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Under the Oak Tree

There was something about her. Maybe it was her smile, or the way her eyes twinkled when she spoke. Maybe it was her walk, and the way she carried herself. It was not one thing. It was everything. From the way her hair moved in a gentle spring breeze, to the way her cheeks blushed when I told her she was beautiful. She was everything I could not resist.

From the moment I laid eyes on her, she had to be mine. I had never met her and yet I had known her all my life. I was shy at first, unsure of how she would react to my blinding admiration. I made small talk, telling her what a nice day it was or asking her to help me locate a book in the store. She always smiled when I spoke to her, but I was so scared that if I asked her out and she said no, I would be devastated. So I waited for the perfect moment.

Just being around her changed my life. I began to think differently and my imagination ran wild. I was constantly daydreaming and thinking about things that before had never entered my mind. The smell of the ocean, on a cloudless July morning, walking hand in hand. The feel of her skin touching mine, so soft and warm, as she slept in my arms. I could not live another second without her. Every inch of her called out to me. The curves of her thighs, wrapped neatly in that polyester skirt, whispered my name. Her playful smile invited me closer. It was time to make my move.

One rainy Saturday evening, I decided to ask her out. I didn’t even know her name. I entered the store and to my delight she was working. She caught my eye and smiled radiantly. I swallowed hard and approached her.

“How are you?” I said, opening the conversation.

“Despite the dreary weather, I’m fine,” she answered.

Her eyes were so beautiful and as she spoke, I nearly lost myself in their captivating color. I was in complete awe but I managed to speak.

“Are you seeing anyone?” I boldly asked.

Again she smiled and then paused for an eternity or a second, for my grasp of time had totally eluded me. Then as luck would have it, she said the words I had hoped to hear.

“No, for the time being I’m not.”

We stood there and talked about everything, from the books we had read, to our favorite movies. Finally I asked her if she would like to have dinner sometime and to my surprise, she said yes. When I got outside to my car, I realized that I hadn’t even asked for her name. I looked down at the paper she had given me. It had her number and her name. Her name was Caroline, sweet Caroline. I simply couldn’t wait to call her.

On our first date we went to Angelo’s Italian restaurant, on the south side of town. Caroline said on the phone that she had always wanted to go there, but with her job at the bookstore there wasn’t much money left over for fancy Italian restaurants. She said I was the first person she had been out within over a year. With her beauty, I found that hard to believe.

During dinner we shared stories of our pasts and of our lost loves. We seemed to have so much in common. She was so easy to talk to and I soon found myself telling her all my secrets. Caroline listened attentively and appeared to be genuinely interested in everything that I had to say. When I finished talking, she told me all about her last boyfriend. He had broken up with her out of the blue, a month before they were to be married. Tears peeked from the corners of her eyes as she spoke of him and it was all I could do to keep myself from reaching across the table and holding her while she spoke.

Our first date ended at the door of her apartment. “I had a great time,” Caroline said just before she kissed me on the cheek. I gave her a hug and she whispered “Call me” into my ear. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. All I could think about was Caroline. Her voice echoed a thousand times inside my head. It was like music from a thousand doves. She was simply an angel and there was no way I was going to let her slip through my hands.

In the coming weeks, we saw a lot of each other. Caroline attempted to keep her distance, each night kissing me on the cheek at the door. It was hard being around her, longing to touch her and hold her in my arms, but I showed the necessary restraint. I didn’t want to ruin things with my lustful impatience and so I waited for just the right moment.

After two months of innocent dating, I decided that Caroline was ready. We were out in the country having a picnic on the land my grandfather had left me several years back. The place was secluded and we laid a blanket down under a huge oak tree shading us from the sun. It was a gorgeous sunny day with a small breeze keeping things comfortable. We were talking about this and that, when Caroline noticed that I was staring into her beautiful blue eyes. She stopped talking in mid sentence. She leaned forward and I beat her to the spot. Our lips met and engaged in a slow, wet kiss. My fingers gently stroked her face. She pulled back for a moment undecidedly and then lunged forward as her tongue found mine. The rest was simply a slice of heaven.

It was like something you see in a movie, except it was happening to me. I had never known such happiness. We returned to the oak tree a week later and carved a heart with our names inside. We vowed that if we ever had a fight or a problem that we would return to the spot and wouldn’t leave until everything was worked out. Caroline told me it was the most romantic moment of her life.

The next several months are all a blur. At first Caroline would stay over a few nights a week and before I knew it, we were sharing an apartment. Things were moving fast. That suited me just fine for I felt sure that we would be together forever, and I saw no use in delaying things.

After nearly a year together, our blissful relationship took a sudden turn. Caroline took a new job in the city working for a large publishing company. Her behavior began to change. For one thing, she started dressing differently. The outfits she was wearing to work were much more provocative than the ones she had worn in the bookstore. We were spending much more time apart, as she devoted herself to her job. I missed the closeness we had once shared and one night we had our first big fight.

Caroline showed up at home two hours late. I was furious and as soon as she came in the door, my anger surfaced.

“Where have you been?” I demanded.

She just looked at me, with that look that had probably gotten her out of trouble a thousand times. It wasn’t working tonight and I began to curse at her.

“Why the hell didn’t you call?”

Caroline’s eyes grew the size of silver dollars. I took two steps toward her and for one brief moment, I wanted to hit her. Instead I turned away and stormed out the door. I got into the car and drove out to the country… . I sat underneath the oak tree. I prayed that she would come. I had let my jealousy completely take over. I loved this woman so much and the thought of ever losing her to anyone scared the hell out of me. I had to get a grip. I was about to get up, go back home and apologize, when out of nowhere she appeared standing beside me.

I stood up to apologize when Caroline put her hand over my lips. She put her index and middle fingers over the top of my lip and began to circle them around seductively. Soon they were in my mouth and over the top of my tongue. Caroline pulled away and undid her blouse. I stood there speechless, as she circled the nipples of her breast with her wet fingers. I stepped toward her but she playfully stepped back.

All the anger and sorrow that I had pent up inside of me melted into passion. I grabbed the back of her head and pulled her to me. This time she did not resist. I darted my tongue inside of her mouth and she moaned in delight. Caroline pressed against me and pinned the inside of her thighs against my leg. We made love for hours under the stars. Our love was rejuvenated.

We spent most of the next week making love. I hoped that by doing so, I could find my way back into her heart. I felt I was losing her and with each precious second, she slipped further away. She no longer looked into my eyes when she spoke to me and once we finished making love, she always went into the other room. Something had been lost and no matter how hard she tried, Caroline could not find it.

Then the inevitable day finally arrived. I woke up for work and found a rose on Caroline’s pillow with a note underneath it. My heart pounded at the walls of my chest. I prayed the note didn’t say what I thought it did. I held back the tears on the small chance that the letter was a love letter explaining how much I meant to her or how she was sorry how things had been going lately. As I read the first few lines, my hopes were crushed.

Each word was like a dagger piercing my heart and each sentence buried me deeper into that hole of hopelessness. In the letter Caroline said that she was never truly comfortable around me and that her friends had never really liked me. Her mother had been begging her to leave as well. She wanted Caroline to give up this crazy lifestyle and start living right again. I had never felt more betrayed in all my life.

After all the negative things Caroline said in the letter, she had the nerve to end it by saying that I would always be dear to her in her heart. I held onto that last sentence like a prisoner on death row holds on to that last request for a pardon. I convinced myself that she would be back. I blocked out the overall message of the letter and told myself that the last sentence was the only part she meant. The rest was just garbage her family and friends had put in her head. It would take some time but surely she would realize that our love for each other was special and it was not meant to be understood by others. So I did the only thing I could do, I waited.

I called work and took a leave of absence. I popped sleeping pills like they were candy and slept for most of the next seventy-two hours. After a week or so of this, I decided I could take no more. I got up and took a shower, I pushed play on the answering machine. No messages from Caroline. Only my mother’s raspy voice asking where I had been. I decided to call her back later because I had to venture out of this house and take leave of my weeklong hibernation.

I decided to pay my local grocery store a visit. There was no food in the house and for the first time in a week, I was hungry. A little girl on a bike smiled at me as I climbed into my car. Her face showed just a slight bit of pity as if I wore my sadness all over my face for all the world to witness.

The grocery store was crowded with all the first of the month shoppers. They were buying up all the Spam, Frosted flakes and Idaho potatoes that their buggys could hold. They seemed so agitated as they searched the aisles for bargains. I had never noticed them before with their grease stained fingers and their uncombed hair. Their children trudged along behind them with that same lackluster stare, wishing they were anywhere but here. In my world they didn’t even exist and yet I would have given every penny I had to trade places with any one of them. They had no time to mourn about lost love or to even cry out for God to mend their broken heart. They had to figure out where this month’s rent was to come from or how they were going to care for their kids when the power company shut off the lights for that overdue bill. Broken hearts were merely a speed bump on the road of an unfortunate life.

I placed my groceries on the black conveyer belt and watched as they marched toward the scanning device, one by one. I paid the cashier the thirty-three fifty the digital readout claimed I owed. I left the store feeling that maybe I had over dramatized the situation just a bit. That thought visited my mind for only a brief second before reality pushed it away. As I walked through the electronic doors, I spotted the sight that inexplicably sealed my fate.

Across the parking lot I saw a dark haired, thin, handsome man holding the door to his sports car open as Caroline– my sweet Caroline– stood up and kissed him gently on the cheek and then more passionately on the lips. He took her hand and as they made their way toward the store, I noticed something different in her eyes. They contained a genuine happiness so warm and strong that it drained the very life of me, and yet I could not look away. I stood there motionless and then she noticed me. Our eyes met for only a second and she looked down, as her smile faded out. They entered the store and I looked back, taking what I knew would be my last glimpse of Caroline.

I found my way back to the old oak tree, one last time. I have sat here all night, reminiscing about all our good times. Caroline didn’t show up this time and I can’t really say I thought she would. I wish her all the best and I can only hope she lives a long and fruitful life. As for me, I am tired and my soul is empty.

The sun creeps out from the shadows of the darkness, signaling the beginning of a new day. It is so appropriate that I end it here and ironically as I raise the pistol to my head, the last thing I see of this earth is a heart, carved into a tree with the inscription Sarah loves Caroline.

©2000 Brian Keen.

Brian Keen is a short story writer residing in the hills of West Virginia. He plans to start a novel sometime next year but for now enjoys both writing and reading a variety of short stories. His stories range in content and include horror, romance and inspirational.