Passing Notes, a short story by James Nelli at
Joshua Earle

Passing Notes

Passing Notes

written by: James Nelli


Even after forty-seven years, the moment she walked through the door, Adam knew it was Susan. Her translucent blue eyes, soft rounded chin and cascading red hair set her apart from everyone else in the restaurant. The lingering smells of aromatic woods, dashi, soy sauce, and cucumber permeated every corner of their favorite Japanese restaurant in Manhattan Beach southwest of downtown Los Angeles. The ownership of the restaurant had changed many times in the last five decades, but the memories remained the same. It was comfortable.

Susan looked apprehensive as her eyes darted around the room looking for Adam; but when he stood up and their eyes met, her apprehension was instantly replaced by a sigh of relief and a burst of excitement. They approached each other cautiously, both trying not to look too eager. But as their arms met and they drew each other close, past feelings flooded their space and immediately became the present situation. The familiar touch of their bodies initiated a rush of memories that only Adam and Susan could fully appreciate.

The last few years had been difficult for both of them. Happiness had been hard, if not impossible, for them to find. Susan had lost her husband after a long battle with cancer, while Adam’s wife passed away when dementia slowly stole her mind and then finally, mercilessly, claimed her body. They found each other on social media, and today was their first in-person meeting.

Adam held Susan’s hand tight, not wanting to break the new bond they had just created. He led her back to the booth overlooking the beach where they had spent so much of their high school time enjoying all that the California lifestyle offered. The view wasn’t new. Just more meaningful today.

Susan’s once vibrant red hair had streaks of silver, and the lines etched on her face spoke of a life filled with disproportionate amounts of joy and sadness. Adam, with his salt-and-pepper beard and thinning gray hair reflected the weight of the passage of time. They sat there, not uttering a word, staring at each other admiring the uniqueness of the moment. The silence was uncomfortable but satisfying.

Finally, Susan broke the silence, her voice trembling with emotion. “Adam, I can’t believe it’s really you?” Her eyes glistened with tears she was desperately trying to hold back. She was having only limited success.

Adam nodded, a bittersweet smile playing on his lips. “Yes, Susan, it’s me. It’s been so long.”

Susan reached out and touched Adam’s tanned weathered face. “Oh, how I’ve missed you,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.

Their fingers intertwined as they began to catch up on the years that had passed. Most of their comments started with the phrase “Remember when.” One thing they both remembered were the times they passed notes to each other in the hallway in between classes at school. The notes were always tightly folded on yellow paper, and just small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The notes contained anything from a simple hello to a loving message or even an “I’m sorry.”

“That was our way of keeping in contact before all the electronic gadgets of today,” said Susan. “And it worked!” proclaimed Adam with a satisfied smile.

As they shared tales of triumphs and failures, of laughter and tears, they began to realize that they had both changed in profound ways.

Susan, once free-spirited, had become thoughtful and introspective over the last several years. She gave up the big city corporate marketing life and found solace in the Hudson Valley of New York. “I spend most days tending to my garden, riding horses, and raising money for a variety of nonprofits. My heart has grown bigger, because it’s constantly being filled with compassion and empathy for all living things. It keeps my own life in perspective,” she said squeezing Adam’s hand a little tighter.

Adam, once an ambitious go-getter in the communication industry, had learned the value of simplicity. He traded the hustle and bustle of city life for a quiet existence in the Colorado countryside. “In Colorado, my heart softened. It was my last years with my wife, and I realized the importance of connection and love. When she began drifting away due to her dementia, I had to spend more time caring for her at home. That was when I surrounded myself with books and began writing. I discovered that writing about the joy of introspection and self-discovery helped me deal with the loss,” he said as his eyes welled up with a mixture of compassion and reflection.

As they listened to each other’s stories, they marveled at the transformations they had undergone. They realized that their paths had led them to these changes, shaping them into the individuals they had become. While their love had withstood the test of time, they understood that they could never recapture the carefree days of their youth. Their feelings for each other had not lessened, just matured, like a fine wine aging gracefully and deepening with each passing year.

The sun was setting over the ocean when they ended their visit. As they both stood facing each other and admiring the sunset they had shared so many times before, Adam reached out and lifted Susan’s hand. He then placed a tightly folded yellow piece of paper in the palm of her hand. Susan’s eyes shifted to the note. She shook her head in a gesture of disbelief, reached into her purse and took out a similar tightly folded piece of yellow paper and placed it into Adam’s hand.

Closing his hand around the note, Adam asked, “See you tomorrow?”

“Of course,” said Susan. “I’m already looking forward to it.”

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