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Sweat dribbled, dripped, and settled in all the places sweat does on days as hot as this.  It was especially hot -- even for a July day in the South.  Not all the dampness was from the heat -- some was simply nerves.  Here is where Brandon said to meet -- the old abandoned park on Twilight Terrace.

Jessica had been here probably a hundred times or more -- when she was a child.  The swings still stood -- though now, the worn leather strap seats dangled from only one chain -- clinking, creaking in the slight breeze that stirred her from her ambling journey down memory lane.  The merry-go-round and the old metal slide were gone. There was the park bench where they had carved their initials so long ago.  Still standing.  She walked over and traced the initials -- worn with time and years, but fresh as yesterday in her memory.  The kisses they’d shared on this bench. . . the plans they had made. . . the dreams they had dreamed. . . . “Why here?” she thought.  “Why now?” . . . . “After all this time?” She wandered along a short path that had been grass back in the day -- now it was covered with gravel.  She walked to a covered area where they used to eat lunch together.  Many burgers and fries had been eaten under its shade.  And oh, the chocolate milkshakes from Penny for Your Thoughts -- the local dive.  Guy Fieri should try their chocolate shakes!  They were rich and creamy -- thick, but not so thick that you would suck your brains out trying to drink them.  They were topped with hand-whipped cream, chocolate shavings and the best maraschino cherry ever!  They always got one shake with two straws.  It might sound cheesy, but it was perfect.  Their time as childhood friends, classmates, and eventually -- high school sweethearts seemed so long ago and yet, they felt like yesterday.   The smells, the tastes, the feelings. . . she had put Brandon’s memory away when he stood her up at the graduation party her family was hosting.  She had neither seen, nor heard from him, since that night.  The night he had abandoned her and broken her heart -- without a phone call, without an explanation.  He had not been seen around town since and she had assumed it was because of her.

Did it matter that she still could call up at will the smell of his aftershave -- spicy and manly?  Did it matter that she still remembered his eyes -- the blue of the ocean after a storm?  Did it matter that she still had the box of letters and memorabilia they had shared?

The butterflies in her stomach fluttered all the more with her thoughts.  The creak of the swings jolted her nerves even more as she glanced at her phone.  Again, she wondered why he wanted to see her.

Brandon was second-guessing his decision to call Jessica after all this time.  He knew enough to know he had broken her heart when he had abruptly left town instead of attending her graduation party, especially leaving her without a date for her own party. The shame came rushing back with the thoughts.  Shame he had pushed back for many years.

Brandon knew if he was going to get her to listen, here was the place.  They had so many memories here.  Him -- pushing her on the swing.  Her -- laughing her gusty, gutsy laugh as she flew high in the sky and sailed back down.  Them -- passionately making out on the merry-go-round after dark when the park was technically closed -- delirium multiplied from spinning and passion and youth and LOVE.  

Then, in that night, his life changed.  Shame begat shame and he knew nothing to do but run away. And stay away.  

Gary showed up at graduation.  Gary, his biological father.   The one who had deserted him and his mom before he was even born.  The sleazebag, jerky sperm donor who had left his kid and the woman he supposedly loved and left them to fend on their own.  Gary showed up and Brandon freaked out.  No one knew about Gary and he didn’t WANT anyone to know about Gary.  He hadn’t invited him and wasn’t sure how he had found out.  Last he knew, Gary had been in jail.  Before that, he had been living homeless on the street. Gary had been Brandon’s best-kept secret, and when he showed up at graduation, he panicked.  He didn’t want to have to deal with Gary, but more than that, he didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with Gary -- and he certainly didn’t want to have to explain the who, the what, the why, the how questions that came along with Gary encounters.  He didn’t want to be judged by Gary’s actions or any association with him. Not that he had any “association” with him.  He had rarely communicated with Brandon or his mom. They caught newspaper references sometimes when he was heading to jail or glimpses of him when he was homeless.  Otherwise, there had been no communication since he was a baby. So, that night Gary showed up and Brandon left town.  He left out of panic and stayed away out of shame.  

Brandon loved Jessica.  He always had.  He always would.  For so long, he had thought he was doing the right thing by staying away.  He had thought it was smarter, kinder, more reasonable to stay away.  The more years passed, the more he thought of her.  She became the pulse that throbbed in all the sensitive places of his body.  The blood that carried life to brain and lungs and heart.   She became his waking thought and the visions of his dreams. With every year that passed, he knew more and more that he had been wrong for leaving -- WRONG!  And yet, fixing it seemed insurmountable.   He wasn’t sure where to begin.  He wasn’t sure if she would even talk to him., but he knew he had to try or she was going to haunt his every moment for the rest of his life.

He did know she wasn’t married.  He did know she had come back home.  So, he got a number, got an address, and got a plan.

He held a single purple rose as he walked into the park.  His heart was beating so fast he marveled that nobody could see it.  Then, he realized there was no one to see.  No one was here -- except him -- and Jessica -- and all the years of holes between them.  Holes to fill.  Wounds to heal.  Trust to rebuild.  Love to lavish.

Jessica felt him before she saw him.  She dare not turn.  She didn’t trust herself.  The butterflies in her belly would betray her if she turned.  She realized she was holding her breath and willed herself to breathe -- calmly, deeply.  And then she heard him speak her name.  How long since she had heard his voice?!  How long since he had said her name?!

“Jessica, I have so much to explain.  I’m so sorry. . . . “

Then she turned.  There would be questions.  There would be answers.  There would be tears and apologies.  There would be understanding and love -- later. . . .

But for now, he smiled and all the questions melted away in the moment -- as did the years.  Memories tripped over each other as they raced through her mind.

His eyes were the same stormy blue -- and was that the same aftershave?!

For now, the only question left was, “WHY?” 


July 25, 2020 02:41

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Seasi Bergultz
02:52 Jul 30, 2020

I was left wanting more, in a good way. I was definitely more drawn to Brandon than to Jessica. I want to know why he was so ashamed, why his best friend, school mate, and high school sweetheart didn’t know about his fear or embarrassment/shame when it comes to his father, it leaves me wandering who Brandon has that he truly trusts with knowing him fully. Good job, Tonnye!


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