Well, the first time I saw her was at the grocery store. And she was staring out the window. Which I wouldn't have minded, but she was blocking the bread.
I waited for a couple of minutes, hoping she'd take the hint, and finally spoke up.
"Hey, dreamy. Feel like moving long enough for me to grab a loaf?"
She blushed, and stammered an apology.
That girl had the most gorgeous blush you've ever seen.
And that was it, really. Nothing major. Only significant because of what happened two days later. When I knocked her over, in the middle of Main Street.
Or my grandpa's dog did, at least.
She hit the sidewalk face first, and shrieked. I tripped over her, and let go of the leash. And Rover ran for it.
I got to my feet.
"Is it your mission in life to get in my way?" I demanded.
I was planning to be really annoyed (after all, she had just made me faceplant onto concrete) but she blushed again. And there was no way to stay angry at that face, so I gave up and introduced myself.
"Hi. I'm Tara. Tara Maclay."
"Well, Maclay, feel like helping me catch a dog?"
It took us over an hour to catch Rover (Yeah, I know. Dumb name. My grandpa is not the height of originality.) by which time we were friends.
Which was weird, really, because we had almost nothing in common.
She liked art, and history, and reading. She hated sports. She was a cat person. And she still believed in fairies.
I couldn't get enough of her.
We spent the rest of the week hanging out as much as possible, and then I went home. To Connecticut.
I didn't know if I'd see her again, but the next summer, when Grandpa asked me to stay I said yes, and went with the firm resolve to track down the Blushing Beauty, and to kiss her.
Finding her took a few hours. Getting up the nerve to kiss her took the better part of a week. I'm mouthy, I'm not gutsy.
But finally I just gritted my teeth and went for it. And here's my first piece of advice: if you're planning on frenching someone, gritting your teeth is not the best way to start.
It was messy, and uncomfortable, and I pulled away and tried very hard to die of embarrassment, and I almost left right then, but she stopped me. And she smiled, and pulled me in for a second kiss.
That one was pretty good.
There was a hill, behind the elementary school. It was covered in aspens, or possibly beeches… I don't know trees. Whatever they were, they were pretty, and she liked to sit under them to watch the sunset.
On the Wednesday morning, she didn't meet me at the movie theater. I waited half an hour, and then I went looking for her. Sure enough, she was up on the hill.
She was shredding leaves, one by one, very methodically. She already had a pile of decimated pieces next to her.
I sat down beside her.
"You want to tell me about it? Or do you want to finish composting the shrubbery?"
"My mom's back in the hospital."
She never really talked about it much, but from what I'd picked up her mother had been in and out of the hospital for about five years.
"Oh. I'm sorry."
And there wasn't much more to say. So I sat there, and smoothed out my skirt, and picked at the grass, and generally had no idea what to do with my hands, and she suddenly turned and kissed me.
Maclay could kiss like nobody's business.
We had six weeks together.
We went on picnics, we window-shopped for funky jewellery, we made pancakes, we went swimming, and we played with Rover.
And on my last night we camped on the hill, and it was fumbly and awkward, but kind of perfect as well.
I went back to Grandpa's for every vacation for two years.
In between times, it was mostly letters.
The last time I visited, we went and saw Shakespeare In Love - which was kind of boring, really, but we liked the scenery.
"Want to go to England, Lissa?"
"Yeah. Now. We could stow away on a plane, and before they found us, we'd be in London."
"Fun plan, but I can see a few flaws. Like what we'd eat once we ran out of money."
"I'm sure we'd manage."
"We should go, though. Really. After college, we should take a trip around Europe."
"It sounds fun."
"Well, we'll do it."
"Okay. We will."
"I love you, Lissa."
"Love you too, Maclay."
I'd been accepted into Northwestern, and she was going to go to the local community college, but we knew we'd make it work. It's not like we were new to the whole long-distance thing.
Then, two days later - the day I got home to Connecticut - there was a letter waiting for me.
I have loved our last few years together. But I don't think…"
And that's how Maclay broke my heart.
Or tried to, at least. I knew that girl, in all her pancakey, fairyish, cat-loving glory. And I knew her family.
I rang Grandpa, and asked him to take his shotgun, march down to the Maclay's house, and rescue my lady from her father's clutches.
And it would have worked. If she'd been there. As it was, she'd left, with no indications of where she was going.
I spent two months hoping to find her. And then I met Laura. Who liked sports, and was not a cat person. So it kind of worked out. Not the way I'd planned, but it worked out.
And Maclay? Well, I guess you know most of what happened there. Thanks for writing and letting me know. It's wonderful being able to close my eyes and picture my girl at college, with friends, and family, and the kitten she'd always wanted. I just wish I could have been there with her. Thanks for being there instead.
Well, that's all I can tell you, really. I'm enclosing some photos of the two of us. I'm the short brunette, and she's the blonde who blushes every time she sees a camera.
Thanks for the picture you sent. The two of you look very happy - although I never pictured Maclay ending up with a redhead!
Sorry it's taken me so long to reply. Your letter had to be redirected - because I'm currently in Europe. Laura and I are visiting Paris. So you see, I did get that post-college trip after all. And it really is beautiful.
Could you do me a favor? Visit her grave. Take tulips. And tell her Lissa says hi.
I hope this helps fill in the gaps, and gives you the memories you were after.
And don't mourn forever. She'd want you happy.