A Twenty-Year Old Love Story

by Kelly Salasin

Casey first remembers seeing Kelly across the crowded high school cafeteria when he was just a lowly sophomore and she– a stellar senior in a snug wool pinafore.  He touts this moment as the beginning of their love affair, but she does not.  For starters, she didn’t “see” him until years later, after college– and backpacking twice through Europe–and after he had dropped out of school himself,  and worked at the casinos, and ended relationships with Brenda and then Audrey.

There were so many attractive young ladies that Casey recalls from Kelly’s class that she imagines that had he married one of the others, he would make the same claim.
Privately however, she enjoys his version.  She likes the romantic notion of it and the power of it–of being the one that was noticed first.

It was five years later when she first saw Casey, and he had deeply annoyed her before she even set eyes on him.  Unbeknownst to her, he had been doing some pre-season work cleaning up at a restaurant that Kelly managed in the summers.  The owners felt obliged to offer him a position in her place despite his lack of experience– and without even sending him for the requisite interview.  To make matters worse, they had given him her home phone number and he had called on the very day that  she was recovering from having her wisdom teeth extracted.
Kelly’s irritation with this guy who had been dumped on her  soon disintegrated the afternoon he reported for training.  He sat opposite her at the end of a long banquet table where she introduced menu items to new staff, ending with a demonstration of opening and eating a hard shell crab.   It was in that moment that she first noticed him, and she noticed that he was noticing her.
Kelly’s heard that there are angels of some sort that support each partnership– a third entity created of love.   She hadn’t known of this then, but when she thinks back, she certainly felt the energy of something bigger than the two of them– stretched across the table between them–from her eyes to his and back again.  When he smiled at her, she felt a warmth in her belly.
Soon the summer season was rolling and there was little time to notice warm bellies or angels.  Kelly enjoyed Casey’s flirtations, but enjoyed those from the bartender, and the musician, and some of the bus boys as well.  As a manager however, she grew to like Casey more and more;  he had an easy way with customers that melted any frustrations they might have with his occasional over sights.
As a rule, Kelly didn’t date staff, but she did have a congenial relationship with them.  At the first late night staff party in June, she found herself admiring this young man she had been forced to hire.  He sat leaning against a tree with an amused ease as he finished off the spiked watermelon he had brought for the occasion.

Kelly wished she could take him home as a late night snack (she was never serious about men), and when she left the party, she hoped; no, she willed, him to follow her.  She watched in her rear view mirror as he pulled out behind her and took each of the turns that she did as she headed toward her apartment two blocks from beach.  Kelly was both excited and afraid, and then dismayed and relieved as she looked back to see him turn off toward his own home with his parents, a block from the bay.

Summers at the Crab House Restaurant were delightful.
Everyone was young and tan and vibrant and bringing in lots of cash.  Some nights there was live music and always a sense of festivity in the air.  The staff clearly enjoyed their work and each other.

When there was a lull in the activity, you could always find someone giving someone else a lovely back massage.  As the alpha female–dispenser of checks and schedules and of Saturday night drinks and late night munchies–Kelly was a frequent recipient of the massage ritual.   Casey was an enthusiastic participant.  Their interest in each other percolated.   She recalls him being bold enough to compliment her legs and how she ignored him, but inwardly glowed.
Kelly was dumped by her long-time highschool sweetheart (who lived an hour away inland, working as an accountant.) For two weeks, Kelly led a desperate life, neither eating or drinking, and wearing sunglasses to work to hide her swollen eyes.  She left the restaurant early each night so that she could climb into her car and release the sobbing she had held in all day.  All of the sudden love had taken on new meaning to her.

An old flame and friend came to the rescue and out they went on a date, but Kelly couldn’t stir her feelings.  Suddenly, flings weren’t fun anymore.  The chapter of frivolity in her life had ended, and an opening for true love created.   Kelly’s defenses had been dropped and Casey moved in for the close.
She remembers their first kiss (he passed out shortly after), and the first time they made love (they both passed out shortly after), but she doesn’t remember the moment she knew.

She can see it in her mind’s eye, but isn’t sure if it happened all at once or over time or even when it happened.  He was standing there leaning against the post beside the coffee station, next to the bar, and to her, he looked like an island–a safe haven upon which to rest, for a lifetime (only she hadn’t made that claim to either of them yet.)
It was Casey’s easiness that Kelly felt most about him.  Who knew that love and a lifetime could be built on such a soft beginning, but there it was, and twenty years later, she stills seeks refuge on the island of his embrace.

They say that rebound relationships don’t last, that people who live together before getting married end up in divorce, that Virgos make challenging  husbands, that first-born wives drive their partners crazy, that love built on great sex will never flourish…
Are they still in love, you might ask?  And what would they say...
Kelly might tell you that their love is like a comfortable couch, plush and vibrant red, her pleasure so deep that she neither knows or cares if her life could be happier…   or she might liken their relationship to a tree, upon whose sturdiness she leans, finding rest in its shade and drawing beauty as it changes with the seasons.
And what of Casey, how would he define his love– once lusty and tender– twenty years later.

He still traces the curves of her body, and drinks in the softness of her flesh,
and wants her happiness above anything else, even his own certainty.  He still sees her at forty as he once did across a crowded room, and he still loves how she can manage anything she tackles, and how one so competent, needs his love to stay afloat.
Will it last you wonder?  They do too. Surely happiness is a slippery slope, and once the ultimate blessing of children comes, it is hard to see one another through the fog of life’s business.   Only time will tell.

Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”
If this adage is true, then they’re in for the joy of a lifetime.

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