I never thought I’d bump into my old high school flame, Luke McDonald. Not in a million years. We’ve been out of school for years, both of us going our separate ways. I got married, had a daughter, got divorced…living the single mom life with my little girl in our cozy three bedroom duplex. I’m happy, not looking for love or even lust. As a matter-of-fact, I wasn’t really missing it.
Until, of course, I bumped into Luke.
It was on Valentine’s Day, of all days. At the local Target. At least it wasn’t at the local Hallmark. That would’ve been cliche. I had stopped in to pick up a card for my daughter, just a cute little something from mother to daughter with a box of her favorite Russell Stover candy. It was a tradition my own mother had started when I was a kid and I continued it. I planned on giving it to her on the way to her dad’s house so she had a little something from mom over the weekend.
My plans for that night were to go home, take the bottle of Prosecco I had chilling from the refrigerator and enjoy it in a long, hot bubble bath while listening to “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde” read by Richard Armitage. I mean, seriously, his voice is enough to send shivers down my spine. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day than that.
Apparently, Fate had another idea.
You see, Luke McDonald is “the one that got away.” We had dated all throughout high school, did homecoming and prom, took that Spring Break vacation together…all of it. Everyone thought for sure that we would be the ones that got married, had 2.5 kids together and live our lives in a way that most people can only dream of. I didn’t realize how much I missed him until I bumped into him in Target.
How did I lose Luke in the first place? It wasn’t really even through any fault of my own. He made a bad choice and wound up in jail. And I’m not talking about the local lockup. I was there with him throughout that. It was when he was sent away to the federal pen on a vehicular manslaughter charge. He was three states away with limited communication. The letters got less and less on both sides and the world kept turning. I moved on and went to college. He got out after four years and went to work on the pipeline.
So imagine my surprise when, while looking at Valentine’s Day cards, this leather jacket-clad arm reached around me to pluck a card free from the selection and simply hold it out to me. I reached out and grabbed the envelope that went with the card and turned to hand it to him. “I don’t need that car…”
I felt like I had been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer. I knew those blue eyes, the freckles across the bridge of the nose, the very kissable lips that were now surrounded by a mustache and well-trimmed beard. His curly brown hair fell past his shoulders and he had definitely benefited from the time in jail and on the pipeline. He wasn’t the skinny, athletic boy I had dated.
“Hey Charlie,” he said, his baritone soft, like a purr.
I’d be lying if I said that just hearing those two words didn’t make me a bit…wiggly. I watched as he set the car back in the rack, tucking his hand back in his tight blue jeans. “Hey Luke,” I finally managed to breathe. “When…when did you get back into town?”
I’m 33 years old and suddenly feel like I’m 18 again. Especially when he smiled at me. Oh lord, I forget the wattage behind that smile.
“A couple of days ago. I’m staying with dad. I…uh…saw you over here and I…” He paused, running the fingers of his left hand through his hand. Is it sad that I looked for a ring or the impression of a ring? There was none, by the way. “…I, uh, thought I’d come say hello.” He tucked his hand back into his jeans. “How have you been?”
I nodded. “Good. I’ve been good.” I put my daughter’s card in the basket I had hooked on my left arm. “Living here in town, got a duplex about a mile from your dad’s place. Me and my daughter.”
His eyebrows went up at that. “A daughter? Yeah, I heard you got married, but I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
“Yeah, she’s seven. She keeps me going.” I couldn’t stop smiling at him. “You?”
Luke laughed, a combination of warm chuckle and deep throat purr. “Single and starting a new job on Monday.”
“Really? Single here too.” Oh god, why did I just say that? I felt the heat flush my face. “Wow, that did not come out the way I planned on it.” I felt the phone vibrate in my pocket. I pulled it free and hit answer. “Hey pumpkin, how are you?” I grinned at Luke and nodded as I listened to her ramble on about her day. “Daddy picked you up? Yes, I saw his text.” No, I hadn’t seen his text, but my ex was good at letting me know if he was going to do something like picking her up. “I know, it’s not often he gets off early on a Friday. Okay. I will see you Sunday night then. I love you. Call me tomorrow. Okay. Bye.”
Luke shifted from one foot to another, waiting until I was off the call and had checked to see if my ex had actually sent me a text…which he did. So no harm no foul. “Sorry about that. It seems my afternoon is suddenly freed up,” I stated.
“Yeah?” He chewed his lower lip for a moment. “So, why don’t we go get a cup of coffee? Catch up?” he suggested softly. “This probably sounds stupid, but I’ve missed you.”
I don’t know what made me say it, except that maybe, for the first time in years, I felt the excitement. “Instead of coffee, why don’t…why don’t you let me make you dinner? You can tell me all about the new job and what’s been going on in your life without having to worry about some barista wanting the table.”
Luke tucked his tongue into the side of his mouth. It was one of those things that made my heart flutter simply because his eyes were dancing with mischief when he did, even now. “I like my steaks medium rare. And my tea sweet,” he replied, moving to stand a little closer to me. He wasn’t much taller than me, so it was easy to meet his gaze and feel his breath on my cheek. “See you around seven?” he asked.
“Yeah. Seven,” I managed to answer. He took me by surprise when he leaned in to steal a soft kiss before winking at me cheekily and slipping past me.
“What’s the address, Charlie?” he called, grinning at me as he walked backward.
I hurried to catch up with him, pulling a pen from my purse. I grabbed his hand and wrote it on his palm. “Memorize it. And don’t be late.” I watched him walk away and waited for a few moments, letting my heart return to a near normal pace. I looked at my watch. It was four o’clock. I needed to get my butt in gear before he showed up for dinner.
Needless to say, the bath with the wine and the audiobook read by Richard Armitage didn’t happen. What did happen? Well, let’s just say “the one that got away” came back. Dinner was great, conversation on the couch was even better, and the kiss goodnight?
“I had a great time, Charlie.” He handed me his phone. “Coffee tomorrow?”
I smiled. “Yeah.” I put my number in his phone and texted myself. “Call me tomorrow and we’ll meet up.” I gave him his phone back.
Luke tucked it in the pocket of his jacket. He reached out with both hands, cupping my face and lowering his lips to mine for a proper goodbye kiss. It was soft, passionate, yearning, and left me breathless. “Sweet dreams,” he whispered, leaning his forehead to mine for a moment before slipping out the door. I watched him zip up his jacket, tuck his hands in his pockets and walk towards the road to head home.
Six months later, Luke and I are still making up for lost time. He adores my daughter, gets along with my ex as far as any current flame and ex ever get along and is getting his life back. And giving me my life back. I used to stop and wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t decided to go into that Target to get my daughter a card and chocolate. I stopped wondering.
Copyright 2018 Beth A. Freely