WRITTEN BY KATE FINNEMORE
It was more than simply her home town she was coming back to. There were memories and possibilities here too…
The party to celebrate an old friend’s fiftieth had spilled out from the restaurant and on to the beach. A medley of old Beach Boys numbers was blaring out, competing with the chat and laughter of the guests. Tantalising barbecue smells filled the air.
Holding a glass of pale-yellow wine in each hand, Helen looked longingly at the ice-cream kiosk. Later, maybe.
Zigzagging between groups of partygoers, she headed towards her sister. A tall, broad-shouldered man stood blocking her path, his back to her.
“Excuse me,” she said.
He turned – and her heart stood still…
Not a chance encounter, she thought, suddenly breathless as she took in the warm brown eyes she remembered so well, the regular features, the strong line of his jaw. The years had put threads of silver in his thick, dark hair.
“Helen.” For a long moment, his eyes didn’t leave her face. Then he glanced down at the two glasses she was holding. “Hey, is one of those for me?”
She couldn’t help smiling.
“For Nicola. She’s over on the sand.”
“She told me you were back in town.”
His voice was as deep and mellow as it had always been, but his tone was polite, no more. There was a distance between them, Helen realised.
She shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. She’d never expected to recapture the past. Even so, it hurt.
“This town’s so small.” Her throat was tight. She sounded as stilted as Mark. As if they were strangers. “We were bound to run into each other some time.”
She hadn’t thought it would be so soon, though. She’d only moved back the week before, ready to start her new job after the bank holiday.
She couldn’t tear her eyes away from him. He stood so close, less than a metre away. How easy it would be to smooth her fingers along his jaw, feel the rasp of his skin beneath her fingertips.
“It’s been a long time, Mark,” she added softly.
Her heart gave an odd little leap.
“So precise?” she murmured.
“It was the bank holiday back then, just like today. Remember? An end-of-summer party, like this one. We were so much in love.” His mouth curved into a smile that held no humour. “And then I went and ruined everything.”
His words brought the memories flooding back. Tears sprang into Helen’s eyes. But she wouldn’t let them spill. She wouldn’t.
“You didn’t want to settle down.” She hated the bitterness in her voice. “Then six months later, you took up with –”
“That was all a mistake. We got divorced a while back.”
“I know. My sister told me. I was sorry to hear about it.”
“We had two fine sons though, both doing really well.” A pause. “Nicola told me about your husband, the accident –”
Andy and I were lucky. We had many happy years together.
“I’m glad.” An awkward silence fell. “Well,” he said, “I’ve no doubt we’ll be seeing each other around.”
He stopped. Helen’s breath caught as he reached out towards her, and with the lightest of touches, running his knuckles down her cheek.
“We had so much going for us…”
She didn’t trust herself to speak. Her heart was too full. Fresh tears misted her eyes and she could only nod.
“We let it all go, Mark,” she said softly.
Barely aware of what she was doing, she made her way over to her sister.
“Here, they’re both for you,” she said, putting the two glasses into Nicola’s hands. “I –”
“Helen, what –?”
“I just want to be by myself for a while.”
She moved closer to the water’s edge, leaned back against one of the huge boulders there and stared out to sea.
Thirty-four years ago – how often she and Mark had strolled arm in arm along the beach here. How often they’d shared an ice-cream, so much in love, totally wrapped up in each other.
What fools they’d been to let it all go.
A footfall, soft on the sand. She turned to see who was approaching – and her heart soared. Mark.
He handed her one of the ice-cream cones he was holding. “May I?”
She nodded, and he leaned against the boulder beside her, so close that his arm brushed against hers, shooting whispers of awareness across her skin.
“A ninety-nine.” Helen breathed in vanilla and chocolate. “You remembered.”
I thought that maybe your tastes had changed after all these years.
She twisted round to look him full in the face, saw the warmth – and the hope – in his eyes, and knew he wasn’t speaking only about ice-cream.
She smiled up at him.
“Some things never change.”
Our My Weekly Favourites series of feel-good fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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