They met each other under circumstances that happen often in movies and books, but rarely in real life: At a bus stop, caught in the rain, neither of them remembering to bring an umbrella with them that day. The rain fell down in torrents, and in the first few minutes, they couldn't even hear themselves think, let alone talk to one another.
He noticed that she kept on glancing at him, first from the map in her hand, and back up to his face, clearly deciding if whether he was a psycho killer or not, and if he wasn't, could he please explain to her how to get to this subway station?
They fell to talking: Yes, this was her first time in New York, and she was planning to move here to enroll in NYU. Her mother was back in the hotel, and at the time, she thought it was wise to leave her mother there and "learn all about New York" on her own, and not like a tourist. He joked to her that it was a grave mistake, as New York was never nice to New Yorkers. She laughed and said that the torrential rain was probably the best welcome gift she had ever received, if that was what it took for her to be called a real New Yorker.
After the rain stopped, and enlightenment on the subway system achieved, he should have said goodbye and gone home. But what was waiting at home was a microwave dinner and a marathon of Grey's Anatomy, which was his guilty pleasure (she smiled and said it was her favorite, too). But there she was, looking angelic and pleasantly lost, even in the horrible weather and the dirt and the grime. So he decided to show this Southern girl that even Yankees had good manners too, and invited her to coffee.
Sitting there across her, a cup of coffee in her hands, he was surprised how easily the conversation flowed. She was almost absurdly young, but she had a good sense of humor and an opinion about everything. They talked about living in New York, 80's bands, movies and how funny was it that there was a place called Little Odessa so near the city?
"You should go there," he said. "Coney Island's rollercoaster is world-famous, you know."
"It doesn't have a 90-degree drop, does it?" She asked, looking down at her hands, smiling like she was having a private joke of her own. "I don't like the feeling of falling."
He grinned at her. "I love rollercoasters," he said.
She laughed at him. Not the teasing, flirty kind of laughing, but she literally laughed at him, and his blatant show of machismo. He fought the urge to blush, but found himself laughing along, too.
They walked around the block and soon she wasn't even sightseeing anymore. He found himself telling her about his brother, surprised himself by telling her that he had a brother who was a Congressman, a fact that, for practical reasons, he didn't just mention to people just met. She told him about her mother's obsession with her show dog, and made him laugh doing impressions of her mother kissing Mr. Muggles.
She told him that her father recently died, and he sympathized with her. His relationship with his own father had never been easy, but it didn't make his passing any easier. As the sun set and as she laughed when she noticed that the sky turned into a vivid neon green, he asked if she wanted to have dinner with him. After a quick call to her mother, she turned to him and said yes.
He often wondered if there was any truth in soul mates, past lives, hell, even destiny. It's exactly the wishy-washy kind of things his brother hates, but something he's been thinking about lately. He knew all her quirks, the how and why of her, as if he had a map of her mind, that outlined every bit of her:
They had just come in from watching a movie—a romantic comedy, her choice. They sat in the darkened theater with their hands entwined together—like they were two teenagers on their date, sweaty palms and all. The movie was alright, but the thought that maybe his love story was more interesting than the fictional one. There was a time when he craved to be extraordinary, something more than what his skin had been holding in, but ever since he met her, it had all but gone away.
Sometimes he wondered if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
Later on, they were supposed to meet his brother for dinner, which made her nervous (although he reassured her time and again that it would be fine.) He didn't really like this manufactured sophistication anymore than she did, but Nathan did. They arrived earlier than he did, and she tugged at her hair and re-arranged the napkins. He went up to make a call (so if an argument—which might happen, would ensue, she wouldn't hear) but on his way out he bumped into the very man they were waiting for.
His brother was smiling at first, and he took it as a good sign. Winning the elections could be worth something, after all. But one look at the one waiting for them at the table, his expression suddenly changed: Stony, stern, almost angry. "What's the meaning of this?" he demanded, like the women he dated were some sort of insult he did on purpose.
He felt himself bristling. "What do you mean? Jesus, Nathan, can't you just sit down and say hello?"
He felt Nathan's hand on his shoulder: A sure sign that his brother was displeased. Their father always did that—and that was why the gesture never felt comforting to him. "Listen. Just…" his eyes flicked from the table and back. "…just keep away from her. That girl is not good news."
He pushed Nathan's arm off. He could feel curious onlookers staring discreetly. "What the hell? What's that supposed to mean? Did your polls go down or something?"
Nathan wasn't amused. "You better listen to me. Stay. Away. From her." And without another word, his brother stormed out. He watched him go, a curious feeling of empty fury in his chest, as Nathan always had done before.
Nathan didn't speak to him months after that.
He went back to the table where she was waiting, and lied that his brother wouldn't be able to make it, and she good-naturedly took his lie in, but he knew she saw what happened. She didn't say anything, knew well enough his complicated relationship with his brother, and even helped him keep his mind off it. He decided that maybe it was better that she was acquainted with his dysfunctional family as early as she possibly can.
"I swear to God, there has to be a poltergeist in this apartment." She suddenly shouted from the kitchen, as she marched towards him, face scrunched up in mock-petulance. "Either I'm getting Alzheimer's or you need to get this place exorcised. I keep losing my stuff and they turn up in the weirdest places!"
He said nothing, and watched her from the corner of his eye. He couldn't help but wonder at what Nathan said, what his brother knew that he didn't. And he decided: Enough. This was his life. He smiled again, and pulled her down in the couch with him, as she dissolved into a shriek and a giggle in his arms.
There's a ghost in the apartment, he dreamt her say to him again. As if to prove her point, he was awakened in the dead of the night by a racket of clanging pots and pans coming from the kitchen. His first instinct was to grab the phone and dial 911, that was, until a disembodied voice spoke.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
He almost dropped the phone, his hand was shaking so bad. "Who's there?!"
The voice laughed. "God, I thought that letting you forget was a load of bollocks, and turns out I was right!" a figure stepped out of tin air, and held up a pot in one hand, and a frying pan in another. He stared at the intruder, not knowing if he should burst out screaming or laughing.
The newcomer, not letting go of the cooking implements in either hand, looked him up and down disapprovingly. "Almost blew up New York, and you're still the same pansy I met. I'm surprised that you haven't wet your pants yet." When there was still no response, he added: "I bet your brother's PISSED. After all the trouble he went through to keep you, at your bidding, mind you- to keep you…well," he made a throwaway gesture "….Normal." he practically spit out the word in disdain. "Knew it was a stupid idea, but you never listened."
He was pretty sure this wasn't a dream: A dream wouldn't insult him so effectively. "Who the HELL are you? What do you want?"
The man looked at him for a good long while before finally dropping the pot and pan on the floor with a loud crash. "Alright, Scotland Yard, don't put up a tiff. I've let go of my weapons, now, see." He gestured towards the pot and pan on the floor. "I just figured that somehow, since you've gone and found my daughter, despite efforts to keep it from happening, and now that you're playing house with her, might as do it with more than half a brain not addled…" he shrugged, realized he probably wasn't making sense. "We might as well start from the start, eh?"
It was his turn to stare. "You're C—" he breaks off, too stunned to get his thoughts together coherently "You're her father? I thought he was dead." He thought for a moment and added, "Unless you're a ghost, that would make much more sense."
"Haven't lost your sense of humor in the time of uncertainty, I see." The man replied dryly.
He stared some more. Some part of him expected the intruder to disappear (again) but, he didn't, no matter how long he waited. The older man shrugged and plopped down the couch, smirking slightly. He was probably crazy. He was seeing things. This couldn't be really happening. But he found himself seating himself across the newcomer. "She told me her father was dead." He repeated.
His unexpected guest looked thoughtful at that. "He was, he was. And, yeah, she didn't get my ears, so I don't blame you for the mix-up. Now do you want to hear why the hell I'm here or not?"
He thought for a beat. "I just want to know what the hell is going on."
She hadn't answered his calls for days. He had tried visiting her at NYU, but no one had seen her since she had dropped out a few weeks ago. He'd even gotten to the point of asking Nathan for help, but his brother only said that it was for the best that she was gone.
Is this the part where the boy loses the girl? He wondered to himself. If it was, he decided, then this part really sucked. He almost laughed at the thought of comparing his life to the cheesy movie they saw only a few days ago. If it had only been that easy and sane.
He wandered around the streets aimlessly, not really caring where he was going. He was still in shock with what Claude (that guy who clanged around with kitchen accessories and kept on misplacing her stuff) told him, but now that she was gone, there wasn't really any hope of putting everything back together again.
He didn't know how it happened, but suddenly he found himself not in the café he had been sitting and brooding in, but in the middle of Central Park, just managing to escape a dog from peeing on his shoes. ("Watch out," Claude had warned. "There might be some random things that happen to you that you won't expect" – that wasn't really helpful.)
As soon as he jumped away from the large collie dog and its embarrassed owner, he collided into someone who gave a loud yelp of surprise. Stumbling back, he realized that he had crashed into no other than…her.
Her eyes were red and swollen, as if she had been crying, and was apparently wandering around the park dazed and confused herself. The thought of her feeling as lost as he made something in his gut twist anew. She stared at him, confused, and shook her head slightly. "What—what are you doing here?" she half-whispered, still not quite believing her eyes. He stood there like a lemon for a moment, not really knowing what to tell her—I don't know. I just do these random things now and then. Please don't hate me. I don't know. I didn't know.
"We need to talk." He blurted out. He made a reach for her, but she backed away quickly, a sudden anger in her eyes.
"What the hell's the point of talking?! " she demanded. "This isn't some sort of breakup game." her face twisted with pain. "I know. They told me. Claude—" she winced at the name, the pain hadn't really all sunk in yet, it was all too overwhelming. "And a bunch of others. This crazy-shit conspiracy theory is freaking me out, and you want to TALK?!" at the end of her outburst, she sounded almost hysterical.
"We'll figure it out." He tried, helplessly. The words began to tumble out, one after the other. "I'm sorry, okay? I don't know what to do, either. Just...we'll figure it out. Please. Just trust me. Just..."
She looked down at her feet, trying to compose herself. Around them, passersby strolled by, jogged by, nary a look at the two of them. Ordinary, ordinary, he found himself chanting silently. He had been happy with ordinary, unremarkable—as long as it was with her.
There followed a long, numbed silence, both of them not knowing what to say, what to do with this sudden gap between them. All he wanted to do was go over and put his arms around her, but he didn't dare.
He heard her sniff, and he looked up. The sun was setting, and the last rays of the day rested on her head, turning her hair a flaming gold. She looked at his face long and hard, as if looking at him for the first time… and then to his surprise—gave him a small, sad smile, heartbreaking in its minute expression. "Hey," she began, her voice just barely above a whisper. "What's your name? What did they say it was?"
He felt a sudden sting behind his eyes, clenched his hands into fists, unclenched it. Around them, the world and the people moved 'round and 'round, dizzying in its slowness, its normalcy. "Peter." He said, his own voice hoarse.
She nodded, holding his eyes, and she let out a breath softly. He almost felt like he heard her thoughts: Let's start here.