Dreams of Yesterday
by Sandra Elzie writing as Sandra McGregor
Surely life wasn’t over at twenty-nine.
Caroline stood on the knoll, the wind whipping fine strands of her shoulder-length, gold-streaked red hair into her face. It seemed only yesterday she had built sandcastles using a rusted one-pound coffee can and her mother’s garden trowel. Her lips lifted slightly at the remembered punishment she got for misplacing the trowel.
She would never forget that memorable summer spent in a rented beach cottage before they moved to live with Grandpa Mosley near Sacramento. Her mother had been sad and lonely, except for visits with Crystal, her mother’s best friend who lived three cottages down. She remembered reading a lot that summer since the only other kid on that strip of beach was Crystal’s bratty son, Matt.
Again, she smiled. The innocence of youth. She had been nine to his ten, but she’d never forget the day he called her a baby and told her she was stupid…then promptly left her standing ankle-deep in the sand with her hand full of shells she had collected to add to her jar. He had raced down the beach…returning later with a black eye. Of course she had asked what happened, but he had only glared as he stomped by without a word.
Now, twenty years later, she was back. Divorced, childless and disillusioned with men and life. She was tired of trying…and failing. She had a job she hated and since her mother passed two years earlier, she felt totally alone. Her friends were busy with there own lives and….
“Okay, Caroline,” she admonished herself, “stop whining and wallowing.” She slid her feet from the sandals and stepped down into the warm sand, closing her eyes as she scrunched her toes and basked in the familiar feeling of the shore. She loved the sea, but she lived a little too far to come often. Usually a happy time, today’s trip wrapped her heart in memories and sadness. In the morning she would be saying good-bye to her mother’s best friend …and she would, no doubt, be seeing Matt again. He would never know how many nights she had lain awake as a preteen, dreaming of him on a white stallion, riding up to whisk her away to live happily ever after.
Caroline bent to retrieve her sandals, then turned her back on the sea and climbed the path to her car. She needed to check into her hotel room. She had a lot to think about…but one thing was definite. It was time to lay a childish dream to rest.
The following morning a thick mist hid the sun, but by eleven, it burned off and Caroline was seated near the back of the small chapel. Within minutes, the family filed in to sit on the front pew. Three men, all about the same age, and all with broad shoulders and thick brown hair. Which one was Matt? Her heart thumped faster as she admitted it was crazy to have a crush on a man just because she’d had one on him twenty years earlier.
As the minister stood and walked to the podium, Caroline dragged her gaze from the three men and glanced at her hands, focusing on the one wrapped around the pamphlet that was now crushed. With a soft sigh, she leaned over to drop the paper into her purse.
Matthew Scott sat between his cousins, his mind blank as the minister droned on. He had remained close to his mother, spending summers with her until he left for college to study architecture. He had kept track of Caroline Shepard’s life through his mother…at least until her mother passed a couple of years earlier. When his cousin offered to help with funeral arrangements, he had supplied a list of names and addresses of people from out-of-town who needed to be notified. He had added Caroline’s name to the list, but he had no way of knowing if she’d made it or not. Regardless, he knew his mother would have been pleased that so many of the small seaside neighbors had come to her funeral.
He shook his head and forced his wandering thoughts back to the present. Even if Caroline were here, she was probably with her husband. He hadn’t seen her since the summer when they were kids, but for some unknown reason, he had never totally forgotten her. As a teen he had been drawn to redheads. Of course, looking back, he could see that he had dated and eventually married Melanie because she reminded him of that summer at the beach. Unfortunately, within a year, they both realized it wasn’t working and divorce had been the humane way to rectify the mistake.
When the minister sat down and the director indicated that the family should leave first, Matt slid one hand into his pocket and wrapped his hand around the shell he had picked up on the shore during the summer so many years ago. He had kept it in his desk over the years, never sharing its significance with anyone, not even Melanie when she started to toss it in the trash. Those days belonged to two kids who were now grown up.
As he neared the back of the small chapel, he glanced at the people. Most were older versions of his mother, but then his gaze landed on a younger woman with long red hair that hung down to obstruct his view of her face as she bent to reach something near the floor. His heart thudded, then jolted into overdrive when she lifted her head and turned to look at him. His cousin rammed into his back as his step faltered. The momentum sent him forward with a muttered apology tossed over his shoulder. The jackhammer in his chest was tapping a cadence. She’s here. She’s here. She’s here.
Just outside the double doors, Matt stepped from the flow of family now murmuring among themselves as they headed for the parking lot. His mother had chosen cremation, so there would only be the memorial service. Everyone was now invited to his mother’s cottage to eat the sinful display of food that had been delivered earlier by all the generous neighbors.
“Matt, I was going to ride over to the house with my parents,” his cousin said near his elbow. “Would you rather me wait and ride with you?”
Matt glanced at Thad, his cousin and partner in Scott Construction. “No, thanks, man. I’m fine. I just saw someone I want to speak with in case she doesn’t come by the house to eat.” There was no way he was going to let Caroline walk out of his life again without them at least having a chance to talk for a bit. He had been up against a contract deadline when her mother passed, making it impossible to attend the funeral with his mother. He needed to pass along his condolences to Caroline.
With a nod and a slight wave, Thad strode down the corridor toward his parents, leaving Matt to watch the stream of people slowing leaving the small chapel. When he saw Caroline step into the lobby, he stared for a moment before moving to intercept her. Her hair was still long and the same light red with gold strands, but everything else had changed—and definitely for the better. Her skin was…peaches and cream…or so his cousin Ruth had once called it. The description seemed appropriate. But man oh man, the bookish little girl had grown up.
He stood rooted to the spot, watching her hips sway as she walked toward the front door. She was wearing a royal-blue suit that perfectly displayed her slender build and the spiked heels showcased her model-length legs. He swallowed twice before he realized that the teenage fantasies he’d had about long-legged redheads had materialized right in front of him…and had caused his saliva glands to work double time. She stopped near the front door to speak to the minister and one of his cousins, interrupting his thoughts and galvanizing him from his stupor to stride toward the woman he didn’t want to get away.
“Matt, we’re sorry for your loss.” “Matt, we’re so sorry.” “Matt, we loved your mother.” “Matt, your mother will be missed.” Numerous people wanted to personally speak to him, leaving no choice but to momentarily stop and thank each of them and invite them to the house for lunch. When he finally had a clear shot at the door, he made a mad dash for freedom, not glancing at anyone to the right or left, but keeping his eyes and his mind on his mission.
Just outside the front doors, he jolted to a stop and scanned the small groups of people for Caroline’s distinctive hair. Nothing. Panic kicked up his heartbeat. Then his gaze slid to the cars. By the time he recognized her through the windshield of the silver Mustang, Caroline had just started the engine and was preparing to pull out. With one arm raised to flag her down, he trotted across the glistening asphalt, relieved when his gaze connected with hers and he knew she had not only seen him, but would wait.
She lowered the window and smiled up at him when he arrived at the side of her car. “Hi. I wanted to speak to you, but when I came out, I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry about your mother. She was always such a good friend to my mother and always so sweet to me.”
Her voice washed over him like a gentle wave. “You’re the daughter she always wanted and never got,” he answered, returning her smile. “Listen, are you coming over to the house for lunch?” When she shook her head, his mind screamed silently. This can’t be happening. He wasn’t sure why it suddenly seemed so urgent that he have a chance to talk with her, but something inside told him that he’d always regret it if he didn’t convince her to give them a little more time.
“I have a long drive back home and…”
After a quick glance at her left hand, and relieved that she was single and available, he was confidence he could convince her…for old times sake if nothing else. Of course, if necessary, he’d pull out the guilt card and tell her it would help him to talk about the summer their mothers had forced them to spend time together. Thanks Mom.
“Um,” he started slowly, leaning down slightly and bracing his hands across the windowsill, “I was wondering if you’d reconsider. The neighbors have brought in a ton of food and …” he allowed his words to trail off, not sure how to say he needed a friend. His mother knew these older people, but he didn’t.
She sat, silently staring up at him as if running the pros and cons through her mind before answering. When a smile spread across her face and she nodded, he released the held breath. “Great. I’ll see you there.” He straightened and turned to trot down the row to his Ford F250. Soon he was leading the way out of town toward the weather-bleached cottages that lined the coast.
“Well, Mom,” he said aloud, ignoring the country western tune playing on the radio, “I think you’d be happy about the turn of events. I’m going to miss you…but thanks for everything.” He felt at odds. On the one hand he was sad about losing his mother, but yet the day had taken a turn, giving him something to smile about—something to give him hope that the future might be brighter.
By the time he reached the cottage, doubts had set in. Was he just grabbing at a straw to take his mind off the loss of his mother? Was this fair to Caroline? He parked, stepped out, and waited until Caroline joined him. She had slipped off her suit jacket and replaced her heels with white sandals. She had to be only four or five inches less than his six feet, but the royal-blue skirt she wore perfectly displayed her slender build and her long legs.
“Gosh, this brings back memories,” she told him as she gazed out toward the ocean. She raised an arm to keep the wind from blowing loose hairs into her face, but her expression was one of wonder and appreciation. “I’ve always loved the ocean. It’s so soothing—so restful.” She turned to smile at him, reaching out to take his hand. “Come on, you’re guests are waiting.”
Neighbors were already arriving, but Mrs. Billings had borrowed a key, so lunch was spread out on the L-shaped counter and people were already helping themselves to tea and food as he and Caroline walked in. He was grateful that Caroline stuck by his side, helping to carry conversations with everyone who wanted to say a few words about his mother or share good times they had spent with her. Within a couple of hours all the neighbors and family had gone, leaving him more tired than the days he put in ten to twelve hours in the sun at a construction site.
“You haven’t eaten. Sit down and I’ll get us each a drink and you a plate of food.” Caroline was gently pushing him toward a cushioned glider chair. “Put your feet up and relax.”
“Skip the food for now, but I’d love some tea. Then maybe we can walk down to the beach.”
Her smile encouraged him. She was no longer a skinny, pig-tailed girl with a misting of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Now she was a beautiful woman with a pure complexion that should have been on magazine covers. Just when he thought he’d swear off women forever, in walked a vision from his past that he wanted in his future. Forever? Happily-ever-after and all that romantic stuff? He wasn’t sure, but he darn well wasn’t going to let her get away without getting to know her better. Suddenly, his future looked brighter.
Caroline poured tea into two travel mugs, but her mind was focused on Matt. He no longer appeared to be the selfish kid of twenty years ago. Now he was a successful co-owner of a construction company. Her mother had bragged about him occasionally over the years and she had hung on every word. Could there still be a connection between them?
She sighed, turning to glance at Matt who had his head back and his eyes closed. She hoped they could be friends…maybe even a bit more than friends. She was at loose ends and during one very long night of private soul searching, she admitted that Matt had always been her standard. Her poor husband had never seemed to measure up. No wonder he finally gave up trying and eventually filed for a divorce that she didn’t bother to contest. Well, maybe Matt would be in her future and maybe not, but she wasn’t going to leave until she knew for sure if they had a chance for the fairytale.
“Here you go.” She sat the mugs on the glass-topped table and straightened. “Do you think I could borrow a pair of your mother’s short? I’d hate to get this suit all beachy.”
“Sure, help yourself.” He stood. “I’ll take these and wait for you on the porch.”
All the woman’s pants were several sizes too large, but she found a wrap-around skirt that she was able to use and soon they were strolling slowly down the path toward the sea.
“You know, I remember being rude to you…and maybe even a bit mean.” Matt darted a sheepish grin in her direction. “I’m sorry.”
She returned his smile. “Yes, but that’s ancient history.” Today she would forgive him anything. “But I’m wondering if you’ll tell me what happened the day you went down the shore and came back with a black eye.”
His chuckle was lifted on the breeze and carried over the dunes ahead of them. “I’d forgotten about that. Wow, you’ve got a great memory.” When she lifted her eyebrows and cocked her head at an angle as if encouraging him to continue, he nodded. “Okay. My aunt and uncle…along with my cousin, rented a cottage for the weekend on the far end of the beach.” His lips twisted into a slight smirk as he continued. “He teased me about you. He said I was a sissy if I like girls. So, since I wasn’t about to admit that I liked you, I punched him in the face.”
Caroline cringed, joining him when he started laughing.
“But the rest of the story is that we became better friends as we grew older and now we’re…”
“Let me guess,” she said, turning her head to look directly at him. “I bet he’s your partner now.”
“Yep. It was Thad. Now he’s married with two children. No more teasing. Instead, he keeps telling me that all women aren’t like my Ex and I should try again. In fact,” he said, stopping and taking her hand to turn her to face him, “he told me just a bit ago that if I didn’t grab you and hold on…those are his words…he’ll kick my rear.”
Still holding her hand, he squeezed gently, sending a shiver up her arm that had nothing to do with the chilly breeze bringing in the unique smells of the ocean. Caroline sucked in a breath and held it a moment while she gathered her nerve. Once she exhaled, she allowed a smile to slowly lift the corners of her lips. “Well, we can’t let that happen. What do you suppose we do about it?” She watched his shoulders relax and his grin broaden.
“Well, maybe we should start with something I wanted to do that summer. You see, at ten, boys are supposed to think girls have germs and all that, but I got the bright idea that our parents just wanted us to think that because there was something they didn’t want us to find out.”
“Go on,” she encouraged, chuckling as she lifted the hand holding the travel mug to brush stray hairs from her face with one finger. Her eyes widen as he leaned closer…and closer. When his eyes closed, she relaxed, allowing him the freedom to orchestrate the moment that would fulfill her childhood fantasies. No longer would she have to imagine what his lips would feel like—no longer would she wonder if he could ever be attracted to her.
Her lids fluttered down, blocking out the sun and putting her senses on high alert. The masculine smells of musk and spice swirled around her to fuel the anticipation that begged to be satisfied. An eternity slipped away before his lips touched hers to sear them with a heat that sizzled…heat that branded despite the feather touch. On a soft sigh, she sank under the spell he wove—a spell that held her prisoner.
The kiss deepened by degrees, drawing her in and making silent promises as it plundered and possessed. No longer could she ignore her body’s traitorous demands for more. Even as a groan slipped from his throat, his hand slid from hers and slowly snaked around her waist to draw her in until their bodies aligned, sending her heart into erratic overdrive. Surely he could feel the pounding against his chest as her out-of- control heart thundered at her temples. Like someone starving, she moved her lips under his, opening to his tongue when it requested entry. Please, God, don’t let this stop.
Matt was the one to pull back. Caroline was panting, her breaths coming in quick, shallow spurts. She was relieved to see she had a similar effect on him, but the arm around her back kept her plastered intimately against his body—a body that was rock hard and so much more than she had even imagined. He was the handsome prince and the capable warrior—gentle, but strong enough to slay her dragons.
Their gazes locked and held, allowing them time to consider the change in their situation and whether to step back or go forward. Matt spoke first. “Did you see the movie, The Bridges of Madison County?” When she nodded, he continued. “Well, we can agree to come back here every year on this date…like in the movie…or we can agree to stay in touch and see where this kiss takes us.”
Her mind was numb, unable to think of any logical reason to deny them what they both appeared to want. Finally she nodded. “I vote we see where this takes us.”
Matt gazed down at her as if willing a certain response, but with her answer, a smile splashed across his face.
He leaned in for a lingering kiss before pulling his lips away to trail along her jaw. He deposited tiny butterfly kisses along the way until he reached her ear where he sucked the diamond-studded lobe into his mouth and laved the gem with his tongue before pulling back to stare down into her eyes.
Without a word, he stepped back and took her hand and led her to the top of the sand dune. They stood close, his arm around her back as they silently gazed out toward the sea. Caroline released her childhood dreams, silently saying farewell as she imagined them cast away on the receding waves. At the same time, she bid welcome to new dreams—dreams that included a lifetime of love that she and Matt might have together.
By mutual consent, they turned toward the cottage. “Do you still have that jar of shells you collected that summer?”
“Add this one to it.” He pulled the shell from his pocket and handed it to her.
“Is this from today?” They had stopped and were now facing each other.
“No,” he said, shrugging slightly as he glanced away for a moment. When his gaze returned to hers, he smiled. “I picked it up that summer and I’ve had it ever since. It’s a reminder.”
She didn’t know what to say. He had thought about her?
“You know,” he said, again taking her hand. “If we end up making this a long-term relationship, we can come back here every year for our anniversary.” When she smiled, he continued. “And add a new shell each year.”
Her heart melted.
“And I can throw sand on you to remind you of the good old days when we were kids here.”
“What?!” She stopped and turned to face him as she pulled her hand from his and planted a fist on her hip. His playful laugh egged her on. Her eyes narrowed for a moment and then she quickly reached down and grabbed a handful of sand. Before she could straighten, he darted up the slope, his laughter floating to her on the breeze. Was he the one to make her life complete? Only time would tell…but things were definitely looking good so far.
Sandra, thank you for a great story! I know we’re all hoping that Caroline & Matt will find their own happily-ever-after. But there’s more !!
Now on Monday, we hope you’ll return to read another fantastic story presented by Lindy Chaffin Start, but in the meantime, leave a comment below and you’ll be eligible not only for a chance to win a $5.00 Starbucks gift card that Sandra is offering today to one of her readers, but your name will also go in the pot to win a number of fantastic gifts–winners to be announced on December 31st.
About the author:
Sandra Elzie was challenged by her husband to not wait for retirement, but to start writing the stories she had told him were running around in her head. Several years later she sold her first book. After selling the second book, her publisher was purchased by Amazon, but her first release, The Diplomatic Tutor, can be purchased in print and in e-book on Amazon.