Monday, June 2, 2014

After All This Time

Saturday morning. Eight-forty-five A.M. At the gym, after working on the weight machines, I took my turn on the treadmill. I couldn't help notice the tall, well-built man stepping onto the machine next to me. He was dressed in a blue muscle shirt and blue shorts, biceps bulging.
I gave him a glimpse, and my heart banged in my chest.
Then I looked straight ahead. I was afraid I recognized him.
"Shelia—?" he said. "Shelia Jacobs?"
I grabbed the treadmill's sidebars. "Caleb—?" I swiveled my head to gaze at him.
"You're looking good," he said, head tilted, his beaming, blue-eyed smile landing on me. "Like when we first met," he added.
I could not possibly jog at a six-mile an hour pace, and chat with Caleb Starr—my first and only great love, a man who long ago had asked me to marry him. I stabbed the STOP button on the machine. "What in the world are you doing here?" I asked, gasping.
"Back in town after twenty years in the Navy," he said, beaming an incredible smile. "Retired, my sailing days over."
Caleb and I immediately abandoned our treadmills and headed for the lounge, where we sat at a circular table, each sipping a diet soda, and my history with Caleb Starr, a man I'd never forgotten, flashed through my mind.
We'd met at our local junior college and had dated exclusively for two years, passionately in love, we thought. But Caleb decided to drop college. "Not my thing," he'd said. He elected to enlist in the Navy, like his grandfather and his dad before him. "Marry me," he pleaded, "and our lives together will be a great adventure."
But my life's plan was to earn a degree in business administration and someday take over my family's real estate agency. The love Caleb and I felt—so strong and passionate, we thought, when we were young—yielded to our career choices. We parted broken-hearted, agreeing further contact would be painful. And pointless.
We'd been seated now at our table in the lounge only a second when Caleb said, "Tell me about yourself," and his blue eyes flashed wonderment.
Sweaty, wearing a light-blue top over dark-blue shorts, my hair in a ponytail, I felt myself blushing. "If you do the same."
"It's a deal."
"Not much to tell. Dad retired from the agency ten years ago. Mom and Dad are fine. I'm CEO now, ten agents working for O'Reilly Reality." Suddenly I felt sheepish. "Never married. Never took the time, I guess." I smiled at him, and my heart banged in my chest again. "Your turn."
"Married and divorce," he said, shrugging. "No kids. I have a confession to make. Life in the Navy would not have been a great adventure—I still remember telling you that, hoping you'd marry me. Never stationed in one place very long, frequent deployments at sea, nine months, sometimes longer—all that is tough on a marriage."
I blew out a tiny breath, trying to settle down my heart. I didn't know what to make of all this. A chance meeting at a gym—suddenly Caleb and I were—well, talking as if twenty years had never separated us. "What are your plans?" I asked.
He explained that the Navy had provided him with a great background in electronics. He had landed a job with Cobham Electronics. His mom and dad had sold their home and were doing well in assisted living. "What I need most of all right now," he said, "is—" Then he halted.
"What?" I said. "What do you need most of all?"
He raked his hand through his dark-brown hair, his sideburns a bit gray. His gaze fell on me, his look was so warm, so tender that my pulse spiked and my cheeks flushed.
He cleared his throat. "Well, what I need most of all—that's something different. Something in the future. What I need right now is a place to live."
"Consider it done!" I said.
Later that day, after a wonderful, talk-filled lunch, I showed Caleb a brick home set back from a country road, blended into a grove of tall oak trees. The house's hardwood floors, stone fireplace, and attached three-car garage impressed him. He was falling in love with this country hideaway. I especially like the spacious kitchen and its cherry wood cabinets.
Our hands bumped as we each reached for the knob on the French doors, which opened to a stone patio. After all these years, I felt electricity.
He felt it, too. I know he did—because, like me, he flinched.
"I think perhaps this place," he said, "has the potential to supply its occupant—or occupants"—he beamed another smile at me—"with a great adventure, if a bit late, don't you?"
"Yes," I said, meeting his smile with mine. "Yes, I do."