our ways parted.

Even a few days later I still caught myself thinking about him and daydreaming about our encounter. And every single time I walked down this street again, I kept looking for him, but he never appeared.
By this time I was convinced that I would never see him again.
But, as it turned out, I was wrong about that.

It happened on my way home from work. The day had been long, stressful and extremely tiring and had made me question my life choices more than just once.
So while walking, I had my eyes fixed on the ground and could only force myself to keep moving forward. I really just wanted to go to bed. And, in the best case, stay there for the rest of my life.
About the time my mood had reached its lowest point, I suddenly heard a familiar voice next to me. A voice I had been dreaming of during the past days and nights.
„Hey coffee-girl“ it said. „Better be careful. Before you stumble again.“
Out of nowhere I felt a smile on my lips and my heart started racing. „Don’t worry, I’ll be safe…unless you want to attack me again.“
We managed to stay serious for a couple of seconds, but then couldn’t hold back our laughter any longer.
„I think I completely forgot to thank you for the umbrella“, he said after a while, more serious again. „It really rescued me.“ He seemed to think about something before he slowly added: „We could go and get something to eat, if you want to. Of course you would be invited.“
„Oh“, I stuttered, startled. „Well…I don’t know…“
„Come on, it’s the least thing I can do to apologize and thank you.“ He winked at me playfully. „And I’m not a serial killer, I promise.“
I just smiled, while something inside of me was dancing. „That’s better for you“, I gave back in a mocking tone. „I still have one umbrella left, you know? Just in case.“
The beautiful laugh returned to his face and in this moment I knew I could never say no to his invitation.

I expected that he would guide me to some restaurant, but we passed by one after one without entering.
„Where are we going?“, I wanted to know after a few moments of silence.
He answered with a big grin. „That’s a surprise.“
Jokefully, I let out a deep sigh, which made his grin wider.
I felt extremely happy and excited, but somehow completely insecure at the same time. To me, it just didn’t make any sense why someone like him should want to spend time with someone like me.
But for some reasons I still don’t understand, he really seemed to want that.
After a while we reached a small bar, where he bought us some drinks and sandwiches.
I was surprised when he told the waitress that we would take the food with us, but followed him back outside anyways.
We continued our way before we left the busy main street and eventually reached a small, white fence.
He entered without hesitating and when I followed him I felt like entering a completely different world. All the noise, hectic rush and grey buildings of the city were gone. Instead, we were surrounded by soft green grass, colourful wildflowers and a few big trees. In the distance people were taking a walk or sitting together in groups, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.
The light of the sinking sun put a golden glimmer above the whole scene and was reflected in the waterway that seemed to flow through the whole park.
„Wow“, I let out, unable to hide my excitement about this unexpected beauty.
I felt him watching me from the side.
„You’ve never been here before?“, he asked in surprise.
„I didn’t even know that this place exists“, I answered. „Thanks for bringing me here.
He answered with a warm smile. Then he gave me a few more moments to look around, before he said: „Come on, I’ll show you my favourite spot.“
His favourite spot turned out to be a quiet corner next to the water.
We were sitting there, taking in the atmosphere, eating our sandwiches and talking about this and that.
He showed a lot of interest and asked many questions.
We laughed about the chaotic stories about me, a girl from a small village, moving into the big city and he was shocked when I confessed that I hadn’t spent much time discovering the city yet. He also wanted to know something about my family and friends and even listened to my complaints about my boring job in the administration office and my annoying colleagues.
At the same time I learned many things about him too: His name was Nathan, he was 23 years old (2 years older than me) and had been living in this city for his whole life.
He was working part-time in a bar and also helped out in his mother’s café from time to time.
But his passion and the thing he spend most of his time with was something completely different: music. Nate was leader and rapper of a boygroup, that consisted of five members.
As soon as he started to talk about the other members and their music, a mixture from pop, hiphop and rap, his whole face seemed to glow up and his voice was filled with excitement and happiness.
At this time, they had just signed a contract under a popular agency and were preparing for their debut.
Watching him talk about the things he loved made me smile and with every minute that passed by, I felt more comfortable and relaxed in his company.
When it was time to leave, Nathan insisted on walking me home, where he asked for my number before he gave me a quick hug and left.

During the next months, we spent a lot of time with each other and slowly, a deep friendship grew between us.
Even in retrospect it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment in which I fell in love with him.
Maybe it was on the very first day, when our eyes met for the very first time.
Maybe it happened on countless days and nights that were spent together at the park, simply watching our surroundings and talking.
Maybe it was on the afternoon when he suddenly showed up at my place in his car and we were driving around until the sun was replaced by the stars and the moon.
Or it happened on the day we let our cookies burn, because we were too busy messing around and dancing in the kitchen.
Maybe it was on the day he came with me to visit my family. I still remember the warm feeling that arose in my heart when I watched him joking around with my dad, helping my mum in the kitchen and listening to my little sister for ages while she told him everything about her favourite bands.
Before we left my mum told me that she had found him a bit intimidating at first, but that in fact, he seemed to be such a warm-hearted and lovable person that I should better bring him back as my boyfriend the next time.
Maybe it happened on the day our beloved family dog died and Nathan stayed with me the whole night, simply holding me in his arms, drying my tears and watching my favourite movies with me.
It’s even possible that it happened when we got into our first fight. After I had stormed out of his flat, when I heard him hitting against the wall and then his muffled crying. When I couldn’t take it any longer and went back to him. And when we were apologizing while holding each other tightly.
Or maybe it was on one of the many occasions when he showed me how much he cared about me and that he wanted me to be around on events that were important to him. No matter if it was his grandfather’s funeral, his sister’s wedding, the recordings of his band or their concerts.
And being there, trying to give him strenght, share his happiness or watching him doing what he loved, surrounded by his members that were like brothers to him, made me extremely happy.
Maybe I fell in love with him on one of these days, maybe it was in a completely different situation and maybe it was all of that together.

All I know is that on one day we were sitting in his favourite spot at the park again, huddled together closely to protect each other from the cold wind.
My hair was a complete mess, blown into my face all the time, and when I turned around to look at him, it made both of us laugh.
Still laughing, Nate gently brushed my hair back, but then paused and just looked at me.
Insecurity showed in his eyes when he cupped my face in his hands and slowly started to lean towards me.
My heart was pounding as I leaned in, too, and a warm feeling of happiness and excitement ran trough my whole body when our lips finally met.
At first, we were both shy, but then became more comfortable pretty soon.
Nate’s hands went down to my back, before he put both of his arms around me to pull me closer to him.
My own hands were wandering from his chest to his head, running through his hair that was longer than on the day we met and began to curl.
Our kiss lasted a long time, but when our lips parted, it still felt far too soon.
„Well…I’m just happy that you didn’t have an umbrella at hand“, he mumbled jokingly.
I let out a laugh, but it took me a few moments to find my voice. „I can’t believe you still remember that!“
„Oh, I do“, he replied. „And I’m still scared.“
I just shook my head, still smiling, and reached for his hand. „Don’t worry. I don’t think I’ll ever have to use this weapon against you…And if I do, you will be in huge trouble anyways.“
„What a relief!“, he gave back sarcastically.
Then he placed a soft kiss on my forehead and rested his head on my shoulder.
I cuddled in closer to him and we stayed there for a while, simply enjoying the other one’s company.
The whole situation, with him close to me and the peaceful landscape around us still feels perfect to me.

The next two years were the happiest in my whole life.
Nathan and I stayed together, loving, laughing, crying and sometimes fighting.
His family members and friends accepted me right away and seemed to love me just as much as my people loved Nate.
As simple as it may sound, we just made each other happy, so it was no surprise for everyone when we decided to move into a small flat together.
That was when we really started to build something up for our future, and every painted wall or bought piece of furniture seemed to bring us closer together.

Everything could have been perfect, but then, slowly, things began to change.
From the beginning on, the boys‘ agency had been giving them a really hard time: This entertainment did almost nothing for the group, but expected them to work extremely hard and be perfect all the time. At the same time, nothing they tried and did ever seemed to be good enough.
So the group was either heading from appointment to appointment, recording in the studio or practising for endless hours.
And as if this busy schedule wasn’t enough, the agency still expected them to always come up with new ideas, concepts and songs.
Since he was the leader of the group, Nate was always the one to be criticised and all of the pressure seemed to be resting on his shoulders.
And slowly, little by little, I had to watch him break under this enormous weight.
At the beginning, I tried to convince myself that he was simply exhausted and only needed some rest. But deep in my heart, I already knew then that this wasn’t all.
With every day that passed by, he became quieter and appeared sadder and more frustrated. His beautiful smile vanished and was replaced by dark circles under his eyes and a deep frown on his face. He also lost an alarming amount of weight, but often couldn’t bring himself to eat anything, no matter how hard I tried to seduce him with his favourite food. There were moments when he looked so lost and caught up in his own mind that I just wanted to take him in my arms and protect him from everything that was troubling him. And on some days he wasn’t even able to get out of his bed in the morning and didn’t feel like doing anything for the rest of the day.
During daytime Nathan always seemed to be extremely tired, but at nighttime he couldn’t sleep because nightmares and panic attacks were keeping him awake.
In these nights I always wrapped my arms around him, holding him as tightly as I could, while talking to him softly, until his body finally stopped shaking and he was able to breathe again.
I really tried my best to be there for him and support him, but after a while I began to doubt that this could be enough. That I was strong enough to fight his demons.
And I already felt that he slowly started to drift away from me.

In the following weeks, he always left early in the morning and never returned before 1 am. During the few hours he spent at home, he always seemed to be a million miles away. And impossible for me to reach.
By this time he barely said a word to me and didn’t let me try to help or get close to him either. Every attempt to talk about the whole situation was only brushed off by him harshly, so after a while I just gave up trying.
I kept telling myself that his whole behaviour was just caused by his mental issues and that he would start to feel better pretty soon, but I think that not even I believed in these words.
And it was killing me. It was killing me to see him like this, to know that I had no other choice but to watch him losing himself and breaking, more and more. Without being able to do anything to help him. Without being able to save him.
In my darkest times I even started to think that I was a part of his problem. That he had stopped loving me and only saw me as something annoying and disturbing now.

The situation became so bad, that I wasn’t even able to be in the same room with him for a longer time. So I left our bedroom to him and went to sleep in the living room instead. And that’s where I forced myself to stay, when I heard him breathing heavily from his panic attacks or crying. Although it seemed to tear out my heart, every single time. But I just knew that he wouldn’t accept my help anyways.

After another horrible night with him paniccing in the bedroom and me pacing around restlessly in the living room while crying my eyes out, I barely managed to get up in the morning and was just stumbling through the hallway to get to the bathroom.
In this moment something hard and heavy banged against my head an made an enormous pain flare up where it hit me. I screamed and fell to the ground.
„Oh shit!“, Nate’s deep voice shouted, but I wasn’t able to tell if he sounded concerned or annoyed.
The next thing I knew was that strong arms picked me up and carried me to the bed, where I was laid down carefully.
I opened my eyes and found Nathan leaning over me to check on my forehead.
Being so close to him again and feeling his soft touch on my skin while knowing how far away he actually was from me made my heart ache so badly that it brought tears to my eyes.
„You don’t have to do this“, I told him quietly, but could barely manage to look him in the eyes.
I could see him tensing just as I could see the dark and cold expression that appeared in his eyes.
„Stop being like that“, he told me in a harsh tone.
„Being like what?“
Nate’s hands clenched to fists. „Stop acting as if I didn’t care.“
„Oh, so you do?“, I yelled back, unable to hold back these word any longer. Tears came streaming down my face and my whole body started to shake, but I didn’t stop. „It’s really nice to know that! After you’ve been pushing me away for months! You don’t let me try to help anymore, we haven’t touched each other for ages. You don’t even talk to me anymore! Do you have any idea what this feels like? Watching you being miserable all the time and being unable to help you? Sometimes I don’t even know if you still love me!“ After these words my voice cracked and I wasn’t able to say anything else.
When I had started, Nate had his back turned on me, but my last words made him spin around to me again.  
A mixture from disbelief and anger was shown on his face, but when he started to talk, his voice only sounded very tired. „Do you really think that I don’t know all of that? And do you think I’m doing this on purpose? That I want to feel like this, feel like I’m losing myself more and more with every single day? That I want to keep you away from me and treat you like shit? It’s killing me, believe me. But I just can’t think of a way out of that anymore.“ His voice seemed to get lost and he was staring into the distance. Weak and completely hopeless. Like someone who had already given up.
„There is always a way out of that“, I managed to say after a little while and reached out to him. „We can get you help. Someone who truly understands your problems and can make you feel better and more like yourself again. And I will be there for you, too. You don’t have to do this alone.“
I saw tears welling up in his eyes. „I can’t do this“, he said with his voice shaking, before he brushed off my arm and stormed out of the bedroom.
I heard him slam the door and then he was gone. And I was left on my own, feeling heartbroken and guilty, thinking that I had just lost him completely now.

It was my day off from work, so I had nothing else to do than lying in bed crying and repeating our discussion in my head, over and over again. Thinking about all the things I should have said. And deeply regretting that I had let him leave.
And all the time I was hoping that he would come back home. And that we would finally find a way to work things out again.

But he never came home.
Instead, a police officer appeared in front of my door, with an expression on his face that made clear that he wanted to be far away from here right now.
A cold shiver ran trough my body, when I noticed his professional but concerned expression. „Can I help you with something?“
„I am very sorry“, he began and in this moment I knew that something horrible had happened. „It’s about Mr. Bang…He just got into a car crash. He was driving over a crossroad when another driver ran over the red traffic light and crashed into his car.“
My heart seemed to be standig stilll and all of a sudden I felt dizzy. „Where is he? I need to get to him now!“
„I’m sorry“, the officer replied calmy. „But you can’t. Mr. Bang died, right at the scene of the accident.“
The world was spinning around in high speed, only to come to a sudden halt again, causing me to fall to the ground. And that’s where I stayed, unable to breathe, unable to stop the tears from streaming down my face or my body from shaking violently. I wanted to scream, wanted to leave out all of this pain, but not a single sound came out of my mouth.
A horrible pain went through my heart, making me feel as if it was tearing me apart, leaving nothing of me behind.
But it couldn’t be true. The police officer couldn’t be right. It was impossible that Nate had vanished. Leaving me all alone. Making me feel this endless pain. Before we could make things right again. And before I had the chance to tell him how much I loved him. That he meant the world to me. And that I couldn’t imagine to live just one fucking day without him.
„Miss?“ The voice sounded muffled and far away. „I’m sorry for your loss. But there is something I need to give you.“
With all the strenght that was left inside of me, I managed to get back on my feet. At the same time the police officer held out a black leather jacket and I felt as if a gigantic fist was hitting right into my stomach.
It was definetly Nathan’s jacket. Pictures appeared inside of my head, memories from all the moments I had seen him wearing it. The day we met. The cold evening in the park when he had put it around my shoulders. Our first holiday together. His group’s concert.
The police officer showed me another object and interrupted my thoughts.
„This is what we found with him in the car“, he explained, placing an umbrella and a letter in my hands.
And this was the moment when everything around me went black and I broke down completely.

The next days were a nightmare. I stayed in bed all the time, unable to move or take care of myself, and even breathing seemed too much for me.
Everytime a sound rang out in the empty flat, I expected Nate to enter the room. And then, every single time it hit me again. And the world came crashing down on me again.
He would never walk through this door again. Just as I would never hear his voice or feel his love again.
I can’t count how many times I reached for his letter, only to put it away again, unread. Because I felt like I couldn’t take it to read his last words. And that this would destroy me completely.

It actually took a few months until I finally felt able to read it. I still remember how badly my hands were shaking when I unfolded the paper. I remember that his first words already sent tears streaming down my cheeks.
Reading his words almost hurt as much as losing him. Because it reminded me on what I had lost.
But at the same time, it was this letter that helped me to find my strenght again. And that slowly let me heal, little by little.
Because it proved how much he had loved me. And it let me know that we would have been alright. Just as we will be, if we ever meet again, somewhere.

„My love,

I wanted to tell you all these things in person, but you know that I’m much better at writing than at talking. And, to be honest, I would have forgotten most of what I want to say anyways.
The first and most important thing: I am unbelievably sorry. For all the times you were worried about me, the way I’ve been treating you, how I kept pushing you away. For the way I left you at home today. And because I made you doubt my love, when I should have shown it to you on every single day.
During the last months there has been a darkness inside of me that I couldn’t fight, no matter how hard I tried. Everything just seemed bad and hopeless to me. And I was either feeling nothing or sadness and the good moments just seemed to become rarer.
This is no excuse, I know, but I hope that it helps you to understand my behaviour. Because this was the only reason why I pushed you away, why I couldn’t keep you close to me. And maybe, because I sometimes felt that you would be better off without me. Since I didn’t  want to drag you down, too.
I love you and you are one of the reasons why I don’t want to give up.
You were right, too: I need help. And I promise that I’m going to get some. I will keep fighting, until I finally feel like myself again.

And for us…Well, I got you this umbrella.
Partly, because I thought you might want to hit me now (and I really deserve it).
But mostly, because I wanted to take you back to the start. Do you remember the day we met?
You were protecting me, already, and I think that this was the moment when I started to fall in love with you.
I really hope that you can forgive me and that we can start all over again.
So, come under my umbrella, because that’s where I want you to be. Right by my side, with me taking care of you and sheltering you from all the harm.

I love you so much,
my coffee-girl.