A woman struggles to connect her life memories to who she is now.
| Most of the time, I don't know where I am. Sometimes I have no idea who I am. I seem to float in loose memories, but I don't mind because memories can't hurt as deeply as reality.|
At the moment I know I'm in a large white bed, and I can smell the delicate blossomy scent of apple trees wafting in through the screened window. Various metal contraptions are muddled around my bed. A sour medical smell clashes with the sweet breeze.
A tray is on the stand beside my bed. A chair sits off to the side. Did someone come to visit me? Have I been here long? Who do I know? Do I know me?
My mind is in a vague fog. Numbers and fact strangle each other for prominence. Faces and names surface slightly, but I don't recognize them. I see locations, but I don't know why they look so familiar. I feel past emotions, but the reason they're so important evades my conscious thinking.
The fog wisps away slightly, and I know I'm 25, off to tackle the world after college. At the moment I'm on the bus, going to visit my best friend, Ryan McKay.
I met him at college and the two of us became close friends. We shared many of the same ideals, and spent hours talking and studying together. He became like a brother to me, and not once did we think of each other as romantic objects.
My girlfriends thought we were strange. I just smirked and said they were jealous.
Ryan had a girl anyway. She went to another college, and they dated on weekends.
After college, I finally landed my dream job as a photo journalist for National Geographic. I was leaving in two weeks to go on my first international assignment. I would be in Spain for the annual grape harvest. I would then leave almost immediately upon my return for Sudan.
I was visiting Ryan for a week in Seattle.
Ryan was there to meet me at the bus stop.
"Hey there," he greeted, giving me a big hug. "How's my Pulitzer Prize winner?"
"Oh you! It's only my first assignment." I drew back and grinned at him. "Aren't I the greatest?"
He chuckled, "Modest and unassuming, that's you."
On the way to my hotel we conversed in the easy manner we had since we met. He told me about his pay raise he'd gotten since becoming editor at the publishing company he worked for. I told him more about my new assignment.
"Hey, remember this?" Ryan fiddled with the dials on the tape player. Soon the beat of 'All You Need is Love' filled the jeep, and we sang along.
"And having money doesn't hurt either." I said as the song ended.
A peaceful silence ensued for a few minutes, and then he turned and said, "Oh, hey, I took the entire week off, so we can do whatever you feel like. I'm not even going to look at a manuscript while you're here. Wherever you want to go, whatever you want to do-"
"Except shop?" I finished his sentence, smiling sweetly at him.
"You read my mind," he rejoined. " I love you, but I refuse to go shopping with you."
"You're rather circumstantial in your affection." I kidded him.
"Self-preservation," he shuddered dramatically.
I swatted him and he caught my hand. "Ah-ah. That's really not nice to do to your host, especially if he's your best friend."
"Unhand me, sir," I tried for an indignant tone, but the giant grin on my face wrecked it.
He let go of my hand and grinned impudently. "You're just trying to be coy."
I sniffed. "If you were any other guy, I'd belt you one."
He grinned but didn't say anything.
That basically summed up our relationship, I thought. Since he wasn't any other guy, I didn't have to watch what he said and what it meant. Or what I said, and how he would take it.
"It's sort of weird," I mused aloud.
"I know," he agreed.
I looked sharply at him. “What?"
"We're like an old married couple," he explained.
"Except we're not married," I added.
"Exactly. That's the weirdness of it. We act like an old married couple, but we'll never be an old married couple."
"Maybe our kids will fall in love with each other." I joked.
He looked at me intently. "Promise me, Kimmy. We'll always be friends. Even after we get married."
"Of course," I said lightly. Too lightly.
"No, for reals, no matter what happens, and no matter where we end up."
"For reals," I sobered up, and met his gaze." We'll be friends first."
By then we had arrived at the hotel closest to his flat and we went in to take my luggage to my suite.
I freshened up, and then we went out to dinner.
The next few days were filled with shared jokes, sun filled moments, and laughter.
I don't remember where we went, and I don't suppose it's really necessary. The details don't seem to matter much anymore.
My mind is drawn to when we hung out and watched movies at his flat. We had the same tastes, basically, except where we had drastic differences.
We sat on the couch, a sofa pillow in my arms, and the popcorn bowl in his. John Wayne trained his squad of marines on the screen before us.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, the screen was dark and the room was silent.
I lifted my head from where it had fallen onto Ryan's shoulder. "You sure make a good pillow." I mumbled, half awake.
Ryan didn't answer.
I looked up, started to say something, then I stopped.
Ryan stared at me, his brow crinkled and a thoughtful, unreadable glint in his eye.
Then he shook his head and grinned. "Better get you to bed, honey. You were snoring."
"I don't snore." I retorted, and the moment passed.
But the next day, Ryan began acting strange.
I was walking to the fridge to get a coke when I heard a crash.
Ryan's glass of milk lay shattered on the tile floor.
"What the?'' I looked at him, an amused grin tugging at my mouth.
He flushed. "I wasn't watching where I set it." He shrugged and went to get a towel.
I raised an eyebrow. He had been sitting at the breakfast bar, and there wasn't much room to misplace his glass.
That day we went hiking to some waterfalls. It was gorgeous scenery, and when I commented on that fact to Ryan, he said, "Mmhmm, sure is!" The only problem was his gaze was centered on me, not on the beautiful outdoors.
I tried to ignore the vague stirrings in my subconscious. Something was up with Ryan, but I didn't quite know what.
That night, I lay in my bed, puzzling over it. He had kept running into people and objects all day long, not acting like himself in the least.
Could he... I dismissed the errant thought. We were friends first. Always.
The next day I determined to not notice anything amiss with Ryan. Because there wasn't. At all.
Despite my best intentions, Ryan's blunders knew no bounds. He kept fidgeting with things, he couldn't remember pertinent details, and he had this utterly silly grin on his face.
Finally I got up the nerve to ask him. "Dude," I said that night as we sat watching CNN. " Are you okay?"
"Hmmm?" he looked at me, his brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"Is there something you haven't told me? Or someone rather."
He shrugged uneasily. “Why would you think that? I tell you everything."
"You're acting as though you met someone. For the past couple days, you've been weird."
"You're always dropping or running into things. You used to be very capable, and now you're sort of a klutz."
Ryan considered my words. "What would you say if I did say that I had met someone?" he asked quietly.
"I would-" I dropped my eyes from his gaze. "I'd be really happy for you, of course." I looked at a patch of wall slightly to the right of his head. "What else would I be?"
"So you have met someone?" I blurted out, a strange trickle of fear dripping into my heart.
"I didn't say I had," he hedged.
"Hey, we're best friends, buddy. And you're a bad liar besides." I shook a finger at him, grinning.
He didn't grin back. He just looked at me. And the way he looked at me... I didn't even want to consider that.
For the first time, I felt uncomfortable with Ryan. More apprehensive than uncomfortable.
"Ryan, tell me the truth. Did you actually meet a girl you could fall in love with for reals?" I shifted on the couch, and our arms brushed. I felt more in that brushing than at any time I had ever hugged him.
He shrugged. “I don't know. And I don't know if she even knows I exist. I mean, like, as a guy. Not just as a friend."
"So you're friends with her?" I steadied my wits. Just some girl at work, obviously. "Why can't you just tell her? The worst she can do is say no."
"Are you sure that's the worst?" he questioned, eying me. "Is it really that easy?"
"Well, yeah, of course. But if you are working pretty closely, it could get awkward if she says no, but probably not for long."
He picked up my hand and appeared like he was about to say something. Instead, he jumped up and refilled both our sodas.
I got hardly any sleep that night. A persistent nagging at my subconscious told me there was more to Ryan's workplace romance than he had let on. But if he wouldn't tell me, then I couldn't help him.
The next day, I asked Ryan if we could go see his office. I figured if I had a good idea of who this 'she' was, then I could help him more.
I didn't find out anything. There were no females who batted their eyelashes seductively at Ryan, and there was no one that Ryan pointed out ecstatically to me.
His secretary, a middle aged plump woman named Teresa, motioned me aside for a moment just as we were preparing to go. "So you're the reason he took off work for a week?" she asked, bright eyes appraising every inch of my person.
"Yes, we're old friends."
"Mmhmm. Seems he's found a female who can actually keep him out of the office. He never goes on dates, you know. No female until you showed up." she smiled and winked at me.
I frowned. “Like I said, we're good college friends."
Later on, I mentioned the conversation. "If I wouldn't have known better, I'd have thought that she thought we were an item. With a capital I." I laughed.
He grinned. "Leave it to Teresa." he shook his head, meeting my gaze, and his grin slowly faded.
"Did I say something?" I wondered, when he continued to stare at me.
He shook his head abruptly and changed the subject.
Later when he dropped me off at my suite, we said our good night out on the curb. He quickly kissed my cheek, muttered "g'night. seeyouateight." and bolted for his jeep.
I let myself into my room feeling slightly disoriented. His kiss had messed with my equilibrium. Not in an earth shattering way. Just an alarming sense of 'rightness'.
But we were friends. And friends don't- can't- fall in love with friends. Ever.
Besides, our kids were supposed to marry. We would mess everything up.
I shook my head at the absurdity. This strange sense of 'rightness' I felt with Ryan was only my subconscious wanting some form of emotional anchor.
Anyway, I shook my head as I brushed my teeth, nearly choking on my toothpaste, Ryan wasn't my ideal of the guy I wanted to marry.
Yes, he was tall, but he was blonde, whereas I preferred dark haired guys. And his build wasn't quite what I had in mind. He was strong but not husky. And we were friends besides.
My mind fogs over again, and I see only the dank hospital curtains and the way the light strikes the Venetian blinds. I don't know what I'm doing here, there are so many things I should be doing. Don't I have an assignment to go to Sudan and take pictures of the starving children? My boss wants it done, pronto.
I try to move, but my body is obviously older than my mind.
I blink slowly. What is my name? Does everyone have a name or are there other people without names? Something wet slides down my cheek.
A woman in a silly teddy bear top and sky blue slacks walks in. "You're awake!" she smiles cheerfully. "How are you?"
"Who are you?" I ask. "What are you doing?" But she doesn't reply, just smiles and attaches something to my arm and makes other quick adjustments with my covers, the medical things around my bed, and the blinds.
"We should really let this beautiful sunlight in. Shame to waste It." she chatters on, her ghastly red mouth moving unintelligibly.
But I don't mind. I can't even hear her.
Ryan smiled at me. “Packed lunch and everything, Courtesy of Subway, but you don't mind. We used to live off Subway, remember? Back when we were starving students."
I regarded Ryan through my sleepy eyes, and then opened the door to my suite all the way. "Come on in, you crazy guy. Let me get decent and I'll be ready to go."
Ryan made himself comfortable on the couch, and I went to get a shower and get dressed.
"Would you hurry up? You're worse than a girlfriend!" he hollered good naturedly from the living room as I applied lip gloss.
"So what's that make me?" I quirked a brow at him. "As bad as a wife?"
He laughed and shook his head. "Just about." His baseball cap slid from where he'd been twirling it on his fingers, flew to the table and knocked over the vase of fresh flowers.
"You can clean it up." I grinned at him. "You really are-"
"Quite the klutz?" he finished, grabbing some paper towels and nearly taking off the entire roll.
I looked pointedly at the pile of paper towels littering the floor. "You said it."
A red flush crept up his neck. "Sorry."
I grinned. He looked so cute like that.
I dropped the open mascara on the bathroom counter, tiny black splatters dotting the faux marble top. "Oh darn it!"
"Et tu?" Ryan asked dryly.
"Let's get out of here before we wreck the whole hotel."
That day was the happiest one I ever spent. We wandered all over the countryside without knowing exactly where we went, and not even caring when we realized we had no clue how to go home.
We laughed as only youth can laugh, and jokingly suggested we camp out in his jeep.
"Wouldn't Teresa gloat?" I grinned. "Seeing as I'm the only female who can keep you out of the office."
"Well...." he said, then mumbled something so quietly that I had to lean close to try and catch it.
"What did you say?" My hair blew over us and covered my face. I swiped it away. Ryan swerved off the road.
"Why are we stopping?" I asked. There was no beautiful scenery; just an ancient bridge spray-painted with obscenities.
"Look, you're leaving tomorrow, and I'd like to tell you something very important before you go." His eyes drilled into me.
I sensed what he was going to say and tried to stave it off in the first insane comment that came to mind. "You're gay, right?" I peeked at him, grinning.
His silence told me that that wasn't the thing to say. "Kimmy," he began in a low voice. "I am not gay, nor will I ever be gay. I realize we're best friends, but I, um, I think I've fallen in love with you."
I tried to swallow, but my throat was too dry and I choked mid-swallow. I began coughing, and Ryan thumped me on the back. "Good old Kimmy. I bare my soul and Kimmy chokes." Ryan grinned feebly.
I tried to think hastily. What was I to say? Our kids couldn't marry? Friends don't date? I'm sorry, but I don't love you like that?
"Look," I began, "I, um, can't."
I stopped. The words clogged in my throat. There was so much I wanted to tell him, so many reasons, and so many excuses. I didn't want to hurt him.
But I had.
I looked at him, saw his jaw tense, and his eyelashes blink hastily.
"I'm sorry." Feeling like a heel, I stared at my fingers clutching the torn and smeared Subway wrapper.
"No, I'm sorry." Ryan's tone was savage. "I don't know what came over me. Just forget I ever said anything."
"Please Kimmy." He cut me off, staring at the steering wheel and clenching it between his fists. "Just leave it, okay?"
I could swear I heard his voice crack on the last word. But it was for the best. Truly.
I noticed the curse strewn cement in front of us. Cracks had formed over them. In some places the paint had worn off. The teenagers who had vandalized this were long gone. Time was erasing their mark on the bridge.
Time took care of many things. It would take care of Ryan's hurt.
I blinked my eyes. Being an adult sucked.
He ground the gears vengefully and lurched back onto the road. "I better get you back. Your bus leaves early tomorrow."
"Ryan, we're still friends, aren't we?" I leaned over and stared at him pleadingly.
"Of course we are. Nothing's changed, right?" His crooked grin appeared on his face. He glanced at me. "It would take a lot to ruin us, Kimmy."
"I'm still sorry." And I was even more sorry that'd I'd just said that.
Immediately, Ryan's face froze, and he leaned towards the door and away from me. He stared at the road before him, his nails digging into the steering wheel. "Please, Kimmy. Don't."
I blinked, shaking my head slowly. My mind was a ponderous weight, full of unknown things. And I was so tired.
The light from the window was starting to hurt my eyes. Why didn't that stupid teddy bear lady close them?
What was I thinking about? My brain felt frozen and it terrified me that I had no control over my thought patterns.
I screamed and clawed at my hair. A wrinkled arm with sagging skin appeared in my view. Whose was it? An equally aged hand slowly descended from above. The pressure on my hair eased. That was my hand. It couldn't be. I'm not that old.
My mind struggled against the knowledge. I'm not. I'm not. I'm not.
I stared wildly about the room, seeking confirmation, recognition. From something, anything.
Photos on the corkboard. All strangers.
I stared at the photos again. Someone. Please.
I see myself, a woman with wild brown hair and an equally wild smile.
I have my hand reaching behind me to touch someone. I'm leaning against someone. He has his arms around my waist, his head on my shoulder.
We were at a family party; my brother's anniversary. All the couples were having their pictures taken. He'd insisted on this pose.
He had kept doing ridiculous things as they were trying to snap the photo. Nibbling my shoulder. Biting my dress straps. Licking my neck. Blowing in my ear.
I'd pinched his nose, but he wouldn't stop distracting me until I'd kissed him. Which I did rather grudgingly of course.
I smiled faintly in relief. I had a connection to reality now. A slight one.
The details of that day ebbed away until I stared at a picture of myself in the arms of a stranger. How disgusting.
I looked wildly at the rest of the pictures. Stark terror grabbed at me and shook my mind loose. I hated this not knowing who I was, or who other people were.
My mind felt like an anchor tossed overboard, rushing through dark water, sinking swiftly down. Finally bouncing onto solid bottom, knowing it should recognize something, but is unable to penetrate the thought because of the silent darkness that sluggishly surrounds it.
Someone walked into my room. "Hello there."
"Who are you?" I asked sharply. Nosy strangers, thinking they can barge in.
"I'm Evelyn. How are you, Mom?"
"I'm not your mother, young lady. You better go now, or I'll scream for the police."
Strangely, there were quiet tears in the woman's eyes. But I don't care. My mind grapples uselessly. I don't know her at all.
She gave me a wobbly smile. "Okay then. Bye."
My brow wrinkled and I rubbed my hand over my face. Papery, ancient skin touched my forehead.
I stared at the hand before me and began screaming. This was too much. I wanted it to stop.
Someone hurried into the room, but I don't look up. Just stare at my hand, screaming like a cracked old woman.
"Shh. Shh, Kimmy. It's okay." Human arms envelope me.
I quiet somewhat and lean against the strong chest.
My screams fade slowly and I cry wordlessly, unknowingly.
"There, there. You’ll be okay." A hand strokes my hair.
I stiffen in immediate suspicion. "Who are you?" I sit up, and look at the elderly man kneeling beside me. "What is this? A parade?" I don't give him a chance to reply. "Can't you all just leave a poor woman alone?"
"I'll go now, if you like." The man slowly stood up, his hands on his knees as he straightened.
"No. Stay." I commanded swiftly. I don't want to be alone again at the mercy of my thoughts. Or lack of them.
"May I sit?" he gestured to the plastic chair beside my bed.
He seated himself, and we sat in silence for a bit.
"What did you do today?" I asked finally.
“I took my dog, Tina, for a walk. She's the cutest Dachshund you ever saw. Thinks a lot of herself too. And she's very obedient. I call and she hurtles over to me. I wish you could meet her. She'd love you, I'm sure."
"I had a dog." I interrupted suddenly. "Daddy took her to the pound. She ate his underwear."
"He could have just bought new underwear," the man suggested.
I grinned. "I know, but that was him. He died a couple years ago. After I got my job at the National Geographic, you know. I didn't cry at his funeral." I looked at the stranger. "Do you think that was awful of me?"
"Not really. People express grief in different ways. When I'm sad, I just tense up. You just have your own way of being sad."
I looked into his eyes. Steady and a little sad around the edges. I wondered why he was sad now.
"Do you have a family?" I asked abruptly.
"Yes. A wife and three children. My wife and daughter are best friends. Evelyn never had any secrets from her mother. They were real pals. Her mom would even tell her of ways she could get back to the two boys for the brotherly tricks they would play." He sighed slowly.
I grinned suddenly. A rusty memory crumbled a little from my impenetrable wall. I heard laughing whispers, saw Crisco being sandwiched between Ritz crackers, and remembered the looks on two little boys' faces as they bit into the snack prepared by their sister.
I looked again at the man. "Remember the Crisco crackers?"
A crooked grin split his face. "They never ate Ritz crackers again, did they?"
I stared at him, my smile fading into the wrinkles that crisscrossed my face. Have I seen him before? I try in vain to chip at the wall, but it stands as thick as Time, and just as unmovable.
The man stood up and walked over to the window. He lowered the shades, and then turned to face me. '' And what did you do today, Kimmy?" He asked.
I stirred uneasily on the bed. "I don't remember. I keep trying to remember, and I can't"
"Well, that's okay. Don't feel obligated."
I glanced around the room, forgetting all about the stranger.
The corkboard with its waves of snapshots caught my wandering eyes.
I tried to focus.
A faded photo stood out from the sea of smiling strangers.
I tried to remember.
The front door flew open, snow flakes gusting inside.
"Hey, Kimmy!" My big brother, Stan, grabbed me in a big hug. "How's my baby sis?" He leaned back and grinned at me. "What'd you get me for Christmas?"
"Nothing," I laughed at his mock disappointment and wriggled out of his arms. "Close the door, you silly oaf. You're letting in the cold."
He turned to do so, and I got a glimpse of a tall, cute guy behind him.
Stan closed the door, and nudged the man forward. "Hey, sis, Meet my buddy in arms. Jai, Kimmy." he gestured to each of them. "Jai's family is in India this year, so he's spending Christmas with us. Oh, I forgot to tell Mom." He walked off toward s the kitchen, hollering, "Hey Mom! It's your favorite son!"
Left alone with Jai, I felt slightly nervous. "Hi." I extended my hand.
He grinned, and engulfed my hand in his big one. "Hi, it's nice to meet you. It's kind of you to take me in on such short notice."
I felt a flutter in my heart, looking at his dark face. Those eyelashes were to die for. And those eyes. I suddenly knew the meaning of the term 'crush'.
I shook myself mentally. "Yeah, it's great you could make it. I hope you have a good time."
He raised an eyebrow and grinned a bit rakishly. “I believe I will."
My face flushed. "So where do you call home?"
He told me, and we chatted easily.
I finally took him into the kitchen where he met Mom.
I subtly gave him a once over as he talked pleasantries with Mom.
Wow. That whole deal about bother bringing home a friend for the holidays was totally underrated.
Jai added his own brand of originality to the holiday, and became part of the family. Trimming the tree, singing carols, making cookies, having snowball fights.
He could throw a mean snowball.
Once he'd gotten me right in the face. I couldn't see for a few seconds.
He came over. "Hey, I'm really sorry. Let me help you." he carefully cradled my head and wiped the snow off my face. Then he quickly kissed my forehead. "There. All better."
I blushed. "Lots better." I threw my snowball square in his face.
He fell back, howling, into the snow drift.
I knelt beside him. "Gosh, I'm sorry. Are you okay?" I gingerly wiped some snow from his face.
He winked. "No, it hurts badly. Can you make it better?"
"Of course," I gazed at him.
Then I grabbed a handful of snow and washed his smirking face. "Take that, you stinker."
He sat up sputtering, "Why, you!"
"Isn't it all better?" I looked at him innocently.
"What do you think, you insufferable wench?" he growled and glared at me from underneath his now frosty white eyebrows. A twinkle shone in his dark eyes. "Brat."
"Hey, that's not nice." I shoved him back into the snow.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me down with him.
I landed facedown in the snow. Sputtering, I lifted my head to glare at him, my breath showing misty in the air. "Brat!"
"Yep!" he grinned lazily at me.
There was silence between us, and then he began to move his head closer to mine.
I looked in his eyes. He was going to kiss me.
He brought his head nearer, and our breaths mingled in one frosty cloud.
He touched my cheek gently and tilted my face up. I looked at him and suddenly in my mind's eye I saw Ryan's hands clenching the steering wheel. Ryan's face so close to mine when he let me lean my head on his shoulder.
I shook my head. Forget Ryan. I closed my eyes and leaned closer to Jai.
I suddenly saw Ryan's jaw tense, and him leaning away from me. I heard the hurt in his voice: "No, I'm sorry."
I jerked back from Jai just as he reached to pull me closer.
"I'm sorry." I breathed heavily and stared at him.
"No, I'm sorry.” Jai replied. "I don't know what came over me."
"Don't say that!" I clapped my hands to my ears. Ryan's angry voice repeated Jai's words. Or maybe it was the other way around. I shook my head, trying to shake the memory.
"Are you okay?" Jai's worried tone penetrated my thoughts.
I opened my eyes, and lowered my hands. "Yeah. Sorry. It's just- nothing. Sorry."
"So?" Jai raised a brow. "Who is he?"
"Huh? What are you talking about?" I stared.
"Come on. Spill it. You were having fun, and then it was like all of a sudden you remembered something. You're not dating, are you?"
"No, I'm not." My retort was swift. "Look, just leave it, okay? It's all over with."
"Is not." Jai said calmly, sitting up. "Are you going to tell me, or am I going to freeze my rear for nothing?"
"You can freeze it for all I care!" I said crossly. "We're just friends. I told him so, okay?"
"You sound just like a woman." Jai grinned irritatingly.
"Oh, stop it!"
"If you really were just friends, you wouldn't break off the kiss of a lifetime for him."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're rather conceited?" I grinned in spite of myself.
"Yeah, has anyone ever told you that you're not just friends with Mr. So and So?"
"Yeah. And has anyone ever told you to stop trying to analyze feminine emotions?"
"Hell, yeah. And has anyone ever told you to just shut up and admit you're wrong?"
I shut up.
The little snapshot refocused.
I stared at it, trying to remember. The smiling faces grouped around the dressed up evergreen seemed to mock me.
I shook my head. Never mind.
I felt adrift again, and looked around. The man still sat in the chair.
"You're still here?" I asked inanely.
"Yes, I am. There's not much for me to do. And I like being here with you." he smiled at me gently.
I was strangely comforted. There was something familiar about the man. I couldn't quite place it.
"Do I know you?" I asked abruptly.
"You might." He stared at me intently.
I studied him.
"I don't think I do." I said at last. I shook my head. "No, I've never seen you before. I don't believe you told me your name. I'm Kimmy."
I held out my hand for him to shake.
The teddy bear woman bustled in, "Okay, time for all visitors to leave. It's time for dinner, okay?" she smiled expectantly.
He stood up. "It's been great talking to you, Kimmy. May I come back later?"
I smiled uncertainly. "Sure. I guess."
That night I couldn't sleep. Something about that man seemed familiar.
Finally, after hours of sleepless puzzling, I turned to my memories that most easily surfaced. The old man could wait.
Jai and I became good friends. More like brother and sister. He was a lady's man, to be sure, but I was immune to it after the incident in the snow. Besides, he liked my advice on females.
He called me up frequently, and we talked about life in general. He never alluded to 'Mr. So and So' again.
Except for one time.
"I've been thinking Kimster," Jai said thoughtfully, using his pet name for me.
"Oh, no, not again. Remember what happened last time you did that?" I joked.
"Oh, ha ha, I'm wounded." he replied sarcastically. "No, really. I think we're good friends now, right?"
"Yeah?" I said, puzzled. He didn't get all sentimental a lot.
"You don't have a boyfriend yet, do you?"
"No?" I said suspiciously.
"I think it's time you tell me about Mr. So and So. There's more to that than you'll admit, and it's getting in the way of your social life."
"I have a great social life. And I love my work!" I retorted defiantly.
"Right. Your work. That's all you do. Work. You need to chill sometimes. Have you gone out recently?"
"Have you been asked out?"
"Of course. But they were duds. All of them."
"What was his name again?"
"Ryan." I replied automatically.
"Ah. Go on."
I sighed. "You're a persistent jerk, you know that."
"You're stalling, Kimster."
"Oh, all right." I took a breath. "We met in college, and became best friends. Closer than you and I are. Closer than anybody I've known. Anyway, we finished college; he got a job at a publishing company in Seattle. I got my job here. I went to visit him for a week." I fell silent, remembering as I hadn't let myself remember for a while.
"Hello, Kimster, you there?" Jai said after a while.
"Yeah, sorry. Okay, back on track. That week was.... well, to be cliché, magical. We were still friends, but were tentatively skirting the issue of being more than friends. He asked at the end of the week, if I wanted to go out with him, like, date. I said no. And we haven't really talked since."
"You mean he hasn't tried to call you or anything?" Jai's tone was incredulous. "Does he want you or not? If he really wanted you, he'd call."
"Um, yeah, he has. I haven't answered the phone."
"Oh." Jai was silent for a moment. "And you don't like him because?"
"I do like him. I said quickly. "Just not like that."
"That doesn't make sense. You wouldn't be taking my calls, in that case."
"You're different. I know you don't care about me like Ryan does," I said.
"You don't know that. I could be secretly pining for you." Jai said, teasing.
I laughed. "Oh, right. And every other girl in the continental United States."
"Hey, no fair!" Jai protested.
"Oh, like it's not true?"
"I meant no fair to the girls in Alaska and Hawaii. You're leaving them out." he corrected.
I laughed again. "You’re bad, Jai."
"I know. But charming. At least, that's what they tell me." he said modestly.
"Tell me the truth,” he commanded abruptly.
"Do you like Ryan?" he asked. "For real, Kimster."
"I don't know. I never let myself think about it."
"So think about it."
I thought a bit. "To be truthful, I guess I do. But it won't work out."
"I agree. It won't." Jai said swiftly.
"Oh?" I was surprised.
"You won't even give it a chance. That's not being fair to either of you."
"This is real life, Jai. It's not some novel where we all get together and kissy, kissy, smoochy, smoochy, we all love each other. Okay?" I said sharply.
"Isn't that a song?" Jai interrupted blithely, not stung at all by my retort.
"Has anyone ever told you you're a romantic, underneath that ladies' man facade?” I asked.
"Has anyone ever told you you're in love?" Jai said.
I was getting annoyed. "And has anyone ever told you to stop trying to analyze feminine emotions?"
"And has anyone ever told you to just shut up and admit you're wrong?"
"Yes, I do recall that. And I get your point. But there's not much I can do about it. Even if I wanted to."
"Oh, please. Don't turn all wishy washy on me." he said, and I could almost see him rolling his dark eyes.
"All right, Jai, whatever you say." I rolled my eyes.
After I got off the phone with him, I rolled my eyes again. Men! They thought they knew everything.
It was close to a month later that I was on assignment in Idaho, doing a feature on the rock formations in southern Idaho, and getting some beautiful area shots to fill in the article.
Jai was located at the air force base in Colorado currently, and called me to say that he had some leave coming up that weekend, and he was going to come visit me.
Naturally, I was ecstatic, and we made plans to meet at the bus station on Friday night, around 8 pm. That way I had plenty of time to get ready after work.
I arrived at the station that night. The air was slightly cool, and I wore a charcoal gray sweater over my cream colored top. Dark gray slacks and my new matching pumps completed the outfit. It was a bit of a joke: I knew Jai would get a kick out of the fact that I dressed up to meet him.
I waited at the station, along with the other expectant crowds.
Finally, at 8:05, the grime covered bus pulled up, and I stood on tip-toe to watch the tired travelers unload.
Everyone tottered from the bus in single file, stretching their cramped muscles as they glanced around for a familiar face.
At last I saw a recognizable head. Except this head was blonde.
I gulped, nearly choking. I knew that head.
He turned and our eyes met. Simply put, but the profoundness and complexity of that meeting left me feeling like the oxygen had evaporated, and I skipped breaths trying to balance the lightheadedness.
He smiled widely, and made his way towards me. "Hey, Kimmy!" he shouted as he jogged across the pavement.
We hugged. I didn't know what else to do. I was stunned. and that was a gross understatement.
"Hey! What a surprise!" I finally managed, as we pulled away.
A puzzled frown crossed his face. "What do you mean?"
"I'm here for a friend of mine. I never expected to see you here." I explained, glancing back at the bus to see where Jai had gotten to.
"Wait a minute." he frowned and stepped back. "But you invited me here. You had something to tell me. You sent me a note. See, here it is-" he produced a rather bedraggled slip of paper from his shirt pocket.
I looked at it, realization slowly dawning like a small flurry of snowflakes. Of all my friends, Jai was the one I really did not like at the moment.
"Hold on a minute," I muttered to Ryan, turning to stride angrily towards the nearest payphone.
"What do you think this is a joke?" I was so furious I could hardly get the words out. I glanced around for Ryan, and saw him getting his luggage.
"I'm assuming you're at the bus station, Kimster? And hello, I'm fine, thanks. How are you?" Jai replied calmly.
"Oh, I'm wonderful!" I ground out. "Now what do I do? This was your idea!"
"He did rush up to kiss you, right?" Jai asked worriedly, and then went on briskly. "If not, I'm sure we can remedy that later tonight."
"No, and for pete's sake, stop asking questions and help me out of this mess." I commanded, mentally calling Jai the worst names I could possibly imagine.
"Well, that was rather tame. I hope you didn't send him home."
"Good. Have him over for dinner. Do you want this or not? Don't be foolish." Jai turned serious. “You really have something special. Don't be a female and throw it all away."
I bit back a retort. Unfortunately, I saw the truth to Jai's words. "Okay. I have to go. He's coming."
"Okay. Try giving a surprise kiss. Those usually work wonders." Jai snickered.
I hung up on him.
Fixing a smile on my face, I turned to walk toward Ryan.
We stood there looking at each other silently for a moment.
I finally broke it, unable to stand his gaze anymore. "Well, shall we go? I'll call the pizza place on the way. Did you reserve a motel yet? And I have a great movie we can watch. It'll be like old times."
"Slow down." Ryan laughed. "Yes, I have a motel. The pizza, movie, and so on sound wonderful." He turned and stopped walking to grin at me.
"It's really great to see you again, Kimmy. I knew we were indestructible. Just like old times."
He slung his arm over my shoulder, and I involuntarily moved closer. Conflicting emotions tugged at me. On the one side, relief that he was acting so natural, yet on the other, disappointment that he seemed to not feel more strongly for me.
I glanced up at him.
He was watching me intently, a light in his eyes. Almost immediately, a curtain fell in front of that light, and he gave me a brotherly grin.
"Well, what say we head for the pizza?" He swung his suitcase around in a circle, and it dropped on his foot.
I laughed at the ridiculous picture he made.
"It's time for your medicine, Miss Kimmy." This nurse had navy scrubs on and a dour frown to match. No optimistic teddy bears tonight.
I obediently took them, feeling strangely resigned. "Why am I here?" I muttered. "What's wrong? And who are you?"
"You ask that every night, m’am." the woman muttered, "My name is Nancy. Are you all done with your pills? All right then- good night."
"Why am I here?" I closed my eyes and tried to remember any recent doctor visits. I couldn’t. The last time I went was for my baby girl, Evelyn.
I smiled gently. She was such a pretty baby. And was her daddy ever proud of her!
I stared moodily at my wrinkled hands. This didn't make sense. A shaft of moonlight illuminated my bed, causing my hands and arms to take on a pale light.
I shut my eyes to block the sight and thought of more pleasant things, more pleasant times. I grinned. More pleasant hands.
I watched Ryan's hand on the TV remote. I loved them. They were strong, large, and sensitive. What every guy's hands should be like. I sighed, and grinned happily.
He slanted a glance at me. "What was that about?" he grinned.
I blushed. "Nothing really."
"Was not." He contradicted.
"No, it was nothing."
"Then why won't you tell me?" his mouth quirked slyly.
I liked his mouth too. "You'd laugh. And it was stupid anyway."
"Let me judge that. Tell me."
"No. I won’t. Play the movie." I folded my arms.
"Do I have to tickle you, Kimmy dear?" he threatened, glowering at me.
I suppressed a grin. "Don't you dare."
"I do dare." he reached over.
I swatted his hand. "Stop it."
"What?" he reached towards me.
I swatted again, and his hand shot out and captured my wrist, his other hand reaching to tickle me.
I twisted, trying to get free. "You're bad!" I gasped.
"Very," he agreed, getting at my side.
I shrieked and twisted. I was extremely ticklish there and evidently he remembered.
"Will you tell me?" He paused to ask.
I pondered it.
He relaxed his hold on my wrists, and I broke free suddenly and tickled him right back.
"Hey! You cheater!" he jerked around, and fell off the couch.
"Sissy. Bully." I retorted.
He crouched on the floor, and I watched him from my perch on the couch.
We breathed hard, and waited for the next move.
He lunged, and barreled me aside. Before I could kick him, or otherwise dislodge him, he tickled my side again, making me incapable of doing nothing but writhing and giggling madly.
Now it was my turn to tumble from the couch.
My head hit the floor, and I sat up quickly. "Ouch."
"Are you okay?" Ryan hopped off and knelt beside me. "Where'd you hit it?"
"I'm okay." I said, "Just hit my head a little."
"Oh, come on. In the movies, this is the part where the hero gets to inspect it and then he kisses it all better. “Ryan sat back on his heels, smirking.
"You sound like Jai." I retorted. "You smart aleck."
He tensed visibly. "Who's Jai?''
"A friend of my brother's," I said. "A real ladies man."
"Oh, I see." he stood up and sat back on the couch. "It's getting late. I should go soon."
"Wait!" I stood up, my hands on my hips. "What's your problem? It's not even ten."
I sat beside him and watched him suspiciously. "Is this because I mentioned Jai?"
"Look, it's fine. Okay? Let's watch this movie. It looks great. Dustin Hoffman is one of my favorite actors. And listen, you don't need to explain anything to me. I understand."
"You won't even stick up for yourself?" I said incredulously. "You don't care?"
"I learned." Ryan muttered. To me, he said, "What do you want me to say? I said it's fine. I'm happy for you."
"Um, excuse me. Jai is not my boyfriend. We're friends. He just says stuff like that, and it doesn't mean anything. That's all."
"Oh." Ryan stared at me. "Well, in that case, will you marry me?"
"What?" I sputtered.
He turned from me, and pressed play on the remote. "Gotcha, didn't I?'
I grabbed for the remote. "Wait a second!"
He moved it out of reach. "Say please."
I stretched further, and then feinted. When he moved it, I Iunged and tried unsuccessfully to grab it again.
"That was a good move." He grinned.
I didn't like the look in his eyes.
I backed off, self-consciously realizing that I had been halfway onto his lap.
I went to the monitor and pushed pause.
"You can just explain yourself, buster." I sat down again, glaring at him.
"And if I don't want to?" He raised a brow.
I pursed my lips. "I'll tickle you."
He grinned wickedly. "I'm not telling."
I growled and dove for him, knocking us off the couch.
All out war ensued, tickling, pushing, and name calling.
Finally we leaned against the couch, exhausted.
I looked over at him, grinning.
He was watching me, his hair all rumpled and a wry grin on his face. "Sorry. That was nasty of me."
"Okay. But you still have to tell me." I looked down.
"I jumped to conclusions, and then reacted instinctively. It was stupid of me."
"So you're taking back your proposal, is that it?" I elbowed him, and snickered.
He turned red. "I guess. And it wasn't really a proposal. I knew you wouldn't accept it anyway."
"How do you know that? You didn't even give me a chance to answer." I said.
He shrugged. "Whatever.” Then he looked over at me. "Wait. What did you just say?"
"You didn't let me answer." I was afraid my heart would beat its way out of my throat.
"Don't joke with me, Kimmy." he said darkly.
"I’m not." I gulped.
He stared. "You don't need to feel obligated. And you still haven't explained why you didn't know I was coming."
"Don't try to change the subject on me, Ryan McKay." I said firmly, watching him closely. "Just for the record, it was my friend, Jai. He obviously set us up. He told me he was coming to visit for the weekend, and why didn't I pick him up at the station. And I guess he sent you a note telling you when to be here. He's a real jerk sometimes. But a real genius other times."
I leaned closer to Ryan. "Does that answer your question?"
He blinked. "Yeah. A lot. So you didn’t want me coming this weekend? You dressed up like that for this Jai? That's the most dressed up I've ever seen you. Are you sure there's not something going on between you two?"
"Oh, for goodness sake!" I rolled my eyes. Then I pulled Ryan's head down, and kissed him soundly.
"There. Does that answer your question?" I half glared at him, my mouth tingling.
He swallowed hard, and that light came back into his eyes, unguarded by a curtain. "If that was what I think it was."
He put an arm around me, and drew me closer. "Then, yes, it sure did."
He kissed me then. It left me breathless in its intensity and warm caring.
We parted slowly.
"I guess this changes things." His tone was rough around the edges.
I closed my eyes, and breathed in his smell. "I guess so."
"Shall we?" he gestured to the screen.
"Are you crazy?" I kissed him again, and then reached for the remote, ready to watch the movie now.
He tossed the remote into the next room, and pulled me closer. "Hell, yeah."
I opened my eyes. The moonlight had changed to dark dawn during my reminiscing.
I stared into the stillness. And finally fell asleep.
I awoke a few hours later.
Breakfast sat on a tray beside my bed, but I had no appetite for it.
My mind was groggily puzzling over last night's meanderings and something else was struggling to lock into my conscious thoughts.
Someone walked in and I looked up.
"Good morning." It was the old man from yesterday.
"Oh, it's you." I said absently.
"You remember me?" he sat down and leaned forward.
"Why yes, it was just yesterday. You-" I looked at him.
A familiar light filled his eyes.
I stared at him, trying to piece it together.
"Who are you?" I asked finally.
He reached into his pocket and extracted his wallet. Flipping it open, he pulled out a picture.
"Do you recognize this?" he watched me.
I stared at the picture.
It was of Ryan and me on our wedding day.
But how had this old man gotten a hold of it?
I stared at him for a long minute, as pieces of memories slowly slipped past the blockade in my head.
I knew him.
"It's you." I said at last. "Where have you been? I missed you."
"I know. I'm such a cad. I missed you too, darling." Ryan reached out to stroke my wrinkled cheek. “I treasure every day you remember me." he added.
I sighed, feeling complete. "Kiss me.''
He moved the breakfast table aside. "At once."