I stumbled off the treadmill feeling weak and dizzy. I managed to wipe it down without passing out before I weaved my way to a spot on the floor by the exercise mats. I slid down and leaned against the wall. I tilted my head back and let my heart slow to a more normal rhythm. I never managed to make my cool-down. I sniffed. Ewww! I couldn’t even stand the way I smelled. Instead of finishing my workout today, I would go home to shower, collapse in back into my bed and hibernate until I was ninety. What else were Saturday’s for anyway?
“Hey, Julie. You okay?” I heard a mat plop down close by and a body descend. The deep rich timber of the voice tickled my memory. I opened my eyes and was grateful the world had stopped spinning. Daniel lay on the mat next to me and started doing crunches. Great, I’m stinky, sweaty and now the handsomest guy I know wanted to talk.
“Hi, Dan,” I sighed. “No. I’m not well.” It was hard to not watch his abs contract into that nice quasi-six pack that most men aspire to. Dan was looking way too good to me right now. I swallowed hard. Maybe I should close my eyes again?
“I didn’t know you came here.” He watched me with a crooked smile as he switched to cross crawls.
“I started a few weeks ago. I figured it was about time I tried something healthy.” I looked away to the people working out in the fitness center. I fought a tickle behind my eyelids.
Dan stopped his workout and rested on the mat, with his hands by his head, biceps bulging. His piercing gaze was on me. “I heard about Paul. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve to be treated like that.”
He dared to go there. Well, why not? Divorces were listed in the paper. It wasn’t a secret. His parents had probably written to him with the news. “Yeah,” I let out a ragged breath, “well, those are the breaks. Why wouldn’t he want some younger, thinner, blonder woman if he could get her?” I’m a brunette.
Dan rolled to his side, still facing me, and began to do side crunches. I tried not to look, but it was hard not to. He looked good. “Don’t sell yourself short, Julie. You were a beautiful woman when we were dating and you’ve grown only more so over these past few years.”
I glanced at him. His eyes connected with mine and my heart skipped a beat. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his sandy brown hair was damp. Maybe he was in need of glasses now? I was a wreck, not beautiful. I sighed. Why couldn’t I have married him? Oh, yeah. He had asked if I would wait until he had finished his three year stint in the Army. I said no. Three years and all I had to show for it was a divorce and a few extra pounds. And Dan? Well, he had some scars too.
“I’m sorry you were injured in that last engagement. Are you doing better now?” I could see some healed skin, but I knew some wounds went deeper than the surface. I was proof of that.
He stopped his crunches and leaned on his elbow with a furrow in between his brows. He looked around and then back to me. “I’m not twenty-one anymore, Jules. I feel like I aged far more than the three years I’ve been gone.” His voice cracked. I could hear the unspoken grief.
I gulped. “Every time you went overseas I prayed for you.” I glanced at my hands that were clasped together on my knees with the water bottle in between, getting crunched. “My one regret was that I didn’t say yes to you before you left.”
“It was probably better that you didn’t. I’m not the same guy you knew back then.” He grabbed his towel and wiped off his face.”Some days it was only the dream of you that kept me going.”
I took a sip from my distorted water bottle. “Well, apparently the shine wore off of me after only eight months.” The divorce had been quick and I had been alone now for just shy of two years.
“He was an idiot, Julie. His actions are no reflection on your worth.”
“Thanks.” I rose to my feet and the lightheaded feeling returned. I steadied myself by holding on to the wall until the world righted itself. “I had better go. It was nice seeing you again, Daniel.”
He jumped to his feet and touched my arm. Three years apart and I still got a thrill from being close to him, being the focus of his undivided attention. “Let me walk you to your car. You don’t look too steady. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m not sure of anything anymore.” I started to move away and he fell into step beside me. I tossed my water bottle into the recycling on the way out.
“I can relate. The world isn’t as simple as it was when we graduated college.”
I shook my head. “No. It’s not. Being an adult is not all we thought it would be.” We exited the building into the warm summer air and came to my car. I unlocked the door and turned to lean against it. I still felt dizzy but I wasn’t sure if it was from my workout, low blood-sugar or being close to Daniel again. He made me want . . I tried to shut away those thoughts. I closed that door years ago and had hurt him when I did.
“Julie.” He leaned against the car with his hip. “Do you think . . . would it be possible to . . .?”
“What, Daniel? Just ask.” I felt a faint hope rise within me.
“I know a lot has happened in three years, but I never stopped wondering if God would ever give us a do over. Could we try?”
“You want to date me?” It’s everything I would have dreamed of but seemed too far-fetched. I was damaged goods: the discarded, defective bride. “Why?”
“I’m no prize. The bigger question is why you would even consider seeing me again.” He sighed as he folded his arms across his broad chest and sweat soaked t-shirt. He turned with his back leaning against the car by my side. “You, however, still take my breath away. I never stopped loving you. Never stopped wishing things had ended differently between us.”
He stood up, turned towards me and dropped his hands. “Are you serious?”
“I’ve never played games with you, Daniel, and I’m not going to start now. Yes. I would love to go out with you.”
Daniel grinned and let out a “Whoop!” He clasped my arms and kissed me. On the lips.
I don’t remember his kisses ever affecting me like this one did. Heat spread though my body, all the way to my melting cross-trainers. When he pulled away I felt like a limp noodle, ready to collapse to the blacktop. My hand came up to touch my lips as I looked into his eyes. Deep mossy green. I tried to slow my breathing down. His breathing was ragged and his eyes intent up on me. He looked almost as surprised by that kiss as I was.
Neither of us spoke for several seconds.
“I should go home.”
“How about dinner? Tonight. We could meet somewhere. Or a movie?” His eyes were wide and he grinned. He looked as eager as a puppy dog waiting for a treat.
“Sure. That would be lovely.”
“I’ll make reservations at Giuseppe’s for six.”
I nodded and smiled at him. That had been our favorite restaurant when we were together. I never once went there with any other man but him. “Giuseppe’s it is then.” I leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “I’m thankful God brought you home.” I smiled as I turned to get in my car. He closed my door and went to stand at the curb as I pulled away. I could see him standing there as I drove out of the lot. Tall, handsome and a fantasy come to life. Tonight we would get our second chance at love.