Romance Fiction posted May 5, 2015


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
Is it possible to be in love for a lifetime?

Puppy Love

by Spiritual Echo

Unrequited Love Contest Winner 

People used to laugh, even my own parents commented about the crush I had on Danny. They thought it was cute. That's what they called it--cute. No one believed a child could be consumed by a love so great it could last a lifetime, but I've lived with this pain for decades. It's not easy being in love.

I don't remember a time when Danny was not in our lives. His family moved into the neighbourhood when he was nine. Though I was barely four years old, I have a vague memory of building forts in the backyards with all the moving cartons. My brother was the same age as Danny and they became instant friends. Joey had no choice but to let me play in the labyrinth of boxes retrieved from the curb, but Danny was nice to me, telling me stories about his old school and friends. He'd lived in Florida all his life and was looking forward to seeing snow for the first time come winter.

"Get lost, brat," Joey said to me, annoyed that Danny was talking to me. "Go inside and play with your dolls. Danny's my friend. We don't play with little girls."

"You're my friend too, aren't you Danny?"

"Sure I am," he said, then to prove it, he picked me up by the waist and swung me around in circles until I was so dizzy, I had to sit down when I tried to walk. "I wish I had a sister or brother," he confessed; "especially if she was as pretty and sweet as you."

"Oh for cripes sake," Joey mumbled, but I was spared his disgust when Mama came out with popsicles for all of us.

Danny practically lived at our house, and while Joey would slam his bedroom door shut, locking me out while they played with his Hot Wheels or Lego, Danny always had a smile for me. When he ate dinner at our house, I always insisted I sit next to him. Begrudgingly, it was a concession even Joey allowed after my full-fledged temper tantrum when denied the honoured seat.

I learned pretty fast that Joey would let me hang around as long as I stayed out of the boys' way. When I looked up at Mama with my innocent eyes and told bold-faced lies about where the boys had been playing, they let me go with them when they ventured past the parental boundaries.

We weren't allowed to go near the creek, but we went just the same, catching crayfish and frogs, and using them as bait for fish we never caught. Still, when Mama would ask about our muddied clothes and scraped knees, I always claimed we were at the playground.

Everything about Danny was perfect and different; his curly, blond hair was allowed to grow during the summer, and I thought he looked like an angel. When he smiled, his joy started at the corner of his blue eyes before it travelled down his cheeks and produced two dimples when his lips moved to reveal his pleasure.

I spent all summer studying his every move and wishing he was my brother instead of Joey. In September, I spent most of the first week in bed, crying my heart out. Danny's hair had been buzzed before school started. The sight of his naked skull horrified me as much as the school bus that arrived each morning to swallow up the boys and leave me behind.

"Susie, don't cry," my mother said. "You'll get to go to school next year when you turn five."

I didn't care about school. I was inconsolable that Danny would leave me and seem so happy to board the yellow monster that stole my heart each morning. At three-thirty, I dutifully sat on the porch steps waiting for my life to begin again when the boys came home.

When I did finally begin school the following year, my kindergarten class was at the opposite end of the school. Occasionally I'd catch a glimpse of Joey and Danny kicking a soccer ball around at recess, but the kindergarten children weren't allowed to play with the older kids.

My longing to be with Danny became a horrible wound by the time the boys graduated elementary school and went off to high school. From that moment on, it seemed Danny was too busy with homework and football practice to spend much time at our house.

"I love you, Danny,' I said on my twelfth birthday.

"I love you too, kid," but he was distracted, and gravitated towards Brittany, a seventeen-year-old who'd moved in down the street.

It was a street party, a neighbourhood barbecue and the new girl was attracting both Danny's and Joey's attention. I hated her on sight. She sat on a lawn chair filing her nails, flipping her auburn hair around while the boys swarmed around her, offering sodas and hot dogs from the grill. It was the day that I realized that I not only loved Danny, but I was in love with him.

What little time he was spending at our house, was reassigned to the pursuit of the 'bitch down the street.' I couldn't stand saying her name out loud, and wrote graphic, detailed scenarios in my diary about how I would kill the bitch. I dreamt about how I would poison her, and tried once. I baked a batch of toll-house cookies laced with Ex-Lax and trotted down the street to offer my neighbour the bounty of my labours.

"Why are you being so nice to me?" Brittany snarled. "I thought you hated me. But don't you worry. I'll leave your brother alone. Danny's my new boyfriend."

I threw the cookies in her face, missed, and watched them roll across her lawn. Stomping down the street, I used every ounce of self-control. I didn't want anyone to see me crying.

Danny took her to his senior prom. All the neighbours came out to see the beautiful couple, Danny in a navy-blue tuxedo, and the Britanny wearing a Cinderella ball gown that looked like she'd fallen into a candy-floss machine at the circus. Even my mother took a picture of the two of them, but when I found it, I cut HER out of the photograph and hid my souvenir in my diary.

I was getting used to Danny not being around much, so when he left town to go to college, I consoled myself that at least he'd be away from the bitch. Brittany hadn't applied to any colleges and wound up working at Wal-Mart. Once my favourite store, I never set foot in it again after she started her new job.

In the end, she turned out not to be such a threat. Pregnant and married within the year, she moved away so that I never had to look at her ugly face again.

I was thrilled when Danny invited both Joey and I to a football weekend. Mama raged that a college campus was no place for a high school girl, but with Joey's solemn promise that he and Danny would watch over me, she finally agreed.

Danny's high school athletic prowess was recognized and he'd secured a running back position, an unheard of accomplishment. I was so excited about watching him play football and having a real grown-up weekend, I planned for weeks, scouring magazines and getting fashion advice from girlfriends so I would look the part when I sat in the stands. I wanted to look like a college girl, and imagined myself as the girl back home Danny had invited up-state to show off to his buddies.

And he noticed.

"Man, you look gorgeous--all grown up," he said when he gave me a bear hug. My joy was short-lived when he told me I would be spending the night with his girlfriend in her dorm.

"Girlfriend?"

"You'll love her, I promise," and sadly, Danny was right.

Gretchen was everything Brittany wasn't. She immediately made me feel welcome and introduced me to all her roommates as if I was a long-lost friend. She didn't gush about Danny. Instead we bonded, played cards, gossiped and in the morning, she helped me with my make-up, showing me tricks to enhance what she called 'my natural beauty.'

By the time the weekend was over, I accepted that if I couldn't have Danny, Gretchen was a great second choice. I loved her like a sister.

Loving Danny for all these years has left a dull ache in my heart. After the football weekend, I somehow realized I had to get on with life. I dated, went to college where I met Garth, and even convinced myself I loved him enough to marry him. That marriage lasted just four years. A few engagements later that thankfully I called off, I settled down with Bill. I knew I wasn't in love with him, certainly not the way I'd loved Danny, but we were a good match, had a good life together. My daughters have continued to be a great comfort to me since my husband died three years ago, but they're going away to college soon. They don't need me anymore.

I suppose all the preparations, visiting campuses and filling out applications have put me in this melancholy mood. I can't help but wonder what my life would have been like if I'd shared it with Danny.

It's been almost ten years since I saw him last. Joey arranged for Danny and Gretchen to attend my surprise fortieth birthday party. My heart stopped when I saw him across the room, the familiar smile, but the hair was gone, for real. Danny was completely bald.

"I remember that bare head. The first time I saw you without your curls I cried for a week," I said, recalling the September shearing. "Now I'm just happy to see you, no matter how you look."

We had a great time that night, but I could sense the friction between Danny and Gretchen.

"They're getting a divorce," Joey told me.

"I'm so sorry," I said to Gretchen, promising to keep in touch, but of course I didn't. I still loved Danny and felt his eyes on me all night.

Had it really taken Danny all these decades to have feelings for me? But I was married to a good man, a man who didn't deserve to be hurt. I told myself that none of it mattered. It was all such a long time ago, and then, Bill died.

Knowing it was a foolish idea, I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to hear Danny's voice. I was hardly the kid anymore, and with only a few weeks short of my fiftieth birthday, I looked for my address book. Would his number be the same? Would we stutter and make superficial conversation?

My hands shook while I punched out the number. The phone was ringing, and I could hear his breathless voice as he said Hello.

"Suzie?"

We were too old to play games or lie to each other. I needed to know.

"Danny, do you ever think what it would have been like if you and I...if we were together?"

I heard him take a deep breath. "All the time, darling...all the time."



 


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