A love for Eternity

Tricia McGill

Rachel tossed her shoes in the car and closed the door. She had always loved the feel of sand between her toes. No, perhaps not always, but definitely since that night. The night that had changed the course of her life irrevocably.

She leaned on the wooden rail and stared at the small island not far from the shore. As she pressed her fingers on the warm wood she sighed. Not a lot had changed in the area in ten years. But this rail hadn’t been here then. A sign proclaimed that the area had been fenced off to protect the flora. There had been no need back then to warn people off; perhaps a hundred or so visitors had come here during the summer months to idle away their days.

People like the Grahams had lived in one of the houses nestled amid the trees that marched up the hill behind her. Splendid homes with lush gardens, boats waiting to be hitched to expensive cars, and snobbish inhabitants. She would not look that way. It was painful enough to look at the island, sitting, as it had likely sat in magnificent splendour since dingoes and natives walked this stretch of coastline.

“Rachel?”

Her heart actually stopped and started again. Her imagination must be playing tricks. Jon was somewhere in the Middle East. She’d seen him on the news recently, talking about his latest assignment. Not wishing to add to the pain—she continued to gaze at the headland on the island. A soft wind blew through the tall grasses in front of the barrier. Yes, it had been the wind playing tricks.

“Rachel, it is you. I would know that hair anywhere. It’s shorter now, but still has the same golden sheen. The colour of the sand.”

Holding her breath she turned, slowly, trancelike. There he stood, a few paces away, hands in the pockets of his denim shorts. As the sun slanted on him, he looked as he had ten years ago. Twenty, and finding his feet in the adult world. He had to be a figment of her imagination. “Jon.” His name came out on a sigh.

He stepped closer, and the image was shattered. This was no young man in his prime. Looking older than his thirty years, the lines of experience, too many horrors, too much reality, were etched on his features. Furrows ran from his nose to his mouth. The lines beside his eyes were not the result of laughter, but from squinting into the sun on foreign soil.

“Yes, it’s me.” Close enough to touch her now, he smiled. For a moment he looked almost like the Jon she’d known and loved with all the passion of an eighteen year old girl testing her feet in the waters of desire.

“I thought you were overseas.” She suddenly felt gauche, which was ridiculous for a woman who ran a successful public relations business and faced men as forceful as he every working day.

“I was. I go back in a day or two.” He lifted a hand, but then thrust it back into his pocket.

“Oh.” The breeze sent her hair into her eyes and Rachel pushed it back. “I didn’t know if you still lived here.” At last she looked at the house half way up the hill, and gasped when she saw the high wall that now almost concealed it.

“I don’t. Dad died two days ago.” He shrugged as he also cast a look towards the house.

“I’m sorry.” That was a lie. She hated his father as much now as she had that awful night when he had looked on her with such distaste.

His shoulders lifted again. “He had a rare disease that had slowly been taking away all his faculties. He was glad to go—to join Mum.”

“I didn’t know she’d died.” Now she was sad. His mother had been well liked amongst the small beachside community, doing lots of charity work.

“What are you doing here?” The look on his face said that he too couldn’t believe they were both here. At the scene of her first, and worst, mistake.

Now it was Rachel’s turn to shrug. How could she explain the strange yearning that had dragged her back here.

“It’s our anniversary,” he said, and Rachel reeled back in shock.

“So it is.” Watching him, she pretended nonchalance. As if she’d really not realised that on this very day ten years ago she had lost her virginity—and given her heart, and perhaps her soul, to him.

“Is that why you came?” His knuckle stroked down her cheek and she shuddered, recalling all the other ways he’d touched her. Touched her as no man had since. Spoiled her for any other man.

Rachel nodded. “I never could lie to you, could I?” she admitted with a small smile. His eyes settled on her mouth, sending her nerve endings into a spin.

“No, that’s one of the reasons I loved you.” His thumb ran along her bottom lip and she flicked her tongue out.

“You didn’t love me, Jon.” Shaking her head, she freed herself from his silken web. Turning back to rest her hands on the rail again, she let out a trembling sigh.

“Of course I did. It might have been the love of innocence, but it was fresh, and clear, and true.”

His hand on her shoulder made her quiver. He squeezed gently, forcing her to meet his look. Oh, it had been all of those things, and more.

“But not enough to defy your father, to tell him that a girl from the wrong side of town might not have your wealth and power, but had pride, and as much self-esteem as any of your rich folk. My mother and father might have only run the fish and chip shop, but they were hard-working and as straight as they come.”

Rachel moved away from the drugging touch of his fingers on her arm. A lizard ran from beneath a rock, and she stared down at it, realising that tears had blurred her vision. Fool! Hadn’t she sworn long ago that she had shed the last of them for this man who had betrayed her.

“You never gave me the chance to explain.” He put a finger beneath her chin and forced her to look at him. “We were both too young for the sort of deep stuff we’d gotten ourselves into, Rachel. All my dad asked was that we give it time, cool it for a while. Before I had time to talk to you, you’d taken off, gone to live in Melbourne with your aunt. I asked your mother for the address but she said she had been sworn to secrecy. You didn’t have much faith in me, did you?” He curved his strong capable fingers about her upper arms and shook her.

Rachel let out a shuddering breath. “I guess not. But I hurt, Jon. I was torn apart by your seemingly apathetic reaction. All right, we were too young for all that passion. It hit us both, I guess, how quickly it all got out of control. But still, you didn’t meet me the next night as planned. I came to the conclusion you had used me.”

“Never that!” He muttered an expletive beneath his breath, swallowing so hard she saw his throat convulse. “What a fool I was.”

Rachel shook her head. “Anyway, it’s all water under the bridge now. There’s no going back. No point in rehashing old memories that are best left dead.”

“Are they, Rach? Are they best left buried? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out of the upstairs window and saw you down here.”

“How were you so sure it was me?”

A pensive smile curved his mouth. “I would know you anywhere. I looked for you for years, you know.”

“No. I followed your career. You are quite the celebrity.”

He made a rude sound. “Celebrity! That’s a joke. I’m a burned out journalist who has had enough of wars, human suffering and power hungry warmongers who are destroying this world of ours. I’m giving it up soon.”

“Are you really? What will you do?”

“I’m going to write a book.” When she made a small sound of surprise, he said, “Yes, at last.”

“So, it’s taken you ten years to fulfil your dreams, huh?”

“What about you? What do you do with yourself to make a living?”

“I have my own PR business. I’ll handle your advertising if you like, when the book is ready.”

For the first time he looked genuinely amused. “I have to write it first. Where do you live?”

“I have a house in Brighton. Not far from the beach. Where’s your home?”

His features tightened again. “I have no real home. I am going to buy one as soon as this assignment is over. Perhaps I might buy one near yours. Have you a husband? Lover? Boyfriend?”

If anyone else had asked such a personal question she would have baulked at answering, but with him she had no hesitation in telling the truth. “No, there’s no one.”

“I don’t believe it.” He sounded genuinely surprised. “Why hasn’t anyone snapped you up?”

“You didn’t.” She made a soft sound of derision. “Why should you think anyone else would?”

“Because you are beautiful, talented, have gorgeous legs.” His eyes roved over said limbs and Rachel suddenly felt overheated. No other man had sent her pulse racing and her body up in flames as he could with just a look.

Rachel laughed to ease the tension filling her, and he grinned. It did marvellous things to his face, dispelled all the sadness that had been apparent before.

“Rach, could I see you? I mean, as in date you?” He sounded hesitant, almost boyishly tentative. As he had ten years ago when he asked her to walk along this beach with him. That had been the first of many walks along here and on the island across the stretch of water.

Rachel concealed her shock at his question. That had been the last thing she’d expected him to say. “Haven’t you got anybody? A woman waiting somewhere for you?”

“No, there have been a couple of...casual partners over the years. But a man who is always going off to record some war or other is no candidate for a serious relationship. Besides, no one matched up to my first love.” Taking her hands, he pressed a kiss on each knuckle. “So much has been missing from my life. So much love and tenderness. So much honesty and warmth. Say you will help me heal the wounds.”

Rachel shook her hands free, and when he made to grab them again, she reached up to cup his strong jaw in hands that shook.

“Do you still have the tin boat?” she asked, loving the way his eyes darkened at her touch.

“Sure. I saw it in the shed and thought I might take it over to the island this afternoon. I had the urge to recapture lost moments. Times that were so precious they have been with me through every horror, helped me to overcome the sense of hopelessness that has plagued me for years.”

“Can I come over there with you?”

He clasped her hands and grew serious again. “I wouldn’t let you duck out of it. We will make love in the same spot where we found heaven before.”

“We will, will we?” She smiled playfully as she dodged him, skipping out of his reach.

“Oh yes.” With a very masculine grin, he stalked her.

Rachel tossed her head, feeling more alive than she had in years. When he finally caught her, he linked hands with her, tugging her along with him up the hill.

“I haven’t got my boating clothes with me.” She glanced down at her linen skirt and silk blouse.

With another grin he also gave her outfit a wry once-over. “The island will be deserted at this time of the week. Once we get there you won’t need any clothes.”

Rachel gave his arm a playful punch. “I am not prancing about naked, so get that idea out of your head.” Doubts assailed her at the thought of stripping before him. The years had not treated her figure kindly. Her stomach was not as flat as it had been ten years ago, and there was more meat on her thighs than she would have liked.

He pushed open the large gates and Rachel took a quick look about the garden. It hadn’t changed a lot, except that some of the shrubs had gone. The swing still sat on the porch and she experienced a strange fluttery feeling inside, as she recalled the night she and Jon had shared a kiss on there. She half expected his father to walk out and glare at her for daring to enter his domain and touch his son. A four-wheel drive vehicle was parked in the driveway. It took a matter of moments to hitch the small runabout to the back and then another five minutes to tow it to the boat ramp. Rachel felt like a kid playing truant as they pushed the boat into the water. He jumped aboard, and after she hitched her skirt high he helped her in.

He watched her as he steered across the small channel. The wind whipped her hair about her face, and her insides began to flutter again. What was she doing here with a man who was a virtual stranger?

“It will be fine,” he said quietly, as if reading her mind, gauging her fears and uncertainties. And he was right—no sooner had they beached the boat, walked up the tiny beach and found their spot beneath the overhanging cliffs than everything fell into place.

He removed her clothing, then his own, ignoring her small protestations. “You are beautiful,” he assured her, removing the hands she had crossed over her front for protection. “So much better than the skinny kid I made love to back then. We all change, Rach. Look at me, I’ve got a bit of a beer belly from spending too many nights in bars drowning out the sights and smells of decay and degradation.”

He was wrong. She shook her head. “You are magnificent. As strong and straight as when we first touched each other.” She laid a hand on his chest, revelling in the sigh that escaped his lips and the shudder that ran through him.

“Love me, Rachel,” he begged.

“Always,” she pledged as they sank to the blanket he had spread on the sand.

Somewhere she had read that there was no going back. But whoever wrote that had been so wrong. The years fell away and they recaptured the rapture, the splendour of first love.

First love which was also last love. A love for eternity.

The wind whistled through the rocks above them as they came together. Two lost souls who had found each other.