Rejected from Woman's World Magazine July 2012
“We’ve got to find Candace a man,” Aunt Patricia said to us as we ate our pulled pork BBQ. “That little girl needs a daddy.”
I followed the looks over to my two-year old, Josie. Pat was right, but finding time to date was difficult as a single mother. When my ex had taken off to “find a job”, it took time to realize he just wanted a life without a wife and daughter. Now, work and school, and most importantly: my daughter, took priority to dating.
Josie’s laughter floated over the noise of my family members and my heart squeezed. Despite the turmoil Luke had put me through, I wouldn’t trade any of it because of that that blonde darling. Scars or not, I looked around and felt nothing less than blessed and happy.
“What about that Johnson boy?” Aunt Lori asked. “He’s handsome.”
“Or there’s Mike Hanson’s son,” Patricia suggested.
“You ladies leave this up to me,” my sister, Andrea spoke up. She knew I hated this sort of talk. Of course, the gleam in her eye suggested that she wasn’t interjecting just to save me.
“Should I be nervous?” I asked.
“I ran into someone yesterday. I have it all set up.”
I don’t think I imagined the clucking that overcame my aunts.
“Who?” They all asked.
A few days later, Andrea was fussing over the dress I had chosen.
“You’re a sexy woman,” she complained. “Can’t you show just a bit of skin?”
“I’m a mother.”
“A young mother.”
I looked at the bohemian dress in the mirror. Flowy sleeves, a modest neckline, knee-length… it didn’t show much, but I still felt pretty. And confident. “I like it,” I said, adjusting the belt. “Besides, if modesty isn’t important to him, then I don’t want to go out with him.”
She rolled her eyes as I was saved by the doorbell. Josie ran to the door and Andrea followed.
“Candace!” Andrea called, even though she knew I was right behind her. She picked Josie up and opened the door wider.
My jaw dropped.
“Mark.” I instantly recognized him.
Mark Burrows, my high school boyfriend, stood in the doorway.
If Andrea hadn’t been holding my three-year old daughter in her arms, I wouldn’t have believed it wasn’t 1999. He hadn’t aged. My heart still raced. Instant familiarity flooded over me.
He smiled. “Hi,” he said. “Ready to go?”
Mark had been talking to Josie, giving me a few moments to pull myself together. I nodded, kissed Josie on the head, gave my sister a look, and walked to his car before laughing.
“Do you like it?” He asked, opening the door to his ’88 Delta Oldsmobile, a grin on his face. “My parents let me borrow it for our date.”
“It still runs?”
“Unbelievable, right? It’s always been a miracle car. Remember that time it got stolen?”
“Yes. I got pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle the day you got it back.”
“You were so mad.”
“I thought you had called the cops as a prank!”
The date was as easy as it had ever been. He had always been fun. Respectful. Kind. Everything that Luke wasn’t.
“Josie’s adorable,” Mark said, interjecting my thoughts. “Candace sends me pictures sometimes. And videos. I think she’s a little obsessed.”
“Just a bit,” I agreed.
My sister had recently moved from out-of-state, just to be closer to her only niece.
“She spoils her. But it is nice to have the extra help. She watches Josie so I can take classes at night.”
“Really? What are you studying?”
“Drawing people’s blood, huh?”
“I thought I would be good at it.”
“I thought you got queasy around blood?”
“Not anymore. Becoming a mom has increased my tolerance of ‘gross’.”
“Excellent! That means I made the perfect decision for dinner,” Mark said as he made a final turn into K’s parking lot. Despite its run down appearance and questionable food, Mark and I had spent the majority of our Friday nights sharing milkshakes and crinkly fries in the ancient diner.
We slipped in a booth and ordered long-remembered favorites.
“You’re wondering why I agreed to this date?”
“Well, yes,” I admitted. “You haven’t spoken to me in years.”
“We were 17 when you ended our relationship,” he explained. “When you wanted me back, I was angry and didn’t think you deserved a second chance.”
“Maybe I still don’t. What’s changed?”
“Candace, I’m not angry anymore. We’ve grown up and had life experiences we both needed to have apart. But I find myself still missing you. I decided a while ago,” he took a breath and grabbed my hand. “There should always be second chances for your first love.”
“I think so too,” I said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.