If this story doesn't seem familiar, please read this post, and then this post, for context. If you've already read those, enjoy the next part of the story.
I had to make myself familiar with this woman, this person who in truth was as much of a stranger as the hundreds of empty faces I saw every day. Even though she was vital to my sanity, being around her reduced me to a jumble of revolving thoughts and tense nerves. I had centered my life on her, but I did not know if my existence had any impact on her. For all I knew, to her I was just a friendly face along her morning commute.
The next morning, I waited for her again. I didn’t wait for her in my usual spot, instead I chose to wait where I could see her without her being able to see me. I had to know if my absence would affect her like her absence had affected me. I waited impatiently this time, my nerves buzzing. I silently prepared what I would say to her, hoping fiercely that I would have the courage to actually speak.
A car horn blared behind me, pulling me from my thoughts. I turned around, but it was nothing but typical morning traffic. When I turned back around, I saw her. The people around her seemed to part to the sides to let her through. I was far enough up the street to see that she would soon approach the front of the office building where I normally waited.
She was walking at her normal brisk speed, but slowed down when she saw I was not there. A flash of sadness crept over her face. It hurt to see such an expression, especially to know that I had caused it, but it made my heart leap at the same time. She stopped completely and turned back the way she had come, peering through the crowd.
I walked down the sidewalk to her, ignoring the complaints of the passersby as I bumped shoulders with them. I focused only on her, and for a moment it was only her and I on the street. The noise from the traffic faded away, and all I could hear was my footfalls on the concrete walk.
I was soon behind her. I ran a hand through my hair, and found myself suddenly out of breath. The words I had prepared disappeared from my mind, and the sound of my heavy beating heart thudded in my ears. I swallowed hard and took a few deep breaths. It was now or never.
“Looking for someone?” I asked.
At the sound of my voice, she spun around, startled. The motion of her hair sent up a rush of her dazzling smell. I held my breath for a moment, not wanting to be rendered speechless yet again.
Her eyes, glistening, widened with surprise. Her lips moved, forming words but not speaking them. She looked around again, as if she wasn’t sure she really saw me. Her cheeks blushed rapidly, and she looked down at the ground for a moment to compose herself. She stayed this way for enough time where I was tempted to reach out and touch her shoulder to see if she was alright. I was about to do so, but she at last looked up.
“Yes… I mean, no. I mean…” her voice trailed off. She gestured absently behind her with the hand that held her coffee cup. She reached up with her other hand to brush away a few wisps of hair from her forehead.
I smiled at her, hoping that my nervousness wasn't as transparent as it felt. It was clear I had caught her off guard, but I was far from calm myself.
The color deepened in her cheeks. “Well,” she continued, “to be honest, yes. I was looking for someone.”
“Have you found him, then?”
“I believe that I have,” she said.
“And now that you have found him, what do you plan to do?” I stepped in closer.
“I plan to introduce myself.” She took a step towards me, and offered her free hand. “My name is Sarah.”
I clasped her hand, soft and cold from the morning chill, and shook it gently. I wasn’t prepared for how touching her would make me feel. It was like everything I had touched before in my life had been behind rough burlap, and the act of touching her made it fall away.
I hesitated, forgetting for the moment what exactly my name was. A quizzical glance from those bottomless blue eyes reminded me.
“Shane,” I said with a start. “My name is Shane.” Her hand felt fragile within mine despite her strong grip. I held it like ancient china, afraid to even breathe for fear that she would shatter in my grasp. I felt her grip let up, and I released her hand reluctantly. Our hands slid apart, our fingertips grazing against each other in a way that lit up my nerves electric.
“Hi, Shane,” Sarah said. Her smile had faded briefly while I stumbled about with the business of saying my name.
To say her name aloud then was almost too much. I wrestled with the urge to tell her that I loved her, right there on our stretch of sidewalk (yes, to me it had become ours). I realized that I was standing close enough to feel the warmth radiating from her, and anything I could have thought to say other than laying bare what my heart knew to be the truth now eluded me. With words failing me, I settled for a smile.
The sun burned through the clouds, brightening, and her smile returned in full, yet wider and deeper than ever before.