by Jeannie Yee Davis
Pam’s heart faltered when she saw ‘Return to sender – not at this address’ and she knew it was over. She stood in her hallway motionless except for the tears trickling down her cheeks. Memories, so carefully suppressed, now flashed through her mind.
It had been two years since his phone message, “Hello Pam. It’s Wayne. Listen, we need to get together. Call me.”
Since then, she had picked up the phone a thousand times, but each time dropped it back into the cradle. One night, she glanced at her clock. ‘It’s 10:30. Maybe he won’t pick up.’ Her heart quivered as she sucked another deep breath and dialed. His voicemail came on. “Hi, Wayne. It’s me. Sorry I didn’t call sooner. Been busy. I’ll call you when things calm down.” She was hyperventilating and hung up with her heart pulsating in her temples.
Pam lifted the hand-painted lid of the wooden keepsake box to put Wayne’s card inside. Then she saw the 4×6 glossy of him staring at her with his dimpled smile. She gingerly picked it up. Beneath it was the pressed mauve baby rose he gave her. She took it out smiling as tears welled up; spilling down her cheeks remembering the fateful day they met.
Pam greeted the passengers as they entered the threshold of the 757 headed for Singapore. “Hello” she said as he boarded. He glanced at her with a thin smile. Her eyes involuntarily followed him to his seat. ‘There goes one sad puppy,’ she thought. He was handsome in a demure way. His short wavy brown hair accentuated his strong cheekbones, his dimples and his dreamy eyes.
“More coffee?” she asked pampering him a bit. She noticed his manner softening, but her heart sank when she saw him staring and trying to catch her eyes a little too often. “Oh great! He thinks I’m after him!” Like a scared rabbit, she began to avoid him, busying herself with her flight attendant tasks. ‘He’s not giving up,’ she thought, but when their eyes met her heartbeat doubled. A slight smile crept across her mouth, and she felt her face grow hot.
She was stocking the beverage cart in the service station when she felt someone approach. He peeked around the corner and asked, “How long is your layover in Singapore?”
“How about dinner with me then?”
She bit her lip and paused. “Why not? I’m staying at the Pan Pacific. Pick me up at eight.”
“Great. My name is Wayne.”
“I know. I looked at the roster. I’m Pam,” she said, giggling.
* * *
Pam’s long blond hair hung in waves down her back, and the simple black sheath she wore couldn’t hide her curvy figure. She was staring in the mirror putting on her earrings when the phone rang. ‘What am I doing?’ She wondered with a pang of guilt. ‘I’m a married woman.’
“Hi, I’m downstairs.” ‘Hmmm, nice voice.’
When Pam stepped off the elevator, she saw Wayne anew. He was gallant in his black leather jacket, his skin tan against the black dress shirt. Blue jeans hugged his muscular legs and his black western boots added an all-American flair.
“You look great,” he said, taking her elbow and guiding her toward the hotel bar. After a few drinks and the usual small talk, the truth came out. His marriage of fourteen years had ended badly. He was starved for affection. Pam reached across the table and put her hand over his. “I understand.”
She thought about her husband, Michael. Theirs had been a loving marriage until after the second miscarriage. He was uncharacteristically silent during the drive home from the hospital that night.
“I’m sorry about our baby,” she said, reaching for his hand, but he jerked it away.
She looked at him in stunned dismay. “What’s wrong?” Her empty womb ached as much as her heart.
“Don’t you remember what you said when we were dating?” he asked, a sneer creasing his face. “You said you didn’t want children, remember that?”
“Yes, but I…”
“You got your wish,” he interrupted.
“I’m sorry I ever said that because I…” he held up his hand to silence her. After that they were mere housemates. Three years was an unbearable eternity in an empty relationship.
* * *
One evening she came home as Michael walked down the stairs with the old warmth in his eyes and a smile she remembered well. He helped her with her coat, and he said, “You’re radiant! I’d forgotten how beautiful you are.”
Then he slipped his arms around her and kissed her. It felt like rain after a brittle drought.
The following months were bliss. “Okay Hon, I got you down,” she jotted Michael down in her organizer.
“Hello, Wayne. Ah ha, got it. I’ll see you there.” She noted her date with him.
She was living a dream that was destined to become a nightmare.
“There you are! I’ve missed you,” he said, extending his open arms.
* * *
Returning from an overseas flight, she took a last look in the mirror checking her teeth for lipstick and fluffing her hair before heading through the gangway. She straightened her dark blue uniform as her eyes swept the concourse for Wayne.
“I’ve missed you, too.” She smiled as she stepped into his kiss and felt the odd sensation of eyes upon them. Michael stood with a bouquet of white roses, and a look of anguish on his pale face.
“Michael!” she cried turning toward him, but he tossed the roses on the floor and walked away. She grabbed the flowers and pursued him, but with her suitcase she didn’t catch up with him until she got home. He was pouring a stiff Scotch when she walked in. She stood, head bowed, waiting for him to speak. His silence forced her to speak first.
“I’m sorry, Michael.” Her voice trembled. More silence. “Please, talk to me!”
“What should I say? I can’t believe what I saw out there,” he said, pacing the floor. Dark circles hugged his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Michael. I . . .”
“Is this why you’ve been oh-so-happy lately?” He asked. “How long have you been screwing him?”
She winced at the remark. It was so much more. It had kept her alive. “About a year,” she replied, slumping to the couch. “I couldn’t stand the loneliness anymore…the way you looked at me…the silence. I couldn’t stand feeling ugly…feeling unloved.” Tears flowed down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry. I never meant for it to happen – it just did.”
He swigged the rest of his drink and turned toward the stairs. She raced after him and saw him jerk a suitcase from the closet and start packing.
“Michael, what are you doing? Stop. Let’s talk.”
“Talk? Too late for that, I’m gone. You can have your little boyfriend.”
“Please stop! Forgive me. I won’t ever see him again. I promise. Will you stop a minute? Please…stop!”
“I could forgive you for almost anything but this,” he said, stuffing t-shirts into his bag.
She begged and pleaded and finally, solemnly packed her own bags and left alone. It was his house. She languished for weeks at a travel inn, staying in bed till noon, crying herself to sleep each night. Finally, one morning as she looked at her swollen face in the bathroom mirror, she knew she needed to do something. That day she gave two weeks notice and moved to a small apartment in Grants Pass, a cozy resort she had visited a few years earlier and remembered the way it welcomed her. It felt like home.
* * *
Two years had passed when the card came back in the mail bringing the painful string of memories with it. She knew if she had it to do all over again, she wouldn’t. Michael was the love of her life. When she left Wayne at the airport that day, she never looked back. He was just a diversion – a nice diversion, nothing more. But she regretted that she had hurt him and now, she needed to ask his forgiveness, set things right. She dialed his cell.
“Happy belated birthday,” she said.
“You remembered.” ‘He sounded great.’
“I sent you a birthday card, but it was returned.”
“Sorry, I moved,” he said. “So, what have you been up to?”
“Actually, I’m a travel columnist at The Voice Magazine now.”
“That’s a big change. How did that happen?”
“When I moved here to Grants Pass, I heard about a columnist position opened at The Voice Magazine, so I called for an interview. I lucked out.”
“Well, that’s a surprise,” he said. “I didn’t know you were into writing.”
“I majored in journalism.”
“Thanks. Listen Wayne, the reason for my call is to ask your forgiveness.”
“I’ve been blaming you for ruining my marriage. It wasn’t your fault…”
“It was ‘both’ our faults,” he said.
“I’m not calling to get back together…”
“I know. It hurt when you left but you forced me to put my life into perspective. Now I have Joyce. We’re very happy together.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks. I’ve got to go. Call me sometime?”
* * *
The snow gleamed white under an azure sky and stray snowflakes drifted from the wide branches of towering lodge pole pines. Pam stamped her heel and her ski boot snapped into place. She was already exhausted, and she hadn’t even gotten to the bunny slopes for her first lesson. She kept losing her balance and stepping on her skis. She lost her footing and could feel them going out from under her. “Whooooooooa” she hollered as she slid on the snow. She turned sideways to slow herself down but over-corrected and lost her balance, tumbling backward and landing right on top of another skier.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, straightening her cap which had slipped over one eye. “I lost control. Are you okay?” she asked turning her head to see her victim who was bent over still trying to get up. “I didn’t mean to fall on you.” She said straining to get in a position to push herself up with her poles.
“I’m fine.” The voice was familiar. “You okay?” he asked slipping his arms around her waist from behind and pulling her upright.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Pam, sighed. “I’m really sorry.” He was brushing snow off her back. “Thanks for coming to my rescue.”
“No problem, it happens to all of us.”
She turned her head to look into her rescuer’s face. “Michael, I can’t believe it! What are you doing here?”
“Pam? It is you! I thought I recognized that voice.” His brown eyes were wide with wonder. “Skiing with friends. What about you? Since when do you ski?”
“Does it look like I ski?” she asked chuckling. Her cheeks were rosy, and her hazel eyes sparkled. “Today’s going to be my first lesson – if I live through it. I’m on assignment.”
“I’m a travel reporter now.”
“Really? That’s perfect for you – you’ve seen the world. You look good…even if you are a little wet,” he laughed as he brushed snow off her shoulder.
“You, too.” She laughed as she brushed a snowflake that clung to his eyebrow.
The touch of their bodies produced an electric spark. Pam broke the silence, “Listen, Michael, when we separated…”
Michael placed his finger over her mouth, “Shhh. What say we just move on?” Michael’s smile still had that contagious effect on her. She smiled back at him noticing the glow in his eyes. Then she felt a blush creep over her face, her heart began to flutter, and she could feel her skis sliding out from under her again. He grabbed her arm to steady her.
“Yeah. Just lightheaded.”
He grinned, lifting her chin with his thumb, and said, “Maybe I should keep an eye on you, so you don’t fall into someone else.”
“Don’t worry. Falling into you is enough.”
Previously published in Long Story Short, e-clips & Applecart.