Emma put on her favorite red lipstick and smoothed out the wisps of hair that fell from the French Roll at the back of her head.
"Something's just not quite right," she said to herself.
"What's not right?" asked Mariss, holding a gift behind her back as she entered the guest room where her sister was staying for the week.
"I don't know," said Emma. "It seems like I've done everything that I should have – my make-up is on, my hair is done, I bought this new dress and these shoes, and I put on my sparkly necklace and earrings. What more could I need?"
"This!" said Mariss, as she brought out a white orchid in a gift box. She placed the corsage on Emma's wrist and tied the ribbon into a tidy bow.
"It's lovely. It's the finishing touch. Thank you, my Dear."
"You look especially beautiful tonight. Are you hoping to meet someone special?"
"I don't know what you mean, Mariss."
"Yes, you do. Are you hoping to see Brent this year?"
"He didn't come to the twentieth or the thirtieth or the fortieth. I can't imagine why he would show up at this reunion. I wonder who he married – and if he has a family."
"Maybe you'll find out tonight."
"Oh, shush Mariss. I can't even let myself think about such things."
"Well, you're single now. Gary passed away more than six years ago. It would be nice for you to settle down with someone."
"I'm sure I'm far too old for that now."
"Old?? You're only sixty-eight! You've got lots more miles left on those tires," Mariss winked at Emma.
"Oh, Mariss… You shouldn't say things like that."
"Remember when we were kids and Brent would walk you home from school, holding hands when you were twelve years old?"
"I remember. You used to follow me like my shadow."
"Yes. And Brent would turn around and say, ‘Two's company and three's a crowd. Go walk ahead and leave us alone Mariss.'"
"Yes, he did say that."
"And the time you snuck out of the house and Brent was kissing you on the porch, and I was spying on you in the bushes?"
"Yes. He saw you and said…”
“’ I see you hiding there Mariss – two's company and three's a crowd. You'd better get in the house before your Dad catches you out here.' I grew to hate that saying! I remember when Brent went to Dad and asked him if he could marry you when you were barely sixteen. Dad took a fit and told him he could never see you again."
"That was when I was sent off to live with Aunt Bertie for two years to help out with looking after her six children. That was the hardest time of my life. I felt so alone and heartbroken. When I got back home, Brent was in the army. I didn't know where he was and then Mom and Dad moved us all out west, and I never heard from him again."
It sure would be nice… Emma thought to herself.
"Well, we'd better get going, or you'll be late," said Mariss. "I'll pick you up at 11:30 unless you get a ride from a secret admirer."
Fat chance of that, thought Emma.
Emma stood wobbly-kneed, at the front door to the gymnasium of Winnifred Laurier High. The smell of rubber basketballs hung in the air. As she entered the room, a hush fell over the chattering crowd of former classmates.
Emma's cheeks flushed. She'd have rathered crawl under a rock than to walk any further. It seemed as though the thunderous clacking of her kitten heels on the polished floor fairly equaled the distinct swishing noise of her taffeta skirt as her feet propelled her forward while her mind raced to find an exit door.
"Here's our Prom Queen," shouted someone from the crowd. Suddenly everyone rushed towards Emma, and many hugs and compliments ensued.
"Attention everyone," announced the Emcee. "Please find your seats and remain seated throughout the dinner segment as there will be entertainment provided. After dinner, we will enjoy a dance and some socializing."
Emma searched the tables that circled the perimeter of the room until she found a name card – not her name card, but one that said, Brent Forrester. Her breath seemed to catch for a moment. Dare she hope? No, she thought, he won't come. She walked around the big round table, found her card on the other side, and sat in her assigned spot. Suddenly the room fell silent again. Emma strained to see what was happening but the crowd was now standing and blocked her view.
"And here is our Prom King, Brent Forrester," called out the Emcee. "Please, everyone remain in your seats. There will be plenty of time to visit after dinner."
Brent was directed over to the table where Emma sat across from him. His hair had greyed some, but he was still as handsome as she remembered. His eyes caught hers and lit up. From then on the meal was a frenzy of small talk as people beside each other tried to catch up on the past fifty years. Emma endeavored to see if Brent was wearing a wedding ring, but the centerpiece and bowls of food kept his hand out of sight.
"We hope you are all having a good time. And now it's time for the dance portion of our evening. Can we have our Prom King and Queen come to the center of the floor to start off the first dance?" announced the Emcee.
Brent reached out to take Emma's hand, and she realized she still had her wedding ring on. Brent drew her into his embrace and Emma had that sense of familiarity that brought back her fondest memories of dancing with him all those years ago. He put his cheek on hers as they swayed to the music. The scent of her lavender perfume filled his senses and flooded his soul with remembrances of their past love.
"Tell me about your life for the past fifty years, Brent. What happened to you after I moved to my Aunt's house?" asked Emma.
"Well, my Dad enlisted me in the army, and I served there for four years. Then I took some training and became a doctor. I have a family practice only a half-hour from here in Oxford County. I'd like to retire soon, but I'm not sure I'm ready yet. What about you? What happened to you after…" Brent felt a tap on his shoulder.
"May I cut in?" asked Tom Bennett. "You can't hog the prettiest girl in the class all to yourself."
"Well, we just got started…." said Brent, as Tom swept Emma into his arms and across the dance floor. And so it went on as song after song played and dance partner after dance partner changed for the next hour.
"Attention please…we will have a short break now to take a few minutes to visit and have some refreshments before we start the final dance portion of the night. Enjoy yourselves!" said the Emcee.
Brent headed over to the drinks table and scooped out two cups of punch. He brought one over to Emma and said, "Finally, we get a few minutes to talk. So, what about you? Did you marry and have a family?"
"Yes – my husband…." Just then Mary Barnes swooped in and put her arm in Brent's and said, "Hey, here's the guy I've wanted to talk to all night long. Come over here with me. I've got something to tell you." Brent had no say in the matter. When Mary Barnes wants something, she gets it, and she wanted Brent. Mary dragged him outside where she could batt her eyes at him and smile that fake, sweet smile that used to win over many hearts in high school.
"OK, class, we will resume the dance now. We'll start off with a "lady's choice."
Mary grabbed Brent's arm and said, "You're my choice – let's go!" Mary led Brent around the room feigning mutual admiration as she stared into Brent's eyes. Brent waited until the song was over, then courteously excused himself, saying that he needed the men's room. Secretly, he was relieved to be out of Mary's clutches.
On the way to the restroom, he spotted Emma sitting alone at the dinner table. He went over and sat in the chair beside her.
"It's been a challenge to have time to talk with you tonight. It seems like we keep getting interrupted. I think you were about to tell me about your husband."
"Yes," said Emma, "I was going to tell you that my husband…" At that moment, Brent's phone rang. He quickly checked who it might be and then said, "I'm sorry Emma. I have to take this call. It's an important one."
Brent went outside to take his call. "I see. I'll be right there."
Mickey O'Toole walked by, and Brent said, "Mickey…I've got an emergency at the hospital. I shouldn't be too long. Please, will you go tell Emma that I had to leave? Tell her that I will meet her here later. Don't forget!"
"I won't," said Mickey.
Mickey entered the gymnasium and was immediately snagged by Mary Barnes. "Mickey, you old dog…I haven't seen you in years. Tell me, what have you been doing all this time?" Mickey had no chance of escape. Mary yanked him outside and talked his ear off for the rest of the night.
Emma sat patiently waiting for half an hour. An hour. Another hour. Finally, the announcement came, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are about to have the last dance. Thank you for coming, and we look forward to seeing you in another five years for our fifty-fifth reunion!"
Ben Tucker approached Emma. "May I have this dance, Miss Emma?"
"Yes, you may," said Emma, her superficial smile belying the gloominess in her heart.
The dance was done. The night was over. Emma glanced around one last time to see if Brent was there somewhere. Mickey spotted Emma and swiftly crossed the auditorium.
"Emma, I'm so sorry. Brent left a while ago. He told me to tell you that there was an emergency at the hospital." Mickey neglected to say that Brent was planning to come back to meet her.
Emma stepped out into the parking lot and got into Mariss's car. "Why the sad face? Did anything go wrong?"
"Yes. Brent did come tonight, but we didn’t get to talk to each other very much. He thinks I'm still married, and then he got called away to the hospital for an emergency. I guess it's just fate. I guess we weren't meant to be together. I'm sure that after all these years he probably got married too."
"Well, never you mind. We'll go home, and I'll make you a nice cup of tea, and we'll sit for a while."
Mariss pulled into the driveway of their old childhood house that they grew up in.
"You go on in Mariss. I think I'd like to just sit out on the porch for a bit by myself if you don't mind."
"That's fine. I'll bring some tea out for you later."
Emma sat staring out at the moon and wondered what she would do with her life now. She had always wanted to travel but was never one to enjoy doing it alone. I suppose I could sign up for some volunteer work at the nursing home, she thought. It wasn't something she longed to do, but it would keep her busy and less lonely. Just then a car pulled up slowly and stopped in front of the house. A man got out and walked towards the porch.
"Is that you, Emma?"
"Brent? How did you know I'd be here?"
"I didn't," he said. "I just thought I'd take a chance and see if your family still owned the old house."
"I'm so glad that you came back. I didn't think I'd get to see you again and there is something that I didn't get to tell you.”
Brent sat on the swing beside Emma.
"You see, I did have a husband, but he passed away six years ago. He was a good man, but I have to say that it was not the same kind of love that I had for you. I was torn away from you because we were too young, but that never took away the deep feelings for you that always stayed in my heart."
"I'm sorry for your loss, Emma. I found out that your husband passed away because Mary Barnes told me the life histories of pretty well everyone in the class. I have some things that I want to tell you too. I never married. I came close once, but I couldn't do it. No one could ever hold my heart as you did." Brent leaned toward Emma until their lips almost met.
Something rustled in the bushes. “Who’s there?” asked Emma.
“It’s me,” said Mickey, edging his way up onto the porch. “I’ve sat on the sidelines for you all of my life Emma. But no more.”
Mickey pulled a handgun out of his coat pocket and pointed it at Brent.
“NO, Mickey!!” shouted Emma. “Don’t do it!”
“It’s no use, Emma. If I can’t have you nobody will.”
Brent knew that he wasn’t positioned to stop Mickey. He looked at Emma and spoke his last words, “I love you, Emma. I always will.”
Mickey pulled back the hammer and put his shaky finger on the trigger, now aimed at Brent’s head.
“Here’s your tea,” chirped Mariss as she flung open the wooden screen door, bashing Mickey on the back of his head.
The gun fired up into the porch roof and Brent bolted off the swing. Grabbing Mickey’s hand, Brent wrestled the gun free and threw it into the bushes.
Mickey broke loose and ran into the back field.
Brent said, “Let him go. Mariss, please call the Sheriff.” Mariss went inside.
Brent sat beside Emma. “Are you alright?” he asked.
Emma, visibly shaken buried her head in Brent’s shoulder. “Oh Brent, I was so scared that I would lose you!”
“You’ll never lose me again. I love you now just as much as I did all those years ago. I want to marry you, Emma.”
Brent cupped Emma's face in his hands, tenderly kissing her soft lips.
Mariss opened the door and said, "The Sheriff is on his way. Here's your cup of…"
Brent looked over at Mariss, winked, and said, "Two's company and three's a crowd, Mariss.”
Mariss turned around and went back into the house muttering, "I still hate that saying…"