She wishes he would never let go. The moment was endless, but ended too quickly.
" I have to go" she said simply. He gazed into her eyes, looked away and nodded. The door squeaked opened, grayish white lights reflecting off its wooden panels. The dark hall way facing them filled with unforeseen options and possibilities. Its darkness forcibly brought her back from the bright and unabashed colors and patterned world that existed on the other side of the door.
Tiny rays of sun light weaved through the thick clouds, spots of light yellow danced on the sidewalks. To his surprise, she linked her hands through the crook of his arm. They started walking. Each thinking of one thought, but hoping to say another.
"If you could do anything in the world, what would you do" he asked suddenly, as they crossed a three way intersection. A bench underneath a large willow tree beckoned to them.
She gave a short laugh, "For now? or for the rest of my life?"
"I want to be documentary photographer for the rest of my life" she answered, " but for now…..I am not sure" her hesitancy lingered and spread in the humid air surrounding them, suffocating, sultry, and oppressive .
He had no sufficient answers to offer her. They continued to meander past the lofty shadowy green trees intermingling between the red and brown industrial apartment buildings. The grayish white afternoon caused the sun to disappear completely into the vast and endless sky. Cars sped by unnoticeably as isolated honks and soft moans of engines resonated with the breeze.
She slid her hands from his arm, creating a small void between them, as they continued past a rail road intersection.
"Photography is difficult to break into" he referred back to their earlier conversation, "have you done much before?"
"Never" she looked sideway toward him and smiled slightly. He shifted his yellow plaid backbag from one shoulder to another and looked toward the ground. He wrapped his right arm around her shoulders, pulling her into him.
"I just like traveling…" she continued, "to see the world, I guess."
He nodded attentively as she spoke about the places she wanted to visit. The breeze caused several leaves to land on his dark hair. She reached over and gently brushed them off. The small leaves fell silently on the sidewalk. Voices of passerby momentarily distracted the easy intimacy growing between them.
He kissed her temple " thank you" he tucked his other hands in his pants pocket , sidestepping a drainage ditch.
"And yourself? What would you like to do" she asked lightly…hoping to ease the sudden anxiety she felt.
" For now…I want to be a painter" he quietly responded , " For the rest of my life…maybe this is enough" He shrugged. She pressed closer to him as the air around them stilled. Noises silenced. Brightness became brighter.
"Do you mind if we stop by here for a minute?" she gestured toward a basement book store on the opposite side of the street.
"Of course," he guided her toward the dusty store window, its neon lettering blinked and the small red lights surrounding it twinkled. The rusty bells above the door chimed unharmonious as the unpolished glass door shut silently behind them. The weak sunlight streamed through, softly highlighting the texture of the aged pages. The faded colors of the covers struggled to attract attention.
"You have to read this one" He moved toward a lower shelf, picked up a John Irving book and handed to her, "You will love it."
The description on the cover flap suggested a dysfunctional family, tragedy, overt sexual content, intermingled with loneliness. She considered for a second, and decidedly hugged the book against her chest.
They browsed for a long time. Their animated debate flowed and ebbed throughout the empty store. Occasional dry coughs from the sales clerk hushed their laughter and reduced it to whispery giggles. His cell phone rung unceremoniously, dissolving their banters into the air.
"Hello?" he glances at her quickly, and gestured toward the door. She dug through her blue bag to retrieve her own phone. Four miss calls. She glances at the glass door. He stood behind it is with his back to her. She quickly deleted the miss calls, and continued to browse. A photography book distracted her. Black and white images of trees and motorbikes reminded her of childhood memories. She thumbed through quickly, keeping in mind what she wanted to show him.
"My mother" he said apologetically as he came over to stand next to her, "if I don't answer immediately, she thinks I'd died or something" he smiled quietly.
"I know exactly" she laughed, her movement caused a strand of hair to fall onto the pages.
"What's this one?" he looked at the opened pages of the photography book perched precariously on her left arm.
"Oh, this is where I grew up" she showed him pictures of men lounging on their motorbikes under the thick shades from tall slim trees, "My father used to take us here on Sundays."
"Hmmm" he studied the image, " this looks similar to a place on 43rd and Hudson"
"really? is that close to here?"
"It's near that bakery I was going to take you to….only about 5 blocks…we could stop by." he offered hesitatingly, " if you have time"
" I have time" she replied with unfaltering certainty. They waited as the store clerk totaled and rang up her purchases. As they walked away from the store, they could still hear the jangles of the door wind chimes resonated into the street.
Whatever silent awkwardness that plagued them an hour ago had evaporated. Gushes of dialogues and peals of laughter poured from deep within. They expressed their hearts through soft touches and the subtlest of gestures.
A sudden crowd of people enveloped them as they crossed a four way intersection. They exchanged facts of their childhood, dreams, exasperations, and pleasures in desperately hopeful articulations. They spoke of all things and nothing at all. Regrets of their circumstances clouded their thoughts and words.
"I hope I'm not keeping you from any plans?" she inquired hesitatingly
He waved a his hand dismissively, "Not at all, I didn't have any special plans today" he shrugged and added shyly "except our lunch date, of course"
"Yeah, me either…I mean, I don't usual do much on July 4th either" she added, " But is there anything special going on in the city today?"
"Well, um…there's usually fireworks by the harbor and there's always an orchestra." he said.
"Ah! Do you usually go?"
"Not really" he replied casually, "Actually, I think I am just going to stay in and paint tonight."
His simple answer saddens her. She could not stay. She desperately tried to numb her thoughts of their impending separation. She did not know if they would ever meet again.
They approached the large grassy square. A café sat on the edge of the park complete with red and white striped awning shading the outdoor dining area.
"Since you bought me lunch, would it be ok if I buy you a coffee?" she asked
He nodded and laughed lightly, "Sounds fair, actually I might get some juice, since I'm getting kinda thirsty from our walk" They crossed across the square and walked under the large striped awning. They waited in line as she pulled out her wallet. The line moved quickly. Boisterous lunch orders competed to be heard over the constant raucous of coffee grinders and blenders. She scanned the menu quickly and decided on an ice tea.
" Could I just get an ice tea and orange juice please?" she asked the cashier, who was mechanically pushing on the buttons on her register.
"Small tea…and…" she turned to look at him.
"Oh medium, thanks."
"Anything else?" the cashier asked.
"That's it .Thank you" she replied, and struggled to find the cash in her wallet. After a few seconds of rifling through the cluttered pockets without much success, she handed the cashier her bank card.
They took their drinks and sat down in the muggy glass covered space of the café. Quietness settled over them momentarily. He gulped down a mouthful of juice, not bothering with the straw. He put down the glass and looked suddenly into her eyes.
"I am still getting over the fact that I am sitting across from you…I'd never expected to see you again" he said bluntly.
" Me too." She smiled thinly at him, " I wanted to talk with you all week, but I didn't know if I should call."
He studied the table top and looked up at her, "I wish our timing was better."
She reached across and slipped her hands on top of his.