They say in every guy’s life, there’s a girl he’ll never forget and a summer where it all began. Well, 1999 is that summer, and Brooke Sommerfield is that girl. I’m convinced she was an angel. My grandma always used to say that angels come in blinks. Brooke was just like that. She flew into my life and then flew right back out again—almost as if she were never there at all. But she was definitely there. And I’ve got her invisible memory to remind me of it. But anyway, that was years ago and yesterday when she flew in by way of accident. At thirteen years old on that hot June day, I only had three things on my mind: Cooling off, girls...and girls. So, I’d have to say that June 22, 1999, was also the best day of my life.
See, there was a creek that ran through the back of our property when I was growing up. It stretched the entire length and then jutted north and disappeared behind old man Brandt’s land. I had followed it one day when I was bored. There’s not too much more to do in Detmold, Missouri. They say the town, or what’s left of it, is named after some big city in Germany somewhere. I’ve never been, but I hear they’ve got old castles and big museums over there. And while we don’t have old castles or big museums, we do have an old building with weeds growin’ in it that used to be a post office...and big fields. We’ve got lots of big fields.
But anyway, after old man Brandt’s property, that winding, narrow stream crawled past a turn-of-the-century white farm house owned by a little old lady named Samantha Catcher. She doesn’t live there anymore. I guess that house eventually just got too big for her because not too long after Mr. Catcher passed, she moved to a tiny one-bedroom in the next township over. And now, she rents the old farm house out to people who are just passing through our little town. They stay a little while, and then soon enough, they’re on their way again. When I was young, kids would tell stories about why Mrs. Catcher kept the old place. Some said it was because it was haunted by her late husband. Some said she needed the money because Mr. Catcher gambled their life savings away before he died. But I know that Mr. Catcher wasn’t a gambler—well, beyond being a farmer—and I was pretty sure he wasn’t a ghost either. See, I was convinced that Mrs. Catcher kept that old place because it made her happy. I’d catch her in between renters plantin’ flowers in front of its porch or hangin’ a new welcome sign on the front door. She’d always be smilin’ then. See, Grandma also told me once that memories are invisible to everyone but the beholder. So I just assumed that Mrs. Catcher was looking at all her memories that nobody else could see when I would catch her smilin’ at that old house.
But all the same, that creek kept crawlin’. It kept on goin’ for miles after Mrs. Catcher’s place, but I didn’t. It was gettin’ close to supper time by then, and I was gettin’ awful hungry, so I turned around that day, and I walked back home. But the point here is that I knew that creek like the back of my hand, and I knew everyone who lived anywhere near it too. So that’s why June 22, 1999, was different. It started off normal. I baled hay. I got hot. I went to the creek. Believe it or not, I was on my summer vacation—right here at home, helpin’ my grandpa out around the farm. To me, it wasn’t much of a vacation, but my parents thought spendin’ some more time with Grandpa would do him and me some good. So, there I was on a Tuesday evening gettin’ ready to jump into that creek when I spotted somethin’—somethin’ that would stick with me for a really long time. And that day in the summer of ’99, I walked home with the best souvenir I ever got from a summer vacation—an invisible memory—of a shiny, little thing that would change my life forever.
But again, that was years ago. And now, I’m just left here smilin’ at this old creek just like Mrs. Catcher used to do at that old farm house. My mind just keeps replaying the little time I held Brooke Sommerfield. That beautiful girl is gone now, but I can still hear her in the wind. If I listen real hard, I can hear her laughter over the whip-poor-will, and I can hear her whisperin’ softly about the sky and its secrets and dreams and being happy. I close my eyes and breathe her in. She smells like daisies and fresh creek water—and summer. And all of a sudden, I hear a soft sigh rustlin’ through the trees, and I force my eyes open just in time to see a flock of geese—wings wide, toes spread—landing on the water.
“Life passes you by when your eyes are closed,” I whisper back to the wind. And then I smile wide, and I sit back against the grassy creek bank, and I watch my invisible memories play out just as if she had never left me.
That summer came slow, but it went so fast. Turns out, those endless days were never meant for the two of us. I never seemed to get enough time with her. Maybe it was because she taught me how to live. Maybe it was because she taught me how to love. Or maybe it was just simply because I loved her.
I sit back further into that grass, and I watch those geese float down the creek. All around me, the tree frogs are startin’ to call, singin’ back and forth about whatever it is frogs sing back and forth about. And I just sit there, and I think about that beautiful girl.
“I’ll find my way back to you, Brooke Sommerfield. As sure as the sun is gonna rise in the mornin’, I’ll find you,” I whisper to the wind. I tell it what I wish I could say to her. I tell it what I told her once before in a letter—a letter she would never receive until years later. See, that’s the funny thing about fate; it works around us, despite us, in spite of us, even. And it’s near impossible to figure out, until all the pages are in place. But all the same, that doesn’t stop me from prayin’. Every day, I pray that this wild ride fate’s got me on ends with her. I pray that you, Brooke Sommerfield, are on my last page. And I pray that page is a happy one. But whether it is or it isn’t, either way, I have to know what became of you. I have to know what became of the girl who stole my last perfect summer. And I have to know if she believes in second chances—because I do, even if they do come with good-byes.
But until then, Brooke Sommerfield, my summer angel, you and I will be what my grandpa always liked to call...unfinished business.
By Way of Accident Trailer
I write about rain on tin roofs, gravel roads, old trucks with holes in the floorboards and small-town summer nights. I grew up on a farm in a little Midwestern town. Now, I live in Kansas City, Mo., with my weatherman husband.
Laura Miller's first contemporary romance novel, Butterfly Weeds, hit the Amazon Best-Seller's List and Top 100 in October 2012. The sequel to Butterfly Weeds, My Butterfly, released in June 2013. For All You Have Left, By Way of Accident, When Cicadas Cry and A Bird on a Windowsill followed. Look for The Life We Almost Had, releasing Sept. 19.