It’s Friday at 4 PM. You have one hour. Go.
I’m at a writer’s conference. I write mostly non-fiction. Except for this next hour.
“I didn’t know you could get in that way,” the woman in the faded jeans, white top, and long brown hair whispered to Charlie as he peered down an alley.
He didn’t know he could get in that way either.
He didn’t even know which way she was talking about.
Or where they could get in.
But before he could speak, he looked back to her.
She was clearly expecting something from him.
What it was exactly he was about to find out.
“Follow me,” he turned his gaze towards the alley as if he knew where he was going, as if he had done it many times, and as if he knew her.
The real trouble began when he was halfway down the alley and it was going to quickly become apparent that (1.) he didn’t know where he was going, (2.) he barely knew where he was, and, maybe the most damning, (3.) he barely knew who he was much less who she was.
That hadn’t stopped him before.
Actually, it had stopped him before.
It always stopped him.
He gave in. Gave up.
He slowed his pace.
He looked up as if he was looking for a sign to the place.
He looked into a window. As if.
He nodded. As if.
He looked at her.
By some grace of powers way, way, way beyond his feeble control of the universe, she didn’t laugh at him, growl, or even frown.
She had teeth bright like an ad for toothpaste.
There was a warmth in her brown eyes that dripped down his own eye sockets, slid down his throat, and melted his heart.
Just like that.
He couldn’t let her go.
There was something about her.
All of the time they’d spent together.
The whole eleven seconds of it all.
As if he knew what she was thinking.
But it was probably more along the lines of what he hoped she might be thinking.
He turned back around.
To lead her to where they were going.
But he was going to need some help.
Because he had no idea.
As these thoughts rained down on his mind like a storm in Thailand in July, he looked left and saw a door cracked open.
He looked in.
It looked like a bar. Or a restaurant.
In any case, there were people.
It was cool out. It looked warm inside.
Complete with soft yellow lights and jovial voices between people who knew each other. Who knew one another’s names.
Not like him.
And brown-haired jeans girl.
He thought about stopping.
About spilling his guts. Going with what was really going through his mind. That he didn’t know where they were going, why she was following him, and weird stuff like what her name was.
But something was different in him this evening.
Maybe it was the meeting he just came from.
Or the beers he had at the meeting.
Or the empty stomach.
Or empty heart.
The only thing that spilled from his heart was the rapid beating rumble that whispered to him to keep going, to get inside and sit down.
And do it now.
There were four barstools open at the bar.
He checked that she was still behind him.
He moved with the ease and grace of someone who knew what he was doing.
He didn’t—but wanted so badly to be that person.
He waved to the bartender as if he came in here every day.
He didn’t—but had dreamt of being such a man.
He almost sat down, but thought of his father.
He waited next to one of the barstools.
He motioned for her to sit.
She smiled at him as if she loved him.
Or it might have been how she always looked.
Or maybe she had something in her teeth.
Or stuck in her throat.
He didn’t know.
He didn’t know her at all.
He had never met her.
He didn’t even know her name.
Where she was from.
If she even spoke English.
He was about to find out.
All of it.