This story is by David Hinebaugh and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A last gulp of winter air came storming south, carrying with it a nip; a snap of cool bluster that had not been felt since the last winter. Now May, in Texas: a time when there is an expectation of low, lumbering thunderheads, beads of sweat that wind down from foreheads and then pool at the neckline. Shortly before the reception reached it’s conclusion, the best man retreated through a back door away from the other guests to an empty patio: the secondary of two dance floors, made from slabs of polished limestone. Hanging above he could see tree branches decorated with white twinkle lights, glinting in the moonlight like tiny stalactites.
“What you doing out here by all by yourself?”
He turned around and saw her. She was no longer a girl, but she still had the same wavy butterscotch colored hair, the same large, bottle green eyes.
“Just thought I’d come out and here and chill for a sec, get away from all the commotion.”
“Mind if I stay out here with you?”
“Of course not.”
They were both holding drinks. He, a cup of beer. She, a glass of champagne.
“Where’s Anthony?” He asked, before lifting the cup to his mouth.
“Couldn’t get a sitter in time, so he had to stay behind with the boys.”
“You didn’t want to take them along?”
“They’re not old enough yet, I think. Plus I just didn’t want to deal with that all night.”
There was a clap of thunder.
“I hope it doesn’t rain,” she said. “I hate driving in the rain, especially when I have to drive far.”
“Me too,” he said, taking another drink.
“Can you believe Nick is married?”
“I know,” he chuckled. “Seems not that long ago we were prying lego pieces out of his nose.”
“You never did that. We had to call over that dentist that lived next door to do it for us.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about Jack. That was his name, Jack Brinkman.”
This time they both took drinks. Her champagne glass was nearly empty.
“Can I have a sip of yours?” She asked. “I haven’t tasted beer in forever.”
He handed over his cup.
“Yuck. Yep, I still hate it.”
“So, did you enjoy the wedding?”
The girl leaned back against the wall.
“It makes me wish Anthony and I had done a real wedding. You know, with a reception and everything. We just went down to city hall, on like a Tuesday or something. But we couldn’t afford it–not back then, and my dad wouldn’t pay for it since we had Daniel already. He said it doesn’t count if you already have a kid.”
“How’s your mom doing,” he asked.
“She’s okay. You should tell your mom to call her. She always talks about how much she misses her.”
So much of the boy had changed, she noticed. His once small, adolescent frame had widened in the shoulders. His cheeks were hollowed, and all the freckles were either gone, or hidden by scruff. She may not have recognized him at all, if not for the eyes. Oh, they were still wonderfully blue, like the shallows of a caribbean beach. She had loved them, those beautiful eyes. She had loved them since she was old enough to know the word itself.
“You want to go back inside?” He asked. “It’s starting to get a little chilly out here.”
“I don’t know. I kind of like the quiet,” she said. “But I’ll go back in, if you do.”
“We can stay out here then, I guess” he said, cracking a cocky grin. He’d always known how she felt. Even now, after all this time, it made her nervous.
“So, no date tonight?”
“Nope. Liz and I broke up, actually.”
“That’s too bad,” she said, hating herself for that swell of excitement in her chest. “I really liked her.”
“No, you didn’t,” he said, laughing.
“Okay, no I didn’t,” she agreed. “I’m still sorry, though. Breakups suck.”
“How would you know? You’ve been with the same guy since you were nineteen…basically.” His last word seemed to hover in the air between them, like breath on a cold night.
“I guess that’s true,” she conceded. “I still don’t like to see you hurt.”
The storm appeared all at once, the tree branches crackling like pop rocks in the wind.
“Should we head in?”
“No,” she yelled over the wind. “Come on, it’s fun. Let’s stay out here.”
“I thought you loved cold weather.”
“Not in May, I don’t.”
“Come close to me, we’ll keep each other warm.”
“Very funny,” he said.
She responded with a smile.
“How much have you had to drink?”
“Not that much.”
Then it began to rain, first fat droplets that smacked against the tin panels of the roof, then smaller ones that pitter-pattered in an almost rhythmic synchronicity.
“Want to dance?” He asked.
“There’s no music, and it’s raining.”
“We’re already soaked.”
It was true. She could make out the indentations of his chest through his white button-down, and as his eyes traversed her body, she realized the fabrics of her dress might have become similarly transparent. She didn’t want him to look. To see she wasn’t that girl anymore.
“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“I better go inside.”
“Grace Nicole Jaspers. Come dance with me.”
And there he was, spectacularly unchanged. He was the boy she had chased around when she was five and he was eight, begging him to marry her in the sandbox. The one she’d kissed with her lips pursed and her knees shaking.
She put her arms around his shoulders, and they swayed together until the wind weakened, until the downpour soured into a foggy mist.
“You still think I made a mistake, choosing Anthony?”
“That was a long time ago,” said the boy, a drop of rain dripping from the tip of his chin. “I try not think about it.”
“Do you–think about it?”
“Of course I do.”
Some things had changed, surely. Her hair had once been so long she could toss it over her shoulder–he’d have to push it to the side every time they would kiss. But she felt the same when she put her head on his chest.
“Gracie, I think we should go back inside.”
“I don’t want to,” she whispered. He could feel her warm breath against his neck.
The boy pushed the girl away, and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Gracie, I don’t think you made a mistake. Everything happened the way it was supposed to.”
The girl put her hands on the boy’s face. His cheeks were scruffy and coarse. He’d been so soft, back then. Soft and beautiful and perfect.
“I’m sorry. You’re right.”
And then she pressed her lips against his. He tasted like fresh rainwater. And the boy kissed her back. He put his hands through her hair, felt the wavy curls that shined like gold even in the night. Then, at last, they broke apart.
“I’m going to go back inside,” said the boy. “Goodnight, Gracie.”