I met him in my dreams, the man that didn’t come my way. The one who was not meant for the likes of me. A part of me always knew he was the one that got away, the one I secretly loved. Truth be told, I knew him once long ago, but time has its way of passing you by. It was him. It was always meant it to be him. He just never knew it. I’m not sure I did either back then.
“Why now, God,” I silently prayed. “Why bring him back into my dreams and create a long forgotten sense of longing?”
The quiet response flew swiftly through my torn and shattered heart. “Because you asked me for him.”
It was true, in a way. It was a prayer I had said many times over the last twenty years. A secret wish for someone to love. I thought God had a funny sense of humour because across the years he sent me friends, who I cherished, and puppies who filled an empty void with cuddles, walks and companionship. Each offering love, just not the kind my heart longed for.
We could have been childhood sweethearts, but for one reason- he was one of the cool kids. I was trapped in that awkward teenage stage of self-loathing and insecurity. Envy clung to my back like an appendage as I watched my friends, one by one, turn into happy couples. They were content in love, in only the way young love can exist. I’ve since learned to not desire what others have for envy truly is a green-eyed monster that steels your joy and replaces it with insecurities.
Shrugging off the dream, I went about my day. Occupying one’s mind has a way of forcing thoughts into the background. They never truly disappear, but you can pretend they are gone for a little while. It was a day filled with volunteering. Prepping vegetables, making salads, roasting hams and setting tables, all alongside a wonderful group of people. Yes, distractions were good.
After dinner I strolled the streets. Ours was a small town, where everyone knew you, neighbours helping neighbours. Familiar smiles greeted me as I walked across the park toward my favourite bench. Shrugging the tension of the day from my shoulders, I sat and leaned back. There is nothing more soothing than a sunset on the water and birds flying low, looking for that last catch of the day. Sunset tonight would have to wait, but the effects of the lake still soothed. Silently, I thanked God for this blessing, this town, and these people. They were my family, if truth be told. My father left when I was born, my mother died from an addiction she couldn’t escape. I had been alone with no family at 16, raising myself.
Neighbours and the church all pitched in. They made sure I had food and that the house remained mine. A silent donor paid off the mortgage and deposited enough money in an account under my name to allow me to finish school. If it hadn’t been for them and the faith of our town, I am not sure I would have made it. Pastor John used to say, “In the darkest hours, turn to God. He is with you always and will never leave or abandon you.” He stopped in regularly to make sure I was okay and to sit and pray with me. Pastor John is the reason my faith is so strong and why, when I quiet my mind, I can hear when God speaks to my soul. Smiling, I said one more prayer of thanksgiving before heading to the local diner where my friend Sheila was meeting me. It was our little ritual–volunteer, eat cake and drink coffee.
When I arrived at the diner, Sheila was already there, seated, sipping coffee. She saw me and waved. I waved back and headed to the counter to place my order. It was a two-stage counter, higher at the front, with a work space behind for food preparation. It allowed Hank and Jack, the owners, to chat with the customers. Behind the counter, a small window allowed for plates to be passed between kitchen and dining area. Taking a seat at the counter, I smiled at Hank. He was grinning from ear to ear, for what I could not imagine.
“I’ll be with you in a minute,” said the voice beneath the counter.
I knew that voice. Rising, and then standing directly in front of me was Ryan — the boy, now man, from my dream. What was he doing here? Why was he behind the counter? Ryan didn’t seem surprised to see me. It was as if he knew I would be there. Glancing back at Hank, who suddenly was cleaning the counter, I realized he and Sheila had set me up. They knew I would be here.
“So, what’ll it be? Medium coffee black, in a to go cup, if I remember correctly.”
“What? Oh, yes medium coffee and a piece of…”
“Chocolate cake. I remember that too.” He was smiling.
I’m not sure if I smiled back, for I was too stunned to speak. I dreamt of him, and here he was. Why?
“Because you asked for him,” God whispered.
“I did not, not him.”
“You didn’t do what, to who?” Ryan asked.
“Hmm? Oh nothing, talking to myself. Bad habit.” I could only seem to speak in short bursts. My heart was pounding in my ears and I’m sure if one looked closely, they would see it beating in my chest.
“Ryan, why are you here?”
“Uh, I live in this town, or used to, if you remember. My sister still lives here. I came back for…. let’s just say I came back for something that was very important to me and leave it at that, for now shall we?” He smiled.
My mother used to tell me, “You watch out for that one, he’s a player. Too good-looking if you asked me and too good for the likes of you.” She was always saying things like that. Now I understand where my insecurities came from. Back then, it was just painful.
I couldn’t stop staring. Sheila and I used to joke that he could be the actor’s doppelgänger. Not only did they share the same name, they were also similar in appearance. He was tall, with wavy brown hair and dark brown eyes that sparkled when he spoke. He disappeared below the counter. I turned to look at my friend. She was like the cat who caught the canary, all grins. I put on my best scowl and then turned back toward the counter. What was taking him so long? How hard was it to pour a cup of coffee?
“Here you go. One medium black coffee, one piece of chocolate cake a la mode. It’s on me.” He looked worried, why I could not imagine.
Absent mindedly I took a sip of the coffee and nearly spit it at him. “You put sugar in it!”
“Did I? Sorry. Let me get you another one,” he said. He seemed sad suddenly.
I looked down and saw writing on the cup. It was his phone number with the words call me, and something else written below it. I passed him the cup. “Thanks.” Hesitating only for a moment before saying, “Use the same cup.” I looked away quickly. That was what took so long. He had been writing his phone number and a message on my cup. Perhaps the sugar was his way of giving me a chance to decline the invitation scrawled on the cup.
Ryan smiled again. “Yes, ma’am.” He dumped the coffee in the sink and refilled it. “Here you go.” Handing me the cup, he turned and added, “I hope you do too,” and pointed at the words.
Making a hasty retreat, I went and sat down in the booth. Sheila and I always sat in the same spot. At least she had the decency to save me a seat facing the side wall so my back was to the counter.
“Amazing, isn’t it? All of a sudden, he shows up out of nowhere and offers to help at the diner so Jack could spend time at home with Melony and the new baby. Just amazing, and guess what? He’s single.”
“Amazing isn’t the word I would use.”
“So, what’s on the cup? Let me see.” Sheila reached for the cup and spun it around so she could see what I was staring at. “Oh, my.”
Grabbing the coffee back, I took a sip and turned it to face me once more. There was a phone number and the words ‘call me’ in large print, but beneath them was a much smaller printed message. It said, I’m sorry I left all those years ago without saying anything. Sorry, isn’t a big enough word. I’m sorry I didn’t come find you when I heard your mom died. Please forgive me. It’s you. You are the reason I came back. It’s always been you. Please call me. Ryan.
I almost dropped the coffee cup. I looked at Sheila and then twisted to look behind me, but he was gone.
“Ryan’s in the kitchen. He watched you for a while and then turned and ran to the back. So, what’s it say?”
Sheila would prod and pry until I told her, but I wasn’t ready to share yet. I wasn’t even ready to believe the words I read. All I knew was I needed to escape.
“I’ve got to go.” Grabbing my coffee, I rose to leave.
“But you haven’t even touched your cake.” Sheila wanted me to stay, but I couldn’t. Suddenly, I was that teenage girl again, scared, insecure, and afraid that this was some kind of cruel joke. All I wanted to do was run.
“You have it. Scrape off the ice cream and take it home to Harry. He loves chocolate cake.” I turned and fled from the building.
Ryan gathered his courage and walked back out into the dining room just in time to see her leave. He called to her, “Kat, wait. Let me go with you,” but she didn’t slow down. He was a fool. Why would he put all his feelings out there, written on a coffee cup? Dropping his head, he turned and headed back toward the kitchen to hide. Sheila would be full of questions, as would Hank.
Turning the corner, I stopped and leaned against the wall. Glancing at the cup, I read the words again by the faded lamp light above. “It’s always been you.” How could this be? He never paid me any attention. Oh, he was polite always. This just made no sense at all.
“Why God? Never mind, I know, because I asked. I get it.” Leaning there, I tried to make sense of it. I needed to know, needed to see him and ask him directly. Pulling out my phone, I hesitated, took a deep breath, and then sent a quick text, two small words—I’ll call. Having that done, I turned and headed home.
Ryan’s phone vibrated quietly in his pocket. Pulling it out, he saw there was a message. He didn’t recognize the number. His heart stopped when he realized it was from Kat. It didn’t say much, but it wasn’t a no. Maybe he did the right thing after all. “Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer,” he said as he walked back into the dining area. He ignored the questioning looks that his friends threw his way and worked until closing. Humming to himself, he realized he had faced his biggest fear, became vulnerable and put his heart out there. Now, it was up to Kat. He didn’t know quite why, but somehow he knew everything would be okay. Ryan would sleep well tonight.
Kat, on the other hand, tossed and turned, a million questions running through her head. Why Me? Why now? Is he kidding or is he serious? Did he really like me all those years ago? The questions just kept coming.
It took four days for her to work up the courage to call. Kat didn’t know what to say. “Please let it go to voice mail.”
No such luck. “Hi Ryan, it’s Kat.”
“Hi there. Are you okay?” He blurted it out. “I’m sorry I did that to you,” he said and then added, “not sorry I said it, just sorry the way I did it. I shouldn’t have ambushed you like that.”
“Hmm, yeah, it’s ok, I guess.” What was I doing? I couldn’t even put a proper sentence together. “I think we should meet. Okay?”
“Sure. I’m off today. How about your bench by the lake? That seems like a safe place to talk.”
“How do you know about my bench?”
“Kat, you’ve been sitting on that bench, watching sunsets for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine that has changed. It is still the loveliest spot along the waterfront.”
So, he had been watching her, or at least aware of where she went. “Ok, what time?”
“How about half an hour before sunset?” Ryan hoped she would say yes, but there was no response. “You still there Kat?”
“I’m still here. Fine, I’ll be there,” she answered. “Ryan?”
“You aren’t pulling one over on me, are you? Trying to make fun of the loner kid from high school.” Her heart stopped beating. At least, that is how she felt. Sweat formed on her brow, her breath was shallow and her heart pounded in her ears as if to prove it hadn’t quit beating.
“I would never. I meant every word and I promise, I’ll explain.”
Kat hung up the phone. Looking at her watch, she realized she had several hours to wait. Grabbing her purse, she headed towards the Good Sheppard’s Table. Cutting vegetables and prepping the kitchen for dinner would help keep her mind off of things. At least she hoped they did.
Time was drawing near. Kat left to go meet him, but it was still early. Since Ryan said he wasn’t working, she ducked in and grabbed a coffee. Hank’s brow raised, an unspoken question hanging in the air. Kat shook her head, paid for the coffee, and left.
She strolled along the lake, not wanting to be early, not wanting to be late. At the moment, she was still way too early. Finding a spot in front of a large bush, she sat, hidden from the world. Closing her eyes, she bowed her head and asked once again, “Why now? Why him?”
God’s reply came, like a whisper on the gentle summer’s breeze, “Because you asked, my dear child. You asked from the depths of your heart.”
“I’ve asked before God and you never sent him.”
“Before, you asked so you could be like everyone else. Not out of love, or want of love, but out of a desire not to be alone, because your friends weren’t alone.”
Kat never questioned how she heard God’s response. She had since she was young. Pastor John had said it was a special gift, given to a rare few. He had helped her hone that skill.
“Trust in me, my child. It’s time. You are ready to love and to be loved.”
“Thank you,” she whispered and stood to go meet Ryan.
She was early, but so was he. There he sat, head down, hands folded. She knew from looking at him that he was praying. Funny, she didn’t remember him as being a religious sort, but it didn’t seem odd that he was either. Walking up behind him, she placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “Hi.”
Looking up, he smiled at her. Ryan stood and came around the bench and took her hands in his. “Thank you for calling me, and for coming. I wasn’t sure you would. In fact, I thought I’d blown it by putting everything out there like that.”
“It was a risky move.” She smiled. In all the years she had known him, she had never seen him nervous until now.
“Please, sit Kat. We have a lot to discuss. I’m sure you have questions about why someone like me would even be worth your time.”
Kat wasn’t sure she heard that right. Someone like her and she said so, “Someone like me, how?”
“You were so smart and funny. Everyone just adored you. I didn’t have the courage to even talk to you other than to say hi back then. Secretly, I watched you though, adored you, really. I even came by once to see if you would go to the movies with me, but your mother…,” his voice trailed off.
“My mother what?”
“Your mother said I wasn’t good enough for the likes of you. She said you were going places and I would only drag you down. Dejected, I left shortly after school ended, and that was it. I couldn’t have you and seeing you every day was painful so, I left town. It was too hard seeing you, knowing nothing could ever come from my feelings. All these years, I’ve wasted, on what, someone’s poor opinion of me? I should have talked to you then. It was only when Sheila and Hank were talking and teasing me, saying you had such a crush on me, and that you couldn’t even speak when I was around, that I realized what a fool I had been.”
Kat sat, her hands folded in her lap, head down, listening. Her mother had closed the door on something she had wanted with no concern for how it would affect her. She looked up into those dark brown eyes and said, “My mother told me I wasn’t good enough for the likes of you. I was a homely girl not fit to walk on the arm of the most popular boy in school. My mother was a mean-hearted, selfish fool with an addiction problem. It took me years to come to terms with that. I loved her, but she was not a wonderful mother.”
Ryan placed his hands on her arms and turned her to face him. “Look at me, please, Kat, look at me.”
She looked at him and felt the fear and insecurities melt away. There was a look she hadn’t seen before, but she recognized it, without ever having truly known it. He cared for her.
“I loved you then, and I never stopped. I dreamt of you for years. You were the one that got away. I’m not letting you get away this time, not if there’s a chance that you might care for me, too. We can go as slow as you want. I won’t rush you at all. Just know I’m in it for the long haul, Kat. The other night I dreamt of you again. I hadn’t for so long and then, out of nowhere, you filled my dreams once again. When I heard Jack wanted some time off, it was like God was lining everything up for me,” and then taking her hand he added, “for us. Then, when Hank and Sheila started teasing me, I knew I had to take a chance.”
“I dreamt of you too,” she said. “The night before I went to the diner and found you there, I dreamt of you. I couldn’t understand why the dreams started up again, now after all these years. In fact, I asked God that very thing—why now? He said it was because I asked for it, for you. I didn’t just ask for love, apparently, in the deepest part of my heart…” Kat wasn’t sure if she should say it, but she continued, “I wanted you too, back then.” Mirroring his words, words she had said to herself only a few days ago, she said, “It was always you—only you. I loved you then, and thought of you for a long time. Eventually, the dreams stopped, until the other night. I don’t…” she stopped.
Ryan pulled her to him and kissed her. “Sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer. I know it’s fast and I said I wouldn’t rush you, but maybe it doesn’t need to make sense, I love you, Kat. I love you.”
She smiled, “I’m pretty sure I love you too. Who would have thought it, me and you?” Leaning forward, she kissed him again. It felt good. Her heart smiled.
In unison, they said, “Thank you God,” and smiled at each other. They had missed out on so much, but somehow Kat figured this was the time they were meant to find each other. God’s timing was perfect. They talked for a while about what had happened over the last few years. Together, they sat and watched the sunset. Ryan put his arm around her and she rested her head in the nook of his arm. No further words were needed. This was their beginning, their chance at love, and Kat was going to take it.