Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Never Say Goodbye


I'm sitting in my mini van in the Village Inn parking lot, unsure about what to do next. I rest my head on the steering wheel. Lord, what's wrong with me? I feel like a teen again. For goodness sake, I'm thirty-eight years old. My life is good, and now all I can think about is a man I had a crush on twenty years ago.
I'm afraid to see him. Afraid not to see him. I climb out of my van. It's a beautiful blue-sky day. I march toward the restaurant's front door. My best friend Gloria told me last night on the phone, "You have to see him again. If you get reacquainted and realize he's still the love of your life, you get a second chance. Hooray!"
"But if he's not..."
"Then you can stop fantasizing about him. Hooray! Win! Win!"
"I never expected to see him again."
"It's why I gave him your e-mail address—I knew he'd contact you. I nearly dropped dead when I ran into him at the mall."
"He's been back how long?"
"Just yesterday. He's on leave. Thirty days. And I asked him about a wife and family."
"You didn't!"
"I did. He's never been married. I told him you're single."
Scarcely breathing, I enter the Village Inn. I stop at the cashier's counter, and my heart stops with me. I see him seated across the room in a booth in a corner by the windows.
I can still put myself back in time and relive that amazing spark that ran through me when we first kissed. But we were only high school seniors chasing different dreams, and summer's end forced us apart.
"Are you ready to be seated?" a pretty, young waitress asks me.
"Someone's waiting for me," I say. "There by the windows."
It's lunchtime. I squeeze my way between the crowded tables. I calm my pounding heart, gather my courage, and halt at his booth.
He looks up, almost as if he's surprised to see me. "Kathy!"
"Hello, Andy." The smile on my face feels huge.
Slipping quickly out of the booth, he stands in front of me, also a little nervous, I think. He looks older, yes, but he's still broad-shouldered with gorgeous thick black hair and flashing dark eyes.
"You look wonderful!" he says. His smile is wide and warm with that little dimple in his right cheek I remember so well.
"You, too," I say, "You...look the same."
His smile deepens. He touches my elbow and guides me into the booth. He sits across from me. We cross our arms on the table and now beam at each other in wide-eyed amazement.
"It's been so long," he says. "I never expected this, seeing you again. I thought surely you'd married and moved away."
"So much has happened."
"I'm so sorry we...well, lost each other," he says. "Tell me about yourself."
A waitress appears and asks if we're ready to order. We shake our heads. We haven't even looked at a menu.
I have so much I could tell him I hardly know where to begin. I ramble on about getting married while I was a senior in college and moving with my husband across the country to California where we set up dental practices together. Then I tell him about getting a divorce two years ago. Returning home. No children.
He shakes his head. "I'd always hoped you were getting along okay. I thought of you often." A sheepish smile creeps across his face. "I even dreamed about you."
I blush and smile at the same time. "Nightmares?"
"Not hardly," he says.
"Well, I'm fine. I'm in the same office with my dad now. Life is good."
The waitress appears again, looking a little impatient. We order tenderloin baskets and diet colas.
After she retreats, I say, "So what's going on in your life? Never married, Gloria says."
He tells me life as an army helicopter pilot has been exciting and fulfilling, but he felt he was in too much constant danger to marry and perhaps die, leaving a widow and kids behind. "But I've done my time," he adds. "Twenty years. "And now I've decided I want to plant roots somewhere."
My eyes drift up to his. "Really...?"
"I'll be discharged three months from now."
"You're coming back here?"
"It's a starting place. I've always loved my hometown. My folks are still here, and I can get work as a flight instructor. I'm well qualified."
Our food arrives. Smells delicious. We start to eat.
Andy seems hesitant, then says, "You're involved with someone?"
I shake my head. "I dated a few times when I came home after my divorce. But not recently."
"What I remember best about us," he says, "is that when we split we didn't quarrel bitterly like others who broke up after high school."
"A concert, a pizza, moonlight..." My voice trails off.
"A final kiss," he says. "I don't think we ever said good-bye."
I think back, hard. "'See you' is what we said."
We both take a sip of Coke through straws and look at each other over the rims of our glasses. My quivering heart feels like it's melting, and I sense a magnetic pull between Andy and me that suddenly makes me feel warm all over. I wonder if he feels the same pull.
"It's like we knew we'd meet again," he says, putting out his hand, and I hold it across the table.
I nod. "Never say goodbye because you can never tell."
"That's it!" he says, smiling his one-dimple smile and squeezing my hand. "We didn't lose each other at all. We never even said goodbye."
The End
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