Gracie Hayes was going to change his whole life.
Jacob Morales had this one certain thought as Gracie walked a few steps ahead of him in the moonlight, moving back and forth underneath the streetlights, twirling around in the ballet flats she wore, glancing back at him with a smile… even as she swung the shovel over her shoulder and winked at him.
She was going to change his life. How, exactly? Well, he didn’t know what her intentions were that evening, but guessing by the gleam in her eyes and the way she kept putting a finger to her lips as she crept past house after house with her shovel at the ready, he assumed whatever she had in mind was illegal.
He’d be sitting in a prison cell by sunrise. Oh, yeah. Tonight was going to change his life, courtesy of the cute little blonde from his childhood.
Even as he followed her, he thought about how he’d gotten here and how unexpected the whole evening had turned out to be.
It had all started with his grandfather’s death.
Of course, Thomas Fisher’s passing itself hadn’t been unexpected, as he’d been sick for decades, and they’d all known the day was coming when he’d leave and go on to the glory prepared for him. Jacob had expected the many calls from his parents regarding all the details of the coming funeral and everything that would come with it. Those calls had included one from his father, asking him to come to dinner with them, to help distract his mother and relieve her stress over all that was up ahead with the next day’s memorial and remembrances. Jacob had met them at Mel and Beau’s house, where he’d been countless times over the years, given the friendship between the couple and his parents.
They’d told him once he arrived that there was another family in town that would be joining them.
And that family? Had been the first of many unexpected parts of the evening.
“Do you remember the Hayes family?” his dad had asked softly as they stood at the door, his mother even still wiping away tears from the difficult day she’d had.
Jacob had shaken his head. “Uh…. no. I don’t think so.” He had looked over at his mother, a glance of understanding passing between him and his father as he did so.
“Who are they, again?” he had asked, feigning interest.
“Stephen was the pastor at Grace, after Dad stepped down,” his mother had murmured. “He and Chloe lived just down the street here from Beau and Mel. And Chloe is Beau’s sister, so Stephen’s daughters are Mel’s nieces.” She had smiled fractionally. “Everyone’s related.”
“Are we related to them?” Jacob had asked, his mind searching for any connection to these people.
“Not at all,” she had answered. “But you grew up with Faith and Gracie. We visited them in Florida once, too, after they moved to a church out there. Don’t you remember them?”
Faith and Gracie. The two names triggered a series of faint memories.
He could picture them, very dimly. Two small girls in matching dresses, standing hand-in-hand at a church service, looking over at the preacher with the reserved politeness of well-taught preachers’ kids. The same girls in shorts and t-shirts, standing over a giant hole in a backyard somewhere, arguing about what they should do while he watched them and sweat poured down his back. The older one eating at the table in his mother’s kitchen, her fork and knife poised perfectly over her plate while the younger one had eaten well-placed holes in a tortilla and had put it on her face and worn it as a mask.
They’d both gotten in trouble for the mess they’d ended up making as they’d started laughing so hard.
Come to think of it, he and the younger girl had gotten in trouble more than a few times over the years. He could see himself sitting next to her on the couch in his parents’ house while both sets of their parents discussed what they were going to do with Jacob and Gracie.
He remembered her.
He wasn’t sure what he remembered more, though – her or the trouble she always got them into.
He had opened his mouth to tell his mother that he remembered a little blonde standing in a very pink playroom, her hands on her hips, a giggle on her lips, and plenty of scheming in her blue eyes as she –
But before he could, though, the door had opened.
And there again stood a little blonde, her hands on her hips, her head turned to laugh at something being said in the kitchen… and then, the sound silenced as she turned to look at the Morales family.
“Jacob,” she had breathed, her blue eyes dancing as she smiled at him. And to his great surprise and to the surprise of all who stood around them, she had thrown herself into his arms and said his name again, even as she embraced him. “Jacob!”
She remembered him, too.
As she watched him curiously that evening, after she’d left his embrace and moved on to dinner with the whole group, biting her lip from time to time as he studied her intently, he remembered more about her…
Gracie Hayes. It had all come back to him.
She had been bossy back then. She’d always been getting him in trouble with crazy plans and schemes she cooked up when they were bored on long summer days. Hijinks and catastrophes waiting to happen, every time he came over to her house, each mishap exceeding the last.
He had smiled, even as the conversations around them continued on about decidedly unfunny things relating to death, funerals, and grief. She had noticed his smiles, her glass in one hand, the other reaching over to cover her mouth as she grinned with him, very nearly seeming to remember all of the adventures, too.
They’d even started laughing once, without any clarification to one another about which memory exactly was amusing each of them individually. Their parents had watched them, confused by the laughter, clearly wondering what was funny about the issue of overflow seating and parking at a memorial service the likes of which they were about to experience.
Jacob had half-expected all of the parents to get on to him like they had every time he and Gracie Hayes had gotten together all those years ago.
He could hardly take his eyes off of her, all of his attention focused there on the sparkle in her eyes as she glanced over at him.
It was nothing new. Though he could never understand as a child exactly how she’d been able to do it, she’d always been able to capture all of his attention back then, so much so that he rarely saw anyone else when she was there.
And here she was now, all grown up… and he found himself staring at her again.
Gracie Hayes, not all that different from how she’d been as a child.
Except beautiful now, of course. And genuine, as she had listened to his parents and expressed sympathy to his mother over the loss of her father, as they transitioned from this hard subject to lighter ones as they finished up the meal. Joyful, as she had chatted with her own parents, her aunt, and her uncle, telling them about what was going on with the ministries she was involved in at church. Animated, as she told them all about her job playing Tinkerbell at her favorite theme park.
And just a little devious, as she had given him a flirty smile towards the end of the meal and beckoned him to go with her as the dishes were cleared away.
He had remembered that about her, about her ability to talk him into anything. He had remembered it all over again when she led him to the dark garage, located a shovel, and convinced him to walk down the street with her, where the thought that came to him again and again was simply this…
Beautiful. So beautiful.
He thought it again as she stopped in front of a house a few doors down from Mel and Beau’s, as she smiled at him again, pointed, and said, without any preamble as to exactly why they were out here, “That’s it.”
His mind had been many places that night, on the way her laugh sounded in the night, on the way her skirt twirled as she did while they walked, and on the way she demurely said his name… Jacob…
But he’d missed why they were at this house.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “What were you saying?”
“This, Jacob,” she said, staring at the house with fondness in her eyes. “This was my house when I was little.”
He looked at it dubiously. “Really?”
“Don’t you remember coming over to play?” she asked, glancing over at him. “You broke your arm in the backyard one summer.”
He looked at her, remembering it instantly. She’d convinced him to climb onto the roof to retrieve a Frisbee she’d lost, certain that it was up there. Only after he was a good ten feet in the air, falling backwards after slipping on a shingle did she exclaim, “Oh, the Frisbee was right here behind my bike!”
It had been the only summer he hadn’t been able to swim, not even once, thanks to that cast, courtesy of Gracie Hayes and her Frisbee.
“I did break my arm in your backyard,” he said. “Because of you. Thanks for that, Gracie.”
She smiled. “Well, you’re welcome. You got to wear an awesome cast, remember? I drew hearts and flowers on it when I visited you after you came back from the ER.”
Wow. He could remember that, too. She’d sat with him in the living room while he’d watched cartoons, and she’d doodled all over his cast until there was no room for anyone else’s artwork. Only hers.
His older sister, Sadie, had taken one look at hearts, flowers, and – yes – fairies Gracie had marked him with and declared him a total wuss.
“Yeah,” he nodded, looking back at the house and trying to make the connection. “This is the house where it all happened, though? I thought it was bigger.”
She nodded. “Well, we were much smaller.”
“Seriously,” he asked, looking over the house and grinning, remembering so many other days spent here, in the backyard, in the front yard, in the playroom, in Gracie’s room, in the kitchen, laughing with her, hours spent playing. “This is the same place?”
She smiled. “Sure is.” And her smile faltered as she pointed something else out to him. “And it’s for sale. That makes me so sad. Our little house. Up for sale again.”
He nodded, thinking about the many houses in his own neighborhood suffering the same fate. Times were tough. Job security wasn’t what it had been. He silently said a thankful prayer for his own secure, stable job, even in a company that wasn’t immune to similar changes. “The job market around here has been changing a lot lately. Lots of turnover. People forced to move away, downsize. All of that.”
Gracie watched him silently for a long moment. “I have no idea what any of that means, you know.”
“You work, though,” he said. “You’ve got a career.” He grinned at this, remembering what she’d said, how she’d talked about her work in a real live fantasyland, playing pretend and make believe all day. “Dressing up in a costume, waving at people, signing autographs. Work, you know. Hard, hard work.”
“It is hard work, you big jerk,” she giggled. “I’d like to see you slip on that little leotard and prance around…” She sucked in a big breath at this and shot him a quirky grin. “On second thought, I don’t think anyone wants to see you wearing that.”
“Yeah,” he said, watching her for another long moment, his mind wondering over how much she’d grown up… on how beautiful she was. Again. “I’ll bet you look great in it, though,” he breathed, imagining it.
A long moment passed as they watched each other.
Before he could explain himself or apologize for his words either one, she gave him quite a different smile and said, her voice lowered, “I look amazing in it, Jacob.”
Well. Deviousness on a seven year old Gracie had matured into something a little more thrilling on a grown up Gracie. He felt himself both delighted by this and just a little anxious, wondering if she flirted like this with every guy of a certain age, hoping that she didn’t.
He concluded that she probably didn’t, given the way she blushed and put her hand to her mouth as if she couldn’t believe she’d said it out loud.
“But work,” she said, smiling, avoiding his eyes as she continued to blush. “Your work is probably not nearly as exciting as mine, is it? I mean, I heard what you were telling the family back there. You’re an accountant.”
He took a breath and shrugged. “It isn’t very exciting. I balance the financial records for my company.”
“What kind of company?” she asked.
“An industrial supply company,” he said. “They make plumbing parts.”
“Hmm,” Gracie murmured, a smile budding on her lips. “What little boy dreams of growing up to be an accountant for a company that makes toilet seats?”
“Not toilet seats,” he countered. “Widgets. Mechanical contraptions. Things like that.”
“That makes it much better,” she laughed. “A widget accountant.”
He smiled at this. “It pays well.”
“I would imagine,” she murmured, lowering her eyes again. “Mine doesn’t. But I love it. And it never changes. The same thing, day in and day out. I plan on staying there as long as they’ll let me.”
“Well,” he sighed, thinking of his own job and how they were forever closing branches and opening new ones, even if it hadn’t ever affected him personally, “moving on and changing is a part of life for almost everyone else, Gracie.”
“I wish things could stay the same forever,” she murmured, looking back at the house again. “I remember leaving this place… how sad I was.”
And he was amazed to find that he remembered it as well. His family, her family, all at this house, getting ready to say goodbye. They’d put together a box of remembrances, things to mark who they’d been, and buried it in the backyard, covering the spot with a garden stone.
A time capsule, they’d called it. As if they’d all ever return here years later to dig it up.
“We made a time capsule,” he said to her. “Buried it in the backyard.”
At this, she grinned at him and raised one eyebrow, all while swinging the shovel up to her shoulder.
“Yes, indeed, we did, Jacob.”
And her reason for bringing him out here suddenly became abundantly clear.
“Oh, no,” he began, shaking his head before she could explain it.
“Oh, yes,” she said, a laugh in her voice as she handed him the shovel and began making her way to the front of the house.
“We can’t just go into the yard and start digging around,” he said, following her down the sidewalk, trying to appeal to her logical side, doubting from childhood remembrances that she had one even all these years later.
“I know that,” she said, sauntering right up to the front door.
Good grief. She was going to go right through the house to the backyard and start digging it up. A hundred similar scenarios from their childhood ran through his mind, and not a single one of them ended without trouble of some sort.
“Gracie, what are you doing?!” he hissed, as she stepped up on the porch and gave him a smile over her shoulder.
“Well, like you said, we can’t just go into the yard and start digging around,” she answered, ringing the doorbell. “I’m going to ask permission. If there’s even anyone here. And odds aren’t good since the lights are out and the house is for sale, you know?”
No harm in this, he supposed. And so he stood with her as she rang the bell again, the sound echoing through empty, dark halls inside.
“They’re not home,” she said a long moment later, disappointment in her voice.
“Yeah,” he answered, relief in his. “Which is unfortunate… but probably for the best. Because this was a bad idea, Gracie –”
“Horrible idea,” she said, walking over to the fence, then making her way around the perimeter, studying it closely.
She wasn’t giving up, clearly.
“What are you doing?” he asked, hoping that he was wrong.
“Just looking,” she murmured.
“We should just go back to Beau and Mel’s house,” he said, trying to distract her. “Or out. Hey, I’ll take you out for dessert –”
“Jacob, give me the shovel,” she said simply. Just like when she was a child. Jacob, climb up on the roof. Jacob, stick this in that electrical socket. Jacob, eat this off the sidewalk.
He thought about refusing, knowing that nothing good could come of this, just like nothing good had ever come of her demands back then.
“Jacob,” she murmured, so sweetly, putting her hand to his arm, “I’m not going to start digging right here. Don’t worry.”
And though he knew logically that he was allowing himself to be swayed by his obvious attraction to her, he took her promise that she wasn’t going to start digging right there as consolation and handed her the shovel, still wondering if it was a bad idea.
Sure enough, it was. She tossed the shovel over the fence.
He hadn’t learned anything, had he?
“Oops,” she murmured, her hand to her mouth.
“Oh, don’t pretend like you didn’t intend to do that,” he scolded, remembering many conversations just exactly like this one from his childhood. “You totally had this all planned out!”
“Well, I had hoped that there would be someone home, at least,” she said. “But you’re right. I made sure I was prepared either way.”
He watched her for a long moment, wondering if he should leave her here alone… knowing that he couldn’t do that. In all those years of her talking him into her crazy plans, he’d always consoled himself, long after he’d been punished, with the truth that he’d been watching out for Gracie, a small bit of righteousness in all that he’d done wrong.
She knew she had him, even now, as evidenced by the way she looked at him.
“I’m sorry,” she mouthed, a thousand genuine apologies in her eyes as she gazed at him.
It was enough.
“Should have expected it,” he said, feeling the smile on his lips.
“You should have,” she whispered grinning.
“Which makes this whole thing my fault,” he said, no longer trying to fight his smile.
“I was so bad to you as a kid,” she said with regret coloring her voice. “I didn’t intend to be like that, you know. I mean, I liked you so much. You were always so fun.”
“You were fine,” he said, forgiving every last offense at the mention of how much she had liked him.
Everything forgiven. Just like that.
He was such a sucker.
“I wasn’t fine,” she insisted, biting her lip. “But I’ll make it up to you, Jacob.”
He liked the sound of that without having any idea what she even meant. He opened his mouth to comment, then shut it again, watching her as she watched him, her eyes dancing as she gazed at him.
“Well, come on, then,” she said, laughing lightly. “Gotta go over and get that shovel now.” She grinned at him. “Wanna give me a boost?”
He sighed dramatically, his grin back. “Well, I guess.” And just as he had as a child, he crouched down so that she could step up onto his thighs, as he put his hands to her waist.
Well, that wasn’t like when he was a child. Just like so many other moments from this night so far. This thought crossed his mind as she put her hands to his shoulders, and they watched one another for an oddly exhilarating moment.
“You sure are tall,” she said softly. “I don’t remember that from when we were kids.”
He blinked at this, wondering at the admiration and decidedly grown up appreciation in her eyes. “You’re still as short as you were,” he noted somberly as they continued holding onto one another.
She laughed out loud at this. “I am,” she said.
“Which makes it that much easier to get you over this fence,” he said, lifting her up gently until she was seated on top.
“Well, that was easy,” she said, grinning, looking down at him. “Was even able to preserve my modesty. In a skirt, no less.”
He’d noticed the skirt, of course. “Should have worn something more conducive to breaking and entering,” he said.
“Didn’t break anything,” she chided, scooting around.
“Make sure there aren’t any attack dogs or anything in the yard,” he said.
“Oh, dogs love me,” she assured him, waving away his concerns. “How are you going to get over now?”
“I’ll climb over just as soon as you’re safely on the ground,” he said. “The fence is shorter than I remember.”
“I can find the gate and let you in from the inside,” she said. “Hold up for a minute.” And she disappeared from sight.
For a nervous few moments, he waited on her, considering just scaling the fence himself to make sure she was okay. But before he could, a side panel opened up in the fence, and she smiled over at him.
“All clear,” she whispered.
“Good,” he said, following her in. “Get your shovel, and let’s go.”
“Well, while we’re here,” she said, the deviousness back in her voice, “we might as well just see if the time capsule is still buried here.”
“Gracie,” he said, repressing a sigh, even as she began wandering away from him, “it could be anywhere out here. What are the odds that we could even find the same spot –”
“Very good,” she said, crouched over a spot near the back door.
Jacob headed in her direction, stopping just beside her. Sure enough, there it was. The very same garden stone they’d placed over the buried box all those years ago. He recognized his own name on it, remembering the night they’d each written them on there with a permanent marker.
“No way,” he murmured, voicing his shock, crouching down beside her.
“I told you, Jacob,” she laughed softly. “You want to dig or you want me to?”
“By all means,” he said, smiling, “let me do the honors for you.”
Another fifteen minutes later, Jacob, now sweaty and winded but thrilled to be so thanks to the way Gracie had watched him so intently as he’d worked, finally hit the box with the shovel. Gracie, with many squeals of delight, peered into the hole he’d made.
“Is that it?” he asked, looking into it with her, pointing to the metal square just a few feet down.
“Has to be, right?” she asked, just as she reached in and pulled it out, just as Jacob threw aside the shovel…
And that shovel, thrown aside, was a movement that was answered with a bright flash of a flood lamp, right into their eyes, as blinding light washed over the backyard.
“Someone’s home!” Gracie shrieked, tucking the box under her arm like a football and heading straight for the gate without even looking back.
She was going to change his life. He was going to jail!
Well, not if he could outrun the police.
With that thought, Jacob took off after her, then turned around to grab the shovel. Within seconds of picking it up, he was back to running, pausing only to shut the gate behind him. In another few seconds, he’d caught back up to Gracie, who was now sprinting down the street, laughing as she blew past the houses in her old neighborhood, the box still under her arm.
Convinced that no one was following them, he scooped her right up into his arms and continued running. “You’re too slow,” he said, grinning.
“And you’re really fast!” she giggled. “If you could’ve run this fast when we were kids, we would have never gotten into trouble! And you just ran past Beau and Mel’s!”
Sure enough, he’d just sprinted by his truck. He slowed down, with Gracie still watching him and laughing, even as she held onto him. Once he’d stopped, he lowered her back to the ground slowly, gazing into her eyes, thinking about how easy it would be to lean in and kiss her. Totally not what he did on a regular basis, kissing women he’d just become acquainted with, or reacquainted with in this case, but there was something about her.
And what he felt was clearly reciprocated as she watched him in exactly the same way he watched her.
There was something here.
Before he could act on any of what they were both feeling, she took his hand in hers and quietly pulled him towards her aunt and uncle’s house, in through yet another gate, then into the backyard, where a couple of lounge chairs were set up by the pool. She patted the spot next to her as she lowered herself into one, and he sat down, releasing a long breath.
“Security lights,” they said together, then grinned.
“I realized what they were two seconds after we’d taken off running,” he noted, smiling. “Just security lights.”
“Yes!” she exclaimed, her hand still on his. “They weren’t home, obviously. I just panicked.”
“I panicked with you,” he said, making a face of mock hysteria. “AHHH!!!”
“You were always good like that,” she laughed, that familiar glow in her eyes. “Always jumping right into the crazy with me.”
With his heart still racing from the run and from being here so close to her, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and gave her another long glance. “Right into the crazy. That sounds accurate.”
“We always had so much fun, though,” she said. “Didn’t we?”
They had. Gracie had been one of the best friends he’d had as a child, even though he’d groaned at her antics.
The trouble they’d gotten into together was always worth it.
“I can see it in your eyes,” she said knowingly, clutching the box to her chest. “You’ve never had as much fun as you’ve had with me.”
“Maybe not,” he conceded.
“I’m so fun,” she insisted, patting his knee with her hand.
“You are, but that back there was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” he swore. “You know, digging up someone else’s yard in the middle of the night.”
“If that was the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, then you need to get out more,” she said, nudging his knee with hers. She looked down at the box and took a breath. “You ready?”
“To open it?” he asked. “Do you want to get our parents? They put things in there, too, if I can remember correctly.”
“They did,” she said. “But this just needs to be you and me.”
He wondered at the softness in the way she said this but simply nodded in agreement as she opened it up.
“We were here. Team Morales and Team Hayes,” she said, reading the sheet of paper that sat at the top of the box. “Look, Jacob. And I think that’s got to be your handwriting.”
It was. His handwriting hadn’t changed much, honestly. “Yeah, I wrote that.”
“And this is yours, too, probably.” She held up a trading card.
He grinned, taking the basketball player’s picture from her. “Yeah! Only Rockets player missing from my collection.”
“Really? Is it worth something?” she asked.
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “This guy was a particularly horrible player, actually.”
She laughed at this. “Then, no loss, it being in the backyard for all those years, huh?”
“No loss at all,” he said, looking to see what else was waiting for them.
“Look,” she said, excitement in her voice, “my dad’s business card from Grace. And your dad’s card, too.” She looked up at him. “Why do I remember us going to the same church?”
“Well, it was my grandfather’s church,” he said, reaching over to look at the two cards. “Back before your dad was pastor. Remember all the talk about it tonight?”
“Yes,” she said. “Thomas Fisher. I remember meeting him a few times over the years.” She watched him for a long moment. “I’m sorry about his passing.”
Jacob shrugged. “Can’t really be sorry about that, can we? Left sickness and pain behind for what he’d spent his whole existence living for.”
“A place where he wouldn’t be sick or have pain?” she asked softly.
“That,” he conceded. “But more than that, a place where he could spend all of eternity in the presence of Christ. That’s what he lived for. That’s what we all should live for. Being in Christ like that.”
She nodded at this. “Good word, Jacob.”
Jacob held his father’s card in his hand, thinking about the truth of this, the many similar truths he’d been taught all of his life, in the very church named on this card. Iglesia Redeemer.
“But,” he said, “to answer your question, my dad was pastor of another church. Still is.”
“Do you still go there?”
And Jacob thought about how in a world full of change so much hadn’t ever changed in his life, not where this was concerned. “Yeah. I do.”
“So many years in the same church,” she murmured. “I want to stay at my church forever like that.”
He looked over at her. “Heard you talking about it at dinner. Good place, then?”
“The best,” she smiled. “You should visit if you’re ever in Florida. After you visit me, of course.”
He thought about how she would be his first destination if he ever made it out that way. Which he likely never would.
“I’ll do it,” he said.
She grinned over at him again, then looked back into the box.
“What’s next?” he asked.
“This. This awful magazine, which my mother still gets,” she said, holding up the old tabloid.
“And do you still color like that?” he asked, reaching in and holding up the construction paper that had been hidden beneath the magazine.
“I do,” she laughed. “Looks like I drew a picture of you and me.”
He could see the likeness, which was made even more obvious with what was just underneath it in the box.
“A picture that looks just like this real picture,” he said softly, pointing to the faded print that called his attention.
Gracie picked it up and held her breath for a second. “Wow,” she said, her voice a sigh. “Look at us.”
There they were, sitting just like they were sitting now, side by side on a pool lounger.
But in the picture, they were at least fifteen years younger, wearing swimsuits, and holding snow cones up for the camera, almost as if they were toasting the photographer.
“I remember that day,” he said, smiling at the picture with her. “You dropped your snow cone ten seconds after this picture was taken.”
She laughed out loud at this. “Did I?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “And you cried. Oh, you cried and cried.”
It had been a typical summer day at the public pool. Gracie had recently learned how to swim, and she and Jacob had spent the day underwater with goggles, making faces at one another in the murky depths, until both of them had to come up to the surface to breathe.
They’d gotten the snow cones right before they’d had to leave, and his mother had gotten them to pose for this very picture. As soon as the camera had clicked, Gracie had turned to tell him something and had let hers go prematurely.
And Jacob… he smiled even now to remember what he’d done, just because he couldn’t stand to see her sad.
“And you,” she said, remembering it as well, her expression glowing as she looked at him. “You gave me yours.”
He had. And before he could say anything about how he remembered, Gracie leaned over, put her hand on his face, and kissed him on the cheek.
And no matter where they went or what they did in those brief days they had together after that, he could still feel her kiss, warm and familiar, down to his very heart.
It was all over too soon.
That’s what Gracie kept thinking as she packed up her bags at Beau and Mel’s house, yawning as she did so.
The weekend, of course, hadn’t been a vacation. It had been a respite from normal life back in Florida, but it hadn’t been a pleasure trip.
They’d come all this way for a funeral.
Not a pleasure trip.
But there had been plenty of pleasure on this trip. All because of Jacob Morales.
She’d recognized him instantly. She’d remembered so many things from their childhood, from her young memories, so old and so dated that they were tucked so far back into her mind that while she could recall him and all they had done, she couldn’t rightly reconstruct his face in her remembrances. His scent, the way his voice had sounded, his mannerisms. They’d all been fuzzy when she’d traveled out to Texas.
But as soon as she’d opened the door, it had all been restored.
Except… well, Jacob looked really good. Better than her little girl’s mind would have remembered anyway. Better than anyone else she knew as a grown woman, certainly.
It’s a funny thing, attraction. She’d thrown herself into his arms at first sight, then had felt moderately foolish later for having done so, reasoning that attraction wasn’t a reason to behave like this.
Until he spoke, of course.
Until he told the family all about his work, about how he was in charge of all the finances at his office, about how he went all over the country, sorting out the problems and making the business better, like some geeky superhero accountant.
Until he talked about all that he was doing at his church, discipling high school boys, serving on the evangelism committee, and praying about becoming a deacon.
Until he looked at her as everyone talked, and, heaven help her, seemed to be remembering all the same silly childhood memories that she was remembering, laughing out loud with her over them, without a single word being said to unite their memories.
Attraction wasn’t a reason to behave like this. But real, genuine connections, a shared history, commonalities, and, yes, attraction all combined was definitely a reason to act like they’d been acting.
Staying up half the night talking through the box of remembrances, saying goodbye only once their parents had come out to see them laughing by the pool, looking to one another in confusion as to how Jacob and Gracie had so easily reverted back to the way they’d been as children.
Staying side by side throughout the whole funeral, from the moment she arrived at the church, content to stay with him as they’d gone in, as her father and his father both spoke words of life in the light of death, Jacob and Gracie holding hands as they affirmed with squeezes the truth of what was being shared about Christ.
Staying away from everyone else afterwards at the reception at the family’s house, wanting only to talk more with one another without interruptions from anyone, going so far as to skip out after the meal, driving downtown to walk around together, her arm in his as the sky changed colors.
Staying up until sunrise, sitting on Beau and Mel’s couch, talking through life, bringing up old memories, talking about what their lives were like now, speculating on what they would love their futures to look like.
Staying here, up until the last possible minute to leave for the airport, so that she could have a few more minutes with him.
Her sister, Faith, had gone back to her home in Houston the night before. Her parents had gone back to their home in Florida as well. She’d changed her flight, telling them all that she was doing so in order to spend more time with Mel and Beau, whom she hadn’t hardly seen at all.
And she wouldn’t be seeing them now, actually, as only a few hours after he’d left their house Jacob was now returning to say a final goodbye.
She couldn’t help but smile as she opened the door for him, before he could even ring the doorbell.
He looked exhausted from the late nights they’d been keeping. Exhausted and happy. He hadn’t shaved yet, and he’d thrown on a baseball cap that very nearly hid his brown eyes from hers as he gave her a slow grin, his hands in his pockets and a sigh on his lips.
She could look at that face every day for the rest of her life. No kidding.
“Hey,” she whispered, moving towards him just as he reached out to hug her.
“Hey,” he murmured into her hair, rubbing her back as she clung to him. “You sure you have to go today?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, pulling him into the house. “Flight leaves in two hours.”
He sighed. “That stinks.”
It really did. Florida was a long way from Texas. And her life was a long, long way from his, unfortunately.
She’d spent more than a few minutes that weekend thinking on this.
“I know,” she said.
He watched her quietly for a long moment then attempted a smile.
“Let me take you up there, at least, huh?” he said softly.
She smiled at this, having already left a note for her aunt and uncle to that very same effect. “I’d love that.”
And the drive there, like the whole weekend, was over too soon. She’d not said half of what she wanted to say. Neither had he. Even after he parked and walked her to the security lines, cringing to see the wait, obviously knowing that she’d have to go early in order to get through them and make it on time for her flight, he said, “We didn’t have enough time.”
“No,” she said mournfully. “It all went by so fast.”
“Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” he asked.
“Not at all,” she agreed. “I’ve known you my whole life, and I don’t feel like it’s been long enough, you know?”
He smiled at this. “Well, there were a few years that we didn’t talk much.”
“Let’s not make that mistake again,” she murmured, pulling his hand towards her and pushing up his sleeve.
“Uh, Gracie,” he asked, “what are you doing?”
She pulled a pen out of her purse, even as she held his bare arm in her other hand. “I’m writing my number on you,” she said, matter-of-factly. “You’re going to call me.”
“Oh, am I?” he asked, smiling as she began writing.
“Yeah, you are,” she said. “We may be half a country away from each other, but phones? When you use them to call someone half a country away? They make it like you’re in the same room, Jacob.”
“No way!” he exclaimed sarcastically.
“Yes way,” she chided him.
“Can’t be the same as being in the same room, though,” he said, just a little mournfully, putting his free hand to her waist.
Yeah, a simple phone call wasn’t going to be nearly as exciting as this.
But it would do.
“I know,” she sighed. “But…”
“Can’t be helped,” he shrugged. “I imagine they’re waiting for you back at work. Don’t know how they’ve managed without Tinkerbell this long.”
“There are others,” she said. “But I’m the best. So, yeah, I’m sure they’re eager for me to get back.”
“Of course,” he grinned.
“And you’ve got your big important superhero widget accountant job,” she said. “And your family. And your whole life here.”
He did. He had no reason to leave here, not even for her. Especially not for her, after just three days of getting to know one another again.
“And you’ve got your life and family in Florida,” he noted, the similar questions, hopes, and wonder in his own eyes.
“Still, though,” she said, over the lump in her throat. “I don’t want to lose touch.” And underneath the number she had written on his arm, she signed her name, dotting the “i” with a heart.
“Not unlike the way you decorated my cast all those years ago,” he said softly.
“Same arm?” she whispered.
“Yeah. Except you drew flowers, too. And fairies.”
“Well, then,” she sighed, “let me draw one of each before I have to leave you.”
Oh, the thought of leaving him hurt. But she pushed the pain aside and drew on his arm, relishing the gift of being able to touch him, to breathe the same air he was breathing, and to feel his warmth so close to her, even if it was just for a little longer.
As she finished up, she noticed that he wasn’t saying anything. She looked up at him, surprised to see such tenderness in his eyes.
“It’s a long way, isn’t it?” he asked.
And it was. It really was. She’d thought it herself more than a few times in the past few days. She thought about it again, even as he watched her.
“It is,” she said. “And I’ll miss you.”
He was like no one else she’d ever known. No other man was like him. She felt deflated at the thought of how perfect life would be if he was in Florida, if he was part of her home.
“I’ll miss you, too,” he said. “But we’ll always have all those years growing up. And this week, right?”
So many happy memories… such a sad conclusion.
“We were here,” she said, smiling, thankful at least that they had been who they were, even if there was no way of knowing who they would become.
“We were here,” he answered, smiling as well. “And I’ll call you, Gracie.”
She nodded at this, afraid to say anything lest her tears come. She simply held her hand up and waved before turning to go, letting go of the hand that held onto hers only at the very last possible moment.
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