Given the circumstances, Laura’s parents were understanding about our new timeline. We had come over on a Sunday afternoon and shared my mother’s desire to see us wed before her passing. Mrs. Welch had shared the story of her own mother’s illness and passing and how she had not made it to her college graduation and what a regret that was.
We began to receive R.S.V.P cards daily until the last week of our preparations when a trickle dwindled to a full stop. More than 200 friends and family planned to attend; enough to fill the modest sanctuary and cost my parents a fortune in ribeye steak and chicken marsala for the reception.
I let Laura plan the ceremony except for the prelude; I wanted my parents’ prelude: “Trumpet Voluntary” by Jeremiah Clarke. She planned hymns to sing, a full communion, hired a soloist to sing Malotte’s famous Lord’s Prayer. She picked flowers to honor both her mother and mine. All these decisions I left to her, not because I didn’t care, but because she had been thinking about this event most of her life; she knew what she wanted, and I knew that I wanted her to get whatever she wanted.
“So she just kissed you? Out of the blue?” said Zach as we found our seats on the bus.
“Yeah, it caught me off guard.”
“But she hasn’t said a word to you since,” he said.
“Right. I don’t really know what this means. I mean, does this mean she wants to get back together?”
“It’s gonna happen, James. She’s just testing the waters. Think about it. We had just sung one of the best performances any of us had ever sung, and she wanted to share that with you. That definitely means something. Like she said, you’re her person.”
“Do you think I should go try to talk to her?” I said.
“Naw, let her come to you. She’s taking her time. She asked for space, remember?”
We were quiet most of the rest of the way back to Norman. I watched the flat landscape of north-central Oklahoma roll by and began to feel a melancholy that I often felt at the end of momentous trips. I laid my head against the window. It was cool, and it calmed me, and I began to think about the kiss. I had not kissed her since the summer before my junior year.
The next day, on campus, I felt different in little ways. I made more eye contact with people. I wanted to be seen. I felt good about the way I was looking after my buddy makeover. When I went to the computer lab, I noticed that Bijan had sent me an email at my school email account. He had wanted to meet me for lunch. He said he would be at Pinks at 11:30. I replied and hoped it wasn’t too late.
Pink’s was a small bar and grill named Pinks in the hopes that the frat kids would think it was a gay bar and would stay away. It was just across the street from Catlett and was a usual hangout for music majors and their friends.
When my morning classes ended, I walked across campus to find him. Though it was hot, he was waiting for me on the front patio. He’d found a shady spot and was sipping a Coke.
It was the first day of my senior fall semester at the University of Oklahoma. I had broken up with Stacey. She had gone back to Lawrence, Kansas for college, and I didn’t feel like having a long-distance relationship. Letters were not what I had wanted from her.
The heat and humidity of the Oklahoma summer were still lying thick over the campus as I walked from my Monday 8:30 Database Design class to the Catlett Music Center. I had auditioned in the summer and had been placed in the bass section, although I could have been as equally comfortable in the tenor section. Not only had my voice preserved well through several years of not singing, but its range had also grown significantly.
Dr. Baker was bustling about, straightening chairs and organizing his music stand. He was an African-American of around fifty with short salt and pepper hair.
He gestured to me then to the chairs and said, “Basses on the back two rows on the right.”
I did not see Laura again that summer, but I did see a lot of Stacey. Every Friday night, we hung out with her friends at the Classic 50s Drive-In for burgers and Cajun curly fries. I saw less of Bijan as the summer went on, as he became focused on his musical composition, and I focused on Stacey. Then one warm Saturday night, two weeks before the start of my senior year, Bijan invited me to his parents’ house to stay the night.
We made a usual, almost ritualistic, night of it. We watched one of only three videos in his house, Dirty Dancing. The other two were Busty Blonds, which we discovered in his dad’s bedside table and 9 ½ weeks, which, although it had some sexy stuff with Kim Basinger it held little interest for us. But Dirty Dancing was part of our ritual. We knew all the lines. We made fun of it, but by the end, we always got wrapped up in it.
After the movie, it was street time. He lived in a quiet neighborhood, so there were very few cars at midnight. We felt adventurous when we would lie down on the street in front of his house. The concrete held the warmth of the day, and the air was very still. The cicada’s song had ended, and in the brush and creek running through the backs of the houses, the crickets’ song had begun.
Laura and I decided to break up the spring of our senior year of high school. She had chosen to go to a small private college in St. Louis, and I would be staying in Oklahoma to study computer science. We wouldn’t write or call. That was the deal. But we would reconnect in the summers–no questions asked. Summer became my favorite season.
It was the week after our junior year in college, 1995. I had totaled my Ford Festiva out in front of my bank a week before. Bijan said he would get his dad to cut me a deal at the dealership where he worked. My dad and I drove up to the city to look around the lot. Much to my father’s disapproval, I intended to by a pickup truck. I felt that I would be moving around a lot in my twenties and might benefit from it. He had never owned a pickup truck and didn’t like unknowns when it came to a large purchase like a vehicle.
We had fallen into a routine of morning coffee and newspaper. I no longer questioned her presence in my apartment and my life. She was a part of my existence now. She was filling a piece of a large hole in my life. What piece, I did not know.
I heard her shuffling to the bathroom as I sipped my coffee and opened the paper to the Arts and Entertainment section. Something I saw gave me an idea.
“Amy?” I called out. There was no answer. I walked toward the hallway and called again, “Amy?”
“Please don’t,” she said softly and sullenly from behind the door.
“Talk to me while I’m taking a shit.”
“Oh. Sorry. There’s just something–”
“And yet you’re still talking.”
I supposed that my idea could wait a few minutes. I sat down again and studied the paper. I pulled out my phone to see what my evening was like. Nothing planned–as if I ever had anything planned.
As a child, people called me Lucky. I had an uncanny knack for finding money everywhere I went–quarters, dollar bills, fives, and, on three separate occasions, twenties–which drove my older brother Mike absolutely crazy.
One time, at the county fair, I had found two twenty-dollar bills, one under a flattened popcorn box in front of the ring toss and one on the floor of a port-a-potty. 40 bucks! Mike never had in his life found anything higher than the fifty-cent piece he had found waiting in line to ride the elephants at the circus two years before.
“One of those twenties is mine!” Mike had shouted at me on the way home, sobbing, superman t-shirt stained with vomit. “I was going to use that port-a-potty, and you went first!”
My software project was a six-month contract and was mostly complete but overdue. Still, my manager had already lined up two more projects for me if I wanted them. It was good money, and it was as far away from Oklahoma as I could get without leaving the continental United States.
After work, I walked to Farid’s cafe. I had held to my well-trodden tourist paths since I’d moved here, not sure whether I would be a true San Franciscan or just a temporary visitor. There was a blue neon sign over the storefront which simple said, “Hot Coffee Here.” It would be easy to walk past without even noticing it, but Farid served the best coffee and scones in the city, at least the best on my route between work and home, and he needed a waitress.
I stepped outside my favorite pub near Union Square for a smoke, belly full of bangers and mash. I was used to the cold, damp fog of the Bay Area by then, and there was no shortage of it that night. I had just taken my first long, after dinner drag when a teenage girl–no more than seventeen–with an Army jacket and backpack walked up to me, ghostlike and wordless, communicating her desire to bum a cigarette with a faint hand gesture. In the flame, I could see that her face was blue and green on one side, and for a brief moment, her dark brown eyes pierced mine. They were hard eyes, but there was something about the way she looked at me that let me know that she was in great need. Before I had a chance to ask, she was disappearing into the fog at a swift pace, glancing back at me only for a moment.