This story is by Julie Jensen and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s mid-September in Santa Monica. Pumpkin season is in full force. Caramel-color leaves scatter in the ocean breeze. I lace my Nikes near the shore where I run everyday. The days are shorter and cooler-fall is here. The bright California sun contradicts my mood today. Blake left me 8 months ago. I replay his words in my head so many times it’s part of my playlist.
You don’t meet your soulmate when you’re ten-years old. It’s been over for a while. You won’t admit it.
I accepted a position in Texas. I leave tomorrow.
It wasn’t over for me or our daughter, Cassiopeia, named, after our love for stars and my childhood nickname. With both of us astronomers, she didn’t stand a chance.
Blake and I met at the 5th grade Outdoor Adventure Camp. We were instant friends. He introduced me to the constellations. I fell in love with him and the stars. He called me Cassiopeia for the 5 freckles on my left cheek. We only separated my four years of college. When I returned, we moved in together. A year later, I was pregnant. It still hurts to think about him. I run to get him out of my head. Already late, I skip my warm-up. Two miles in and a crippling pain in my left hamstring sends me crashing on the wet sand. I hobble home, embarrassed.
“Delaney? What happened?,” asks Sam, my new neighbor and George Clooney look alike.
“I think I pulled my hamstring.” I fix my hair.
“Looks like I moved here just in time. I’m a sports doctor. Can I take a look?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m late and I need to go to work.”
“It’ll take longer to heal if you let it go. At least let me wrap it.”
“OK, you win. I’ll stop by before I leave. Thanks.”
I struggle getting my key in the door as my phone beeps. Blake. Terrific timing. His ring tone should be “All My Exes Live in Texas.”
Call me when you can, I read. It’s always drama. He and Ashley are probably fighting again. I’m polite, but she’s a bitch. He never even told me he was seeing her. I found out on Facebook. If you don’t post your life on the Internet, it’s like it never happens.
Blake will have to wait. I limp to the bathroom and shower away the sand. I manage to put on some leggings and a teal tunic, a fall favorite. It brightens my mood and looks great with my eyes.
Ten minutes later I’m at Sam’s door. I raise my hand to knock when the door opens.
“Almost didn’t recognize you without the sand in your hair.” Sam laughs.
“A comedian and a doctor,” I reply.
“Come in. I’ll wrap your leg. Keep it on while on your feet. Apply ice twice a day. Also, no running for 4 weeks. Here’s my card. Text me your number so I can check up.”
“Thanks Sam. I’m feeling better already.“
“Mommy!” Cas sings, jumping into the car. “What happened to your leg?”
“I hurt it running, but the Doc says I’ll be good as new,” I answer in agony. “How was school?”
“Good until Timmy barfed.” She cringes. “Did you get a sucker from the doctor?”
“Mommies don’t get suckers, silly.” I giggle. She’s the light of my life. It’s been her and I against the world since her dad left.
After dinner and story time, Cas falls asleep. I lie on the couch and ice my leg. I make a cup of chamomile and grab my favorite throw. My laptop open, I click on Instagram. I’m suspicious when I notice Blake likes four posts. He never visits my page. Then I remember his text. I open Facebook. I click on Blake’s page. I nearly spill my tea. All his photos of Ashley are gone.
I dial him.
“Hello?” Blake answers.
“Is everything alright? Today’s been crazy and I just got Cas down.”
“I’m fine. I wish you’d called earlier so I could’ve talked to her.”
“Blake don’t argue. I’m tired and your text was vague.”
“Del, I’ve been transferred back to LA. I will be in town next week looking for a place. I thought you’d want to know.”
“Just like you, always thinking of my well- being. Cas will be thrilled. But don’t disappoint her again.”
“Don’t be like that.” He says softer. “I never intended to hurt either of you.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Text me when you get in, if you want to see your daughter. I have to go.” I hang up.
I lie down. My phone beeps. Not again, Blake. But it’s Sam. I smile seeing his text on my locked screen.
How’s your leg? He asks.
I’m managing. Lucky to find a good doc.I send, watching a bubble of dots.
Can I buy you dinner Saturday night?He’s a charmer at six-foot two with espresso hair and green eyes.
I type yes, erasing it three times before hitting send.
Pumpkin patches, with hay bales and laughing kids, decorate street corners. It’s jacket weather, but I rock my white Levis. I add my fav burgundy sweater and knee-high boots. Sam is taking me out again. He’s smart, funny and good looking. It’s been three weeks and I’m already falling for him.
On Halloween, we dress as a doctor and patient for a co-worker’s party. I am having the best time in months. When Sam leaves for the bar, Blake approaches dressed as a cowboy.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, rudely.
“Good to see you too, Del. I was invited.”
“Where’s Ashley?” I ask, suddenly curious.
“Texas. She left me.“
“Sorry.” I reply, lying.
Sam returns and I introduce Blake. I’m tipsy so it’s awkward, but what can I do?
“Have you found a place yet?” I say, knowing Sam hears.
“Actually, I’m moving this weekend. I can’t pick up Cas. I’ll make it up to her.” He promises.
“Please do! She’s easily disappointed.”
I‘m happy when Blake leaves. Sam comforts me then takes me home. The next morning, barely light, Sam trips over our costumes.
“ Breakfast in bed for my patient.”
“Thanks, sweetie. Why so early?” I ask. “Come back to bed. Cas won’t be home for hours.”
“Don’t tease me. I have patients,” Sam counters.
“Last night you seemed uneasy around Blake.” I say, worried.
“He has power over you, Delaney. I’m falling for you and it scares me.” He confesses, kissing my forehead.
“He and I have history. But I’m here with you.” I say, kissing him back.
November comes and pumpkins morph into Christmas trees. Pine and egg nog hang in this mornings’ air. I’m running again thanks to Sam. He healed my leg and my heart. Barely three months in and he’s swept me off my feet. It feels too fast. I want to savor it like a kiss.
I blink and it’s a week until Christmas. With the warm air, fall air still lingers. Birch trees are skeletal, but the maple in the courtyard still rains gold. Tonight Sam has a surprise. I can see it in his eyes, but he doesn’t divulge.
I step into the mist and stretch before taking on the shore this morning. I’m training for a 10k.
A mile into my run and I see a bouquet of red roses planted on a hill of white sand. It’s a beautiful contrast against the ocean backdrop. I stop when I see a note attached.
It’s always been you Del. I was a fool to leave you. I’ve loved you since we were 10. I can’t lose you to another man. Let’s try again. Please.
I collapse on the sand, paralyzed.
Sam’s making me dinner, but I feel sick. I love him, but I keep thinking about Blake’s note. I wear my red dress and heels for the occasion, feeling slightly better. His place is lit with candles, smelling of cranberry and cinnamon.
“Sam it’s beautiful. It must have taken you hours.” I kiss him, shaking. “The kitchen smells fantastic.”
“It’s Chicken Parmesan. Don’t thank me until you taste it.” He grins. “First , your gift.” He says, handing me a glass of Cab.
“Sam. It’s not Christmas yet. I didn’t bring your gift.”
“Delaney. Please open it.”
Thankful for the wine, I carefully open the box and uncover two airline tickets to Paris. Underneath, a brochure to a jeweler. “Sam?” I ask.
“Delaney. It’s only been a few months, but I want to spend my life with you. You’re unlike anyone I’ve met.”
My ears go deaf as Sam speaks. Tears trickling, I can barely answer. “I love you, but I can’t.” Sobbing, I stand and walk out.
I drive to Blake’s. He’s on the front steps when I arrive. I walk up the driveway in silence.
“I was hoping you’d come. Look, it’s Cassiopeia.” He says, kissing my tears.