In a closed garage Dan Watkins sat in the driver seat of his brother’s Mustang - clutching the keys in his fist - closing his eyes to blackout the all too familiar pain.
Memories flooded in…
Sharon Hanson moved in with her family in the summer of 1955. Sharon – with the long golden braids shining like corn silk. To the Watson boys Sharon was like the sister they never had. Growing up they rode their bikes to Branson Creek with their fishing poles. In the summer of 1964 Sharon went away to summer camp - pudgy and with a mouthful of tin. She returned home slim, tan - and with a mouthful of straight white teeth. From that day forward Danny was hopelessly in love with Sharon. He enjoyed watching her do ‘hippie-like’ things - like threading dandelions together to make hair wreaths. But Sharon too, had been bitten by the 'love bug' and was smitten with Steve - a bitter reality Danny grew to resent.
In the spring of 1965 Steve bought his first car - a red Ford Mustang convertible with rally stripes. Sharon would hear the car start and come running from next door, “Mind if I tag along?” Summers evenings they enjoyed cruising down Freedom Boulevard - the reflection of street lights beaming on the freshly waxed cherry hood. Steve would park his car on the front lawn so he could see it from inside the house - it was his pride and joy. Their father didn’t share that sentiment - he would routinely bark at Steve to move his car.
In the summer of 1966 the family received notification that would change their lives forever -Steve was drafted. Danny was devastated; he adored his brother, and somehow felt responsible.
Danny was fifteen when Steve handed him the keys to his Mustang. “Take good care of her little brother.” Steve reluctantly boarded the bus and forced a smile as he waved good-bye.
Eight months later the family received a word that Steve was killed combat. Following the funeral broken-hearted Sharon joined the Peace Corp. She promised Danny she would write - but the letters never came. Danny withdrew from everyone, stopped going to church, and threatened to drop out of school.
The family left the Mustang parked on the front lawn as a memorial to Steve. Two years later Danny pulled into the driveway, weeds now shrouding the Mustang. “Take good care of her little brother,” echoed in his mind. That evening he pushed the Mustang into the garage and began its restoration. From that point on he kept the Mustang in mint condition. He went back to church - time had softened his heart - and his grudge with God.
Today was Steve’s birthday- today marked a tradition. He got out of the car and went to open the garage door just as a yellow cab was pulling up to the curb – he couldn’t believe it - it was Sharon Hanson.
Sharon smiled at him, “I’m glad I didn’t miss you, your mom told me you would be leaving at daybreak - mind if tag along?”
In a state of disbelief Danny replied, “Sure.”
Sharon got in the car and closed the door. Danny’s eyes fixated on her - in so many ways she had changed - and in so many ways she was just the same. As she sat in the passenger seat her dark eyes misted with tears. Danny reached his hand to hers to console her. She swallowed hard before speaking, “Do you think Steve knew how much we loved him?”
Danny squeezed her delicate hand, “I know he did.”
Sharon reached into the pocket of her windbreaker. “I have wanted to show this to you for a long time.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a letter from Steve - the last one he sent to me before he was killed.”
Danny opened the letter and read it in silence - the familiar penmanship pierced his heart. His faced flushed with embarrassment - to regain his manly composure he folded it back up and placed it on the dashboard.
Sharon looked at Danny with tenderness - “Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“That you love me.”
Danny gripped the wheel with both hands – tears filling his eyes -then looked to Sharon, “I have always loved you Sharon.”
After that confession, he turned the key in the ignition and the Mustang rumbled to life –as did his heart.
It took 8 hours to reach Arlington.
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