Title: Liz & Nick: Echoes of the Heart
Author: Jean C. Joachim
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Called “the Odd Couple” in high school, brainy Liz and athletic Nick hit it off. From tutor and pupil to lovers, they formed a tight bond –until college. Heading off in different directions, they agreed to cut their ties with no regrets. That was the last time they saw each other.
Haunted by feelings of inferiority, the former lovers never pursued each other after college. Unable to find a man who evoked the same strong emotions she had experienced with Nick, Liz settled for dating a “ho-hum” guy. Searching, in vain, for a woman as smart at Lizzie who could love a jock, Nick never married.
Would a surprise meeting, ten years later, give them a second chance or was it too late?
That was her favorite thing, when he drew her close. It was like he threw a protective cape, blanket, or shield around her. She couldn’t fathom why that was important. Lizzie had nothing to be afraid of, except two annoying bullies at school. Still, when she was under Nick’s wing, all was right with the world, and she wasn’t an odd duck who didn’t fit in, awkward, and uncomfortable.
She snaked her arm around his waist.
“You did it,” he said.
“College. You got me into college.”
“No, I didn’t. You did it yourself.”
“If I couldn’t pass English with a decent grade, I never would have gotten into Nebraska.”
“It’s true,” he said, facing her. “Why don’t you just accept it and say thank you.”
“Thank you. Happy?” she quirked an eyebrow.
He hugged her and kissed her head. “You’re cute, for a squirt.”
“You keep saying that. I’m not a squirt.” She dropped her gaze to her hands.
“You’re not a two-hundred-pound linebacker, either.” He slid his arm around her shoulders.
“You wouldn’t love me if I was. You’ll find a new girl at school.”
“Hey, hey. We weren’t going to talk about that tonight, remember.” He tipped her chin up with his forefinger.
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” Her gaze connected with his.
She couldn’t help but talk about it. For two weeks, she’d been suppressing thoughts about his leaving for Nebraska the day after prom. He had to be there early for football training. Until he got the letter, they had thought they’d have all summer to hang out and say goodbye.
She took a deep shuddering breath.
“You’re gonna be around all those brains. Those Yale guys. All wanting to get laid.”
“Hey, now you’re doing it.”
“I know. It’s just that I’ve been thinking about it all week. It sucks.”
“I get why you can’t come to Nebraska with me. Sort of.”
“We’ve been over this,” she said.
“I know, I know.”
“Graduating from Yale is as big a deal in the writing world as you graduating from Nebraska is in pro football. You’ll be playing with the best of the best. And I’ll be competing with the best of the best.”
“I get it. Don’t have to like it though.”
“Besides, our parents would kill us.”
“We’re eighteen. We can do what we want.”
“My parents would never pay the tuition at Nebraska.”
“If we got married, maybe you could get a scholarship, too,” he said.
“Nick. I love you. I’d marry you in a heartbeat. But I don’t want to go to Nebraska. All my life I’ve been working my butt off to get into Yale. And I made it.”
“It’s great. I know. But, well,” he sighed, then shrugged, “You know.”
“Yeah. I know.”
They clung together, sharing body heat and moonlight until almost daybreak.
* * * *
At noon, his parents loaded up the family car. Lizzie cried and hugged Nick goodbye.
“See you at Thanksgiving,” he said.
“Right. Remember what we agreed?”
“We’re free to date anyone we want. We’re officially broken up. It’s over for four years, or at least the first summer break.”
“I just added that.”
She gave him a playful slap. “We agreed we’d have no ties on each other when we left for college. And no regrets, right?”
“Right. No regrets. Free to date. No regrets,” he repeated. His eyes watered. “Damn it, Wenner. Now you made me cry. Defensemen don’t cry.”
She hugged him. “No one can see.”
“I don’t want to let you go,” he whispered.
“Neither do I. This is so hard,” she said, fighting tears.
After another minute, Nick’s father tapped him on the shoulder. Nick got in the vehicle, closed the door, and turned to watch Lizzie out the back window. She cried until she couldn’t see him anymore.
“No regrets,” she muttered, ignoring the pain in her heart. Thanksgiving might as well be light years away.
But it wasn’t to be. Lizzie’s parents sold their house to pay her tuition and moved to an apartment in New Hampshire before Thanksgiving.
Lizzie and Nick never saw each other again.
Ten years later. Java the Hut Coffee Shop, New Haven, Ct
Friday afternoon at two, Dr. Elizabeth Wenner plopped down in the only empty booth. She took off her sunglasses, rubbed her temples, then plucked a folder out of her briefcase. Unlike most professors who hung out at the café grading student papers, Lizzie pulled out a book proposal she’d been writing.
As an assistant professor of American Literature at Yale University, Dr. Wenner spent hour after hour meeting with students in her office. From the exhilaration of working with gifted students to the frustration of working with the lazy ones, Liz devoted a ton of after-class time to teaching. Today, she’d escaped early to grab a couple of hours for herself.
She slapped a paperback on how to write a book proposal on the small table and paged through to where she had left off. As she read, she stopped from time-to-time to sip her coffee and make notes. Liz twirled a hank of her short, dark hair while she read over the marketing section for the third time.
“Lizzie? Lizzie Wenner?”
The deep, masculine voice repeating her name cut through her concentration. She raised her gaze to meet pale blue eyes in a familiar face.