An Old Story

It’s really very badly written, but I ran across this short story I wrote when I was 14 and laughed remembering writing it. I always used to fantasize about something like this happening (if I said what “it” was it would destroy the cliffhanger of the story!). The part about the groceries is hilarious…Here it is for you to read if you care to.

Time froze. I looked at Alicia with disbelief. How could this be happening to me? She gave me one last piercing look and, with tears in her eyes, turned away slowly and walked off into the dusky winter night. I felt as if a knife had pierced my soul. I stood on the snow-dusted sidewalk in front of my apartment, a young man watching his lover walk away – and ran our conversation through my head. I knew then that she would never come back; she was gone forever. But how could she have concealed this from me for so long? That last look in her deep blue eyes haunted me for years.

I first met Alicia in first grade. We both went to the same school until seventh grade where we went our separate ways to different junior highs. I didn’t see her again until after we had both graduated high school. I was 19 and had just moved into an apartment of my own and she had just moved in with a friend in a town about a half an hour from my apartment. We met up again at a mutual friend’s New Year’s party. I knew from then on that we would be more than childhood friends. We hung out a lot that year and started dating in the summer.

That was almost two years ago now, and I thought we were ready to move on. We were both 21 and independent and we could find a place and start a life together without too much difficulty. But my plans were put on hold when, as I proposed to her at our favorite little Italian restaurant, her eyes filled with tears and she said, “I’m not ready to tell you, why did you have to make it so hard?” I didn’t understand. What was wrong? I thought we had a mutual feeling that we were right for each other. She soon calmed down and told me that she would have to think about it and would let me know the next time she saw me.

It was Tuesday night, three days after my proposal, when we saw each other again. She knew that I stopped to pick up my weekly groceries on Tuesday after work and had driven there and waited for me. It was only a mile from my house and we agreed to walk back and talk on the way. It was Christmastime and as we walked through the heart of the city we could hear distant carolers singing with light hearts and joyful shoppers laughing merrily as they walked through the quaint town shops.

We did not share their joy; a foreboding had set over both of us as to what was going to happen next. We walked past rows of houses decorated in festive Christmas lights for a while and soon stopped in front of a particularly extravagant one to admire its ornate display. “I suppose we should come right out to the point,” Alicia said with a catch in her voice. I nodded, too wary of saying the wrong thing to speak. She dug her toe into the dirty snow at her feet and then looked up at the house as she spoke. “Do you know what I do?” she asked.

I was startled at the question and replied, “of course! You’re a hair stylist at that place by your house.”

“Have you ever seen me working there?”

“Well…no. It seems we always met at my work or somewhere in between.” Now that I said it, it did seem a little odd. That had never even occurred to me before.

Alicia nodded as if she knew and seemed to change the subject. “You remember how at that first New Year’s party where we met and how I all of the sudden saw something and rushed off without explaining?”

I nodded. I remembered the day clearly. We had been introduced and started up a conversation when Alicia abruptly looked over my shoulder and excused herself and never returned. We had already exchanged contact information and when I called her the next day and asked her what happened she brushed it off and I never did get an explanation. I was brought back to the present by Alicia’s melodic voice continuing to sing.

“I was on an assignment that night. I went to Rian’s New Year’s party to search for the man, knowing that he would be there; I didn’t expect to meet you.” She paused but not long enough for me to ask questions. “I caught him after a rigid car-chase. He was a marijuana dealer and was put in prison for life.” She paused again and took a deep breath, finally turning and looking me in the eye. “I was assigned to him by the CIA.

I caught my breath. My girlfriend was a secret agent? “Ok, you are totally joking with me,” I said. But looking into those deep eyes I could sense that she was telling the truth.

“Not at all,” she said, staring back at me. “I was employed right out of high school because my math and science SAT scores were in the top 10% in the country.”

I turned and started walking down the decaying sidewalk, trying to think of what to say. She caught up with me.
“I didn’t want to tell you. But-,” her voice broke as she spoke and I stopped and looked at her. She was fighting tears as she said, “I-I couldn’t live a kind of life where I had to keep so much hidden from the person I love the most.” Her flushed face turned up towards me.

“I do love you. But if I married you, my whole life would be a lie. I had to tell you that I worked somewhere to explain me having no problem paying rent- or anything else. But I’ve told you now; and-“she paused. “You know it all. I’ve only ever had this job, and I can’t leave it. You’re the only one I’ve told, and you must forget that I ever told you.” Her voice broke again as she spoke those chilling words, ”I can’t marry you. I’ve already committed a great crime in my profession by even telling you about it; I could be shot.”

The tears started streaming now. I stood with my cheeks wet with drops of mixed anger and sadness. Looking at me was the woman I loved the most in the entire world, a woman I knew I would never see again.

“Promise me this,” she said. I nodded slowly. “That you will remember that I will always love you- and I told you my secret because I love you and don’t want to hurt you. I know that you don’t like my Christian beliefs, but please do this for me. Would you look up the meaning of your name?”

I didn’t answer her question. I only asked a bitter one, “Were all your beliefs a lie too? What else wasn’t true? How can I believe anything now?” I didn’t want to injure this sweet girl, but I felt hurt that she had kept this from me for so long.
“You know you didn’t mean that,” she retorted. “I know I should have never taken the relationship so far.” We continued to walk, each pondering our own thoughts until we had come to my apartment complex.

“Please look up your name, if that is the last thing you ever do for me. You know that we will never see each other again,” she began to cry again and looked at me for the last time. “I do love you. Never forget that. God loves you to. Goodbye, my darling.” And she was gone.

I wasn’t going to look up my name; it seemed so silly. But my nagging love for her overpowered the aching emotions and I pulled out an old baby names book from a dusty shelf of books I rarely touched. I went to the boy’s “I” section and found my name. It told me everything. I had never cared what my name meant, but now it hit me hard. The entry read, “The Lord listens.” I began to cry.

Mother,
I’m telling you all this to know that because of your and Alicia’s prayers and the profound three words that touched my heart, I came to know the true God of the universe that night, December 22, 1996 – and I will never be the same.
I’m sorry I never listened to your beliefs, but I want you to tell me more. I found the old Bible you gave me and have been reading it. Thank you so much for naming me what you did. I know now that I will see Alicia one day in heaven.

God bless,
Ishmael

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