8 comments

Friendship Romance Inspirational

Ray thought ‘fanciful’ would impress Willow for their first date. Set up by a friend, they’d only spoken by phone. Once in the restaurant, he reconsidered. Willow was visibly uncomfortable in the whimsical surroundings. Playing it safe would have been better strategy. The waiter dressed as the Mad Hatter took it too far.

Unless the trajectory made a radical shift, it would be their last date. Though they raced through dinner, neither had other plans.

Presenting their best faces, and keeping vulnerabilities well disguised, they became caricatures of themselves. Skirting specifics and anything too real, they recited vague attributes at each other. Someone observing might think they watched a job interview. But no one was hiring.

Ray wondered, ‘Why must restaurants play discordant music?’ But noticing Willow drumming her fingers to the beat, he kept silent. ‘Blends with the sound of cutlery on plates.

Hopes and dreams remained unstated. They discussed the weather. Without humor they addressed the complex nuances of the wine. Neither bought the other’s lingo. She sipped often. He gulped with gusto.

Never an athlete, Ray cited obscure stats of his favorite baseball players.

Willow waxed poetic about her favorite designers whom she did not wear. Keeping a low profile, her style remained securely behind the wave.

She puzzled over getting paired with Ray. ‘Who introduced us? Who’s to blame?’ He missed his TV shows. As the meal limped to a close, they each calculated the minutes endured.

Who did I spend these hours with?’

‘Can I get a refund for lost time?’

Ray knew never to hold high expectations for a first date. At this point, he only expected to get home early and alone.

The waiter approached, giggled and bowed slightly. “I hope everything met with your satisfaction…?”

Ray nodded. Willow cooed.

A sweeping gesture revealed a menu from nowhere. “May I entice you with one of our scrumptious desserts?”

“No!”

The waiter cringed. Willow thought he might cry.

Ray dialed it back. “And no coffee. Everything’s perfect. Just the check… please.”

He paid the bill, helped Willow with her jacket, and they left as if late for an appointment.

Willow said, “The food was good.”

“Delicious.” He looked at his watch. “I had no idea how late it is.”

“Long day…”

They walked in silence.

Music drew their attention. A busker played fiddle music to a small gathering from a gazebo in the park. They drifted over and stood amongst a dozen others, not touching, lost in thought. The song captured them.

The busker played his fiddle as if born to it. He’d obviously been classically trained. The song that drew them, ‘Should I Ever Forget,’ was immensely popular a decade ago. The haunting melody carried the lyrics of yearning for a past love. The ironic words described a love never forgotten, but remembered hazily with lines like,

I sink into your dark, sad eyes,

Brightest blue as the bluest skies.

A hit, ‘Should I Ever Forget,’ remained in the top ten for almost a year. Parody versions popped up. Social media sites debated whether the song parodied itself. It continued to land in top 10 lists of favorite ear worms, a decade later.

Everyone knew the words and sang along. The fiddler improvised and even veered briefly into the 50s classic, ‘I Remember You.’ Circling back into the melody, he ended with a flourish. Everyone cheered. He bowed modestly. People dropped paper money into his violin case.

The others dispersed leaving Ray and Willow preoccupied by their thoughts. Hoping for one last tip, the busker packed his gear slowly. But Ray and Willow appeared unaware even of each other. Finally, slinging his violin case over his shoulder, the busker mounted his bicycle and wheeled away.

The ‘ching, ching’ of his bike bell snapped Ray back to the present. He wondered, ‘How long have we stood alone in this deserted place?’

He touched Willow’s elbow and she gave him a blank look. “Wow! I’m sorry, Willow. I don’t know what happened. That song took me someplace…”

“Me too.”

“Really?”

“Isn’t everyone taken by that song?”

As one, they sang the chorus,

Should I ever forget you,

Know I always keep the key, love,

Locked within a crystal box,

Or under the deep blue sea.

Ray looked at her as if for the first time. “Nice harmony there, Willow.”

“Thanks. Where did it take you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Shouldn’t talk about past loves on a first date. Maybe we…”

Her look said, ‘Could it get worse?’ She smiled. “What do you have to lose?”

Trapped!’ He bought time with a chuckle. “Okay… Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

His eyes lit up as he described his first love, Teresa, from back in Chicago. He would have done anything for her.

“The pop stations played that song non-stop. We sang it for fun. Our song, you know? Then, going to pick her up for our first anniversary, my train derailed.”

Willow gasped.

“Shaken but not hurt, I tried to make sense of things. The car looked like a horror show. My first thought was ‘get out.’ Making my way I saw movement and helped someone. I got them out and went back.”

Blinking back tears, he looked at Willow. She nodded encouragement.

“I can’t explain how I knew who needed help. Some bodies lay still. A mist or vapor rose over them and lingered. I went to the others, even if they weren’t moving. One by one, I got as many out as I could.”

“Wow! I read about that.”

“But I was late for Teresa. Furious, she wouldn’t believe I’d been in the train wreck.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I should have called, but got distracted.”

“You think?” They laughed.

“The clincher came with a picture in the paper of me with a woman. One of my rescues. I don’t remember anyone taking pictures. But, there I stood with this smiling woman. Arms around each other. Me holding her up. Teresa had a fit.”

Willow said, “Caught in the act…” He cracked up.

“Yeah, it went downhill from there. That song played everywhere back then. Hearing it tonight brought me right back.” He snapped his fingers. “Like a time machine…”

“Can see why…”

“Where’d the song take you?”

Willow pondered explaining what she didn’t understand.

“A different sort of train wreck. Nothing so dramatic… I’m the one who got away.”

“The one…?”

“I’ve been proposed to by almost every man I ever met.”

“Wow…”

“And I said ‘no’ to everyone.”

“Amazing…”

“One guy claimed he loved me before he knew my last name.”

Ray sang from the busker’s song, “Nothing will douse that unwavering flame.

If only I could recall your name…”

“Don’t even start. It’s a slippery slope, down from which many never returned.”

Ray nodded.

Willow continued, “Since then, princes, jugglers, thieves, plumbers… it could be a song.”

“It already is…”

She clapped. “Right! That’s how we got here…”

“A lot of baggage for one song.”

“Of course. That busker took me straight back to that first proposal. My first love. We were friends. He knew me. Better than I knew myself. We had fun. I didn’t want to lose that.”

“Getting married doesn’t mean losing the friendship. That’s supposed to be the most imp…”

“How could I give up an identity I didn’t own?”

“You don’t give up your identity. The name change is archaic but…”

“It isn’t about the name, Ray. Guys never get it.”

“Okay… I get that I don’t get it.”

They sensed the quiet street. It felt peaceful.

Ray felt closer. “But if you loved him… Maybe it’s not too late.”

Willow scoffed. “Ten years, Ray… He moved on. Nothing’s the same. I’m not.”

“What if he rephrased the question…?”

“Ray! Stop!” He stepped back. She gave him a hard look. “No one knows what I told you. No one.”

He nodded. “Likewise.”

Everything felt different. They stood on the dark street. No traffic. No one had passed. What changed?

“Look around, Willow.” She glanced about and shrugged. “You see what’s happening?” She looked bewildered. “We’re different. Not like at the restaurant.”

She began to see it. “Yeah?”

“Here we stand. Just us two. No busker. No waiter…” He spun around and began to laugh. “That song took us far away.”

Willow slowly nodded. “This is real?”

They giggled at each other. Ray took her hand and moved in a slow dance. She moved a little, but stopped to dab her eyes with a tissue.

“I’m sorry…” She tucked it into her sleeve.

“Not a problem.” He reached out. “May I…? The tissue.”

“It’s my last one. I don’t…”

“It’s okay. Please?”

Embarrassed, she handed him the tear dampened clump. He gently dabbed his eyes and smiled at Willow. She looked shocked.

Bursting into tears she lunged into his embrace. They held each other until their sobs quieted. Ray kissed the top of her head.

“Willow, I have a question for you.”

She recoiled in horror.

Ray made a calming gesture. “No. Not that. This is more to the point.” Willow nodded tentatively. “Here goes… I forget. Did we have dinner? Do I owe you one? A real one?”

She looked at the sidewalk, nodded and smiled at him. “We did. It sucked. Yes, you do.”

Laughing, they hugged again. He began to hum and they swayed in rhythm.

They sang the chorus to ‘Should I Ever Forget.’

“Should I ever forget you,

Know I always keep the key, love,

Locked within a crystal box,

Or under the deep blue sea.

They smiled, hugged and kissed.

She said, “Great song…”

“Love the harmony!”                 

Willow curtsied.

Ray pointed to a café a block down. “Let’s…”

Laughing, arm in arm, they walked to it and talked all night.

October 04, 2023 23:01

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

8 comments

Amanda Lieser
04:18 Oct 15, 2023

Hi John! Oh, what a wonderful story! I absolutely love a good love story and I was enamored with this one because your characters felt so very modern while also holding onto hopeful old fashion ideals. I appreciated that the initial date was not what either character was truly looking for, but they found a partner in each other that was open to giving a chance to love. You conveyed all of the emotions of a first date so beautifully-anxiety, fear hope and eventual comfort. Nice work!!

Reply

John K Adams
04:42 Oct 15, 2023

Thanks, Amanda! I love it when you find my stories and comment on them. This was a fun one to write and I'm glad it worked for you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Alex Nicholls
07:05 Oct 12, 2023

Loved this! Your writing style is alluring. Willow always being proposed to was an interesting detail, and her recoiling in horror when Ray had a question made me chuckle, haha!

Reply

John K Adams
13:56 Oct 12, 2023

Thanks, Alex, I always love getting feedback on what works and what doesn't. Glad you enjoyed the story.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
16:57 Oct 05, 2023

Such a charming story. Much hope and promise after a disasterous start.🫂

Reply

John K Adams
17:22 Oct 05, 2023

Thank you, Mary! I'm glad you read it and liked it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Bonnie Clarkson
21:50 Nov 08, 2023

you are a versatile writer.

Reply

John K Adams
23:40 Nov 08, 2023

Thanks, Bonnie!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply