In two days it would mark one year since she had passed. One entire year without Kate, one of the best friends he had ever had. They had met completely by accident. Bruce had been spending a year in upstate New York working with several local organizations, one of which delivered furniture and home decor to needy families. One morning, Bruce was told that they had a helper with them that day who was required to be there per the terms of her community service. He expected nothing short but another subservient miscreant of the underbelly of society. Almost every volunteer who was there against their will had no interest in helping the less fortunate. They were there to simply get the man off their back.
Kate was different. While she was there by order of the court system, she actually put forth an effort to help. She lifted heavy couches while men who were doped out of their mind stood and watched. Her attitude was if you were just going to stand and stare, she would show you up. Bruce never expected her to be a valued member of the team, let alone become such an amazing friend. On his off time he would go over to her apartment and watch crappy horror movies until the early morning hours. They would eat out at cheap Chinese buffets and doodle bizarre animals on the back of the menu. They had a relationship that was truly unique among friends. Despite Kate being a girl, Bruce never had any romantic feelings towards Kate. It wasn't that she was unattractive, it just never popped in his head to see her as a girlfriend. They stayed in touch even after Bruce moved away and met the woman who would eventually become his wife. Kate stood with Bruce at his wedding. They shared memes on Facebook. They wrote letters back and forth. Bruce would come see her when he made trips home to Iowa to see his family. Since most of his family lived in the midwest, it gave him comfort that someone he cared about so much was so close to him.
Then came the day it all changed. It was the morning of September 30th. At that time, Bruce was working as a night watchman at ski lodge. He woke up like he normally did in the late morning hours. He knew something was amiss when he noticed several people had written on Kate's Facebook wall. Normally wishing someone happy birthday was something Bruce did first thing when he woke up. The only problem was that Kate's birthday was in December. These posts didn't make sense. They were saying Kate was gone. Words like rest in peace and goodbye kept popping up over and over again. Bruce sent a frantic text to Kate begging her to answer him back. He waited by his phone desperate for a response. Minutes turned into hours and before he knew it, it was the afternoon. His friend who he had loved like a sister, who had stood with him in his wedding, was gone. Bruce started experiencing emotions he had never felt before, the most prevalent among them being shock. Kate was gone from his life as quickly as she had come into it and there was nothing he could do about it. He thought about her everyday. Some days he wished that the pain would go away but the memories remained. He tried not to get to hung up on what was. Every day he tried to live his life a little better.
Bruce got out of his morbid funk and saw the mail lady pull up with a cloud of dust close behind her van. It was rare that she delivered any mail that he wanted. It mostly consisted of bills, silly giveaway fliers from stores that Bruce had no interest in even going into, and the occasional handwritten letter, but he still liked to roll the dice everyday and see what he got.
Today's haul was more of the same. There was a power bill, a heat bill, the cable bill, all of which would be paid eventually. Right as he was about to give up on getting something worthwhile, he saw a baby blue envelope on the very bottom of the pile. There was no named attached to the letter, only an address somewhere in Schenectady, New York. It was curious that he was getting mail from someone in Schenectady as he had not lived there for several years and the only people he still knew who lived there had no reason to be sending him letters.
He opened the letter with enthusiastic vigor and discovered the contents were nothing more than a piece of plain white paper wrapped around a tattered purple bracelet. The sight of it gave Bruce chills down to his very core. One of the random outings he had with Kate when she was alive was at a kid's pizza parlor that doubled as an arcade. Both of them hadn't been to one since they were kids and wanted to feel a little nostalgic. Neither of them won big ticket items but they spent what tickets they had on a friendship bracelet which they gave to the other with the promise that neither of them ever take it off.
After her death, Bruce became even more protective of his. He wore it on his wrist even when people questioned why he was wearing a children's bracelet in public. He was unaware as to what had happened to Kate's body or if there had even been a proper funeral but there was no doubt in Bruce's head that Kate's bracelet would have gone with her to her grave. Why it was now resting in his palm was beyond him.
Bruce was a rational person by nature and knew there was a logical explanation for his current mystery. He just needed to downplay the situation. As he entered his apartment, he went to throw the remnants of his letter in the garbage but notice writing scrawled on what he thought was a unimportant piece of paper. Several lines of writing at that. He uncrinkled the paper and tried to make out what it said. As he glanced down at the paper, Bruce determined that they were a series of addresses and a dozen of them were written down. After what rolled out of the envelope first, he wasn't taking any chances with the bizarre nature of this letter. He plugged each address into a search engine to see if there was any connection. It took a generous amount of research but Bruce determined that each address written on the page was a place that he and Kate spent time at.
The pizza parlor, the movie theater, Kate's old apartment, it was a literal history of their friendship. There was only one address on the list that Bruce was unfamiliar with and couldn't find when he entered it into the search engine. It read:
1240 West Highland Rd.
Schenectady, NY, 12302
Bruce ignored the unknown address for now for he was beyond overwhelmed at this point. He knew Kate quite well. She wouldn't be the type to construct long elaborate plans to send Bruce mail long after her death. He retreated to his logical mindset and tried to figure out what was happening to him. He didn't share any mutual friends with Kate so there was no one they both knew who would try to turn his grief into a prank.
Bruce needed his coffee and it had to be a mighty strong cup. There was just something about coffee brewing that calmed his nerves. He poured his first cup and fell into his armchair, trying as he could to forget his present problem. No sooner had he sank into his shabby armchair than the phone rang. At this point, Bruce was in no mood to talk to anyone but he grabbed the phone out of habit. The caller ID read unknown and despite not wanting to talk to a salesman or a bill collector, Bruce answered it.
"I'm really not in the mood to buy what ever you're peddling," he said. He was met with nothing but static.
"Hello," he growled once again.
"B...Bruce," came a quiet voice.
"Who is this?”
"It's me, Bruce. It's Kate."
"I don't know who the hell this is but I'm in no mood for a joke," he said.
"It's really me. It's the other half of Team Meatball."
Bruce felt a chill go through every inch of his body. He and Kate had come up with the name Team Meatball to describe the odd friendship that they had. It was especially appropriate because it was Bruce's favorite food and Kate was Italian. With the exception of the two of them, no one knew the significance of this name. There was no one else who could possibly be on the other end of his phone. It just wasn't possible.
"Kate," muttered Bruce, "how is this possible?"
"Follow me Bruce," the voice said, "follow me."
"What do you mean follow you?" he blurted out.
The line went dead. The voice was gone. There was no way that Bruce could redial the number. He was left with nothing but more questions. Who could possibly have known about his connection to Kate? None of Bruce's friends knew who Kate was and none of her friends were aware of Bruce. If you weren't at Bruce's wedding, you wouldn't have any idea that Kate existed. Thinking about his situation from a logical standpoint was getting Bruce nowhere. He needed to suspend reason and follow his gut. His gut was telling him that all of this was connected somehow. If that was really Kate's voice on the phone, it was trying to tell him something. Maybe this mysterious address was the key. Even if it ended up being a dead end, Bruce had to find out. He had to go back to where his bond with Kate began. His destination was Schenectady, New York.
Bruce dashed to his bedroom with fervor and began packing an overnight bag without paying much attention to what he was putting in it. He wasn't going to wait another moment. He was going to get to the bottom of this riddle.
"Hi, sweetie. I'm home," came a voice from the hall.
His wife had come home from work. He wasn't going to bother his wife with what was going on and even if he did involve her, he didn't expect her to believe him. She walked into the bedroom and gave a puzzled look.
"Hi, sweetie. Any chance you want to explain what you are doing?"
"I don't have time to explain. I need to leave for Schenectady. I'll be back tomorrow."
"You'll have to do better than that. What on earth is in Schenectady that is so important that you have to leave this instant?"
"You wouldn't believe me anyway. Don't worry about it."
"Bruce, we've been together for five years. I've heard you say some pretty outlandish things. Just try me."
"I got a call about an hour ago. The voice on the other end said it was Kate."
"As in THE Kate? Your friend Kate who died last year?"
"The very one. She said I needed to come find her."
"So one person calls you on the phone and by some coincidence says their name is Kate and you think it's your deceased friend? Have you totally lost it?"
"Just trust me on this. Very few of my friends and family even know she existed. In addition to that, the voice called us Team Meatball."
"Wasn't that the tongue in cheek name you called your friendship?"
"Precisely. That's why I need to go."
"Bruce, for the love of God think this out rationally. How is it possible for Kate to contact you. She's dead."
"Marissa, I don't know. I just don't know. I can't explain it in any way other than to say this is something I feel in my gut. Something is in Schenectady that will answer all of the questions I have. Come with me if you want but I'm going regardless."
"Ok, hunny. Let me make sure the overnight bag is packed and we'll get going."
It meant a lot that his wife was supporting him even though she clearly had little understanding of his reasons for doing so. She was always the one to think with her head while Bruce operated much more by his heart. Bruce secretly knew she had a good point. It was possible that there was a simple, rational explanation for his predicament. But he knew he had to go to Schenectady. Nothing would stop him.
The trip would last a little short of five hours. He had taken the trip several times when he was dating Marissa but now he was in a frantic rush to arrive. He drove straight through stopping only once for a top off of gas and a beverage.
Bruce finally arrived at the city limits of Schenectady but still felt no closer to finding Kate than he was when he was at home. Marissa was a nervous wreck. She trusted her husband's judgment but was beginning to think they were on a treasure hunt with no treasure to find.
"Bruce, where are you going to go now that we're here?"
"I told you, sweetheart. I'll know it when I see it."
"How do you know this isn't some delusional goose chase?"
"I've never believed in anything more. Kate said to come find her. I can't explain how I know but our answer lies somewhere in Schenectady. When I find what I'm searching for, I'll know it."
Bruce drove all over the city to any establishment that was even vaguely familiar. Nothing was sticking out. Each place he drove by felt no different than any other. An hour went by and he had accomplished nothing more than wasting gas. Just as his wife was growing agitated and he was about to admit that he was out of his mind he looked out the window of his car and gazed upon a bright red sign that read Kate's Bakery . On the street corner in front of the bakery was a scratched blue sign that indicated nearby landmarks. The first listing on the sign read \i Schenectady Memorial Cemetary: 1 mile north. Bruce swerved his car north, nearly clipping an oncoming car in the process. He drove as if he was in a race for his very life.
He went over a hill and laid eyes upon Schenectady Memorial Cemetery. Bruce felt it in his gut. This was it. This was where Kate was leading him. The answers that he so desperately sought were here. He pulled his car over in what he thought served as a parking spot. The cemetery was a deserted place that morning, leaving Bruce in the company of himself, his wife, and the dead. He started walking, figuring that based on how the last 24 hours of his life had gone, somehow he would make it to where he needed to go. Marissa followed close by trusting that Bruce knew what he was doing, even though she had never seen her husband like this. Bruce walked through row after row, taking care to not miss a single grave. There were several hundred head stones before him and he felt he was in for a long morning. Just as it seemed that he would have to double back and start at the beginning he saw a figure standing at the end of the last row in the back of the cemetery. It was a woman in a pair of blue jeans and an electric pink top not unlike an ensemble that Bruce had become very familiar with when he lived in Schnectady. He couldn't believe his eyes. Kate was standing next to her gravestone wearing the very same clothes that she wore the day she met Bruce. She was there as plain as day. Bruce rubbed his eyes, he blinked, he started to doubt every ounce of his sanity and still she stood before him. He felt as if time had stopped completely. Then he spoke.
" It can't be you."
" It is, Bruce. It's me. Team Meatball is reunited," she chuckled between tears.
" How can this be?"
" Bruce, I'm going to tell you something and I want you to really take it to heart. Can you promise me that you will?"
" I can try but it isn't every day that your best friend, who just so happens to be deceased mind you, contacts you from beyond the grave," said Bruce with a hint of sarcasm.
" It's not your fault."
" What do you mean," said Bruce, fighting back tears.
" You know precisely what I mean. It's not your fault."
"No. I could have done more," cried Bruce, falling to his knees.
"No, it wasn't," cried Kate as she wrapped her arms around him, "It wasn't your fault. My demons just got the best of me. It was too much."
" It's not true. I wasn't there for you."
"Do you want to know how much you weren't there for me? Do you remember the day I first came to the warehouse?"
"Of course i do," said Bruce.
"That day, I was considering suicide. I wanted nothing to do with life anymore. My life was an endless loop of drugs, booze, and bad decisions. Going out with you in the truck delivering furniture to morons was what saved me. You were the first guy to look at me as more than just a piece of ass. You gave me a reason to live. You saved my life"
Bruce could do nothing but sob. Kate held him so tight that he felt he would lift off of the earth if she let go. They cried for what felt like hours. Then Bruce slowly lifted his head and looked at his beloved friend.
"I just miss you so much."
"I know, sweetie. I wish i could be with you more than you can ever imagine. I want nothing more than for your pain to go away. I made a decision that didn't work out so well and I'll have to live with that. That doesn't mean that you need to suffer because of it."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Don't think of how I died. Remember me for how I lived. Remember doodling nude owl creatures at the Panda Buffet. Remember how hilarious it was delivering furniture at the retirement home and all the creepy old people we saw. Most of all, remember that nothing will ever change how much I love you. Live your life with Marissa and raise beautiful children knowing that I will always be watching over you my friend."
Bruce had no more words to say. It didn't matter if he could come up with the words to express how he felt because Kate already knew what he was going to say. He gripped her tight knowing that this would be the last time he would have a chance. Bruce took a a deep breath, rose to his feet, and walked back to the tree that Marissa was waiting underneath.
"Bruce, hunny. Who were you talking to?" she asked.
"I was talking to Kate."
"Bruce...there wasn't anyone there."
"I....I know. I can't explain it. I felt Kate there. I knew what she would say to me and she knew what I would say to her. I knew her physical body wasn't there but we were talking as clearly as I'm talking to you know. Now her spirit can be at peace and I can have my closure and at least try to begin to heal."
Marissa hugged her husband tighter than she had ever hugged him in their entire marriage. Bruce returned the hug and felt the comfort of his wife's embrace. He began to cry tears of thankful appreciation and a smile crept across his face.
"Let's go home, sweetheart."
One year later
"Bruce, it's time for dinner. Don't forget the baby," yelled Marissa from the kitchen.
"What kind of parent do you take me to be? Like I'm just going to leave my first born child in her crib while we eat," joked Bruce. Bruce walked into the newly furnished nursery and picked up his newborn daughter, rousing her from her sleep. In Bruce's arms, the baby didn't shed a tear or even cry. She opened her eyes and gave an immense yawn. He held her tight as he rounded the corner and walked into the kitchen.
"There's my big girl. Did you have a nice nap?" asked Marissa.
Bruce grabbed the car seat and placed it next to his chair as Marissa placed a tray full of her famous homemade pizza on the table. Bruce shook up a bottle of formula and handed it to his child who grasped it while a happy smile started reaching from cheek to cheek. She finished it before Bruce and Marissa had even brought a slice of pizza to their mouths. She dropped the bottle and let it fall to her side.
"She's already asleep. I'm not surprised one bit," said Marissa
"Neither am I. She's got her mom's love for napping," laughed Bruce.
"Guilty," said Marissa with a smile.
After dinner was finished and Bruce had helped his wife pile the dishes in the dishwasher, he returned to the dining room and eased his sleeping daughter out of her seat. He never got tired of putting her to bed. He had waited years to have a child and it was the greatest feeling in the world when Marissa told him she was pregnant. He reached his daughter's room and returned her to the crib, making sure that she was wrapped in her favorite blanket she was given when she was born.
"Goodnight, Katherine Rose. Your mother and I love you very much."
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