Anthony stood in the overgrown playground. The equipment was beginning to rust. But this was where he and Rhonda had said they'd meet thirteen months ago, if she still wanted to be with him. It was right across the street from the apartment they might have gotten if he hadn't fucked up. Anthony had done something terrible, but he loved her. And she'd been confused when he'd left her. It was understandable. He couldn't steal a man's credit card and expect his sweetheart to send him love letters every week. She hadn't written to him at all, actually, the whole time he'd been in the county jail. Or picked up the phone when he called.
Still, he held onto hope.
The tall, hard-muscled man strode through the tall weeds and gave the merry-go-round a shove. The resounding squeak was slow and loud. Rhonda knew he'd been released. The rest was up to her. Anthony fiddled with the necklace in his pocket. He didn't have much, but he'd managed to make her this. He took out the tiny glass bottle and held it up in the light. Inside was a small shard of wood. It was from the pier where he'd taken her on their first date, a boat ride on the lake. Their romance had been hot and heavy. They'd spent most of their time below deck, exploring all the different ways they could rock the boat.
He squeezed his large hand around the bottle. He wasn't sure what he was hoping it would prove. His love for her, the fact that he'd changed his ways...probably a combination of the two. Anthony glanced around the playground. There wasn't any sign of her. He decided to make another round and then call it quits. For all he knew, she'd moved on. His broad shoulders slumped. He barely knew who he was without her. He barely knew who he was with her, but at least she helped him see who he could be.
Suddenly, as he was about to give up, he caught sight of something attached to the top of the slide that hadn't been there before. As he realized what it was, his mouth lifted up in a grin. It was a yellow ribbon. And below it stood Rhonda, just as he remembered her, slender arms crossed over her chest, blue eyes sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight. He couldn't read her expression, but she'd come and that had to mean something. He approached her slowly, unsure of how to proceed.
"Hey, Rho," he greeted in his deep voice, hands shoved in his pockets, still fidgeting with the gift he had for her.
She looked him up and down, trying to decide--he assumed--if the man standing before her was still worthwhile. Finally, the smallest of smiles touched her lips, and her defensive stance relaxed.
"I made you this."
He held out the necklace to her, and she took it, examining it. Anthony muttered his explanation, feeling suddenly stupid. It wasn't enough.
"I stopped to see the boats before I came here. Thought it might help you remember...you know...what we had."
"I didn't forget."
"I still love you."
Rhonda stared at Anthony for a long time. Anthony looked back at her, admiring the way her jeans hugged her lower half and the way her tank top revealed the generous cleavage he'd fervently fantasized about on his loneliest nights. His admiration didn't go unnoticed, and he could feel his face grow hot. He was supposed to be impressing her, and here he was objectifying her. She just shook her head and sighed. To his surprise, she smiled.
"Do you want to come up? I was thinking of making dinner. I'm sure you haven't had a good meal in a while."
Relief and elation struck Anthony harder than he could have anticipated.
"I'm just over there."
She pointed across the street, at a familiar building visible above the vine-infested fence. Anthony was surprised. Instantly he knew it was the apartment they'd planned on living in together.
"You bought it?"
"I'm renting to own." Rhonda stepped forward and touched a hand to Anthony's chest. It was the most female contact he'd had in a year, and the simple gesture had him ready to melt at her feet. "I still love you, too. I never stopped. You'd just better never do anything that stupid again. Times are hard. Don't make them harder."
"I won't. I'm sorry."
Rhonda nodded her acceptance, then trailed her fingertips down the length of his arm, making his skin tingle. Anthony hadn't felt so much in a very long time. It would take time for them to get back to the way things were, but she was willing and he was willing, and that was all he needed to know. Rhonda intertwined her fingers with his and pulled him towards the gap in the fence. Anthony grabbed the yellow ribbon from the top of the slide as they went. The splinter would remind Rhonda of his love, and this classic gesture would remind him of hers.
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