I pulled up a map on my phone and realized that she was at least 4 blocks away but without a second thought I started up the road in her direction. Being from a very rural town and sadly naive, I was taken aback by the many homeless citizens sitting or laying across the sidewalks They seemed to congregate most noticeably in front of the public library. It didn’t deter me, I simply walked passed them focused on my need to rescue her. When I reached a familiar area, I allowed my defenses to ease a little and during the walk I had almost forgotten my nervousness. I slowed my pace and began to dial her number as I looked for her familiar features, as the anxiety slowly returned. When someone called my name, I saw her across the street, sitting casually in a wrought iron chair of the bar on the corner. I waited for a gray minivan to pass before I trotted across the street. Probably from excitement but without any hesitation or forethought at all, I hugged her, a perfectly sweet and comfortable hello. Any nervousness I’d still had disappeared.
We walked back up the street the several blocks to the park. As usual our conversation began with ease and randomness. We browsed the booths and tents, admiring a few pieces and making hula-hooping jokes. We decided naturally to walk around the lake and continue talking. Conversation was smooth and easy and smiles were bright and abundant. I felt the pain in my cheeks and anticipated a very sore face by the end of the day. We walked along the sidewalk bumping into each other along the way; apparently neither of us had the ability to keep to a straight line. But I didn’t mind since I took every opportunity there was to reach out and touch her. We talked about tattoos and family, childhood illnesses, marriage and divorce. We made our way around the lake until it was definitely time to eat. We decided to find a restaurant instead of snacking on the vendor food. A short walk and we decided on an open-air BBQ bar and grill. The hostess attempted to sit us in the noisy bar area during a Sunday football game. My request for ‘someplace more quiet’ was met with a sneer and she reluctantly gave me what I asked for. As had now become our way, we fell easily into conversation. We ordered and ate easily with no girlie shyness. And then, the plane crashed into a train wreck and sank like the Titanic.
She asked me to lead the conversation. What? Me? But... I.. don’t… I… And thus began 30 excruciating minutes of stammering and stuttering broken up with awkwardly painful moments of silence and paralyzing eye contact. I tried. I tried to think of anything to ask. I had no clear or comprehensible thought in my entire brain. Nothing. The more we talked about the suddenly flaming debris of the date the worse I felt and the less I could say, if that was even possible. I was utterly paralyzed by my innate fear of rejection. We both begged silently for the waitress to return with our check, but she had completely disappeared. Apparently she refused to get herself caught in the mangled wreckage. Suddenly, I blurted out the most ridiculous and random question that came to mind. “Are you going to sell your car?” What the hell? Yea, I know. But for reasons beyond anything I could explain, that question worked (after she laughed a little, of course). As if the tension shield had been lowered the waitress reappeared and we got the check. She paid, but we didn’t leave. We sat at the table for another hour and talked about cars, September 11th and the beautiful Tori Amos.
When we left we walked back towards the park. This time my silence wasn’t stressful but the awkwardness of my near breakdown still hung in the air. She asked if I was ok. I really was. I had so many emotions and feelings rushing through my head and my heart that I was silently trying to organize the sudden rush that filled the previously void space. Throughout the day our hands brushed each others and I let myself imagine what it would be like to hold her hand. But in keeping with a promise I had made her, I refrained. More than that, for the last 4 hours I’d been mesmerized by her eyes. When she looked at me it was as if she could see through me and into parts of my soul that I keep skillfully hidden from the world. I had never felt so vulnerable and trusting at the same time. She looked at me like there was no one else in the world and I did not want her to stop. We walked past the lake and up the street towards where I’d met her near the parking garage. She asked where I was parked and I pointed in the opposite direction. I told her that I wanted to walk her to her car since it was further away and if we had walked to mine I’d already be leaving. She didn’t get it, most likely because I didn’t say it in any sort of comprehensible way. So I said it again, but more direct, “Because if we walk to your car, I have more time with you.”
The sound of understanding that she made, made me smile. She suddenly looked over my shoulder at the building we were passing. “The library.” She said. “Do you want to go in?” Of course I said yes. I’d have followed her into a public restroom at that point. We wandered around the stacks aimlessly talking about my pending publication and the size of my paperback. We both love books and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be in her presence. I smiled every time she looked at me. I begged silently to come across some secluded aisle or nook. I needed to kiss her. I wanted to feel her lips on mine. There was not a single nook... anywhere.
All day I had carried a gift for her in my purse. It was my worn and beloved copy of my favorite book. Id picked it off my bookshelf the night before. I never second guessed my plan to give her the book I’d read at least a dozen times. While the book was a symbol in itself, I needed something more, something that spoke of hope and promise- a wish of sorts. I scoured my house looking for just the right thing. And then I found it, a book of scrap-booking paper in a fairytale theme. I’d had the pack for years and had never used a single sheet. I flipped through the different pages wondering how to cut or size them just right, none of them meeting my artistic expectations. That was until I saw the words, “Once upon a time.” Perfect. I cut the paper and glued it to a double thickness, perfect for a bookmark. On the back I wrote the following days date, the day we were to meet for the first time. I began to slide the finished bookmark into the book in the front but instantly knew of the best place for it. I flipped to the page that I was looking for and closed it in the book tying it all together with a piece of thin teal ribbon. I'd not given her the book yet, but given the symbolism and thought I put into it I told her, “You may not always see it. But many of the things I do are done for a specific reason or meaning.” I didn’t elaborate, one day I would tell her. If I could remember only one thing from that day it would be the look she gave me after I said that. It was as if I’d unlocked something inside her.
We crossed over into the children’s library, with the storybook paintings and schoolroom table settings. As was her way, she shot out a question, “What did you think about school?” School. Now there was a topic. We sat and talked about our most significant experiences from our memories. As she spoke I couldn’t help but think she was reading my own thoughts, her experiences, while uniquely hers, intimately mirrored some of my own. The passion and emotion that played across her face drew me in and I was hypnotized by her voice. It was as we shared this personal and perfect connection that we were asked to leave being two adults in the children’s section with obvious lack of children. So we left. The library that earlier that day I’d have only remembered for the many homeless people that gathered outside now took on a more significant meaning in my life.
Back on the street the sun had set. We continued to her car, walking ever so slowly trying to hold on to the fading minutes of our time together, talking and touching. Earlier that night she noticed that she’d lost her parking ticket. Neither of us had an idea of the consequences until we spoke to the attendant, “$30.00 minimum for losing the ticket and then the hourly rate for the 6.5 hours parked.” Wow. Looking back, the parking attendant had quite a racket going on people like us. But paying $20.00 instead of $75.00 seemed more than reasonable, even though we both initially thought she was just being a kind person. She rode up the elevator with us to the car, apparently she was going to swipe her employee badge at the gate in exchange for her fee. When we dropped her back off at her post- a worn out stool in the middle of the driveway, I got out of the backseat and into the front. At the stoplight she reached over and handed me a gift. I stared at it in disbelief. Did she really just give me this? It was a new, crisp book- a collection of stories from her most favorite author. As I held the gift I reached into my bag and pulled out my worn book. “It’s not new and sort of wrinkled and stained.” But in spite of that she told me she loved it anyway.
When we got to my parking garage, there wasn’t any place for her to park and with the traffic, standing still for a long goodbye wasn’t really an option. Suddenly our night had just come to an abrupt and awkward halt. All I could do was lean over, kiss her on the cheek and get out onto the sidewalk. I walked to my car in a daze of disappointment. I’d wanted to kiss her all day. I didn’t want the night to end and then for it to just end without any warning or fanfare I was in shock. I sat in my car for ten minutes thinking that the best day I’d ever had just ended the way the fun does when you pop a balloon. Once I resigned myself to the fact that I’d missed the best opportunity I’d ever had for happiness and pulled out onto the street for home.
Then my phone rang. It was her. “Hey, I know you want to run away, but I opened the book and one of your cards fell out of it. I think you may need it.”
What? One of my credit cards had wedged itself into the book as it bounced around in my purse during the day. “Ok. Where are you?” She told me her location but it didn’t matter, I had no idea where I was but I just said, “Don’t worry, I’ll find you, again.”
I drove up and down several streets as I looked at the map on my phone for the police department that she'd said she had pulled over in front of. After a few more minutes I finally found it and pulled up behind her idling car. I walked to her window and reached in for my card. I thanked her and lightly squeezed her hand before I walked away. What the hell are you doing, Julia? Go back now! So I turned around. I leaned into the window and said “I truly did have a wonderful day.”
She smiled. “Did you really?"
“Yes, very much,” is all I managed to get out before she kissed me. My heart raced and my stomach fluttered. Her foot slipped of the brake and her car rolled forward. I laughed and began to turn back to my car but I couldn’t. I needed more. Her hands touched my face and I knew I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else in the world than right there at that moment. She asked me not to go and it took every ounce of strength I had to leave. But I left and I prayed that the imperfections of the day were overshadowed by the beauty of that single moment, that one beautiful kiss. I drove home with a racing heart, a smile and an undeniable hope for happiness.