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~~First Love Last Love~~
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.
She leant 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 10 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 then to warn people. Perhaps only about a 100 or so visitors had come here during the summer to idle away the days.
People like the Grahams, who had lived in one of the houses nestled amid the trees that marched up the hill behind her. Splendid homes with lush gardens, snobbish inhabitants, and boats waiting to he hitched to expensive cars. She wouldn't look that way. It was painful enough to look at the island, sitting as it had always sat in magnificent splendour since the beginning of time.
Her heart stopped, then started again. Her imagination must be playing tricks. Jon was somewhere in the Middle East. She had seen him on the TV news recently, reporting from his latest assignment.
Not wishing to add to the pain she felt, she continued to gaze at the headland on the island. A soft wind blew through the tall grasses in front of the fence. Yes, it had been the wind playing tricks.
‘Rachel, it is you. I’d know that hair anywhere. It’s shorter, but it still has the same glowing golden sheen.’
Holding her breath, she turned around slowly, as if in a trance. There he stood, a few paces away, hands in the pockets of his jeans. As the sun slanted on him, he looked as he had 10 years ago. Just 20 years old 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. Looking older than his 30 years, the lines of experience, of seeing too many horrors, too much reality, were etched on his features. Furrows ran along his face. The lines beside his eyes weren’t 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 18-year-old girl testing her feet in the waters of desire.
‘I thought you were overseas.’ She suddenly felt gauche, ridiculous for a woman who ran a successful public relations business and faced men just as forceful as Jon every working day.
‘I was. I go back in a day or two.’
The breeze sent her hair into her eyes and Rachel pushed it back. ‘I didn’t know you still lived here.’
At last she looked back 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 looked back at the house.
‘I’m sorry.’ That was a lie. She hated his father as much now as she had on that awful night.
His shoulders lifted again. ‘He had a rare disease that had slowly taken away all his faculties. He was glad to go, to join Mum.’
‘I didn’t know she had died.’ Now she was sad. His mother had been well-liked in 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. Rachel shrugged. How could she explain the strange yearning that had brought her back here?
‘It’s our anniversary,’ he said, and Rachel’s mind reeled, although she pretended nonchalance. As if she had really not realised that on this very day 10 years ago she had lost her virginity and given him her heart, and perhaps her soul as well.
‘So it is.’
‘Is that why you came?’ His knuckles stroked down her cheek and she shuddered, recalling all the other ways he’d touched her. Touched her as no other man could.
Rachel nodded. ‘I never could lie to you, could I?’ She gave a small smile, and 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.
‘You didn’t love me, Jon.’ Shaking her head, she freed herself from his silken web and turned back to rest her hands on the rail again.
‘Of course I did. It might have been the love of innocence, but it was fresh, and clear, and true.’ His gentle hand on her shoulder made Rachel quiver, forcing her to turn and 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 you. My mother and father might only run the fish and chip shop, but they were hard-working and as straight as they come.’
Rachel moved away from the hypnotic touch of his fingers. A lizard ran from beneath a rock, and she stared down at it, realising tears had blurred her vision. Fool! Hadn’t she sworn long ago that she’d 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 got into, Rachel. All my dad asked was we give it time, cool it for a while. Before I had time to talk to you, you’d taken off, gone to live interstate with your aunt. I asked your mother for your address but she said she’d been sworn to secrecy. You didn’t have much faith in me, did you?’
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 think, how quickly it all got out of control. But you didn’t meet me the next night as we planned. I thought you had used me.’
‘Never that!’ He swallowed so hard that she saw his throat convulse. ‘What a fool I was.’
Rachel shook her head. ‘It’s all water under the bridge now. There’s no going back, no point in rehashing old memories best left buried.’
‘Are they, Rach? Are they best left? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I looked out of the window and saw you down here.’
‘How were you so sure it was me?’
A smile curved his mouth. ‘I’d know you anywhere. I looked for you for years.’
‘And I followed your career. You’re quite the celebrity.’
He made a rude sound. ‘Celebrity! That’s a joke. I’m a burned out journo who’s had enough of wars, human suffering and power hungry warmongers destroying this world. I’m giving it up soon.’
‘But what will you do?’
‘I’m going to write a book.’ When she gave a sound of surprise, he said, ‘Yes, at last.’
‘So, it’s taken 10 years to fulfil your dreams then?’
‘What about you? What do you do?’
‘I have my own PR business. I’ll handle your publicity if you like when the book’s ready.’
For the first time Jon looked genuinely amused. ‘I have to write it first. Where do you live?’
‘In Brighton. I have a house not far from the beach.’ She glanced up the hill. ‘If you don’t stay there, where do you live?’
His features tightened. ‘I have no real home. I’ll buy one when this assignment’s over. Perhaps a place near you. Have you a husband? Lover? Boyfriend?’
If anyone else had asked something so personal she’d have baulked at answering, but with him she had no hesitation. ‘There’s no one.’
‘I don’t believe it.’ He sounded surprised. ‘Why hasn’t anyone snapped you up?’
‘You didn’t. Why should you think anyone else would?’
‘Because you’re beautiful, talented and have gorgeous legs.’ No other man could send her pulses racing and her body aflame as he could with just one look. Rachel laughed to ease the tension filling her. He grinned and all the sadness that had been apparent was dispelled.
‘Rach, could I see you? I mean, as in date you?’ He sounded hesitant, boyishly tentative. Just as he had 10 years ago when he’d asked her to walk along this beach with him. It had been the first of many walks along the beach and on the island across the stretch of water.
It had been the last thing she’d expected to hear. ‘Haven’t you got anyone? A girlfriend, a woman waiting for you?’
‘No, there have been a couple of casual partners over the years, but a man who’s 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. ‘So much has been missing from my life. So much love and tenderness. So much honesty and warmth.’
She shook her hands free and when he made to take them again, she reached up to cup his strong jaw in shaking hands.
‘Do you still have the tin boat?’ she asked, loving the way his eyes darkened at her touch.
‘Sure. I thought I might take it over to the island this afternoon, capture lost moments. Times that were so precious they’ve helped me over the sense of hopelessness that's plagued me for years.’
‘May I come with you?’
He clasped her hands. ‘I wouldn’t let you get out of it. We’ll look at the spot where we made love for the first time. And found heaven. Perhaps we’ll make love again one day just as we did then.’
‘Oh, we will, will we?’ She smiled.
‘Oh yes.’ He grinned and linked his fingers in hers and pulled her with him, up the hill.
Rachel felt more alive than she had in years. Glancing at her linen skirt and silk blouse, she said, ‘I haven’t got my sailing clothes with me.’
Jon grinned again. ‘The island will be deserted at this time of the week. You won’t need any clothes there.’
She gave his arm a playful punch. ‘I’m not prancing about naked, so get that idea out of your head.’ She knew that her stomach wasn’t as flat as it had been and there was more of her thighs than before. Doubts assailed her at the thought of stripping before him.
He pushed open the large gates and Rachel took a look around the garden. It hadn’t changed much, but some of the shrubs had gone. The swing seat still sat quietly on the porch and she recalled the night she and Jon had shared a kiss there. She half expected his father to appear and glare at her for daring to enter his domain and touch his son.
It took a matter of moments to hitch the small runabout to the four-wheel drive, and another five minutes to tow it to the boat ramp. They pushed it into the water, and Jon jumped aboard, helping her in after she hitched her skirt high. He watched her as he steered across the small channel. The wind whipped her hair about her face and he saw the fears and uncertainties on her face.
‘It’ll be fine,’ he said quietly. Rachel wasn’t so sure. Would it be possible to regain the closeness, the passion of the past?
But no sooner had they beached the boat, walked up the tiny beach and found their spot beneath the cliffs than everything fell into place. He was right. Everything was fine. More than fine. It was perfect. They kissed and the years of separation fell away.
When Jon removed her blouse, Rachel made a small protestation. ‘You’re beautiful,’ he said, his eyes showing his appreciation. ‘So much better than the skinny kid I made love to back then. We all change, Rach.’ He looked down at himself and grimaced. ‘Look at me. A beer belly from spending too many nights in bars, drowning out sights and smells of decay.’
‘You are magnificent. As strong and straight as when we first touched each other.’ She placed a hand on his chest and revelled in his shuddering sigh.
‘Love me, Rachel.’
The wind whistled through the rocks above them as they came together, two lost souls who had found each other again. Somewhere Rachel had read there was no going back. But whoever wrote that had been so wrong. Now 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.
This story first appeared in the Australian Woman’s Day magazine.
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