This story is by Shandrica Nunnally and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Clarissa was sipping her hot tea with honey and lemon in the coffee shop on the corner of Baker St. and 5th Ave. like she does every Tuesday morning, when a song
came on that brought up memories and emotions she had tried so hard to repress. Annabelle had told her a couple of weeks ago that he was back in town. She hadn’t seen him, but it didn’t matter. She could feel him as closely as if his arms were wrapped around her again – breathing in a tiny piece of her heart and soul with every breath.
Dillon hadn’t been back in 15 years since his mom died. But now that a developer wants to buy the old family property, he’s forced to come back and face everything he’s tried to block out for so long. As he drove down the long gravel drive that leads to the house, he was surrounded by the fire reds, sun yellows, rust browns, and pumpkin oranges dancing on the oak trees all around him. The crispness in the air washed over him reminding him why fall was his favorite time of year, and yet the time of year he hated the most. No matter how long it had been and no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t shake the memory of her in his oversized sweatshirt sipping tea by the bonfire – her eyes lost in the beauty of the autumn night sky, his lost completely in her. He can still smell her skin as though she were wrapped in his arms – – – But she’s not – – – And she hasn’t been for years. That’s why he hates fall.
Clarissa walked into the mart to pick up something for dinner. While she was picking out her chicken, she overheard Mrs. Hubbard talking to the butcher.
“Well I heard he was here on business ‘cuz that New York guy that nobody likes wants to buy the Strickland place.” Said Mrs. Hubbard.
“He probably wants to put up a bunch of those fancy new condos. I swear they’re trying to ruin our little town.” Replied the butcher.
“Probably. I just pray Dillon is smart enough not to sell. His mother would have hated the idea. She always wanted it to be the family house for generations.”
“Yeah, but you know how kids are these days. All about the money.”
“You’re right about that. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
Clarissa couldn’t believe what she had just overheard. She couldn’t imagine the Strickland place being sold. She hadn’t been there in years since that last bonfire. The sound of the crackling embers covered the night like a blanket, but all she could hear was the steady beat of his heart promising her that unlike that fire – his love would never fade.
The Strickland place held so many memories. The thought of seeing it turned into condos was a hard pill to swallow. She had to see it one last time. But Dillon was back. Was she really willing and ready to risk seeing him again after all these years? She had so many thoughts racing through her mind. She needed to talk to Annabelle. She hoped she would answer when she called.
“I haven’t been there in years Annabelle and you know Dillon’s back! What if he’s there? I can’t do it!” Lamented Clarissa.
“Yeah, he might be there. But maybe facing him again is the only way you’ll ever be able to move on. Go!” Answered Annabelle.
Even after talking to Annabelle, Clarissa still debated with herself for hours about whether to go or not. But she finally talked herself into it.
“I can’t believe I’m really doing this.” She said out loud as she turned onto the gravel drive of the old Strickland place.
She thought about turning around. But now that she was here, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia made her keep going.
She threw her scarf around her neck as she walked toward the middle of the yard. Being here brought back so many memories. She wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry. The only thing she was sure of, was that she was far more overcome by emotion than she expected.
Dillon swore he could see Clarissa’s blonde hair blowing in the autumn breeze. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Being here again made the memories so real. He went back to doing the dishes. But when he looked up again, there she stood – only feet away. This wasn’t a memory. She was really here. He clutched the sink, suddenly fearing his feet might not hold him. He knew she had a hold on him, but even he didn’t know it was this strong. He wanted nothing more than to run to her. But he couldn’t. He was paralyzed by emotion. All he could do was stare in disbelief.
Clarissa’s heart had never pounded this hard in her life. She was sure Dillon could hear it, wherever he was. She knew he was somewhere… Somewhere was what she’d been telling herself for the past 15 years. But now – somewhere could mean right in front of her. It made a part of her want to run away. But when she turned around, her eyes caught his
her body froze. For a brief moment, she thought her heart actually stopped.
In the moment that their eyes met, chills filled them both. Everything in the world except the two of them disappeared. All the time and distance between them just vanished. Their eyes spoke all of the apologies and forgiveness that should have been given so long ago. They whispered the tenderness of reassured promises that can be trusted. And more than anything else, they cry years of an aching, burning love.
She was so overcome with emotions that she thought her insides might break. She wiped away the tears she could feel rolling down her red-hot cheeks. She tried to steady herself.
“Ok. You can do this Clarissa.” She said, trying to give herself a pep talk.
“Ah who am I kidding!” She mumbled to herself just as the front door opened.
“Clarissa” was all Dillon could manage to say.
After standing in silence for what felt like an eternity, Dillon finally asked, “Would you like to come inside?”
“Yes. That would be nice. Thank you.”
Nervous, Dillon began moving papers and fluffing pillows.
Clarissa started laughing.
“What? What’s so funny?” Asked Dillon.
“You!” Laughed Clarissa. “It hasn’t been THAAAT long has it? Come on? You know you don’t have to do all that for me.” And she threw herself down comfortably on the couch.
He looked at Clarissa, smiled, and sat down across from her so he can see every inch of her beauty.
“Hey, you want something to drink?”
“Yeah what you got?”
“Let me guess – For you, the usual – hot tea with honey and lemon, right?”
Her face softened and a smile eased across her face as she began to accept just how much she meant to him. After all this time, he still remembered. He must have read the thoughts in her eyes because he wrapped his arms around her waist and said:
“Some things you just can’t forget.”
There was a marked change in the tone of his voice as he said that, and they both knew they weren’t talking about tea anymore.
“Clarissa, I’m sorry I was so stupid and I’m sorry for all the pain I ever caused you. Please, I’m begging you, give me the chance to make it up to you every day for the rest of my life. I promise that you will never have a reason to doubt my love again.”
There was a sincerity in his words that somehow managed to reach inside her soul and chisel away the barriers around her heart and replace them with the cushion of a sure landing.
“Sometimes you can get back what’s lost. The only question is, Are You Willing to Look for It? Look me in the eyes right now and tell me you’re not, and I’ll walk away – no questions asked. But if you can’t, then neither can I.”
“I can’t.” She whispered through the tears that she could no longer control, and she fell into his embrace.
“Then I never will!”
He held her in his arms as she cried – tears of relief – tears of forgiveness – tears of love – tears of joy.
For the first time in her life, she finally understood what it meant to