By Michele Bardsley
FOUR YEARS, TWO months, and ten days had passed since Pamela had talked to Mike. Oh, she had seen him in a restaurant or at the Laundromat. That was the torture of living in a small town.
If only...Pamela sighed. How many times had she uttered or thought those words in the last four years? Too many for her own comfort. What was it her mother had always said? Oh yeah. If happiness is a when, it’s a never.
The little café buzzed with people. Laughter filtered through the hum of countless conversations. Pamela drummed her trembling fingers against the table. Calling Mike hadn’t been a conscious thought. She had nearly hung up when he’d answered. Only when he had said hello three times did Pamela realize she’d been holding her breath. “Pamela?” Mike had paused and she’d felt her heart pound in her chest like she was running a marathon instead of conducting a simple phone conversation. “It’s good to hear from you,” he’d finally said.
Had his voice turned husky? She could almost see his brown eyes darken and his lips pull into a slow, sexy smile. She’d cleared her throat. “I was wondering if you would like to get together sometime.”
“How’s tomorrow for you? We could meet around noon at the cafe on Main Street.” And now it was 11:55 a.m. Pamela closed her eyes. What if he didn’t show? What if she had imagined all those emotions in his voice? If only...stop it, Pam!
Pamela pulled out a compact from her purse and lightly dusted her freckled nose. Hazel eyes stared at her. A soft brown curl rested against her cheek. Impatiently, she swept it behind her ear and tossed the compact back into her purse.
Why had she called him? The heartbreak had faded, but her feelings for Mike still fluttered in her soul like a trapped bird. Did she want to exhume their relationship so she could close Mike’s chapter in her life or did she hope there was still a spark?
Four years ago, they had graduated from high school, making plans to get married and have children. But then she was offered a full scholarship at a college out of state. Mike had begged her to stay because he’d gotten had a good-paying construction job. She had asked him to go with her and when he wouldn’t, pleaded with him to understand her decision to go without him.
When Pamela looked back now, she saw those days in vivid clarity. She accepted the choices in her life, knowing that attending college had been the right decision, but she’d ached all the while for Mike. And now she’d returned to the town she loved to take a teaching job at her old high school. She couldn’t stop thinking about Mike. Her relationship with him had been wonderful, but the seams had come unraveled. Instead of trying to stitch it up, they had knotted the threads.
An interior alarm buzzed in Pamela’s mind. She looked toward the cafe’s entrance, relief and apprehension coursing through her when she saw Mike in the doorway. He spotted her and smiled, his tall form slicing through the tables to take the seat across from her. “Hi, Rabbit. You look good.”
Hah! She looked like hell. But when his gaze caressed her face, Pamela felt ridiculously pretty. “I can’t believe you still remember that silly nickname.”
“I remember a lot of things. Can you still wiggle your nose?” She obliged his request and he laughed. “How are you?”
Pamela wanted to tell him. She felt miserable and hopeful and crazy. “I’m fine. And you?”
“Much better in the last two minutes,” he said. His grin made her butterflies dance in her stomach. She steadied her nerves by rearranging the sugar packets. The waitress came and took their orders of sandwiches and coffee.
“I was surprised when you came back,” Mike said. “I figured you’d get a job in a big city.” He looked at her, his gaze questioning. “We should have spoken weeks ago.”
“I didn’t think you wanted to talk to me,” Pamela answered softly. The lack of bitterness in his voice surprised her. He looked like the same old Mike: tall, well-muscled, longish dark hair, and mischievous brown eyes. But there was something different about him. The impatient tension that used to snap around him like electricity had disappeared. His movements were calm, relaxed. Lines had deepened around the grooves of his eyes and mouth. Yes, he was different in the same way that she was now different, too. They had experienced life without each other.
Had Mike’s been as lonely as hers?
“Pamela, I wish so many things.”
“Like...well.” He shrugged. “Did you meet anyone while you were gone?”
Pamela shook her head, unable to articulate her emotions. She dated, sure, but no one ever measured up to Mike. She swallowed the knot of apprehension in her throat. “I heard you and Debby dated.”
Mike chuckled. “For all of ten minutes. I’ve been too busy for much of a social life. Started my own business.”
“I heard.” She paused. “I’m proud of you. I knew you’d do it.”
“I’ve missed you.”
The waitress delivered their food and drinks. Pamela felt like a balloon that had been stuck with a pin and all the air let out. They ate in companionable silence, but soon the empty plates were cleared away, and the chatter died down as patrons drifted out into the afternoon.
“Would you like to go out?” Mike asked. “Don’t answer now. Just think about it.”
Pamela heard the soft plea in his voice. She met his gaze and saw the tentative promise there. She saw hope and possibility and knew his emotions mirrored hers.
Mike pushed his hand through his hair and then rubbed his jaw. It was a nervous gesture she recognized. Some things never changed. But sometimes people did.
“This feels familiar.” Pamela wiggled her fingers at him.
Mike enclosed her hand within his own then kissed her knuckles. “Rabbit, this feels like a second chance.”