They called her Kalen, as though she'd never had a different name in her life. But she had, and I knew it, and she knew it. She whispered it softly to me once, but I soon forgot it. She was Kalen, just Kalen. My Kalen. And that's all I want to remember.
February 13, Mid-Winter Break
It had rained all day, which didn't surprise me. It seemed to do that a lot in Seattle. The air had that fresh smell to it, the kind that lingers right after a good rain spell. It was even enough to mask the smell of car exhaust and cigarette smoke. I took a breath, enjoying it before I pulled out my own cigarette. I leaned against the nearest building and fiddled with the the flimsy matchbook. The tip burst in to flames with a tiny pop.
On the opposite side of the street, between the red brick apartment buildings, I watched the sun nestle into the Sound. The way the light shattered off the water was never anything short of breathtaking. I stood there quietly, my cigarette hanging loosely from my lips. That's when I saw her, like a silhouette against the sunlight.
My jaw must have dropped, because my cigarette had eaten it's way through my shirt and was working it's way through my skin before I felt it. I gasped and flung it away. "Shit!"
She glanced my way, and my stomach fluttered. Why on earth did that make me nervous? She kept my eye for a moment, for an eternity, as she strolled down the walkway, but glanced back the way you do when you know someone's watching. I kept her in my sights until she turned the corner.
I remembered the burn on my stomach. Great. That's going to scar. I cringed as I pulled out a new cigarette and match. What was it I was supposed to be doing right now anyway? The sun had almost finished setting when my phone vibrated in my pocket.
"Hello?" smoke swirled around my face.
"Emma, where are you?" It was Collin, my best friend, "you're almost thirty minutes late.
That's right, Collin wanted me to come over after work.
"Don't have an aneurysm," I said and took a drag. "I'll get there when I get there."
I put out my cigarette on the bottom of my shoe and put it back in the box. No sense in wasting a perfectly good half of a smoke. Collin's condo was a few blocks away, so I sped up.
Collin was waiting for me. He opened the door before my fist hit the wood, and yanked me inside.
"Finally," he said and rolled his eyes, "you always take forever."
I"t's called fashionably late," I retorted, peeling off my mittens and jacket. The warm interior of the room burned my cheeks after being outside in the cold. I dropped my outerwear on the couch and flopped down with it.
Collin smirked. "Guess what," he said with an unmistakable note of mischief in his voice. He didn't wait for me to answer. "Okay, you know that guy I told you about? The one who works at Tully's? Well, you'll never guess, he totally picked up on me yesterday." I wasn't surprised. If I'd ever thought anybody was attractive, I'd say Collin was gorgeous.
I laughed. "Go get em', Tiger." Maybe a little sarcastically.
He made a face. "You're just jealous," he said.
"Unlike you, I don't drool over every boy I see," I made a face back. I'd never drooled over anybody.
"Not fair, he said, "I only drool over the cute ones."
I hurried home, keeping a fast pace. My building was only
six blocks off, but walking in the city after dark always seemed
to give my imagination new evils to conjure up and follow me
home. I counted my steps, watching the buildings slowly roll
past. At last I reached my building and a childish relief washed
over me. I sighed, pulling out a new cigarette.
"Got a light?" the voice startled me, I hadn't seen anyone as I sat down on the steps leading to the upper rooms. Sure enough, the girl who I'd seen earlier was leaning carelessly against the brick, an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips. My stomach did a little somersault and I dropped my gaze. What's wrong with you, Emma, I wondered. I pulled out my matchbook wordlessly and tore the last match out of it. I closed the book around the match and lit it, lighting mine first and offering her the burning tip.
"My name's Kalen," she said and took a seat next to me. I pushed my glasses farther up the bridge of my nose and ran my fingers through my hair, pulling my bangs farther over my forehead the way I do when I'm nervous, tussling and re-smoothing over and over. I looked at her and she smiled. I wasn't sure if my stomach could take much more.
"I'm Emma," I finally said, forcing myself to stop messing with my hair, and half smiled back. I took a long drag off my cigarette and looked ahead again, letting the smoke pour out slowly. It was quiet for a moment.
Do you live around here?" I asked her at last, and to my own surprise I desperately hoped she did. It must have showed, because she laughed lightly and leaned closer in. My heart thudded in my chest. Stop that, I told myself.
"Just moved here," she said and pointed behind the staircase. "North side of the complex." She stood up and gave my shoulder a pat.
"Thanks for the light," she stretched. "Maybe I'll see you around.
It was left at that. All I could do was watch as she walked away, but I smiled to myself. What on earth has gotten into you?
I dropped my cigarette and crushed it into the pavement with my shoe before heading up the stairs to my apartment. The door was locked, so I assumed Mom was still at work. I unclipped my keys from the carabiner on my belt loop and unlocked the door, dumped my bag in the entryway, and headed for my room. Our apartment was small, nothing fancy, but the view was amazing in my opinion. Overlooking all the little shops and watching the people go by had to be my favorite pass time. How lame was that?
My room was on the far right. It was pretty spacious considering the size of the apartment. The walls were covered in posters of bands that I'd stopped listening to when I developed taste. I'll take those down soon, I resolved. I flopped onto my bed and snatched Romeo and Juliet off the nightstand. I had to finish before break ended, so I found my bookmark and tried to read. But my mind kept wandering away from the words on the page, so I gave up after a few attempts at focusing.
I must have been tired, because I slowly drifted off to sleep.