He yawned and stretched. His left ear popped. Finally. He exhaled loudly. Well, it seemed loud to him. Now.
He reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a package of cigarettes.
An unopened package of cigarettes.
It had been 6 months and 4 days since he had quit smoking.
He rolled the package around in his hand.
He still carried it. Everywhere. It was something of a security blanket, he supposed.
He tapped it with his finger for a bit before putting it back into his pocket.
He knew that it would be a big deal for him to remove the plastic wrapping. A symbol.
Of failure? Of inevitability? Something.
Probably not the text book way to quit smoking, but it worked for him.
He did things his own way.
He didn’t have to, but he picked up the old picture from his passenger side seat. He absolutely wouldn’t need it to recognize her.
But, that was probably not why he was looking at it. Again. He stared. Again.
He was fascinated by her smile. Still. It wasn’t put on. It wasn’t forced. It was… happiness?
He was amazed by how she looked at the camera, yet seemed oddly unaware of it. Or just indifferent. It couldn’t affect her.
He didn’t know any of the other people in the picture, but he was sure that they existed in orbit around her, and not vice versa.
He put the picture back down on the seat. Next to a shiny black leather case.
He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel to Eddie Vedder singing about “a star in somebody else’s sky.”
“But, why?” indeed.
The steering wheel was attached to the rest of his Toyota Tundra 4×4. Which, according to many, was a strange choice for someone who drove exclusively in the city. He didn’t care.
Again, another example of him doing things his own way.
And doing things his own way led him to where he was sitting today. Right now. At that moment.
Despite it only being the 21st of August, there was a slight chill in the air. It felt and smelled a bit like fall. All the more jarring considering the oppressively hot summer they had just endured.
It all had a first day of school vibe to him. He imagined/remembered wearing brand new white sneakers — that would be lucky to remain white until lunch time. Suddenly, inexplicably, and without invitation, twenty-five year old memories of his childhood began to flood in. He quickly pushed them out of his mind, having no time to wade through the Rorschachian mess of images and unavoidably intertwined emotions.
He was here for a reason.
He noticed two men shooting the shit down the block. One had a dog on a leash. Perhaps a chocolate lab puppy. Unnoticed by his owner, the little dog gnawed on his leash. As if trying to make one heroic break for freedom from a future lived under the thumb of this stocky, accountant-looking motherfucker with the bad combover.
He could relate. He rooted for the dog.
And then he saw her.
He definitely didn’t need the picture to pick her out.
He felt his breath catch in his throat a little.
She was leaving her house and already on her cellphone. He was sure that she was the recipient of the call. And he wasn’t surprised.
Her hair was a little shorter, he thought — or just tucked a bit into her coat. And it was what he had always imagined chestnut brown to look like, but he could be completely off.
She was wearing glasses. They worked.
They really worked.
She was dressed cutely, but not really showy. She looked like the cover of a JCrew fall catalogue. She looked so damn good, he thought. It was almost as though she was doing the clothes a favour by wearing them.
Instinctively he glanced in the mirror and ran his hand through his hair. Presumably to achieve just the proper amount of rumpled-looking.
After a couple of failed attempts to extricate himself from his seatbelt, he got out of his truck and walked towards her. She was going in the opposite direction. He sped up a little to catch her. His pulse was racing. When he got close…
“Excuse me?” He said, never more aware of his voice.
She turned around.
He continued, “Dana… Are you Dana Patterson?”
“Yup. That’s me,” she said, her mouth, eyes and voice all working in concert to create the perfect smile.
He reached inside his pocket and tapped on his package of cigarettes.