That Summer of '79






That Summer of ‘79


In the depths of my unconscious mind, I knew our paths would cross again. After my divorce, I did the requisite thing and cleaned out the garage. Funny what one comes across; remembrances of another time and place. Some made me angry like my ex’s smelly sneakers which I promptly trashed. Tucked away in a corner was a box marked college. Inside was a tattered picture of my tennis team, a red rose corsage from my senior year sorority dance, (instinctively I raised it to my nose but the fragrance had long since faded), and my first boyfriend’s rough draft of “That Summer of ’79.” Clipped to the manuscript was a Polaroid snapshot of us on the Santa Monica pier waving. Our faces were yet unlined, and untainted by life’s frustrations and failures. At that moment it looked as though we’d be together forever. We almost looked goofy, we were so in love. That is until I blew it. The pic got me thinking about him, and if he still thought of me now and then. 

We were irresistible forces. A tempest in a bottle my friends used to say. Jamie and I met the summer before my senior year in college. He was my squeeze, though I must admit I foolishly played with his heart. I flip onto my back on the chaise lounge at the private Beach Club pool, and apply more sun-block. Curious as to how he was doing and high time to set things right between us, I reached out to him on Facebook. We exchanged pleasantries but only the barest of personal details (including that we were both single). We finally agreed to meet today at my club’s pool, as he was in the area checking on a real estate venture.

I turn to the dog-eared page of my steamy romance novel. A guilty pleasure these days. I digest a couple of pages then my iPhone lights up startling me. I cast a distracted glance at it.

The text from Jamie says; Helen, running late. Has it really been 30 years? At the end of the text he places the winky face emoji. Is he joking, flirting? I always wonder what’s the hidden meaning? But then that was always me, over analyzing, over thinking situations rather than listening to my heart. A dark thought crosses my mind, does Jamie want to level the score? Is that why he agreed to meet me? To show me how much better off I would’ve been if we’d stayed together? If I hadn’t left him for another, older man? But I digress. I take three deep yoga breaths to calm myself.

I recently suffered through a legalectomy better known as an “amicable divorce.” You know where you and your ex end up fighting over who gets the water hose. It wasn’t part of the plan that I have reluctantly found myself back in the game, those shark-infested waters of modern dating. My age and changing times means dating bears no resemblance to my past experience. Sexting? C’mon, I’ll leave that for the twenty somethings. I swear, if one more girlfriend tells me, “love will happen when you least expect it,” I will leave town and never come back.

When I first met Jamie in that summer of ‘79, he was lounging on the pool steps of a popular desert resort basking in the sun. He had long dark wavy hair, a California tan, and wore Ray-Bans. Every so often he splashed water onto his chest and checked me out. My parents and his were sitting in pool cabanas chatting and Dad pointed towards me. I overheard him say, “She’s a ginger like her mother. Smart, pre-law. Sunburns easily.”

I feigned disinterest in the matter and glided back and forth across the pool careful not to appear too obvious. But I kept a watchful eye. Who was I kidding? I wanted to jump Jamie’s bones. He had that thousand-watt smile. Soon we were speaking and our thoughts seemed to flow so smoothly like I’d known him my whole life. I didn’t know what I felt in my heart, but I knew my attraction to him was powerful. 


Now many years and heartbreaks later, a young, pretty pool attendant wearing a sun visor and hair pulled back into a high-pony glides over to me and says, “Your friend is here.” I thank her and suddenly I’m hit with a bad case of nerves. “Friend?” Is that how Jamie describes me? How does one prepare to see an old crush, one that you’ve hurt? A whiff of danger and excitement creeps up my spine like when a boy drives you to a secluded parking spot and you wonder what’s going to happen next? My mind turns somersaults. Am I nostalgic? Hopeful for a connection? Looking to right a wrong? I wonder if this was a good idea? Will dipping my toes into the past help me understand who I am now? We all like to think we’ve grown and changed.

Jamie’s wearing an untucked navy polo shirt, khaki shorts, and moccasins. Still prep. I wave in a way that even the Rose Parade Queen would be proud. And there’s that gorgeous smile. OMG is this really happening? Suddenly like an idiot I blurt out, “Hello handsome,” and I just want to crawl into a hole and die. I feel flushed and wet in all the wrong places. I sip my Long Island iced tea and forget for a moment that I’m a divorced middle-age woman with two college-age boys, a golden retriever, and have wallowed through more boxes of tissue then I care to reveal. I take another sip, and summon my courage.

Reality bites. Life is so much more complicated now. Maybe Jamie and I agreed to a reunion because we want to recapture a little of that magical time. Just hang out at the college quad and toss the football around between classes. Giggle and tease each other. I fret over my lost youth and what could’ve been? But I’d rather be exiled to the Valley than be like some of my Westside girlfriends who’ve had too much work done on their faces. Botox though is my go to. Too much time blithely sun-worshipping in my youth, I’m afraid. A girl has to allow herself some vices.


A moment later, Jamie strides over looking cocky ex-lover but unnervingly like a stranger. He still has swagger, and wears his hair cropped short and neat. I’m stunned by the feelings that wash over me. We’ve come full circle. The past is now the present. And I wonder if the baggage I carry shows too well?

            “Hello Helen,” he says in a voice soft, almost wistful.

He removes his sunglasses. His eyes dance over my black two-piece swimsuit then hold my gaze. I want to speak but no words come out. I’m experiencing some kind of time warp that has dropped us back to where we belong. But then I remember.

“May I,” he says, holding out his hand.

A gentleman. Instinctively I take his hand and he helps me to my feet. “Jamie, it’s so good to see you,” I say with a frankness and vulnerability that surprises myself. Then there’s that momentary awkwardness. I  don’t know whether I should hug him, give him a peck on the cheek or merely shake his hand. He decides when he pulls me close and hugs me a beat longer than being polite. I feel secure in his arms. His masculine aroma and faint undertone of cologne, gives me a heady rush. We sit on chairs next to my lounge under the oversized blue and white striped umbrella. Our waitress takes his drink order. 

“Quite frankly I didn’t know what to expect when I saw you,” he says, eyes assessing me.

He looks down for a moment, and I wonder if he’s disappointed? I feel a faint flutter in my heart. Is it nerves or something else?

His eyes flash back to me. “I’m really glad you reached out.”

            “Can you believe we’re here? I see your books on best-seller lists.” Jamie’s face brightens.


“Been real fortunate in that regard,” but his face turns away, and I let it lie. “And what about you, Helen?”

            I inadvertently look down at my now bare ring finger, and my stomach clenches. “It’s been interesting.”

            “You’re divorced?” He says leaning in.

            “Yes,” I try not to sound too pathetic.

            “That must be hard,” he says cupping his hands under his chin. The waitress swooshes over and leaves his drink. He takes a gulp of an iced cappuccino. “How are you doing?”

            “Could be better. I got the kids and we share the house until we figure out what to do.”

            “Life is screwy, unpredictable,” he says with an ironic twist.

            “Enough about me, I want to hear about you,” I say, trying to sound cheerful.

            “After I wrote for our college paper, I got my first break at the Herald as an investigative reporter. It seemed the stars were aligned. Broke a big story about rising gang violence in  L.A. which got a lot of attention,” he says.

            “I seem to remember reading something about that.”

            “Researching the gangs and gaining their trust taught me how to dig deep for a story. That segued into writing crime thrillers.”

            “I’ve read several of your novels.”

            “And thank God you did. You helped put my kids through school,” he says cracking a grin. 

            I raise my glass and we clink them together. “Glad to have helped out. Did you close your property deal?”

            “I hope to. But I say that with reservation. My broker just discovered there’s an issue with the easement.” 

            “Jamie, I’m a real estate attorney.” My wheels start turning. “Please allow me to handle this for you.”

            “For real?”

            “Yes. This is what I do.”

            “Great, I’ll put you in touch with my broker.”

            Is it me or did things between us just get decidedly cozier?

            “When we first met, I thought you were the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. Those big brown eyes, freckles and fab hair.”

I do this little thing where I slightly angle my head to the right and fondle my hair. “I’m still a ginger,” and then I mock-whisper, “with a little help from my colorist.”

“I like your haircut, it’s sassy,” he says.

“Thank you.” It’s been so long since someone’s really noticed me. 

“Remember that night we had dinner at your parent’s house and they worked me over the coals. Then later we watched the sailboats in the marina,” he says.

“My parents grilled you, because they were overprotective of me knowing how much I cared for you. By the way, you passed with flying colors.”

“Poor, innocent Helen.” 

He breaks into a wide grin, and looks devilishly into my eyes. I meet his then look away with embarrassment remembering how later that night we searched for our secluded beach to make love. Upon finding none, we took to a golf course and got busy only to hear the rustling of the groundskeepers that happened upon us. 

“Do you remember that morning when you stood on your mom’s old BMW and waved goodbye to me?

“I do.” My stomach churns.

“You were heading off to law school.” He shakes his head. “That was tough.”

“So you think I was an inconsiderate bitch?”

“I know you were.” No filter there. His eyes harsh and penetrating. “My bruised ego couldn’t accept that I was nothing more than a summer fling.” 

“That’s not true I stammered, tears making their way down my cheeks. I really, really cared for you. All those letters I wrote you were proof of that.”

“Still I sensed you were holding back, afraid to be vulnerable,” Jamie says.

“At the time, I wished I could’ve put you in a little box and stored you away until the time was more—”

“So you did put me on the shelf?” He raises a brow teasing me then relaxes his face. His eyes are alert and alive. “I was drawn to you by your excitement for life, your intellect, and the sex was hot,” he says.

I can’t help but smile, letting the memories crawl their way back into my mind. “I too was touched, in more ways than one.” I look into his eyes and my heart is breaking all over again. 

“What is it Helen?”

He senses my nervousness.  It’s time to set things right. I will say what I must even if it means losing him again. “I couldn’t give you the love you deserved at the time.” He digests those words for a long moment.


Jamie presses, and his tone turns sharp and accusatory. “There’s more, isn’t there?” 

“Real love with you terrified me. I couldn’t allow myself to be vulnerable.” 

“You were everything in my life that had been promised but never fulfilled.” His words pierce my heart and I bleed. 

“Jamie, I must be honest with you.” His mouth hangs open mid thought. My hands tremble.

“There was another man, an older man that I met during our senior year. He had money, and at the time, I foolishly thought security was all I needed. Jamie’s face darkens. Inside I shudder knowing the pain I caused him. “I loved you but married him for all the wrong reasons. Can you forgive me?”

He brushes off my question and says, “So you took my love then dashed it onto the rocks?”

I channel my inner courage while wiping a tear from my eye. “You know it wasn’t like that. We were both so young. I truly loved you.” 

The hardness in Jamie’s eyes melts to understanding. “We can’t change the past, and with life comes both love and loss,” he says.

I search for the right words. “Jamie, I made a terrible mistake—”

“I get it.” His head drops for a moment, and he chokes up, eyes moistening and I know something heavy is coming. “You’re not the only one that’s suffered a loss. My wife died in a car crash. It’ll be a year this October.”

It feels like the wind’s been knocked out of me. I gather myself and reach across the table and take his hands. I give them a squeeze. They feel comfortable in mine. “I’m so so sorry.” Tears glisten in Jamie’s eyes, and I offer him a tissue. He takes it from my hand. The love for his wife is written across his face. I pause and silently take in this sensitive, beautiful man in front of me, naked and vulnerable. He had me when he first walked over and gave me his hand. My heart soars, and I know I’m falling again. 

I throw on my swimsuit cover-up, pay the bar bill, and we stroll out to the beach. I feel the heat from his hand as we walk slowly on the sand looking at the sea as the sun begins setting in a blaze of orange and purple. My skin prickles with awareness as the cool breeze brushes across my face. Nothing seems to matter but this. Him. Us. And all the impossible magic that happened before is happening again. His way of cutting right to the heart of the matter is making me feel reckless, as if I could fall into that sexy smile of his and stay there forever this time. “Jamie, wait. I brought you a little something.”

He pauses, shoulders square to me. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

I pull from my purse the photograph of us on the pier from that summer of ’79 when we were young, and everything in life was possible. And still is. I hand it to him. “I carried a piece of us all these years.”

Jamie holds it up to the fading light and his face breaks into a wide grin. He takes me into his arms and kisses me like I’ve never been kissed before. 


 James Dickman



James Dickman has been published in SCBWI magazine, an Honorable mention in Writer’s Digest, publication in Ariel Chart Literary Magazine among others. I’m grateful to have studied under Shirley Raye Redmond, Stephen Mooser and grateful for fellow author friends, Susie Schnall, Christine Merrill and Michele Wallerstein.

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