She got on the bus, a long skirt and sweater hanging open. Her hair was tied in two braids that hung down over her petite shoulders. She looks straight down, viewing the floor through slightly oversized specs. Walking down the aisle, her sweater catches on a pole and swings open, revealing subtle curves. She's beautiful but she doesn't know it. Her posture is directed inwards, and it looks as though if she could she would fold her shoulders inward and close up like the book she places her face into the moment she sits down. In her eyes and posture I can see school-age jeers, the damage childhood can cause to self-image. Beauty lost to the world by the ignorance of youth. Part of me screams. I want to go over there, to gently lift her chin and look her in the eyes, to tell her that despite the rejection, the insults, and what other people may have said, that she is beautiful, and let her see the truth of it in my eyes. To do my part to heal the damage so evident in her mannerisms. But she is too shy, and the bus is crowded. The possibility of misinterpretations abound. Instead I just look, silent, hoping that someday, someone in a more appropriate circumstance can show her the truth.

It was planned to meet up at the cafe with Olivia and Qiqi, but I wanted to see her early. Eagerness drove my feet down the hill toward the bus stop on Stockton. For once I arrived in time; I only had another 15 minutes to spare, gods of MUNI willing. So, I idled on the curb, trying to avoid getting my shoes in the sticky gutter as people pushed past.

I like that place. The afternoon sunlight traced a stark urban silhouette upon the shopfronts across the street; square waves, like a grand graphic equalizer, cut in concrete above the heads of ladies pulling bags and merchants lugging boxes. People laughed and bartered while cars growled. A sappy durian funk permanently hovered in the cool spring air, tugging at my clothes like a needy child. On this street, the melange of scent, sound, and sight never quite felt congruent. Her steady presence somehow explained such things. She'd been gone a while.

Finally people poured off a bus, and she was one of them. Her eyes scanned the space between her and the ground, a space I knew she filled with ideas, myriad long threads of them. Wearing her favorite old sweater, the one her late grandmother knit, she looked as if the weeks hadn't passed at all. The familiarity relieved me. My heart rose, nudging aside my nonchalance as I broadly smiled and called out her name. Her friendly embrace salved, but also shocked me into pithy realization of how much I had truly missed her.

As we walked up the hill to the cafe, I listened to her chat away in her concentrated, but excited, manner. Her trip abroad had fed her incisive mind; travel anecdotes yielded to musings on human nature and history, all of which somehow touched in surprising ways on points from her ongoing research.

"I got some stuff in Taibei; the Academia Sinica is just totally loaded with goodies. You know, this symposium will only be the beginning. I have enough here for most of my doctoral dissertation, if I can just get time enough to do it."

"Hah, Before you conquer the world, shouldn't you just make sure you can finish highschool first?" I chuckled and teased, but her magmatic verve, coiled like copper in that dynamo mind, stole my breath.

"Please," she huffed, "I'm more worried about my mom making me work in the shop all day this Saturday. All they want are seat warmers and test scores, anyway, it's not like you have to think or anything...
"Oh, stay here and give me a sec, ok?"

I waited patiently at the base of the stairs leading to her family's temple. A yellow and red banner flapped above the small nondescript doorway, leading up to a place I knew was a refuge for her, sometimes even from herself. The Sun fell down toward the west, caressing the walls above closing shop bays. A delicate breeze whispered.

After a while she reemerged on the stairway, sheathed in the orange glory-light, her dark braids highlighted by ruddy fire. There she stood, staring off above the rooftops toward the Sun with a rare countenance of open gentleness. She seemed very tall.

"Ah... I love you."
There.
I finally said it.

Unwavering, she turned that transcendent gaze down upon me and smiled. I was terrified and awestruck. My hands and heart trembled like the San Andreas, but my eyes were caught by her own, her glasses amplifying her stare into a paralyzing glamour. There wasn't any backing away this time. Without a word she steadily descended. For a moment she held me in front of her as I gaped, gripping my shoulders between her hands.

Then, and ever afterward, when her lips pressed upon mine, I smelled sandalwood.

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