One Year Later
Spring was finally starting to push winter out. I had been waiting for this change of seasons for what seemed like ages. Now the bite was gone from the air, the breeze carried a warm scent and the trees were starting to bud.
I had been working as the manager of the IT department for the largest bank in the area for a few months. Just after our first Christmas and New Year with our new life I was offered the position in the heart of Summerville. It came with a raise that almost doubled my current salary, and a company car. (That was nice because it kept the miles and maintenance down on my own car.) There was one stipulation to me taking the job. Cassie came with me. She knew how I worked, and we made a good team. The bank accepted the condition.
It was because of this new job that I was walking down Summit Street in Summerville on that fateful Thursday afternoon. I had left work early, and I decided to spend the early spring day shopping the town’s high-end boutiques. Sometimes it just feels good to splurge a little. Summit Street was Summerville’s answer to Rodeo Drive.
There was a new song on the air waves that reminded me a bit of my earlier life. Before the accident, before Allison was born, before I had ever met James. The voice singing the tune was deep and gravelly. The words caused my mind to reminisce.
That song was stuck in my head this particular day.
I came out of a shop after purchasing a cute shirt and skirt for Allison, and as I entered the flow of people on the sidewalk, a familiar scent teased my nostrils. I sniffed the air lightly. Then, not even realizing what I was doing, I turned and followed my nose down the street.
I never lost the scent. It was like a cartoon where one character is led to something, usually a trap, by following the aroma of food. Only I was following the scent of a man.
Just past the used-book store, the smell disappeared. I stopped and turned in a circle, looking for something I wasn’t sure I would recognize. Then the used book store caught my eye.
I rushed to the door and pushed it open. As I entered, the musky smell of the old books flooded my senses. Mingling with that smell was my luring scent. The man had entered this store.
It was perfect. If I had been following the man from my past, he would have entered this shop. He wouldn’t have been able to resist the words written so long ago. They would have pulled him in here with the mysterious power they had always held over him.
But it was impossible that I could be following that particular man. I was in central Pennsylvania, and he was in California. Well, that was the last place I knew him to be. (Although that was more than fifteen years ago.)
I began to browse the shelves. I enjoyed reading, so I thought I might buy myself an old classic while I was in here. As I drifted through the upper levels of the four-story shop, my original motivation for coming here escaped me. Eventually I came to the Attic, as a sign designated the fourth floor.
This was where the really old books were. Most of the books on the shelves were falling apart. A sign posted at the door read: please do not handle the books unless you are a serious buyer.
A strange sensation overcame me in this room. It was an anxious feeling, yet I felt totally at ease at the same time. Objects with history always seem to have this sort of effect on me. But it wasn’t just the books. I could sense someone else in the room. Then, as I milled through the shelves, I smelled him.
The scent I had followed down the street and into this store was now here with me. My senses heightened, and I slowly crept past the rows of book-covered shelves toward the back of the room. I stopped at the second to last row and entered, feigning interest in the books.
The man with the familiar aroma was on the other side of the shelf. I could smell him as I stood there taking in the perfumed air deeply through my nose. I allowed the scent to take me back to a time when life wasn’t so complicated.
I could see his handsome face with the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea in the background. I closed my eyes as I fell deeper into the memory. The warmth engulfed me.
I don’t know how long I stood there like that, but a sharpening of the man’s scent brought me back. I opened my eyes to find him standing there gazing down at me with sea-green eyes. His thick brown hair was wind-blown, his skin sun-kissed.
I couldn’t look away from that beautiful face. I had dreamt about this man. He haunted me in my sleep.
My jaw must have dropped, though I can’t be sure. My entire body went numb, and I couldn’t speak.
A slow smile spread across his face. My God, he was beautiful when he smiled. Then again, he was beautiful before he smiled, too. His eyes gleamed in the sunlight slanting through the windows. It was like looking into the depths of the sea, and I was drowning without ever jumping in.
“Lord Byron,” he said, indicating the book I held. “I like his style. But you seem more like a Poe fan than Byron.”
His deep voice flooded my system, almost sending me into overload. I practically melted at the sensual tone resonating from his beautiful mouth. My mouth actually started to water as I gazed up at him.
He chuckled at my paralysis, sending me further into my stupefied state.
“Hey. You OK?”
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move. I was not OK.
He asked again, this time gently grabbing my upper left arm with his warm, masculine strength. His eyes held genuine concern.
And it was that tender touch that broke the spell, had me dropping everything I held and throwing my arms around his neck. I lost myself in his wonderfully strong and gentle embrace. Burying my face against his neck I inhaled deeply and allowed his essence to flood my system once again. Tears filled my eyes, and I held him tighter as he lifted me off my feet and squeezed his soul into me.
“Oh, Ella, I’ve missed you so much,” he breathed in my ear.
“I missed you, too,” I whispered.