The first time I saw him my stomach did a flip and my skin burned. My jaw hung slack and I momentarily forgot how to blink. He walked up to my best friend, Denise, and started chatting. He had a mop of curly black hair and his nose was much too big to be considered traditionally handsome, but there was something about him. His smile maybe. Or his huge hazel eyes. Maybe it was just his aura.
People liked him. From old ladies who found him charming, the blokes he teased and had easy conversation with, the women who hung on his every word, to me. A 15-year-old, shy, nerdy girl who’d never had a boyfriend and who had never really wanted one. Up until that point of course.
He turned to me, an easy smile, spread wide across his face. I swallowed hard.
“Sorry?” I said, realising they’d spoken. It was difficult to hear from all the way up on cloud 9.
“Cathy, this is a family friend. His name’s Andy,” Denise introduced us.
And that is how the name Andy came to be scrawled on every pencil case, notebook and locker from there on in.
Sadly, for me, he was 22 and had some sort of moral code that wouldn’t allow him to date someone as young as me. I hated him for it then, but later, I was glad he made me wait. It didn’t stop him from flirting with me though. He was terrible. Any chance he got to make me blush, he would.
Despite being painfully shy and fighting to string two words together when he was near, we became firm friends. One day about a year into our friendship, we were sharing a joke and he pulled out a notebook he’d bought. He gave it to me and told me it reminded him of me.
On the cover was a big pink heart and the words ‘One True Love.’ I told you he was a terrible flirt and I was well aware he was just playing with me again. But it didn’t worry me. The boy I loved had given me a present. I would cherish it forever.
We started talking about all the girlfriends who had come and gone from his life in the last year and he said, “You know what we should do? We should make a pact. If we aren’t both married by the time we’re 40, we’ll marry each other.”
Now everything inside my now 16-year-old body was screaming, YES! Let’s get married. I’ll marry you now. Let’s elope. But the single tiny particle of coolness I possessed thankfully overpowered the rest and I said, “Forty seems awfully young. How about 50?”
“Agreed.” He nodded his head. “Let’s get it in writing.”
So, we sat there, and I wrote in my new notebook. ‘I Cathy Harper solemnly swear to marry Andrew Smith if I am still single when he is 50.’ Then I signed it. He did the same and gave me a peck on the cheek. The same cheek I almost refused to wash until I was 50, until I could ensure him replacing it with more kisses just like it.
Our friendship continued through the years but there were times we would go months and even years without speaking. But when we did speak, we always picked up exactly where we left off and I reverted back to that silly, giggling, awkward 15-year-old and he the eternal tease.
One day he called me. I had just separated from my husband of 14 years. Now when I say just, I mean just, as in the week before. Andy didn’t know that because we hadn’t spoken for about 6 months at that point. He was ringing to tell me his wife had just left him for his best friend.
Together we got through our divorces supporting each other and we grew closer. He had small children and so did I. It made sense that we did everything together. He couldn’t take his girls into public bathrooms and I couldn’t take my boys in either. So, we became a team. A family unit almost. We spent every day and most nights together, but still only as friends.
Then one day I was telling him about a cruise my friends and I were going on. By a total twist of fate, one of my friends had a last-minute emergency and couldn’t make it onto the cruise. She asked if I knew anyone who would want the ticket. Of course, Andy snapped it up and I was thinking, ‘Fine if you have to.’ Okay, we all know that’s not true. I think the chorus line from The Muppets came and tap danced and backflipped their way through my heart.
While I was packing and he sat on my bed watching me obsess over dresses and matching shoes and bathing suits that didn’t reveal too much, I came across our notebook in the bottom of a drawer. I pulled it out.
“Remember this?” I threw it at him.
He opened it, read our teenage words and laughed. “Maybe we should move the date forward.”
“Not on your life. If you want this, you better hope you live to see 50.” I snatched the book away and placed it back in the drawer. At this point, I was 33 and he was 40.
The day of the cruise came and we stood at the entrance of the ship when Andy turned to me and took my hands in his. His cheeky, teasing face grew serious and every nerve ending within me stood on edge.
“When we get on the cruise, do you want to pretend we’re married?” he said. His face remained dead serious.
“I can do better,” I joked to lighten the mood.
But he wasn’t letting me walk away this time. “You’ve heard of married couples having trial separations. Well, we are two singles having a trial marriage.”
We moved aside so others boarding the ship could get past. “Are you kidding?” I pulled my hands from his.
“No. If it goes well, maybe we could try dating when we get off. And maybe one day, we can make the marriage real.”
Had I accidentally dropped into a Hallmark movie? This was a dream come true. I had loved this boy from the moment I’d set eyes on him. So I agreed and he reached out and held my hand. We walked as husband and wife onto the ship.
It was a fantasy vacation. On our last night, we sat up into the early hours of the morning, with no one else around, in a tiny bar with a grand piano that overlooked the ocean and made plans for our life back home. A life we would be embarking on together.