The one that got away: I thought I’d never see my first love again. But fate had other ideas...

I really enjoyed speaking to Ann and hearing how she was reunited with her childhood sweetheart 40 years later. You can read about Ann and Jeff's incredible love story on the MailOnline #lovestory #truelove #reunited

--- As I stepped off the train, I locked eyes with the station’s porter and blushed. He was looking right at me. Then he came over.

‘Hi, I’m Jeff,’ he said.

I smiled shyly and introduced myself.

I was 14 and unbeknown to my parents, I had been out for the evening with a friend.

‘I better get going,’ I said.

‘Would you like to go to the pictures with me one night?’ Jeff asked.

‘That would be lovely,’ I said.

He took down my home phone number and as I walked home, I couldn’t stop grinning. It had been love at first sight.

When Jeff phoned, he was so easy to talk to. And we got on even better in person. Soon we became an item.

Jeff was 17 and a true gentleman. He looked after me and we had such a laugh together. Best of all were his gorgeous blue eyes. I could gaze at them for hours.

After we had been together a year, Jeff had some news for me.

‘I’m joining the army,’ he said.

‘Why?’ I asked.

He explained he’d had a silly row with his mum Pat and had ended up storming out. He had decided then and there he would leave to become a soldier.

‘We’ll stay together of course,’ he said.

Once Jeff had gone I was desperately sad, but we wrote to each other and reunited whenever he was home on leave.

In between his visits, I saw his mum. We liked to chat over a cup of tea and bonded over how much we missed him.

One day, Pat told me she had won some money.

‘I’m going to buy Jeff out of the army,’ she said.

She left for Germany and I was so excited.

But Pat returned without him, angry and upset.

‘You’re wasting your time waiting for him,’ she said. ‘He’s going out with someone else, you’re better off getting on with your own life.’

Her words broke my heart and when I got home, I slumped onto my bed crying. Jeff and I had been together for four years, yet now our future was over just like that – and he hadn’t even told me. It seemed so unlike him.

I stopped writing and tried my best to move on.

Eventually, I met someone else and we got engaged.

When I was 20, I was boarding a train when I stopped still.

It was Jeff.

When he clocked me, he flashed me a smile.

‘Fancy seeing you here,’ he said.

I tried to ignore the thumping in my chest as he took a seat next to me.

‘I’m home on leave,’ he explained. ‘How are you?’

‘I’m fine,’ I said. ‘I’m getting married next week.’

Jeff’s mouth gaped open.

‘I don’t want you to,’ he said.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Deep down, I knew the love I had for my fiancé wasn’t the same as I had for Jeff. But there was no way I could call off the wedding.

When we reached our stop, the station nearest to where we both lived, we hugged.

With a twinkle in his eye, Jeff said: ‘I’m going to turn up at the wedding and try to stop you getting married.’

I laughed.

‘Bye Jeff,’ I said.

Afterwards, our chance meeting played on my mind.

In time, my husband and I had a daughter, Liese. (CORR)

I was happy, but over the years Jeff constantly popped into my head. Just hearing songs we used to listen to made me wonder how he was doing.

After 25 years of marriage, my husband and I separated.

It took me some time to get over the shock of the divorce and when I eventually did, I visited the Friends Reunited website.

Then I tapped in a name.

Jeff Carter.

There were no results.

‘Oh well,’ I sighed.

A while later, I left my home in Nottingham and moved to the outskirts of London to be near Liese and my grandchildren.

I told a friend how I had searched for Jeff and she suggested I try Forces Reunited, a website for those in the British Army.

Once again, I tapped in his name and this time a photo popped up. I didn’t need to look twice. I knew by his eyes it was Jeff.

Without knowing his situation and not wanting to cause trouble, I sent him a simple message asking how life had treated him.

Next day, he replied.

I read his message eagerly.

He was so excited that I’d tracked him down and said he had been searching for me too.

I’d love to, I replied.

Weeks later, I pulled up at a service station on the M1. As I approached the café, Jeff came walking towards me.

In that moment, as we locked eyes, it was just like the day we first met. It was love at first sight all over again.

We hugged tightly, as though we were worried we would lose each other once more.

‘Let’s go inside,’ Jeff said.

It was amazing to sit across from Jeff and catch up after a whopping 40 years apart.

‘I’m so glad you found me,’ he said.

While chatting, Jeff suddenly looked sad.

‘Why did you stop writing?’ he said. ‘Did you meet someone?’

I frowned, confused.

‘Your mum told me you were seeing someone else,’ I said.

Jeff shook his head.

‘That’s not true,’ he said. ‘She must have told you that to get back at me, for not coming home. We had a huge row when she came to Germany.’

As we sipped our drinks, Jeff explained that years earlier his sister had managed to find out where I worked.

‘I rang your head office and left a message with the receptionist,’ he said. ‘When I didn’t hear back I presumed you didn’t want to talk to me.’

‘I never got the message,’ I said. ‘I wish I had.’

‘At least we’re together now,’ he said.

It felt so natural between us, like we had never been apart. So when Jeff offered to pack in his job and move to be with me, I didn’t hesitate.

‘Yes,’ I said.

We moved in together in Hampton, London, and picked up where we had left off. I relished every single day spent with Jeff. Problem was, it was expensive to live in the area.

‘How would you feel about moving to Spain?’ he said.

‘It would be great,’ I said.

But there was something holding me back.

‘I can’t leave you,’ I told Liese.

At first, she wasn’t keen on me going either.

But then she came around.

‘You could rent over there and if you don’t like it, you can always come back,’ she said.

So, like a pair of giddy teenagers, Jeff and I jetted off to Spain.

We loved it. We enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine, the sights, relaxing dinners and making new friends.

We were making up for lost time - in style.

Life was perfect.

But years later, Jeff fell ill.

He had suffered two heart attacks in the past and now a visit to hospital showed his heart was getting weak.

He had a double heart bypass which was a success, but then his lungs started failing. He got one chest infection after the other and during another stint in hospital, I realised my worst fears.

Jeff wasn’t going to make it.

I sat at his bedside while he drifted in and out of consciousness.

When he woke, he said: ‘The first time I ever saw you, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.’

My eyes welled with tears.

‘Me too,’ I said.

That evening, I sat holding Jeff’s hand and stroked his forehead until he slipped away.

He was 73.

The doctors ruled it was pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema that had taken his life.

Saying a final goodbye to Jeff was the hardest thing I had ever done, and I was left with a painful emptiness.

At home, I found myself talking to him like he was still there. When I watched a good TV program, I turned to where he used to sit and said: ‘You would have liked that one.’

There isn’t a day I don’t think about Jeff and it’s only now that I can look at photos of him and enjoy the memories, instead of just feeling sad about them.

After we bumped into each other, the week before my wedding, I honestly thought I’d never see Jeff again. I was young and not brave enough to follow my heart. But I am so grateful I found him and that we had nine wonderful years together.

I miss Jeff so much but consider myself lucky to have known such love. Some people live their whole life without knowing that feeling. I will cherish it forever.

Ends

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