You were gazing out the window. Nothing beyond the glass held your attention, you were only staring through it because the alternative was looking across the table at your dinner companion. She was speaking, saying something about how she knows you can’t be serious. Distantly, you noticed raindrops have begun to fall. This morning’s forecast called for a cloudless sky by the evening. Apparently they’d got it wrong again.
You keep your gaze fixed on the rain, you don’t let it stray in her direction. You can’t. If you do, you’ll see her tears and then you don’t know if you’ll be able to control yourself. You don’t know if you’ll be able to control the anger that’s coursing through you like a title wave about to break.
Seemingly oblivious to your inattention, your companion continued speaking, “Your scared.” She understands that. She’s scared too. But you can make this work. Together you two can make anything work. There it was, her optimism. She was always so damn optimistic. Usually you considered it to be one of her most endearing traits. But not tonight. Tonight you cursed her for it, almost as much as you cursed yourself.
It was what drew you to her in the first place, her seemingly unconquerable optimism. You remember it now, the day you met. She’d seen you before you saw her. She’d come up to you on the Library steps, asked if you’d enjoyed the book you’d been reading. You hadn’t actually been reading it. You’d just picked any book up at random and started flipping its pages in an attempt to look busy. You hadn’t wanted anyone to notice what you were actually doing. You hadn’t wanted anyone to suspect you were watching her.
There was no way you were going to tell her your real reason for being in the library. So you said that you’d loved the book. She launched into a detailed account of why it was one of her favorites. You smiled and nodded and somewhere along the way realized that the gestures were no longer forced. You weren’t doing it to be polite, or even to cast suspicion away from yourself. You were doing it simply because you wanted to. You were doing it because listening to her, being swept away by her passionate gestures and vivacious words felt good. This girl, this girl you didn’t know, had never before spoken to or given so much as a second glance, made you feel alive, alive in a way you hadn’t in such a long time, not even when you were watching her.
Somewhere in her passionate monologue about the virtues of the novel her stomach had grumbled. She laughed rather embarrassingly and you had offered to buy her a coffee and whatever else she wanted from the Starbucks down the street. She excepted with a smile. Her smile changed her face, turned it from a plane and unremarkable thing into one of great and startling beauty.
It wasn’t until you’d ordered your coffee, black for you and one with two creams three sugars for her, and had started eating your croissants, plain for you and chocolate for her, that you realized you didn’t know her name.
You asked and she told you it was Grace. She said that she was a creative writing major, that she plans to become a bestselling author, the next J. K. Rowling in fact. It was clear from her tone, from the light in her Emerald gaze as she spoke of writing that it was something she loved deeply. You asked her why. She told you that when she was writing the world fell away, leaving only the thoughts and actions of the characters she was creating. She told you that they each had their own unique voice, style, and personality. She said that when she was writing she was able to inhabit someone else’s head, someone else’s skin, someone else’s worldview. She said that the experience was an unparalleled one and nearly impossible to explain to others who had not themselves experienced it
You told her that you’ve never heard anyone talk about writing like that. She made it sound amazing. You yourself had no knack for it. That was probably the accountant in you. All those classes about calculating averages had scrambled the creative side of your brain. She’d laughed, said that you didn’t sound too fond of it. You admitted that while you were majoring in accounting you had no passion for it. she asked you what you did have a passion for. You told her art.
“Why art,” she wanted to know. And so you’d told her, as you had told few others. You explained that you loved paintings, you loved the way something as simple as the play of light on water or shadow cast by a tree or a building could change the entire texture and feeling of a piece.
She said you should change your major, said she’d go with you to the academic advising office to do it right now. You laughed, there was no money in art, everyone knew that.
It wasn’t about the money, she’d said, brilliant green eyes sparkling with passionate intensity. It was about what made you happy, it was about doing what you love, it was about being successful in terms of how much what you did made you feel good, made you feel alive.
You’d been greatly surprised by her words. After all, she wasn’t rich, wasn’t anything like Sandra, and so could not have been speaking from a background of wealth and privilege where money was of little consequence. It wasn’t her plain clothes, lack of jewelry or makeup-less skin that told you she wasn’t wealthy. It was something far less defined. She had none of Sandra’s carefully cultivated charm, her poise and Grace, her overly polite and utterly confident way of speaking. Instead, she had something else, an air about her that was somehow more real, more genuine.
Grace and Sandra couldn’t have been more different, in appearance, background, personality. They were entirely opposite in every way. Maybe that was why Sandra had drawn your attention, as inexorably as a moth being pulled to a candle flame, while Grace had Remained utterly unnoticed by you. Until she had chosen to make you aware of her presence.
“Are you any good?” She had asked, interrupting you’re rambling thoughts. You had shaken your head with a self-deprecating smile. You loved looking at paintings, you’d explained, thinking about how they’ve been made, but you were no good at creating them.
“Well then,” she’d said sitting back in her chair looking self-satisfied, “there you have it.”
You’d looked at her quizzically, not understanding. “That’s what you should do, “she clarified. “You should be an art dealer. You’ll be able to be surrounded by the paintings you love so much, and I’ve heard that the ones who work at the fancy galleries make a fair amount of money.””
You’d stared add her so long that her smile had begun to fade. Perhaps she thought she’d somehow offended you with the suggestion. But nothing could’ve been further from the truth. Why hadn’t you thought of it before. It was the perfect solution. Not only would being an art broker allow you to immerse yourself in the world of paintings, examining them, studying their brushstrokes, learning the subtle differences between each artist’s work, but even more importantly, the business end of it would be enough to get your parents off your back. What had really decided you however, was the fact that Grace’s suggestion would allow you to inhabit Sandra’s world, the world of art. Unlike you, Sandra was an extraordinarily talented painter, a naturally gifted artist. She didn’t need to cultivate her skill but she did so anyway because she loved painting that much. That was what had drawn your attention to her in the first place. Her love of art and gift for creating it.
The coffee shop had faded around you as you remembered the first time you’d seen her. It had been the second week of term, just after the holidays. You’d been in a bad temper because your parents had already called to chastise you about your grades not being high enough. You’d glanced idly round the quad, not really taking anything in, and then your gaze had landed on her. Everything had stopped, just like that, frozen like a raindrop poised just beyond the clouds, it’s inevitable dissent toward the ground arrested mid fall.
She’d been sitting under a maple tree, sketchbook balanced on her knees, a pencil in her hand and another behind her ear. It hadn’t been her beauty which had frozen you there, riveted to the spot where you stood, though she was Quite beautiful. It hadn’t been the V-neck of her sweater, which had left very little to the imagination about what lay beneath it. It had been The expression on her face, one of such complete and utter rapture that you’d instantly wondered what it would be like to have her look at you in such a way.
Ever since that first day, you watched her from a far. Never quite working up enough courage to approach her. It had been what you were doing when Grace had seen you holding the book and assumed you were reading it.
“I’m sorry if I said something to upset you. I’m sure you have your reasons for majoring in accounting and it’s none of my business what you study.” For the second time in as many minutes Grace’s words had pulled you abruptly from your thoughts.
Kissing her hadn’t been your intention. You’d leaned across the table, taken her hand given it a grateful squeeze, opened your mouth to say thank you, that her idea was an excellent one and you would certainly follow it to its fruition. But there’d been a speck of sugar on her cheek, without really meaning to you’d reached over and brushed it off. Your hand had lingered on her face as if of its own accord. She’d closed her eyes and leaned into your touch. Then your other hand was in her hair and you were cupping The back of her neck, your lips meeting hers across the table.
You wondered sometimes what would’ve happened if that kiss hadn’t been your last for several years. If you hadn’t taken her advice, hadn’t changed your major to business with a concentration in art history. If you hadn’t you might never have gotten close to Sandra. And if you hadn’t gotten close to Sandra then… Well…
“Colin, Colin are you even listening to me!” The question and its indignant tone pulled you briskly from your memories and brought you sharply back to the present.
Forcing your eyes away from the window you looked across the table at her, careful to keep your gaze anywhere but on her face. Your eyes landed on her necklace, it was the one you’d given her for her last birthday. It was gold, or at least it appeared to be. You told her it was real. She believed you. Why wouldn’t she? After all, as far as she knew you’d never lied to her. “Of course I’m listening,” it was just one of the many untruths you’d told her over the past several years. “But I stand by what I said before. You need to get rid of it. Our life, neither of our lives, is any place for a child. You know that as well as I do.”
She didn’t know, at least, not in the same way you did. If she did she wouldn’t be fighting you on this. You wished, not for the first time, that you could tell her. You contemplated speaking the words, saying the thing you never had in the nearly 3 years you’ve been seeing her. But you don’t. You never do, and you never will.
She pulled her hand away from yours. Crossed her arms over her chest. Glared at you with such intensity, such self-righteous fury, that you had no choice but to finally meet her gaze. The moment you did you wished you hadn’t. Her tears were there, as you had known they would be. And as you had known would happened, the title wave of fury you’ve been fighting all through dinner, ever since she told you she was pregnant, crested and crashed and broke free of the tenuous dam of control you’d fruitlessly tried to erect.
“I don’t know what other response you expect me to give, “your tone was cold, clipped, sharper than you usually speak to her. It’s the way you speak to Sandra, but not to her, not to Grace, at least, not until now. Not until she was stupid enough to miss taking one of her pills and land you both in this impossible situation.
She was on her feet, when had she gotten up? She was glaring down at you, her eyes twin pools of green fire. “You don’t know what else I expect you to say? I expect you to say something, anything else but this. Anything else but you want me to just get rid of our child, like she’s some unwanted piece of furniture that we bought by mistake.”
You felt yourself go still, absolutely still. She, the word rang in your ears like an echo of a song that’s just ended, it’s notes somehow still hanging in the air though there no longer being played. “She?” You’d meant to keep your tone flat, but you couldn’t manage it. You couldn’t keep the note of shock and inquiry out of your voice.
“Yes Colin, that’s right. It’s a girl. Our child will be a girl. We’re going to have a daughter.” There was something else in her eyes aside from anger now, a spark of something even more intense. Hope. You see it and want to crush it like a bug beneath your shoe.
You opened your mouth to shout, to protest, to demand. What exactly you didn’t know, but as it turned out it didn’t matter. Another voice spoke before you could. A voice as familiar to you as your own.
“Colin, Colin it is you.”
No. No no no. This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening.
“What are you doing here? Martha told me she saw you here but I assumed she must’ve mistaken you for someone else.” Apparently noticing Grace for the first time Sandra continued, “and who is this?”
You don’t know what to do. What to say. How you can possibly get ahead of this before it all exploded in your face.
“I’m Grace,” Grace told Sandra, her fury at you momentarily eclipsed by curiosity. She probably thought Sandra was some long lost friend of yours. Nothing could be further from the truth. “How do you know Collin?” Grace asked.
Sandra’s eyes, dark brown and the total opposite of grace’s, were narrowing, the beginnings of suspicion burning there. “How do you know Colin?” She asked an edge as Sharp as the blade of a knife to her tone.
Grace was confused, you could see it in her eyes. She didn’t understand the reason for Sandra’s sudden coldness. She would soon enough. You should say something, anything too forestall what was about to happen. But you don’t, you can’t, there was nothing you could say which would prevent what was about to take place. It was as inevitable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Its course was inexorable, and so was its outcome.
Tilting her head quizzically Grace said, “I am Collins fiancé. And how do you know him?”
The fury that crossed Sandra’s face at the other woman’s words rivaled that which had been in graces eyes when you’d told her that she needed to get rid of the baby. “I am his wife,” Sandra told her, each word spoken with the precision and finality of a scalpel cutting into the flesh of a patient on the operating table.