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EDITOR'S NOTE:
Denise Little

INTERVIEW:
Mary Jo Putney

STORIES:
Mary Jo Putney: The Tuesday Enchantress
Diane A.S. Stuckart:
Taking the Cake
Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Snow Day
Dayle A. Dermatis:
Then & Now
Petronella Glover:
Detka, it's Cold Outside
Casey Chapel
: Count the Ways
Christina F. York
: Loves Me Knot
Neesa Hart:
The Wedding Belles

SERIALIZATION:
Laura Resnick: Galatea: A Modern Myth
(Part 1)

RECOMMENDED BOOKS:
C.S. DeAvilla

COMING SOON:
Denise Little

WRITER'S CORNER:
Denise Little:
Point of View,
and How to Use It

Julie Pitzel:
Are You Going to Finish That?

ARTICLE:
Lezli Robyn: Recapturing Romance
Off the Screen

CLOSING NOTE: BEST OF 2016:
Denise Little

Dayle A. Dermatis eloped properly in Gretna Green, rode off on the back of a motorcycle, and hasn’t looked back since except to smile and sigh happily. Unsurprisingly, she writes romances that are sometimes sweet, sometimes spicy, sometimes spooky, and sometimes funny, but will always make you smile and sigh happily. An unabashed romantic, she lives in a historic cottage in the verdant Pacific Northwest, and whenever she can, she travels the world for inspiration and loses herself in music.

THEN & NOW

by Dayle A. Dermatis

Then

Kim hunched over the pillow in her lap, her tears dripping on the knockoff Laura Ashley pink-and-green flowered pillowcase. She was as high on the twin bed as she could go, her back pressed against the corner of the room where two dark-paneled walls met. Wind rocked the trailer, spitting sleet against the window, creeping its way through unseen cracks so that even though she wore sweatpants, a sweater, and thick socks, and huddled under her ratty pink chenille bedspread, she was cold.

Another North Country winter.

She’d thought she would be getting away from it.

She’d thought she’d be happy, make a new life with Kevin.

Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me” came through her boom box speakers, bringing with it a fresh wave of hot tears. Why she was listening to the mix tape, she didn’t know. It was stupid.

She was stupid.

On the wall next to her, hung on a nail, was her calendar. Today’s date, January 30, was encircled with a heart drawn with her favorite purple glitter pen.

Today was the day Kevin shipped to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, his second assignment after being here at Plattsburgh AFB, New York. She’d thought she’d be going with him.

Without thinking, she stuck her hand in her sweatpants pocket, curving her fingers around the tiny, hand carved, wooden sleeping dog. Kevin had made it for her when they’d first started dating. It looked just like her beagle, Bagel, right down to the way Bagel would drape his own tail over his nose when he slept.

It had become a habit to rub her thumb on the gleaming-smooth wood when she was stressed.

The artistry, and the sweetness of the gift, set Kevin apart from the stupid boys she’d gone to school with since she was a kid. Plus Kevin had ambition, and he was saving up for a motorcycle, and….

And now he was gone.

She pulled her hand out of her pocket.

The knock on her bedroom door startled her. “What?”

The door opened halfway, and her mother leaned in. Her hair was piled high, like Joan Collins in Dynasty, which made Kim wince every time she saw it. Her mother was so old.

“Dinnertime, hon.”

Kim could smell the cooked beef and onions and spices, and remembered it was taco night. Usually she helped grate the Velveeta and shred the head of lettuce, but she wasn’t speaking to anybody in her family right now. She sniffled. “I’m not hungry.”

“Hon, you have to eat. You have to stay healthy for….”

Her mom couldn’t bring herself to say the words. God, it was humiliating. Kim threw down the pillow. “Fine.” She’d hoped it would be like the Madonna video for “Papa Don’t Preach,” with her parents being upset but finally coming around and being on her side. Instead they wouldn’t even talk to her about the pregnancy—they’d simply told her, a few days later, that if she wanted to keep the baby, she was going to live with Aunt Julie in Florida until after the baby was born.

Of course, Kim had thought Kevin would propose, take her away to Oklahoma, where they could be a family.

They’d talked about the future, lots. She was sixteen, and smart, so she was going to graduate from high school before her eighteenth birthday. He was so different from the boys she knew in school. He’d enlisted in the Air Force at seventeen, been stationed here, far from his home in California. That in itself had seemed so brave to Kim, who hadn’t been farther than Albany or Burlington, Vermont (except for that time her parents took her to Park Safari in Canada when she was a kid).

Then she’d found out she was pregnant, and she told Kevin, and he said he’d figure out what to do next so they’d be together…and then he was gone.

She didn’t have a phone in her room, even though all her friends did, so it was hard to find a way to call him. She’d ditched school one day and walked to a Stewart’s and called him from the pay phone, but he hadn’t been in the dorm. (When she got home, she’d been in a world of trouble.)

And today he’d shipped out and left her behind. Left her and the baby growing in her belly.

She loved him, and she didn’t understand.

The mix tape switched to “Broken Wings,” and she smacked the boom box off and followed her mother out the door.

She didn’t want to eat, but she didn’t want to hurt the baby, either.

***

Now

Kim cradled the plain ceramic mug between her hands, breathing in the sweet, almost nutty scent of the green tea. Outside, the Portland rain turned Belmont Street into a glittering tableau. She was glad the rain had held off until they’d gotten to the Tao of Tea, but she wasn’t watching the rain.

She was gazing at her beautiful baby girl sitting across from her, soon to be a bride.

Okay, she was a bit tipsy from the champagne she’d been given at the bridal store while Amber tried on dresses. Didn’t matter. She was just happy, and proud.

Her daughter, whipcord slim from a lifetime of cycling and hiking, sipped her chai. Her wavy blond hair was caught up in a ponytail. People sometimes mistook them for sisters, which Kim thought was ridiculous, even though they were only seventeen years apart. She was forty-seven, had the beginnings of crows’ feet around her eyes and a few strands of silver mixed with her darker blond hair.

It was midafternoon, a relatively quiet time for the restaurant. Patrons chatted at scattered, mismatched wooden tables, sitting on mismatched chairs and stools. Even the teacups and pots and plates were varied, although most had an Asian motif.

Pots of bamboo were tucked into corners, and the dark walls were covered with wooden shelves bearing more teapots or decorated with Chinese scrolls. The owners had turned a modern space into a tranquil tea garden.

“Mom,” Amber said. Her teacup chinked as she set it in its saucer. “I have something to tell you.”

Kim smiled and thanked the waitress who handed them their orders: mango mochi ice cream balls for her and moon cake for Amber, then said, “As long as you’re not going to tell me you’ve already eloped, I’m all ears.”

Amber rolled her eyes, but it was an affectionate gesture accompanied by a dimpled smile. “After all we went through today? No, the wedding’s still on, and it’s the real one.”

“Thank God,” Kim said. She loved Amber’s fiancé, Jeff; they’d been together for six years, and he was clearly devoted to her (and vice versa). “Go on, then.”

The ice cream balls, wrapped in rice flour shells, were arranged on a long, thin plate decorated with blue pagodas. She stabbed a spoon into one of them.

“I’ve found my father,” Amber said.

Kim paused in the act of stabbing. It no longer seemed important.

Emotions rolled through her, folding one over the other like meringue. It had been almost thirty years. She’d sent a couple letters to his parents’ house in Minnesota while their baby—Amber, as soon as she’d known it was a girl—grew in her belly. But he’d never called, never written.

She didn’t hate him anymore, not like she had when she’d been exiled to Florida, or when she’d sworn and screamed through childbirth, or when she’d been an exhausted teenaged mom who felt utterly unloved and abandoned.

Eventually, she’d made peace with his leaving. He’d been a kid himself…she couldn’t blame him for panicking at the idea of being saddled with a wife and kid. And she hadn’t been mature enough for those roles either, although she’d managed to figure out the being-a-mother thing.

Yet her heart still twanged, and her mind raced. How was he? Was he bald, fat, in prison? Handsome, rich, confident? Who was he, this Kevin, three decades later?

Years ago, she’d given Amber her blessing to track him down if Amber wanted to. She’d given Amber every bit of information she had about Kevin—as if Kevin Martin would be easy to find. Kevin, the statistically twenty-third most popular first name in the United States. Martin, the seventeenth most popular last name.

(Coulda been worse, as Kevin had always said. Coulda been Kevin Smith.)

She’d married a great guy when Amber was three, who adored the toddler as much as he adored Kim. She’d loved him right up to the day of his fatal car accident four years ago. She’d long since given up trying to find Kevin, although she occasionally wondered how he was, and hoped he was happy.

Amber seemed fascinated by her moon cake and her fork, not looking at her.

“I didn’t realize you’d been looking for him,” Kim said. “I’m still okay with it, by the way. Don’t worry.”

Relief flooded Amber’s brown eyes. She’d gotten those eyes from Kevin, along with her wide mouth. Otherwise, she had Kim’s features, right down to their near-identical turned-up noses.

“I started thinking about him when Jeff proposed,” she admitted. “I’m so excited to have you walk me down the aisle—I don’t need anyone else—but I just…” She made a helpless shrug, her watery-blue-and-green infinity scarf rising and falling around her neck. “I’m starting a new phase of life, and I wondered about who I am and who he was. That sort of thing.”

“How did you find him?”

Amber laughed. “You would not believe how many Kevin Martins there are on Facebook! It took forever, but I just kept going through them, tossing out the ones that were too young, too old, wrong ethnicity. I narrowed it down to a few—even with the photo you gave me, it was hard to tell—and then I messaged them.”

Kim remembered the photo with a tiny pang, deep in her stomach. Kevin’s official Airman photo. He’d looked so proud. So handsome. (So young. They’d both been so young.) He’d come from an abusive home and parents who’d repeatedly told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. Getting through Basic Training had been a huge success for him.

“How is he?” Kim asked. The real question.

“He’s good. He was actually really happy to hear from me. I wasn’t sure he would be. We’ve emailed, and talked on the phone once. He lives in Tacoma.”

That jolted her. “Wow,” Kim said. “He’s close.”

Since that bitterly cold January day almost thirty years ago, she’d felt as though he was as far away as any human could be. Before Facebook—before the Internet, really, especially for a poor girl in a podunk town in upstate New York—before cell phones, before any easy way to find someone unless you had money to hire a PI.

He might as well have been on the moon.

Not a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. Weirdly, that was the thing that rattled her the most right now. She picked up her tea, took a swallow of the hot, fragrant liquid to calm herself.

“He’s divorced,” Amber went on, flaking the crust off her cake with her fork. “Retired from the Air Force. Makes custom furniture.”

Another jolt, with a memory attached, something she’d forgotten over the years. “Woodworking,” Kim murmured. The tiny, smooth, sleeping dog.

She didn’t remember getting rid of it. Maybe it was in a box somewhere. She’d replaced it with a series of worry stones, one of which she still carried.

Another lifetime, she thought.

“So, are you going to meet him?” she asked.

“We’ve talked about it, and I’d like to, but I wanted to run it by you first.”

“Sweetheart, I’m happy that you can have the chance to get to know him. I’m not sure how I’d feel about you inviting him to the wedding, but other than that….”

Amber laughed again. “No worries there. I just want to get to know him, unless he turns out to be an ass.”

“He won’t,” Kim said before she even had time to think. But the statement felt right. The Kevin she remembered had been kind, respectful, funny. Like her back then, he just hadn’t been a fully formed adult yet.

She poked her spoon into another ice cream ball. The ice cream was soft inside its shell, but tasted just fine.

***

Of course she’d been curious to hear how Amber’s meeting with Kevin went—Amber had driven up to Tacoma the following weekend to have lunch with him—but she hadn’t expected Amber to say, “He’d like to meet up with you, too, if you’re okay with that. He says he has something to tell you.”

Amber said he hadn’t elaborated, and Kim finally decided it was just to say sorry. She was probably being a tiniest bit petty by making him come to her, but he’d been the one to leave in the first place, right?

She lived in the Portland suburb of Beaverton, a city largely made up of strip malls and housing for people who couldn’t afford to live downtown or who wanted actual yards. Her own house was at the end of a cul-de-sac and surrounded by moss-covered pines, making it feel much more secluded from the neighbors than it actually was. It bordered a tree-filled park on one side, where she went for daily walks with her dogs.

Now she waited in a nearby Starbucks. She’d wanted a neutral spot. They’d have coffee, chat, the end.

So why was she more jittery than a cat trying to cover up poop on a marble floor? Why was her stomach in knots?

She’d ordered a green tea Frappuccino because it was a beautiful spring day. The sun was shining, which wasn’t as rare as outsiders thought. (Let them think it rained all the time. Enough people were relocating to Oregon as it was.) But she was too nervous to take more than a few sips.

The coffee shop was about half-full, and most of those people were typing on laptops or immersed in their phones. Smooth, forgettable jazz was the music choice of the day.

She’d taken forever to decide where to sit—finally deciding on two brown leather armchairs off to one side against the windows, so they’d have a little privacy, but not so tucked away that he’d have trouble finding her—and she felt silly for over-thinking it.

Let’s not get started on how long it had taken to pick her outfit. She’d settled on skinny jeans with a bit of stretch in them (Amber would probably call them “mom jeans,” but she’d get to the age where comfort won out over fashion), and a floaty shirt with a dark red and cream floral pattern that showed just a hint of cleavage. Enough makeup to look pulled together.

She wanted to look good. Not in a “look how hot I am; aren’t you sorry now?” sort of way, but in an “I’m happy and confident with my life; how are you?” sort of way.

At least she’d resisted texting Amber with pictures of various outfit choices.

A woman with a happy, tail-wagging Husky went by the window, and Kim smiled, watching them. When she looked back at the front door, a man was standing there, gazing around the room as if looking for someone.

He looked different, yes, but with a stomach-thumping twist, she knew.

He had the precise bearing and straight spine of an ex-military man, even in his casual jeans and green chambray button-down shirt. He had gone bald, mostly. What was left was shorn close, and he wore a brown leather newsboy-style cap. To her surprise, it suited him. His face was leaner now, the cheekbones sharper, and he looked…good. Better. The boy had been cute. The man was handsome.

His gaze landed on her, the question left his eyes to be replaced by recognition, and he smiled.

That smile had always done her in, and now she really saw both the boy and the man he’d become. The smile was the same, wide and genuine even though at this moment there was a hint of something else in it.

He started towards her, and as she stood, she recognized what it was.

He was just as nervous as she was.

“Kim,” he said. “Wow, you…I’d’ve recognized you anywhere. You look great.”

“Hi,” she said, and stopped, because she wasn’t sure what to say next. She started to raise her arms to hug him, realized that was probably far too intimate, and dropped them just as he stuck out his hand, then pulled it back, no doubt thinking that was too formal.

They both laughed the embarrassed laugh that people do when they’re trying to pass each other but keep shifting in the same direction.

“It’s good to see you,” she said.

“You, too,” he said. He slipped off his brown leather jacket, draped it over the arm of the easy chair, and said, “Can I get you anything?”

She nodded at her drink. “I’m fine, thanks.” Still courteous. Nice to see.

She sat and watched him order, chatting comfortably with the barista as he handed over cash and dropped the change in the clear plastic tip jar.

He came back, sat, and shifted a bit before leaning forward a little.

“Thanks for seeing me,” he said. “When Amber pinged me on Facebook…wow, I was blown away. I’m…I’m really glad to get to know her. She seems like an amazing woman.”

“She is,” Kim said, unable to keep the pride out of her voice. “She impresses me every day.”

“You did a good job, obviously,” he said.

“No matter what, she was my number-one priority,” Kim said. “Her stepdad did a lot, too.”

He nodded, rubbed a hand over his chin.

“Amber says you have three kids?” Kim asked.

He smiled again, and it brightened his face.

(Brightened the room, she thought, unbidden. Then she wondered what the hell she was thinking.)

“Two boys and a girl,” he said. “They’re great kids. Billy—he’s the youngest—just graduated from U-Dub.”

Amber had told her that she was looking forward to meeting them. Kevin had told the three about her and they were excited about having a half sister.

Kevin said he and his ex had grown apart, and when Billy hit college, they’d drifted even further without the kids to glue them together. It had been an amicable divorce, though, to the point that they’d laughed so much together at their eldest son’s wedding a few months ago that people were surprised they weren’t still a couple. “We’re friends,” he said. “The spark just went away.”

The barista called his name, and he got up to retrieve his coffee. When he returned, he took a swallow, then set it on the table.

“You know,” he said carefully, “for a long time, I was really mad at you, Kim.”

“At me?” She blinked, surprised. Whatever she’d been expecting, it hadn’t been that. “What did I do?”

He chewed on his lip. “Amber said you never heard from me.”

“I told you I was pregnant, you said we’d figure things out so I could go to Oklahoma with you, and then…you were gone.” She said it without bitterness; it was just what had happened.

He shook his head slightly. “When she told me…God, it all suddenly made sense. I called your house, but your parents always answered. I came by before I shipped out, but they asked me to leave. And I wrote to you, so many times…but all the letters were returned.”

“What? I never got any letters from you.”

His lips thinned. “That’s what Amber said. Fact is, I wrote to you at least once a week for a year. I was miserable in Oklahoma, and I missed you so much…I couldn’t understand why you didn’t answer.”

Kim pressed a hand to her mouth as he spoke. “My parents,” she whispered. “I was in Florida, and my parents returned all the letters from you.”

He nodded. “After Amber told me, I called my mom—she now admits she tossed the letters you sent.”

“But why?” Kim asked, and even as she asked it, she knew the answer.

“You were sixteen, and smart, and had your whole life ahead of you,” he said, “and I was a high school dropout and a lowly Airman. That’s what your parents saw. My parents…well, my mom said they didn’t want me to get tied down with a wife and kid before I knew what I really wanted, but honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it out of spite. I was the first one in my family to get away and make something of myself.”

That was the difference with their parents, Kim knew. Her own parents hadn’t had much—they’d lived in a trailer park and most of her clothes had come from Goodwill until she got a summer job at fourteen at one of the farm stands nearby—but they’d believed in her and what she could do with her life.

“They wanted to protect me,” she said. “Obviously I don’t agree with their decision, but in hindsight, I understand why they did what they did. They were embarrassed about my getting pregnant, but they supported my decision to keep Amber, at least. I’m sorry about your family, and what you went through. You know, it always impressed me how you turned their negativity around and used it as the impetus to better yourself.”

His generous mouth quirked in a half grin. “Thank you,” he said. “I ended up taking the tests and becoming an officer. Retired as a Captain.”

“Good for you!” Kim said. “How’d you end up in Tacoma?”

“My final station was McChord,” he said. “My wife liked it, my kids were in high school and didn’t want to move, and it reminded me of upstate New York, only without the crazy winters.”

Kim laughed. “I thought I never wanted to go through those winters again, and then my parents sent me to live with my aunt in Florida when I was pregnant, and it was awful. I thought it would be beaches and palm trees, but it was muggy and full of old people.”

She told him how she’d come to Portland for her husband’s work and had a similar reaction to how he’d viewed Tacoma. Because he asked, she went back in time to recount how she’d gotten her GED, gone to junior college for years at night until she had enough credits for an associate’s degree, and gone on to double major in Accounting and English Lit.

And they just kept talking, about everything and nothing, catching up on the past thirty years and the lives they’d led. When they got around to talking about dogs—she had two mutts, Bender and Standish, and he had a Golden Retriever named Casey—Kim finally noticed that it had gotten dark. They’d been talking for hours.

“I really have to go,” she said. “They have a doggy door, but I still like to take them for a walk every day.”

“And I’ve got a drive ahead of me,” Kevin said. He picked up her long-empty cup along with his and dropped them both in the trash before shrugging into his coat. He hesitated, then turned to her, standing so close she could smell the leather of his jacket.

“It really has been wonderful reconnecting with you, Kim,” he said. “I’m glad we got to clear things up about what happened. I hope you know I never would have abandoned you like that.”

“I know,” she said. “And I would never have shut you out or kept you away from your daughter. I’m glad she has the chance to know her father now.”

“You know, Amber’s coming up to Tacoma in a few weeks to meet my kids—we’re going to barbeque if the weather’s nice,” he said. “I’d love it if you could come, too.”

She realized she’d been reluctant to say good-bye, and the thought of seeing him again warmed her. She was glad to discover she still liked him after all these years.

So, now, it was natural to hug him good-bye.

She was surprised that she felt safe in his arms, just as she had all those years ago.

It felt good. Really good.

***

She didn’t have to wait a few weeks to reconnect with him. When she texted him to ask if there was anything she could bring to the barbeque, she told herself it was just to be polite. When he called to tell her how much he was enjoying a book she’d recommended, she told herself he was just being friendly.

When she felt sixteen again, giddy at the idea of seeing him, on the drive up to Tacoma with Amber, she told herself she was just being silly.

Silly, she thought again when he opened the door and saw his face break into that smile, and her heart gave just the tiniest jolt.

His ranch-style house overlooked a lake, with a terraced redwood deck leading down to a sloping green lawn, and was filled with his custom furniture, sleek lines and gentle curves and Eastlake-inspired turned legs. She liked his kids—Billy, Cole, and Jaime, who was pregnant with her first child—and Amber was right: they were thrilled to meet their half sister.

If she’d thought the situation would feel weird, meeting her baby daddy’s other kids, she was wrong; everyone made her feel at home. What was weird was when Kevin’s ex, Melinda, stopped by with a bottle of wine, eager to meet Amber as well…but then, within a quarter of an hour, Kim felt comfortable with her, too.

“We are all the most adulting of adults I’ve ever met,” she commented.

Kevin flipped a sizzling burger (he was grilling the onion slices, too, and everything smelled amazing) and said, “We could be our own reality show.”

“Too boring because we all get along,” Kim said. “We’d never get ratings unless we screamed and threw things at each other.”

Melinda didn’t stay for food, saying she had another party to get to. When she left, she punched Kim gently in the arm and said, low enough so nobody else would hear, “Don’t let him get away again.”

Kim sputtered, but Melinda was already headed out the door.

But Melinda’s words got her thinking.…

No, that wasn’t true. She’d already been thinking.

She’d always thought of herself as pragmatic, a problem solver…at least, once she’d given birth, which had made her grow up a whole hell of a lot. She’d targeted goals and hit them: GED, college, career, all while raising the best daughter she could.

Over the years, though, more than one person had referred to her as a hopeless romantic. She’d always laughed that away. And now? Seriously, she was approaching middle age. Romance was for the young.

But she’d been young when she thought she was in love with Kevin. A teenaged, puppy love.

Could she be in love with him again? Could that first, naïve love have held a grain of truth, the seeds for a mature connection?

She wasn’t the girl she’d been then. Kevin wasn’t that boy, either. They’d grown and changed, matured, lived. Yet…Kevin the man, containing the core of the boy he’d been, was proving to be pretty freaking awesome.

***

A few days later, Kim got a letter from Kevin in the mail.

All of my previous letters were returned, it said in part, so I thought I’d try one more time.

Although they were making use of the various forms of connection they hadn’t had thirty years ago—texting, friending one another on Facebook, and even Skyping—the handwritten note charmed her.

The letter, and everything it represented.

Of course she wrote back. And signed her name as she had back then, with a heart dotting the I.

Then he texted her to say he was going to be in Portland to deliver some furniture, and could they get together? She agreed, but when she suggested a restaurant, he responded with, “Let me surprise you.”

The address he gave her was for an Indian restaurant in a strip mall, which wasn’t that much of a surprise. She wasn’t sure, as she pulled into the parking lot, whether she felt disappointed.

That changed when she saw him waiting by his truck. It was a gorgeous day, sunny but not too warm, and he wore the faded jeans he wore so well, a red T-shirt, and his newsboy cap.

She didn’t feel disappointed.

She felt a hit of adrenaline and delight course through her.

The restaurant, the surprise (or lack thereof) didn’t matter.

She was wrong again.

Instead of heading to the restaurant, he took her hand and led her to the business next door. When she read the sign, she burst out laughing.

“Glow-in-the-dark mini putt?”

“Mini putt was our main form of entertainment in Plattsburgh that summer, as I recall,” he said.

And it had been. She’d go to the fairy-tale-themed park with her friends, where they’d all meet up with their boyfriends. Cheaper than the movies, the mini putt arcade also provided beach access to the lake, so they’d spend the day swimming, sunbathing, and attempting to make par on every hole, even the weird one where you had to shoot through a witch’s hat.

They entered the lobby, to be greeted with what looked like one of the creatures from the Alien movies.

“I thought our main form of entertainment was sex,” she joked.

He squeezed her hand. “I wasn’t aware that was an option.”

The thought had crossed her mind once or twice. Or more. “Depends on whether you let me win,” she said.

“Darlin’, I never let you win. You were frighteningly good at mini putt.”

They went through the glass doors into the main part of the arcade. It was dark, with glowing lights on the ceiling. Ahead of them was the counter, with a row of putters lined up on it and a rack of golf balls in neon colors: hot pink, chartreuse, turquoise, lime green. To their left, a line of video game machines pinged and bonged, and “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister, one of her favorite songs from the eighties, played over the sound system.

Kim would’ve liked the place for the music alone, but being here with Kevin, preparing to have a completely random game of mini putt while giant mutant bees loomed over them (hole 3) or slugs the size of beagles (hole 6, around the corner), was just sublime.

She loved that he’d remembered their mini putt dates from thirty years ago. She loved that he’d taken the time to find this place. She loved that it was two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and she had a date with….

“Hold on,” she said as he handed her a club and grabbed a pencil and scorecard. “Is this a date?”

He bounced his bright blue ball in his hand. “Do you want it to be?”

“Yes.” Yes, she did.

“Oh, good,” he said, “because that’s what it’s supposed to be.”

The only other players, a foursome, were seven or eight holes ahead of them, so it felt like they had the place to themselves. Between the music and the noises that some of the holes made (like one that had what looked like a metal-barred door that half-opened and then banged shut while something behind it moaned), she couldn’t hear the people ahead of them anyway.

Kevin cheered when she hit a completely accidental hole in one on the second hole, which involved hitting the ball into a tunnel. He didn’t rib her too much when his shot on the next hole completely blocked her perfect line-up to the hole.

She hummed along to Heart’s “These Dreams,” and then the next song that came on was “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

She stopped in mid-swing, straightened.

“The music,” she said.

“Yes?” he said. Even in the half-light, she could see him trying not to smile.

“This is the mix tape you made for me.”

He failed, and grinned. “Yep.”

“How did you…?”

“I have my ways.” He waggled his eyebrows, and Kim melted. Just utterly melted.

He’d set this all up perfectly.

“Next you’re going to tell me you carved me another little wooden dog.”

“In the truck. And there are two. Thanks for posting lots of pictures of Bender and Standish on Facebook.”

She propped her putter against a faux crate painted neon yellow and black, then stepped into his arms, wrapping hers around him. “So, is this date going to end like our old ones did?”

“I certainly hope so,” he said. “Although with any luck it’ll include a real bed, not the back of my truck.”

“Good,” she said. “Just so you know, I’m on the pill.”

She felt his chest move as he laughed softly. “Good to know. I have a box of condoms, too.”

Their chuckles faded as they gazed at one another. Kevin smoothed a lock of hair away from her face.

“I missed you, Kim,” he said. “You broke my heart like nobody could, and though I’ve had a great life, I like my life a hell of a lot more now that you’re back in it.”

“You broke my heart, too,” she said. “But I trust you not to do it again.”

The kiss was like the first time all over again. Their second first kiss, and their second chance for love.

Copyright © 2017 by Dayle A. Dermatis.
 

Heart's Kiss Magazine: Issue 1: February 2017

Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Arc Manor