Somewhere before the middle.

Woke up to some golden light pouring through and dancing across the dust of her east facing San Francisco apartment, she was gone, work I figured, it was Tuesday. I wandered into the kitchen, a note was on the counter.

'Morning Sunshine, had a meeting, Ill be back in the afternoon and hope you're gone. I took your keys, the car makes it too easy. You probably don't remember much of last night, could see in your eyes you drank to much, I know you miss her. The only way you're going to figure any of this out is if you leave the hard way, stick your thumb out and find a way. You always did best when you could wander alone, I can't have you around, Ill fall in love all over and thats not fair because you won't. Find something to write about, forget about everything else, go back to the beginning, you might find something and if you stop looking now, it'll be lost'

I poured a bowl of cereal and laughed. Was proud of her for writing that, maybe one day she'll know what it meant. Most of my stuff was inside the car, but that was ok, I didn't need it. Slowly got dressed and tidied her apartment, for someone who had everything else together, it was always a mess. Flipped her note over and picked up the pen.

'I love you, keep the car. If anyone asks where I've gone tell them you don't know, left my phone in the bedside table, not sure how long I'll be, just that I'm going north eventually. Keep smiling, A.'

I stumbled out onto the street, god San Francisco was beautiful, the streets, the fog, the bay, the shops, the people. Rounding the corner I wandered into a coffee joint that seemed familiar, bought a cup and picked up the paper, habitually more than anything, just needed something in my hands. Sitting beside the windows I looked around, around at the people. Some talking, many glued to screens, frantically pounding away at the keys, everyone seemed to have purpose, everyone but me. I had always held myself to a standard that made purposelessness a dangerous place, had it all figured out as if that was something to be proud of. Jobs, degrees, volunteering, whatever to keep myself busy and paint a picture of some glorified ideal. Now I was sitting Uptown trying to decide where I should go, couldn't leave for home yet, it was too soon. Wasn't ready for that, explaining why I hadn't ever come back, why I hadn't come back faster, why I didn't write, why I disappeared. Truly dreaded answering all the questions that epitomized why I left to begin with. I drank my black coffee, feeling the caffeine. 

Wandering out onto the street I figured my next move, sent for an Uber and stood at the curb waiting. It arrived after a few slow minutes and I sent Mike towards Berkeley, had an old friend finishing up a masters who could be convinced to drive out to Yosemite with me, maybe, maybe find some perspective. should've brought my phone, guess thats why I left it. He dropped me on campus and it took most of the afternoon to find Amber. Finally after scouring the english department, I stumbled on her in the library- should've thought of that first. Smiling I decided to play, she was at a table completely unaware of anything outside the thirteen inch screen, eyes quickly scanning what I assumed was an unfinished paper. Picking up an encyclopedia from the shelf, 'F', I sat across from her. 

'The poor encyclopedia must be so jealous of google' I said to myself, out loud.

A couple people looked up confused, wondering if I was talking to them. Amber was unaffected. I opened the large dusty book and found my favourite F; F. Scott Fitzgerald. Changing my voice into a poor impression of the very, very English man I assumed had written the passage- and spoke.

'Fitzgerald was the only son of an unsuccessful, aristocratic father and an energetic, provincial mother. Half the time he thought of himself as the heir of his..'

'I don't know who you're reading to but it would be wonderful if you stopped' had finally gotten her attention, she hadn't yet looked up but I knew she would after I continued.

'He also had an intensely romantic imagination, what he once called “a heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,”'

'thank you for that wond..,' Finally. I looked up and smiled 'no' She flushed and tried desperately not to 'I really am busy and.. and know you well enough.. this visit can't be anything productive for me' She looked back down at the screen.

'ahh sweets, life doesn't work like that' leaving the book open on the table I wandered around peering over her shoulder 'you always hated Shakespeare anyway' and closed her computer, whispering into her ear 'you're taking me to Yosemite'

'no, no, no' She wouldn't take much convincing I could tell, the last time I had seen Amber she was viciously drunk and sleeping in my bed while I wrote in the other room, I took care of her that night before sending her home from LA, she herself was a precociously talented writer, and a truly good friend. We had met a couple years earlier through a pal, having both been in relationships bonded through a shared love of photography, Proust and whisky, since then I had dragged her all around central California searching for beautiful landscapes and some, even more beautiful, escape. 

An hour later we were back at her apartment as she desperately explained how bad of a time it was, a paper was due, her thesis was broken, blah blah blah. I laughed, typically, and told her if she really couldn't use a few days away I would figure it out, helping myself to a beer out of the fridge I sunk into the couch. Within half hour she was ready to go, and slumbered onto the couch next to me.

'what are you doing here and why didn't you just, you know, call. how did you even find me?'

'You know, the old fashioned way- looking. It didn't take long, some girl in the english department was very helpful, should've just guessed though. Left my phone at Bella's, she told me to go on an adventure, something about being lost. She's probably right, finally decided to leave LA, headed home.'

'what happened?' 

'nothing happened, It just seemed like a good time' such a bad lie, she would know better. If something hadn't happened I wouldn't be looking for female companionship, she knew.

'you're an awful liar, home scares you, that much I know for sure, and you'd be with the guys not looking to get away with me if 'nothing' happened'

'Maybe I just realized that something was missing, that I took a wrong turn somewhere, fuck, I haven't written in months. Just coasting around on this cushy cloud I've fashioned for myself. Maybe I just need some answers, maybe I'm not quite ready to find them'

'Don't tell me then' she smiled and got up to grab herself a drink.

.

As an aside, I hadn't slept with Amber, didn't plan on it either. She was beautiful, probably too beautiful, but that wasn't the point. There is something special about the company of a women, something I've never really understood myself, sometimes its was just easier. Easier to listen and be listened to, most guys have this complex that says they can't have female friends. Would I sleep with Amber? of course, that wasn't the point, what was the point, I wouldn't try; she was too good for me anyway. Maybe just having someone who could really feel the emotion I couldn't, someone who would call me on my bullshit because she could smell it. Women have a special gift to understand the things that men struggle with. I liked gazing through that window.

.

By this time we were drunk and hadn't left the apartment. Only got as far as the chess board. I loved chess, she was better, I hated losing, she loved beating me. Eventually as we drank from an old bottle of scotch, she read me some of her work. It was good, really good, better than anything I could hope to write. Pity. As she finished I smiled 'you're better than you think.'

'no! god, I need you to be critical' she stammered taking an ambitious swig.

'you don't need critical, you get that enough from yourself. It has real heart, you have a voice and that's all writing ever is. It just needs to be real, and yours is real. Don't get caught listening to the pretentious professors spout off about literary devices and useless creative-choking rhetoric, your words make me feel like I'm inside of you, like I'm walking around the world staring out through those big, confused blue eyes of yours... pass the bottle.'

She kissed my forehead 'I hate you, you know. For only ever coming when you please. Lets go to the bar, you can find me some handsome steed who's read Proust' I scooped her up like she was my bride and we tramped out onto the quiet streets of Tuesday Berkeley, it might've been Wednesday by now, we didn't care. Stumbling into the pub, she saw a friend at the bar. I thought I knew him, couldn't remember. Looking at the bartender 'three IPA' he responded by moving towards the taps, pointing at Laguinitas 'sure'.

Her friend Chris introduced himself, I didn't know him after all. We sat and drank, slowly, chatting about the crap young impressionable students do. I was hardly paying attention anymore, staring at the pictures behind the bar, wondering about the folks inside.

A Chapter from Sometime. Doing Nothing. With Nothing Else to Say.

A good story.

He reflected on the question. A question about good art. About what made something good. All he could think now was that it had something to do with feeling, that the emotion pulled out made an impact. Thinking about something, learning something was nice, but how did it make you feel. How did it linger. Good or bad how did the feeling dance within you, the beautiful agony of being alive.

‘you know, seems like a great story has to weigh on you. Not in a bad way, or necessarily good. It just has to stick to you, with you in some way. If a story does that it has to have meant something’

‘so you think how it makes you feel is more important than what it makes you think?’ she asked

He thought carefully, trying to sound as impressive as possible, he liked her. That was rare lately. They were sitting in a mostly empty bar, dropped in a part of town they might not have found themselves even three years before. This place had been lucky enough, it was here since before either of them had been, and just rolled on as the neighbourhood changed and grew. It was mostly a younger crowd now- save the regulars- same crowd that appreciated red brick and the angry old men who manned the counter. 

‘two more of the same’ he called down the bar. ‘I do.’

Before she could say anything he continued ‘what a story makes you think can change, not just from person to person, even time to time. As you change the meaning can change. But what it makes you feel, that will stay, you’ll remember how you felt’

‘this is good beer’ she mused, obviously mulling over what he had said.

‘the best’

‘I’m not sure you’re right about a good story though. What you’re saying makes sense, that the feeling will imprint, it will remain nostalgic forever. And. And interpretation can evolve, for sure, over time. But the meaning of great art, of a great story, the part of anything that makes you think, that challenges you to think, that has to be the meat. Has to be the substance’

He looked at her as she took a drink, he had something to say, but she was still thinking, so he took a drink. A long one. And waited, staring at her the same way she always did him. No one had ever looked at him like that before, he knew it wasn’t unique to them, it was unique to her. Often he would find himself on some tirade or another, musing about something that mattered to him, lost a bit between incoherence and something maybe flirting with profound, he would catch her staring, lost in and digesting his words, he would see her really listening. It was disarming in a way, unless you had met someone who could put away everything else and hang on your words, you wouldn’t know how it felt. He remembered being taken aback the first time he noticed, remembered wondering what exactly he had said, wondering if it was something that merited such focus. He had never felt so vulnerable, especially about something so innocent.

‘art, and a great story is art, is rolling out a message. The feeling is what might make something digestible, for sure what can make it popular. But the message is still what makes it important. What you feel connects you to the story, putting yourself amongst the characters and in this new world. The feeling will make someone love the story for the entertainment it brings.’ she paused and sipped her beer looking up as if to find something ‘but the meaning, the message, even if most readers miss it, that has to be the point of a great story’

They sat thinking, he almost never took time to think, in fact, most of his conversations were so one sided he felt and acted a bit like an entertainer. Very often he wasn’t interrupted long enough to even digest the other persons view, he rolled along just trying to articulate his own. That was arrogant, and ignorant both, but due in part to the fact that many of the people he talked to really didn’t understand what he was getting at. He sat now, unable to think of something to say. She was ahead of him, he wanted to keep listening to her, facilitate her thoughts, for the first time in a while he valued them much more than his own.

‘can you teach me to throw darts?’ she asked after a while

‘I can try’ 

They got up, the bartender had overheard and grabbed a couple sets, he didn’t ask for ID or anything else, they were around enough, not the type who would run off. Whatever that type was. 

‘so you’ve never tossed a dart. ever?’

‘I mean, maybe a few times, it always felt so awkward that I figured it looked even more awkward, not to mention it didn’t really feel like I was aiming at anything’

He put all of the darts but two on the nearest table and stood at the line, rolling the dart between his thumb, index and middle finger he aimed at the triple twenty. Biting his tongue and leaning forward he threw. Triple five. At least a decent example, he looked back at her.

‘I’ve seen people throw, that doesn’t help’ she said sassily

He laughed ‘it was just an example’ grabbing her far shoulder he pulled her towards the line and handed over a dart, she looked down at her feet and then tried meekly to emulated what he had just shown. The dart squeezed tightly between her fingers, arm slung up awkwardly and far from ninety degrees she readied herself. 

‘stop’ he grabbed her hips now ‘ you have to be still, especially your elbow’ he grabbed her arm and brought it down slightly ‘only move your forearm’ he grabbed it and pushed and pulled subtlety, he could smell her neck, a soft lavender that seemed as if it might have been her own scent. She had long black hair that was tucked behind a small, almost childlike ear ‘do you feel that?’

‘it feels horribly awkward’

‘it will, but will make it easier, soon you’ll be aiming at a small spot and not just the board, you want the movement to be as simple as possible’

Still holding her waist with his right hand, they both threw left, she moved her arm softly back an forth before finally tossing. It barely grazed the board, just above the twenty, just below the wall. She pulled away from his touch and went to grab the darts.

‘where were you aiming?’

‘the middle’ she spat back, visibly frustrated with missing, immediately she stood back at the line and pushed him away ‘I’ve got this’

He laughed and walked back towards the bar, she would throw for a while and he figured it was probably best to leave her to it. A man was sitting some seats down, absentmindedly watching a hockey game ‘another beer’ he called and looked up at the screen, smiling to himself.

‘girlfriend?’ the man asked, still looking up.

‘friend’ he said, watching also, Boston was winning 5-2 in the third period, Vancouver hadn’t been very good lately.

‘doesn’t look like it’ the man turned toward him and smiled ‘names Chris and reached out his hand.

‘Alex’ they shook hands, both firm, the type of handshake that twinges with mutual respect ‘think I’ve seen you around’

‘probably, its a good spot for one or two too many. you live around here?’

‘26th and columbia’ Alex replied.

‘I’m just off Fraser, have been for about, well, forever’ Chris looked about fifty, maybe more, you could tell he took care of himself, care of himself in a way that could mask a dozen or so years around his age. 

‘tough watching the Canucks these days’

‘yup’ Chris took a sip of the whisky ‘so why’s she just a friend’ he smiled holding the glass up to his lips.

‘single malt I suppose’ changing the subject, knowing it would come back around.

‘yup, Laphroig. the peat tastes a bit like trekking in the highlands, maybe you know what I mean’

he did, having spent a few months in Scotland, a few more months back. ‘she’s dating a friend, has been for longer than I’ve known either’ taking a sip he laughed ‘why?’

‘just the way she looks at you, I remember when my wife looked at me like that. Its a look that cares, a look only a woman can pull off. And only when she feels something’ he finished his glass

She walked up behind him, a few seconds after Chris had finished talking. Good timing, better at least. ‘do you want to lose?’ she was very confident for someone who was about to. 

He got up, finished his beer and waved for two more. She had already wandered back to practice. He leaned over as Chris got up and reached his hand out again ‘maybe ill see you around’ they shook and Chris tossed a jacket over his shoulders.

‘do you like your friend?’

‘yeah man, I mean of course, its not like that. if thats what you mean. its just.’

He cut Alex short ‘of course it is, just be careful, or don’t. But she doesn’t look at everyone like that, probably not even him. Maybe especially not’ smiling he stumbled to the door, a little drunk, it was just Wednesday, he probably had to work tomorrow, he probably had a family to get back to. Might’ve been why he was stumbling.

Waiting for the drinks Alex thought about what he had said. Probably seeing a few things he hadn’t before. Suddenly he felt a little dirty for it just being the two of them. The bartender handed him the drinks and his animosity flittered away, taking them he walked towards the corner of the bar and her. She looked over her shoulder, brushing that long black hair to the side and smiled. Smiled her shy smile. A smile that made her seem a whole lot more innocent than she was. A smile though, that really and honestly didn’t know how perfect it was. All he could do was smile back.

Older Baggage.

He didn’t know what to expect. It had been a while since he’d seen her, both of their lives had moved along, yet here they were. She was home and he was passing through. He’d stopped in off and on, but it had been a decade since here was home, longer maybe since it felt like home, nothing really had since. It was nice to be back, sure, sitting in a coffee shop he used to call an office. Funny in a way, they’d never met until they were up a mountain in the Rockies, a couple kids who grew up riding bikes- almost literally- a few doors down.

Main St. was always a breath of fresh air, just enough culture, tucked just close enough to everything. Not pretentious, not poor, not trying to be much of anything, just being. Gene was tucked in the end of an old building, erected to accommodate the odd intersection that gave the appearance of a miniature flatiron building. He sat at the same seat he always had, one where he could see downtown if he looked hard enough right and the bar if he looked left. 

It was a couple hours before she showed up, he was early and expected her to be late. Just sat scribbling in a journal he had roughed up lately, only so many pages left to muddy. After finishing a note about coming back and about nothing he looked up. She was hugging a man who must be her husband just outside. He could see her say something to the man before he turned and walked down the street, without so much as a glance inside. Opening the door she looked around, the way you do when you’re looking for a friend. Beautiful as she always was, age had taken to her nicely, not that she was old, more that she didn’t look much different. Marriage and two children had done nothing to her mesmerizing blue eyes and crooked smile. He thought of waving but enjoyed her puzzled glances. Finally she saw him there, laughed softly to herself, the same shy laugh he loved. Standing up, she wrapped her arms around his neck, after letting go he grabbed her shoulders and smiled — its not bad to see you —

— its a little bad its been so long —

— everything is always a little too long or a little too short, but it is good to see you buddy, it has been a bit too long — Pulling her chair out before sitting down himself.

— so.— 

He laughed — so what — twisting a now empty coffee between his fingers.

— well I don’t know, how have you been? Ive heard your famous now, at least thats what they all tell me —

— I’ve heard your not bad at moming. thats what they say anyway —

— we invited you to the wedding you know, the girls are four and five. I haven’t seen you in six years, haven’t really talked since I told you I met someone, don’t get any news unless I visit your mother- who misses you by the way- couldn’t say if you get my letters because I don’t get any back.. you know I never wanted it to be like this, you know I’ve tried. Yes Alex, I like moming, but I know you already knew I would, its too bad the girls haven’t met you, but I’m sure you don’t really care.— She was more frustrated than maybe he expected, which wouldn’t have bothered him if he hadn’t been staring into her eyes. They looked at and through him, maybe even into him, that made him nervous, nervous because he knew how rare that was. Her lip quivered and eyes drifted around as she continued — you’ve always left everything behind, nothing mattered near enough to take with you, or look back at once it was gone. I came home and home wasn’t a good enough story for you to give a shit about — She looked at her feet and rubbed her hands up and down the sleeves of her wool sweater- waiting for him to say something- he didn’t have much to say yet, half expected cordial to last a couple minutes longer.

— do you want a coffee, I should’ve asked. Im gonna grab you one, don’t tell me, I remember — getting up and walking toward the counter, he could hear her mutter something as he brushed passed, probably something about him being an asshole, they knew he already knew that. 

— yeah, one americano and one flat white — he smiled at the barista, she reminded him of an old friend, with her dark hair and ivory skin, suddenly this old life felt further away. 

J always wasted perfectly good coffee with milk, he wouldn’t forget that. Couldn’t forget. Standing and waiting he looked back at her, she was sitting and staring straight ahead, not even the smallest chance she would indulge him and look over. She was mad now, especially now. He didn’t care much, he liked her better when she was angry, that was the realest she ever was, the most honest, the most alive. — thanks — he smiled grabbing the drinks. Grabbing some napkins he looked back at the bar half expecting to see his old friend, half wishing the time hadn’t rolled away so quickly.

— flat white. I assume through everything the last half dozen years you still enjoy ruining coffee —

— and I guess I don’t have to assume that you still think a black coffee is poetic, since you’re still full of shit — she did smile slightly then.

He leaned back against the bench and thought about what she had said, right about one thing for sure, he was a prick — during your wedding I was in Nepal, yes that was on purpose, I can’t think of a place I would’ve rather been less- not Nepal- your wedding. Im glad you and my mother can connect on being frustrated with me, I’m sure she loves having you around..— he stared at the chaotic weekend traffic and then quickly checked the time on his phone, some missed calls muddied the background photo, it was just after noon, the missed calls could wait — about the girls, I still haven’t missed a birthday. They get the postcards I hope, can’t begin to imagine how much your husband loves that. I don’t write back because you moved on, and that was tough to swallow since I never did. I’ve avoided home, gotten lost in my work and pretended not to think about how, maybe, just maybe it could’ve been different. Most of the time, when I think that I have a drink, and then a few more, and then I write you a letter, and then I throw it in the fire. Because writing it does me good, and reading it would do you none—

They looked at each other then, neither dared break contact first, she was more stubborn- for sure- but right now he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. After a while, the short whiles that feel like long whiles, she found something to say — he loves the postcards, makes him jealous sure, but not so much because of who they’re from, more because of the photo on the front — she smiled — and the girls love them, they like their strange pen-pal, a pen-pal whos book they can find at the book store. Mommies mysterious old friend who seems like he’s seen everything in the whole wide world. To those little girls you're the luckiest guy alive, to my husband even, to the friends you left behind sometimes. To me… I just feel bad, bad about my best friend who keeps running away — she took a sip and shifted around uncomfortably, looking towards the door, he wished then- like he had a thousand times before- that he could hear what she was thinking. 

— you were never my friend J and I love you either way. Maybe I am running, but at least imagine for a minute that it might not be because of you. Even if it was. wouldn’t it be better. What did you expect. We’d live on the same cul-d-sac. Our kids would go to grade school together. I’d settle down and be the adult you’re trying so hard to pretend to be — he wasn’t mad, felt a little numb honestly. He’d been excited to see her, to laugh again. Obviously that wasn’t what she wanted. Seemed a bit like she wanted to convince herself he’d made a mistake, covering for the fact that somewhere, somewhere buried, she thought she might’ve. Many nights he wished he had a life with her, even if it had to be on that cul-d-sac, every so often he just wished for her. — You always wish for the life you don’t have, its more exciting than the one you’ve got, but that doesn’t make it possible or good, it just fills the illusion. It coats you with some mystery and allows you to imagine the could’ves and should’ves. Wishes are just another way to escape and pretend, thats why you tell your girls to wish on a star, because they’re so fucking far away.— her eyes glassed over but she was too proud to cry, especially now, and here. 

— its funny, you and he aren’t so different. Actually you’re a lot the same, you’d probably like him if you gave him a chance, but of course you couldn’t do that, because god forbid you do something for someone other than yourself. You left because you knew what the future was, you knew and it scared you. That was your choice, your baggage. Now I’m sitting here talking to you, and you dare say you never got over me. Where the fuck do you think I’ve been all these years since you decided my life and dreams weren’t as important as your own.— she was almost smiling now, this manic smile flirting with pure hatred — the best part of it, the irony, is that my perfect husband seems to think he made the opposite mistake, I watch him come home from work every day and see the same man as if I would’ve married you. Every day I get to feel like its all my fault for deciding to go back to school, every day I go to work and wonder what my life would be like if we were out on the road. Only the girls, only the girls make it worth it. I wake up and look at them and everything you’ve done and accomplished seems empty, whats worst is I think you know that, and I know he doesn’t. 

He thought for a while, looking at her as she looked around — I left because I wasn’t willing to give up my ambition and I would never let you give up your own. Not because of anything else. You can believe whatever you want, whatever makes it easier, but thats the truth — he stood up then — go for a drive? —

Tonight I got Drunk and Started Writing.

About a boy. about Manhood.

He used and flourished in his complete and crippling confusion. Drunk, pacing, wondering. The entire world complicated and mundane in such a way that made him feel smaller and smaller until what was left may as well have disappeared. He lived, rather solemnly in the world which he created for himself, filling the silence, the voids with intermittent noise. Choking the emptiness with some abstract, cliche substance that danced through and around his life. The world, his world was some tiny, inconsequential microcosm of his environment. 

Our story starts, slowly, quietly with a boy. A boy out in the great big world searching for answers, more particularly searching for himself. A scary, large and abstract undertaking to be sure. But something about his journey seemed so harshly in contrast with everything else in life. We could chat about him shortly, the narcissistic, lonely, loving, confused, passionate, arrogant and selfless character who would make our story. The walking contradiction that will, at some point become endearing. the boy who will walk softly and slowly through the world until sunrise. Until the sun peaked above the mountains and danced with its pale, bright yellows across the clouds. But to chat now we may miss some spark, we may miss the elongated and complicated past, which at some point would. Will. Entwine with today to create the sustenance of the story. So instead of a trivial introduction perhaps we should begin, begin just now, with the story of a boy. A boy who somewhere across the journey becomes a man, oblivious only to himself. Near the end we will call him a man, for what he becomes, for the journey and its undertakings. Yet just as important to remember is that he never thinks himself a boy, nor ever imagines he could be a man. He just does, quickly, smoothly and before our eyes.

Page 1. Perhaps.

The clock lingered in the background, ticking white noise into my thoughtless mind. I stared blankly as the phone slipped through my fingers, strangling the ticking as it crashed to the floor. I looked into the mirror across the room, my face was empty, stone. Yet the anxiousness inside of me whispered a different story, I couldn't process what I had heard, perhaps I didn't want to. 

I don't remember walking to the couch, certainly not sitting down. I sat however and stared across at the lifeless fireplace, my eyes shifted to the photos on the mantle. Memories, shadows of the people and the places. It had been a very long time since I had thought of home, now it consumed me. My palms were cold and damp, my mouth dry, I wanted to close my eyes, quiet my thoughts, yet my eyelids resisted. Instead I stood up slowly and walked towards the kitchen, never had my apartment felt so cold, so empty. I poured an unreasonably tall glass of whiskey, neat, as always. A sip turned to a gulp, it wasn't the taste I wanted, perhaps not even the drunk so much as the sting on my throat. I wanted to feel something. 

I breathed in the crisp October air as the door shut behind me. Clumsily threw a coat over my shoulders, and stumbled down the steps. I walked, and walked. Minutes turned to hours, and the sun began to set. Where was I going, great question. Thoughts of friends, more acquaintances. Of a woman, to temporary. Then my mind wandered back to home, it had been six years since I had seen those mountains or dipped my feet into the inlet. For a moment I could smell the trees, taste the crisp autumn wind, yet part of me was afraid. Afraid of what I might find, afraid of the meaningless conversation, and I was terrified of not seeing her. 

Prologue. From my tentatively titled novel, A Convoluted Love.

She squeezed my hand. Not gently, firmly. As if she needed to hold on. I looked over, beautiful as the first time I had laid eyes on her. Her golden blonde hair drifted softly in the evening breeze, smiling she stared absentmindedly over the horizon. For years I had longed to understand those looks, perhaps that was my mistake. She pulled me forward, excitedly towards the water, eager as a child she tugged impatiently. As our eyes made contact, I smiled. She stubbornly let go of my hand, and raised her eyebrow.

'you aren't going to come in are you?' as she backed away from me.

I smiled again.

'live a little' she yelled dashing towards the oncoming tide, tearing her shoes and socks off as she went.

'maybe, but not today' I whispered as I watched her move gracefully towards a particularly playful wave. Her run was mesmerizing, it exuded a complete contentment, a deep happiness. Nimbly she bounced through the sand, her feet tickling the water gently. For a second everything else seemed very small, I was so focused on her that nothing else mattered. She stumbled looking back at me, smiling we both began to laugh, she flushed and turned back to the task.

I loved everything about that woman, so true and so honest, never were those more clear than in that moment. I should've followed, but I was frozen in admiration, enjoying her pleasure more than my own. I looked away just as she disappeared beneath the crown of the waves. Slowly I began to ascend up to the pier, the oncoming sunset was particularly magical. Dancing off the water, illuminating colours usually reserved for the paintbrush. I moved quietly out towards a bench near the end of the dock. An old man was sitting on one end, in visible admiration. Unfazed as I sat down beside him, he looked longingly at the sun. I reached for my book, Hemingway, fittingly titled as well. Opening to my mark I began to read, his words flowed, consuming me into the world of Brett and Jake. Distracting from the beauty around me I painted a new picture. Minutes seemed to have past, I couldn't be sure when the man spoke.

'You should've gone in the water'

I jumped, startled. Lost in the words perhaps. 'The Water?'

'With the girl'

I smiled. He must have been watching. 'Ive never been much for the ocean'

'Maybe true, but you seem to be much for her' He pointed out with a grizzly chuckle. The Man had a narrators voice, it was the first thing that drew me to the conversation, the wisdom of his words was the second.

'Perhaps you're right, but this sunset seemed to much to pass up'

'Ah but the sun also rises, seems you already knew that' very attentive this old man.

'Have you read it?' I was fairly certain I knew the answer, partially sure he had given a clue towards the ending.

'Great book, not so much about the sun though, I think. It is a particularly beautiful night however, I must say. Is she your wife?'

'No no just an old friend, I've haven't seen her in a very long time, too long truth be told. Ive been away for a while. Missed this pier, enjoyed many nights here as a kid, have to agree though, tonight is spectacular' The man and I took some time, in silent agreement, to absorb the beauty. He stared off into the distance, while I stared off to the north as she swam out towards a small island. Memories flowed. The times I had been out in front of her on the journey to that exact spot.

Our first kiss. The nights spent pondering the future, days spent pondering the past. I remember her frustration when I told her I was leaving. My frustration when she told me she found a boy at college. Her happiness when I told her I loved her, my own when she lay in my arms. All on that little island.

'So where why did you go away?' he asked after a time

'Just to be away honestly, to see the world, pull my arms from the shackles of this place. I did find work though eventually. For a while I wasn't sure I'd make it home.' That last part was true, hadn't much missed the place. People maybe, even the view, yet not the place. Something about the distinction escaped me.

'My wife passed last year, I know very much about the shackles you talk of. Free to go yet destined to stay I fear. This spot, this place is all that I have of her. Each day the wind takes more of her from me, it seems. And yet every night the sun sets, same as when she sat beside me, and in that moment the shackles feel more like her touch.'

'Im sorry' was all I could muster, inadequate and weak that answer, the man wasn't looking for sympathy as much as he was making a point. The point eluded me then, not so much now.

'No, no sorry is for times of your control. I would be sorry too if it was merited but alas it was her time, and that happens. Often sadness is wasted in the emotion of the sad and not ever attached what it is that is sad. Sadness friend, is selfish'

I wanted to call him cynical, but he was right. I could question it, tried to and failed, for that I was sad. We both looked up as the sun dipped below the horizon. Then I looked at the man, admired him for a second and stared back out to the horizon 'do you regret anything?'

'do you?'

Out of the corner of my eye I could see her walking up the pier towards us. 'I know the cliche is to say I don't, but… of course yes, I do'

'Well.' He stood up slowly, yet, deliberately. Reaching for a simple oak cane hooked on the end of the bench and gracefully put on his hat, the whole process was executed with such purpose. 'Don't ask questions to which you already know the answer' And with that, without so much as a goodbye, he turned, and was gone.