Then he saw her face.
In one short breath he was speechless, for never had he encountered such beauty. Her hair was swept back from her shoulders and gathered in tight golden curls at the ends. The reflection of the sun in the patio window made it look like honey flowing over her shoulders and down to the small of her back. One stray strand brushed the side of her face, and curled just under the dimple in her soft shaped chin.
Her pale skin slightly flushed, and her shoulders delicately patterned with freckles. Her mouth was turned up slightly in one corner, where a modest smile was hidden like a secret. Her movements were elegant and graceful and for the briefest of moments as their eyes met, they were the only two people in the world, and he felt himself falling into those deep blue eyes.
He swallowed hard and immediately felt naked in front of her, his feelings only too clearly worn on his sleeve. With the smallest tilt of his head, he nodded towards her and smiled, wanting to say more than he knew was possible. As if she knew, she smiled briefly back and looked away again.
In that instant, 20 years of history flashed between them. The primary school weddings in the playground, the first kiss behind the bike sheds, the school prom, and the move to university when they lost touch, and hadn’t laid eyes on each other again until now. Until this moment, when he knew it was too late.
From a distance, he continued to watch her mingle amongst the guests in the lounge area, her being the one who seemed to outshine everyone else in the room in the most modest way possible. When she smiled, it was a genuine smile that reached her eyes and made them sparkle.
He remembered the way that they would hold hands in high school, when something he’d said would make her throw her head back and laugh and send little bursts of electricity through his body.
Watching her chat to an elderly gentleman in a suit, sat in another corner of the room, he watched how she twirled her hair around her fingers and remembered how she’d always done that when she got nervous about something, and would bite the edge of her lip in total concentration on what the other person was saying.
Her movements around the room were slow and graceful, as though perfectly choreographed in a dance, and he could still feel the way their hearts connected when they danced together at their leaver’s prom all that short while ago.
Sitting down on a brown leather sofa, he rested his head in one hand and swirled a glass of champagne in the other. The golden bubbles rising to the surface and bursting in an eruption of celebration, the bottom of the glass reflecting his own clouded thoughts.
Was it too late? No, it was never too late to do the right thing.
Thinking clearly for the first time that afternoon, he knew what he had to do. Glancing up, he looked around the crowded room, unable to see her. Cursing himself he stood up and took a deep breath. He had to find her.
The hum and buzz of chatter in the room was dulling his mind and he knew he had to get to her, to tell her, before it was too late.
With his thoughts finally focused and in order, he headed away from the gatherings of chattering guests. He knew exactly where to find her. Wandering through the glass panelled patio doors; he gathered pace and walked out onto the magnificent hotel gardens. The sweet scented atmosphere lulled around him and automatically took him back to the memory of their first kiss. That first time that he buried his face in her hair and took in the scent of her, the smell of roses and summer.
Turning a corner around a small cluster of hedges, he finally saw her, leaning against a tall tree, its flowers in full blossom above her, the pale pink blooms complimenting her off white dress. As he approached, she turned to face him, her eyes both questioning and understanding.
He walked up to her and only stopped when their lips were just a whisper away. Taking her face in his hands, the way they both remembered, he gently planted his lips upon hers and tasted their history together. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she held on, as if only he could stop her from falling apart.
Looking into those blue eyes only he could fall into, he said the only words he could utter, ‘I love you’. Blinking through blurred eyes, she nodded and gently caressed his cheek, as only she knew how. Before she could open her mouth to reply, he added, ‘but I know I’m too late’.