There’s something poignant and exquisite about love affairs that never happen. You know, those stories that are never written, those “what ifs” and “almosts” that remain unresolved. What if they dared, what if they gave it a shot? The possibilities linger, in the sad, sweet way of fading dreams. They’re like old love letters, yellowed and unopened, hidden in the most secret drawers of memory. Once in a while you take one out and touch the flap, but you never actually open the envelope. To do so would end the delicious freedom to wonder, to imagine.
He looked at her. She seemed different, yet somehow still the same. “Do you still remember?”
“How can I possibly forget?”
They’ve always been drawn to each other. She, an old soul with the eyes of a child. He, a dreamer with an intensity that has never failed to move her. Seven years later, the fascination is as potent as ever.
“You knew, didn’t you?”
“I think I always did,” she replied softly.
It startled him a little that she admitted it. “Then why didn’t you say anything?”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
Seven years ago, he realized that he loved her. Some people speak of falling in love as a homecoming — warm, joyful and familiar. Others describe it as a lightning display — explosive, stunning and magnificent. For him it was a dream — powerful, alluring and heartbreakingly impossible. She belonged to someone else. So he left the words unsaid. It was the one thing he could not tell her in all their years of friendship.
Slowly, he moved away. She could never be his, and he tried to learn how to live with that. So when an opportunity came to work in another city after graduation, he left. Then he heard through the grapevine that she broke off her engagement. Nobody knew why. Looking at her now after all those years, he knew she wouldn’t let him ask.
“You still have too many secrets.”
She smiled at him, that familiar, teasing smile. “And you still have none. Tell me about her.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Everything that matters.”
He considered that. “Her name is Catherine. I love her.”
And he did. Not with the burning ache and the unbearable longing that came with his love for her, not with the wistfulness and nostalgia that rushed into him when he first saw her again. This had a sense of rightness, a sense of being comforted and thrilled at the same time. Like watching a storm from the shelter of one’s own home. Like having a dream come true in a completely unforeseen way. Loving Cathy made him feel like he had hit a mark he didn’t even know he was aiming for.
She would always be his might-have-been, a symbol of all the forfeited hopes of youth. What he would always be to her, that he didn’t know. He might never find out. But he found something else, something entirely different and unexpectedly satisfying. Maybe some paths are meant to be untraveled. But for every beckoning horizon unheeded, another destination is reached. And he knew, instinctively, with the sudden clarity of hindsight, that she has learned this as well. Seven years, perhaps, before he did.