As the weather continues to get warmer, I was inspired to write a short story for the Daily Post Writing Challenge based on a summer romance set in the late 1950’s in a small town in upstate New York which I have visited. It follows the summers of two people who are feeling lost in life and end up finding much more than they expected in this peaceful, picturesque town. One man rekindles love with an old flame from the past, and a young woman from California visiting the East Coast finds herself falling in love with the slow pace of life that is so different from which she is accustomed to. Enjoy!
Skaneateles, New York. July 10, 1958.
The air smelled of fresh seafood and all good things- and a warm breeze rustled the leaves of towering, green trees that cast soft shadows over the wide streets. James, with his hands in both his pockets, strolled down by the dock and took a seat by himself on a white bench in front of a swimming pond. A few families passed by him and he observed the happiness in their faces. The mothers and fathers looked relaxed, something James never experienced in the hustle and bustle of the city. They each held the hands of their two young children, who carried toys and wore giddy expressions on their faces after a fun-filled day at the lake. The sidewalks were full of people walking to and fro, but they were not busy. Not one of them seemed to be in a hurry. James, sitting in silent observation, noticed the lighting and temperature of this summer night beginning to change, and realized that time had somehow slipped away from him. How had he not given any thought to the time? He remembered he had an engagement to attend shortly, and as he rose in a hurried rush and walked at a fast pace down the street, he felt strangely out of place.
Anne’s floral skirt flowed in the light wind as she waited in excitement for her cousin Jo to collect her. She would be spending the summer back east, away from the familiarity of her small suburban home in Southern California. Thoughts of exciting new adventures and people filled her mind- she couldn’t wait to begin and see what the next few months would have in store for her. At seventeen years of age, Anne was getting ready to enter adulthood, and she saw this summer as the last one of her childhood years. She would soon have to do a lot of thinking and make decisions that could affect the rest of her life, but now was not the time for any of those thoughts to be in her head. They walked up the steps to her cousin’s home and the weight of the large, brown leather suitcases on her arm reminded her of all the things bothering her back home. Jo helped her take her bags down the hall and they landed with a thud on the wood floor in a white and pastel pink decorated guest room. Anne kicked off her nude pumps, smiled, and got to work. She had a lot of unpacking to do.
James checked the address once again that he had scribbled on the corner of a newspaper when he made his way up to Skaneateles from the city earlier that day. He passed one large home after the other, and he grew more impressed as he made his way down the quiet street. Who lived in these homes? For a minute it seemed as if he was the only person around for miles, but suddenly, he saw a large group of people in the distance- some wearing hats, others carrying parasols. He crumpled the paper and shoved it in his pocket for the time being. As he came upon the brick estate, he noticed how perfect it was, even up close. It was so different from the dirtiness and grime that coated the big city. Before he could think any more about the setting he was in, Robert, his old high school friend, opened the door in front of him. “James! I’m glad you made it! Follow me out to the lawn, everyone is going to be so thrilled to see you.” Robert and James were classmates, best friends, and in their post-college days, colleagues. They worked together in the city, but when Robert married, he and his wife started their own company just outside of this little, sleepy town. James had always meant to come visit, but something held him back, and he always found an excuse. He knew his old friend was doing well- rather- very well, and led very much a different lifestyle than James did. The crisp, green lawn contrasted with a sea of white tables and chairs, and people moved about chatting, laughing, and eating. Robert motioned him over to a group of men and women who James recognized to be his good high school friends as he approached.
Robert put his arms around two of his friends in the circle. “I have to say, it’s been a dream of mine to have our whole gang together again in my own front yard, enjoying the very best New York has to offer…”
A woman in a red blouse grabbed James’ arm, “I can’t believe you’re here!” The others patted him on the back in agreement. James took a few glances around the room and Robert made eye contact with him, “Rebecca said she would be here, James. But I haven’t seen her just yet. Don’t give up hope though!” He seemed distracted by something or someone in the distance. “I’ll be back in a little while but, please, help yourself to the hors d’oeuvres.”
Rebecca. The mention of her name caught James by surprise. Thinking about seeing his old girlfriend from college whom he hadn’t seen in years made him feel a number of emotions, but mostly nervous. She had moved to Skaneateles after college, and he remained in New York City. At the time, they both felt they needed to embark on different paths in their lives, but agreed to revisit their relationship when things settled down. They never did. But he had always felt deep down that somewhere, someday they would meet again and it would be as if nothing changed at all.
As he made small talk with some of the other guests, he felt a tug on the back of his jacket. Robert was holding the hand of someone behind him. “James… I think there’s someone here you’d like to see.” Rebecca stood there in a light blue shirt, white skirt, and kitten heels. She was tan, and her hair was as long and beautiful as he remembered it to be. They hugged, and as he pulled away he saw her eyes become teary for a few brief moments. “I’m just so glad that everyone is reunited”, she professed. She held onto James’ hand and squeezed it lightly, “I hope that you find you love Skaneateles as much as I do.” It was in this exact moment, leaning against a high-top table as the band started to play, James realized he had never really moved on.
Anne strolled along the streets of downtown with an ice cream cone in one hand and multiple bags in the other. While Jo was at work, she had spent the day shopping at all the small boutiques and gift shops, admiring every trinket and treat along the way. Everything was so simple here, she thought. No one seemed to be in a rush, and the shopkeepers met each customer with a genuine, endearing smile and sentiment. She gasped out loud in awe as she came upon a pretty, white gazebo situated on a small, green hill in a serene park. There were colorful flowers in hanging pots around the interior, and the bunting from the Fourth of July celebration from a few days beforehand was still hanging proudly. Anne walked up the steps and sat on the wooden bench inside, imagining the marriage proposals, first dates, and first kisses that have taken place inside. Although it was just a structure, Anne felt it provided her with a sense of peacefulness and calm that she had never felt before. Looking out onto the sparkling lake, she wondered how different her life would be if it was led here instead. She picked a flower from one of the pots and pinned it to her hair. She was startled as she heard a man’s voice behind her and the creaking of the wooden steps. “They’re pretty, aren’t they?” A tall, handsome man in a navy and white striped shirt stood in front of Anne, and his relaxed and friendly smile made her feel at ease, even though he was a stranger.
He reached out his hand for hers. “I’m Ben. I see you discovered our most prized possession here in town- the gazebo is our most central meeting spot. I don’t know what we’d do without it.” He laughed. She shook his hand and returned his friendly expression. “I’m Anne, by the way. And yes, it’s stunning. In fact, everything in Skaneateles is just blowing me away.” He sat down on the bench and motioned for her to do the same. “You aren’t from around here, are you?” She smoothed her skirt under her and sat close to him, but at a measurable distance. “No, I’m not. I’m visiting family here for the summer. I’m from California.” His eyebrows raised in interest. “Ah, a west coast girl, I see! I’m sorry if we have disappointed you in any way. Life is, I guess you could say..”, he paused, “slower here.”
She took the flower from her hair and held it in her hand, looking down at it as she responded, “I think that’s what I’ve always wanted.” Anne and Ben spent the remainder of the day out on the lake, enjoying the simple things that make life so wonderful.
James and Rebecca wandered over to a cherry tree where a green wicker swing was situated, and they both sat almost simultaneously. Rebecca sat up straight and turned to face James, “You know, I wasn’t sure if you were going to come today. I thought you might not want to see me.” James reached for her hand that was resting in her lap, “That isn’t true, not one bit… Becky, you know me better than anyone. I can’t live in the city anymore. I just can’t do it. I’m unhappy there.” She nodded, “That’s why I got out. Take a look around us. Don’t you see, James? This is what life is all about.” They took a walk down a path near the house, taking them to the shore of the lake, and they both stared out into the waters, hypnotized by its beauty, until the sound of a boat passing nearby caught their attention.
James put his arm around Rebecca as she nestled her head into his chest, and for a while, they did not say a word. Finally, after some time, he patted her leg and pointed to the water below their feet. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so crystal clear in my life. Is this place even real?”
Her eyes sparkled, feeling thankful to be able to call this place her home. Long gone were the days of living life as a chore, a struggle, a race. She sat there thinking for a moment about a very different kind of James she knew when they lived in the city; how he could never sit still for very long, how frazzled and panicked he was to meet deadlines, and the constant arguments they would find themselves in after a long day of stress. She glanced over and saw a pamphlet for real estate in the area tucked into his shirt pocket. He was no longer a man in a hurry.
She tilted her head up towards him and grinned. “Welcome to Skaneateles.”