She stood poised, gazing at the western sky, admiring the orange and purple hues of the forthcoming sunset. It wasn’t the first time she had been in that very spot at that very time of day. No, she had been watching sunsets on June 23rd in the same manner for some 52 years now, she supposed. Glancing at her watch, and realizing she still had a few moments yet, she slowly edged over to a wooden bench to sit for a moment.
“The days of being able to stand for any time has left me”, she thought.
As she perched waiting on that bench, she caught herself humming. The Shirelles, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, she loved that song that summer.
“That was the best summer”, she recalled. “That was the summer, on June 23rd, 1962, this ritual began.”
“Oh, she was quite the looker”, she thought, “back then anyway.”
She was 21 and fresh out of college, ready to take on the world, or a handsome young man, whichever came first. Her parents came to the beach every summer for a couple of weeks, and she had left the city, under protest, to join them.
“Turns out”, she smiled, “the decision determined her destiny to return every year”.
He was a mate on his father’s fishing boat. A cocky, twenty-four year old that was as handsome as he was tanned, and she tried her best to ignore him when their paths crossed that night, but she was not very successful and he was very persistent. They sat on the rocks and talked for what seemed to be hours.
“The evening was much like this one, warm breeze, clear, and that beautiful sky”, she thought as she glanced at her watch.
As she sat on the rocks gazing at the sunset that first night, she prayed her parents didn’t come looking for her. She could anticipate her father’s speech, of how he didn’t send her to college to be messing around with a fisherman. Her mother would back him up in her dutiful way. She pushed those thoughts away, and when he kissed her right as the sun set, she knew she couldn’t resist. Her parent’s disappointment would simply have to be.
“We made a vow to spend every June 23rd watching the sunset together”, she recalled.
Her parents were furious that she had spent the evening in “a manner not befitting a lady”, her father had scorned. They packed up and returned to the city that next day. She had looked for him that morning on the docks, but he had already gone out for the morning catch. Returning to the city, she had gone to work as a secretary for a congressman, dated every weekend, and thought of that night with him.
Summer came around early that next year, bringing with it the hazy, humid days that Maryland summers were famous for. She had packed an overnight bag that June 23rd, left early from work, and headed for the shore. Although, she questioned the sanity of her trip, she just had to know. As sunset approached, he walked up behind her.
“A memorable night”, she smiled to herself as she rose from the bench and walked back to lean on the rail of the boardwalk. Before fixing her gaze back on the sun lowering ever closer to the water, she scouted the tourists strolling in the evening breeze for that familiar face.
For the next few years, they continued to meet at sunset. Spending that one incredible night, and then returning to their daily lives away from each other. Society pressures dictated the lifestyle, a lifestyle of sneaking to the shore every June 23rd.
“If only it had been a different time”, she sighed.
In 1968, she had made the trip with news of her impending wedding to an intern on The Hill. As she broke the news to him, he smiled and reached into his pocket and pulled out a wedding ring. As he put the ring back on his left hand he explained that he just didn’t know how to tell her.
“That scoundrel”, she chuckled as she once again glanced up and down the boardwalk.
Heading to the shore in 1975, she was pregnant with her second child. The newscaster on the radio was announcing an explosion of some sorts at the docks where his boat was kept. When she arrived at the shore, all she could find out was that one fisherman had died and one had been severely burned. When sunset arrived she sat crying until she heard his voice asking what all the tears were about.
Years had turned into decades, and though both had married and had families, they still managed to meet at sunset. Incredible nights turned into precious kisses at sunset, followed by two confidantes sharing triumphs and lost dreams. He had listened intently when she shared the excitement of her daughter’s wedding and held her in his arms as she shared details of the car accident that took her son from her. His blue eyes sparkled as he told her of the birth of his first grandson and then his second. Last year, his eyes were almost gray as he chronicled his wife’s cancer, and wept describing her passing.
The sun was now a bright orange half circle surrounded by a pink and purple sky, as it seemed to submerge itself into the river. The boats had started putting their lights on as they cut through the waves, heading for the marina. It was getting late and she resigned to go back to the bench. As she turned she heard a voice.
“I was scared I was going to miss it”, the voice said. “The sunset I mean.”
The voice was an unfamiliar one, but as she looked up into the face of the man standing before her, she recognized his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry”, he said, “You are Laura right?”
“Yes”, she replied.
“Please let’s sit”, he suggested as he motioned to the bench.
As she sat, she looked at the sky; the sun had not quite disappeared. Although she did not know the man sitting next to her, she knew he was not a stranger. It took a moment and then she found her voice.
“I know your eyes”, she confessed. “You have his eyes”.
“I do”, he said. “I have come to watch the rest of the sunset with you. Is that ok?”
As tears began to fill her eyes, she nodded her approval.
“I made a promise to my father before he died. I must confess, I don’t think I want to know why. He made me promise that on June 23rd I would come to this very place and watch one last sunset with you. It was extremely important to him, so I am keeping my promise.”