Flash Fiction Challenge – Part III
Now wait a minute, you may be saying. Didn’t you write a Part II to this story last week? You can’t write a Part III to the same story! That’s cheating!
And you would be correct, except that Helen Espinosa wrote a Part II to lisboeta1’s original Part I, so I’m opting to continue their story. See what I did there? Clever, eh?
And now, I give you Part III to “Love Story,” in which things get weird …
Part I (by lisboeta1)
Holy crap! It’s him, I heard my inner voice yell out. I was sitting in a small booth in my favorite coffee shop doing what I do best; drinking coffee and reading. As my eyes wondered from the pages of the book to the crowd gathering by the registers I saw him. He hadn’t changed much in the last twenty years. If anything he seemed to have improved like a good wine. I noticed that he was even taller than the last time I had seen him all those years ago. Thick blondish curly hair still framed his handsome face and his slanted almond-shaped eyes looked just like I remembered them. Not the skinny, slightly awkward young man he had been at 18, his well-toned arms and chest now stretched the black plain t-shirt he was wearing. He had obviously just come from the gym, sweatpants hanging low on his tight hips and sneakers on his feet. A smile crept up to my lips; I remembered him saying that his mom used to tell him that when he died he would die standing up because of his giant feet. God! I remembered our conversations as it was only yesterday.
My eyes went to his hands, big and masculine, and a shiver went through me. I remember well the feeling of those hands on my body. I was so young back then. Still, I was about two years older than him, an “older woman”. For all sense of purpose I was an adult but I still fell hard for the young man he was then. The first time I laid eyes on him, walking across the hotel atrium, I was lost. My heart fluttered every time I saw him and my legs turned to Jell-O every time we spoke. Ours was a whirlwind romance that lasted a few days but left a soft spot in my heart for 20 years. I always thought of James as the one who got away. And now, there he was, a mere few feet away from me, and my heart was doing that familiar flip-floppy thing it had always done in his presence. What was he doing here? More to the point; what was I going to do?
Part II (by Helen Espinosa)
As it turned out, I didn’t need to do anything at all. Before I could even begin to think whether it was a good idea or not to walk up to him, our eyes met and a slow smile spread across his face as recognition dawned in his eyes. My heart picked up speed inside my chest and my face felt hot as the blood rushed to it. God, I hated that! I hated the fact that I couldn’t control the blush as it flamed across my face in what I knew was a bright red color.
I put my head down as he started walking in my direction, trying to get the color under control. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so they became a tight knot in my lap that grew tighter the closer he got to the booth. I look like an idiot just sitting here. I stood up and lifted my head to meet his eyes once again, startled at how close he was and that he was still getting closer. My eyebrows lifted as he walked right up to me and put his arms around me like we were old friends.
“Oh my God, Liz! It really is you!” He leaned back, his hands holding my upper arms as he took a long look at me that did nothing to help the heat in my face.
“Hi James.” I sounded so awkward.
“Where have you been all these years? What happened to you?”
“Me? I seem to recall it was you who disappeared.” I said it with a smile but watched as something flitted across his eyes and it looked like he was going to say something but he dropped his hands instead and cleared his throat. What was that about?
He finally said, “I can’t believe it’s you after all these years. How have you been?”
“I’m good, just, you know. I don’t know.” I didn’t know where my eyes should go, so I looked down and shuffled my feet. My eyes landed on my coffee sitting on the table and the book beside it. I gestured towards it with my hand. “This is my favorite place for coffee and a book.” I glanced back up at him and caught him smiling at me.
“That’s one of the things I remember best about you. You always had a book. It’s nice to see that some things don’t change.”
“Can you stay a while? Catch up? I can buy you some coffee…” The words trailed away as I realized how dumb I sounded. God, I was so nervous. I wanted the shaky feeling in my stomach to settle down so I could breathe.
“Damn, Liz, I wish I could. I’ve gotta get showered and get to work. Rain check?” He really looked like he meant it and I almost couldn’t believe my ears. He wanted to see me again? My face went back to flaming just as I thought it had settled down. I couldn’t trust my voice so I just nodded my head.
“Well, uh…” Now he was the one stammering and shuffling his feet.
“Do you… Can I give you my number?” There. I said it. I wanted to see him again, but I knew that if he walked away without leaving me with something, I would probably never see him again. I never thought of our city as a big one, but if he lived here and we hadn’t run across each other in twenty years, who knew how long it would be before we crossed paths again, if ever.
“Of course! Geez, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.” He let out a short laugh as he reached into his sweat pants. He pulled out his cell phone and punched on the screen a few times then actually held it out to me.
“Here, put it in my phone.”
When I reached for it, our hands grazed slightly and a bolt of electricity jumped from his hand to mine and sent my heart racing again. I looked into his eyes and the world seemed to spin. Could it really be that after all these years he still felt the same way? I wasn’t getting any answers staring into his eyes like a love-struck fool, so I gently took the phone and dialed my number into it. I slowly handed it back to him, suddenly struck dumb, not knowing what to do next.
“Is it okay if I dial it so you have mine?”
“Uh, yeah. That’s perfect, actually.”
I heard my phone buzzing behind me and reached over to click the ignore button. As I looked back at James, I realized he was leaning in again. I didn’t know if my senses could take another hug at this point, but I didn’t want to refuse either, so I hugged him back, trying to keep the tingling under control.
“It was really great to see you, Liz. I almost hate to leave,” he said as he pulled back for a second time in less than five minutes.
“Yeah, I know the feeling.”
We stood there for a few minutes more in an awkward silence that hung suspended between us. I didn’t know what else to do so I said, “Take care of yourself, James.”
He smiled again, “You too, Liz. I’ll call you.” And then he turned and walked away.
My entire body was wobbly and I fell back into the booth with a loud swoosh and sat staring at my now cold coffee. Could I even hold out hope that he would call me? Did I even dare to invest my heart in something that had lasted only two days twenty years ago? The crazy thing was, I’m not sure my heart was giving me a choice. It was still beating so fast and I knew that if he didn’t call or text or something, I would be heartbroken all over again.
Part III (by me)
I didn’t know what to do next, so I gathered my things and headed out the door. I thumbed my phone as I picked it up, intent on saving James’ number before I lost the only connection I had to him.
I walked back to my condo. It was time to stop mooning over James, but I didn’t know how I was going to concentrate when all I could think about was our last encounter – his hands on my body, his lips hot against mine, his skin silvered in the pre-dawn light.
I let myself in, trudging upstairs to drop my bag and slip off my shoes, when my phone rang. My heart lurched as James’ name flashed across my screen. I stared at it, afraid to answer and afraid not to. Could he really be calling me? Was it a misdial? I took a deep breath and answered just before it rolled over into voicemail.
“Hi Liz, it’s James. Oh, wait, you already knew that.” He laughed and I did too, relieved that it really was him and that he was just as nervous as I was.
“Yes, your name came up on my phone.”
“Oh, of course. Look, this is going to sound crazy, but can I see you?”
“Yes, I’d like that.” He was asking me out on a date! He really did want to see me again.
“Great! What are you doing?”
“Right now? I thought you had to get to work.” A tiny alarm went off in the back of my mind. Something wasn’t quite right.
“I, uh, just called in and cleared my calendar for the day. I … I just really need to see you, to talk to you.”
“Wow, um, okay.” I desperately wanted to see him again and to find out why he’d disappeared, but I was also wary. This was moving really fast.
“Where are you? Do you want to meet back at the coffee shop?”
“Actually, I’m parked outside your condo complex. Can I come up?”
“What? Did you follow me?” Now I was really confused and more than a little nervous.
“Yeah, but I’m not some creepy stalker, I swear! I just … I made a stupid mistake when I left without saying goodbye, and now that I have another chance, I’m not going to screw up again. Please just let me apologize to you and to explain why I did it. If you don’t want to see me after that, I promise to never bother you again.”
He sounded terribly sincere and more than a little desperate. And although my head screamed out that it was a really bad idea to let James in, my heart wouldn’t listen.
“Um, okay, sure.”
“Great! Can you buzz me in?”
“Oh, yes, of course.” I tried to steady my breath as I hurried downstairs to punch the code on the alarm panel. “I’m in #101, nearest the gate.”
“I know,” he said, which gave me another moment’s hesitation, but I pushed the thought from my mind and opened the door to see James already standing there, one hand poised to knock. He was still in his sweat pants and t-shirt, and he looked both sheepish and relieved. Any doubts I’d had about letting him in slipped away.
“Come in,” I said. “Sorry about the mess.” He glancing up and down the corridor before closing the door and locking the deadbolt. Again, my mind chirped out a warning, but I ignored it as I started up the stairs, James following behind me. When we got to the top, we stood facing each other, then started to speak at the same time.
“Liz, I …”
“Well, should we sit …”
We both chuckled and he insisted that I go first. “Do you want to sit down?”
“Yes, that’d be great.” We sat on the sofa and he took both my hands in his. They were warm and strong, just as I remembered.
“Liz, I want to apologize. I never should’ve left you without saying goodbye. I have always regretted it.”
“I figured you just weren’t that into me,” I said. I was surprised at the flash of bitterness I felt. He’d broken my heart and although I’d told myself that I’d moved on, I realized that I’d never really gotten over it. “I thought we had something. I thought you were different, but we were both so young …”
“I was a fool and I’m sorry,” he said. “Please believe me when I tell you that I have cherished the memories of our few days together for all these years. Now that I’ve found you again, I intend to make it up to you, if you’ll let me.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had dreamed about this moment for years, but now that it was happening, it felt surreal.
“Why did you leave without saying goodbye?”
He seemed to weigh his options before continuing. “I … had to leave. I had a prior commitment.”
“And you couldn’t even leave me a note or something?” I didn’t want to be angry, but the words spilled out along with tears I thought I’d cried out years ago.
James leaned close, tenderly cupping my jaw in his hand so that my eyes met his. The pain I saw reflected there mirrored my own.
“Liz, I am so sorry. I … it was …” He struggled to find the words, finally blurting out, “I was engaged to be married and I didn’t want to break your heart.”
“Too late!” I tried to swallow the bitterness in my voice, but it seeped out anyway. “So, I was the last big fling as a swinging single, huh? You cheated on your fiance to get with me? Was I worth it?”
“No, please, you don’t understand.” I’d pulled away from his grasp but he caught my face again, turning me to face him and look into his eyes once more.
“Where is your wife now? Or were you hoping to have another fling with me?” I moved to the window, looking out at nothing, still feeling betrayed.
I turned to look at him, and although he was facing me, his gaze was a million miles away. “And, for the record, we never got married. I … got cold feet … and she killed herself … on our wedding day … at least that’s what the paper said.”
“Oh, my god …”
“It was an arranged marriage. We hardly knew each other. I didn’t have anything against her, but I wasn’t ready to get married. I didn’t want to do it, but I had … an obligation …”
I didn’t know what to say. As I moved back to the sofa, he stood to face me as if seeing me for the first time.
“Liz, you’re the only one who can save me. Will you help me?”