Authors: Jill Sanders
She drove home that night and refused to see him the next morning when he knocked on her locked window. He banged for almost a half an hour before finally leaving. He’d slipped a note under the windowsill, but she didn’t have the heart or the strength to read it. Instead, she shoved it in a large box with all her other memories of him. Then she carried it up to the attic where she locked it and her heart away . . . until he returned.
Six years later, Wes stood next to the softball field and smiled. It felt good to be home. Most of the town of Fairplay, Texas, was crowded into the large park area. Two different softball games were going at once. A women’s team on one side and very young kids on the other. It was a wonderful contrast.
Families of every size and shape gathered around for the July Fourth festivities. He knew there would be lots of barbeque and watermelon, and after dark, fireworks. The noise level would grow deafening in the upcoming hour. It was a Fairplay tradition for as long as he could remember.
When his mother called to him, he walked across the sidewalk towards her. He felt like all eyes were on him as they noticed the slight limp he now had, but he smiled and held his head up high as he crossed over and kissed his mother’s cheek.
There you are. You would think that the army would have taught you to show up on time.” She smiled and patted his cheek. “At least once in a while.”
He chuckled. “I do like making an entrance.” He nodded to the crowd. The softball game had actually stopped when his mother had called for him. He could see every eye on him, and almost every face had a smile on it, except for the pitcher in the game. And of course, she was the only one he’d been looking at.
For her part, she was looking at him like he was a ghost. When he waved at her, she blinked and dropped the ball. Fumbling, she bent down and picked it up, then turned her back to him.
The players on first and second base rushed to the pitching mound and talked with her for a while. A heated conversation followed, but Haley won out and turned back to pitch the ball. She took a moment to adjust, then threw one of the fastest balls he could remember seeing a girl throw, striking the batter out.
“That girl is the best pitcher this side of the Mississippi,” his father said as he sat beside him. He had an arm full of Frito pies and Cokes. Reaching up, Wes took the food and passed some on to his mother as his dad sat next to him.
She sure has an arm on her,” Wes said, not mentioning that he knew for a fact that she had a lot of other great body parts as well.
She looked great. If he’d seen her earlier, as he was walking the short distance to join his mother, he probably would have tried to hide the limp a little better. He couldn’t completely hide it, but he would have tried.
For the remainder of the game, she kept her eyes away from the stands. She played better than he remembered, and by the time her team had won, she looked worn out and frazzled. Her dark hair was a lot longer than the last time he’d seen her, and it was coming loose of the tight braid she wore. It was tied back with a blue bow like the other ladies on her team.
He could see the slight differences in her. Her hips were a little wider, her breasts were fuller—she looked good. She definitely filled out the blue and white uniform. Her skin was tan and she had a nice glow going. She’d looked happy, like she was having fun—until she had seen him.
After the game, he stood around in the stands under the shade and talked to everyone. People approached his family, giving him handshakes or hugs and thanking him. He felt like a heel and wanted to be anywhere but there. Finally, after almost a dozen people had talked to him, he excused himself and started walking towards the dugout, hoping to find Haley.
She was there, surrounded by four of her closest friends and her sister Alexis. He didn’t mind her friends, but Alex had a side of her that no one in town liked to cross. He’d heard that she’d married Grant Holton last year, and he hoped that maybe she had softened up a little.
“Wes Tanner, you have some nerve coming here,” Alex said, crossing her arms over her chest like the other ladies were doing. Everyone except Haley, who was looking down at her feet like she wished she was anywhere but there.
Lovely to see you, too, Mrs. Holton,” he said slowly, then he smiled and walked over to her, giving her a light hug. “I’m glad to see you finally ditched Travis.”
She frowned at him and nodded. “I guess you can say that the West sisters are not fools when it comes to finding the right man.” She nodded and looked towards Haley, and he felt his heart sink. Was she trying to tell him that Haley was seeing someone? Or worse, married? He’d been so busy during the game watching her, that he hadn’t asked his folks if she was involved.
When Alex and the other ladies noticed the shocked look on his face, they nodded politely to him and walked away, leaving him alone with her. Since she was still looking down at her shoes, he took that time to recover.
Hey,” he said when they were alone. She glanced up at him quickly, then bent to pick up her duffel bag without a word. He walked over and stood right behind her. “What was your sister talking about?” he asked after a moment of silence.
I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, stiffly. When she turned around, she bumped solidly into him. His hands came up to steady her. She tried to jerk away, but his hands held her tight. He missed touching her, being this close to her.
Are you seeing someone?” he asked and watched her chin drop. Then as quickly as it opened, she shut it and jerked her shoulders back.
I don’t see how that is any of your business.” She turned and tossed her bag over her shoulder, trying to block him out.
It’s not, I guess.” He dropped his hands just as Tom Blake walked down the stairs.
Hi.” Tom nodded to Wes, then he watched the man walk up to Haley and plant a kiss on her cheek, sufficiently answering his question.
He felt his chest kick a little as he watched Tom take Haley’s hand in his own. “You did wonderful out there,” Tom said, trying to pull her closer, but Wes noticed when she hesitated. Just then, he knew he still had a chance with her.
He watched as the pair made their way across the field to where her family was. Her sister Lauren, brother-in-law Chase, and their new son were sitting with Alex and Grant in the shade of a row of oak trees. Their picnic table was full of food and it looked like they were staying for the fireworks that were due to start in a few hours.
His father walked up beside him, looking to where his attention was drawn. “Still have it bad for that girl, huh?” His father rested an arm on his shoulder.
“It never went away,” he mumbled. His father chuckled.
Don’t wait too long. That Blake boy has been sniffing around her for a while. Sounds like they’re starting to get serious.” His father pulled him along to their picnic spot, where they had always sat. The old wood table was the same. He sat down in the spot where he had carved his and Haley’s initials in the old wood. Playing his fingers over the worn letters, he looked over just in time to see her glance away from him. Smiling, he decided he just needed to come up with the right strategy. After all, love was the most important battle he’d ever fought, and he was determined to win this war.
aley sat back against the trunk of the tree and closed her eyes. The heat was getting to her. Even though she had changed into shorts and a tank top, she was still too hot.
had hesitated when Tom tried to show affection in front of Wes. She was sure it was just Tom’s way of staking his claim on her. But at this point, she didn’t know if they were even really together.
It wasn’t as if they were officially dating. They’d been friendly for the last year, but she had never really considered them a couple. They hadn’t even really made out. Tom was shy. Too shy. She’d tried to push the relationship on, but every time she tried to get closer, he would back away. Just the other day she had convinced herself that it was time to move on. She had even talked to him and told him they were better off as friends, and he had agreed.
She opened her eyes and watched Tom with her family. He didn’t fit in, not really. Everyone was polite to him, but there was something underneath it all. Almost like they were strangers to him, instead of family.
Glancing over towards Wes and his family, she realized he’d never had a problem fitting in with her sisters. They’d almost always treated him like their little brother, like he
part of the family. Even her father had treated him like the son he’d never had.
After seeing Wes, Tom started acting like they were joined at the hip. She’d had to persuade him that she had a headache in order to get some time alone, sitting under the tree. Tom was busy talking with her family, so she got up and started walking through the cool trees towards the small creek that lined the side of the softball fields. There was an old wood bridge that crossed the low water. She stopped and watched the turtles sitting on several large rocks, soaking up the sun.
She thought about all the times she and Wes had watched the turtles in the pond on her property. All the times they had lay in the tall grass or in the sand along the shore and kissed or made love. After he had left, she had missed him so much it had physically hurt.
But after the first year of not hearing from him, she had built up an immunity to the pain, a sort of callus over her emotions and heart. She had fully convinced herself that she would never feel that much again, as long as she lived. After seeing him again today, she knew she had been lying to herself all this time. It wasn’t love she should have built up an immunity to, it was him.
“Hey.” She jumped when he spoke behind her. She hadn’t even heard him approach.
Oh!” She spun around, her hand coming to her heart.
Sorry,” he mumbled. “I guess I’m used to walking quietly now.” He looked down at her hand over her heart, so she dropped it.
Not saying anything, she turned away, hoping to get her breath back. He was still so very handsome. When she’d seen him walking across the grass towards his mother earlier, she hadn’t registered his limp at first. She’d only seen his face. His beautiful face. She’d always admired it. Even when it was a little pudgy in his youth, he’d always had the perfect chin, nose, and lips. Everything was perfectly proportioned on him. She had seen the subtle changes in him. He was full of rippling muscles that covered his arms, chest, and legs. He wore khaki shorts and a tight white T-shirt, which showed them off nicely.
He had always kept his hair a little longer. Now, however, it was military short, which reminded her of where he had been all this time and how he had kept himself away from her.
He walked up and leaned against the railing of the bridge. His foot rested on the lower rung. “I had hoped we could be friends.”
She closed her eyes and sighed. She knew she was being ridiculous, but the hurt was still there, even six years later.
Turning to him, she looked into his brown eyes. Here, she noticed, he had changed, too. Gone was the softness of his youth. The naivety. His eyes were harder, more sure somehow.
“I’m not sure.” She turned and leaned back against the railing, looking more deeply into his eyes. She didn’t even know what his plans were. Was he back to stay? Or was this just a family visit? A holiday?
She didn’t see him moving until his arms were on either side of her, resting on the railing. He was too close; she could smell him and it brought back too many memories.
“Please.” She started to push him away, but he reached up and grabbed her hands in one of his.
Don’t,” he said softly. “Don’t push me away again.”
Her chin came up. “I’m not the one that did any pushing, if my memory serves me right.”
“You pushed me away earlier. Listen, Haley, there is history here, between us. I just want to know if what we had is still here.”