BY ROWAN COLEMAN
It was still there, branded into the bark of the tree. One moment, twenty years earlier, when a boy told a girl that he would love her always, he carved a heart with their initials in to prove it.
“I miss that time,” Sarah told her dog Hal, whose nose was buried in the roots of the great old oak. “I miss the sense of expectation. That everything is still to come. You get to thirty-four and suddenly you know this is what life is. Job, mortgage, commuting.
“Remember how I used to dream about keeping chickens, and writing that novel? Well, obviously you don’t – you’re only seven and also you’re a dog.”
Hal’s head snapped up, bright eyes searching the horizon to find, across the field, another dog walker. Sarah had hoped coming up here at the break of dawn might have meant she would be alone.
The trouble was, Hal was mostly a town dog. Visiting Sarah’s parents brought out something wild in him, as if he smelled adventure in the air. He was hurtling towards the strange dog, intent on play.
Sarah hoped the other dog was robust enough to cope with his interest. The owner of the Yorkshire Terrier had yet to forgive Hal his indiscretions.
Go on, I dare you!
As she began the long walk to catch Hal, she wondered whether perhaps she shouldn’t take a leaf out of his book. Ten years ago she couldn’t wait to leave, to make her way to the big city, for her life to begin. Her childhood dreams of writing books and keeping hens seemed exactly that – childish. Now, though, looking at the steely grey sky, streaked with the promise of rain, even feeling the dew seep in through the seams of her boots was invigorating.
I should do it, Sarah thought as she approached the dog walker. Just do it. Go freelance, sell the flat. Put down a deposit on the Millard place, it’s going for a song. OK, it doesn’t have a roof. But the garden has room for chickens and a dog. Go on, I dare you. Do it!
Sarah caught her breath, stopping for a moment as she realised – it didn’t have to be a daydream. For a moment it seemed she might be falling, and she felt a sensation that hadn’t troubled her in years. She felt expectant.
Sarah couldn’t help but think of a first kiss
“Excuse me!” The dog walker waved at her as Hal hurtled past her legs, being hotly pursued by a Red Setter.
“Sorry, she’s a bit boisterous,” he said.
“Don’t worry – he loves it.” Sarah smiled at the man, and then looked again. He seemed familiar.
“Sarah?” He took a step nearer. “Sarah Taylor! You’ve barely changed.”
“David Hurst. Long time no see.” Sarah laughed, and blushed. “I was…”
Hal and the Setter raced past again, chuffing like trains.
“Visiting?” David asked her.
“Coming home, in fact.” Sarah smiled.
There was a moment of silence and Sarah couldn’t help but think of a first kiss, one summer long ago, underneath an old oak tree.
“It’s still there, you know,” David said.
“I know.” Sarah laughed.
“Shall we?” He gestured at the path cut into the long grass. “Our dogs seem to be getting on so famously.”
As they walked past the oak, Sarah couldn’t help but steal one more glance at the heart, cut into the bark of the tree and the message that still endured.
DH ♥ ST 4EVER
And just maybe there was another chance at forever.
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