tagRomanceTwo Years Later

Two Years Later

byJoeDreamer©

"Happy graduation Neil!" my mother said with a loving smile as she hugged me. It was hot out and the gown I was wearing didn't help. Thankfully, the cap was gone. I'd thrown it as far away from me as possible when the university president closed the ceremony. Hundreds of them flew as other students did the same.

"Congratulations my son," dad added with a proud smile. He pulled me into one of his bear hugs. I squeezed back as I thought about my four years away from home. College had been fun, but honestly, I was looking forward to getting on with my life, particularly one aspect of it.

"Your brother and sisters are so proud of you," mom said as dad and I broke apart. "They'll all be over for dinner with their families when you get home this weekend."

"I can't wait," I smiled, pulling off my gown and handing it to mom. My family was the loud obnoxious kind. This weekend should be interesting to say the least, but I had something to do first.

Mom and dad insisted on taking me out to dinner. It was enjoyable, but difficult to sit through. I wanted to be on the road. Hell, I needed to be, but I couldn't hurt them like that. Thankfully, the meal finally ended.

"Thanks," I smiled as we walked out of the restaurant. "That was delicious." Mom slowed down at we moved toward the car. I knew what that meant. I slowed as well, letting dad walk ahead.

"Neil, are you okay?" mom said softly. "You seemed preoccupied the whole meal."

"Mom, I'm good. Really," I smiled, letting her know that it was true. "I've just been waiting for this day a long time." She looked into my eyes long and hard before finally nodding.

We caught up to dad a few seconds later. I walked mom to her side of the car and opened the door for her. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and got in. I shut the door and she opened the window as I pulled my knapsack out of the back seat.

"I'll see you both this weekend," I offered, but one look at dad and I knew escaping wasn't going to be that simple.

"Are you sure you don't want to come home with us now?" he asked with a frown. "I mean, you're already packed up. We're taking the last of your stuff home with us. Where are you going to sleep?"

"Dad, there's something I want to do first. I've got some clothes in my knapsack and enough money for a hotel if necessary," I answered. "Don't worry. I'll be home this weekend. I hope that's okay with you guys?"

"That's fine. I'm making all of your favorites for dinner when you get home so make sure to bring your appetite," mom interjected before my dad could speak. He clearly would have preferred to know more of what was going on, but I wasn't willing to tell them. We weren't a family that typically kept secrets from each other, but this was just too weird to share. I'd made a promise to myself a little over two years ago and I intended to keep it, but that didn't mean I had to let everyone know of my lunacy.

"Thanks mom," I said. She winked. Mom didn't have any idea what I was planning on doing, but she could tell it was important to me. That was enough for her.

"We'll see you this weekend," dad said in surrender. "Don't be late."

"I won't," I laughed, giving mom one last hug and kiss through the window. Dad reached over and squeezed my shoulder as I leaned in. I stood there afterward and watched their car as they finally drove away. I loved my parents, but I couldn't help sigh with relief once they were gone.

Fifteen minutes later I was at the bus depot boarding one to a city ten or eleven hours away. I knew it was crazy, but so be it. Olivia was worth it. She wasn't expecting me and might not be particularly thrilled to see me. After all, I hadn't seen her in over two years.

Yep, this was definitely crazy, but I had to at least try.

********

The bus pulled into the depot at around six in the morning. Thankfully, I'd slept the last few hours of the trip. I got off and took a deep breath of clean, fresh air. It felt great after being on the bus so long. Thankfully, there was a cab stand with cars waiting. I got in one and gave them the name of where I wanted to go. Twenty minutes later I was standing on the curb facing the largest hospital in the city. I'd heard it was one of the best in the country. I walked in with more than a little trepidation.

"Good morning," I said with a smile at the information desk. "I'm looking for Doctor Olivia O'Mara. I believe that she's the Chief of Residents here."

Olivia and I hadn't kept in touch by her request, but that didn't mean I didn't keep tabs on her over the years. Don't get me wrong. I'd lived my life and had my fun. Hell, I'd even gotten serious with a girl or two, but in the end I always broke up with them because there was something about Olivia that stayed with me. I needed to see her to see if it was something real or just some fond memories blown out of proportion.

It took a bit of effort to find out that Olivia was working today, but that she wasn't scheduled to arrive for a couple of hours. I went to the cafeteria because I figured it was a good place to wait. I bought eggs, an English muffin and a cup of coffee despite not really being hungry. I should have been after the long bus ride, but I guess my nerves were getting to me.

I was just finishing my coffee when I saw her. Olivia was paying for her tray of food and talking to two women behind her. They were clearly friends. I wasn't really surprised to see her arrive at work early. It fit her personality.

I sat frozen for a few moments taking the sight of her in. She was in a white lab coat. It looked good on her. Olivia was a tall, thin strawberry blond with pale, freckled skin. She wasn't particularly curvy though she had a nice body. I felt my heart beat speed up as I looked at her.

Olivia had soft brown eyes that were twinkling as she laughed at something one of her friends said. I swallowed with some difficulty as I watched her and then shook my head and smiled. Whatever it was between us was still there. I felt it just looking at her. The question was would she feel it as well? There was only one way to find out.

I started to stand to make my way over when she glanced my way. There was an instant recognition, but no reaction. I had no idea how to take that. For a moment I thought she was going to ignore me and act like she didn't know who I was, but then she said something to her friends and walked toward me. Her friends gave me the once over before moving to a table and sitting.

"Hello Neil," Olivia said as she stopped at my table still holding her tray. Her left hand was visible and I didn't quite smile in relief when I saw that she wasn't wearing any rings, but it was a close thing. "I can't believe we're bumping into each other here after all this time. I hope everything is okay." I couldn't tell if she was happy to see me or not. Frankly, the moment was more than a little awkward, but I refused to let it stop me from doing what I came here to do.

"Hello Olivia. Everything is fine." I smiled as I stood. "It's good to see you." I followed that by kissing her cheek. I wanted to kiss her lips and probably would have, but this was her place of work and her friends were watching. Besides, I wasn't sure how she would take it. I'd never kissed her before.

That didn't mean I didn't react. My lips touched her cheek and it was electric. I could smell her perfume and it brought back so many memories.

"Are you here visiting a friend?" she said as I stepped back. Her cheeks were flushed ever so slightly. I saw her reaction and relaxed. She still felt it, that magical thing that seemed to tie us together from the first moment we met. Of course, I was certain she was denying it to herself, but that was okay. I'd deal with that soon enough.

"Yes," I replied, sitting back down and pointing to the chair opposite me. "You."

"Me?" she frowned as she sat. "After all this time, why?"

"I graduated college yesterday and jumped on a bus as soon as I could," I answered, waiting to see if she would remember our last conversation and put two and two together.

"You graduated yesterday," she repeated, trying to absorb my meaning. She then added as an afterthought, "Congratulations."

"Thanks," I said, watching her reaction carefully. Olivia was clearly stunned by my revelation, but not unhappily so. At least, I didn't think so.

"I don't understand," she said slowly. "Why visit me?" It was a fair question, but looking into her eyes I knew that she already knew the answer, even if she didn't want to admit it.

"Sure you do," I argued gently. "It's just freaking you out." Our eyes locked for a few moments before she blushed and looked away.

"You can't be serious," she said, shaking her head, still not quite believing. "We haven't even talked in three years and suddenly you appear out of nowhere."

"That was the deal we made before we parted," I shrugged. "And it's been two years, not three."

"You expect me to remember what was said that long ago?" Olivia asked, but despite that I thought she knew very well what I was talking about.

"Let me remind you," I offered. "We met my sophomore year of college. I was picking up some spending money by waiting tables at Micky's, a local restaurant that you liked and used as an escape when you needed to get away from your studies. You were in your last year of attending a Medical school on the other side of town from my college. The restaurant was in the middle of town."

"We spent the first semester that year doing some harmless flirting whenever you stopped in. That lasted until we got to talking more seriously one rainy day when I was just coming off shift and you arrived soaked to the gills."

"That I remember," she admitted. "It was the end of January and just above freezing enough for it to be rain and not snow. My coat and shirt were saturated from the downpour and I was literally shivering. You took one look at me and pulled off the sweat-shirt you were wearing. You handed it to me without a word."

"You know, I never did get that sweatshirt back," I joked. Olivia rolled her eyes in that way that always made me smile before continuing.

"I went to the restroom to get changed and by the time I returned you were sitting at my usual table with a bowl of Micky's famous soup waiting for me. As you said earlier, we got to talking. We both enjoyed the conversation so much that we ordered some appetizers and continued as we waited for the worst of the storm to blow over."

"We became friends of a sort after that," I smiled. "Occasionally you'd arrive around when I was getting off work and I'd sit with you. Toward the end of the school year our impromptu meals started happening more regularly. We would spend hours talking a couple of times a week."

"And then out of the blue, you ruined it all by asked me out," she interjected. "I remember that too."

"It seemed like the thing to do," I shrugged. "After all, we got along so well. Frankly, I knew more about you from our conversations then I ever knew about the girls I dated."

"I did share an awful lot with you about my life," she admitted. "But you were always a good listener."

"You too," I smiled, remember just how much about myself I told her.

"I was surprised by how much I missed our conversations afterward," she added, causing my smile to disappear.

"You know, they didn't have to end so abruptly," I said, shaking my head slightly. "All I did was ask you out and you pretty much freaked. You could have just said no."

"Please!" she retorted. "First of all, you were all of nineteen and I was twenty five. There were six years between us."

"You just turned twenty-five and I was a couple of weeks away from twenty," I argued. "That's five years, not six."

"Same difference," she shrugged. "Besides, it was more than just the gap in our ages. You had two more years of being an undergraduate. I was done with medical school and moving here for my residency."

"That was the reason you gave me on why we couldn't date, but that didn't mean we couldn't still talk." I was leaning on the table, trying to meet her eyes, but she refused to meet my gaze. Something was wrong, but that didn't stop me from taking her hands in mine and continuing. "You insisted that we stop meeting because it would only make things more difficult in an already complicated situation."

"Exactly!" she interjected.

"And I agreed to let you be," I said, finally catching her eyes in mine. "Until I was done with school. We'll, I'm finally done."

"Neil, this is crazy!" Olivia let go of my hand, looked away and pushed her chair back from the table. I was sure I was right about something being wrong. It was obvious by the way she was reacting, but I couldn't figure out what it was. I still felt the connection between us and despite how she was acting, I knew she could too. Why was she trying to deny it?

"You don't think I know that?" I asked, rubbing the slight bump on my nose. She saw and was obviously distracted by my action. I frowned and asked, "What?"

"Nothing," she replied, but then added, "You always do that when you get embarrassed. You rub near the bridge of your nose."

"Do I?" I asked, dropping my hand to the table. "Well, I guess I am a little embarrassed. I just traveled half a day by bus to find a girl I haven't seen in two years to tell her that despite the time, distance and insanity of it all, I still cared for her."

"I'm too old for you," she said as if that mattered.

"That was the excuse you used last time. It worked then, but not now," I insisted. "I'm done with school and I know what I want out of life, and I'd like you to be a part of it." She finally looked at me, but it was with an almost stunned silence for a few moments. I'm not really sure how I expected her to react, but it certainly wasn't what came next.

"I should have agreed to go out with you back then," she said rather bluntly. "Maybe if we had this wouldn't have happened."

"I don't agree," I argued. "In fact, I think that if we had gone out two years ago the only difference would be that we would have shared two more years of our lives." She looked at me and shook her head.

"I clearly made a mistake," she sighed. "If I'd only known at the time. I was so tempted when you asked me out despite all the reasons why it would have been a mistake."

"You were?" I asked, not bothering to hide my surprise. She didn't seem remotely interested at the time. Okay, maybe she was a little before I offered to take her out, but afterward? Certain not based on her reaction.

"Of course I was," she answered, sounding somewhat exasperated. "Neil, I think maybe you've put me on some sort of pedestal or something. I'm just a normal girl with the same desires and inclination as all the rest. You were good looking, easy to talk to and a good friend. What girl wouldn't be tempted? I didn't turn you down because I wasn't interested. I turned you down because I was convinced that it could only end badly."

"But this? This is worse," she added, shaking her head once more. "I should have gone out with you. We would have had our fling and you would have moved on."

"Fling?" I snorted. "I don't think so."

"Men!" she sighed. "Come on, admit it. You were twenty years old and in the middle of the 'college experience'. We would have slept together and that would have been the end of it."

"Pardon?" I asked. I heard her words, but they were just too much of a shock to accept at face value.

"I said, I should have slept with you," she repeated, knowing that was the part that had floored me. I couldn't even get her to give me a kiss two years ago and now she was telling me that she should have slept with me. "This way you could have gotten me out of your system and moved on."

"It's not a matter of moving on," I said honestly, tired of hearing her say that. "I don't think you really understand how I feel about you. I dated other girls these last couple of years, but none of them made me feel the same way you do. And by the way, although I kind of wish you'd slept with me too, sex really isn't the point here." Her eyes met mine once more and for a moment I thought she understood, but then she looked away.

"No, it isn't," she agreed, sounding even more serious than before. I swallowed with some difficulty. I had a feeling I knew what came next. "Neil, there's no easy way to tell you this. I should have mentioned it the moment I realized why you were here, but your appearance caught me completely off guard."

"We can talk might-have-beens all day, but the reality is that two years have passed and we're not the same people we were."

"Maybe not," I argued. "But what we shared, the conversation we had meant something. You can't deny that. And whatever this this is between us, I still feel it. So do you. All you need to do is admit it to yourself to give us a chance."

"Neil, I'm sorry," she said sadly. "But you're missing the point. I've changed. My circumstances have changed." She paused for the barest moment before clearly steeling herself to say what came next. "Neil, I'm engaged. He's a doctor here at the hospital."

"Oh," I said with surprising calm. I was heartbroken by the news, but I guess a part of me expected it by this point. "You weren't wearing a ring so I just assumed."

"I don't wear it when I work," she explained. "It gets in the way."

I didn't realize I was rubbing the bump on my nose again until I saw her watching me. Well, it's not like I didn't have a reason for my embarrassment. I'd traveled God knows how many miles to pour my heart out to a woman for whom I was at best a fond memory.

"I'm sorry I bothered you," I said, starting to rise from my chair.

"You didn't bother me," she said with a sad smile. "In fact, I'm flattered you came."

"Um, goodbye." The only acceptable option I had left was to slink away as quickly as possible. I tried not to look at Olivia as I moved. That would only make it worse.

"Good luck Neil," she called after me.

"You too Olivia," I mumbled, feeling very melancholy as I left.

I was suddenly exhausted. I exited the hospital in a bit of a daze. It's not like I really expected it to all work out in the end, at least not intellectually, but I guess somewhere deep down I hoped. The worst part was that I still felt very strongly for her, maybe even more so than when I last saw her.

"Now what?" I asked myself. I needed to go home, but the idea of getting back on a bus right at that moment was too much. That's when I noticed the hotel across the street from the hospital. I moved toward it without thought. I got a room, hit up the mini fridge for two shots of whisky despite how much it cost and passed out in the bed, hoping everything would be better when I woke up.

Ten hours later I opened my eyes and sighed. Things weren't better, but then again they weren't worse either. At least the initial sting of rejection was wearing off a little. I got out of bed and stretched. I checked the bus schedule on my cell phone and the next bus home was still a few hours away. It was a redeye. I had time to get something to eat and clean up.

I decided food was the priority since I hadn't eaten since breakfast and I'd only picked at that. I still wasn't hungry, but I knew I needed to eat. There was a restaurant attached to the hotel. I walked in, sat and ate. I didn't really taste much of the meal. I was too depressed, but I finished everything on the plate. After that, I went back to my room.

I was tempted to lie back down and sleep for another ten hours, but it was time to go home. The shower revived me enough to keep me moving. I began dressing because it was almost time to leave for my bus. I was just reaching for my shirt when there was a knock on the door. I frowned, grabbed my shirt and moved to the door. I looked through the peep hole to see who it was and was shocked by what I saw. My shirt was forgotten as I opened the door. Olivia stood there.

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