These stories are not in Heartscapes,
but were previously published on this website for the year the story was submitted.
No Beginning, No End (2010)
by Courtney Bessent
Sometimes I try to think back to the particular moment when I realized I loved him, but it’s an impossible task. None of my memories hold the start of our love because it has no beginning. There was, however, a moment when I realized it would never end: the last time I saw him. But I am skipping ahead—what about the first time I saw him? There was no first time. I like to say that he and I never met, that we’ve just always known each other. If we ever actually met, it was when we were babies, when neither of us remembers. Our love spans the length of my life, from before I knew to call it love to now when I have only my memories.
Almost from the start I was quiet and careful, and he was loud and reckless. In general I didn’t trust him and he didn’t know what my problem was. We grew up this way, watching each other out of the corners of our eyes. When I was nine, he began calling me for the five minutes (give or take) that I was allowed phone privileges. When I was eleven, he was too busy getting into trouble to remember I existed, which suited me fine since I spent my time silently judging him for being in trouble yet again. Still I was never more alert, more self-conscious, than when he was in the room, and I despised him for this. By thirteen, I thought that maybe he would always be in trouble, which thrilled me. People joked that I should stay away from him, but of course I didn’t. We were friends and more-than-friends, but we also moved in and out of phase, sometimes ignoring each other, sometimes whispering to each other over the phone until the small morning hours, and often dating other people. By fifteen, I had figured out that the best way to ignore him was to develop a crush on another boy. That didn’t work because fifteen was also the year that he kissed me, and I realized that I could have forgotten him before that moment. Before that first kiss I might have been able to forget. At sixteen, we fantasized together about the wedding we would have (saying ‘I do’ in unison at the stroke of midnight of the new millennium). At seventeen, when both of us were too cool to acknowledge our anxiety about the future, he kissed me for the last time.
In all that time, the first eighteen years of my life, I don’t remember telling him I loved him and yet I don’t remember feeling anything else. Even the moments when I despised him, I did so because I really loved him. Despite the glances and smiles that turned into hugs and kisses, I never admitted that I would do anything for him. It was easier to say that I was going to college, not that I was walking away. It was easier to focus on where I was going than to admit that I would have stayed for him. And, for his part, he never asked me to. When I think about it now, it seems impossible that things could have happened any other way. Even if I had told him how much I loved him, I would still be here today without him. I knew he would have insisted that I go, just as he knew the truth behind everything I didn’t say. He always saw in my eyes the same thing I saw in his: the stunning recognition of love, all the sameness beneath our differences. I know this because the last time I saw him he told me so.
My leaving set us on different paths that crossed again only once, only briefly, when I graduated from college. Even though I was dating someone else and graduating nearly a thousand miles from home, he dropped everything to be there. In that one move, he taught me that there is no substitute for expressing love, and that love is not bound by time, distance, or even silence. He taught me that when I feel something, to say so.
by Helene Roumel
How is it possible to still think about you at least once a day after 41 years! I guess when I think about you, I revisit those all too familiar feelings of being in love for the first time. My mind and body react to just the visual memory of seeing you on campus and spending time with you. You were the first man I ever loved. Oh I had crushes on boys before meeting you but that's just it-they were boys. Now at 59 years old all memories of the excitement and those "Giggly-Girl" feelings wash over me and I remember what first love felt like and how important it was to all the loves and all of the relationships to follow.
I was the precocious Freshman girl with a raw talent in acting and a good idea on how I wanted my life to go. Never one for many boyfriends, I spent my teen years mostly home, day dreaming about romantic love. Like the Janis Ian song, "I knew the truth..love was meant for beauty queens" and I was far from that Atlantic City ideal...but I knew I could sing and act and make a crowd laugh and as I walked into the little theater that September day in 1968, I was ready to study and let love go.
Your voice startled me. You had been quietly watching me rehearse a monologue and in the back row I heard you say.."Damn, that was good! What's your name anyway, sweetie?"
"Helene", I replied and off we went on a love affair of such intensity that every relationship afterwards was measured against you.
That first day, we talked about our mutual dreams and your compliments made me feel alive and though starved for attention, it was your listening heart, your attention to my comfort and your openness that drew me into your life. We were together all the time and in the evenings, I would study or rehearse shows and know that you were "With" someone else. I was "Special"; we were friends and in love but we were never physically involved. Today many would disregard my feelings at hearing this fact but that is the purity and ultimate romantic love us. All I could give at that time was given to you. My thoughts, my dreams, my heart and time with family on the weekends. I was a girl and although you were a man, that sexual tension between us would never be appeased.
Silly, or not doesn't matter and that is the lesson in this story. Love is many things. And only one part of it is the kiss, the touch, the renaissance death...all of it is desire to be together, to dream aloud, to laugh and understand each others' inner being. True sexual fullfillment would have been delicious but even without that, yours is the name that stirs my memory, yours is the heart I miss and time has not decreased any sense of the love I had and even now have for you.
by John Cox
She had pale green eyes. I remember that more than anything. Pale and liquid in her small face. I was fifteen, I think, and she a year younger. A friend of my cousin's that I'd oft teased when we were children. But that winter there was no teasing.
It was, I can honestly say, the most passion I have ever felt in my life. The first time I felt that - fire- in my belly and groin that everyone, I hope, knows so well. But it wasn't just passion and lust. It was a brief brush of twin souls, as cheesy as that sounds.
She fascinated me. From the way she held her head, tilted to one side and totally engrossed when we spoke in private to the defiant way she stood with my arm around her in public, so uncomfortably aware that everyone derided me as a loser, a stoner, a long-haired fool in the fast-lane toward nowhere.
I was aware, too, that the people around us despised me for dirtying such a soft, sweet, and gentle beauty like her. She was a choir girl, pretty and smart and on the top of everyone's list. I was a dangerous flaw in the world's plan for her. She and I both knew it but, briefly, we didn't care.
A thousand memories crammed into such a short time of my life: Touching her face in the school's hallway. Sneaking kisses anywhere we thought we could be alone. The smell of her hair, clean and crisp. The bite of winter night-wind as I waited for her to come out her window. The warm pleasure of putting my arms around her. The sweet taste of cinammon on her tongue...
Wrenching knife-wounds in the soul. Her looking at the ground, face wet and hair hanging to hide her shamed eyes. The sharp bark of anger in my throat, righteous and teenage and firm in the sense that I knew best. Reeling drunk on bourbon and grief. The burn of a cigarette cherry on my wrist. The burn of her slap on my cheek. Her father's voice on the phone, telling me to stop calling.
And so it was. Two months of sweet tastes, shared breath and burning, blind, heedless passion.
Followed by years of regret and avoided glances. Why did she turn from me? Maybe I turned from her. Maybe the world was right. She was blonde and pert and perfect. I was stoned and blue-jeans and long haired.
The best night: My grandparent's Lincoln, stolen for the night. A half-bottle of coconut rum and a quarter-pack of smokes. All forgotten as I ran my fingertips from her throat down, between her breasts to stop at her belly-button. Her laugh shrill and musical in the darkness.
Stop time there. Leave me the feeling of her skin on my skin and her clean, soapy scent mingledwith the leather of the car and the stink of the cheap rum.
Leave me that. Take the rest.
When I Didn’t Understand Butterflies (2009)
When he left, to go back home and finish his studies, we parted as acquaintances. I was not the person he last wanted to see as he said his goodbyes and got into the taxi, and I didn’t want to be there, watching him go. He was very much done trying to win my attention and affection while I had just finally become comfortable enough to admit to myself he was all I could think about.
The first and only time I ever in words showed how much I cared, how very much I liked him, was in a birthday card I mailed after he had left. And all I had managed to write in the card was; I’m sorry I never told you often or enough how much I cared, as a friend and otherwise. I will always remember you fondly.
We were in college, he on exchange, me, a new transfer student. And for circumstances he had trouble explaining even to himself, as he often admitted, he fell head over heels for me. We had the typical, under-developed college relationship of sleepovers and zero one on one dates, seeing each other in the daylight hours only when the library beckoned us both. We had little in common and came from backgrounds that were almost amusingly opposite, he a well-to-do socialite and me a full scholarship student without a penny to my name. He was the romantic and I the independent girl who shunned chivalry he’d never been exposed to. What he outwardly fancied about me was how different I was while I inwardly toyed with why I favored his attention over that of other boys. And while he spent the evenings whispering sweetly to me and running his fingers through my hair as I fell asleep on his shoulder, I spent mine thinking about whether I was happy being a one-boy girl. He gave me more attention and warmth than I’d ever experienced before; he was selflessly kind. Yet I still never managed to grow enough in those few months to admit to myself I was falling hard, and worse yet, I never managed to tell him until it was too late.
The morning he didn’t grab me for a kiss goodbye from another sleepover, I felt my heart start to sink. But I didn’t turn back around. When he didn’t call that night to see how my day had been I felt my knees shaking as I climbed into my bed. When he didn’t appear in the cafeteria at noon as usual, I decided I wasn’t hungry. About a week later, I finally gathered the courage to ask him to chat with me. It took everything in me to look him in the eyes and say, "I understand that this is too little too late, I just simply feel that I should have said it a very long time ago. I’m crazy about you and I always have been and I don’t know why it was so hard for me to admit it, I’m sorry."
He agreed it was too little too late, but that it was nice of me to tell him, that he knew from experience how hard it is to tell someone you like them when the other person has no intention of saying it back. Though his choice of words stung then, his response is what I keep with me now; a reminder of the risk we must learn to be willing to take with our hearts without having to be nudged along by someone else.
While we claimed to want to be friends, neither reached out to the other, and we ended the semester with politely distant goodbyes. Besides the birthday card I sent to show my respect and to make my one last confession, we’ve never spoken again; I purposely included no return address. While on the surface not necessarily a heart-warming tale, it is a relationship that I am reminded of constantly yet fondly because he is the person who taught me the importance of sacrificing pride to make room for emotions. He helped me grow up. He taught me its okay to love and be loved in return.
Faded Embers (2008)
by Odinakachi Ihunnia
Each time I sit down on a this lonely green field in the woods, I missed the one who introduced me to this place..I can’t help the tears that roll down my cheeks when I realize it is only her shadows that I now see.
The grasses in their most radiant lush, the wild flowers forming a starry host, the humming pollinating bees , the tall tree branches whistling songs that she alone could dance to as they obeyed the soft wind moving them gracefully; all reminded me of the inevitable vacuum Susan had left in my life.
The first time I talked with her closely was when she was coming home with her mother from their vegetable garden. They both had woven baskets with which they carried fruits and vegetable. Susan did not bother to hold the basket on her head but swigged her hands freely as her slander figure cast a shadow on the sandy ground; a shadow which still remains embossed in my memories. I had earlier that day started on a bad mood but her smile as I came across to greet them illuminated my cloudy day. From that moment, each smile from her made me think of heaven’s splendor and I couldn’t help smiling back.
I was in my pre-med in the state University, she was a dropout from high school due to financial distress her family faced. There was the family background and social class disparity between us that made my parents think I was running a risk having a relationship with her. In my heart, I knew she was all I dreamt about love and each I tried to leave her and go to those from my social stand point, my heart made it clear to me that true love was not going to ask social class.
I once found myself alone with her in their vegetable garden; all I could feel in the air that I breathed was the sweet fragrance of roses which I succeeded in tracing to her hair. She always decorated herself with wild flowers and roses from which she made crowns and necklaces. Although she had no money nor costly jewelry ,the crowns and necklaces she made decorated her neck like a thousand diamonds in strings of gold and the crowns fitted in her flowing hair like the queen of the wild.
Looking through her eyes I could see I future filled with boundless seas of peace, joy and love. She was initially timid to talk to me but as time went by, she not only told me the secretes of her soul but I also discovered that her fantasies were just the imaginations I had always dreamt would come true- they were dreams of peace, joy, and love in its fullest. Susan showed me a world I never knew. I had unknowingly been bathing in the euphoria of the academic highfliers and well educated wealthy fellows. I never knew a world exited where all the sophistications that my life depended were not needed. Hers was a pure natural world where air conditioners and deionizers were unnecessary; her world was never polluted but naturally regulated.
The sweet scent of the wild flowers that Susan presented to my nostrils each time we are out in the woods made me distaste the artificial fragrances in my room.
The serenity of the woods with Susan leaning by my side crooning sweet lullabies was invaluable .Susan was to me an unassuming flower pollinator, a crafts girl, a gifted artist, an uncertified nurse, an uncelebrated singer and above all, the unassailable princess of love.
Even an angel sent by God cannot fill the space now in my soul. The only miracle in my life just faded away like the embers of a cold night fire when she had an asthmatic attack and her inhaler has run out and no one to rescue her.
The Music of Love and Rejection (2008)
by A. J. Arenson
First love came and went in the time span of about a week back around 1963. It was middle school when you were judged by your peers about everything; your hair, your makeup, who you hung out with and who you had a crush on. I was not the best looking girl, I was skinny, awkward and a bit shy. I had never had a boyfriend. I watched popular girls who had so many boys flirting with them, they could pick and choose, not me. So when Richard showed an interest in me, I was totally in awe.
What I thought was "love" progressed quickly after a few days of talking and sending little meaningless notes back and forth. We didn't spend much time together as he belonged to the band and took music classes after school. His family was a very musical one, especially his older brother. Richard was nice looking and his eyes were very pretty and kind, plus he had a genuine, softspoken honesty about him, a rare amalgam of maturity twisted around youth.
It was an innocent bonding, nothing physical, no kisses, just long eyefuls of a view beyond what I had ever noticed before. All these new feelings, ah, I liked being in "love"! Plus, it was so easy, he lived so close, even rode the same bus.
In those few days I felt such excitement, a boy liked me for me! I had had a million crushes on unattainable beaus, but this young man chose me.
The next week he dropped me a note saying he was going to stop by and play a song for me and to come to the window when I heard him. Later that afternoon he showed up with his French horn and played a tune as my sister and I sat at my upstairs window. Well, I sat and listened and my younger sister by two years was laughing her head off. I was so embarrassed, I kept trying to move her and her laughter away from the window. She thought it was funny and "uncool". She ran for the phone to tell all her friends what a weirdo "Romeo", her sister was in love with. She let my friends know too and I got teased that next day by people coming up to me saying they heard Richard was playing his French horn for the whole neighborhood outside my window and how ‘silly’ that was.
Suddenly I found myself ‘playing’ to the crowd and ignoring Richard, finally breaking it off a couple of days later. That was how fast my first love came and went. He even avoided me by going to another bus stop.
Now with the years heavy upon me and the wisdom to go with it. I am sorry I did not take the time to know what he might have taught me about his musical world. I was so young , shallow and petty. So dependent and worried about how others perceived me and my interests. But indeed, thirteen is an awkward age just hitting puberty and feeling insecure, relying on the superficiality of others to guide ones' decisions.
Reflecting now, I hope that I gave my children a better understanding of the people surrounding them and a better image of themselves so as not to be so 'uptight' and judgmental.
As for Richard, now I smile at the thought of looking down from my bedroom window at that young boy trying to win my heart. The boy with the kind eyes and honesty went on to become a Neonatal Specialist, his brother, an accomplished cellist. I found my own music with someone else, but will always have a soft spot thinking about how innocent and fragile first love was and how Richard was so sweet to serenade me. I only wish I could remember what he played…
The Stage Door Canteen (2008)
by Florence Wilkinson
Everybody was doing all that they could for the war effort. Everyone was patriotic, even though the war was drawing to a close.
The office that I worked in, for the San Francisco Seals, had a big celebration because our baseball team won a big game.
I hurried home because I anticipated a thrilling evening. I was going to the famous State Door Canteen. The Stage Door Canteen was founded by Bette Davis, the famous movie star
On arriving home, I got dressed in my ballerina length, strapless black dress with white lace around the top. I did my shining, black hair in an upsweep hairdo. I put on the only pair of nylon stockings that I had managed to buy since the war began. I slipped into my black, suede high-heeled sandals with the open toes and ankle straps, I straightened the seams of my stockings, put on a pair of pearl, dangling earrings to match the white lace at the top of my strapless dress, and I was ready to go.
As I went down the stairs, Daddy met me at the bottom. He made me put on the short bolero jacket that matched my dress. I wasn’t going to wear it!
My three best girlfriends and I boarded the streetcar and sang, "Right in the Fuehrer’s Face," as we rode up and down the hills of the city to our stop.
When we walked into the beautiful Stage Door Canteen, we were each given an assignment for the evening. The assignment lasted until nine o’clock. Then, we were allowed to dance with the servicemen. We were not allowed to tell them our last names or our addresses. We had to fair and dance with everyone and not form any attachments.
My assignment was as a hat-check girl. I had fun doing that. The soldiers, sailors and marines gave me a of wolf whistles and remarks about how pretty I was.
Nine o’clock came and I was released to dance. I picked a handsome soldier for my first dance.
He had flashing dark eyes and beautiful, shining black hair. He flashed his beautiful smile at me while we danced to "Always." Later, that became our song.
"Where are you from," I asked.
"I’m from Houston, Texas," he told me with pride.
"What a coincidence! My family has some good friends who live at 2246 Dryden in the West University Section of Houston. Their daughter, Annie, is just the same age as me," I said.
"Annie," he exclaimed, "I know Annie. I lived right next door to them! I grew up and went to school with her."
We were only allowed to dance with each serviceman once at the Stage Door Canteen. I must have danced fifty dances that night.
At last, the band played, "Good Night, Sweetheart."
"Houston" flashed me a brilliant smile across the ballroom.
When I got off the streetcar at the last stop before the Pacific Ocean the next night and started to trudge up the hill, I sensed someone walking behind me. In front of "The Cliff House," I turned and saw "Houston" hurrying to catch up with me.
"Hi," I said in surprise. "What are you doing way out here?"
"I called Annie," said Houston. "I asked her your family’s name. I looked it up in the phone book. I called your mother. She invited me for a Greek dinner tonight. I haven’t had one since I left home."
"Oh yeah," I thought, "Mamma likes to feed people. Anyway, I’m glad she picked him."
After that night, "Houston" and I were inseparable. He was in San Francisco for two weeks before he was shipped overseas. He even proposed to me in a letter, but he never came to San Francisco again.
A few months after the war ended, our family received an invitation to Annie’s wedding. That’s right, she married the boy next door."
So did I. [marry the guy next door to me]
My John (2007)
by Sierra D. Johnson
Since I wasn't the most popular girl in high school, I though that I would never have a boyfriend, get married, and have my own happy family. I was just a nerd with no friends. I was lonely, but that changed when I met John W. Penston at the dance. He was just sitting by himself, so I sat by him. He seemed to enjoy my company. We had a long conversation, until he asked me to dance. It seemed like that dance lasted a lifetime. Then he walked me home and we became friends ever since.
At the end of the year, we both graduated. As a gift, John finally told me he loved me and we shared our first kiss. His father wanted him to go to college, but he didn't because he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He told me he loved me five times a day. One day, when we were on a date, John proposed to me in front of the sunset. I said yes. That was the most beautiful moment of my life.
One day before our wedding, John was killed in a car crash. After I got the news, I felt as if my heart got smashed into a million pieces. The police found a paper in his car that said, "Wedding Day Speech for My Wife." It was a speech John had written for me. The rest of it said, "People have always told me that there is no such thing as perfect, but I don't think that's true. There is only one perfect thing I have seen in my life and that perfect thing is you. No matter what happens, I will always be yours. I love you." That speech means more to me than anything. It's the best thing I have left of John, and it always puts a smile on my face.
by James McKinty
I'd knocked at a door in Barry, South Wales. The door was plastic, with fancy glass. But years before, it had been peeling green paint on pine. The woman had told me that Sheila had moved away. Disappointed, by mind strayed back to 1944.
I was fourteen years old and I loved Sheila Cunningham. Sheila was seventeen and as beautiful as any film star. But she was as remote from me as those screen goddesses in the Tivoli. Three years…three million miles.
Sheila lived across the road from the Dinam Hall, and I lived two streets away in a larger house.
The Hall was the leisure club, the PX of the American soldiers. The Yanks had invaded our town and their camp was on the moors just outside.
The club was the Magic Kingdom of those days and we boys would hang around to hear those fantastic accents and beg an odd donut.
Then came that night in September, 1944.
It was dark and the light from the Hall bathed the street. Glitteringly near the steps but diminishing ten or twenty yards away. Glenn Miller was stringing his pearls in the club and there were two or three boys lounging near the entrance.
Sheila came out the front door and closed it quietly. I was a short distance down the slope, and I smiled and gestured for her to come to me. She did, and I seemed to feel her warmth from twenty feet away.
"Sheila, I had a bet with the boys that I won't kiss you." She smiled, took my hand, and led me further away from the light. She stood me on a doorstep.
She slipped her arm around me, one hand at my waist and the other, warm and gentle, at the back of my neck. We kissed. She parted her lips and I drowned in a roiling sea off Nell's Point on Barry Island.
I cannot remember ever seeing her again after that. I only know that after all these years, the blood she heated that night still courses through my veins.
I leant on the roof of my posh car.
I looked across the road to where the Dinam Hall had stood. It was a rubble wasteland, surrounded by sagging chain link fence. In my mind's eye, I could see Sheila sashaying down the road and I could hear the swish of her skirt against her legs. He eyes would be sparkling, and I could once again sense the clean smell of her. Sheila.
My back straightened. I would find her. I would look once again into those green eyes and see what I would see. Sorrow, contentment, hurt. But I hoped for recognition and perhaps an ember of that burning pixie look she'd given me in 1944 when she captured me not fifty feet from where I now stood…
I slapped the roof with a flat palm and jumped into the car.
The Vinn Man (2007)
by Brittany Johnson
The first time I met Vincent, I never would have guessed that he would steal my heart. But before long, his electric guitar and uncanny ability to make me laugh were enough to make my heart flutter at the sight of him.
We finally started dating a week before his graduation. Watching him walk across the stage, diploma in hand, made my heart swell with pride. The following summer was the best of my life.
I had just finished my sophomore year of high school. I had no job, no commitments, and my only ambition of the summer was to spend as much time as possible with Vinn. Luckily, both his parents and mine were willing to allow us to see each other nearly everyday. Because both of my parents worked and his mom didn't, I spent most of my time at his house. We would spend five or six hours watching movies, roaming the woods behind his house, playing guitar, and sneaking kisses. We would talk and laugh, just enjoying each other.
One night, we were on the phone, and he just said it. The words spilled out so easily, as if he'd been born to tell me he loved me. I found myself saying it back, and it wasn't until that moment that I realized it was true. Somehow, through the laughing and the joking, I had fallen in love.
Unfortunately, life doesn't slow down for those in love. I started my junior year of high school, and Vinn started his freshman year of college. Although he was only forty miles away, it felt like an impossible distance. Vincent and I struggled to find time to see each other.
On my seventeenth birthday, after four months of trying to find time for each other, he surprised me with a promise ring. My jaw must have hit the floor upon seeing it, but my heart swelled with love and fear. I wanted so badly to spend my life with him, but I was afraid of commitment. That night, I did the unthinkable — I gave the ring back. Tears were streaming down my face as I tried to explain the mountain of emotions I was feeling. In the end, we called it quits.
I cried for weeks, wishing I hadn't given the ring back. I wanted him so badly that it broke my heart to think about him. Even today I can't explain what made me give the ring back.
My time with Vincent taught me to enjoy every second. Although our relationship ended, I loved him with my whole heart. There was never a moment spent with him that wasn't lived to the fullest. He showed me how to hold onto the one I love for as long as possible, and for that he will always be in my heart.