For this year's Vindicator Love Story Contest, readers were invited to finish this fictitious love story for a chance to win a prize to make their Valentine's Day a little sweeter. The winners and their entries follow.
LOVE STORY INTRO:
“See you in a while, guys. Be good for Uncle Jerry and Aunt Becky.”
Dave Richards waved and tooted his horn as he drove away from his two sons, Steve, 10, and Josh, 9, as they stood at the end of the driveway at his sister and brother-in-law’s house. He hadn’t told his boys where he was going. Thankfully, they hadn’t asked, either.
He wasn’t sure how he would have told them he was leaving for an evening out ... on a blind date.
Well, he didn’t exactly consider it “blind” since he knew who Kelly Lewis was. After all, they had grown up in the same town, had gone to the same high school. He knew who her brothers were. And her dad, Greg Davis, had been Dave’s Little League coach. Years ago.
As for Kelly, though, he couldn’t quite place a face to the name. It was amazing how only five years’ difference in age could mean a world of difference in acquaintance. But he knew who she was, he kept finding himself rationalizing. So, no, it wasn’t a blind date.
“It doesn’t even have to be a date,” his mother, Elaine, had reasoned. “She’s no more ready to date than you are. Yes, the circumstances are different, but the bottom line is, you’ve both lost your spouses. You could use each other just to lean on, to keep each other company. You know her family, after all. Go ahead, call her.”
And so he did.
But now that the day had arrived, an uncertainty lingered. He finally realized it had little to do with how such an evening would affect him — someone who’d likely never trust again. Rather, it had more to do with how this informal meeting — this “nondate” — would affect his two boys.
Both Steve and Josh seemed to have weathered their parents’ divorce as well as could be expected. Of course, Dave and Beth had agreed — probably the only thing they agreed on when it came to their divorce — that they’d keep things as amicable as humanly possible “for the boys’ sake.” Beth may have shattered his world, but she was still the boys’ mother.
And Kelly Lewis wasn’t.
As she readied herself for a dinner out — with the guy her mother had assured her was “a nice guy who’s been through a lot, too” — Kelly Lewis had mixed emotions.
Yes, the purpose was simply to “get out of the house and get her mind off things.” It wasn’t a date, per se.
“After all, you practically know him,” Mary Jo Davis had pointed out to her daughter.
“Well, you at least know the family,” she coaxed.
“I go to the same church as his mother,” she reasoned.
“But it’s your choice, of course,” her mother conceded.
But it had been only two years since Kelly’s husband’s death. In her mind, this was too soon for her to even think of dating, let alone consider a relationship with another man.
Ever since Gary’s death, Kelly’s main concern — and, yes, worry — had been their son, little Larry. He was only 6 at the time. And, as cancer can do, it had been a long ordeal for the three of them before it finally took Gary’s life.
Yes, Gary’s suffering was over, but two years wasn’t nearly enough time for Kelly and Larry to have healed.
As much as she knew that to be true, she couldn’t help wondering if maybe her mother had made a good point. This didn’t have to mean she was “moving on.” Maybe it really wouldn’t hurt her to do something for herself, something other than devoting all of her time and energy to Larry, as she knew she had been doing.
But had she explained tonight well enough to Larry? How could an 8-year-old possibly understand that this dinner wasn’t anything more than that? Did he understand that the fact she and this man had grown up just miles from each other and had gone to the same high school was reason enough to simply “reconnect” after all these years?
If she could just remember ever meeting Dave in the first place ... that would make it so much easier for her to accept this as the “nondate” she had described to Larry.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. As they stood there, each searched the other’s face for something familiar, something they recognized. Something that would make this more of a simple reunion.
But there was nothing. This was definitely a blind date ...
Here are the winners of our Love Story contest whose clever endings set theirs apart from all the rest of the entries — and in 500 words or less:
($100 gift certificate for Julia’s Bed and Breakfast in Hubbard)
Kelly wondered if she remembered Dave was handsome or just thought she remembered now that he was here. She hoped he wouldn’t see how nervous she was.
Clearly he would if she just stood there without saying anything, but the best she could muster was a hurried, “You’re a bit early. But that’s OK. I’m starved. Shall we go?”
“Dumb. Dumb,” Kelly thought. “I’m starved” is all I could come up with?”
He seemed taken aback, not knowing what to say. Finally he stammered, “Umm, sure. I know a great Mexican restaurant with a mariachi band. Is Mexican OK with you?”
At the restaurant, Dave held out her seat for her, gallantly helped her with the menu, and ordered in what she believed must have been flawless Spanish. While waiting for dinner, he beckoned the mariachi band to their table and slipped the band leader a twenty for the serenade.
If he was trying to impress her, she thought, he was doing a very good job. She couldn’t remember when she had found anyone so easy to talk with.
Dinner was followed by a short drive to a nearby lake, where Dave put the top down and they watched the sun set. As the blazing gold turned to orange and then cream, Kelly sighed.
“Dave, I really wasn’t expecting I would have such a wonderful time, but this has been the best evening I’ve had in a while.”
Dave looked at her quizzically for a moment and cocked his head, then smiled away the bewilderment on his face. “I’m glad. I couldn’t have asked for a better evening myself.” He paused and added, “But I’m afraid one of my clients isn’t going to be so happy. Originally I was supposed to help him look over some legal papers this evening, but when the chance to have dinner with you presented itself ... Well, I made absolutely the right decision. I’ll make it up to him and do the job for free.”
“You’re a lawyer?” She smiled. “For some reason I thought you were a plumber.”
Dave chuckled. “Do I look like a plumber? That does it. Time for me to change my hairstyle.”
Dave drove Kelly back to her parents’ house where she had left Larry, making sure to get her cell phone number, and gave her a gentlemanly kiss on the cheek at the door before leaving.
As Kelly walked in, her mother looked up abruptly from her chair with obvious irritation. “Where have you been all this time? You just left without a word. Oh well. It doesn’t matter. Dave Richards called a few hours ago to cancel your date. He said he decided to try to get back with his wife ‘for their kids’ sake’.”
“What? That’s not possible,” Kelly said.
“Well, it’s a night for getting stood up,” her father grumbled. “My lawyer, Dave Banks, was supposed to be here three hours ago to go over some papers with me.”
($50 gift certificate for Full Circle
Florist in Youngstown)
“Catastrophe?” “No,” Dave told his sister, “just awkward. You know how you get stuck with people sometimes, and there’s no escape? It was like that.”
“Too bad,” Becky commiserated. “Maybe it was first-date jitters. Could you try again?”
“Nah.” He shook his head. “We may have a lot in common, but Kelly Lewis and I will never make a couple.”
Dave was so discouraged by the experience that he didn’t date again for months. When he finally met Tanya, they hit it off immediately. But after a year, when Tanya pushed for a commitment, he backed off. “Not going down that road again,” he said shortly.
Kelly hadn’t been as kind in her assessment of the blind date with Dave. “Unmitigated disaster,” she’d complained to her mother. “There was no spark at all. We tried talking about our families, then the kids, then — and this is the disaster part — we talked about his ex-wife and my late husband.
“Never again!” she swore. “No more dates with old family friends, I mean it!”
Mary Jo just smiled at her daughter. “Never’s a long time,” she said lightly.
In Kelly’s case, “never” lasted seven long years. They were lonely years, but Kelly was used to it. Little Larry filled most of the empty places in her heart, though he wasn’t so little anymore. Larry was extremely proud of the fact that although he was the youngest member of the high school basketball team, he was also the tallest.
“Will he get to play tonight?” Kelly asked her father anxiously as they took their seats for the season opener.
“I hope so,” Greg answered his daughter. “I’ve talked to Coach Andrews several times. He says Larry’s coming along well.”
They were interrupted by the home team’s arrival on the floor. The heavy bass thump of the pep band filled the gymnasium. “Look at that boy!” Kelly’s mother shouted over the music. “He’s even taller than Larry! Who is he, Greg?”
Kelly’s father consulted his program. “Josh Richards. Why do I know that name?”
Kelly and her mother groaned and exchanged rueful glances. “He’s Dave Richards’ youngest son. Remember? The guy I had that awful blind date with?”
“I remember that date.”
Kelly whirled in her seat, face already reddening. Behind her, Dave offered a sheepish grin. “Sorry to eavesdrop, but I heard Josh’s name.”
Kelly fumbled an apology. “I’m so sorry, Dave. That night was — I mean, well, we ...”
“Weren’t ready,” he finished for her. “It’s okay, no hard feelings.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Let’s forget that night ever happened. Look at our boys out there.”
Kelly turned her head. Funny, she’d forgotten all about Larry’s basketball debut. She smiled. “Aren’t they fabulous?”
“And they haven’t even started to play,” Dave agreed. “Hey, is that spot taken?” He pointed to the folded seat next to her.
Kelly smiled. “Come on down,” she invited.
Beside them, Kelly’s mother allowed herself a small, private smile.
(2-pound box of assorted chocolates from Philadelphia Candies, provided by The Vindicator)
Dave stared blindly for a moment, but quickly cleared his throat and introduced himself. Kelly did the same, feeling as awkward and uncomfortable as she had on her first date back in high school.
The tension was high, but equal, as both Kelly and Dave felt a sense of guilt. It was as if they were going against every fiber in their being by even considering another relationship.
And their kids, how would they react to such an unforeseen turn of events? How would they process the thought of someone coming into their parent’s lives?
Dave could see the worry on Kelly’s face. The date had lasted a full thirty seconds, and he was already regretting it.
He asked Kelly if she was ready to go. Instead of nodding yes and walking to his car, Dave spotted a single tear falling down her cheek. “I can’t do this,” she began. “I’m just not ready. I thought I was. I really did. And I know this is completely unfair to you, and I’m sorry for that. I just can’t do this, not now.”
Dave held up his hand to acknowledge that the message was clear. “I know,” he said. “I feel the same way. I’m just glad you had the nerve to say something.” Kelly nodded.
“Maybe another time, then?” she asked. “Sounds good to me.” Dave replied, and he walked back to his car feeling an odd mix of relief and rejection.
Three months had passed since the blind date made its abrupt end, and Dave was busy watching his son’s baseball game in the bleachers. It was a cold day, and the wind made it worse.
Dave scanned the area for a concession stand to get a cup of hot chocolate, but none were in sight. Instead, he saw Kelly, sitting on a bench with a winter coat, gloves and a hat that framed her face beautifully.
Dave got up and walked over. “It looks like you were the only smart one. I had no idea it was going to be this cold,” he said. “My wife always reminded me to bring warm clothes, but, well, you know.”
“Yeah.” Kelly replied. “Hey, I’m really sorry about …” “Don’t worry about it,” Dave responded with a reassuring smile. She smiled sheepishly in return and then turned her focus back to the game.
After the game was over, Josh and one of his friends ran over to Dave. Completely out of breath, Josh said, “Hey dad, can my friend come over to our house for some hot chocolate? I told him that you make the best in the whole world!”
Dave had never seen Josh’s new friend before, but smiled anyway and said, “Yeah, that would be fine with me, as long as his mom agrees.”
With a grin, Kelly glanced toward Dave and said, “I’d be fine with that.” Dave smiled back. Maybe it was fate, he thought. Maybe that blind date hadn’t turned out to be a disaster after all.