Thursday, September 15, 2011

No Longer Strangers

I caught myself smiling at him again—a handsome, dark-haired, thirty-something stranger.
For three days we'd been crossing paths at Cedarwild Resort, exchanging shy smiles.
I sensed we were long ago friends who couldn't quite make a connection. 
Now I discovered he was sitting five tables away from me in the resort cafeteria, by himself. Who is he?
Pushing my chair back from the table, I plucked my floppy straw hat from my head, stood up, and strode toward him.
"Hi," he said, and smiled when I stopped at his table.
"Hi." I peeled off my sunglasses and stuck them into my hair.
He looked startled, his eyebrows bunching together.
I said, "I hope you don't think I've been following you..."
"We seem to keep running into each other, don't we?" he said, and stood quickly.
"I get this funny feeling—"
"That we know each other?" he asked, and pointed toward the chair. "Won't you sit down?"
"You were in the Cedarwild lobby," I said, "when I checked in Friday afternoon."
He cleared his throat. "Please sit down."
He pulled out the chair, and I sat. As he eased into a chair across from me, a slow, warm smile crept over his face. "I figured it out just now—this very second—it's the first time I've seen you without your straw hat and sunglasses. You broke my heart summer after summer, and you didn't even know it."
My head tilted. "I haven't a clue—"
"I'm David Prescott—you're Cathy. Cathy Connors."
My memory kicked in. David Prescott from Iowa!
I laughed and shook my head, hardly able to believe it was him. When we were kids, four or five families from different states vacationed every fall at Cedarwild in northern Wisconsin, enjoying two weeks loaded with fun before school started.
"I had a major crush on you every summer," he said. "I should've recognized you right away. All that copper-colored hair."
I felt heat rising in my cheeks.
"I'm telling the truth," he said. "I was in love with you. You stole my heart. But you were in love with Michael Lancaster. An older man."
I laughed. "Two years older. What a hero I thought he was. That was sooo long ago. What are you doing here now?"
"Spending time with Mom and Dad. They don't drive anymore, but they wanted to come back, reminisce a bit, and fish. They met a couple of cronies. They're playing cards tonight. And you? What are you doing here?"
"I'm with three girlfriends. We thought it would be nice to spend a week at Cedarwild. Something different. But my friends have marched off to the Indian casino to gamble. They promised to be back at five for dinner—if they didn't hit the jackpot." I glanced at my watch. "Nearly five now."
"You didn't go?"
"Not at all interested in gambling my money away."
He asked if I'd like to have dinner with him. This little gamble I decided to take—I agreed. We swapped stories while we ate. He was a forest ranger in Iowa. I ran a day-care center in Illinois. Neither one of us was married. We lived across the Mississippi River from each other, only thirty minutes apart. I found him easy-going and attractive. When we finished eating, he said, "Looks like your buddies are no-shows. Can I interest you in joining me down by the water to watch the sunset?"
I hesitated. "My friends—"
"Are probably spending their winnings."
I smiled and decided to gamble again. "You're right. Besides, it's been years since I've watched a sunset."
At the edge of a small quiet cove, I sat next to David on a dock, our feet dangling over the water. The sun slipped behind the pine trees and disappeared. In just minutes the sky turned orange, then crimson.
"Beautiful," David said. "That's one thing I learned coming here all those years as a kid—an appreciation for the beauty in nature."
We talked again. Then sat in silence for a while, except for a chorus of crickets and frogs, and a loon's haunting call. Gradually music from the Cedarwild Lounge drifted on the pine-scented air.
"The moon!" David announced. And there it was—a pale silver balloon, perfectly round, climbing higher in the sky. "Funny us meeting like this," he said, "strangers who knew each other in a different life. I never dreamed I'd see you again."
 The warm glow that swept through me didn't surprise me. "Life often hits us with little surprises," I said. "Some of them very nice."
"Hear the music? Would you like to go up to the lounge and dance?"
"I'd love to."
Rising, he took my elbow to help me up. I raised my head and gazed at his handsome face. His smile was warm and genuine. And then our hands, as if David and I were no longer strangers, grasped each other, and we ambled away in the moonlight.
The End
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