March 21, 2013 – Word Prompt: Clarity.

. . .

I can picture her here.

It's the first thought that strikes me when my rental car noses its way through the streets of San Francisco, toward the address I plugged into the GPS when I left Sacramento. I can see Bella walking along these sidewalks, hopping on the MUNI or the BART. I see a young woman with a knitted hat walking a chocolate lab, and I remember the sound of a dog's bark in the background of our phone calls; suddenly, I envision Bella, dark hair dancing on the cool breeze, red leash in her mittened hand.

I picture her walking through the fog, coming closer and slowly, steadily, back into clarity.

As I navigate the streets, trying to focus on finding street signs instead of picturing Bella's life here, my mind flits back to our last conversation before the brief one outlining the logistics of our un-date: her suggestion that maybe things were supposed to happen the way they did, that I was meant to go to Chicago and she was meant to come here. I don't know about the former, but being here, in her city, in her world, I can't deny the truth of the latter.

I picture her heels clacking against the pavement as she walks to her car after meeting her editor; I imagine her date knocking on her door when we're on the phone, and her opening it in a swirl of dark hair and faint perfume and friendly smiles. I try to see all of these little details of her life – all of the tiny little facets of her present – and the knowledge that I don't really know anything in detail only highlights the truth: I'm pretty firmly in her past.

I like to think I've learned a lot in the years since I was eighteen and careless, but there's one thing I've learned that I think a lot of people spend years and even lifetimes figuring out: that letting go is something you do in a thousand little ways, in a million tiny gestures.

First, you loosen your grip.

Then, you uncurl your fingers.

You pull your hands away.

You let your arms drop to your sides.

You straighten your posture, force yourself not to lean forward.

You make yourself stand still despite the fact that every cell in your body is screaming at you to give chase.

And you watch whatever it is exit your life, one step at a time.

It doesn't occur to me until I'm the not-quite-date knocking on her door, until she opens her door to me in a whirl of dark hair and faint perfume and a friendly smile, that just because you let something go once doesn't mean you never get to hold it again.

"Hi," she says, and she's so Bella and so not-Bella at the same time that my heart is heavy with joy and nostalgia.

"Hi." And for what feels like the first time in years, I smile.

. . .

Bella doesn't see me right away. It's my first trip home since I left in August, the first time I'm seeing her since she yelled at me in the dark on her front lawn, and I'm struck by the changes. Gone are the rounded shoulders, the wounded eyes, the downturned mouth; she stands, straight-spined, laughing at something Cora says as she hands over her bill and some cash. As she waits for her change, I hear Cora ask about colleges.

"UCLA, Berkeley, USC, and U-Dub," Bella says, opening the zippered pouch of her wallet to deposit her coins.

"Nothing out east?" Cora asks, pushing the register drawer shut with a ping.

Bella pauses only momentarily. "No. I like it here."

"Well, I'm sure your dad will love having you close." She smiles, and I've always liked Cora.

When Bella turns, she nearly runs into me; I'm already at the register, sent with orders from my mother to pick up a chocolate cream pie. "Sorry," she says before she looks up; when she does, her eyes widen, then harden.

"It's okay," I say, and the discrepancy steamrolls me – of the two of us, she isn't the one who owes the apologies. The look she gives me tells me that her thoughts have wandered the same path. As she sidesteps me, her shoulders hunch and she drops her gaze. "Bella," I try as she hurries toward the door, but the bell jingles and she disappears into the cold without turning back. I want to chase after her, but Cora has spotted me.

"Edward! Welcome back! How are you liking college?" I turn, make the polite chitchat while I wait for my pie, and by the time I get out to the parking lot, there's no trace of her. There's a fine layer of snow coating the lot, and tiny flakes drift from the sky despite the sun. The light illuminates them, and I feel as though I'm standing in a swirl of a thousand glittering diamond filaments.

I don't know if it's wafting from the diner or if it's a sensory memory, but for the first time in ages, I can almost taste hot chocolate on my tongue.

. . .