A Wicked Smile and Laughing Green Eyes

The old woman sat on the porch and watched her eighteen-year old great grand daughter, Jessica, spread the sunset colors across the canvas placed before her. Although she was very weary, Michele Crane could not help but look at Jessica with pride and love. Goddess, she’s so like Peter was at that age. A wicked smile and laughing green eyes, she thought with a sigh.

Jessica raised her face to look at her Granna Michele. “What is it?” the teenager asked softly, when she saw the far away look in the old woman’s eyes. The teenager carefully laid down her brush, and moved to her Granna’s side and with the same delicate touch that she used with her paint brushes she pulled the thick blanket over the old woman’s emaciated frame.

“You are so like him!” the woman whispered wistfully.

“Like who?”

“Like your grandfather. You have the same devil may care gleam in your eyes.”

“You loved him a lot didn’t you, Granna?”

Michele laughed sadly. Her laughter crackled, like dry leaves being crushed underfoot. “He was my soulmate. My true other half. Without him I am not whole, child!”

Jessica curled up in the chair next to her grandmother. The teenager loved to hear Granna talk about her Poppa. Jessica was only eight when he had died, but he lived on in the wonderful stories that her grandmother told. “How did you meet him?” she asked with a smile. She knew her words would coax her grandmother into beginning a story that she loved to hear.

“Surely you do not wish to hear -”

“Please…” pleaded Jessica.

Michele Crane laughed. How could she resist when the child looked at her with the same eyes; eyes that belonged to a man she had never been able to resist.

“I was fifteen and a half, the summer that I first met Peter…”

It was 1984, the Christmas break had just begun, and the days were warm, long, and boring! Michele had begun to think that this holiday was going to be just like every other, until the telephone rang. Her mother answered.

It was Bev from the dairy farm over the hill. She had just finished milking, and was ringing to let Michele’s mother know that they had some milk leftover did she want some?

Michele couldn’t help but think that something else was going on. Her mother kept looking at her as she talked to Bev, and a smile that could only be described as mischievous kept appearing on her face. “Yeah! She probably would. They sound nice. Okay, I’ll see if she wants to come!”

She hung up. With the same silly smile on her face she asked, “Are you coming with me?”

Michele raised a suspicious eyebrow at her mother’s question, but nodded anyway. After eavesdropping on the conversation, there was no way she was staying at home. Her mother’s cryptic responses had the teenager dying to know what mischief Bev and her mother were concocting.

Her mother trotted off to tell Michele’s father where they were going. She must have also told him what she was up to because he had muttered angrily, “She’s not old enough for that kind of nonsense. She can stay here!”

Well this was one of those few occasions that Michele’s mother went against the wishes of her father. “It’s only harmless fun. She’s coming!” With a final frown for her husband, she grabbed the car keys and guided Michele out through the back door.

When they drove out the front gate Michele asked the question she had been dying to ask. “Okay, so what’s going on? Why did you want me to come?”

Her mother smiled, and replied in a casual voice, “Bev has guests. Two young boys from Victoria have come up to stay with her for the school holidays. Bev thought that you might like to show them around.”

“You’re kidding!” Michele cried frantically, “You mean to say that you are letting her set me up with total strangers!”

A heated, angry blush stained the young girls cheeks. How could she do such a thing? Michele couldn’t believe that her own mother had proven that she too, was capable of inflicting excruciating embarrassment on her teenage daughter. “Stop the car, mum!” Michele demanded. “Please! Just let me out. I don’t want to do this!”

But that was the one thing that her mother would not do. Within a handful of minutes their old ute pulled up in front of Bev’s farmhouse. “I’m staying in the car!” Michele hissed furiously, but her mother was not having any of it.

“Out!” she ordered with a smile on her face. “You can’t spend all of your days hiding in your bedroom because you are too scared to face life! Come on Michele! They’re just boys!”

So with her hands scrunched in her pockets to hide their shaking, Michele reluctantly trudged along behind her mother into a house that was always filled with laughter. Bev and her `guests’ were seated around the kitchen table playing poker with matchsticks instead of money. Michele prayed for the ground to open and swallow her when all conversation stopped and she became the focus of every pair of eyes in the room.

The teenager was so painfully embarrassed and shy, but she managed to choke out a strangled hello to Peter and Simon, Bev’s guests. The funny thing was, when she returned home she could not recall if any conversation had taken place. All she could think of was how cute Peter was.

Fate works in mysterious ways and the same can be said for attraction. Peter was not Michele’s type at all. She was like every other teenage girl of her day, after a tall, blue-eyed blond boyfriend with a nice body. Peter was none of those things. He was only Michele’s height, with brown hair, green eyes and carrying about 15 pounds too many in extra weight, but Michele was hooked. She thought he was gorgeous, and it soon became apparent, much to her father’s disgust that Peter felt the same way about her.

For the next few weeks they were inseparable. That is, when they were allowed to see each other. Michele’s father was determined to keep them apart.

One day she and Peter went swimming in the dam with both of her brothers as chaperones. To Michele’s embarrassment, her overprotective father had remained at the top of the hill watching everybody’s antics through his binoculars. He was not going to trust some hormone-run teenage boy with his fifteen-year-old daughter’s virtue.

When it was time for Peter to return home for Christmas, they made a solemn vow to write to each other every week. Needless to say Michele’s father was very relieved when Peter finally left.

For Michele, life went on. Six months later, her parents moved the girl and her brothers to Sydney, and although she and Peter still managed to stay in touch, they both had, and did, lead very different lives. Michele went on to discover that other boys existed, which only gave her father even more gray hairs, and Peter met Sara, the woman who would one day become his first wife.

Michele would sit for hours and reread the words of Peter’s letters. He told her in one, that one day they would be together. He did not know how or why, but one day it would be so. The girl had treasured that dream. Then a different letter came. He had met someone, and to rub salt into the wounds he said that she reminded him of Michele.

It was only later that she realised how selfish she was being. For Michele there had been a string of boyfriends, but nothing serious, whereas Peter had found someone. It was only fair and right to let them be. She stopped writing to him after that. She did not think it was fair that Sara had to compete with a memory. Michele was eighteen and Peter nearly twenty-one. Her dreams of a shared future were shattered.

A couple of years later Michele’s mother told her that Peter and Sara were engaged. It hurt, but it made the young woman realize that it was finally time to let go of his memory and get on with her life.

For the next three years, she involved herself in several truly destructive relationships. The last one had both of her parents frantic with worry. They did not like him at all, and their relief was obvious when Michele finally realised that he was an alcoholic and ended the relationship. The young woman now hated men with a passion. She wanted nothing to do with any of them, or so she thought.

About two months after Michele had moved into her lonely little flat in Cronulla, her mother called. “You will never believe who I just got a phone call from!” she had declared. “Do you remember Peter?”

“What did he want?” Michele asked is stunned amazement whilst her stomach did flip-flops.

Her mother went on to explain that there was no work back home in Heathcote, and that he had come to Sydney to work for a friend of his fathers. Michele’s mouth went dry, and her heart had skipped several beats by the time her mother got around to asking if Michele wanted to see him. “Of course!” she cried. “Why didn’t you just give him my phone number in the first place?”

Her mother went silent on the other end of the phone line. When she spoke again, her words were filled with a subtle warning. “He is married you know…”

Of course Michele knew. It had been the one piece of news that had closed that chapter of her life, with a heartbreaking finality. Michele did not need her mother’s stern warning as a reminder. “I know, Mum!” she whispered forlornly as she hung up the phone.

Peter rang the next night. After a brief but happy conversation, they made arrangements for him to come around to her place that weekend after he finished work. By Saturday morning Michele’s stomach was tied in knots, and she felt physically ill. This feeling only increased when she saw him. He was gorgeous. Over the years the extra weight had melted from his broad-shouldered frame. He was now well muscled with a wicked smile and a wedding ring on his finger. But from the moment she laid eyes on him, she was lost. So was he.

They spent hours that night sitting on the beach talking. They talked about their lives, about their relationships, and eventually about the bond of love that still held them in its grasp. Their affair began that very same evening.

During his stay in Sydney Michele’s mother and father invited Peter home for a BBQ. When her father met Peter again, Michele nearly choked at his reaction. Her stern, overbearing father took her to one side and declared that he really liked Peter. “It such a pity that he’s already married!” he said, giving Michele a commiserating pat on the cheek. “You and Peter seem so right for each other!”

It was not long after, that the truth of their relationship came out. Again Michele’s father surprised her. Yes, he was angry that Peter was married, but he could see the love that was between them. He would hold his peace, and grant the pair time to sort out their tangled relationship.

Like their first parting, Peter left Michele just before Christmas, but this time he was going home to a wife. He did not wish to leave Michele’s side ever again, but he had made a sacred vow in front of his God to remain faithful to his wife. He had no idea of what he was going to do, or if he would be coming back to Sydney. As far as Michele knew she would probably never see him again, and she was devastated.

She loved him, and she hated him. She also hated and despised herself for getting involved with a married man. But most of all she hated poor innocent Sara. The woman was married to the man that Michele was destined to be with.

When Peter went back home he had every intention of making the marriage work. At first he kept quite about his affair and tried to rekindle the feeling that he had had for Sara. It did not work. He was haunted by the passion that he felt for Michele.

Guilt finally forced him to come clean with his wife, and Sara was destroyed by his confession. Of course she had known about Michele, but when the letters had stopped she had hoped that it was over. The peace of their small house was shattered by one argument after the next, until an ultimatum was made. Peter vowed that he would never see or speak of Michele again, if Sara would leave Heathcote. There was no work there and he had a great job waiting for him in Sydney. They were barely breaking even in the small town where everybody knew everything.

However, Sara wanted nothing to do with the idea. There was no way she was going to leave home, family and friends, to move. Especially not to the same city that Peter’s lover lived in. So the relationship came to an impasse. Frustrated and angry, both decided that it was best if their marriage ended.

It was New Years Eve when Peter rang Michele to tell her that he was coming back. He arrived a week later with nothing but his clothes and his car. That day was nearly sixty-three years ago. During that time they had raised two beautiful children, and watched four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren be brought into the world. Their life was full of love and laughter until Peter’s death ten years ago.

“Now I still do not approve of the fact that I was `the other woman’,” Michele declared. “Or that I was responsible for the ending of a marriage, but fate works in mysterious ways, Jessica. I truly believe that Peter and I were destined to be together. We were, and still are soulmates. For now and forever! … Anyway Jess,” the old woman said with a tired smile. “We had best get inside … It is time for this old bag of bones to go to bed! I am not able to sit up half the night anymore!” With a shared laugh the granddaughter helped her precious grandmother indoors and up to her bed.

With the dawn came the sad realization that Jessica would never hear her grandmother tell her love story again. During the night Michele Crane left those that loved her. Her waiting was finally over, for she once more walked along the beach at the side of the man with the wicked smile, and laughing green eyes.