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  • "I haven't seen you in ages...Sometimes I find myself wondering where you are...for me you'll always be 18, and beautiful, and dancing away with my heart."

    I've sung it with our little cover band all weekend through the Strawberry Festival, but tonight, he walks into the tent just as I'm finishing the first chorus and I can't help but laugh a little. He would show up after 8 years in the middle of me singing a song that tells our story--well, almost story--perfectly.

    I get through the song, catching his eye during the second chorus and grinning like a school girl as he winks back at me. At his side is an adorable, golden-haired lanky girl singing along and completely oblivious to what's being spoken in the air between us. Behind her stands my husband, leaning against a tent pole and grinning out the side of his mouth, surprised to actually be enjoying country music. Might have to do with the brunette in the red sundress and cowboy boots at the mic.

    The song is near the end of our set and when it's over, I clamor down the stairs toward the back. He makes his way to me with the lanky girl tagging along right in step. Any hesitation dissolves as I call out a "hey, stranger" with my arms outstretched for the famous all-consuming hugs he used to give me all the time. His arms lift me off the ground as he breathes me in and says "man, it's good to see you." Back on earth, I smile up at him and quickly offer a hand to the lanky girl. "Nice to meet you," she says genuinely. She really is oblivious. But my guy isn't. Since my one-time crush stands head and shoulders above just about everyone else in the tent, I know he saw my head pop up from the crowd in the arms of another man.

    "Who's this?" he asks patiently.

    "This is Austin. He and I were...friends?"

    Austin hangs his head and shrugs his shoulders. "Yeah, let's go with that."

    "We were friends the summer before I left for Oklahoma."

    "Nice to meet you, buddy." I beam at the sweet southern charm I've taught my brusque New Yorker. Austin returns it.

    "Hey, when are you done here? We should go grab a bite to eat and catch up."

    I'm surprised, but I suppose 8 years is plenty of time to forget.

    We four sit at the pizza parlor chatting easily over fries and milkshakes. The conversation turns to the evening and Lanky Girl gushes about how much I sound like Hilary Scott. I deflect the compliment by telling her "Dancing Away with My Heart" is my favorite song to sing.

    Austin responds unexpectedly. "Is it because that song is kind of our story?"

    I'm wide-eyed. Husband gives me a curious glance. Lanky Girl jumps at the bait.

    "Is it really?! How did you two meet?"

    I check in with Husband once more as he chomps a few fries down with a nod. So I begin.

    "A friend of mine--ours--was moving into a condo by the beach. A bunch of us had helped him and were hanging out after. Austin came in from the Naval Academy for spring break and stopped by the condo to surprise his friends. We were just sitting around watching TV and when he came into the house, it was pandemonium. Everyone was like 'Hey, it's Austin!' And I was sitting there in the floor going, 'Heeey...it's Austin.' I was dumbstruck.

    "You were? Man, I was oblivious," Austin says, blushing ever-so-slightly.

    "I was. You came in talking about flying jets for America and winning football championships and how much you'd missed your mama. Please. You were every southern girl's dream come true."

    "Hey now!" my husband jokes. He's being much more good-natured about this than I'd imagined. Lanky Girl briefly rests her head on Austin's shoulder. She knows exactly what I mean.

    "So what happened?"

    "We hung out with friends a few times while he was home, and he went back to school. But then he messaged me over, omigod, was that MySpace? Wow. We struck up a conversation and chatted for weeks. My roommate could always tell when it was him because I never stopped smiling. And then he came home for the summer. Well, half the summer."

    "Did you get together then?"

    Austin stares into his milkshake as if it's a black hole he could jump through to escape the answer. I suppose responding with dignity is my way of letting him suffer a little.

    "No, not really. We talked about it. Had a few pseudo-dates with friends. Took lots of walks on beaches and sat in many a lifeguard stand, but never once held hands or kissed or called each other pet names. He knew he wasn't in town long and that I'd be leaving for college soon, so we just kept it sweet and didn't get in too deep. It was destined to end before it began, I suppose."

    "Aww. Were you sad when he left?"

    "No, not right away. The tears came later."

    Austin looks up from his milkshake, unnerved by the confession.

    "The last time we talked," I continue, "we were supposed to keep in touch while he coached football camp a state away, and then end our summer together here."

    "That didn't happen?"

    "No, it didn't. I waited for a while, thinking he was busy running the camp and would call me when he got home. But he never did."

    Silence hangs over the table like it does at a funeral. The six eyes around me study the red plastic table. So I keep going, staring at Austin until he gathers the courage to look at me.

    "I like to think he let me go for my own good, that he knew when I went off to college that things would change. He knew long distance relationships are hard and he didn't want us to end up with broken hearts. It's a good thing he did because I met this guy the first day I got to campus."

    I lean into Husband's arm and give his thigh a squeeze. He raises my hand to his lips and kisses it.

    Austin finally speaks.

    "If I hurt you, I'm sorry. I never meant to."

    "No one ever does." I smile to let him know it's alright, but he's shredded up inside and turns his face away.

    "It's my fault, really. I let you in too soon."

    Lanky Girl finally senses the heaviness.

    "How did you get over it?"

    "I stopped listening to Gary Allan."

    Austin's eyes pop up again, looking into mine and begging for mercy. Every word is a razor. But he's suffered enough. I willingly offer reprieve.

    "I'm more a Billy Currington girl anyway."

    I sip my milkshake casually before changing the subject. "So tell me how you guys met."

    Lanky Girl sets off with a story about a beach volleyball match and a friend of a friend...

    Austin lets out the breath he's been holding and smiles at me. I know the same Gary Allan lyrics are ringing through our heads:

    "When I look back, I'm glad we found each other
    With no regrets along the way
    And what was like an endless summer
    It's just yesterday
    We touched the sun..."
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