From Wherever to Here

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He waited tensely in the Starbucks, his eyes focused beyond newsprint to snatch glances at random passers-by. Not knowing what to look for, he gazed hopelessly at black coats, white hats, leather gloves— all of which might belong to her. She’d probably changed so much.

“Ryan?” A voice, so familiar but so foreign, like rainfall on a cactus, murmured behind him, and he turned slightly, twisting in his seat as much as his black wool coat would allow.

And there she was, the same voice, smiling tiredly at him through her bangs. Setting her scone on the table, she sat down beside him, took off her hat and blue scarf, shook out her hair, and sighed. He swallowed, though he hadn’t taken a sip of the coffee by his hand. “Hey,” he rasped. “I...I didn’t see you.” She twisted her lip in that familiar way, a half-smile that somehow was more exhausted than her usual tired smile.

“I just got here,” she explained, as though that was an answer. He nodded. Same jeans, he noticed, same jeans, same voice, same white jacket, same scarf, hat, hair, smile, eyes... She even had the same nervousness. A person returning from a self-proclaimed self-searching trip should have seemed larger than this, he felt, and he was relieved that she wasn’t.

Ryan said, “I missed you, Dee. I— it’s— been a while.”

“A little while.”

“Yeah.” Dee inhaled, air hissing through her nostrils like smoke. She held it in as long as possible, before, “You look good. Change— well. You look good.”

“Thanks. So do you.” And she did; she always had. “How— how was...wherever?” he asked.

“Nice,” she said. “Wherever was nice, I think, but I couldn’t live there forever.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.” She started to crumble her scone. “How was here?”

Dee popped a piece in her mouth and began to chew as Ryan said, “Nice. Cold. Busy, I guess.”

“S’always busy,” she mumbled around her mouthful of bread, like she used to. He stared at her. “What?”

“Nothing,” he said quickly. “Nothing, I just... you’re here.”

She swallowed and smiled fully, her brown eyes shining in the dim café light. “Yeah, I am.” She studied the countertop for a few seconds before looking back up at him. “God. I’ve missed you too, Ryan.” A few replies late, but it was there all the same. It helped, just a little.

“You here to stay?” She shrugged. “Maybe?” Her lip twisted again. He returned his gaze to the window. “Okay.”

So maybe she was staying, maybe they were wasting their time here, maybe they weren’t; she didn’t know, and he wouldn’t know until she knew. Maybe he should just leave and pretend that he hadn’t grasped at some hope of salvaging his friendship with a sure-to-be new Dee. He couldn’t decide. She took another bite.

“I’m sorry,” said Ryan.

“Why?”

“I just... you’re here,” he repeated. “Like— like you’ve always been, except... you haven’t been here at all.” She laughed, wrapping the rest of the scone up and putting it in her bag.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go. Back to my place. We’ll talk.” He waited for her to wind her scarf around her neck in that habitual way. She pulled him up by the hand, like she always had, and it was comforting, just a little. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Weren’t people supposed to change over time? he wondered, as she dragged him out to the sidewalk. Wasn’t that the whole point of thinking about them, to pretend that they wouldn’t change? He watched her lead him surely through blocks and streets. Maybe she had changed, maybe she didn’t bite her lips anymore, or maybe she pushed those bangs out of her eyes, or maybe— maybe— maybe he should just stop reading into this and focus on going up the two worn flights of stairs to her apartment. She stood in the hallway, rummaging for her key. “You know,” she said, as she unlocked the door, “I think this place is just the same as when I left it.”

“Probably,” he said, a vague, meaningless smile quirking his lips.

She pulled out a pack of cigarettes, apparently having given up on quitting, and caught his eye. “What?”

“I miss you.”

“I’m right here,” Dee said; maybe it was his thoughts that had changed, and not her.

Ryan nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, you are.” He’d anticipated a revolution and gotten a hug instead.

“So, what’s new since I’ve been gone?”

He opened his mouth to— and found that he had nothing to say.





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Hi-5_Girl said...
Jul. 20, 2010 at 7:32 pm

I noticed how most writers portray reunions as happy, joyful, tears-of-gladness moments, but in reality they are usually awkward and the conversation keeps repeating itself. I think you captured the reality of it all perfectly. Come to think of it I had something of this sort happen to me today. Keep writing!

~The Hi-5 Girl

 
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