Jake sat on his oversized beach towel and watched the squawking seagulls swoop down from the blue sky to land on the warm sand at the water’s edge. Two children giggled as they played in the surf under the watchful eye of their mother. It was a wonderful southern California day, a perfect end to the summer.
Tomorrow Jake would start college, leaving his high school years behind. He’d adjust, after all, it was a new beginning, an exciting new adventure. But there was a part missing that he’d never forget. Perhaps the most important part of all. That part was Maddie. Beautiful, vibrant, funny, intelligent Maddie.
They’d been together since junior high, voted ‘best couple’ in the year book, and were prom king and queen in high school. They were soul mates. Maddie, with her California blonde hair and sparkling ocean-blue eyes, loved to laugh, and he loved to hear her laugh. But that laugh was gone now. The only sound was the breaking of the waves and the crying of the sea gulls.
He missed her. They’d shared so much and had grown more close over the years. How could it be over? How could he go through another day without her smile and soft touch? In the worst situations, Maddie was there to give him support and love when he needed it most. All it took was her hand in his and he knew everything would work out. And it always did.
The ocean waves rushed in with the high tide, coming closer to his towel. He didn’t want to move. It was their place, his and Maddie’s. Their summer routine was to spend the morning at the beach and then head off to the park where Maddie would read to him under the canopy of the trees. Everything was right with the world when he was with her.
A cool mist of sea spray drifted up from the waves. He closed his eyes. He remembered so clearly that day at the airport when Maddie had left for Africa. They’d only graduated the week before, but it was an opportunity Maddie couldn’t pass up, and he didn’t want her to pass it up. Spending the summer in Africa, working at an orphanage was Maddie’s dream. She loved children. They kept in touch, writing and emailing every day, exchanging photos of Africa and California.
Then came a message Jake wished he’d never seen. Maddie wanted to stay. She couldn’t bear leaving the children. They needed her. While Jake needed her as well, he realized that he didn’t have the right to have her all to himself. When she’d asked him to go to Africa, he’d thought about it, even worked out the details. Then his mother became ill. He couldn’t leave now.
He knew in his heart that Maddie would find someone else and move on with her life. He wasn’t so sure, though, that he could. Or that he wanted to. He opened his eyes. The sun was going down, painting the sky a brilliant orange and pink. He stood up and shook the sand from the towel.
The waves beat out a gentle rhythm, whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh. It was Maddie’s heartbeat. He put the towel away in his backpack and slipped on his sandals. Time to put away the memories. There was no more high school and no more Maddie.
Jake strolled down the beach toward the parking lot, but after placing the backpack on the front seat of his car, he decided to take another walk. It wasn’t far. It would be the final act that would shut the door on his dreams. He walked along the footpath until he saw the familiar trees with their spreading canopies. Was he really ready to move on? Could he ever forget Maddie? He’d have to try.
The park was deserted, roped off with yellow tape. He walked closer. A small sign hanging from the tape said ‘Caution: closed for repairs’. Several trees were splintered and on the ground. Jake had to laugh. It was just like his heart. Broken and closed for repairs.
He stood for a few minutes in the last blush of the sunset. The air turned chilly. It was time to go. Time to start his new life. He’d keep Maddie’s memory tucked away in his heart and bring her out whenever he needed her.
He took a final look at the park and turned away. Life was about new beginnings, and holding on to memories. He walked back toward his car, but stopped. Something nagged at him, begging him to go back, to relive his days with Maddie.
He jogged back to the park and climbed over the yellow tape and sat on the trunk of the fallen tree that used to be theirs. His hand rested on a small carving, and even though he couldn’t see it in the dark, he knew it was a tiny heart he’d carved on Maddie’s sixteenth birthday. The day they pledged to always be together.
He traced the outline of the heart. A soft rustle made him turn. There was a figure, silhouetted in the darkness, standing at the edge of the park. Could it be?
He ran to her. “What are you doing here?”
“I couldn’t stay away. I love you too much to leave you.”
He hopped over the tape. “But what about Africa? The children?”
She smiled and wiped her tears. “I’m heading up an adoption service in California. We can be together, Jake. Forever, like we planned. And I have a crazy idea.”
“Let’s get married here, in the park.”
They embraced like they’d never been apart. He saw the closed sign sway in the breeze. Maddie had come back. She’d torn down his own ‘closed’ sign and opened the door to his heart again. They’d be together now, two people sharing one love that would burn strong like the California sun, never fading and never ending.
About Sofia Diana
Causes Sofia Diana Gabel Supports
SPES Children's Orphanage in Togo, Africa