The First Time, For The Last TimebyDawnJ©
Diana wandered out onto the deck. She was by herself at last. This was the time she looked forward to every year, when she was left alone to regain her equilibrium, to lay her ghosts, to straighten her spine and gather courage for another year -- no husband, no children, no one to take her focus off herself. it was a delicious time away, and she had long ago stopped feeling guilty for savoring the pleasure of her own company.
Sitting on the top tread of the stairway leading to the sand below, she opened the letter. She had glanced at its contents once earlier in the day, when she was still at home, and knew she needed her alone time to savor it. Now, her hands shook as she unfolded it, and read it slowly...
"My dearest heart,
I've loved you for as long as I've known you. I know you told me what you thought would keep me away, but I can read you like a book, my love, and I knew you were unhappy. There was always something about you that called to me. You used to ask me what I saw in you. I saw beauty, my love. Yours is a beautiful soul, and it came out every time I saw you with other people, every time you were with me. Every time you shared your family with me, and let me into your heart so I could share your burdens, your fears and love for your family, you made me feel special. I hope that what little I shared with you made you see how I loved you. My dad, who knows of you, loved to receive your greetings whenever you sent them to him. Every word, every song, every hug and kiss, whether it was for me or someone else, showed me how truly beautiful you are!
Every fight we ever had, the ones that were trifling, and the ones that cut like a knife, every breakup I made you suffer through -- none of these did anything to diminish your feelings for me. I knew it then, even though I never acknowledged it to you, even when I told you I loved you less. And that made you beautiful to me, too. You loved me, whether I was being a jerk or a gentleman. You loved me when I was sick, and when I was healthy. You loved me when I was away, and when I was with you. You have loved me no matter what...just like you always promised me you would. That's why you're beautiful to me!
Your smile lit up the place. Every time I saw it, it warmed the spaces inside me that were made for you. The first time I saw your smile, it blew me away. Between your dimples and your lips, I was lost. I imagined all sorts of naughty things that I would wish for you to do to me with that mouth. And I imagined what I would do to you to bring those dimples out of hiding, to see the blush stain your cheeks, to know it was because you wanted with me everything I wanted with you. Your smile makes you beautiful to me.
We never met until that day, and I must tell you that I hurt inside more than I ever did before when it was time to say goodbye to you, and walk away...again. We used to dream of what we'd do when we met each other. I used to smile when you told me how afraid you were that when we met you would jump my bones, and never let me go, and wear me out. It still makes me smile inside, and want to hold you close. I never told you I wanted you as wildly as you did me. I never told you how your words turned me on, and wound me up, and how, when we talked dirty, I thought again of all the ways to show you how much I love you. Your passion makes you beautiful to me!
Before the day we met, I shared my dreams of you with you. They were always an extension of what I wanted with you -- the sweet joy, the passion, and the love. You never dreamed at all, except that one time, when you dreamed that I surprised you where you work, and how you felt so treasured. You told me how it made you feel to know that I would come to you without your asking, and how each time you asked me for something that it was in my power to give you, and I refused, your heart cracked a little wider. You broke my heart when you told me that dream, and how it made you wish I would show you that my words were more than words. Even when you hurt, and had a right to be furious with me, you loved me anyway. That's what's so beautiful to me!
And then we met and shared a kiss. The only one we might ever share...although, as I used to tell you, you never know what can happen, and I'm not making any promises I may not be able to keep. It was a wonderful kiss. I wanted to run my hands down your back, and pull you in to my body, so you could feel what I was feeling. I wanted to wrap my arms around you, and hold you close, and never let you go. When you kissed me back, my world exploded, and everything I ever thought I wanted from you, or wanted to give to you, flashed before my eyes. Our lives as they could have been flashed before me. It would have been beautiful!
I know there are many things I failed to tell you, things that maybe would have helped you understand me, and believe me when I told you that I loved you. I know that I betrayed your love by taking another, instead of choosing you, and waiting till you could do what you needed to do to be with me. I know I did not fight for you. I know that it hurt you that I didn't. And yet, despite it all, despite the awful pain I put you through, you came that day to see me, and kissed me back, and showed me that, despite it all, you love me. Oh baby, that makes you so beautiful to me!
I am sorry I left you all those years ago, and never told you why. I am sorry I broke your heart. I am sorry I never told you I was breaking mine. I am sorry I never got to hold your hand and walk with you along the river bank, as we often talked of doing. Touching you that day, feeling your skin warm against mine, was another dream come true. Our fingers may not have been intertwined, but I will carry the memory of your touch with me to my grave. Maybe we were not meant to be together, but I will always be glad I met you, and got to know you, and shared your life with you, and kissed you that one time. Be well, and be happy, and remember me with kindness.
I will always love you, my darling one!
Love, hugs, and kisses,
The salty sea breeze blew cool against her wet cheeks as she stared, unseeing, out to the great reef, where mighty ocean waves crashed in a ceaseless assault. Thoughts of that day, when she had found her heart, and lost him again, swirled wildly around in her head, leaving her breathless with joy and anguish. This one memory was too bittersweet to keep, too poignant to let go. She saw herself again as she had been that day, the memory as sharp and clear as if it had been a moment ago...
...She had been thinking about him again, and tears, as ever, had welled up and overflowed, unchecked. She dried her eyes. You would think, after all these years, it would hurt less, but the very thought of him stopped her in her tracks every time. And if she let herself dwell in that thought, it rose into an tsunami of emotion that broke free without her consent and spilled out of her eyes, and broke her heart again. Blowing her nose, she rose to answer the telephone. It was too early for it to be anyone other than a friend or family member, so she didn't check the caller ID.
"Hello?" An almost imperceptible pause, and then a stranger spoke to her, called her by name.
"Hello, Diana, it's me. It's Kyle!"
Diana stopped breathing. Kyle must have realized it, because he called her name again, sharply.
"Diana! Are you all right?"
"Y...yes...yes, of course!" She swallowed, and pulled herself together. It had been five years, and she had not fallen apart for anyone to see or hear. She would not do so now, and certainly not here, with the one man she had dreamed of for all those years. "How are you?" The very ordinary question escaped her lips in a voice as cool as an autumn morning.
"Better now that I know you're well! I'm in New York on business and wondered if you were free for lunch? I know your book tour just ended, and you're taking a break, like you have always done."
Diana heard his voice through a flood of emotions that almost deafened her with their roar. Why after all these years, after the silence, after refusing to call, or come, or let her know him more than she had back then...why now? The rage broke free of all the other feelings roiling inside her, and she heard the crackling ice in her voice.
"Why would I ever be free for you, Kyle? You, who never once allowed me the joy of seeing you, of hearing you, of being with you?" She could feel the rage all the way to the tips of her fingers - rage in a deadly battle with the love that had never left, and never would. His silence was unexpected. Diana breathed deeply, and waited, uncertain now of what he would say. She had expected indignation, sarcasm, hateful words. When he finally spoke, he took her breath away.
"I know, hon! I can't tell you how sorry I am for everything!"
Diana could not speak. Nothing in their relationship of two years, or the separation of the last five had prepared her for his total acquiescence. In the past, their troubles had always been her fault, according to his reading of things, and she had learned to hold her peace. It was better than the bitter arguments that had sometimes made her wonder what their life together would have been like if she had said yes to him. She had once joked that they fought like an old married couple. The bitter irony of that remark was smacking her in the face now as she concentrated on his words.
"Diana? Are you there?"
She inhaled deeply again, and nodded, then smiled ruefully and answered, "Yes! I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"I said I understand if you would rather not see me."
Diana heard the resignation in his voice, and the hope. She wondered at herself for even considering it. Hadn't he made her cry enough? Why would she even think about his request? What was the point? They were each married to other people, and the depth of feeling that had been between them wouldn't allow them to be just friends. What the hell was she thinking?
"I'm busy today, as it happens, Kyle. I'm sorry!" She called upon every reserve of strength to say the words she wished weren't true. Her meeting with her publicist could wait, of course, but why put off what could possibly be the most important meeting of her career, if it stopped her from making a complete and utter fool of herself? She had waited for him to say something, do something, to show her that the feelings he said he had for her were real, even if neither of them could act on it. Now that he seemed to be doing what she had prayed for all these years, she was afraid her heart would break beyond repair if she were reading him wrong again.
"I'm sorry, too, Diana!" She heard the disappointment in his voice, and steeled herself to remain silent. "May I call you again before I go?"
She swallowed the hurtful retort that came first to her lips, and said instead, "If I'm here I'll answer." She kept the ice chips in her voice. And then she hung up. It would never do for him to know exactly how far from cold she really was.
Kyle watched the screen blankly. He had no idea, really, of what he was seeing, and if anyone were to intrude upon his introspection enough to ask, the answer would have been a snarl. He felt a searing pain in his chest, and recognized it as regret, with a heaping side helping of sorrow. He had lost Diana, the one woman he had most wanted. His mind replayed in vivid detail all the memories of their first "meeting", of their time together, the loving times, the fighting times, the separations. This last one had been the worst. Five years. Five long, aching years without her smile, her words, her very self in his life. He followed her in the press and online, but after their last quarrel, she had not come to ask him back, to remind him of his promise to be her friend always. He had come to expect her to call him back; truth be told, he had come to rely upon it. And for the first time, she had not done as he expected. And today she had done the unexpected again. She had refused him, had cut him off. He had been dismissed as surely as he had dismissed her in the past. She had refused him, and he felt as she must have every time he had told her no. The hurt was like a punch in his heart.
Kyle rubbed his chest in a futile effort to ease the awful pain, but he knew nothing would heal his heart. Nothing but her. He closed his eyes and remembered their last quarrel. They had said things to each other that two people in love should never say, and he had left her with a cold goodbye. He had let his fury, his hurt, and his fear rule his heart, and he left her to marry another. He knew, even as he had pledged to love Norah till death, that in his deepest heart his first love would never die. He knew he needed to do something to make amends, to show Diane that his heart had never truly left her, that he would always love her, even if he could never be with her again. None of the many scenarios that came to mind seemed feasible, especially as she was no more available to him now than he was to her. His cell phone pulled him from his woeful ruminations, but she was never far from his thoughts. And on his last morning, he called her again, and prayed that she was home.
Diana resisted the urge to smooth her hair, or check her makeup. This was not a date. She and Kyle were married to different people, and they were happy in their separate lives. This was just a meeting between friends. At long last. For the first time. So why were her hands shaking? She gripped them tightly together in her lap, and watched the door. She knew what he was supposed to look like - if the pictures she had were really of him. And he knew her. The waiter passed by and she asked for a glass of water. She smiled her thanks when he brought her a tall goblet, and she watched the beads of water roll lazily down its sides. Reaching over, she pulled one off with the tip of her finger, feeling the cold like a pinprick against her skin.
Like the pinpricks that suddenly bloomed in her cheeks. She looked up, panic rising for a second, before she met his eyes. He was standing by the door, checking his coat, his eyes never leaving her face. The pinpricks became licks of flame, the panic gave way to awareness, and she could feel her heart rate rising rapidly. She fought for breath as he was escorted over to her table, and by the time he sat down, she was almost choking.
"Hello, Diana!" he greeted her, his smile as beautiful as it had been in the pictures he had sent her. He really WAS as handsome as his pictures. In person, the fine lines, the dimples, everything made him three-dimensional, and so real, it hurt. Somewhere deep inside, she smiled.
"Breathe, baby, breathe!" he said, and reached for her hand. Kyle felt the same lick of flames shoot up his arm as he held her hand, but he would not let her go. Finally, he was touching her. Her skin was soft, and he could feel her pulse beating wildly in her wrist. He watched her take a deep breath, then another, and he stroked the back of her hand with his thumb till her breathing calmed. "All right now?"
Diana smiled wanly and pulled her hand away. Kyle felt the loss immediately, but he let her go, and watched her drink deeply from the glass of water before her. "It's so good to finally touch you, Diana, and see your smile in person!"
Diana reacted to the sound of his voice like a cat to being stroked. She could feel herself uncurling, and she fought against the feeling. They were friends, no more, and nothing else would come of this but a pleasant meeting and a memory. Another memory. A real one, based on flesh and blood. "It's good to finally see you too, Kyle!" she answered, to pass the time, and regain her composure.
"I'm sorry I was late. The cab driver took a wrong turn and we got stuck in traffic. Thank you for waiting!" His smile was doing things to her insides that should be illegal in every state.
"It's all right. I understand! Lunch time traffic is a killer!" She strangled out a laugh, and Kyle watched her face, knowing the effect their meeting was having on her. It was the same for him, he was just better at hiding it. He had always been better at hiding his true feelings from her.
"Would you like something stronger, then?" he asked, pointing to her glass of water. "Wine, perhaps?"
"Yes, thanks, a sweet wine would be nice!"
Kyle gestured for a waiter, and Diana tuned him out, concentrating on shoring up her rapidly diminishing control. She had never, in all her life, been this close to such absolute male beauty. And this close, his rugged handsomeness made her even more acutely aware of her own bodily imperfections, even as he seemed completely unaware of his good looks. She sat up straighter in her chair, and wondered if he saw the small chip in the nail polish on her pinky finger.
"You're as beautiful as the first time I saw you!"
Kyle's voice broke into her thoughts, and Diana blushed crimson, feeling the warmth from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. The first time he had seen her had been in the pictures she had posted in an album on her webpage. He had asked for one in particular to be sent to him, and she wondered if he still had it.
"I have every photograph you have ever sent me of you," he commented, answering her unspoken question. "I know you think I'm biased, but I know beauty when I see it! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and everything about you is beautiful." He smiled, and his eyes dropped to her mouth. "And your mouth is more tempting in person than it is in any picture!"
Diana resisted the overwhelming urge to lick her lips, but couldn't stop the desire rising inside her to feel his on hers. They had never kissed, not even once, let alone anything more intimate. And not for lack of desire, either. And now, they really shouldn't even be here in a restaurant, looking at each other as though they would devour whatever the other allowed. Diana dropped her eyes to the table setting, noting idly how the cutlery gleamed brightly against the pristine tablecloth, and the roses on the table pumped color onto it. Roses. They were red roses! She hadn't ordered roses. How had he managed that?
"The flowers are beautiful, Kyle!"
"They are, aren't they? Did you order them, then?"
"No, why would I?" Her sharp denial had his eyes on hers again. They were caught in a web of emotions that they were finding it difficult to disentangle themselves from, and the arrival of the waiter was a welcome respite for the two of them.
"Champagne, sir!" the young man said, and popped the cork. He poured for them, and then left the bottle in the cooler on the little table by their side.
"Champagne! What's the occasion, Kyle?" Diana asked avoiding his gaze.
"If you have to ask, Diana, then why are we here?" He touched his glass to hers, and caught her chin in his other hand, raising her face and waiting till she looked at him. When Diana looked up, he smiled, and she watched as his eyes crinkled, his lips curved upwards, his cheeks sank into deep pooling dimples. If she had ever thought that she was "over" him, this one moment proved her wrong.
"Cheers!" she said, dragging her gaze from his, and touching her glass to his.
"What shall we drink to?" he wondered, watching her averted face. When she did not respond, he continued, "Let's drink to friendship, then. Like I promised, and you always reminded me, we should always be friends." He touched his glass to hers again, and took a gulp of his champagne, to stop himself from saying all the things he knew he should not say. "Let's order lunch, shall we?" he went on, injecting a cheerfulness into his voice that he was far from feeling. He had to be strong, for her, and for himself. Nothing would change when they left each other again. Nothing but this one meeting.