Unfaltering hearts

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Young lovers Natalie and Jackson are separated for nine long years. Now as a journalist and wife to be, Natalie publishes a short story that sends a friendly face to her doorstep, igniting an old
flame.


Natalie walked into her hotel room and slid down into a comfy, overstuffed chair near the bed. Too excited to sleep, she peered at the beautiful sea of lights outside of her Manhattan suite and listened to the occasional honks from cars stuck in traffic. The clunk, clunk of her half-drunk bridesmaids’ heels resounded loudly in the empty halls as they entered the connecting room. Tomorrow she was getting married and a wave of passion engulfed her every time she thought about it. “Mrs. Adam Parker.” She said to herself, smiling like a child on Christmas morning. She had always known that Adam was the one every time she looked into his eyes. And since him she has never looked away.

* * *

Jackson took a seat at his small, round dining table and sipped a generous amount of coffee from his mug. He glanced over at Chachi, his husky pup and smiled as she chowed away at her breakfast as if she hadn’t eaten in months. It was a quiet morning and has been for the past three months. The kinds of mornings that he had hoped for then, when the sounds of firearms, bombs and constant wailing from exhausted, injured men orchestrated the desert ruins of Afghan. Now, he was home and alone. War was no place for boys or men, only the insane who believed that fighting solved everything.

Jackson took another sip of coffee and unfolded the soft, pulp paper and turned to page six of the newspaper. Reading reminded him of simpler days, before the solitudes of manhood, and before he knew how to take apart and reassemble a AR15 rifle.

He galloped through the featured short story and dimpled at the authors’ wit.  Though it wasn’t until his eyes scrolled to the bottom of the column, did his heart thud against his ribs.

“Natalie.” He spoke, barely above a whisper. A slow, warm burn etched into his chest as if he were something dead reawakening after a long slumber.

“Natalie,” he whispered again.

Suddenly, as if the floodgates had been thrown open, every fleeting memory of the girl with tangled, brown curls came rushing back to him. Her eyes, the way the corners of her mouth curled when she smiled. Her vivacious, melodic laugh and how it filled him, he missed everything. But most of all, he missed her being his.

* * *

It was an hour before midnight and nothing to watch on TV. Natalie rolled over in bed, still fully clothed and looked at her beautiful wedding dress, peeking from its display rack. She had tried it on three times, each with more excitement.

The reporter from the Daily Glory magazine had called it the spring wedding of the century, but to her it was fate taking its course. Adam was an amazing man of a very well-off family and he payed attention to detail, respectively in ways that any refined, highly paid physician was expected. They had met in college and were inseparable ever since. Adam treated her better than well and she couldn’t wait to begin their lives together.  

Suddenly, there were three hard knocks on the hotel door. Startled, Natalie jumped from the bed and fastened over to open it. Finally, room service, she thought.

Natalie twisted the knob, jerked and her eyes popped in disbelief.

Jackson.

He was older since the last time she saw him; Taller, bigger and stronger. There were two faint lines above the corners of his mouth when he smiled and a small scar above his left eye. He was different than before, a man, though his eyes were the same and accompanied by the same unchanging smile that once lit up her world.

“Hi Nattie.” Warmth crawled inside of her at the familiar nickname. She hadn’t been called that in a long time.

 

They walked down the street to a tiny diner and sat at a table outside. Natalie stared at him. He looked good, she thought. With his ruffled, crew cut, faded jeans and shirt draped loosely down his broad shoulders and chiseled abdomen.

They ordered coffee and made small talk. Jackson shared with her, many stories of war and she indulged in a few stories of her own. And for a while it felt as though no time had passed at all. They were eighteen again, sitting at Petes’ diner, sharing a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of cocoa. Yet in the present, they both knew the truth. Time had passed, and a lot of it.

Jackson reached up and placed his hand over hers, holding it tightly. And for while she allowed him to.

When the coffee shop had closed, they wandered down the vacant streets of Manhattan talking until they found a narrow alley to a hidden night club. They went inside.

Music blared from powerful speakers as Jackson took Natalie’s hand and together they became part of the exhilarating uproar. They danced vivaciously and intensely, snatching all that they could from this moment before life and reality set it. Tomorrow Natalie would be a married woman, taken, presumably forever; but tonight, she was fervent, feral and eighteen.

All Jackson could think about was how good it felt to have her in his arms again. To feel the warmth of her vibrant skin and finally inhale the sweet scent of strawberries lingering in her hair. Earlier, when he reached for her hand, he had noticed the emerald-cut diamond ring on her left hand, but he couldn’t muster the courage to ask. And now he was thinking maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have to.

They had the most extraordinary time together, but just like every song, the night was coming to an end. In a few hours Natalie would be married and whisked away for a romantic honeymoon in Hawaii, and Jackson would lose Natalie forever. He drew in a deep breath as they walked back to the hotel.

“So, when is the big day?” he stammered.

“Um—Tomorrow.” She twitched in sympathy. She knew her words had hurt him and for that she regretted it.

“Wow, what’s the rush?” he asked, hiding his disappointment.

“Adam and I agreed that we didn’t want a long engagement. And sometimes, when you know, you just know. He’s an amazing guy.”

“Yeah, a lucky one too,” he lowered his head when he spoke, feeling his heart sank deeper. “And good for you. Congratulations.”

She nodded as they arrived back at the hotel, the air was much cooler.

“I had fun,” she began. “And it was so good to see you.”

“Same here. It’s been ages and I really missed you Nattie.”

She shuffled her weight from one foot to the other. “I missed you too,” There was a long silence before she continued. “I hope to see you around.”

He pulled her in for a tight hug, feeling his livelihood crumble away as they said their inevitable goodbyes. Suddenly, a demon of courage possessed him, “Don’t get married.” He blurted.

“What?”

“You feel something, I know you do. It’s the same thing I’ve been feeling for nine years Nattie. Before I couldn’t figure it out, but here with you, everything makes sense now. Don’t you think we owe it to ourselves, to know what could’ve been?”

“You’re crazy! I can’t—”

“No, you’re afraid. Nattie please, for me, for us. You don’t have to do this!”

“Jackson stop. I’m going to marry Adam. I love him.”

“He could never love you Nattie. Not the way that I do. Not the way you deserve!”

“I don’t believe this.” Enraged, Natalie pulled away from him and walked to the door.

“Nattie, wait.” He pleaded.

“I’m sorry Jackson, but you’re too late.”

* * *

On the morning of the great day, Natalie was preoccupied scribbling into a piece of paper, presumed by everyone to be her vows. When she was finished, she got dressed, loaded into the limousine and departed.

Minutes later, she arrived at the church and noticed a figure standing there, on the steps in his black tuxedo. To see him, that was all she needed to confirm her decision. Not that there was a decision to be made in the first place, for in her heart, she had always known.

She ascended the steps to where he stood and handed him the note, and for a moment they looked at one another, then she continued up.

He stood quietly and watched as she entered the building, then carefully unfolded the note. It read:

You are an extraordinary man whom I have loved with my soul.

And what we have is special and will remain in my heart forever. 

But what we had, has ended. 

Thank you, for loving me, but you have to let me go.

-Natalie.

Disappointed, Jackson turned around and started walking. Halfway down the block, he fell to his knees, clutching at his chest in irrefutable pain and soon came the darkness.


Submitted: April 03, 2018

© Copyright 2023 Joneisha Taylor. All rights reserved.

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