from the heart: af­ter 30 years apart... i loved him even more

Karen Woods, 48, had for­got­ten all about her teenage ro­mance un­til a face she recog­nised popped up on her screen…

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Step­ping out of the car, I saw a fa­mil­iar smile. It was March 2016 and this was the first time I’d seen my ex-boyfriend in 30 years, yet it felt like yes­ter­day. De­spite the crow’s feet, his eyes were still as blue and twinkly as I re­mem­bered. And when he grinned, I still felt that lit­tle giddy ex­cite­ment inside.

‘Hello Craig,’ I said, smil­ing. But as soon as the words left my lips, doubt set in. What was I think­ing? We were in our mid-for­ties, our lives had swerved in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. We weren’t the same naive kids we’d been all those years be­fore. How could this ever work?

Lost sweet­hearts

I first met Craig Mc­daid at sec­ondary school in Manch­ester in the 1980s. We were just friends un­til we went on a school trip aged 14.

Sit­ting side by side on the coach, I sud­denly no­ticed how good look­ing he was. As my hand reached for his, our friends spot­ted us. ‘Go on, kiss!’ yelled a voice from the back of the bus. Craig turned to me, but he just shrugged and smiled. It wasn’t un­til an­other two days later that he ar­rived on my doorstep.

‘I want to give you a kiss,’ he stam­mered, lean­ing to­wards me. From that moment on, we were in­sep­a­ra­ble.

Even our par­ents ap­proved of our re­la­tion­ship. Dur­ing the sum­mer of 1985, I went to Wales with Craig and his fam­ily, and he joined mine for a week in Black­pool. We spent every day at the Plea­sure Beach, laugh­ing as we rode the roller­coast­ers.

Re­laxed and good-na­tured, I sensed Craig would go far in life and, back home, I loved be­ing around him. But af­ter we’d been to­gether for nine months, I heard whis­pers that he’d kissed an­other girl.

‘It’s not true,’ he in­sisted, but it sparked a huge row be­tween us.

for the rest of term. I met some­one else and, af­ter leav­ing school, I fo­cused on hav­ing a fam­ily. My son Ash­ley was born in July 1986, Blake fol­lowed four years later, and in 1993 I had Declan. I loved my boys but my re­la­tion­ship with their dad was un­happy. Fi­nally, aged 28, we split.

The fol­low­ing year, I met an­other man. Kind and car­ing, he pro­posed to me and in 2002 our daugh­ter Darcy was born. I had a set­tled life and af­ter do­ing a lit­er­acy course, I even dis­cov­ered I had a pas­sion for writ­ing. My first novel Bro­ken Youth was pub­lished in March 2010, but, de­spite my suc­cess, my hus­band and I were

‘We were talk­ing all the time in se­cret’

start­ing to grow apart. There were no rows, we were just more like friends.

Then one night, Ash­ley, then 24, helped sign me up to Face­book. Flick­ing through pro­files, I gasped at the sight of fa­mil­iar faces from school.

I’d not re­ally thought about my school days in years, but one face in par­tic­u­lar stood out. ‘I’d recog­nise that smile any­where,’ I thought.

Craig hadn’t changed a bit. I added him as a friend and he quickly ac­cepted. I couldn’t re­sist send­ing a mes­sage. ‘Long time no speak,’ I typed. He replied within min­utes.

We had lots to catch up on. I was a pub­lished nov­el­ist, mar­ried with four kids; Craig was a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man liv­ing in Dubai and had a wife and child.

‘I never cheated on you when we were kids, you know,’ he said. ‘It’s wa­ter un­der the bridge now,’ I re­as­sured him. As months went by, we kept in touch. Sadly, my mar­riage was crum­bling, but see­ing Craig’s name ap­pear in my in­box every few days al­ways made me smile. He con­fided that his mar­riage was also strug­gling. Al­though I felt slightly guilty that we were chat­ting, I fig­ured that we were help­ing each other through hard times. We’d been chat­ting every week for three years when, in 2013, Craig sug­gested we have a Skype video call. I was wor­ried what he would think of me, but my nerves dis­ap­peared when I heard him speak. ‘Your voice is def­i­nitely deeper than I re­mem­ber,’ I laughed. Craig smiled, too. I’d never felt so com­fort­able with any­one in my life, yet some­thing stopped me from telling my hus­band about my Skype call with Craig. Soon we were talk­ing all the time in se­cret. In De­cem­ber 2015, my mar­riage fi­nally ended. Shortly af­ter­wards, Craig told me that he and his wife had split. It was sad, of course, but we con­soled each other in our chats on Skype, and Craig told me he’d be vis­it­ing the UK soon for two weeks. ‘Shall we meet up?’ he asked.

Al­though it was ex­cit­ing, I felt wor­ried, too. De­spite speak­ing most days, it was still three decades since we’d ac­tu­ally been face to face.

But Craig car­ried me along with his en­thu­si­asm. ‘Meet me at the Lowry,’ he said, re­fer­ring to a ho­tel near my home in Manch­ester. ‘There’s a nice restau­rant there.’

Clear chem­istry

So, in March 2016, I styled my hair and make-up, and tried on four out­fits be­fore set­tling for a fig­ure-hug­ging dress. My heart was rac­ing as I pulled up out­side the ho­tel and saw Craig.

As we em­braced, I knew he was still the hand­some boy I’d fan­cied years ago. Dur­ing din­ner, we didn’t stop laugh­ing. The spark be­tween us was ob­vi­ous.

‘I’ve never felt this way about any­one,’ he ad­mit­ted.

‘You make me feel alive,’ I told him. ‘It’s like we’re 14 again, but bet­ter.’

As we shared our sec­ond ‘first’ kiss, the years fell away.

We saw each other lots for the next fort­night un­til he flew back to Dubai. The fol­low­ing month, he booked me a ticket to visit him for five days. We had an amaz­ing time – we took a he­li­copter trip over the desert and ate din­ner un­der the stars.

That sum­mer, Craig came to the UK and brought his son with him. We took all the chil­dren to Corn­wall for a week to­gether. Thank­fully they got along well.

But each time Craig and I had to say good­bye, it got harder. ‘I don’t want to be apart from you,’ he told me fi­nally in De­cem­ber 2016.

I told him I felt the same and by May 2017, he’d found a job in the UK and had moved back per­ma­nently. Now we’re plan­ning our fu­ture and want to buy a house to­gether. ‘I never want to lose you again,’ I told him.

Craig and I missed out on so many years to­gether, but we’re mak­ing sure we catch up on all that lost time now. Our love story has even in­spired my lat­est novel,

Whis­per My Last Good­bye. Af­ter years of heartache, it turned out my ‘happy ever af­ter’ was with my first love. It just took us 30 years to re­alise it. For in­for­ma­tion about Karen’s nov­els, visit karen­

‘We missed out on so many years to­gether’

‘That’s it, I’m dumping you,’ I cried. Heart­bro­ken, I steered clear of Craig

Karen aged 14

Af­ter catch­ing up on­line, Karen vis­ited Craig in Dubai

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