Stella Bayberry fixed herself a steaming cup of hot chocolate with plenty of marshmallows. Even though she had a terrible cold and a runny nose, it was still warm outside, so she stepped through the French doors onto the deck and sat down. Stella realized that fall, the season of transition was upon us, and summer's dog-day heat would soon be replaced by the chilly relief of autumn.
Gazing at the harvest moon slowly beginning to rise over the treetops, a soft breeze gently blew her hair. Stella and her husband had been divorced for almost seven years now and at 58 years old, she just never had been interested in marrying again, or for that matter, even looking for a mate.
As the voices of her younger days came blowing in with the soft breeze, she let her mind slowly drift back to her one, true great love; the one that got away.
Stella and her husband had gotten married when they were both 24 years old, raised three children, and now had five grandchildren. They had great jobs, built a four-bedroom house, took family vacations, had a lot of friends, and basically lived the great American dream.
Only in Stella's heart, even though she was a loving and faithful wife, there was always someone missing. She knew exactly who.
Stella was only 19 years old when she met Mike Collins, who was 27, and even though they were only together a few short months, it seemed like he stole her heart virtually overnight. He had lean tough good looks, with dark hair that was a little shaggy. And who could forget his navy blue eyes. Mike had the kind of charm that attracted people to him. Everyone automatically liked him. He was charismatic and radiated an athletic energy that charged the air around him. He was eight years older than Stella, who was still a teenager, and it didn't take long for them both to realize they just weren't in the same place.
It was with a heavy heart that they sadly let go and went their separate ways. Stella soon learned he had left town, and a year later he had married a city girl. Even though his parents still lived in town, she never saw him again. But she was young and life went on.
Down through the years she had heard his father passed away and she knew his elderly mother still lived in the old family home.
If she'd ever given it any thought, Stella would never have imagined in her wildest dreams that she would run into her one great love for the first time in 37 years while in the throes of a nasty cold. Later that very night, she'd went to the local Wal-Mart store at 11:00 and headed toward the health and beauty aisle looking for cold medicine with her graying hair pulled back in a messy bun, her eyes red and that runny nose.
Deep inside she might have hoped to run into Mike again, but these hopes would have her meeting him in a beautiful dress, her hair expertly styled, her makeup perfect, and those extra pounds long gone.
But in Stella's world, the present situation was her reality.
“Stella? Is that you?”
Grimacing, pulling herself up from her hunched position - the better to view the cold medicine - the question, “Who could I run into here, at this time of night,” ran through her head.
She turned to face the person behind the voice. For a moment, she could do little more than stare at Mike Collins, wondering if her luck had ever been this bad.
“Mike?” she said in a lame, congested voice.
“I thought that was you,” the man before her said, “but I wasn't sure...”
A strangled sound in her throat preceded her reply, “I have a cold. I thought I could pop in for some medicine without seeing anyone I know,” she said. Or anyone I've spent the better part of the past 37 years secretly longing for, she thought.
“How are you? Gosh, it's been what, 36 or 37 years?”
Stella smiled. His math was still good. And she couldn't help but notice that at 66, the years hadn't altered his physique. Of course, age and experience had etched lines here and there, but he still had the same stubborn chin and same beautiful navy blue eyes that now seemed a little sad, a little tired.
“I'm doing well, thank you. And you? Are you back in town?” She hadn't wanted to prolong this conversation considering her appearance, but didn't want to seem impolite.
“Yeah, I got divorced a couple of years ago and decided to move back to be closer to my mother. What about you?”
“Oh, I've never left. I'm divorced myself with three grown children and five grandchildren.”
They talked for a few more minutes until Stella decided that she needed to, but absolutely was not going to in front of this man, blow her nose, so she made her excuses.
Three times over the next two weeks, Stella went to Wal-Mart at 11 o'clock, having fussed over her appearance, hoping Mike might see her looking attractive.
He might have, if she'd run into him again, but naturally, her luck did not happen that way.
Her luck tended to have her meet people she'd like to meet looking her best when she absolutely did not. Like when she was walking at the local park with her dog. She'd just finished a mile long walk and was flushed and sweaty.
So, naturally, who slowly walked her way? Why, Mike Collins, of course.
“Hey Stella,” Mike called as he approached, his smile wide, his navy blue eyes suddenly seeming not so sad. “Wow, twice in a month. This is becoming a habit.”
“Hi,” Stella replied.
“Who's this?” he asked, bending to stroke her dog's shiny coat.
“This is Henry,” Stella answered, watching as the retriever ate up the attention.
As Mike stood up, Stella pasted on her prettiest smile. He hesitated a moment before he said, “I'm glad I ran into you again Stella. I've been thinking about you since I saw you.”
“I've even ran into a few of our old mutual friends who are still living here in town, recently.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “I was thinking maybe we could get together.”
“That would be great,” Stella said, thinking it really would be. She'd stayed friendly with lots of people who'd remained in town, but busy lives kept people apart. “I'd love to see everyone again.”
“Oh, well, that would be great, too,” Mike gave a short laugh. “All right, I'm bungling this.”
“Stella, you ran out so fast from the store that night, I didn't get a chance to ask to see you.”
“Just me?” she asked.
“Yes, just you,” Mike said with a smile. I know it's been a long time, with a lot of water under the bridge, but if we're going to keep meeting like this, we should at least start to plan it.”
Stella was definitely all for that.
“Mike Collins, I'd love to plan something with you,” Stella replied as she realized that dreams really do come true, even at her age.