Sitting on a beach in Devon and staring up at the sky, teen sweethearts Sam Penny and Derek MacMillan wondered where life would take them.
It was then, as a plane flew overhead, that Sam suggested Derek could join the air force, jokingly telling him: “You’d look good in a pair of Ray-Bans.”
But when he took her suggestion literally and was posted overseas, she felt a pang of regret.
In reality, it would mean spending decades apart. Both married different people, had children and eventually got divorced.
But in a tale straight out of a wartime drama, Sam’s old flame came flying back into her life via a chance message on Facebook.
Now, almost 30 years after they sat on that beach, the pair are finally married to each other and live happily in Devon.
RAF officer Derek, 45, says: “Now we are back together and married with our joined family and a dog, I realise that this is how life should be.”
The pair first met at The Purple Turtle bar in Reading, Berks, in 1992.
Derek was 17 and Sam was 15, but there was an instant spark.
Teaching assistant Sam, now 43, recalls the moment she first set eyes on Derek. “I can remember it like it was yesterday,” she says.
“I was with my friends and I asked him if I could use the stool next to him.
“There was something about the way he smiled and flicked his hair that immediately made me blush. My first thought was that he was completely gorgeous and as the evening went on, we got chatting and really hit it off.
“I gave Derek my number and it went from there. We dated for about five months and during that time we were inseparable.
“But eventually it just fizzled out. I think we were too young for a proper relationship.”
The pair remained friends but the following year, Sam moved 180 miles away to Devon with her family.
“We kept in touch,” she says. “Derek even came to visit me. We sat on the beach and that’s when we discussed his career. I jokingly told him he should join the air force as he’d look good in a pair of Ray-Bans.
“We joked that if neither of us were married by the time we were 30, we would get hitched,” she says.
“I remember secretly hoping it would work out like that.”
Sam went on to enrol at university in Plymouth to study animal science, while Derek signed up for the RAF.
Then in February 1999, Derek called Sam out of the blue. “He rang to tell me he’d met someone and it was getting serious,” she says.
“And although I’d had boyfriends of my own, I remember wanting to be sick on the spot.
“That’s when Derek asked if there was any chance for us. I was 23 and about to go travelling around Asia and Australia, so I had to say no.
“I hung up and cried my eyes out. It felt like another chance had been missed. I even wrote to him while I was travelling, telling him how I really felt but I was too scared to post it.”
And Derek says: “When Sam moved with her family, I was devastated but I moved on with my life and met someone new.
“However, I needed to make sure that my chances with Sam were definitely in the past. I asked her outright in a phone conversation.
“I had to accept the past was the past.”
Derek got married in 1999 while Sam tied the knot in 2005.
She then became mum to Michael, now 16, Sienna, 13, and Tyler, eight.
Sam threw herself into family life but admits: “I often wondered where Derek was and if he was OK.
“My marriage ended in January 2016 and I spent a year as a single mum. Then, in April 2017, a familiar name flashed up on my phone and that was it.