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Two Stubborn Hearts
Author's note: I wanted to start with something simple.
They were young, outgoing college freshmen when the two of them first met. Greg Truman was a good looking, hard working student with outstanding athletic abilities. His skill in basketball got him the most attention, not only from his friends and the coaches but also a young lady by the name of Elaine Palmer. She was a cheerleader who also got much attention, her attraction being her long brown hair, bright green eyes, and her fun-loving personality. "Celebrity face" was how all the guys described her good looks. "She looks like a supermodel or movie actress" they would say. It didn't take long for Greg and Elaine to notice each other. And when they did, it was like two puzzle pieces being put together to finish a picture.
They met after a basketball game on a Friday night. Throughout the game, the other cheerleaders had been commenting on Greg's good looks. Elaine watched him move with incredible agility and, being the daughter of a high school basketball coach and having been on a girls' basketball team herself, she judged that he was the best basketball player on campus. When it was over Elaine went back to the gym to find her purse. She literally bumped into Greg who was shooting hoops by himself. When she apologized he asked if the little green purse on the bench was hers. She said yes and Greg, who was in a flirtatious mood, said "I thought so. It seemed like your color."
"How do you know what my color is?" she asked, beginning to get into a flirtatious mood herself.
He folded his arms and leaned against the pole under the hoop. "I don't." he replied. "I just know it matches your hypnotizing eyes."
"If they were hypnotizing, wouldn't you be in a trance?" she asked.
"I think I am." he said. "Because I can't take my eyes off yours."
She didn't say anything, but her smile was enough to let him know that he had succeeded in winning her interest. After she picked up her purse and left he was determined to run into her again. And they did. A week later they bumped into each other on their way to class and struck up a conversation. Two weeks after that they started dating.
For a while nothing got in the way of their relationship. They were effectively able to juggle their studies and their hours spent with each other. No matter what was going on they always seemed to find time for just the two of them. Greg would often tell her, "My heart is a puzzle and you're the piece that completes it." Then she would always respond with a gentle kiss on the lips. It was love from the very beginning.
They had something special and everyone else could see it too. Greg's friends told him that he had "struck a gold mine of love". Elaine's roommates were always teasing her and claiming that she had found Mr. Right. So it was no surprise when Greg proposed to her in their sophomore year. She eagerly accepted, but they both agreed to finish college before going through with the wedding.
Greg was pursuing his love for basketball and Elaine devoted her studies to becoming a teacher. In their junior year, finding time for their studies and each other became a little difficult, but they were able to handle it. However, in their senior year it became much worse. And that's when everything changed.
Greg wanted to play professional basketball and Elaine was trying to pass some tough exams. They both worked hard: Greg practiced in most of his spare time and Elaine would be up late at night studying for hours. Balancing their studies and their relationship became nearly impossible. After several heated arguments and too many days apart it finally came time to discuss the future.
On a Saturday afternoon in October the two of them decided to spare a few hours so they could talk. They brought their lunch to the park and as they sat at a picnic table they made light conversation about the last two months. Finally Elaine asked the question that had been in the back of her mind for a while. "What about us?" she asked as she reached across the table and took his hands in hers.
"What about us?" he asked.
"What are we going to do about our relationship. I mean, we haven't had much time with each other and we haven't exactly had nice things to say the last few times we have seen each other."
Greg shrugged his shoulders. "We've both been busy. It's been stressful and when we see each other we are too tired and worn out to handle each other."
"But it can't be like that forever." she pointed out. "At some point we have to decide where the two of us are headed."
"Well, where are we heading now?"
"Right now? Right now we're heading nowhere. We just exist as a couple and that's it."
"Well after our wedding we've gotta go somewhere."
"I know. But I think that shouldn't be a problem. I have that figured out." she said in a decided tone.
Greg looked up at her. This was news to him. "What do you mean you have it 'figured out'?" he asked.
"Well, the middle school I went to as a kid has been hiring English teachers on and off for the past year. The teachers don't usually stay long because they move elsewhere or get a different job. They need a teacher who is willing to stay for at least three years. The principle there is a friend of my Dad's and he contacted me to tell me that they were willing to give me the job if they didn't find another teacher first."
Then getting excited Elaine added, "Oh and I looked for houses in the area and there's one for sale at a great price. It's only twenty minutes away from the school and I think it would be perfect for our first house and—"
"Hold on!" said Greg. "Slow down. You're going into this way too fast. Why haven't you told me this stuff before?"
"Well, I wanted to tell you right away but you've been busy lately and I thought I would just go ahead and start planning."
"Planning?" said Greg with a hint of frustration in his voice. "What makes you think we're moving to your hometown?"
Elaine felt offended. "Well I figured it would be best for my teaching career. Not only that, but you could play professional basketball there on the—"
"Hold on! What about me? I'm looking at an offer from California to play on their team."
"Since when? You never told me about this."
"Since a month ago. And I didn't tell you because you've been busy studying."
It took a moment for what he was proposing to sink into Elaine's mind. "California." she said. "But that's miles away from home."
"Look," said Greg. "It shouldn't be much of a problem. I could play basketball and I'm sure you could find a good teaching job somewhere nearby. It would work out perfectly."
"Why can't my plan workout perfectly?" she asked. She didn't mean to sound so hostile but that's how it came out.
"Well excuse me." Greg snapped. "I didn't think it would make much of a difference."
"It makes every bit of difference. I don't know if I want to go all the way to California. I've never been more than two days away from my family and I don't think I'm ready to change that yet."
"Come on, Elaine. You can't be near them forever. You've got to learn to leave home sometime."
Now Elaine felt really offended. "So you're saying that what I want doesn't matter?"
"I'm not saying that. All I'm saying is that it's possible for us to both have what we want—"
"And that's what I was proposing with my plan!"
"That's what I was proposing with my plan! I don't see why my plan should be a big deal."
Elaine sighed. "Because it's a long ways away, Greg."
Greg was frustrated and had expected Elaine to be more open to his idea. "I thought you would be happy to go with me. I didn't think you'd let your teaching get in the way."
Elaine's mouth dropped open. She never expected to hear something like that come from his mouth. "And what about you! Huh? Like you're not letting you basketball get in the way of staying with me? I expected more from you!"
"More from me? Expected what? That I would just readily agree to any plans you had? I have dreams too you know!"
"I don't want to take away your dreams, Greg. But I just don't feel ready to go to California with you. Stop trying to make me the bad guy here."
"Oh I'm making you the bad guy? You're the one trying to make me the bad guy. All I'm trying to do is make things work with my plan."
"Well it won't work with your plan." said Elaine who was starting to get angry.
"Oh gosh, Elaine!" said Greg as he stood up and walked a few feet away from the table.
"Don't 'Elaine' me!" She shouted. "I don't see why you are being so selfish about this."
Greg whirled around and pointed his finger at her. "You! You are the one being selfish. You think that your plan is the only one that will work."
"And you think it won't? Just because it's MY plan?"
"If my plan doesn't work and your plan doesn't work, then what will? Huh? Tell me, Elaine. What will?"
"Nothing!" she shouted she as got up from the table and walked towards the tree behind her. She threw her hands up in the air. "Nothing will work because you won't even consider my plan." Then turning towards him she shouted, "It will never work out because you're being so freakin' selfish!"
"Is that the way you feel, Elaine? You think nothing will work. Well if that's the case, then why don't you just give back that ring and forget about ever marrying me!" he screamed.
When the realization of what he had just said sank in he immediately calmed down. Seeing the hurt look in her eyes he began he tried to hold her and apologize. "Elaine, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it that way. I just—"
But Elaine abruptly held a her hand up. "No." she said with hostility. "You did mean it that way. Things won't work out anymore."
"Yes they will, Elaine. We just have to—"
"No, there's nothing we can do. We'll never agree and neither of us will be happy." Then looking him straight in the eye she said. "And you're right. We should just forget about marrying."
"No. Elaine—" Greg started to say. But it was too late. Elaine took the ring off her finger and threw it at him. "There's your precious little ring!" she said and walked away.
"Elaine, stop!" Greg shouted at her. She continued walking. "Elaine, you're making a big mistake!" But she just ignored him and didn't look back.
After finding out about the fight, their friends tried to persuade the two of them to make amends. But both of them refused, saying that the other was too selfish to make things work between them. Their friends were crushed to see such a perfect couple end their relationship in such a nasty way. But no matter how much they tried, there was nothing they could do. So Greg and Elaine left college with bitter feelings towards each other, and everything went downhill from there.
For a while, things seemed to be going ok for the both of them. Greg was successful as a professional basketball player, making thousands of dollars a year. Elaine got the job she wanted at her old middle school and loved working with the students in her English classes. But this complacency only lasted for so long. The two of them were like puzzles and after two years both of them were beginning to feel like there were some pieces missing. They knew what they needed was a relationship, but the two of them were too stubborn to call each other up and try to make things work. Instead, they tried to find comfort in other people.
Greg met Jenny Thompson, a professional player for the women's professional basketball. She immediately found interest in him, and for a while, he was attracted to her as well. Elaine met Daniel Brown, a Math teacher who was fun loving and loved teaching as much as she did. They hit it off pretty well.
Greg was hungry for love and decided to propose to Jenny. Jenny accepted and within a year and a half they said their vows and spent their honeymoon in the Bahamas. Daniel proposed to Elaine about a month after Greg and Jenny were married. Elaine accepted and their honeymoon was spent in Hawaii.
A year later, Elaine had a baby boy and they named him Derek. A year after that they had another boy named Jared. But when Daniel wanted to move to Ohio to teach at a local high school, Elaine refused and the two of them ended up getting a divorce. Elaine was granted custody of the two boys.
Greg's problem on the other hand, was a little different. He wanted to have kids, but Jenny wasn't willing to give up her career to be a mother. In the end they also ended up getting a divorce. A year later he ended up marrying a new rising pop star by the name of Kassie Brolls. They ended up getting divorced within the next year after Greg found out she had cheated on him with three other men.
Meanwhile, Elaine also had a second spouse. She married a high school football coach named Roland Greenway. They had two twin girls, Lacey and Lilly. But after a miscarriage with their third child, Josh failed to be more understanding of her situation and left her with full custody of the girls. After their divorce, Elaine was struggling with paying the mortgage, taking care of her kids, and keeping her job all at the same time. So when Josh Cudaire came along, he was Elaine's prince charming. He was rich, handsome, and a very charming guy. Josh was immediately attracted to her and when they got married he wanted their life to be just the two of them. Elaine soon found out that this meant he wanted nothing to do with the kids and she couldn't handle that. By this time, Derek and Jared were in middle school and the twins were eight years old. The kids needed a father who would be willing to take care of more than just their financial needs. So she and Josh divorced, leaving her stuck with a new house and another mortgage to pay off.
Greg had had three wives by this time and had divorced all of them, having two kids by the third one. Their mother loved her job at a casino in Los Angeles too much to quit, and so she didn't want anything to do with the kids after she left Greg. With his career, Greg couldn't take care of Colby and Danielle, his six year old son and four year old daughter, by himself. He needed a mother for them. So when he met Carol Elton, the mother of two boys, he knew he had found the right woman. They had a little girl named Emma and everything finally seemed to be going great until Carol's ex husband showed up and wanted custody Carol's two boys. Her ex husband persuaded her to come back with him, and so Carol left with her two sons. Greg was heartbroken, but the real trouble started when he and Carol began going to court over custody of Emma. Greg finally won, but not after he lost several thousand dollars in the process.
Several years went by, and Greg continued to have on and off relationships with women, but he never married any of them. Elaine married and divorced a few more men, but only for survival. All she needed was financial help, she couldn't bring herself to love any of them even though they were madly in love with her. When they finally figured out that she could never offer them anything, they left her.
They were both in their late 40s when they ran into each other again. The middle school was having financial problems and so the school board closed it down. A friend of Elaine mentioned a job offer in California. So Elaine moved to Los Angeles where she was accepted into an elementary school. By this time, Derek and Jared were in their teens and Lacey and Lilly were thirteen. Greg's kids were all in elementary school. Colby was ten, Danielle was eight, and Emma was six.
It just so happened that Elaine was Colby's English teacher. Colby was given an assignment to write about a person he admired and why. Colby chose to write about his Dad and what a famous basketball player he was. When Elaine read the essay she knew immediately that Colby's Dad was none other than her college sweetheart. After learning this she began to flash back to the good times the two of them use to have together. She had been missing him for years. At least a million times she had thought of calling him to tell him how sorry she was, but then she would always remember what he said to her that day in the park and instead she would just set the phone down and walk away.
Colby was a good student. But when he made a D on three assignments she called for a parent/teacher meeting. It wasn't really necessary, but she wanted an excuse to see Greg without having to say sorry if she didn't have to. When Greg answered the phone and heard Elaine's voice, there was no doubt that it was her. He was speechless for a moment He had wanted to call her so many times, but every time he decided against it because he wasn't sure what to say or if she would even listen. Now, her calling him, even if it was just for a parent/teacher conference, was like a miracle.
When he went after school on a Tuesday afternoon he found Colby sitting on a bench outside of the classroom. He opened the door and went in. When he saw Elaine she was sorting papers on her desk. He cleared his throat.
"Have a seat." she said and pointed to the chair in front of her without even looking up.
Greg sat down and waited for her to say something. She looked up at him and just stared without showing a single bit of emotion. She was older, but she didn't look it. Sure she had a few wrinkles and seemed tired, but she was still the beautiful Elaine he knew in college. "Elaine." he finally said. "It's been forever."
"So it has." she replied. "I wanted to talk to you about three Ds that Colby has gotten on his last few big assignments."
"Really? Is that what you want to talk about?"
"Yes," she replied. "I know your son can do better than this, he's done so well on everything else. I don't know if he's getting lazy or if he's just not understanding the material or what. But I would like him to do better this next time. He's a bright student and I would hate to see his grades fall."
"So would I." was all Greg said.
"So I should expect that you will make sure he studies hard and completes his work?"
"Yes, you can." Greg didn't take his eyes off of her.
"That's all I needed to know." Elaine began putting away some folders.
Greg stood up and walked over to the desk. "Elaine." he said.
"Thank you for coming in, Mr. Truman. You are free to go now."
"Elaine." Greg said again and grabbed her hand. She looked up from her desk to see him staring into her eyes.
She pulled her hand away but the coolness in her tone was gone when she asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. Truman.?"
"Elaine, I'm so sorry. For everything. I should have called you. I wanted to, a million times, but I I couldn't make myself do it. I didn't think you would listen." Elaine stood up and began walking around her desk towards him. He continued. "I tried to move on, I really tried. Nothing just seemed to ever go right. I'm, so sorry for all the -"
"Shhh." she said as she put a finger up to his lips. "I'm the one that should be sorry. I almost called many times, but i was too stubborn to forgive you and so I never did."
Greg took her hands in his. "I've been stubborn too. I wish I hadn't been so selfish."
Tears began to well up in her eyes as she whispered, "I'm so sorry, Greg. I really am. I'm so sorry." She put her head in her hands and burst into tears. Greg wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. "Oh, Elaine." he whispered , and held her tight.
Then they spent the next hour and a half hour talking about the past several years, their relationships, their kids, and how stubborn each of them had been. At the end of their conversation Greg said, "Elaine I realize what's been missing in my life all along. It's you. I knew it, I just didn't want to admit it."
"That's exactly how I've been." she said.
"Elaine," he said, pulling her closer to him. "Elaine, will you marry me?"
She looked into his eyes. He was serious. At first she wanted to say that she needed time to think about it. But then she realized that after all those years apart she had more than enough time to decide. So she said, "Yes." She leaned her forehead against his. "Yes, Greg, I will marry you."
"Really?" he asked. He wanted to be sure.
"Really." she said.
Slowly their lips began to meet, touching gently. Then a second time, then a third. They looked into each other's eyes, both of them smiling. Greg held her at arms length and said, "I have to go, but maybe we can get together Friday night?"
"Sure." she said.
After giving her one more gentle kiss he left the room and found Colby curled up on the bench, sleeping like a rock. When Greg shook him awake Colby said, "That was the longest meeting with a teacher ever! Am I in really big trouble.?"
Greg laughed. "No, you're not in any trouble at all."
"Then why did you have to stay so long?" Colby asked.
"I'll tell you when we get home."
In the weeks that passed, Greg and Elaine began to see more and more of each other. They told their kids that the two of them were already planning to get married, but they wanted the children to get a a chance to know each other first. Elaine had always been one of Colby's favorite teachers, and having her as his mom made him excited. This got Danielle and Emma excited as well, and it had only been two days before the three of them had already adopted her as their mother. However, for Elaine's kids it was a different story. Derek was sixteen, and Jared was fifteen. They were the men of the house and had enough of men that were only interested in their mother and not them. Lilly and Lacey were unsure of the idea. After the first three guys, including their father, they were distrustful of any man that claimed to be in love with their mom. But the four of them noticed that their mom was happier than they had ever seen her before. In just one week she seemed more energized and outgoing than in all the years they had been alive. And it it turned out that they liked Greg and his kids, too. Colby was excited that he was finally going to have brothers. And the girls seemed to get along very well. All of them were excited, they were practically a family already.
Greg and Elaine began to make preparations for their wedding. They invited old friends, new friends, and family. They had booked a honeymoon in the Florida Keys and had decided to leave the kids with a couple who had been friends of theirs in college. They spent almost every evening together and would Greg constantly tell her that old familiar phrase: "My heart is a puzzle and you're the piece that completes it." And just like old times, she would respond with a kiss.
It was the first Friday of the second month since the two of them had reunited. At six o' clock in the evening Elaine was with the kids at Greg's house, waiting for him to get home from practice. They were all going to go out for dinner together that night to have some family time. It was six forty-five and Greg still wasn't at the house. At seven o' clock she called him to see what was going on. He didn't answer his phone. She waited ten minutes and called again. Still no answer. After waiting for another half hour and making two more calls, both with no answer, she began to get worried. She left the kids at the house and drove to the gym to see if Greg had forgotten. The coach was there and when she asked him about Greg he told her that Greg had left at six o'clock. When she got home the kids said he hadn't showed up. "Maybe he's getting all of us a surprise," Danielle offered. Elaine hoped that she was right, but deep inside she knew something was wrong.
At eight thirty she got a phone call from the police. Greg's body had been found at the side of the road where he had been flung through the windshield after a head on collision with another driver. The other driver had been drunk and swerved out of his lane. The impact had been so forceful that Greg had been flung farther than the police imagined. It had taken them an hour and a half to find his body. He was already dead when they discovered him underneath a swing set in a nearby park. Elaine was shocked speechless. It took the kids a lot of coaxing to get the information out of her. When she finally told them what the problem was, the kids were struck speechless as well. Elaine told them she had to go to the scene to see what was going on. She hated to leave Greg's kids but she has to see for herself. She had to see if it was true.
When she got to the scene several police cars were there with their lights flashing. There was yellow tape across the road and a crowd of spectators standing behind it. She ducked under the tape but a policeman stopped her. "I'm Greg's fiancé." she explained.
"Yes." she replied. The man directed her to a stretcher where a body lay wrapped with just the head poking out. It was Greg. His face was covered in streaks of blood and she could see where the windshield glass had cut his forehead. As she walked closer she gasped and covered her mouth. His eyes were open and they had the most ghastly look she had ever seen. She reached out to close them. And then leaning her head on his, she let the tears flow.
She soon felt a hand on her shoulder. It was the policeman. He handed her a torn piece of notepad paper. "We found this next to his body. I think it's for you." Elaine took the paper and read the letters written in dried blood:
Tell the kids I love them. All of them. I’m sorry we couldn’t complete the puzzle. Complete their puzzle for me.
"Thank you." she told the officer.
He gave her a sad smile and said, "I'm very sorry for your loss, ma’m." She just nodded. And seeing that there was nothing she could do, she headed back to Greg's house.
Her kids were all awake, afraid to hear the news she would bring them. She showed them the piece of paper and had Derek read it aloud. "What does it mean?" asked Colby, his voice trembling.
"It means he loves you." said Lacey.
"And you." said Elaine, looking at her kids. "The note said 'all of them'. That includes you guys too."
They sat in silence for a moment. Then Danielle asked slowly, "So he's really dead?" Tears started to well up in Elaine's eyes as she nodded. Danielle began to cry too, but both of them stopped to listen when Colby asked, "What does the rest of the note mean?”.
Elaine took the note in her hand and smiled. "Back in college, when your dad and I first dated, he used to tell me this one thing. He would say, 'My heart is a puzzle and you're the piece that completes it.' What this means is that we couldn’t get married and complete the puzzle of our lives."
"So then what does he mean when he says 'complete their puzzle for me'?" asked Lilly.
"It means that he wants me to be the piece to complete your puzzles. He wants me to take care of you guys."
Danielle began to sob. She buried her face in Elaine's arms and Elaine stroked her hair. Colby and Emma began to sob as well. They all eventually cried themselves to sleep.
At the funeral friends and family came from all over to offer their condolences. Before the funeral ceremony Elaine had the casket open. She wanted the kids to have a last glimpse at their father. And when they had seen enough she leaned down and kissed Greg's forehead. "I promise I’ll complete their puzzle." she whispered so nobody else could hear her. Then she closed the lid as the guests began to trickle in. Since Greg had been a famous basketball player, fans began sending letters to her and the kids, saying how sorry they were, what a great man he was, and how much he loved the game of basketball.
Elaine didn’t mind the letters, but the constant media outside of her house was to much for both her and the kids. They needed to move away, and thanks to Greg’s will, they were able to do that. Greg had left her and his kids all the money and his possessions, and in his will he also stated that he gave full custody of his children to her. This new will had been written up a week after they reunited and his kids were fine with it. Elaine decided to move back home, but she didn’t make a final decision until she had the approval of Colby, Danielle, and Emma.
So after selling the house and some of Greg’s things they headed back east and bought a new home, mortgage free, and settled in. Soon after, a friend of Elaine’s suggested that they have a memorial service for Greg in the college gym where he had spent so many hours working towards his dream. Elaine thought it was a great idea, and to her surprise, several hundred people showed up to remember Greg and the outstanding basketball legacy that he left behind. Quite a few people stood up to tell what a great friend Greg was, or how well he played basketball, or what he done for them at some point of their life. Elaine was the last to speak.
When she got up to the stand she blew her nose and stood there a moment before saying anything. She took the microphone and began. “My name is Elaine. Many of you know me and many of you don’t.” She paused then continued. “When I first met Greg it was here in this very gym. He was practicing on that basketball hoop over there.” she said, pointing to the hoop behind them. “When we began dating everyone said we were perfect for each other. I agreed. There was no one I would have rather been with. And when he asked me to marry him I said yes. But we um…we had a disagreement, about our future together and um…and we never got it resolved. We could have, but we chose not to. Both of us chose to be stubborn and we ended up leading lives of chaos and heartache.”
Elaine held her breath for a moment and wiped a tear from her eye. “When we reunited we realized how stupid we were to ignore each other for so long. We were so stubborn and we regretted it. We decided to get married, as some of you know. We were planning our wedding, the kids were getting to know each other, and love each other. Then this…” Elaine fought back tears as she tried to get the words out. “Then this tragedy happened and we never got the chance to say ‘I do’.”
The tears began to stream down her cheeks. “And I’ve learned a lesson from all this. I want all of you to learn it, as well as my kids.” The seven children looked up at her, hanging on to her every word. Elaine continued. “I want everyone to know that life can end at any minute. Don’t waste those moments by being angry with someone you love. Don’t be stubborn and never forgive them. Because you may never get a chance to see them again, and you don’t want to leave them without having them know how much you love them. So please. Please take my advice. Spend every moment loving the ones you care about. It could be that last moment you ever have with them.” Elaine burst into tears then and walked down to sit with the kids. Everybody in the gym applauded and gave her a standing ovation.
As the years went by Elaine’s life began to go better for her than it ever had before. A friend told her that they were opening the middle school back up and they wanted her to teach there. Elaine got her job back, her kids reunited with their friends, and Greg’s kids began making new friends themselves. Elaine never stopped missing Greg, but she made it her goal to do what he asked and “complete the puzzle” for the kids. And as long as she kept that promise she always felt that he was looking down on her and smiling.