Become a Fan
By Stacey Lee
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
A young couple is reunited after 16 years.
Any and all comments welcome.
Andy ran a hand through his hair and sighed as Keira crossed her arms and paced away. "I hate this just as much as you do."
"No you don't," she contradicted, but gently. "And you shouldn't."
Finally reaching the other side of the room she turned to face him. "This is an amazing opportunity for you and you should be able to enjoy it, without me trying to make you feel guilty." She offered a wavering, watery smile. "It's only for a couple months, we'll make it work. Email. Phone. Letters."
He knew what it was costing her to say that. If she was feeling even a fraction of the pain he was at that moment, her heart was shattering in her chest.
Why was it that great things always came with a heavy price? For as long as he could remember, Andy had wanted to be an architect. He had worked hard to get into the program that he had, taking odd and part-time jobs to pay his tuition and giving up a lot of his free time to study while the rest of his peers partied and slacked off. Now, his hard work had paid off and he had been offered a summer internship where he would be able to make connections and earn valuable experience. The problem was, it was out of province. The company's headquarters was in British Columbia and he was being offered a position there, but his his life was here, in Ontario with Keira.
If he didn't accept, he would be passing up the opportunity of a lifetime. If he did accept, he would be leaving behind the woman he loved. They could say now that they would continue their relationship long distance but both knew that never worked. Time and distance would draw them apart. They had both seen it happen. Both experienced it before, coming from their hometowns to University, swearing to stay in touch with high school friends and sweethearts but slowly losing contact.
Sure, they would see those people when they went back on holidays, would exchange the odd email or two but the intimacy was gone. The closeness and familiarity slipped away leaving strangers facing each other.
Andy didn't want that to happen to him and Keira, he wanted to stay here, with her and build a life together after graduation but at the same time, opportunity was calling, a seductive siren song that he didn't want to turn away from.
He offered a smile of his own, one that he hoped would be comforting and drew Keira into his arms. He closed his eyes as she settled against him, his senses taking in the familiar form.
"I don't want to lose you," he whispered, feeling more than a little desperate
Keira slid her hands beneath the fabric of his shirt and pressed her palms flat against his back. "Never," she murmured into his neck, her breath tickling his skin.
He clung tighter, wanting to believe.<p><p><p>
Andy slid into his seat on the plane and turned his face towards the window to hide the tears that burned his eyes from the other passengers boarding the plane. Keira had insisted on driving him to the airport despite his protests that the quiet dinner they'd had the night before was sufficient enough for a sendoff and now the haunting image of her tear-stained face and brave smile floated in his mind. He closed his eyes against it and tried to conjure up something more pleasant.
What drifted into his thoughts was another image of Keira, bittersweet now in light of his leaving, the way she had looked the first time they'd met. At the beginning of winter break he and some of his buddies from the Lacrosse team had taken a weeklong trip to Quebec for some drinking, skiing and more drinking. He and his buddies had downed a couple of beers before heading to the pubs to take advantage of the fact that at 18 they were of legal age there.
The four of them spilled into the pub in high spirits and headed for the bar. Andy didn't remember much of that night, but he did remember meeting Keira, and that the impression he'd made could not have been very positive. A fragment of their conversation popped into his head.
"So, can I get you a drink?" he asked sidling up to her at the bar. Keira nodded and smiled. "Okay. A beer. But the next round is on me."<p>
Andy signaled to the bartender then he realized something. He turned back and offered a sheepish smile. "Uh, I don't know how to oder that in French."
Keira laughed lightly, stood and headed towards the bar. Andy followed behind.
Keira leaned across the bar to place their order.
Andy didn't understand one word out of five, but was impressed by the command she seemed to have on the language. His own knowledge of French was next to nothing since he had stopped taking it in grade nine.
"You're French is pretty good. You from around here?" he asked conversationally.
She shook her head. "Na, I'm from Ontario. I go to school in Toronto."
"Me too. University of Toronto."
"Same here. I'm in the buisness progam."
"Architecture and design."
They talked for awhile about school, dorm life and the missed comforts of home. It wasn't anything special, nothing he hadn't done at dozens of parties but he felt a connection with Keira that he hadn't experienced with a first time meeting before.
Andy could have stayed there all night, but his buddies had grown restless and wanted to move on.
"Hey, Andy, come on," Martin called from down the bar for the third or fourth time in the last ten minutes.
Andy smiled sheepishly at Keira. "I gotta go. Can I get you're number? Maybe we could get together on campus after the break?" He held his breath, waiting.
"I'd like that."
Andy hadn't expected her to say yes, but she had.
He smiled at the memory, feeling a little better.
They did make a valiant effort to stay together, with phone calls every night, long emails every day and even a few weekend visits but it just wasn't enough. Slowly, the conversations grew stilted, shorter. The emails became less frequent and the already sporadic meetings stopped altogether until, finally, with a few simple words it was ended.<p>
Sixteen Years later
"Ten minutes left," Andy cautioned his students as he paced the classroom, looking over shoulders and offering advice or gentle corrections.
There was a round of groans then a settled quiet as the chatter died down and those who's attentions had wandered turned their focus to completing the drafting project in front of them.
"Let's try and get these assignments in on time, okay?"
He knew that despite his words, at least a half dozen of his students wouldn't hand the assignment in on time. Even though it was a very simple assignment, one that he had given them nearly two weeks to do when it should have taken a day, maybe two.
It was times like these that made Andy question why he had agreed to take this position in the first place. When his buddy Chris, head of the English department had suggested it, Andy had eagerly jumped on board. His business had been doing well and teaching 13 year olds the basics of drafting and design had seemed like a fun challenge.
<i>Little did I know </i> he thought bitterly, then shook it off.
"Impressive sketching, Abby," he complimented one of the four girls in his class. Two more than the previous semester, so things were improving. "Clean lines, nice dimension but," he lowered his voice and leaned forward, "the assignment was to design a bridge, not a waterfall landscape."
Abby blushed, and offered a sheepish smile, then with a twinkle in her grey eyes flicked her finger at the top of the page. "There's your bridge, Mr. Markham."
Andy's eyes followed her finger and sure enough, at the top of the page was a light brown arch bridge spanning the length of the waterfall. All he could do was shake his head and laugh.
"I finished the bridge assignment on Tuesday," she said and to prove herself, flipped her binder open and gestured to a piece of paper. Sure enough, it was the blue print he had assigned.
He picked it up and tucked it under his arm, knowing without looking that it would be meticulously done. Abby was an outstanding artist with a drafters eye for measurement. If she chose to pursue it, she would make a wonderful architect.
"Five minutes people," he warned as he continued to roam the classroom.
When the bell rang he settled at his desk and watched as the kids filed past him, most handing in their work but several slinking by without. After the class had emptied he pulled the papers to him, flipped open his mark book and started grading.
He didn't know what it was the made him look up, a noise, a sense of a presence, coincidence but he did, and found a woman standing just inside the doorway staring at him.
He worked his throat, trying to form words. When he found his voice it was low and hoarse.
"Keira?" he repeated, his voice clearer, stronger.
"When Abby started talking about her teacher, Mr. Markham I..." she trailed off as she stepped closer.
It took Andy's mind a momnent to piece it all together.
"You're Mrs. Barnett now?"
Keira stopped a few feet away from his desk and studied him silently for a moment before answering. "No. Abby's father and I are separated."
"I'm sorry," he said automtically, although he wasn't quite sure that he was. Keira's sudden appearance had sent his mind into a state of shock and he wasn't feeling much of anything.
"Thank you, but it's been several years now and it was quite mutual. There's really nothing to be sorry for."
Andy nodded, unsure of what else to say. Keira twisted a bracelet around her wrist and gazed around the classroom.
"So, you're a teacher now."
An awkward silence fell and Keira began to pace the room. A familiar habit Andy recognized as nerves. While his eyes tracked her progress, his mind began to awaken from the shock of her arrival and he began to wonder about why it was she had come. Was she looking to re-kindle what they'd once had? Was she just satisfying some curiosity over the identity of her daughter's teacher? As well, he had to ask himself what he felt about either of those possibilities.
It had been a lifetime ago that they had last spoken. Years had passed, their lives had taken them down different paths. He had thought of her often and fondly over the years, sometimes with regret, mostly with just a mild curiosity about where she had ended up but had never really considered they would be in this moment, face to face once again.
Just looking at her brought some of the long-forgotten but familiar thoughts and emotions but was it real or the remnants of their past?
They owed it to themselves to find out, he decided.
"Would you like to get a cup of coffee?" he asked, his voice hoarse and uncertain in his own ears.
Keira stopped pacing and turned to face him, her face lighting up in a smile.
"I'd like that very much."
They walked down the block to the coffee shop in silence. Andy's mind tumbled with all the questions he wanted to ask, all the things he wanted to know and share but in the interest of not scaring Keira off, he held his tongue.
"I don't think I've ever been here before," Keira commented as Andy led her inside.
"No? It's on my way to the school so I'm in here morning, noon and night."
"Always were a coffee fiend. Still take it black?"
Andy nodded. "Yeah. Still milk and unnatural amounts of sugar?"
Keira punched him lightly in the arm in protest. "Three sugars. Maybe four," she amended after he raised an eyebrow.
It felt good to slip back into the easy banter they had once shared.
They stepped up to the counter and Andy ordered for both of them, waving Keira away when she pulled out her wallet.
Coffees in hand they found a table near the back and settled across from each other. An awkward silence fell. Andy cautiously sipped his coffee and cast a glance over the rim of his cup at Keira, only to find her looking back at him through lowered lashes. Unexpextedly a laugh formed in his throat. Keira grinned, a faint blush coloring her cheeks.
"Look at us, we're pathetic."
"Like a couple of tongue-tied school kids."
"I was never a tongue-tied school kid," Keira commented. "I don't know what's gotten into me now."
Andy remembered Keira as being utterly confident in most things. She'd always carried herself with a poise that he'd found extremely attractive. Even now there were traces of it.She even does awkward gracefully, he thought and had to bite back a smile.
"It's wonderful to see you again," Keira went on, as if simply by deciding to cast aside her hesitation and uncertainty she was free of it. "I often wondered where you'd ended up."
"Ah, but did you miss me?" he teased, then immediately wished he hadn't. That was pushing things too far, too fast. Holding his breath, he waited.
Keira merely nodded. "Whenever I thought of you."
Andy couldn't stop the grin. "I missed you too. I couldn't believe it when you walked through my classroom door. I thought I was dreaming or hallucinating. There's so much about you I want to know," he continued, changing course before things got teary or awkward. "Where are you working? How long have you lived here? Basically, every detail of the last 16 years," he said with a shrug.
Keira laughed and cradled her cup in her hands. "Well, let's see...Teddy- that's Abby's father-and I met about a year and a half after you and I....we dated for a couple of months then got married. Abby was born a year later. We lasted about three years after that.
Andy soaked in all the details. Seeing Keira again after all this time made him feel sad for the time they had lost.
"... After we split I moved back home to be closer to my parents. They were a big help raising Abby in those first few years. When Abby was six they moved up north and I couldn't imagine living in the middle of nowhere so I moved here. I have a job at a gallery in Toronto, arranging shows and seminars. I still paint, sometimes I even sell something. And that's my life in a nutshell. What about you, what have you been up to?"
"Well, afer my course finished I got a spot on a team that would work in under-developed areas. Mostly out East, fishing and mining towns that had gone bust. I did that for about 4 years then took a job in Ottawa for a big firm. Hated that. I stayed a few years, saving money and getting experience until I could open my own buisness. Now I run a small team and teach part time at the high school."
"I see you didn't mention getting married in you list of accomplishments."
"It almost happened once, but things weren't quite right. Other than that, I've dated some, even seriously but haven't found The One
"I thought Teddy was the one but..." she shook her head with a wry smile. "I'm not sure I even believe in one person for everyone anyways. It's a romantic notion and all, fine for fairy tales but I don't know."
Andy remembered Keira as being quite the romantic. When had that changed? "Getting cynical?" He asked lightly.
Keira shook her head. "No. Not cynical. Just more practical. Take Teddy and I. We were great together for awhile. Head over heels and all that. We were just young and not ready for the committment of marriage. And he definately was not ready to be a father. Don't get me wrong, he's a good guy just not mature enough to handle the demands of a full time dad. He's more comfortable with his weekend visits where he can be the fun Dad who takes her to Wonderland and sailing on the lake than he is with homework and discipline."
Andy's own father had been much like that, friendly and easy-going but distant, not really an active part in the lives of his kids.
"Abby doesn't seem any worse for it."
"She's always been a pretty independent kid. And she's got her uncles, who are much more hands on. Jack and his wife live downtown and Avery's in Buffalo so he's over often enough."
"She's a great kid," Andy said honestly. She was one of his brightest students, smart, inquisitive and a talented artist. It was a pleasure teaching her. He told Keira as much and she smiled warmly as a blush tinted her cheeks.
"Do you want kids?"
Andy shrugged. "I've never really had the desire but sometimes I wonder if that's just because I haven't met anyone who I'd want to settle down and have a family with."
"Makes sense," Keira said, studying him seriously. "You'd make a great dad."
He felt the blush heat the back of his neck and wondering if his face was flaming red, took a drink of coffee to hid it if it was.
"We didn't do too bad for ourselves, did we?"
Andy shook his head. "No, we didn't."
If they had stayed together way back when their lives would have been drastically different. And that was only assuming they would have worked out. Andy could have turned down that offer and stayed with Keira only to have them break up weeks, months or years later. Then where would they be?
It was, Andy realized, better this way. Sure it had been touch at times, all encompasing angst and saddness at being apart then later breaking up but that had passed. They had moved on to do the things that made them the people they were today. Now their lives had brought them together again.
They went out for coffee a few more times, then lunch, each time both of them skirting around the issue of whether or not they were dating again. Sometimes it felt to Andy like they had never been apart, things were so easy between them and other times he was all to aware of the distance that spanned between them. They'd both had other lives, other loves. It was hard for Andy to know Keira had been with other men, just as he assumed it was hard for Keira to know that he'd been with other women. It hurt knowing that she'd shared important moments, laughed and cried with other people while he was far away. No matter how much they talked, how much hey shared nothing could erase the fact that they had not been a part of each other's lives in a long time. Andy tried not to dwell on the past though, and focused instead on this second chance they had been given, in whatever form in might be.
About a month into their relationship, Andy decided that enough was enough and the two of them needed to sit down and have a talk about where they were going. He invited Keira out to dinner, a signifigantly date-like gesture, and offered to pick her up, just to test the waters. Keira agreed to the dinner, but said she had buisness in town and would meet him instead. He didn't know if that was some sort of subtle hint or if she just honestly wanted to make things convenient for them. He was acting like a teenager, trying to figure out if a girl liked him by analyzing every word, every action.
The restaurant he ahd chosed was pub-style, with "authentic" English dishes like shephards pie and bread pudding, imported ales and soccer or rugby games playing on the screens mounted above the bar. The walls were panelled with dark wood and decorated with several Union Jack's, a couple of pictures of the countryside and London's streets and of course, the requisite neon beer signs.
Their reservation was at 8 and they met outside the restaurant at about quarter to.
"You look beautiful," he said, rising from the bench, as Keira approached. She was wearing a deep purple dress with lines of silver running through the fabric and a light grey jacket over top. Her hair was piled up on top of her head in some kind of bun, with pieces hanging lose around her face.
"Thank you." Her cheeks reddened slightly in a blush as a pleased smile crossed her face. "You look pretty good yourself," she said, tugging the lapels of his sport coat to straighten them.
"Pretty good? I give you beautiful and you give me pretty good?"
"Fine, you look beautiful too.
He shook his head with a sigh, trying not to laugh as he stuck out his arm. "Shall we go in?"
Keira tucked her hand inside his elbow and nodded. "Let's."
They found a table near the windows, allowing them a view of the flowerboxes on the sills outside and the street beyond.
"You know what this place reminds me of?" Keira asked as they settled across from each other in their booth.
"That place near campus," Andy answered, remembering the tiny little pub and Keira's fondness for it. Many Friday nights had been spent there over fish and chips, darts and drinks.
Keira nodded, a smile playing at the corner of her lips. A comfortable silence fell as they studied their menus. After the waitress took they orders they began talking, about their days, about old times, about former friends and new collegues. It wasn't until after their meals were gone and they were lingering over coffee and dessert when Andy gathered up his courage, placed his palms on the table and asked the question they'd been avoiding.
"Where is this going?" he asked quietly, his voice coming out hoarse and making him cringe inwardly.
Keira paused, her cup halway to her lips. Her hand hovered there for a moment then she lowered her cup. "What do you mean?"
"Are we dating, friends, what?"
Keira met his eyes then glanced away, her expression becoming serious. Andy tried not to read anything into it.
"Here's the thing," she began, not meeting his gaze. "What I do affects Abby-"
"You know that I adore Abby," he interupted.
"I know you do, and she's quite fond of you, too but that's not quite what I meant. It's...If it's just casual that's one thing but if it became serious well... you're her teacher for one thing. I have no idea how she'd react to that let alone what kind of conflicts that would cause you. And then there would be the issue of what role you would play in her life. I can't expect her not to form a relationship with whoever I'm dating, but she already has a father and-"
"Keira, whoa, slow down, let's take it one step at a time. First, we need to figure out what we want. Then we should find out how Abby feels about it. The rest we'll figure out if it comes to that."
His respect for Keira grew as she put her daughter first. He'd seen the effects of parents who didn't care about how their actions affected their kids.
Keira nodded, "okay, then, if it's not going to make Abby uncomfortable than I would very much like us to begin dating."
Andy felt a release of tension he hadn't even realized he was feeling.
Andy straightened his tie one more time as he waited for someone to answer the door. His fingers shook as he fiddled with the knot. He couldn't believe he was so nervous over a conversation with a thirteen year old. Abby was a mature, intelligent teen, sure, but she was still a teen.
One who might not be comfortable with her mom dating her teacher. Or even dating at all. She might resent Andy for taking her father's place or not want the changes that having him in her life would bring.
The door swung open with startling suddeness, ending his rambling nervous thoughts.
"Hey, Mr. Markham."
"C'mon in. Can I take your coat?"
Andy handed her his coat, which she then took and draped unceremoniously over the bench in the hallway.
"So, you and my Mom used to know each other?"
"Yes. In University. Where is your Mom?"
"In the kitchen." Abby pointed behind her in a gesture that he assumed was the direction of the kitchen. "Would you like a drink or something?"
"Abby, did you finish setting the table?" Keira cut off his answer as she came into the foyer.
"I'm on it."
Abby dissapeared around the corner.
"Hi, how's it going?" he asked, stepping forward to give Keira a slightly awkward hug.
"Good. Good. Abby's been talking you up all day. And speculating about how we could possibly have known each other way back when. I guess it's difficult for a kid her age to think of their parents..and their teachers as actual people with lives."
Andy nodded. "I remember thinking that my parents must have been born into their forties, they couldn't seem to understand a thing about my life. And my teachers...I'm pretty sure I thought that they unplugged themselves each night after class and didn't come back on again until the next day."
"Yeah, I remember thinking something like that too."
Andy had been glancing around the house since he'd stepped inside, peering into the living room and down the hallway trying to take it all in. Even though he hadn't seen Keira in years, he could see her reflected in the interior designs. He knew the painting above the couch was hers. Could picture picking out and arranging the chocolate brown furniture around the glass coffee table with the beachwood and stones in the centre and the large potted plant in the terra cotta pot.
"You've got a beautiful house."
"Thank you," she said, smiling happily. "Would you like the nickle tour?"
Keira took him around on a quick tour of the house, showing him the living room and dining room, then leading him upstairs to show him the bedrooms and bathroom. He didn't know much about decorating houses, he just built them, but he could see Keira's style throughout the rooms and was impressed with how everything blended together. He told Keira, and watched a light blush cover her features and a pleased smile play at the corner of her lips at his words.
When they came back downstairs Abby was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the table.
"Dinner smells great, Mom," she commented, snitching a vegetable from the platter on the counter. "What are we having?"
"Chicken in marinara sauce and linguini. Go wash up, I'll serve."
"Need any help?"
Keira shook her head. "No, you're my guest, go sit down."
Andy crossed the kitchen to the small butcherblock table, obviously well used by the array of scratches, burns and smudges on it's surface. It's appearance gave the kitchen a charming, lived in look. He pulled a chair out for Abby, which made her giggle as she sat down, then settled opposite her. Keira quickly dished out their meals, which did, indeed, smell great. When she was finished serving Andy rose as she approached the table, pulled out her chair then returned to his place. Keira thanked him and Abby giggled again.
The first few minutes were filled with passing salads, platters and seasonings around the table, then quiet descenended as they began to eat. A faint awkwardness filling the air. Andy didn't know if he should start the discussion or wait for Keira to do it.
"Are you sleeping with my Mom?"
"Abby!" Keira exclaimed.
Andy choked on a mouthful of salad, picked up his glass of water and sipped it slowly. "No," he replied hoarsely when he could control his voice again.
"Do you want to?"
"Abigail!" But this time Keira's voice held a hint of laughter and when Andy glanced over he caught her glancing at him, anticipating his answer.
He glanced over at Abby, she was gazing at him with the same glint of mischief in her eyes.
"I plead the fifth."
"This isn't the States, you can't take the fifth," Abby exclaimed gleefully.
"Well, I still refuse to answer on the grounds that I might incriminate myself."
Beside him, Keira took a steadying breath, the humour fading from her eyes as she turned to her daughter. "That does however relate to something we wanted to talk to you about." She reached across the table and took her daughters hand. "As you know, Andy and I have been spending time together, as friends. And as you have suggested, our feelings have started to turn romantic." She paused, glancing over at Andy a moment before returning her focus to her daughter and continuing. "But this will effect you too, both at home and at school. And I'm not going to date him if it'll make you uncomfortable."
Abby's gaze tracked back and forth between the two of them, her expression slightly dazed. "It's weird," she said after a moment. "My Mom dating my teacher..."
her voice held a wonderment at the idea. "But..." she trailed off, glancing over at Andy then leaned towards her mom and lowered her voice in a false whisper. "He's cool. I like him."
Andy hid a smile behind his napkin. He loved watching the way mother and daughter interacted and was pleased that they were letting him into their lives.
Keira reappearing into his life was an unexpected gift.
Keira glanced over at Andy then leaned in towards Abby. "Me too," she replied in the same false whisper her daughter had used.
Andy raised his glass. "A toast." Keira and Abby reached for their glasses and held them up as well. "A toast to second chances." He caught Keira's eye and they exchanged a smile.
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|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|I enjoyed this, Stacey. There's just something magical in the idea of lost love being found again. I was drawn to your characters and their situation immediately. Very likeable folks. The only thing I could offer in the way of criticism is the very ending of chapter one, starting with "They did make a valiant effort to stay together..." I would have liked to have seen that in a couple of scenes, maybe eavesdrop on the awkward phone calls, or something like that. I think it would give their reunion that much more impact.
You have a nice writing style and a wonderful grasp of human nature.