This is an original short story written 3/15/02.
It was all whirlwind, heat, and flash.
We met again, having last seen each other two years before at her mother’s house in Boston, on the sidewalk in front of the Asian market on Iowa Boulevard. I had just finished an overcooked breakfast in some smelly diner at the end of the block, and I was shelling out $4.50 for my toasted eggs and blackened coffee when I saw a rush of red, pink, and orange blow past the glass doors of the diner.
Instantly I was blinded to everything else. I took off at a dead run and yelled, “Keep the change!” to an uninterested cashier. I finally caught up with her, after shouting my lungs out and moving forward like a freight train through the highly trafficked sidewalk. Those people must have really hated me, but I was only thinking of her. I touched her arm and she jerked swiftly with a look of fright. Her face lit up with a gorgeous smile and she began to glow.
“Oh my God Greg!” We exchanged a long look of recollection and remembrance; we stood speechless for a few seconds, there on the sidewalk. After her initial joyous reaction faded, her face showed a thousand different expressions, and she shifted her weight from foot to foot and adjusted the bag that hung from her shoulder. “What are you doing here? Oh wow,” she said, and then, “You’re about the last person I thought I’d see today, I mean the last!”
“Chels—You look great!” I stumbled over my words as though I were delivering a confession to the clergy. “I live here, I moved in July. What are you doing? How have you been?”
“Oh wow, you’re just the absolute last person I—oh Greg I’m fine, I’m fine. Oh wow.” She bit her lip and looked away, I could tell the context of our circumstantial meeting was starting to sink in. “Listen I’ve really got to go, I’m really in a hurry,” A smile peeked through her lips between sentences, but she bit it away each time. She was blushing now, and I could hardly suppress the urge to touch her face. “Listen, it was truly amazing to see you, it really was. But I’m in a terrible rush, I’m awfully late.”
“Chelsea wait a minute please--”
“I’m sorry Greg, nice to see you, g’bye!” and she was off. She dove into the flood of listless, hurrying bodies on the sidewalk without waiting for my reply. She certainly had a way with disappearances. Once I recovered from the meeting and my body realigned with my brain I jumped in after her, determined not to lose her just yet.
I caught up with her before she disappeared from sight, and with as much suave as I could muster asked her to dinner.
“No Greg, I don’t think I can make it.” She rejected one invitation after another, “Mm, I really don’t—I don’t believe I can join you.” She can be quite a handful.
“Chelsea, meet me for tea tomorrow. I am not letting you go until you say yes.” She reluctantly agreed to this,
“I won’t be able to stay for more than an hour, I really can’t…” And she rushed away, becoming one with the fish-like crowd.
I laughed to myself as I stood in the wake of her passing. Her wind-blown, breathless manner was so ridiculously informal that it put you at ease immediately and instantly endeared her to you. What a knockout.
I had known Chelsea Peters since the day of her eighth birthday party. My mother and I, armed with the popular TV-themed gift of the time, attended this gala the year I turned seven. The Peters lived on our block, we had only just moved to Minneapolis and they were the first family we befriended. My father and Mr. Peters began playing golf in the same circle of weekend cigar puffing white collars, and our mothers met at the church bake sale the Sunday we joined First Methodist. She was a looker even then, her bobbed eight-year-olds haircut swinging cutely about her warm round face. Her pink gingham dress was doused in Kool-Aid and her cheeks were smeared with brightly colored icing by the time we left, but the impression I formed of her while at that party I have never gotten over.
When I was 15, she gave me my first kiss. That summer she dumped me for a kid with better credentials, and we saw little of each other after that except for at family gatherings and Easter Sunday’s until I graduated high school. We went to separate universities, and probably would have lost touch completely if she hadn’t shown up, tear strewn, on our front porch her sophomore summer of college.
Her father was diagnosed with cancer. Her mother was an emotional wreck, and her family needed help. For the next two months Chelsea leaned on my supportive shoulder both literally and figuratively. I drove Chelsea to and from the hospital, the pharmacy, and her home, did my best to make her laugh and take care of her, while my parents did the same for her mother and father. The tragedy of her father’s illness brought us closer together, and we developed a bond that seemed impenetrable.
That fall we separated holding hands. We wrote letters and worked around our schedules to see each other. In November her father took a turn for the worse, and her parents moved to Boston over Christmas break to assist his failing health. Chelsea returned to school in Minnesota, and we continued to meet when we could, often at my parent’s house. She was my best friend and she became a permanent fixture at our household. My mother viewed her with sympathy and love, and was thrilled to provide the daughter she never had with a home away from home. Our parents remained quite close. They fathomed a relationship between Chelsea and I, “subtly” hinting at it whenever they got a minute alone with either of us.
The summer after I graduated college I proposed, and Chelsea declined due to “personal fears and objections.” Naturally I was crushed, she was the love of my life and I couldn’t understand her fumbled excuses. She refused to explain things further and cut off communication with me completely—until that winter, when her father died.
My parents and I flew in the week of the funeral. Mrs. Peters was stable but Chelsea was inconsolable. She cried for three days straight: the days before, of, and following the funeral. I took her out for ice cream and watched stacks of rented movies with her. I stayed at the Peters for two weeks after my parents went home. Chelsea said she loved me and her mother cooed about and told me I was a blessing. Chelsea was able to enter law school that spring, and things “returned to normal” between us. Her school was in Chicago so we saw each other when we could and remained something more than friends (I’m not sure what) until the summer. That was the happiest half-year of my life.
That June we flew in to Boston together for a weekend at her mother’s. When we arrived, Chelsea announced that she was moving to New York, and planned to finish law school there. Her mother retreated inside the house, we remained on the porch and Chelsea dodged all my questions and exclamations. She had already been accepted and flatly stated, “Stop being silly, it’s not like we’re married.” In my shock and dejection I was only able to return home and hide. I phoned her a week later and her roommate informed me that she was already gone. A way with disappearing indeed. And I hadn’t seen her since. Until today.
I arrived an hour early to our rendezvous, but as always she came late. She was lugging a heavy looking book-bag and biting her lip. Her layered chestnut hair complimented the shape of her face, and her eyes were bright and active. She wore an old-fashioned navy button up with a characteristically loud red skirt. She looked smashing as always, but by the look on her face I could tell that she wouldn’t stay long.
I flagged her down and consoled myself to hiding my excitement. She sat without smiling and ordered a coffee with milk. We shared my orange rolls and made itchy small talk, her eyes wandered and she was subconsciously playing with everything: tapping her water glass with her spoon, rolling her napkin in her fingers. I tried to make her laugh, and after many attempts was at last successful. Finally she sat back, lit a cigarette, and stepped out from behind her wall.
We giggled about recent movies, books we’d read, and ad’s we’d seen. We analyzed our parents and talked about dreams we’d had. A conversation with her was like an elixir to cure all wounds. Chelsea made me feel complete, and comfortable in my skin. For one solid hour of fantastic connection (the kind they have in artsy movies and romantic-era novels) I was no longer too tall, clumsy, or boring. I was sensible, but not square, and clever, but not bitter; I was fun without being obnoxious. She gave off such an aura, and the chemistry between us was incredible.
She ended a wordy series of pontifications on modern artists, drained her second coffee with milk and lit another cigarette. Our laughter faded and then subsided, and her face fell as the comfortable lull in conversation became noticeably long. I panicked at the thought that she might take this opportunity to leave the café, so without really thinking I blurted out what was always at the back of my mind and the tip of my tongue.
“Chelsea…Why did you leave?” We sat in silence as she avoided my eyes and blew smoke at her empty cup.
“Greg…I don’t want to get into this...I’ve got to go in a minute, and I don’t really want to--”
“Chelsea. You owe me an explanation.” A fire flashed in her eyes as she looked through me. She bit her lip hard, and lowered her eyebrows. She coughed and began to speak, exhaling.
“I left for personal reasons, Greg. You don’t own me and you cannot keep me from going anywhere in the world,” Here she paused and took another drag. She spoke again, exhaling. “I love you with all my heart, I think of you daily but I cannot be with you now or ever.” With this she turned away, but she must have seen the look on my face, because she began to cry. I could see her feigned persona melt away to reveal the child I knew. Her cheeks turned red and she put her hands to her eyes to suppress the tears.
“Oh Greg I do love you. You are the one, the only one for me and I’ll love you forever. But you must understand that I’m afraid of forever, I’m terrified and if we were to marry and you were to die—or if I were to become invalid and you were to leave me—I cannot handle that. And you are forever, you consume me and I am infinitely sorry but I cannot be lost in someone else. I need me; I need my independence and to be able to take care of myself. I’m sorry but I just can’t be with you, I just can’t stay with you right now. Excuse me.” She stopped out her cigarette and reached for her heavy bag. She was up, drying her tears and gone before I could react.
My heart was broken but I was sublime to its break. I knew at last the truth about the future and Chelsea. I paid the check, and hailed a cab outside.
The next day I went to work, and resumed my life alone.