Thursday, 29 October 2020

F Fic, Non-fic

One and the Same

By Tanya Newman


 When Amelia's eyes happened upon Aaron's name, backlit by the lights from a marquee, she hadn't been expecting to see him, now or ever again. It was January, and the icy darkness of winter had settled into Spartanburg, leaving the streets relatively bare. Only the tiny coffee shop where Amelia and her man of the moment, Justin, lingered, seemed to offer light and warmth that night. Justin was talking to her, at her, really, about how poorly her latest art show had gone, reminding her of the chance he'd given her.

 Amelia said nothing but nodded to let him know she was listening, even though she wasn't, before looking down at her coffee cup. Her eyes drifted to the floor-to-ceiling window they were seated in front of, to the concert auditorium across the way, and finally, to Aaron's name.

And that's when something happened. Amelia was still there, but wasn't. The icy wind as someone pulled the door of the café open, Justin's voice, her untouched coffee steaming before her. These things didn't exist, or did on a lesser scale. It was like she was pulled to that auditorium, to the image of Aaron nearly fifteen years earlier, the incandescence of his green eyes and how he'd looked at her as she stood on her mother's porch before leaving her and the summer they'd spent between graduation and the rest of their lives. They were young and free with all that season had promised them, and didn't worry about the future or reality because those things were still so far away. Money was sparse, but they were deliciously rich in time, and they spent it surfing along the low waves at the beach or in his parents' garage as he and his band played songs by the Eagles or the Allman Brothers or Tom Petty. He didn't like contemporary rock. Even the songs he wrote sounded like they were straight out of the 1970s, she noticed, as he strummed the guitar he'd bought secondhand and taught himself to play while she sat and sketched charcoal images of him and his band. She never could get right the intensity of his look as he played. But that didn't matter, she'd thought back then. She would get that look right eventually. Their whole lives were before them and their dreams of being a musician and an artist were going to come true.

She still heard him say good-bye to her that afternoon in late August, heard herself vow to wait forever for him, saw him smile with only one side of his face, like he knew what she didn't, that when the years would start to pass, she would begin to realize just how long forever was.

She was still there, back with Aaron, wondering if he and the one whose name she now couldn't take her eyes off of were one and the same, when Justin sighed, bringing her back to him. She cut her eyes to his face, waiting for him to say more, to notice she wasn't really listening. She sat, balanced on that edge. But then he got up and informed her he was going outside for a smoke.

She watched through the windows as Justin ambled along the side of the building, his back erect, shoulders down. She rolled her eyes and fingered her jaw where he'd backhanded her an hour earlier, in the darkness of the gallery after everyone had left. He'd apologized almost immediately, but it still stung like hell.

It was only lately that her talent, what little was left, had begun to wane. She used to be really good at this painting thing. Really. She'd won Art Student of the Year in college, a merit she'd thought was prophetic of upcoming successes.

She had a while before Justin came back. He always liked to take his time when he smoked, liked to think. The icy wind lifted her hair off her shoulders as she pushed open the door of the café, and she pulled her black leather jacket, stylish but hopelessly inappropriate for the sub-zero temperatures that promised snow any minute, closer around her as she jogged across the wide street, never looking back at Justin, toward the café whose windows illuminated the dark night.

She reached the square box office and looked all around for a poster or an advertisement, anything, that would tell her whether or not she was delusional, but found nothing. If she really wanted to know, she'd have to go in and find out for herself. She suddenly remembered how she felt as a teenager, standing in line for tickets to a popular movie she was desperate to see, tickets that would inevitably sell out any minute and crush her if they did.

She fished a twenty out of her jacket pocket and presented it to the bored teen reading a comic book behind plate glass. He barely looked up as he rewarded her with a ticket and the information that the show was nearly over, that the singer she wanted to see was probably on his first encore by now.

She only thanked him as she pushed her way through the double doors, into a warm two-story lobby floored with plush red carpet. Beyond a second set of double doors, there were cheers and the sound of a familiar voice singing. Amelia pushed through this second set of doors with shaking hands that had nothing to do with the cold. A slight breeze pushed against her face, but it was the music and his voice that reverberated through her.

And then, there he was.

Everyone was on their feet, cheering and singing along with the familiar song as he stood in the center of the stage, strumming his guitar, looking down as he sang the words she'd become all too familiar with years ago.

She didn't bother with trying to find a seat in the chaotic crowd, just moved a few steps along the aisle, watching as girls near the front screamed and jumped for the stage, loving him unconditionally though they didn't know him, and would never know that the woman who'd just entered the auditorium really did know what it was like to know him, and love him.

She could feel her face break into a smile as he brought the final chorus home, and for a moment, there was only the two of them in that cavernous concert hall, and he was singing that song only to her once again, and she was back in that summer, still living the best time of her life.

When he finished, finally, he waved to the still-cheering audience, smiling, and she automatically raised her hand in response, and could swear, just for an instant, that he saw her. He froze, staring right through her with those green eyes of his, but never made a move to come toward her. If anything, it was like he was moving farther away—his eyes, his voice, until none of it, not even the memories, felt real anymore. And then, something began to hurt inside her chest and her head, something realized by the beginnings of hot tears.

Don't be stupid, she thought. And she turned quickly, taking the new memory of him with her as she hastened out of the concert hall, back through the lobby, and outside once more into the freezing wind as everyone still cheered relentlessly. It was too deafening in there.

It was snowing, silent, thick flakes, and she stopped hurrying. She held her hands out before her, as if receiving a gift, and allowed a few crystalline flakes to gather in her palms. She'd be there when Justin got back. But now there was only the quiet, the darkness, Aaron's name behind her, the snow, falling and whipping all around, the promise of a full-blown storm throughout the night.

Tanya W. Newman was born and raised in upstate South Carolina, where she discovered her love of a good story, a love that led to a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of South Carolina Upstate, and a Master of Arts in English from Clemson University.

 Now married to her wonderful husband, Mark, for eleven years, Newman still resides in the upstate of South Carolina, where she sets many of her stories. Her first novel, The Good Thief, was published by Black Opal Books in 2016 and her upcoming novel, Winter Rain, is set to be published in 2017. In addition to writing and reading, she enjoys coffee, movies (usually an action/adventure with a love story added in), reruns of The Golden Girls, going for long walks, and spending time with her adorable son and daughter.

She is currently working on a sequel to The Good Thief.

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