By Laurel Osterkamp
It was the strangest coincidence.
First, a burnt-sienna colored Volkswagen Rabbit tore through Country Club Plaza. The exact same kind of car that she’d driven in high school sped recklessly and thank God, Anne was out of its way and on the sidewalk.
Then, another flash from the past. Anne smelled Jake before she saw him. How strange that after nearly twenty years he would have the same citrusy scent that he’d had, back when he’d begged her to stay and then broke her heart.
Whenever she thought about Jake (which was often) she couldn’t escape that last, horrendous memory of right before she left for college. He’d asked her to marry him, for God’s sake, and when he’d gotten down on one knee, she’d laughed because the whole idea was so ridiculous. Her bags were packed, her new Laura Ashley comforter for her dorm room bed was selected, and she’d enrolled in all her classes.
“Are you crazy? I can’t drop everything and marry you. That would be, like, a death sentence.” How his face had crumpled, but his tearful pleas quickly turned to angry insults.
“I’m glad I cheated on you with Shelly Walker,” he’d said. “She’s way better at sex than you, and you’re a ruthless, bitchy whore.”
His harsh words made her feel like one of those cartoon characters with her head bashed in; she saw stars, and the sting and pain nearly made her pass out.
Despite all that, over the years she found herself thinking of Jake, of their John Hughes movie marathons, or how he’d taught her to skateboard, his hand gently resting on the small of her back, guiding her as she balanced and glided down the suburban sidewalk. She thought of their first time together, and how she’d cried that she would always love him. She thought of how when he laughed, his left eyebrow rose slightly, and when he kissed her, he always closed his eyes before pursing his lips.
At the time, she didn’t know how special he was, but she also had no clue about Shelly. She certainly hadn’t realized that she’d never find another guy who smelled as good as Jake.
Anne had never quite figured it out, how it was always like he’d just eaten an orange. Was it his shampoo, or the fabric softener his mom used? Anne smelled it now. It was everything. It was his essence. Sharp yet subtle, with a quietly refreshing strength.
She was window shopping on the Kansas City Country Club Plaza, nicknamed the “City of Fountains”. It was still a cow town, but the expensive stores were the same here as they were anywhere. Right as that dark orange Volkswagen sped by, Anne saw that the Lululemon had in their new shipment of yoga pants.
Then, she felt a presence behind her, and her nostrils tingled with his familiar scent, sending her suddenly back to high school as if she’d never left. “Jake?” She said his name before turning around, completely confident that once she’d pivoted, his blue eyes would meet her browns.
“I thought that was you. How are you, Anne?”
There was no recrimination in his voice, no trace of the verbal assault he’d hurled the last time they’d spoken, so many years before. It was like they were two acquaintances chatting before a PTA meeting.
Not that Anne had kids. But did Jake? Had he married Shelly?
She tried to subtly glance at his ring finger, but his hands were in his pockets.
“I’m good.” She laughed though she found nothing funny, not really. She had been haunted by his ghost for years and now here he was, in the flesh. “It’s amazing to see you, Jake. It’s been so long.”
“Are you here visiting your mother?”
“Yeah. I would have let you know, but I don’t know how to contact you anymore. You’re not even on Facebook.”
Anne cringed, realizing that she just admitted to seeking him out, to thinking about him, to wanting to reconnect. Jake shrugged. “I’m not really into social media.”
He was balding and paunchy. She could still see the boy inside the middle-aged man, but neither were aging particularly well. And yet, he still smelled so good.
“Okay. Well, give me your number and I’ll text you. We could grab a drink. I’m in town for a few more days.” Anne held her breath, waiting for Jake to respond, and when he did, her exhale came slow and stilted.
“I can’t. Super busy this whole week. You know how it is.” He removed his ringless fingers from his pocket, clenched them into a fist, and gave her a playful punch in the shoulder. “Good seeing you though. Maybe next time you’re in town?”
He strolled away without asking for her number. Anne watched him go, and then, distracted, she stepped into the street, her eyes still on Jake’s receding form, her nostrils still clinging to his citrusy scent.
This time, when the Volkswagen came ripping around the bend, narrowly missing a fountain in the middle of an intersection, Anne was not safely on the sidewalk. Her last thought was that the car looked how Jake smelled, and how funny, that she could be hit so forcefully by two memories at once.
* * *
Laurel Osterkamp is from Minneapolis, where she teaches high school English and Creative Writing. She has self-published several novels and recently, her short fiction was featured in Tangled Locks Literary Journal and will also be published by Sledgehammer Lit in February. In August, her novel Favorite Daughters will be released by Black Rose Writing. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing through Lindenwood University. You can connect with her on her blog, LaurelLit.com – Writer, Reader, English Teacher or on Twitter – @laurellit1.