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Fiction Drama

HIM:

Everyone has filed out of the theater now except the two of us. The credits are still rolling, and I try to look as though I am invested in reading each name as it scrolls up the screen in case she turns and sees me. She is dabbing at her eyes again. She did this frequently throughout the movie though it wasn't especially sad or by any means what one would consider a tear-jerker.

I can't help but watch her, though I feel as if I am stealing a private moment from her, one that is clearly filled with emotion. I wonder what it is that is making her cry. I want to move from my seat, move to her and console her, but that would, of course, be terribly wrong. Because while I know so much about her, she doesn't even know I exist.

HER:

Thank God I thought to add some tissues to my purse this morning. I'd known watching this movie would make me miss her even more than I already did. I'd known that I would cry and was afraid it might be uncontrollable. Thankfully I maintained my composure quite well, considering.

We used to watch this movie every year on her birthday. It was her favorite, and she shared it with me for the first time when I was six years old. She explained that she had been introduced to the film by her own mother, my grandmother, and it had quickly become her favorite. She said that in all the years since, nothing had been good enough to replace it.

I asked her once why it was her favorite. She said, "It takes me away to another place, another time, so different from where we live each day. Their lives seem so simple compared to ours, but they are really just as difficult and complicated, just in a different way. It's beautifully portrayed, like a carefully choreographed dance. The music pairs perfectly with every scene, bringing the emotion alive inside you; you can't help but feel like you are there. This movie allows me to escape, and we all need that once in a while, don't you think?"

I remember falling into a trance listening to her, and I nodded my head in agreement with her question, although I had no idea what she meant. Why did my mother need to escape? What did she feel she needed to escape from? I didn't see my life as "difficult and complicated", why did she? At the time, I was too young to understand adults and how they lived away from prying eyes. Now I can appreciate the desire to escape from the messiness of real life. I can see the hardships and the complications of our daily existence that creep in as we get older. And I, as my dear mother did before me, would seek respite from reality at every available opportunity.

Now, as I sit alone in this theater, drying tears that refuse to stop flowing, I continue to mourn the loss of my mother. We always watched through the credits, so I must continue the tradition even though I have yet to glance up at the screen. I need these tears to dry up before the lights come on, and I have to face the theater staff that comes in to clear away left behind tubs of popcorn and candy wrappers. I need to get a grip before I walk out of this theater to face life again.

HIM:

When I entered the theater just before the previews began, she was already seated. I spotted her and carefully navigated to the perfect seat. Three rows behind and four seats to the right of her, the same space between us as the first time I saw her.

I recall that day as though it were yesterday. We were in the lecture hall two months prior when she first caught my eye. I was mesmerized at how she methodically took each item from her bag and placed it on the tablespace in front of her, not haphazardly but in a manner suggesting obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Once everything was in its thoughtfully chosen spot, she combed her fingers through her shoulder-length chestnut hair and adjusted her pale pink scarf, loosening it ever so slightly. She had long fingers with short nails, unpainted, and several large silver rings on both hands. I could only catch a few glances at her profile, but from what I could tell, she had clear, fair skin, a small upturned nose, and lips the color of ripe raspberries. Her nose reminded me of a girl I had a crush on in seventh grade, Jessie Peterson. Jessie had that same little ski-jump tip of her nose along with a smattering of freckles that spread to her cheeks. Oh, how I loved those freckles.

I watched her throughout the lesson that day as she studiously took notes and focused on our professor. When the class was over, she moved each item from the table before her and placed them in their appropriate places within her bag. She stood, tucking one side of her hair behind her ears, tossed the bag over her shoulder, and moved with the rest of the pack, out of her row and out the door.

I wanted to follow her. I wanted to catch up with her and ask her name. She was beautiful, her movements full of grace, and I wanted to know everything about her. I stayed in my seat and wondered how I hadn't noticed her before, hoping that I would see her again when the class met next.

HER:

The credits have ended, and the lights in the theater have just come on. Time to go before someone sees my tear-streaked face, which I am sure is covered with dark red blotches. Especially my nose. Like my mother, my nose is a clear giveaway of a crying bout, shining bright red as though it is meant to guide one through a thick fog.

A quick pat of the face to dry the last of the dampness away and a gentle slap, slap attempting to even out the redness before I go. I hear someone coming, the rolling of a trash bin, and footsteps. I quickly stand, letting my hair fall in front of my face as I throw my bag over my shoulder. I descend to the exit, eyes on the steps, and mumble a "You too" to the girl with the trash bin who has just told me to "Have a good day."

Before I know it, I am out on the sidewalk, where it is cold and windy, allowing me to tighten my scarf and pull it up to cover part of my face. I'd love a coffee and pastry, but I feel a bit unhinged and need to make it home before the dam breaks and the tears fall in a forceful stream all over again. I don't know why my grief is so intense all of a sudden, but I anticipate spending the rest of my day at home with a box of tissues close by.

HIM:

The lights in the theater have come on, and I now have nowhere to hide. I see her rise and silently will her not to look back where she would see me sitting here. Fortunately for me, she scurries out of the theater, never the wiser that there was someone else in the room, that she had not been alone.

I count to five and slowly leave the theater, following her to the side exit. She pushes through the door; I see her tighten her scarf and head to the left. I follow her, maintaining a safe distance to keep from startling her should she become aware of my presence. I watch her walk past the coffee shop she frequents and continue to her apartment entrance. This is where the trail ends for me.

A hot cup of joe would do nicely right now. I enter the coffee shop, place my order and find a seat in the window where I watch in hopes of her passing by. Naturally, my thoughts turn to her, and I think about the second time I’d seen her, almost a week after the first.

I arrived early at the lecture hall that day and sat in the same seat. I kept my eyes peeled on the door, watching each person as they entered. As the minutes passed, I grew discouraged, thinking she was a figment of my imagination. And then she walked through the door, more beautiful than I had recalled. I watched her, attempting to look disinterested, although I was anything but.

She sat in the same seat as the week prior. I watched her again as she took each item from her bag and placed them ever so conscientiously in the space before her. I was fascinated by her. Completely consumed. And there was a vague feeling of familiarity about her. Had we known each other once upon a time, or did the sense simply come from my preoccupation with her?

I knew I shouldn't allow myself to become so obsessed, but I couldn't help it. She was sheer perfection. I followed her for several days and quickly learned where she lived, where she ate, and much of her class schedule. She never laid eyes on me. That is precisely how I prefer it.

HER:

After a good 20-minute crying spell, I felt as though I should be entirely dried up. I left the couch and went to the kitchen to find something to eat; I was suddenly famished. I lacked the energy or desire for anything that required a modicum of effort and settled on microwave popcorn and a glass of water. It would hold me over until I could come up with something more creative. Back on the couch, I turned on the TV and scrolled aimlessly through the channels, still thinking of my mother.

She was a simple woman. Kind and forgiving, she always saw the best in someone. She cheered for the underdog, was quite practical and extremely emotional. And she was always willing to impart a bit of wisdom through several key expressions she held in her arsenal. I smiled as I thought of one such saying: It's never wrong to show someone kindness.

In middle school, there was a boy that liked me and was not afraid to say so. He was rather weird but sort of sweet. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I also did not want to be a social pariah. The boy didn't appear to have many friends, and I was desperately trying to be a popular girl. I kept my interactions with him to a minimum and did my best to remain cordial. After all, as my mother always said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

The boy persisted, and I told my mom that there was no way I could go out with him. She smiled and said, "It's never wrong to show someone kindness." I chuckled at the memory; the woman didn't have a mean bone in her body. I'm pretty sure my response to her was that she was out of touch and couldn't understand, but I'll never forget that piece of advice.

That boy moved away at the end of the school year. I hadn't thought of him in years. I suddenly wondered where he might be, how he was, and what he was doing with his life. I felt regret creep in at the recollection of my constant avoidance of him so as not to encourage him. For a moment, I thought I should track him down on social media and apologize, but I quickly thought better of it. Besides, I didn't even remember his name. What was his name? I racked my brain; I knew it would drive me crazy until I thought of it.

Tommy! Tommy Butler was his name though I doubt highly that he would remember me. Best to leave well enough alone.

HIM:

I've been sitting in the coffee shop for just over an hour now. I should probably get on my way.

HER:

The satisfaction that the popcorn gave way to initially has passed. Hungry again but unwilling to make myself something, I consider my takeout options. Pizza, no. Chinese, no. Greek, no. I could go for a sandwich from the coffee shop next door to my building. Their chicken salad is my favorite.

I check my face in the mirror. The red splotches are finally gone. I throw on my coat and scarf and grab my purse, head out the door and down the stairs, outside into the crisp air of the late afternoon, stomach rumbling.

HIM:

I put on my coat and move towards the coffee shop exit, considering what to do when I get home. Lost in thought, I open the door, and it blows wide open, a huge gust of wind pulling it from my grasp. There is someone ready to enter. The wind is blowing her hair wildly, covering her face. I step forward, reaching to regain control of the door as she pulls her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ears.

It’s her! She is even more attractive up close. And then I notice the constellation of freckles dancing across her small, upturned nose. It hits me, and I speak before realizing it.

"Jessie? Jessie Peterson?"

HER:

Just as I reach the door to the coffee shop, a blast of wind throws it open. I stop short; my hair gets tossed crazily around my face, causing a few seconds of temporary blindness. As I wrestle my hair behind my ears, I find myself surprisingly close to someone standing in the doorway, trying to grab at the open door.

I hear him say my name and look at him, confused. Do I know him? Then all at once, my memory from earlier flashes before my eyes.

"Tommy? Tommy Butler?"

HIM:

We stood there in disbelief, staring at each other wide-eyed; it felt like time was passing in slow-motion. We both confirmed the other's question, which only gave way to more shock and awe. I noticed her shiver and realized we were still standing in the open doorway. I asked if I could buy her a cup of coffee. She smiled the most sincere, stunning smile I may have ever seen and agreed.

We talked for hours, me carefully leaving out the fact that I had essentially been stalking her for the past two months. Maybe I'll share that another time. For now, I am going to enjoy every minute I get to spend with her, not lurking behind her.

May 28, 2022 01:24

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