This week’s Story Time Shorts idea comes from Valerie, who left this comment last week…
The two characters names: Christina Hall and Randy Hanson. Randy and Christina lived in the same town, became friends, and found out they both had a passion for writing. They became extremely close, but since Randy was a teenager and Christina a handful of years older at the time…nothing more became of it. Fast forward 10-15 years and they re-meet after losing track of each other. Randy is now all-grown up and a popular author, and the relationship goes from friendship to something a bit more as they get reacquainted.
I will admit this one is even longer than A Country Love Story. It was also a little tougher to write, but I kind of like how it turned out. Hope you do, too.
Photo credit: Morguefile.com
His Broken Heart
Whoever said you can’t go home again was right, Randy Hanson thought, toweling his hair dry as he stood in front of the window looking at the neighborhood. And sometimes when you tried, things were so different you barely recognized them. Even here, in his old room in the house he’d grown up in, it wasn’t the same. His mother wasn’t either, treating him more like a guest rather than the son she’d given birth to nearly three decades ago.
As he pulled on a pair of slacks, and lightweight sweater to ward off the early autumn chill, he supposed he was partly at fault for moving away almost twelve years ago. It wasn’t that he hadn’t come back for the occasional visit, a few holidays, and his father’s funeral, but mostly he’d stayed away. Anywhere else in the world and he could go anywhere with some degree of anonymity. Here, people stopped and stared, and pointed and whispered – and he hated it.
No one, least of all him, had expected the book he’d written as a wet behind the ears seventeen-year-old to find a home with a major publishing company just before he’d graduated from high school. He’d only written and submitted it to impress the student teacher in his Creative Writing class – a class he’d taken because he thought it would be easy, not because he thought he had any talent. Except he apparently had more talent than he’d guessed because the book had been a bestseller right out of the gate. That’s when people he’d known all of his life had started acting funny around him.
Christina had been cool about it though. At least until he’d kissed her. It hadn’t mattered that he’d been eighteen to her twenty-two – an adult according to state law, and a success in the eyes of society in general – she still saw herself as a teacher and Randy as her student. Even after professing his love and begging her to give them a chance, she’d shaken her head no and kept him at an arm’s distance. Oh, she’d been sweet about it. There had been a short speech about how flattered she was, and how she wished him the very best. But in the end, she’d kissed him lightly on the cheek, then turned and walked away.
Then she moved to California, almost three-quarters of the country away from him.
And what had Randy done? Bought a house on a beach in Connecticut, hugged his parents’ goodbye, and run far away to lick his wounds. She hadn’t believed him, but he’d truly loved her. Or maybe she had, but he’d never know. Nor did he care. He hadn’t for a long, long time.
Sitting in the chair at his old desk, Randy leaned down to tie the laces of the gleaming black dress shoes he’d stepped in to, then leaned back and thought about what had brought him to this point.
Until now, he’d never come home for professional reasons. But this afternoon, he’d be doing a book signing at the local bookstore, Brews & Bestsellers. Why? Because during a telephone call late last winter, his mother had casually mentioned that the paper had been sold, and did he remember a girl named Christina Hall.
Christina owned the weekly newspaper…
Why she’d stopped teaching was anyone’s guess but this – it was perfect. She’d spit in his face – however nicely she’d done it – and now it was his turn. He’d been plotting this moment for seven long months. There was no way the owner, reporter, and editor of the only news source in the county would pass up an opportunity to interview the local boy who hit the big-time. It had to be eating away at her knowing she’d have to not only approach him, but talk to him too.
Except he knew from experience that she wouldn’t be the only newsperson there. The television stations from Lansing would be represented as well – WILX, WLNS, and WSYM, not to mention the State Journal. No one would blame him for not bothering with a two-bit reporter from a smalltime weekly when the big guns would be there vying for his attention.
Not that he would ignore her entirely. The last thing he needed was to have any fans in the area think he was a jerky celebrity, but for the most part, Ms. Hall would think she was invisible to him – because she would be.
Stopping to grin at his reflection in the mirror above the six-drawer dresser still filled with old clothes his mother hadn’t been able to part with, he nodded to himself before heading downstairs. Deana Hanson stood at the counter spreading cream cheese frosting over a two-layer carrot cake – Randy’s favorite.
“You look very handsome,” she said, glancing over her shoulder with a smile, then motioning him over to kiss his cheek.
“Aren’t you coming?” he asked, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pressing his lips against her hair.
“I’ll stop in a bit later. You need to concentrate on your fans, not me.”
“You’re worth a million fans to me, Mom.”
“Well, that’s kind of you to say so,” she murmured, her cheeks coloring. Whether it was because she was embarrassed, or because she didn’t believe him was a toss-up, but given his neglect of her, he suspected it was the latter. “It’s getting late, sweetheart. You run along. I need to get a few more things around for tomorrow’s supper, and then I’ll see you at the bookstore.”
“Are you sure? I can wait and drive you there.”
“I’m fine, Randy. Don’t worry about me.”
As he climbed into his rented Mercedes, he felt guilty in a vague sort of way. Dad had been gone for almost three years, and this was only the second time he’d been home.
“Don’t worry about me.”
Except he did, he just had a sorry way of showing it. If life had taught him anything, it was that it was easy to accumulate regrets. He didn’t want to look back one day and wish he’d done things differently … like he did over his father … so he was going to have to figure out a way to be a better son. He could write anywhere, take vacations any time he wanted. It wouldn’t be hard to spend more time here, or to take her on cruises, or to see countries an ocean or continent away.
He pushed those ideas to the back of his mind as he sat at the table in the filled to capacity bookstore. The owner was pleased to announce that there was a line halfway down the block, and that a reporter from one of the television stations was waiting in her office for an interview. One of the stations? Nothing like being knocked down a peg or two on the ego scale.
Christina, however, had come. Randy felt his gut clench when he spotted her talking to a group of fans waiting near the door. She was writing furiously in a notebook while trying to keep the wide camera strap from slipping off her shoulder. The wild mass of blond curls barely brushing her shoulders was the same as he remembered, as was her petite stature, but that she wouldn’t glance in his direction – at least not when he was looking in hers – was not.
A dozen years ago, she’d have marched right up to the table to talk to him. Now, she gave him a wide berth. Even when he caught her snapping a couple of discreet photos, it had been from one side of the room or another. The one time he did catch her eye, she glanced away almost instantly. After that, she disappeared and Randy just wanted the ordeal to be over. Not only had she thrown him away and broken his heart, she’d cheated him out of his petty revenge. Childish as it might be, he’d wanted to show her that she didn’t mean anything to him anymore.
Two and a half endless hours later, he’d signed every book – including the one his mother insisted on buying, pasted a smile on his face and answered the same questions a hundred other reporters had asked, and finally , weary to his core, climbed into the car and sat there, head back, eyes closed.
Why hadn’t she said anything? She was a nobody from a town no one had ever heard of, while he was a sought after superstar whose bestselling books were sometimes made into movies. Did she think she was too good for him?
With a sigh, he started the engine and pulled out of the curbside parking spot. It was time to go home and spend some quality time with his mother, maybe arrange one of those vacations he’d been thinking about earlier. Maybe they could leave tomorrow. He just wanted to get as far away from Charlotte and Christina Hall as fast as he could.
But then he saw a light on in the newspaper office. Eight o’clock on a Saturday night? It could only be Christina. He supposed she was working on the big story of his return to town, which should take up all of three sentences given the lack of an actual interview.
Two blocks down, he glanced around, did a quick U-turn, and found himself parked outside the office, kicking himself for being here, yet unable to make himself leave. After a couple of minutes, he got out of the car, stomped up the sidewalk, and knocked sharply on the glass door. It didn’t take long before Christina appeared. She stopped so abruptly at the sight of him, Randy thought she might topple over to the floor.
After a moment, she stepped forward, turned the lock and let him inside. Then, without so much as a word, she spun on her heel and headed back to the only room with lights on, her office. He hesitated only briefly before following her.
“You didn’t ask me a single question,” he accused, once she was sitting behind her desk. He flopped down in the leather arm chair across from it, a scowl on his face, his heart beating the same tempo it always had when she was close enough to touch. “What kind of reporter does that, Christina?”
“I was trying to honor your wishes.”
“My wishes?” He couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his tone. “And how would you know what any of my wishes are?”
“We didn’t exactly part on the best of terms,” she reminded him softly, lowering her eyes to the monitor in front of her. “You told me to never speak to you again, Randy, and you sounded like you meant it.”
It was only then he recalled one part of that night, a part he’d conveniently forgotten all this time. She hadn’t just kissed his cheek and walked away. She’d walked away all right, but her steps had been slow and her shoulders slumped as he’d called out after her,
“You stay away from me, Christina Hall. I don’t want to see you again. I don’t want to hear your voice again. Ever. Someday, I’m going to be so rich I could buy an ocean, but if you were dying of thirst, I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t give you a drop of water. You are dead to me.”
He actually cringed when he heard his younger self saying that last line. You are dead to me? Could he have been much more of a drama queen?
“I was eighteen, Christina. I said some stupid things. But what did you expect from a kid who was in love with you? A kid whose heart you’d just stomped on.”
“That wasn’t my intention, Randy. You’d just gotten out of high school. You hadn’t been to college yet, hadn’t seen anything of the world.”
“Maybe not, but I’d already earned more money than most guys do by the time they’re thirty.”
“And you thought that’s all that mattered?” she asked, looking up at him for a brief second. It was long enough to see that her eyes were red and swollen, something he hadn’t noticed in the dim light of the foyer. His heart twisted painfully at the thought of her sitting here alone and crying.
“Yeah,” Randy admitted reluctantly. “At the time, I guess I did.”
The proverbial light went off in that moment, so clearly he could almost see the cartoon bulb in his head. He’d been so immature at the time he’d thought that would be enough to charm Christina into marrying him. That because he was essentially rich right out of the high school doors, he was a bigger success than she was after four years of college, therefore, she should have jumped at the chance to be with him. And when she’d turned his oh-so-mature offer down, he’d reacted like the teenager he’d really been.
“I’m sorry, Christina.” The part of him that nurtured the hurt for so long didn’t want to let go, but looking at her sitting there, trying to be the strong, confident newspaper owner, while in reality, she still seemed to be as bothered by what happened back then as he was.
“Why? I’m the one who broke your heart.”
“Yours wasn’t involved? Not even a little?”
“I never said that. But it was the right thing to do.”
After a pause that was too quiet and too long, Randy said,
“I know. I have grown up a little since then. While I never did make it to college, I’ve seen a lot of the world.”
“Yeah?” she asked, peeking out from beneath her eyelashes.
“Yeah. Maybe we could have some coffee? Do a real interview, and then – catch up a little?”
“It’s late, Randy. The only places open now are fast food restaurants and bars.”
“We could go to my mother’s house. She’s always got a pot going.” She didn’t say anything for the longest time, and Randy thought she might be trying to come up with another excuse. If she did, he supposed he couldn’t blame her. But then she nodded.
“All right. Um— Just let me turn this off.”
The ride to the house was quiet and uncomfortable, and Randy wasn’t sure what he was hoping to accomplish with this talk. All he knew was that the moment he saw her, the moment he heard her voice for the first time in so long, all of the anger and bitterness he’d held on to for so long seemed to drain out of him like water out of a bathtub.
“Hey, Chrissy,” his mother said, glancing up from where she was curled on the sofa, Randy’s new book in her hand.
“Wait— You two know each other?” Randy asked, looking from one to the other, confused.
“Well sure. She rescued me when a ball joint went out on my car a couple of years ago. I’d just started backing out of the parking spot at the grocery store when it went. Fortunately, Chrissy was there, and took me – and the groceries – home.”
“A couple of years ago?”
“Yeah. Did you know she used to be a teacher?”
“As a matter of fact, I did know that,” he said slowly, noticing the smug smile on Deana’s face. “She was the TA in my writing class.”
“Really? It’s so long ago, I’m afraid I don’t remember names.”
In a pig’s eye, Randy thought, flashing her a grin. She probably remembered a whole lot more than that, and later, after he and Christina talked – and hopefully resolved an issue of four unimportant years – she was going to get a well-deserved hug.
“Shall we?” he asked, placing a hand on the small of Christina’s back and nodding toward the kitchen.
Sometimes, maybe you could go home again.
Don’t forget. If you have an idea for a story – including the names you’d like me to use – leave the suggestion in the comments section below, in a comment on my Facebook page, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.