As always, much gratitude to Tess for entertaining our Muses.
I can’t believe it. After all these years, there she sits, furiously typing away on her laptop, completely oblivious to everything around her.
Completely oblivious to what’s right in front of her.
Completely oblivious … to me.
What if she looks up?
I’ve only pictured this reunion hundreds and hundreds of times in my head, in my dreams, and this – standing outside a nondescript internet café in an uninspiring city in Germany with my face pressed embarrassingly to the glass – is definitely not the way it’s supposed to go. Germany? What the hell is she doing in Germany anyway?
I mean, I’m not even supposed to be here. I barely speak the language well enough to order lunch, I don’t have warm enough clothing with me and I haven’t been home in weeks. But when Gupta’s wife went into early labor, the assignment fell into my lap and I was diverted. Lucky me.
God, she’s still gorgeous. I wish she would look up.
It’s been -- what? -- maybe ten, eleven years since that summer; that whirlwind, head-rush, heartbreaking summer when I lost my virginity and my heart and my sanity to a whip-smart girl from Topeka, Kansas at a three–week artist-in-residence workshop for teens. I remember stepping off the bus that first day, a mildly terrified 17-year-old with a camera and an attitude. She was standing in line at the registration table reading a brochure when she looked up and saw me. Her smile … God, her smile was brilliant! And I was so hopelessly lost.
Penelope. That was her name. I remember asking her what her parents were thinking, naming her that. She’d pretended to be offended, then said it made her unique, as if she needed a name to accomplish that. And she used her full name, too, because she hated the nickname Penny with a passion, although her hair was the appropriate color, a deep, coppery auburn, silky soft and smelling like fresh peaches.
She was there because she’d won a scholarship; she was going to be a writer, the next Dorothy Parker or Virginia Woolf. It wasn’t unusual for me to find her camped out under a tree, reading or writing. But always, she’d see my shadow, or hear me approach and she’d look up and smile.
That look, that smile, like I was exactly what she was hoping to see, made me feel like I was somebody, not just a skinny kid with a decent eye for composition and a passion for grunge music. She asked my opinion and actually listened to what I had to say. She laughed at my jokes, scolded me when I was being an ass, and introduced me to a world of female writers which my misogynistic high school curriculum had chosen to ignore. She taught me to dance, I taught her to fish. She taught me to play poker, I taught her to water ski. She showed her support for my work with her praise and with her constructive criticism. I read every word she wrote.
I still do.
Our connection was immediate and, for those three weeks, we were inseparable. On our last night at the workshop, while everyone else was roasting marshmallows and discussing plans for senior year, we slipped away from the crowd to lay on a blanket under her favorite tree and stare at the moon. She thanked me and told me our friendship had made her a better writer. I thanked her for being the best subject I’d ever photographed. We came together with an urgency; I kissed her and held her and loved her for the first time … and for the last. And afterwards, as we lay spent and sleepy, making wishes on stars, she looked up at me with that smile, just a bit sadder, and promised she’d never forget me. The next morning, without fanfare or breakfast or exchanging addresses or even saying goodbye, she returned to Kansas, and I returned to Denver, a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and forever changed.
I never heard from her again.
She’s still typing, her fingers flying over the keyboard in a desperate attempt to keep up with that bullet train that is her mind. People are starting to stare at me now. I can feel their eyes on me, wondering if I’m a stalker, a threat to the peace and tranquility of this lazy Sunday afternoon. Let them call the police. Maybe the commotion will break her concentration and she’ll look up and recognize me, come running out to throw her arms around me and beg the officers not to arrest me.
I wonder … does she ever think about me like I think about her?
Does she ever dream of me at night? Does she ever sit across the table from her date as she sips expensive wine, wishing it was me sharing her dessert? Does she ever seek me out, “Google” my name to find traces of me or my work lounging about in the ether? Does she wonder if I’m married, or if I’m happy? Does she ever look back on those three weeks with fondness or longing or even regret?
This is silly. I should rap on the window and get her attention.
I should walk into the café and show her the photo, ask her permission to use it. It’s a really good photo.
I should walk in and offer to buy her a coffee or dinner or invite her to run away with me.
I should tell her that I’ve read every post she’s ever uploaded and every short story she’s ever had published. I should tell her that I follow her on Twitter and that I’ve pre-ordered her book from Amazon.
No, no. What I really should do is just walk away. Forget permissions. Delete the photo. Pretend this moment never happened. Leave the past in the past, turn around and go get on with my life.
Please … just look up.
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