Flash Fiction Friday: Broken Love

esther-tuttle-0U-dXovBS2E-unsplash

Photo by Esther Tuttle on Unsplash

Broken Love
by Kelly F. Barr

 

Allison placed her empty coffee cup in the sink, the bitter coffee taste still on her tongue, and returned to pace across the gray carpet in her living room, waiting for Skylar to arrive. She chewed her lower lip. How could she have been so blind? Thank God she had discovered the truth before the wedding.

The doorbell rang as she paced away from it. She turned on her heel, stomped to the oak door, and paused with a hand on the brass doorknob. She took a deep breath and released it in slow puffs. Then she opened the door and Skylar smiled, his brown eyes sparkling, before leaning in to kiss her lips.

Allison turned her head and his kiss landed on her cheek. He pulled back and searched her eyes. “Is something wrong?”

“We need to talk.”

“Can’t we do that at the restaurant? I don’t want to be late for our reservation.”

“Maybe you should cancel the reservation. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have this conversation in a public setting. You should probably come inside.”

“Allison, what’s going on?” Sklyar followed when she turned and moved back into her apartment.

She turned to face him. “I know.”

“Know what?”

“I know that you’ve been seeing someone else behind my back.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb with me Skylar. Late last night I received a text message from someone named Vivian. The text came from your phone. She told me she was with you… in your bed … that you had fallen asleep so she had taken the opportunity to inform me she wouldn’t let you go without a fight.”

Skylar pulled his phone from the pocket of his tailor-made black pants.

“I wouldn’t expect to find the text there. She probably deleted it.” Allison picked her own phone up from the living room coffee table, pulled up the text, and handed the phone to Skylar.

Skylar read the text and the color drained from his face. He met Allison’s gaze. “Babe, listen, I can explain.”

Allison held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t bother. How could you? What did you do, drop me off at my door last night, leave me with a kiss goodnight, then go pick up … Vivian?” Allison spat the last word as though it tasted vile on her tongue.

“Allison … I’m sorry. She doesn’t mean anything to me. You’re the one I love … the one I want to marry and spend the rest of my life with.”

She shook her head, her thick chocolate tresses waving side to side. “How can you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Treat someone like unwanted baggage? How can you take her to your bed, then throw her away and say she means nothing?” She lowered herself onto the edge of the overstuffed burgundy sofa. “And if she doesn’t mean anything to you, what was she doing in your bed in the first place? How long have you been sleeping with her?”

Sklyar’s eyes flashed with anger. “What did you expect me to do? I am in love with you and we have been engaged for eight months, yet you refuse to come to my bed. You insist on waiting for the wedding night!”

Allison rose from the couch and pulled the ring from her finger. She held it out to him. “I think it best that you take this and leave.” She brushed past him and moved to the door.

“Wait, what are you doing?” Skylar turned and watched her retreat.

“I think it’s obvious. I can’t marry someone I cannot trust. Someone who cannot be faithful.” She opened her apartment door.

Skylar stood rooted to the spot. “Allison, we’ve been together for nearly two years. Surely we can work this out.” He walked over and stood in front of her. He cupped the right side of her face in his hand, his touch warm and soft. “Things between us have been good.”

Trying not to cave in to her attraction to him and the musky scent of his cologne, Allison reached her left hand up, took hold of his right and removed it from her face. “Apparently not good enough. I have no doubt you’ll get over me. I’m sure Vivian will be eager to offer you comfort.” She swung her arm in an arc toward the open doorway, suggesting he exit her apartment.

Skylar gave her one last pleading look, tears pooling in his eyes. When she didn’t move, didn’t speak, he stepped through the door and Allison quickly closed it behind him.

The moment the door closed, Allison’s resolve broke and she slid to the floor and sobbed.

Flash Fiction Friday: Dream Man

Image result for downtown lancaster pa

Dream Man
by Kelly F. Barr

 

Callie walked down a street in the city of Lancaster where she was vacationing. She’d never been there before but was enjoying all the city had to offer. Last night she’d attended a production of “Wuthering Heights” at the Fulton Opera House. She sat in the balcony and was completely caught up in the turbulent romance between Heathcliff and Catherine.

She turned the corner and came to an abrupt halt—her senses reeling—overcome by an incredible sense of déjà vu. Everything around her was familiar—the old brick buildings, the little patio of brick and sidewalk with café tables and chairs of dark brown with red umbrellas; the scent of spices and something fried in the air, the sunshine on her face, and the sounds of voices and a violin tickling her ears. Callie had been in this exact place so many times in her dreams but she had never thought it was a real place.

Then she saw him. At least she thought it was him. She couldn’t be sure from the back, but he had the strong, confident stance and jet black shoulder length curls. He wore the same sky blue suit coat with tan pants. When he turned, her breath caught in her throat as she looked into the same sapphire blue eyes and dark beard, just a bit more than a five o’clock shadow, on a strong jaw.

He smiled, revealing perfect dimples set deep in his cheeks. His eyes were locked with hers. “Is it really you?”

Could this really be happening or was she dreaming?

The man from her dreams took a couple long strides to stand before her. “I can’t believe you’re really here.” He reached his hand out to her.

Callie’s head spun and her knees turned to rubber. As she started to crumple, his arm slipped around her back. He held her up and guided her to the nearest café table where he deposited her in a chair before seating himself in one across from her.

Are you alright?”

Y…y…yes, I … think so. Do you know me?” She fanned herself with one hand, hoping some air would stop her head from whirling.

Only in my dreams … until this moment. I always hoped but couldn’t be sure we’d ever really meet. My name’s Chase Bryant, and you are?”

Callie … Callie Holcomb. What do you mean you only know me from your dreams?”

I’ve had a recurring dream that I meet you in this very spot.”

Callie closed her eyes and massaged her temples. “This can’t be happening.”

Are you sure you’re alright. Would you like me to get you something cold to drink?”

She opened her eyes and Chase was still sitting across from her, his sapphire blue eyes looking at her with concern. “It’s just … things like this don’t happen in real life … do they? I mean, I’ve had that same recurring dream, but…”

I know. It seems crazy, but here we are … and, I take it, you’re not married?” He raised an eyebrow.

She shook her head. “You?”

No, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Woa, just because we’ve had the same dream and now we’re here and we’re both single, doesn’t mean I’m jumping into any marriage.”

Chase chuckled. “Of course not. I just meant, I’ve suspected the dream would come true. I can’t explain why—call it premonition or gut instinct or a prophetic dream … I don’t know. I just knew that some day we would meet, and here we are. Now we can spend some time getting to know one another … uh, unless you’re already dating someone?”

His eyes searched hers and a strong desire to quell his doubts caused her to blurt out, “No, I’m not dating anyone. And … maybe we could start by getting something for lunch? I’m quite famished.”

Of course. Would you like a café experience, fine dining, or taking a tour through Central Market and making a selection which we can enjoy out here at this table?”

Well, since I’m not from around here, maybe you could make a recommendation. However, I’d just as soon leave fine dining for a dinner experience.”

His face became serious. “You’re not from around here?”

She shook her head. “I’m vacationing here. I arrived day before yesterday and will be here the rest of this week and next.”

I see.” His gaze moved from her face to his hands on the table.

Is something wrong?”

He raised his eyes to hers again. “Well that explains why it took so long for us to meet, but I’m not willing to meet you, start to get to know, then say goodbye.”

A couple moments of silence passed between them, then Chase rose from his chair, clasped Callie’s hand in his, tugged her to her feet, and offered her another smile. “Well, that’s not waste time worrying about that right now. Let’s go find lunch in the market. It’s something every tourist must experience.”

Callie spent the rest of the day with Chase, who played the role of personal tour guide. They talked and laughed together and found they had quite a bit in common.

As the sun began to sink in the sky, Chase escorted her back to her hotel. He walked her into the lobby, then stood facing her. “Go and prepare for a fine dining experience. I’ll return in exactly one hour to collect you for the evening.” His dimpled smile made her heart skip a beat.

As you wish.” She gave a theatrical curtsy and the two parted.

One hour later, Chase returned and the two of them walked a couple blocks then entered The Imperial Restaurant where they enjoyed a delicious meal and great conversation. After dinner, Chase escorted her to a sleek, blue Lincoln Town Car. He opened the door for her and closed it when she was comfortably seated. He drove to a large park, retrieved two lawn chairs from the trunk, and led her to a large open lawn facing an amphitheater. He set up the chairs and they sat down. He explained that during the summer, the amphitheater was used for free concerts. A few minutes later, Callie enjoyed listening to Latin music and dancing with Chase in a nearby area of open lawn.

When the last song faded, they returned to his car and Chase drove her to back to the hotel. This time he escorted her to the door of her room, where he faced her, holding her hands in his. “I had an amazing day. Sadly, I have to work tomorrow, but I’d like you to meet me for lunch, and I want to spend the evening with you as well.”

I’d like that.” She smiled up at him.

He took a step closer, lowered his head, and place his lips on hers. The kiss began soft and light, but deepened quickly. When it ended, Callie was breathless.

Chase remained close to her, looking into her eyes. “I feel like I’ve known you all my life … like we were made for each other. I believe I love you.”

When Callie opened her mouth to speak, Chase put a finger to her lips. “Don’t say anything. You don’t have to respond. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He gave her a light kiss, then turned and moved down the hall to the elevator.

Callie entered her hotel room, leaned her back against the door, and closed her eyes reliving the past few minutes in her mind. Could he really love her? Could she really love him so soon? It did feel as though they’d known each other a long time. They’d obviously met in their dreams over and over again. Other women had said they had found their “dream man”, but for Callie … that statement was really true.

Flash Fiction Friday: The “Block” Button

sergey-zolkin-_UeY8aTI6d0-unsplash

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

The “Block” Button
by Kelly F. Barr

Theresa pushed the “block” button to block his messages and felt her heart tear in two. All her friends, and her own head, told her this was the right thing to do, but would her heart … could her heart … survive it?

Yeah, she’d heard all the warnings: “Don’t make friends with strangers on the internet”, reminiscent of the “Don’t talk to strangers” rule her parents had taught her when she was a young child. But didn’t everyone do it? Wasn’t it called socializing?

Maybe, but you weren’t supposed to lose your heart, and that is what she had done. He was so sweet; so romantic. He’d said he loved her.

Had there been red flags? Yeah, small ones at first that her heart brushed aside. Then the red flags began to occur more often—“buy a $100 Amazon gift card and send me a photo of the card and receipt”; “can I have the username and password to your credit card account”? She’d fulfilled a couple of these requests, but she wasn’t made of money.

Then he’d sent her money. So was he really a bad guy?

Theresa got scared and changed all her usernames and passwords to keep him out because of all the warnings she kept hearing in her head. Today, pushing the “block” button was her last act to shut him out. She was listening to her head while her heart shattered, leaving an incredible ache in her chest.

He’d promised he’d never let her go, said he’d fight for her.

Now she wondered, would he … could he? Would he come and find her, declare his love and propose to her as he’d promised?

Or had pushing the “block” button not only severed their connection, but also left him devastated? He had told her he had no one else but her in the world. Was that true?

Unbearable guilt and pain filled her chest. Though she had never met him face-to-face, he’d made her feel more loved than anyone else ever had.

Had pushing that “block” button protected her from someone she needed protection from, or had it shut out her knight in shining armor?

Flash Fiction Friday: Making a Better Match

gray computer monitor

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Making a Better Match

by Kelly F. Barr

Sandy, the barista at the Coffee Bean Café, watched as the mismatched couple came in for their weekly coffee date. The girl, Tara, was always dressed in the latest fashions, her perfectly coiffed golden hair never had a single strand out of place, and her manicured nails always appeared freshly painted. She took a seat at a table for two by the window, while the guy, Blaze, came to the counter to order their drinks.

Blaze, the complete opposite of Tara, always wore jeans—well worn and with holes in the thigh areas. His black t-shirts often boasted “Harley Davidson” or some rock band. His hair was brown, thick, and hung to his shoulders, and often showed signs of his fingers having run through it. His chocolate brown eyes and slightly crooked smile made Sandy’s heart flip.

“Good afternoon, Blaze. What can I get for you today?” Sandy greeted him.

“Uh, a butterscotch cappuccino made with almond milk and a Hazelnut coffee, black.”

“Coming right up.” As Sandy made the drinks, she couldn’t help but wonder how these two got together.

She returned to the counter and handed the drinks to Blaze. “Have a nice day.” She smiled, and he flashed one of his crooked smiles at her, causing her heart to skip a beat. She glanced at the table, where Tara awaited Blaze’s return.

Tara was fully engrossed in her smart phone, her fingers flying on its keyboard. When Blaze reached the table and set her cappuccino before her, she didn’t even acknowledge him. Sandy sighed. If Blaze was her boyfriend, she’d never ignore him.

A couple weeks later, Sandy couldn’t wait for Blaze and Tara’s arrival. There was going to be a biker show in town on Saturday, featuring lots of motorcycles. She was sure Blaze would know about it, and she was determined to mention it in conversation.

Each time the café door opened, Sandy’s gaze moved in that direction. Finally, Blaze and Tara entered. Tara, as usual, plopped into a chair by the window, and Blaze approached the counter.

“Hey Blaze, did you hear about the biker show that’s going to be in town this Saturday?”

His eyes lit up and he looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Yeah, it’s gonna be great! You into bikes?”

“I like to go for rides, but I don’t have one of my own … not sure I want my own.”

Blaze glanced over his shoulder toward the table where Tara sat. “Do you have to work Saturday?”

“No, I don’t usually work Saturdays because I’m here all day Monday through Friday.”

“Would you be interested in going to the show with me? And, maybe we can go for a ride after?”

Sandy glanced over at Tara, who remained oblivious to what was going on at the counter, still engaged in her phone. She looked back to Blaze. “Are you sure? I mean, what about Tara?”

Blaze leaned toward her and spoke in a low tone. “She’s not really into bikes … or anything else that I like for that matter.”

Sandy raised her eyebrows.

“I guess you’re wondering what I’m doing with her?”

“The thought had crossed my mind.”

She’s great looking and some of my friends dared me to ask her out, figuring I didn’t stand a chance. Apparently she likes what she calls “bad boys” and her parents don’t approve, which seems to make me more appealing to her.”

Sandy frowned. “That’s sad, but she doesn’t seem all that interested in you.”

“Yeah, well, I get that, and I’ve been thinking it’s time I moved on.”

Sandy smiled at him, then turned and prepared his drink order. She returned to the counter a few minutes later and handed him the drinks.

“I’ll see ya Saturday? Should I just meet you out front here?”

As he took the cups from her, his fingers brushed hers, and a jolt shot up her arm. “That would be great! I look forward to it.”

Sandy had such a good time Saturday. Blaze told her everything he knew about every motorcycle they admired at the bike show. After about an hour of walking around, he reached for her hand and held it in his until they finished exploring the exhibits. He bought her a burger, fries, and a Coke at the food stand and they found a picnic table in the park, where they sat to eat.

What do you like besides motorcycles?” Blaze asked between bites of his burger.

“I like some of the bands whose logos I’ve seen you wear on t-shirts.”

Blaze grinned. “Maybe we’ll have to attend a concert together. Your name, Sandy, reminds me of the beach. Do you like going to the beach?”

“Yes.”

As they finished their meal, Blaze looked into Sandy’s eyes. “Are you ready to go for a ride?”

She grinned up at him. “Absolutely.”

Flash Fiction Friday: The Beautiful Bookworm

randy-fath-f2zjNojU5SY-unsplash

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

The Beautiful Bookworm
by Kelly F. Barr

Jordan scanned the room. What a party—lots of food, drink, loud music, dancing, conversation, and pairing off—couples in corners, on sofas, and sneaking off to other rooms. What was he doing here? Sure, Brian was his friend, but Brian knew he wasn’t into this.

Then he saw the beer cans. No way am I hanging around. What if there’s a raid? I’m not getting busted for underage drinking.

Brian was dancing with a blonde in tight jeans and a low-cut red blouse. Jordan was about to interrupt, tell Brian he was leaving, when several dancing bodies parted, giving him a clear view of a girl with long waves of brown hair hanging around her face like a curtain. She was sitting on a large, square ottoman, elbows propped on knees, reading a book. How could she read with all this noise?

Why was she here? Curiosity adjusted his path, past Brian and the blonde, until he stood directly in front of the girl on the ottoman. She didn’t raise her head from the book, so he squatted down to her level. Still no response from the bookworm. He placed an index finger in the open spine of the book, applied a little pressure, and the book lowered, revealing the largest, greenest eyes he’d ever seen. It was like staring into two perfect emeralds, and his heart skipped a beat.

“Hi, I’m Jordan. I was just wondering how you could read with all this noise.”

“It’s a great book. Have you read it?” She lifted it so he could see the cover, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.

“Uh, no, I haven’t. Listen, would you like to step outside—get some fresh air, talk where we don’t have to shout at one another?”

She shrugged, placed a bookmark between the pages, and stood up.

Jordan rose, turned, and led the way out the front door. The porch was empty. Jordan led the way to the swing.

When they were seated, Jordan, once again, peered into this girl’s emerald eyes. They enchanted him. “So, I take it, this isn’t your idea of a fun evening?” He smiled.

“Absolutely not.” She shook her head for emphasis. “Sabrina talked me into coming. She says I don’t get out enough.”

“Who’s Sabrina?”

“My older sister. She was thrilled that Brian invited her to this party. She thinks he’s hot. Mom and Dad will kill us if they find out we were here, not to mention what they’d think of Brian. I’m afraid Sabrina’s going to get in big trouble, but she won’t listen to me. She says I need to get my face out of a book and learn to live a little.”

“So, how old are you?”

“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen in two weeks.” She fingered the book’s cover.

Jordan perched on the edge of the swing, ready to rise. “I’m sorry. I’m keeping you from your book.”

“Wait, please don’t go. I … I think you’re cute.”

She lowered her head, allowing her hair to hide her face, but not before Jordan had seen the blush creep into her cheeks. Was he the first guy she’d talked to?

He placed a finger under her chin and lifted so he could look at her face. For the first time, he forced himself to look at more than her eyes. Her creamy complexion was flawless and her pink lips formed a bow. He’d never beheld such beauty before.

He allowed his eyes to do a quick scan of the rest of her. She was wearing a white mid-calf length skirt and a mint green summer sweater.

“What’s your name?”

“Abigail.”

“How come I haven’t seen you around before?”

“My mom homeschools me. She tried homeschooling Sabrina, but Sabrina fought with her about it. Sabrina wants to be popular, and she’s boy crazy. My parents keep trying to encourage her to get to know the young people at our church, but Sabrina doesn’t want anything to do with church. I’m praying for her, and I talk to her. She listens to what I have to say, even if she doesn’t agree. I hope she at least thinks about it.”

Jordan raked a hand through his hair. “Do you have a boyfriend at your church?”

The corners of her mouth tipped a bit. “Not exactly, but there is someone interested in me.”

“Are you interested in him?” Jordan held his breath.

Abigail shrugged. “Maybe.”

“But you think I’m cute?” He quirked an eyebrow at her.

This time she didn’t lower her head, though the blush colored her cheeks again, and Jordan leaned toward her.

Abigail jumped up and Jordan nearly fell as the swing rocked.

“I’m sorry. I better find Sabrina and get home. It was nice meeting you, Jordan.” She turned to flee into the house.

Jordan moved to follow her. “Wait … Abby!”

She stopped at the front door, turned to look at him. “No one calls me that.”

“I’m sorry. Did I offend you?”

“Say it again.”

“What?”

“Say it again … what you just called me.”

“Abby.” He noticed her slight shiver. He stepped closer. “Abby … Abby … Abby.”

Standing before her, he lifted a hand, cupped the side of her face.

Then she was gone, through the door, into the crowd.

Jordan leaned against the door jamb and sighed, his heart pounding like tribal drums in his chest.

Flash Fiction Friday: At Home in Your Arms

ryan-young-0U2Ze4QcbB0-unsplash

Photo by Ryan Young on Unsplash

At Home in Your Arms
by Kelly F. Barr

There was something about him. Something about the way he watched me.

I’d felt his eyes on me for several minutes and guarded my gaze by peeking through my lashes. He was breathtakingly handsome with cerulean eyes and a cleft chin, thick wavy blond hair that caused my fingertips to tingle with the desire to run through those waves. Muscles rippled down his golden tan arms and across his chest in his snug orange t-shirt. My heart pounded in my chest, but I couldn’t tell if he was interested in me, or if I should be concerned that he was some kind of creepy stalker guy.

I raised my head from the magazine I’d been reading and let my eyes meet his. He smiled at me, revealing bright white perfect teeth and deep dimples in his cheeks.

I smiled back. He rose to his feet and began closing the short distance between our tables. My heart pounded in my ears and drowned out the noise of the cappuccino machine behind the counter.

“May I buy you a coffee?” He towered above me.

I picked up my empty cup, gave it a little shake, and set it back down. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Well, in that case, may I join you?”

“Okay.”

He pulled out the chair next to mine, closing the gap between us farther, sat down, and pulled himself up to the table. “Do you come here often?”

“Everyday. Can’t live without my coffee. How ‘bout you?”

“I just moved to town, so this is my first visit. I’m Randy McDaniels.”

“I’m Holly Applegate. I was born and raised here.” I retained eye contact with Randy. His eyes pulled me in like a couple magnets. “What brought you to town?”

“I got tired of the big city and the fast-paced lifestyle. I was raised on a farm and spent summers swimming in the creek.”

“Why did you go to the big city in the first place?”

“Oh you know, when you’re young you always think you’ll find something better, more exciting, than where you are.” He paused and stared into my eyes for a minute. “You have large eyes. They’re beautiful and I could look into them all day long.”

Heat crept into my cheeks and I shifted in my seat. “Um, thanks. So what are you plans for living in our small town?”

He leaned closer and lowered his voice. “Right now, I just want to get to know you better. Would you be able to spend the day with me tomorrow, show me around, and give me a taste of what it’s like to live in this quaint little town?”

My heart skipped a beat, and I cleared my throat. “Sure, I could do that. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I gathered my purse and my empty cup and rose from my seat. “I’ll meet you here at 8 a.m. You know, I gotta have my coffee.”

He grinned and nodded, and I made my exit.

The next day the sun was shining and a cool breeze teased some of the tendrils of my hair. I met Randy at the café. We grabbed coffee and a couple scones.

We visited all my favorite places in town and I introduced Randy to many of the locals. We ate lunch at Dee Dee’s Diner, laughing and talking between mouthfuls.

We went bowling, roller skating, and took in a movie. It was a romantic comedy that caused me to wonder what it would be like to hold his hand or have him put his arm around me.

I drove to the beach a half-hour outside of town. We had dinner at my favorite seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean.

After dinner, Randy looked at me as we stepped out of the restaurant. “Would you like to take a walk on the beach?”

I nodded. When my feet hit the sand, I paused and slipped my sandals off.

Randy took his socks and sneakers off, stuffed his socks into his shoes, tied the laces together, and hung them from one shoulder. Then he reached over and took my hand in his. It was a perfect fit.

We walked in silence for a while, then Randy stopped and turned toward me, letting his shoes fall to the sand. He lifted an arm, and with his fingers brushed hair back from one side of my face. Then he placed his hand on my cheek. “I had a great time today. You are fun to be with, and you are beautiful.”

He leaned toward me and I held my breath.

Then his lips were on mine. He tasted of butter and garlic, and I wrapped my arms around his neck and entangled my fingers in his hair. He encircled me in his arms and drew me closer. When the kiss ended, he continued to hold me and I put my head on his shoulder. I inhaled the scent of him—coconut and a touch of musk. His arms felt like home.

He pulled back just a bit and placed his forehead against mine. “This is what I came to this town for—the love of a good woman. You feel so right in my arms, and there seemed to be something between us as soon as our eyes met. Do you feel it?”

I nodded, raised up on tiptoes, and touched my lips to his.

When that kiss ended, he looked into my eyes. “I feel like I’m home.”

I smiled. “Me too.”

Flash Fiction Friday

What If?

by Kelly F. Barr

Was he making a mistake? They say you can’t go back in time. Thirty years had passed and he was pushing fifty. Could it just be a mid-life crisis?

She hadn’t crossed his mind in years. But then he’d found that old shoebox—the one he’d hidden way back in his closet, the one that held letters and photos faithfully sent to him during the four years he’d spent in the marines.

Maybe he’d started thinking about Carly again because he’d found the box or maybe he was lonelier than he wanted to admit. The kids were grown … had their own lives now, and it had been six years since his wife passed away.

He carried the shoebox to the living room, sat in his favorite chair, and removed the lid. He picked up the first envelope and carefully withdrew its contents. Two sheets of paper with cursive writing on every line. No one writes cursive anymore.

He read letter after letter, traveling back in time in his mind. Then he withdrew the contents of another envelope and found a picture of Carly standing near a tree smiling, strands of her long blonde hair blowing over the left side of her face and her blue-green eyes sparkling. She was a beauty. The letter accompanying the photo was the one—the one that made him a fool—the one where she had suggested they might spend some time together the next time he was home on leave.

That letter that had changed their relationship. Fresh out of high school and he’d enlisted in the marines. Carly promised to write to him the entire four years he would serve.

But when he’d received this letter, he wrote back, informing her he had a girlfriend.

Jenna had been that girlfriend, and Jenna was the girl he married upon his discharge.

Carly had been hurt. The cursive of her next letter had angry slants and dark punctuation marks. Her pen bled, How could you let me think you might be interested in me? How could you tell me how much my letters and photos meant to you—ask for more photos—when you have a girlfriend? What, are you … one of those men with a different woman in every port!

He hadn’t expected to ever hear from her again, but a month later another letter arrived, and her letters continued until his discharge. Carly had kept her promise despite the hurt he’d inflicted upon her.

What would happen if he found her … went to see her? Would she be happily married? Could there be anything between them? He wanted to try—needed to know.

A Google search found a Carly Nelson who was a songwriter. Could she be his Carly Nelson? He clicked a link and a photo popped up. A twenty-something woman with auburn hair and brown eyes.

Next he tried Facebook and found a Carly Nelson Winchester and clicked her profile photo to make it bigger. The photo filled his laptop screen. It was her—his Carly. She had a few more lines around her eyes, some silver streaks in her hair, but the smile was unmistakable. Another click and he read about her. She was still in Pennsylvania, married with four children. He searched her photos, but none of the recent photos showed a man with her.

He opened another tab, searched the airlines, and booked a ticket on the next flight to Pennsylvania. He packed a carry-on bag then lay on the bed to try to sleep but the butterflies in his stomach and the drum pounding a rhythm in his chest wouldn’t let him.

He closed his eyes and memories of working with Carly at the shoe store in the mall flowed through his mind like an old movie: Carly laughing at his corny jokes, teasing him about another female employee she knew had a crush on him, but never letting on she might be interested.

He rose from his bed, grabbed his carry-on, walked out the door of his apartment locking it behind him. Sitting behind the steering wheel of his red classic Ford Mustang, he placed his hands on the wheel, rested his head on them, and prayed this wasn’t a mistake. That Carly might be glad to see him … be willing to give him another chance.

At the Harrisburg Airport, he rented a car and drove into Lancaster … to the address the internet listed as hers. When he pulled up in front of the house, his palms grew sweaty and his throat dry because there she was … his Carly, sitting in a wooden rocking chair on the porch.

As he brought his rental car to a stop and shut off the engine, she rose to her feet and moved to the porch steps. He slid out of the car, walked around the back, and started a slow trek up the walkway. She moved a couple steps, then stopped, tears trickling down her cheeks—tears of joy or something else?

When he stood before her, she reached out a hand as if to touch his cheek, then stopped and let the hand drop. Her eyes searched his. “Keith … Keith Phillips?”

He offered a hesitant smile and nodded. Was that sadness in her eyes?

“It’s been such a long time. What are you doing here?”