Saturday, July 30, 2011

Crossroads


"You shouldn't swim alone," the woman standing on the dock said as my head broke the water's surface and I swiped a hand across my face. "Especially at night," she added. "You haven't changed, have you?"
I blinked and rubbed the lake water out of my eyes with my fingertips. Standing in water up to my neck, I gazed at a woman dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt.
The full moon over her shoulders made her look like a tall, shapely silhouette standing above me. I blinked again. "Kathy...?"
"Who else?" she said. "And you, Jimmy O'Connor—don't you remember our parents telling us not to swim at night? Never swim alone."
Oh wow! Kathy Logan!
Years ago, she was the bratty kid from the neighboring cabin—our families bought cabins on Mystic Lake. Kathy and I harassed each other all summer, every summer. Night and day.
"How'd you know I was here?" I asked.
She laughed. "I heard splashing. I looked over through the trees and saw a light in your cabin. Figured it had to be you. When did you get in? I spotted a FOR SALE sign in your yard."
"An hour ago," I said, and swam closer to the dock.  I saw the same sign in your yard. My folks have passed away—"
"Mine, too," she said.
We paused a moment, remembering—it was hard not to. Then I said, "Before I sold the place, I figured I'd spend a month or so here, enjoying a little quiet time."
"My thoughts exactly."
I climbed out of the water and onto the dock. We hugged briefly; she didn't seem to mind getting wet. I caught the scent of her perfume—lilac—and I felt my heart beat faster. We eased down onto the dock, our feet dangling. The last time I saw her—like fifteen years ago—she was probably fourteen; I was sixteen.
"Cold?" she asked. "Looks like you're shivering."
I gazed at her in the moonlight. Short, dark hair. Full lips. I remembered her eyes being sky-blue. "Night's warm," I said. "I'll be okay in a second. Tell me about yourself."
She said she was a high school art teacher; she'd just finished her MA; she hoped to complete a few wilderness paintings this summer while living in the cabin. She concluded with, "Divorced over a year ago."
"Sorry about that," I said.
She shrugged. "My ex is long gone, and I've survived, but I'm still trying to put that terrible time behind me. What's new with you, Froggy?"
I laughed. "Haven't forgotten, have you?"
"The frog you stuffed down the back of my dress when I was leaving on a Sunday morning with Mom and Dad for church—how could I?"
"But you got even. Worms in my sack lunch when our families visited the Indian burial grounds."
We both laughed and agreed that those summer days when we were kids were some of the best days of our lives. "Last I'd heard," she said, "you'd graduated from college, head of your class, and had a fabulous corporate job."
"I work for a big chemical company—it's like being on a treadmill night and day. Not married. No time." I explained that the company had asked me to be an assistant in research and development. I'd travel overseas a lot. But lately I'd been asking myself if I really wanted to continue my climb up the corporate ladder.
"What did you decide?"
"I took a leave on absence," I said. "I'm trying to figure out what I really want to do."
She nodded slowly. "My divorce, your job—sounds as if we're both at a crossroads."
"I'm thinking seriously of quitting," I said. "I'd like to teach—like you. Science, though. I want to write a novel about corporate intrigue. I've got a laptop, printer, and reams of paper up at the cabin."
We fell silent, but crickets chirped on shore. Under the glow of the moon and stars, the lake looked as if diamonds danced on its surface. Kathy said wistfully, "Funny we should meet again after all these years."
"Destiny." I smiled. "I think we should make the most of it—get your swimsuit. Change and jump in with me."
She shook her head. "Better idea. I haven't eaten, you probably haven't, either. I'll light the grill. Burgers, chips, and a glass of wine."
"Great!"
I jumped up, grabbed her hand, and pulled her to her feet. Her hand in mine sent a warm tingle rippling though my body. I know she felt the same tingle—and that she was thinking the same thing I was: Together this summer we might figure out our lives. I knew this because she squeezed my hand, cut me a dazzling smile, and said, "We can save swimming for another night."

The End
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes



         My emotions were in a whirl.
Alex, here. Alex and Mike.  Both here at the same time. The old, the new.
And there sat Alex, my old boyfriend, across from me at a picnic table in LeClaire Park under the shade of an oak tree.
I had just sat down when up he sauntered, smiling at me with his incredible blue eyes, asking if the seat across from me was taken.
I should've told him, Yes, it is. Mike is down the street getting our lunch from a sidewalk vender. Mike and I were on our noon break. I'm a teller at the bank. Mike is the new owner of the Print Shop across the street from the bank.But all I could manage was, "Why are you here, Alex?"
"Smile," he said. "Your smile is beautiful. I stopped at the bank and asked for you. Where's your lunch?"
"It'll be here soon. Someone's bring it."
I don't think the notion that a man might be bringing my lunch entered Alex's mind. I glimpsed his square-jawed face. "It's been over a year," I said. "Why are you suddenly here?"
"I made a mistake." He leaned across the table toward me, as if he might try to stand and kiss me. "I've been miserable since we broke up. I need to apologize."
 I leaned back, out of his reach.
When we'd split, I thought I'd never love anyone else again. To love once, so intensely, I told myself, was to love always. I would never even try to love again. For months I struggled to tear Alex O'Hara from my memory, but despite my efforts, I awoke every morning thinking of him. During the day, I saw him on the street and in crowds everywhere—the illusion of him. And I dreamed of him. Nightly.
"How have you been?" he asked.
"Fine."
"I never stopped thinking about you, Casey." His blue, blue eyes crisscrossed me. "Look—I really do want to apologize..."
I waved a hand. "I shouldn't have been fooled so easily. What will Lisa think, your stopping by at lunchtime to see me?"
He shrugged. "She won't care."
My eyebrows arched. "You've broken up."
"A week ago. But, hey, it's all right." He licked his lips. "Smile, will you? I finally realized we were meant to be—you and me, Casey and Alex."
I glanced over Alex's shoulder and spotted Mike hurrying across the grassy park in the sunshine, a small white bag dangling from each hand, burgers and fries in one bag and milkshakes in the other.
"The very first clue," I said to Alex, "that we were not meant to be, should've alerted me: You suddenly couldn't find time for us. You stopped answering your cell when I called, and you stopped texting me altogether."
"Casey, please..."
I bit my bottom lip. "And when you sent an e-mail saying we needed to 'take a break,' the truth finally hit me. You'd found someone else."
"I know I was acting like a jerk—I just didn't know how to tell you..."
I'd lived through this moment—facing Alex—a thousand times in my dreams, but none of the emotions I expected to feel surfaced. Not anger—not self-pity—only a bit of sadness.
"You don't seem angry," Alex said. "How about a smile? Please?"
"I'm not angry. Not anymore."
And then Mike, looking confused, stood behind Alex. Alex sensed someone's presence. He stood from the picnic table, and the two men faced each other, both frowning.  Mike set our lunches on the picnic table.
My breath caught. "Mike," I said, trying to stay calm, "this is Alex O'Hara." Before the two men reached to shake hands, I added, "Alex, this is Mike, my boyfriend."
Mike blinked. Alex's hand stopped in midair, but Mike grabbed it quickly and gave it a hardy shake. Each guy said, "Glad to meet you."
Alex glanced at the tree branches above him. He cleared his throat and shuffled his feet. "Boyfriend?" he said to me.
I nodded. "What did you expect?"
 "Well," he said, "I should get going." His eyes met mine. "Um...call me sometime, Casey."
I shook my head. "Not a chance," I said, as Alex strolled away.
"That's him?" Mike asked. "The guy who broke your heart?"
"I thought so at the time."
A dazzling smile spread across Mike's handsome face. I loved his dimples and his curly brown hair.
"I'm really happy with my new status," he said. "Boyfriend. I didn't expect that. Cool."
Now it was finally my turn to smile. "How long have we known each other? Three weeks? Four?"
"Four. Long enough to be your boyfriend."
Mike wrapped me in his arms. I gazed into his eyes. I remembered a time when I thought only Alex's blue eyes could excite me, but Mike's brown eyes, I decided, were far more exciting and tender and loving. And there in the shade of the oak tree in the park, on our lunch break, my brown-eyed boyfriend and I kissed for the first time.

The End
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