I found this writing exercise on Pinterest: write a scene revolving around the sentence, “She told him that she loved him,” adding the word “only” before different words. I’m started with “only” as the first word. A lonely man thinks back on the one woman who told him that she loved him.
This inspired me to write about a nicer, modern-day Ebeneezer Scrooge pining for Belle, the girl he loved as a young man.
I love you, Ben, she’d said.
Ben Marley poured himself a glass of wine as the clock struck midnight. He never drank wine except at business meetings where his guests demanded it. Ben Marley preferred vodka martinis. But not tonight.
“Will there be anything else, Mr. Marley?” Robert, his butler, asked.
“No, Robert, that’ll be fine. I’m sorry I’ve kept you so late. You and Higgins go get trashed. Grab a cab or stay in a hotel and charge it to the expense account.”
“Thank you. Good night, sir.” Robert started for the door. He reached for the doorknob, then stopped.
“What is it, Robert?”
“Sir, would you care to join us?”
Marley laughed. “These old bones, out drinking with you and Higgins? Are you wanting your cut of the inheritance money that fast?”
Robert looked stung. “No, sir!”
“I’m sorry, Robert. The weather’s making my arthritis act up. I’m getting cranky.”
“Can I fix you some tea or draw you a bath?”
“For God’s sake, go have fun. I’ve kept you too long already.”
“I just thought… that you looked awfully lonely, sitting there, sir.”
Marley was about to wave Robert off. Then he heard himself say, “I am, Robert.” Marley blinked. What make him say that? He’d never confided in Robert before.
Robert stepped back into the living room. He took off his gloves. “Well… what is it, sir? Can I help?”
Marley didn’t want to admit weakness. He stared at the glass of wine. He hadn’t even drunk any! But it wasn’t the alcohol that was doing it. Not with drunkenness, anyway. “There was a girl, named Belle. The only woman I ever loved. The only one who ever said to me, ‘I love you.’” He rubbed his forehead. Marley gestured to his tablet computer, left within his reach on the coffee table. “A man with my… resources… has access to better things than Facebook to check up on his old acquaintances.”
Robert looked sick. “You were spying on a girl you loved?”
“Not spying! No. It’s a… program… that compiles publicly available data from all available sources. We use it for executive profiles…”
“You spied on her.”
Marley looked away. The richest man in the world felt abashed by his own butler. “I suppose I did. I don’t even know what prompted me to look her up. But I found something terrible.”
“What is it?”
“She has skin cancer. She can’t afford treatment. But I know, and I can help.” He gestured at the wine glass. “Belle always drank wine. I never drank it again after I walked away from her.”
“So… will you help her?”
“I don’t know. Do I have the right to be such a busybody to barge in and ‘save her’? How do I explain that I was snooping like this?”
Robert folded his arms. “Do you still love her, sir?”
“I…” Ben knew the answer was yes. He nodded.
“Then be a man about it. Pick up your phone, start with an apology, and beg to help her.”
“I don’t beg!”
“Would you for her?”
“They’ll throw me off the board if I embarrass the company like this.”
“Is she worth it to you?”
Marley wrapped his fingers around the wine glass. He squinted his eyes tight. He couldn’t bear the idea of Belle dying anything less than an old woman surrounded by great-grandchildren and comforted by a life of happy memories. “Yes. A thousand times.”
“Then call and flip the bird to the board as you walk out.”
“Thank you, Robert.” Marley picked up his phone and began dialing. Robert started tapping his phone. “What are you doing?”
“I’m telling Higgins I’ll meet him at the bar. I’m staying here to make sure you don’t chicken out.”
Marley laughed. It wasn’t familiar sound. He liked it. “Since when have you been my conscience?”
“Longer than you realize… sir. And I’m not stopping now.”
Marley kept dialing. He just hoped Belle would be willing to listen to him.