This story is by Julie A Martin and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He stood with his profile facing west as the Autumn wind blew his hair back. Dark brown hair, which was short on the sides and curly in the back at the nape of his neck. His hands were in his pockets, his posture relaxed as he leaned against a low cobblestone wall. This close to the Rocky Mountains, the air was thin as well as cool. Sarah stood beside her car as she stared at him, marking small differences in his appearance. Jake gazed into the distance, not seeing her yet.
Until now. After his divorce, Jake didn’t think love was in the cards for him. He had even thought he was better off without it. Four years of dim grey visions of loneliness gave way to a curiosity born of wonder. Sarah. The only girl he had ever known who could captivate him and frustrate him at the same time.
Twenty-eight years stood between them. Her heart in her throat, she thought of calling out to him. She thought of walking up to him and asking him where he had been. He turned his head and the expression on his face changed from uncertain to disbelief and then to something else. She felt tense without knowing why.
Jake began walking towards her, and as he came closer, she remembered him as he was then. At seventeen, a shy sweet young man who carried her books to class, and then kissed her on the cheek. They were friends first before the crush became something else, something that she couldn’t name and didn’t know how to deal with.
Sarah stood on the embankment between the mountain and the sidewalk, her long brown hair blowing in the wind. She looked down, her lips pursed and took a deep breath. “Where have you been, Jake?” she asked him.
He stood just three feet away but in that moment, for him, it wasn’t close enough. “In the Navy. Married. Divorced.” He shook his head. “Where have you been, Sarah?” An edge of anger or pain to his voice.
“Florida. Married. Divorced.” He felt sad. What could he do to dispel the awkwardness between them? He met her gaze and then strode forward boldly and took her in his arms. This is where she belonged, Memories of the past assailed him.
The night of the dance, Sarah wore a strapless blue dress with a bubble skirt, and shimmery black heels. Her wavy brown hair was tied back with a gold ribbon for the Homecoming Dance, for which the theme was Autumn. Leaves of green, gold, orange and red decorated the gym of their high school.
The DJ played “Groovy Kind of Love” by Phil Collins, and strobe lights played around the High School gym as couples slow danced with teachers and parents watching closely.
Jake managed to take Sarah’s hand and lead her to the center of the dance floor and then put her hand in the center of his back and her other hand on his heart.
He smiled down into her eyes, and that’s when she knew. Sarah was still getting used to the feeling of butterflies in her stomach. At the end of the song, Sarah and Jake danced even when the music stopped. She met his gaze and then their lips met. Tentatively at first and then she felt a warmth spread through her. Jake held her tight, almost too tightly to move, but it didn’t matter. They had found each other.
Watching him approach now, Sarah felt tears prick behind her eyes. She stood frozen as their eyes met for the first time in over twenty years. Then, another feeling. What caused her to run from him all those years ago. She said his name, and the sound carried on the wind. She pressed her face into his chest, weeping away the wasted years of regret
There were no words for what this was. She held onto him, tightly molding herself to his warmth. He felt her trembling against him and he brushed the hair out of her eyes. He put his thumb under her chin, to get her to meet his gaze but she would not. Shame? Fear? Maybe a little of both.
“Sarah.” She heard his voice as though from a distance, although his heart was pounding against her chest. She made herself look up, met those grey eyes, tears beaded on her dark lashes.
She blinked them away and fell into his gaze. Jake stood there, holding his lost love and did not speak. He held her in his heart, full as the time before. She opened her mouth to speak but no sound would come. So many things she wanted to tell him. She had never told him she loved him. Standing on a mountain in October nearly 28 years to the day.
“I’m so sorry. I never told you. I never came back. I should have. I wanted to, but I was afraid.”
“I know.” He said quietly. The breeze in the mountains started to pick up speed, and the air grew colder. Dusk on the mountainside with only a few moments left until darkness spread its blanket of stars across the sky. He knew that she left because of fear. People say love is like magic. Not everyone gets a storybook ending. Jake felt that love was like a storm, and the rainbow after the storm.
“I love you too.” She scoffed against his shirt. He could feel the imprint of her warm lips through the cotton of his jacket. It was hard to forget feeling those lips on his no matter the years. The years fall away in his mind as visions of Sarah at fifteen fill his senses. How she always smelled like pumpkin pie. How her smile was the same for him, the glow in her eyes, in her cheeks. How her long wavy brown hair flew around her as she danced.
Mostly he remembered the joy, and how he fed that joy, the happiness in her that was like a force of its own.
Jake never told her that he had never blamed her for what happened. He knew he should have. The day she left, he drove his car to her house to show her. He had paid for it himself. A banana yellow Mercury Zephyr. Her father and brother were inside the house when he arrived. Sarah stood next to the moving van, handing boxes up to one of the movers. Jake came up behind her and turned her around. She gasped and smiled up into his eyes. That one last time.
She threw her arms around his neck and held him close. He could feel the warmth of her body scorching its way into his. Not knowing if he would see her again, Jake cupped his hand around her cheek and took possession of her lips, soft and warm and kissed her as though he would never get another chance. She trembled in his arms then too. But he was feeling it now. Everything that she thought she kept hidden. All the feelings shone out through those brown eyes, and he felt foolish that he hadn’t noticed.
But right here, right now on the mountain, Jake remembered how he felt watching her father’s car drive away down her street with the moving van not far behind. She turned around in her seat to look at him one last time before the car turned a corner and he was out of sight. He would always remember that she had turned around.
She didn’t call him. It was like they both gave up without saying it. The day in the driveway, he thought there might be a chance for them. He thought she knew he had those feelings for her too. But she didn’t call. She didn’t write. She didn’t visit the old neighborhood. Or if she did, no one told him. Life went on for both of them.
Now here she stood, within the circle of his arms once more. He leaned down to press his cheek to hers, to hold her more closely and the familiar scent of her permeated his senses. He laughed. Sarah froze for a moment.
“What’s so funny?” She asked him, pulling away only far enough to look up at him.
“You still smell like pumpkin pie.” He said and smiled down at her.
“I still use the same shampoo.” She murmured against his chest. His heart full, Jake cupped his hands around her soft face, and tilted her chin up. She didn’t fight him this time. When his lips met hers, it was a promise of things to come. A kiss of possession to claim her for his own. She sighed and closed her eyes and surrendered to him. They had weathered the storm and now in his arms he held the rainbow. Jake knew this time he would never let her go.