Excerpt from the first in the Wyoming Romances series, sensual contemporary Western mini romance
"To the One I Never Forgot"
"To the One I Never Forgot"
There’s nothing like sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.
Dusk descended. With only the glow of her laptop’s screen for illumination and with nothing that sounded more appealing than looking for clues by stalking people from high school on social media, Gianna propped her chin in her hand and continued to search. She was almost positive after so many fruitless nights that Zack wouldn’t have friended any of these people. They hadn’t ever liked him, and he had seemed oblivious to them and their exclusive groups. And she certainly didn’t care about connecting with any of them.
Zack was the only one she was interested in discovering. He was the first and only one she had ever been interested in. But wasn’t it just her luck that the people she really didn’t have any fond memories of were so easy to find online? Just a few keystrokes brought up their broadly smiling faces. Minus the braces and acne, it was true, but still not any more attractive than they had ever been although she suspected they were much more likely to invent exciting backgrounds and beautiful wives earning top salaries in their fields. Not to mention perfect little families of two children who had lots of adorable pictures snapped while traipsing along on fabulous vacations.
Her own profile was pretty skimpy. She avoided having a recent picture taken because she still saw the same skinny nobody she had been back then when she looked in the mirror. She owned her own company, but didn’t bring up its existence on her personal page. Most of her accomplishments and her education, along with her whereabouts, weren’t available for public consumption. In fact, the only people she was connected to on social media had sought her out. She spent her time online looking, not interacting.
The one Gianna tried so hard to find—just to see how he was doing of course, if he was happy, if he had a good life—seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
So far this had been yet one more wasted night. What did it say about her that she would rather stay home and look for Zack than start up again with somebody new? But the truth was, she didn’t want anybody else. She had never wanted anyone else. She had only ever wanted Zack.
Yet the thought nagged: wasn’t it about time to give up? Anyone would tell her she had spent enough time chasing a dream. If her mother knew how Gianna spent her nights, she would try to get her back in therapy. So she didn’t confide in her mother. In fact, she hadn’t felt close to her mother in years...not since the last time Gianna had seen Zack. Six long years ago.
As she sat in the dark and the silence tapping keys, what the search engine brought up, as if it had been waiting for her to find it at just that moment of loneliness and bittersweet nostalgia, was a new website called To the One I Never Forgot. Similar to those sites where you could send an anonymous apology out into the ether for the unkind or downright cruel things you had done to other people and always felt bad about, this site was a place to post memories of, and explanations to, the one who got away. As much as the apology sites, To the One I Never Forgot was not specifically designed to reach the person who had been wronged or left behind. The anonymous confessions were designed merely to ease the guilt of the guilty.
Well, she was that, Gianna thought. Guilty. She had always felt bad about the way she had let Zack slip away without a word. She still couldn’t believe he could just disappear. He had to have had a reason, no matter how lame. Maybe if she took the time and wrote it all down, she would feel better about the non-resolution of their abruptly truncated affair. Maybe she could start to forget.
Before she could think better of it, she typed in a user name and a password, and created a profile along with a pretty, free stock picture of fireworks. And then she started typing.
To the one I never forgot,
I remember the first time I saw you. I was fifteen and starting a new school in a new town. I was late because Daddy had just got his new job and we hadn’t moved soon enough to register for the school year. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat breakfast, but my stomach felt sick as I walked into that classroom filled with people I didn’t know. Most turned their heads and stared at me as I clutched my book bag to my stomach while trying to find an empty seat. But when you turned and looked at me,I remember you had the biggest, friendliest smile on your face, as if you had just been waiting for me all your life and were so glad to finally see me. You had on this shirt, some kind of safari shirt, it had five or six pockets, even one on the sleeve. I remember thinking you must be big into science or computers; no one with a hint of fashion sense would be caught dead in a shirt like that. I found a seat and class started. I was still feeling too anxious to really hear much of anything that was said, until my name was called. When I looked up, the whole class had craned their heads around again to look at me. And nobody looked exceptionally friendly. Nobody except, once again, you. Again you had that warm, wonderful smile on your face when you looked at me, and in your smile I found confidence. I knew we were destined to have meaning in each other’s lives.
She stopped typing. Maybe that was enough. Maybe she had finally got it out of her system and could settle down to sleep. She signed the post Brown Eyed Girl, clicked SEND, logged off and closed the lid on her laptop, plunging the room into darkness.
Zack stared at the screen of his phablet. Almost as big as a tablet computer, it was also a full-featured camera phone. He knew he looked like a geek holding the thing up to his ear to talk, but what the hell, he was a geek so it didn’t matter who knew it. The duality of the machine charmed him. It saved him from having to buy a computer, since he was seldom within reach of Wi-Fi to use the Internet. And when he needed a phone, which was even more seldom, he had the phone in the mini tablet, which was another good thing since he was rarely in the area of a cell tower. He supposed he could break down and pay for satellite communications up on the mountain. But there were so few people he needed to communicate with, he thought the expensive service for rural areas a waste of money.
He had come into town for supplies, autumn rapidly giving way to winter in the high country near South Pass. He owned a snowmobile, so it wasn’t like he couldn’t escape from his solitude if he really wanted to make the trip, but he didn’t like the thought of being caught in an avalanche when winter truly arrived and the snow fell and melted to ice and then more snow fell on top, making conditions extremely treacherous. And anyway, he was a pretty careful guy. He liked the sight of food in his cupboards when he opened the doors, and so if he was a bit obsessive about stocking up, so what? Better safe than sorry.
But staying overnight in a motel so he could keep a longstanding dental appointment the next day wasn’t his idea of time well spent. He couldn’t sleep with all the coming and going in the parking lot, the vibrations in the walls from televisions turned up too loud, the slamming of room doors and echoes of strangers’ voices. He was especially bothered by the heavy tread of feet on the concrete walkway outside his room. He was grateful that at least he had snagged a room on the second floor and could probably convince his eyes to close as soon as things quieted down and everyone else settled in for the night.
Just a small touch of PTSD, he thought wryly, legacy of his time in the Middle East. He was glad that at least that he was on the second floor and didn’t have to contend with the sounds of people walking overhead, which was something guaranteed to cause him a bad night.
Antsy but at the same time bored, idly scrolling the timeline of a social medium he rarely visited under the assumed name he sometimes had trouble recalling when too much time passed between sign ins, he barely noticed an invitation to “like” the page of a website called, of all the cheesy names, To the One I Never Forgot. He stopped, scrolled back up, and looked again. Then, curious in spite of himself and his initial reaction to the site’s sentimental come-on, he clicked on the page.
“In the words of the immortal P. T. Barnum, there’s one born every minute,” he murmured to himself. But sucker or not, the next click on a blue URL link took him to the website. He hesitated at the requirements of user name and password. He was suspicious by nature, a trait almost ground into his pores during the war, and he was sure that he would have to cough up more personal information as well as a credit card number if he registered. But what the hell, he could afford it, and he had become skilled at making up a persona to fit any occasion. But to his surprise nothing else was required of him. When his invented login information was accepted, he was free to peruse the profiles of all the sad people pouring their hearts out as they described their long-lost loves.
It felt a tad creepy in a way, sitting in the dark in a rented room, reading all the angst-ridden stories of people looking for forgiveness for messing up and closure for relationships gone awry. He had never dreamed there were so many stories of metaphorical ships passing—or sometimes— colliding in the night, tales of old passions and the seeking of forgiveness and maybe even some hope of renewal. He found that although some were, most of the people doing the confessing weren’t actually looking to take up again with lost loves. They seemed to be just trying to get past that place where they thought they had grievously wronged somebody, and years later still didn’t have a clue how to go about trying to fix it.
He looked for a while, idly hoping he could soon log off and get to sleep. But the longer he looked, the more stupid he felt, like some kind of voyeur or something. He should get off the Internet and go to bed, whether sleep came or not. He wasn’t sure what he thought he was doing wasting time on a website with a name like To the One I Never Forgot. He didn’t readily admit to himself any longer that there was someone in his own past he had never forgotten, someone who still brought up unwanted and deeply buried pools of sorrow for a sweet connection severed without explanation and a solemn promise broken. He wasn’t prepared to admit, even now, how much he missed Gianna.
And then he saw the profile picture of bright fireworks against a black night sky. He paused. Just like the fireworks from that night so long ago. He read the user name: Brown Eyed Girl. He thought, No, it couldn’t be. And then he started reading.
It was that damned shirt. As soon as he read the entry and the description of the geek shirt he had once owned, he was sure he knew the author.
Gianna. It had to be.