She was touching the smooth, chubby leaves of a begonia when she saw him.
He was standing surrounded by a trio of women, each with a potted flower in her hand, each with eyes fixed on his long handsome face. He was being kind, it was obvious by the fixed smile and the way he tilted his head while he listened, as though he couldn’t bear to miss a word. His black hair was the color of a raven’s wing, his shirt as white as the clouds above. Beneath it was the smooth, terra-cotta colored skin she remembered so well.
From somewhere a bird called. She thought it was her sigh.
He glanced up and briefly looked her way, then turned back again to the ladies. She held her breath. Slowly, as though he saw something he wasn’t quite sure of, he turned his head again in her direction. His brows furrowed, as though he was trying to place her.
Charlotte couldn’t move; not her feet, nor her hands, not even her mouth or eyes. It was him. The stranger she met in the elevator, on a cold, fateful night in Chicago. It was as though all she’d experienced, all her decisions, all the roads she’d traveled since that night led her to this moment.
He didn’t seem to recognize her, yet she felt certain that he sensed some connection too, because he straightened and returned her study with the same open eyed wonder she was sure she wore.
He cocked his head and squinted. Who are you?
She smiled. Yes, it’s me.
The trio of women around him, realizing that they’d lost his attention, silenced and turned curious gazes her way. She saw them as scenery, mere backdrop to the action between her and him. He apologized to the ladies, oblivious that their faces dropped in disappointment, and signaled for an assistant to come over. Then he walked toward her, eyes on her face.
She didn’t move, couldn’t move, but gauged his progress toward her with her breaths. His hair was longer now, tied back at the nape of his neck. Thick dark brows formed a serious line over eyes shining with intent. He seemed a formidable mass, all black and white, rolling toward her like thunder. She was powerless to stop it now.
“Do I know you?” he asked, stopping before her.
It was the same voice, the same dark undercurrent she remembered as if it was yesterday. They both knew the question sounded too much like a pick-up line. Charlotte stared at the gravel, wildly wondering whether to answer `yes,’ and explain all her history. Or to simply say `no,’ and start anew.
“No,” she replied, then smiled tentatively.