Matt was just getting off the subway when he saw her. It was rush hour, the people jostling and frantic, ejecting from the car like so much human vomit. And that was just about how Matt felt at the end of the work week.
His briefcase snagged on the door, slowing him down, and he looked back, to see what had happened. But instead, his eyes lit on her, way past the surging crowd, almost swallowed up in the dark of the tunnel beyond.
She knelt with her hands caught in the fur of a shaggy dog’s neck, and it was something about the way that dog was looking at her that caught his eye, or maybe it was the way she was looking at it? Matt couldn’t explain the sensation that pricked at him with a thousand tiny fingers.
He froze, seeing her golden hair that shouldn’t be shining so in the darkness, wonder unfurling like a blossom, and then he was jostled, snapped back into the human stream. When he looked again, she was gone.
A split second of inattention, that’s all it took.
He glimpsed the dog, though, weaving through the crowds, heading out the exit with the rest.
The tingle faded. A harsh curse in his ear made him realize he was standing still, got him moving again.
He forgot her in the bustle of life, the wearisome numbness of work and deadlines and pressure, until three days later, when he saw her again.
The weekend this time, walking home from the grocery store with bags dangling from his hands, no more thought in his head but to get home, put his feet up, watch the game.
The setting sun bathed the city with its last luminescence, everything aglow with the fading of day.
And there she was, just ahead. He knew it from her hair, from the golden strands that held the fading light. She walked slowly, with measured grace, and with his first glimpse his pace quickened, like his body knew before his mind that he had to catch up.
But he couldn’t. The people on the sidewalk, families and hipsters and geeks, became obstacles that blocked and delayed and harried his steps.
Just before she faded into the crowd, she turned back and looked at him, right at him and through him, and he felt that tingle again, stronger and deeper than before; everything ripe with possibilities and charged with meaning.
He heard something, too; a song, bells? Faint, and chiming. Her eyes were the green of mossy woods, and he felt the weight of them, just for a second, and then she turned, and was gone.
A word wafted through his mind.
He saw her again, two days later, and again, a week after that. Brief glimpses. It was driving him crazy. Especially because every time, he forgot about her right after, until his eyes snagged on her and it all came back, the ache of it, and then she would turn a corner, or the bus he was on would whiz past. Or, maddeningly, the elevator door closed in his face just as he glimpsed her walking by, her head turning to look at him.
That time, though, he clenched his fists and fixed her in his mind, and he held on to her for a few seconds. Then the elevator door opened, his boss walked in, and just like that she was gone from his mind as thoroughly as she had disappeared from his sight.
Later, he sat on his balcony in the warm summer night, listening to the sounds of the city murmur around him, a cold drink in his hand. He felt restless, unmoored, aching for something he couldn’t even define. Then he heard it, ghosting above the traffic and the sirens and the heat.
He stood up, looking down, and saw that golden hair, saw her, standing below, looking up at him.
Everything shifted around him, that tingle pricking at him, and he shouted, desperate. “Wait!”
He looked at her in agony for a moment, knowing that as soon as he straightened up, ran down there, the reason for doing so would likely leave him the moment she left his sight. “Stay there! Please!”
He sucked in a breath and ran through his apartment, out the door and down the three flights, tearing the door open, holding her firmly in his mind – don’t forget, don’t forget – and when he burst out onto the sidewalk and found it empty, he could have wept.
Except – there – she was walking around the corner and he followed, into the Park, under the trees, the muggy heat cooling there, the whizzing sounds of the cars fading into a low murmur, his heart pounding loud as she stopped under the spreading oak and turned back to him.
“So. Will you come?”
Matt stopped short. “I’m here.”
“Yes. Here. Will you come?”
She smiled as slow as the sun going down. “It cannot be undone.”
Matt felt the truth of it. A door was opening. Once he crossed, he couldn’t come back. “But where—“
“Not where. You will be here. The same, you’ll see. But not. A world within the world. Where the edges are different. Where your word is true. Deeper danger and stronger joys. The stakes are higher.” Her head tilted. “Your choice. Come, or no.”
She stood serene, her hand out.
The song was filling him to the edges, softening his thundering heart, opening his shuttered eyes.
Matt stepped forward, the door closing behind him, and took her hand.
Featured photo: The First Draft, by mpclemens, on flickr