It was his birthday, but not even the sunshine of a beautiful day could cheer Pete up. Thirty-three years old and still single, he was re-evaluating his life choices and mourning opportunities that he had sadly let slip by. Of all his failures, he knew that nothing was worse than losing his high school sweetheart. She was tall and slim, a delicate beauty with blue eyes, brown hair and a smile that would melt even the coldest of hearts.
Tara was his first love, and the pain and regret he carried with him was almost too much to bear. It had been the end of summer, just before her senior year of high school and he had been accepted to the University of San Diego. It was going to be an exciting year for him, and he didn’t want to be dating a high school girl since there were so many college girls to be had.
He broke her heart when he broke it off. He didn’t know it right away, but he had broken his own heart too.
Making a stop at the grocery store, he pulled on a cart and found that liberating it from the long line of carts was like removing an iron link from a chain. He really hated shopping, but tedium had its place, and he needed to pick up a few things. The automatic doors opened, and the fly fan blew back his thick blond hair as he pushed the cart into the store.
His thoughts were on Tara and their high school hijinks as he shuffled up and down the aisles. The wobbly wheel made the cart pull to the right, and he almost forgot what he was there for. His brown slip-ons, khaki shorts, and light blue Hawaiian shirt made him look like a vacationer instead of a local, but he blended in with the other shoppers, and no one gave him a second look.
Fleetwood Mac quietly sang ‘Rhiannon’ over the store's speakers while he picked out some ripe plums before heading over to the check-out. He was in the doldrums of a boring routine, and desperately needed something to change.
Beams of sunshine were coming into her room like streamers where she hadn’t pulled the curtains all the way closed.
“Mom, are you getting up today?” Shawn yelled as he stood outside the door.
Tara was already awake and rolled over to face the door. “Yeah, I’m up, I’m up,” she said without enthusiasm. What was there to get up for, anyway? Shawn was just going to go skateboard with his friends, and since Tony left she felt there wasn’t any reason to get up. But she knew she had to just so that Shawn wouldn’t hover over her all day. At thirteen, he was now the man of the house and he worried about her.
“Mom, we’re out of milk, and you need coffee,” he told her after she finally emerged from her cocoon of a room. “And can you pick me up some Sharpies? I wanna trick out my board.”
“So, you want a variety of colors, then?” she asked him as she brushed her long brown hair. She wasn't in the best of moods today, and Shawn picked up on that, immediately.
“Yeah, if it’s okay?”
She lowered the brush and smiled at him, “I’m sorry, baby. It’s not a problem. Please take your phone with you, and make sure it’s on. I hate it when it goes straight to voice mail.” Tara slid on her sandals and picked up her purse. “Have fun and be careful. I love you.”
“Love you too, mom.” Shawn put his helmet and pads in his bag; then he picked up his board and cell phone before he walked through the screen door and down the cement steps. They lived in a shotgun style semi-detached tract home near the beach in Laguna, and although Tony paid the mortgage, she was still struggling to put food on the table.
The supermarket wasn’t too busy, so Tara picked up what she came for and headed to the check-out stand. Putting her items on the belt, she grabbed a People magazine and began thumbing through it.
Pete unloaded his necessities onto the belt as he waited for the lady in front of him to finish checking out. He felt like she had coupons for everything, so it was taking twice as long as the shortest lines there. 'I always back the wrong horse...' he thought to himself. Trying not to let it frustrate him, he turned to the woman behind him to have a laugh about it, but his words caught in his throat.
“Tara?” he said in uncertain amazement. “Tara Clark?” Pete stood looking at her in disbelief.
“Oh my god, Pete?” she immediately recognized him. “I can’t believe it, I was just thinking about you.” The look on her face gave her away, and she fumbled her magazine, dropping it on to the floor. He looked pretty much the same to her. Same sweet face and shaggy, naturally-blond hair, but the goatee was new, and she liked it on him.
Peter bent over and picked up the magazine and handed it to her. After a moment of awkward silence, they began talking as if no time had passed at all. She told him about Tony and how she'd married him after getting pregnant, but also how Shawn was her pride and joy, so the fork in the road they each took was maybe meant to be.
Pete paid for his groceries and continued to talk to her as she checked out. “Would you maybe like to have dinner with me?” he asked. “I’m a mean cook now, I can make you dinner and we can catch up. Bring Shawn if you’d like.” Hearing himself say that last bit made him want to kick himself, but he smiled and hoped she would come without him.
“Um, yeah, okay. That’d be good,” she smiled coyly, fidgeting by putting some strands of hair behind her ear.
“Here’s my address and phone number,” he said, writing it down for her on the back of his receipt and handing it to her. “Is seven too early?” he really wanted to say five but knew that was probably too early. He just really wanted to spend time with her.
“Yeah, seven’s great!” Tara smiled and looked into his eyes. The spark was still there, that was undeniable.
Once she'd paid the cashier, they walked out to their cars. “I’m so happy that I ran into you, Pete,” she laughed. “Kinda crazy, right? I mean, I was literally just thinking about you yesterday.”
Pete smiled and blushed a little. “I’ll see you at seven, then?”
“Okay, yeah,” she replied, realizing that didn’t begin to reflect her true excitement. “Yes... I mean, yes, seven is perfect, but I doubt Shawn will want to come.” Her nerves betrayed her, and she giggled a little as her cheeks flushed red.
Pete whistled as he put groceries away. This was a gift, and he kept thinking he should pinch himself. “Dang, Frosty,” he said to his white husky. “I should wish for a million dollars while I’m at it!” and tousled the dogs hair. “What should I fix, dude?” He always talked to Frosty as though he was human. “Whatever it is, it can’t be beans!” he laughed to himself. “That’d be a show stopper, wouldn’t it?”
Frosty wagged his tail and followed Pete around the kitchen as he cleaned it up and planned his menu. He had Cornish game hens and white wine. “Perfecto!” he kissed the tips of his fingers opened his palm wide with his fingers extended. “A little sage to season, some hot rolls, and asparagus... Oh yeah!”
Tara went home to go through her wardrobe, and soon realized that she certainly had a lot of ‘mom’ clothes. “Oh man...” she said to herself. Picking up her phone, she called her best friend. “Kelly? Oh my gosh, guess what?” she asked as if her friend might actually figure this out. “I ran into my old high school boyfriend at the store, and we’re having dinner!”
Tara smiled ear to ear as she listened to her friend on the other end of the phone. “Yup! That’s the guy. I don’t know what to wear, help!” she laughed.
“You are going to find something and pull it off in your usual perfect style,” Kelly reassured her.
“I’m having a fashion emergency.” Tara listened intently while Kelly gave her advice. “Okay, so casual and cute, sexy but not too sexy. I think I can do that. Oh, my god, I feel like a teenager again!” They both laughed as she went through her clothes until she found a white and blue summer dress and a pair of blue sandals that fit the occasion.
Standing at his front door, Tara double checked her outfit and made sure she didn’t have a loose string hanging off or a spot on her anywhere. Her skin glowed, and she looked young and happy. Drawing up all her courage, she stepped up and rang the doorbell.
Pete took a deep breath to calm his nerves just before opening the door. “Hi!”
He smiled and stared at her. He couldn’t believe she was actually there. She still had that sparkle in her eyes, although tiny creases from laughter gave her even more character than he remembered. Her brown, shoulder-length hair had streaks of gold in it, and the sunlight reflecting off of it made her look like an angel.
They stood there motionless for what seemed like a minute, but, in reality, was only a few seconds. “Oh, come in,” he laughed, “Sorry, I just, uh, well you know.” His smile covered his embarrassment, and she thought he was adorable.
Tara stepped into the foyer and could immediately see his personality in everything about the place. “I love your house, Pete,” she said, "but you always did have excellent taste,” she paused. “Except for that old car you used to drive in high school.”
They both laughed, and he invited her into the kitchen. “Oh, the bruiser cruiser!” he remembered. “I loved that car almost as much you. Almost.” Pete began to laugh but became awkward realizing what he’d said. “How about some wine?”
“I’d love some wine. What’s for dinner? It smells heavenly.” Tara set her purse on the round, padded red bar stool and sat down next to it.
“I hope you still like chicken, because I made game hens, and wild rice.” He was proud of his culinary abilities, one of the talents he’d developed after college life. “I took some cooking classes and found that I really loved it, so it’s become a real passion for me.”
He stood at the kitchen island preparing a green salad and she reached over and began to chop the scallions. “I love white wine with onion,” she teased.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” he said and went to the refrigerator and got out some cheese and crackers. “No onion dip, sorry.” He laughed, and she smiled at him with her same silly grin that he used to love. It was all very comfortable and familiar.
Pete had set the table with his favorite dishes and the appropriate glass for the White Riesling they sipped. He wanted tonight to be perfect. “I was very nervous about seeing you tonight after we spoke today,” he confessed.
“Oh, thank god!” she laughed. “So was I.” They both laughed at their own insecurity, but it was good to put it out there. “I guess I’m still just Tara, and you’re still just Pete.”
After dinner and a lot of reminiscing, they went into the living room, where he poured two glasses of cognac and lit a fire. They continued talking about their lives and filling in the gaps that had been left between them. It was easy getting to know each other again, so conversation was sincere, relaxed and at times very funny.
It’d been fifteen years since they were intimate, and after a while Tara leaned into him, and he took her hand. “I’m sorry that I hurt you back then,” his apology was heartfelt, and he meant it. “I was such a fool to let you go.”
She looked into his eyes, and all was forgiven. They were locked in on each other, and instinctively they began to lean in towards each other. The light from the fire was casting flickering shadows, setting the mood as their lips met. That old chemistry was still there, but some things were different now. Sex wasn’t a dirty word to them anymore. They didn’t have to worry about parents, or getting home by ten.
In a moment of unplanned intimacy, their passion increased into a familiar and comfortable embrace, their bodies close and the kiss so natural that neither held back. The taste of Tara’s kiss took him back to high school, and like a bee to honey, he was completely drawn to her. His manhood began to swell, and he backed off, worried that it was too soon for her to see the bulge that was pushing his jeans out.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I’ya... I...” he cleared his throat. “Tara, I don’t want to scare you off, and I was hoping that we could try to give us another chance.” He had never wanted anything as much as he wanted a second chance with her. “I never really got over you.”
She looked into his eyes and could see his sincerity. “Pete, when you left me, I thought you’d come right back. And you probably would have, but I got involved with Shawn’s dad, and when I got pregnant...” she stopped there for a moment. “Well, I’m pretty sure you would have. I’ll give us another go if you will. They seemed to connect on a level of intimacy that was reserved for those with a spiritual bond.
Lying there together, wrapped in each others arms, it felt so natural and so right. “I can’t stay the night, Pete. I have to go home to Shawn, but I’d love for you to meet him.” Tara snuggled in closer to him, knowing she had to go but desperately wanting to stay.
“I’d like that, very much,” he paused. “It was my birthday today, and this morning I wished I hadn’t blown it so badly with you. Losing you was my biggest regret.” She could hear the pain in his voice and knew he meant every word. “I really hope that I get a second chance.”
Inside, he felt like his heart about to explode, as if he was holding in so much raw emotion that he just might burst. “Seeing you at the store today reminded me of everything good in life. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d won the lottery,” he laughed. “I won’t blow it a second time.”
He looked at Tara in the moonlight as she sat up to leave. “Call me tomorrow? Let’s do something fun,” she smiled. “Or, we can just come back here and get to know each other all day, if you want.”
Sitting up next to her, he took her hand and kissed her. “Okay, I think I like option number two an awful lot,” he said, as they both got dressed. “But I really do want to get to know you better.” Pete was sincere, and if she was entering his life again, he wanted to do things right this time and show her the respect he'd failed to show her in high school.
Standing outside, near her car, Pete opened her door for her. “I still love you, you know?”
Tara reached her arms around his neck and kissed him. “I’m so glad you said that because I was afraid to say it. I feel the same way. I have always felt like we didn’t get our chance.”
“I was a real idiot to let you go the way I did. But if you’ll let me, I’ll make it up to you.”
Getting into her car, she smiled and looked up at him. “Happy birthday.”
“It has been. Thank you for the best present I’ve ever had.”
Saying goodnight was easy because they both knew it wasn’t goodbye. He watched her tail lights as she drove out of sight, and then went back into the house. Peter realized that he was truly happier than he’d been in fifteen years. This time, he’d get it right.