She had been waiting for him for about thirty minutes. She had deliberately arrived earlier than the time they had decided upon. Just to get herself together.
He entered and their eyes locked. It was a moment in time even though time stopped. Was she disappointed to see him? Very.
Did he like what he saw? He couldn’t believe it was her.
He came over with a wolfish grin.
“Wow! Are you Amelie?”
She smiled forcibly. A part of her wanted to leave. A part of her urged her to stay. Her heart didn’t quite feel it. Her mind was pure chaos. She felt an attraction but ascribed it to knowing him for so long.
How did I get so lucky? He wondered as he looked at her black eyes with a light blue background. She looked perfect. Even though she wasn’t traditionally beautiful. She had a full mouth, wavy thick hair that fell to her shoulders and had a good amount of frizz, smooth olive skin and a slim, petite body. She was dressed in pastel colors and contrasted heavily with the ambience of the restaurant which was loud and slightly roguish.
But there was something else about her. As he scanned her face, trying to take in the woman who had his heart in her hand, he realized that she had an absolutely extraordinary quality. She looked intelligent. Very intelligent. Her face had an awareness that he rarely saw in people. She was cool and collected, almost too cool for their first date. He hadn’t expected anything less. He had come to know her as an extremely smart friend. She was a medical student and had had great academic achievements. He hadn’t seen her before except in one out-of-focus picture. He wasn’t prepared for the effect she had on him in the flesh. It was overwhelming and unexpected. Jared Schroeder hadn’t experienced many speechless moments but this was one. He was a serial dater and had had many girlfriends at any given point in time. Big breasts, alabaster skin and long legs were his weakness. None of his exes had been short of pageant queens and models in appearance. The woman across from him, however, was a woman of petite proportions, not overtly sexy, not a coy girl with shy moves but rather a smart, confident and self-assured person.
He became insecure. He had never considered a woman his equal and felt that he would be navigating uncharted waters with this one.
She, on the other hand, was bored and turned off by his face and body. She ordered food for both of them.
He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She offered him her food too. She was suddenly vulnerable and insecure about coming to meet him. He didn’t seem all that she had thought of him to be. He was slightly overweight and hadn’t particularly dressed for the occasion. She was majorly turned off. She had expected to see a handsome man. With all his female conquests that he had been boasting of, she had built him up to be something else in her mind. He was the complete opposite.
“You’re not eating?” He asked.
She wondered how he could be so much like the same friend in person she had known on her Facebook for the past year. They had randomly messaged each other one night and had been virtually inseparable since then. She had many online friends but had never met anyone in person. Jared was different. She had felt a connection with him. And now she wasn’t so sure.
“Is it very shallow to think like this?” She asked herself while he wolfed down food.
“No”, She answered her question, “I like good looking men. There’s nothing wrong with that. I find him attractive only because we have been professing empty online love to each other. If this was a guy I had met at a party I wouldn’t have looked at him twice. It’s the familiarity and the camaraderie that’s attractive”.
Even as she was thinking this, she was aware of her hand inching towards his. She held his hand softly and said,
“So am I kinda like how you had pictured me?”
He looked up with stars in his eyes.
There was an erotic quality to this date. He started to grow on her. In a few moments they had gotten closer than before. She wasn’t sure how much she liked him but the attraction was undeniable. She thought about the number of times they had already said “I love you” to each other over the phone.
“Do I love him?” She wondered. Somehow she didn’t feel love. All she felt was a strong physical urge to make him her own.
But something was wrong. When they talked over the phone there was this sexual magnetism and an animalistic hunger to know each other. She had felt his soul. She had sensed his presence. Seeing him, touching him was good but why wasn’t it better than their phone conversations?
Jared couldn’t believe they were sitting so close. The restaurant was full of people but he couldn’t hear anyone but her. He had never appreciated it as much over the phone but when she talked, she didn’t sound unsure or cautious. She had a laidback manner, almost careless in its essence, as if she didn’t really care about what anyone thought of her opinion. Some might find it annoying, he thought, but that’s the sexiest thing about her.
“I can tell what you’re thinking”, she interrupted his thoughts .
“Really? I’d love for you to guess”.
“Are you thinking about how I’m a know-it-all?”
“Well, that’s because I am”.
He looked at her eyes and couldn’t disagree. She was a know-it-all. Usually he liked his girlfriends quiet and pleasing. This one wasn’t his girlfriend. She was a friend. A very attractive friend. A friend who would be great to have sex with. A friend he could lay in bed for hours after, talking about everything under the sun. He would never want to get her a cab so she could leave as fast as he wanted. He would never want to leave her side. As Amelie started talking about her upcoming test, Jared found himself falling deeper.
Finally he cleared his throat and said,
“This was my lunch break so can’t stay longer. But I can drop you off”.
Time stood still for the second time since they had met. Amelie didn’t know what to do. She liked him as a friend but realized that he was one of those guys who are great talkers but did nothing to spark romance. She ignored the warmth seeping through her body at the prospect of being alone with him in his car and said evenly,
“I’d really appreciate that”.
He took her hand and they walked out on the busy street. She hated her heart for making her feel confused feelings. She decided to be reckless. But stopped. She wanted to make a move so he’d be surprised a little. But she kept thinking of how amazing it would be if they could always just speak over the phone and chat endlessly. She felt intense physical attraction towards him but it didn’t feel like love.
“It doesn’t have to feel like love”, a tiny voice inside her said.
Amelie sighed happily. This wasn’t so complicated. She sat in his car, watched him go around the front, ease himself in the driver’s seat and adjust the mirror. There was a heady scent in his car. She smelled him too now that he was so close. She had always been helplessly drawn to colognes. She felt intoxicated.
Jared felt her arm brushing against his. She wasn’t one of those girls who are jumpy and shy on first dates. She was so confident, it was unsettling. He had never met anyone like her. She had a certain calmness about her. Like the night sky. There was a flushed hue to her face like she was nervous but didn’t like to show it. As he marveled at finding the woman he had always subconsciously looked for, he heard Amelie say,
“I love you, Jared”.
For some reason, the words remained stuck in his throat.
In the days to come, she blamed everything on getting into his car.
It was nice and lovely and comfortable. She started to feel their connection blowing over her. They had both sensed a closeness on their online chats. It had evolved to speaking over the phone, texting all the time, thinking about each other at all awake hours. At night they dreamed of being together.
She started to feel it wasn’t so bad after all. Sure she didn’t feel a romantic pull to him. The sexual attraction was likely because he was the only man in her life that she had ever truly expressed her love for and had meant it. She wasn’t too sure about being in love with him now. But she could still love him. It didn’t have to be a romantic relationship. Could they not just be two friends who casually loved each other too?
“But you’re on a date with him as his significant other”, the little voice said.
Guess I am, she agreed.
She’s so good looking, he was thinking. And that perfect body. I can’t let her go. She has to be mine forever. Her voice is just mesmerizing.
She smiled at him. His heart skipped a beat. She said something funny and they both laughed.
And then everything changed. A cold fury took over the banter. There was heat in the air but it wasn’t warm anymore. It burned and scorched. He tried to say something to make it better but it was too late. He was a creature of habit. And she couldn’t agree to anyone else’s program. The silence got thicker until she asked quietly,
“What did you do that for?”
If he had learned one thing from all his girlfriends it was to never accept his mistake or apologize for it.
“Why? Didn’t you like it?”
“I asked you a question. I don’t like it when someone answers with a question”.
“So everything has to happen how you like it?”
“You’re not answering my question. Why did you do it?”
“I don’t know. Because I love you, may be? You’re acting so hot and cold. Are you the same Amelie that I’ve known for over a year? One minute you want to hold my hand and the other minute you can’t have me touch you”.
“I don’t appreciate people touching my breasts without my permission”.
“I thought I had your permission. We’ve had phone sex for over a year now. We’ve had orgasms on the phone together. We have been in a relationship for over a year. I don’t get what the big deal is here. So I touched your breasts. But you can see how I would think that I had a right to that. I have touched them so many times before”.
“You live in that virtual world a little too much for your own good. Don’t do that again until you’ve had my permission”.
He was embarrassed. He had been with many women. And had been with women who couldn’t decide how far they wanted to go on a first date. But this wasn’t their first date. They had known each other as soul mates for so long. He had wanted to see her, touch her and talk to her in person a week after they had exchanged phone numbers. She had stalled. And now that she had met him, she was acting affectionate and indifferent. He couldn’t figure her out. She had seemed so honest and straightforward. He didn’t expect her to play games.
He stole a glance at her. She seemed a little put off but she had a haughty look at almost all times. Except when she laughed. Then she changed to a carefree and lovely 22 year old. Other times she could just be scary.
“How come I never saw this side of hers before?” He wondered.
“Cuz you’re seeing her today”, the guy inside said.
“I’ve seen her before”, He told the guy. “She’s all I’ve seen for as long as I’ve known her”.
He woke up with a jolt and checked his phone again.
In the last twenty-four hours he had tried to repeatedly reach Amelie but had failed at getting any responses. He had sent her text messages, voice mails, emails, chat messages but she hadn’t responded. It drove him nuts.
She had insisted that he drop her a good way from home. She had been generally okay after his spontaneous breast grabbing and had seemed to have even forgiven him for it. He just didn’t understand what happened.
He scanned his phone one more time. He jumped from text messages to the call log to the emails to his Facebook messenger. Something was breaking inside him. He lost her. Just like that, he lost her.
He texted her one last time before falling back into a fitful sleep,
“Can we just talk once? I promise I won’t bug you after that”.
Amelie looked at the message. She felt her heart tugging at her. She wanted to reply and say something that wouldn’t break his heart but she couldn’t get over his lunge at her breasts. She felt violated and cheap.
They had had a sordid love affair for over a year. May be he was right when he said that their relationship was bigger than how their first date went.
May be he deserved another chance?
But why did he touch me?
Her fingers played on the phone. She heard her breath getting noisier and faster. He picked up immediately.
“I love you, Amelie”.
Before she could form a rational response, she said,
“I love you too, Jared”.
“What happened? Are you upset with me?”
“Then why didn’t you talk for over two days with me?”
Had it been just two days? She wondered. Felt like a week.
“I don’t know. I got busy”.
He was quiet. Her heart broke. She wanted to say something funny and candid. Before she could, he said,
“I didn’t think you’d call me back. But I was going to call you and text you until I heard from you. You’re screwed now. I’ve never had as much oxytocin released in life. I’m not gonna rest until I make you mine”.
Her heart skipped several beats. Why was he so far? She needed him right now.
“I’m glad one of us had the oxytocin release.” She teased him.
He laughed. Then,
“Do you think we can give it a shot?”
She had nothing to lose. He was the love of her life.
“Promise me you’ll help me get a little surge of the happy hormone too?”. She said, her voice sultry.
“I’ll imprint you. Don’t worry. You won’t even want to look at another man”.
“I’m not easy to imprint though”.
“You don’t know me. I’ll help you surge and peak. Throw a little prolactin in there too. You’ll follow me like a lost kid”.
“What did you do, Jared?” She said rolling her eyes, “Read books while I didn’t talk to you?”
“Why do I have to read books when I have you? Don’t you remember we talked about this when we discussed animal’s mating rituals and how wolves always like to mate with the same wolf over and over? And how they make power couples like that? And how they are turned on by the oxytocin release? You don’t remember any of that?”
“No. I don’t actually”.
“Well may be this is such peanuts information to you that you pass it on without realizing the effect it has on other people”.
“I’m not interested in other people”, she said seriously, “How did it affect you?”
“How did it affect me?” He said quietly. “I couldn’t sleep for two nights thinking how you and I could make so much oxytocin together”.
Two days later she met him. They kissed and she realized that she was falling in love with him again. Just like she had a year ago.
“I don’t think I would rate a soft core erotica writer as a good one. Just my opinion. You can disagree.” He said causally over the phone.
“Not a soft core erotica writer. And she doesn’t, by the way, write erotica. She writes about sexually free women and if they have a rendezvous or two, she doesn’t shy from putting it in there too. She’s actually very very good. Why do you have such a strong opinion about a writer that you have never even read?”
“Because I know this type of writing. It’s uninspiring. It is for some private sexual thrill. Something some people choose to jerk off on. I don’t consider it literature and therefore I don’t read it”.
“Well you’re missing out”. She said huffily.
“How? How am I missing out? I’m reading Stephen King. Do you think Jackie Collins is better than him?”
“We can’t compare”.
“Because it’s two different genres”.
“May be we can’t compare them directly but we can still compare good and bad writing. Of course we can’t compare based on genre”.
“But it isn’t bad writing. You just think it’s bad because it has a sexual undertone”.
“I don’t think sex is bad”, he said. “I just think that writing about the sexual aura of a woman and how men are mesmerized by it isn’t a tough thing to write. It’s easy. Who can’t write about sex? People can get turned on by the mere mention of a chance of sex in a novel”.
“Do you get turned on by the mere mention of a chance of sex in a novel?” She asked sarcastically.
“Not particularly. I’ve seen a lot of sex and fooled around enough times to not really get turned on by mere talks of it”.
“So by that argument, once you’ve actually had penetrative sex, you wouldn’t be turned on by that either anymore, theoretically.”
“It’s different, Amelie! Real sex is different from reading about it or watching it”.
“And yet people orgasm thinking about it. Do you think those are fake orgasms that people have with themselves? More people than you know choose to be celibate and masturbate to stay sane”. She countered .
“Hmm. So what’s your point?”
“My point is that sex is about the perception of what’s sexy. Just because you’ve done something before doesn’t mean it won’t turn you on again. Research shows that sexual stimulatory pathways work through the function of facilitation. The more times you use that pathway, the stronger it gets. You orgasm faster with subsequent signaling and stimulation”.
“Then why do people who were once great lovers stop being attracted to each other?”
“Because initial sex with anyone causes oxytocin and prolactin release like we’ve talked before. That causes emotional bonding. We keep using that pathway while the relationship is new. After a while a little extinction kicks in. The pathway starts to get old. If you’re into your partner emotionally, you’d spice up your sex life. If you really feel like there is better sex out there without additional painstaking effort, you’d split and look for that person. But in order to keep the brain’s oxytocin surge going, you have to be creative.
Now coming to Jackie Collins! This woman is selling an age-old concept, which is, sex. But she’s a bestseller for that. Imagine how creative this woman is that she has sold sex, something that most people do and can even watch for free, in writing. People read her descriptions of it to feel good. Don’t you think that really counts for something? There are no new stories. Just newer ways to tell them. That’s the whole art of story-telling”.
He let her words wash over him. There was a sense of immense peace when she talked. Even though her voice was usually devoid of expression, when she spoke passionately about something, he was spell-bound.
“Jared? Are you there?”
“Oh”, she laughed softly, “I thought you stopped listening”.
“I could listen to you all night long”.
“Really?” She sounded surprised. “Most people are bored by me”.
“Smart people are misunderstood”.
“Hmm”, she mused. “Are you a smart person, Jared?”
“I think you are”.
“If you weren’t smart I’d not be so into you.”
“Are you into me, Amelie?”
She hesitated for a moment, picturing his slightly overweight body leaning against her petite frame, his lips crushing down on hers, his hands in her hair.
“I’m so into you”.
“If you hadn’t said it”, he said with a smile in his voice, his mind going back to their first kiss when he had held her shivering body in his arms, “I would’ve never known”.
She felt the butterflies dance in her stomach again.
“Can we meet tomorrow?”
“No! In fact I’m not gonna call you at all this week. I have a huge test coming up and I have to focus”.
“Do I really make you lose focus?” He asked happily.
“All the time“.
He savored the moment for a few minutes. It was rare for her to be spontaneously expressive.
“What’s your test about?”
“And veins and arteries and kidneys and lungs”.
“Oh! I never realized it was so much beyond the heart”. He laughed carelessly.
Her heart started racing. This side of his that oversimplified things and made straightforward arguments was the most endearing quality about him. She had never met anyone who could not care less what the damn circulatory system was. Meanwhile, she had devoured a medical school level book of physiology and circulatory system when she was 10. How was he so unperturbed and virginal? His laughter warmed her insides.
“Yes it’s a lot beyond the heart”.
“But how are the kidneys a part of it?”
“Because the kidneys have a role in determining cardiac output and total peripheral resistance“.
“Cardiac output is the amount of blood the heart pumps to the body in a given amount of time. Total peripheral resistance is an old term for systemic vascular resistance“.
“Why’re you using the old term?”
“Cuz I studied physiology from my dad’s books when I was 10. I’m having a hard time breaking out of the old nomenclature and terminologies“.
“You read physiology when you were ten?”
“I started at 10. I finished when I was 12″.
“You took two years?”
“Yup. But that’s not too bad. A standard medical student takes just as much too. So actually I’m better because I was much younger than the curriculum“.
“How old is a medical student when they study physiology?”
“How old were you again?”
“What’s your IQ?”
“So are you considered a genius?”
“Do geniuses believe in the theory that the heart pumps love?”
She laughed softly,
“We believe that when it comes to pumping love, the heart only pumps it to the right body”.
“Does your heart pump any love, Amelie?”
“I think so“.
“Do you think it’s pumping it to the right body?”
“Last time I checked”, she whispered falling in her pillows deeper, “it was the only body that could be right for my heart”.
He couldn’t not talk to her for a week. His heart would stop.
She skipped out of the building. The test had been so hard on her. She hated not speaking to Jared. He had called her multiple times but she didn’t pick up the phone. He had come to visit but she quietly got in her car and sped away. He texted her, “Screw you” after that but nothing fazed her. She couldn’t let him make entry in her mind in that stealthy way he did. She had to focus.
Amelie hated failure.
As she came closer to her car, she felt someone take her hand from behind.
How was it that she could sense him? How was it that he had every string of her heart in his fingers? She hadn’t planned on falling in love but had found him irresistible.
He came closer,
“Mind if I snag you for an evening?”
She didn’t want to seem too easy but how do you keep secrets from your soulmate?
She quietly followed him. As he got on the highway he took her hand again.
“I’m sorry I said I’ll screw you“.
“Don’t ever curse at me again“.
“I wasn’t cursing“.
It was all she could do to not get in his arms at the next exit.
He made it very special. They had an amazing lunch by the river. Jared wanted to ask her if she missed him but a part of him was resentful. Why was she always so caged? He wore his heart on his sleeve for her and she couldn’t even say she missed him? She is a cold person on the best of occasions, he thought angrily.
Outwardly he calmed himself and said,
“How was your test?”
“I prayed for your test.”
“I’m glad it went well”.
“You said you have another test in two weeks, right? Or was it four w…..”
She cut him short.
“Kiss me like you’re going to war. I can’t stay away from you ever again. If I ever try to ice you out, remind me how miserable I was last week”.
He took her in his arms and kissed. He had kissed so many women. He had tasted so many mouths. But Amelie had erased all memories. It felt like his first kiss each time he kissed her. A minute later he tried to pull away but she held on.
He pulled her forward and sat her on his lap. Her body pushed against him. He felt an urgency to claim her. He resisted hugging her closer.
She finally broke off and laughed nervously,
“Thanks for letting me make a fool of myself“.
“You never lose control so it’s nice to see you acting like us peasants sometimes“.
She laughed. He knew she liked being complimented. When she liked something he said the color rose in her golden cheeks until there was a light pink hue the color of the evening sky. He stared at her. How was she so beautiful? She avoided eye contact for many seconds. She finally said,
“May be you can stare at me again tomorrow?”
Two dates in two days? She wasn’t lying when she said she missed him.
The world stopped conveniently because it was Amelie’s birthday.
Jared thought hard. What would she like? She had everything. He had an inkling of what she might find a great present but didn’t want to make her feel like he bought something because he didn’t think she did anything besides being exceptionally intelligent.
And yet….. he couldn’t help himself.
He found himself staring at books everywhere he went. He looked for new book stores. He devoured ads about first editions of classics going for auction. Some of them cost him a few grand but he couldn’t help himself. He had never shopped for a girlfriend before but Amelie wasn’t his girlfriend anyway.
They were talking late at night and he casually mentioned her birthday coming up,
“So what are you going to do for your birthday?”
“I don’t know. Watch a movie. Eat pasta. Sleep a little. Do my laundry. Same old”. She laughed softly.
“Is that what you normally do for your birthday?”
“Yup. Pretty much”.
“Why do you spend a special day like that? Do you not want to mark the occasion?”
“Is there a reason for that?”
“Not so much a reason as the fact that I’m so lazy to ever throw a party for myself. Or go out or dress up or collect presents”.
“Hmm. Do you know what I like to do for my birthday?”
“No. You never told me”.
“Throw a party. Go out. Dress up. Collect presents. I change the order every year to keep it fresh”.
She started laughing. Then she stopped abruptly and asked,
“It’s so weird that I never asked you when your birthday is. When is it?”
“I’m glad you asked. It was yesterday”.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I don’t know. I thought I’d celebrate it when you know about it”.
“You think you’re so funny. Can I share something with you but promise you won’t get creeped out?”
“Yesterday was my dad’s birthday too”.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because when people are dead they aren’t commemorated by their birthdays anymore”.
Her heart lightened up.
“Yes it’s wrong. Thanks for saying that. It’s wrong to remember people on their death anniversaries and forever associate a morbid date to their lively life. It’s wrong to expect people to become a date on a calendar and not continue to live amongst us. Death is wrong but remembering death all the time is worse. I wish we never remembered people by the day they left us. Just by the day we met them”.
“I don’t like grief either. When my grandmother died I grieved for months. I felt alone and afraid”.
“But grief isn’t a bad thing, Jared. Grief is an essential process to reach the other end. Grief helps us grow and blossom. Grief uncovers feelings that we didn’t know existed. Grief is like a symbiotically living parasite that feeds on our soul to feed our soul later. It’s not all bad. If you knew how grief can transform sadness to tranquility , you’d want to grieve after losing someone whom you didn’t think you could live without. Do you want to know what Rumi says about grief?”
“The wound is the place where the light enters you”.
“That sounds sweet”.
He could hear her smiling.
“Sweet? Yeah probably sweet too but isn’t there any other feeling this quote evoked in you?”
“Yes may be hope too. What else?”
“I don’t know. You tell me”.
“I can’t give the answer. Ask your soul”.
“Sorry. I’m not a genius. My soul doesn’t like to have conversations with me”.
“Would your soul like to speak with a genius?”
“My soul was born to speak with a genius”.
“Can the genius know what Jared’s soul considers a wound?”
He imagined her becoming someone else’s. Would that be the worst wound that life could inflict on him? He thought. Immediately the little guy intervened. “Don’t get too involved. She’s not yours yet. Distance yourself. If she goes then you’ll die”.
“If she goes, I’d like to die and become a day on her calendar forever. The day we met”.
“Jared?” He heard her calling his name.
“I can’t answer this one. Why don’t you tell me what you consider a wound?”
She didn’t miss a beat.
He was momentarily nonplussed. So it was this easy to say it?
Then he asked, almost nonchalantly,
“And what would be the light that would enter that wound?”
“We haven’t made it yet.”
His heart skipped many beats. He finally said,
“Amelie! If ever you want to leave me, can you do me a favor?”
“Okay. Not even a last favor?”
“Don’t you at least want to know what I was going to ask you?”
“I know what you were going to ask me. And I can’t do it. I can’t kill you”.
“Then you can’t leave me”.
“That’s fair”, she replied smoothly, “If I can avoid murder by becoming yours then I’ll gladly be yours”.
Was it a yes? But he hadn’t even asked.
She rarely ever shopped. As she scanned one store after the other she realized that she had no idea what Jared would like.
What’s his favorite color? She asked herself. Would he like a fragrance may be? Or a nice tie.
Without any reason she went into a store. It was an antique store with trinkets and leather-bound books. Amelie scanned the shelves, looking for that one thing that would be becoming for the most important man’s birthday.
She came across a diary. She picked it up and looked inside. It hadn’t been written in. The cover of the diary said a year some fifty years ago. She opened it again with more curiosity and tried to see if this would be a good gift.
She wrote a diary. She wished she could somehow have Jared write their moments too. Something to look back on. Wouldn’t it be nice if they looked at their diaries with their kids and fought over small discrepancies?
Life with Jared! She thought happily. Would it be all I think it would be? Do dreams come true? Can we laugh forever?
“May I help you?”
“Yes, please! I would like to buy this diary”.
The woman told her the price.
“Wow”, Amelie said.
The woman smiled,
“Look at this”, she turned the diary over. On the back cover, two words of a great woman’s name were inscribed.
“This book is an exact replica of the diary Madame Curie used to keep”.
“So actually it’s priceless but if you want it then I can knock off a few bucks for you”.
“No”, Amelie said. “Can you hold it for me? I’ll be right back?”
She ran across the street to a small time jeweler.
Panting, she handed her only article of jewelry, her most precious bracelet that her dad had given her for getting into medical school.
She ran back with the money and bought the diary.
The woman said,
“Did you sell something to buy this?”
“Yes. My only piece of jewelry”.
“May I ask you something?”
Truthfully, she wanted to tell someone. She wanted to talk to someone about Jared. Even if it was a total stranger.
“Do you want to know who this is for?”
“Yes. If you don’t mind”.
“It is for a man I love”.
“He must be very special”.
Amelie looked at her with rainbows in her cheeks.
“You have no idea”.
“Amelie! Please dress up for tomorrow. I don’t want to see you in that white coat that you never wash and those black shoes. I’ll come pick you up from your dorm so don’t worry about anything”.
“I wash it!” She protested. Then said,
“I never asked you but what’s your favorite color?”
“Why’re you asking that? Please don’t get me any presents just because you missed my birthday”.
She was immediately embarrassed. She hadn’t asked so she could get him something. She had thought of being a little romantic and see if she had his favorite color in her wardrobe and could wear it tomorrow. But obviously he wasn’t romantic.
“But you must have a favorite color. I promise I won’t get anything for you”.
“I’ll tell you tomorrow”.
“No. Tomorrow. You can’t always have your way”.
“No. Not always”.
“So does that mean I can have my way sometimes?”
“Yes. And I can’t have it always either”.
“So you believe in gender equality?”
She contemplated for a second. Then,
“So you and I are equal? Do you think you’d like it equal for the rest of your life?”
“Amelie”, he said more serious than she had ever heard him, “I would have it absolutely no other way with you. Anyone else? We’ll see!”
She felt like she was sitting in clouds, with the sun in her face, warm and sunny, and a breeze blowing over her.
She had looked for an equal all her life. And had found one.
He thought to himself how this was the first time he had considered another person his match.
One thing about Jared! He was punctual like clockwork.
Amelie had gotten back from school an hour ago and had just finished blow drying her hair when he texted,
She quickly put a little gloss on her lips and outlined her eyes and decided she was too nervous to try any new looks. She put on a pair of sandals that made her look exceptionally tall and admired herself in the mirror for a minute.
She had worn an eggplant purple sundress that really could pass for a cocktail dress too. She had just gotten it yesterday. Her birthdays had never been a big deal before but the way Jared had gone on about it for a month, she didn’t want to let him down by not going with the excitement. She had gotten some costume jewelry and had large drop earrings with a matching bracelet. Somehow she didn’t miss her dad’s bracelet on her arm today .
“He would’ve wanted me to use it well”.
“Did you use it well?” The little voice said.
She shrugged, “Probably not! But if I had to lose it to someone, I’d rather it was him”.
She went downstairs and got in the car. He turned around to make a joke at her expense like he usually did and then watch her squirm and look for smart comebacks but today he just looked. His finger traced the straps of her sundress and rested at the hollow of her neck.
“I never ever want you to dress up if I’m not around”. He finally said.
“Okay, sir”, she giggled.
“I’m serious , Amelie”, he held her eyes, “You can’t have someone else see you like this. You’re a rare species. They might wanna keep you for themselves. Then what am I gonna do?”
“You could duel with them”.
“Okay. What if I die? Then they’ll keep you”.
“Why would you not win?”
A shadow crossed his face.
“I have a feeling I won’t win. Life takes things from me without warning. And I become too sad to ask Life back for them. Has that ever happened to you?”
She thought of her dad.
“So if I lose you, I probably won’t have any strength to ask anyone back for you”.
“You’ll have to get the strength. Don’t let me die like Mercedes.”
She laughed softly,
“A woman who loved Edmund but married Fernand”.
“Are these real people?”
“In my mind they are”.
“Is Edmund the good guy?”
“I don’t like him”.
“Is Fernand the good guy?”
“Is Mercedes a good girl?”
“Is there a high point of this story or is this just about a bunch of ruffians?”
“It’s a bunch of ruffians”.
“And why is a sweet nice girl like you reading these stories?”
“Cuz it’s a classic”.
“Do you read all classics, Amelie?”
“I try to”.
“Do you think we are a classic?”
“We could be if we ever loved each other enough”.
“And we don’t?”
“I think we do. What do you think is missing?”
She touched his left cheek. Her fingers burned his skin slightly. Sometimes she looked determined when they talked of the future. At times unsure. And sometimes contemplative.
Today she looked thoughtful again.
“What’s missing? Nothing. Nothing’s missing now. We won’t know what’s missing. Until we get the test”.
“The test of love?”
“May be some people call it the test of love. I call it the test of readiness. How ready are we to love and not care about where it leads us.”
“I’m ready for it”.
“You think you are, Jared” she said, so much wiser than he would ever be, “but the test is set by powers that want us to not be together”.
“Who are these powers?”
“You and me”.
“Wait a second”, he removed her hand from his face, “Are you saying that WE don’t want us to get together?”
“Yes. We are in our way”.
“That’s not true. I want us to get together. I’ve never wanted anything more than this”.
“See? You’re already playing in their hands?”
“The powers’ …….that control us”.
“Because they want you to think you’ve given it your all so when you fail, you back off and don’t try anymore. The only way you win with Life is to not let it call your shots for you. If Life separates us we should wonder what it was that WE did that caused us to separate”.
“Amelie!” He said shaking his head. “Even though I want to be with you forever, you have to stop talking like a witch with a crystal ball. It’s scary”.
She laughed. He laughed too. Everything is okay, she thought, right now everything’s okay and that’s all that matters.
They had dinner by the riverside. Amelie had never dated so didn’t know if what Jared did was high end or low end for potential significant others. But she could tell that it was expensive and had been meticulously organized. He had a private chef, a private area on the beach, loads of jokes and funny things to say and then he asked her if she wanted to see her presents.
“Yes. Cuz really I couldn’t decide on one”.
Suddenly she became conscious of the diary she had gotten him. It looked small and insignificant. I’m an idiot for selling my bracelet for that stupid diary, she thought angrily.
He handed her a large bag of books.
“Jared! What is this?”
She kneeled down and excitedly started rummaging through the pile. There were at least twenty books in there, all first editions, painstakingly collected. She felt weak. She had never been loved like this before and she didn’t know what people did to show gratitude and thanks. She busied herself with exploring the bag again.
Her eyes were getting blurred with all the tears. How did he know? They had never talked about it.
She realized he was sitting next to her.
“Are you crying because I discovered that a genius likes Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl better than any other writers?”
“No! I’m not crying because you know my secret. I’m crying because I didn’t guard it so well, may be”.
He scooped her in his arms. His arms were becoming the most comfortable place. She settled back.
“How did you know? No one knows I like children’s literature.”
“I saw you looking at them when we were at the bookstore two months ago and you had to get a stupid thick medical book”.
“I’m flattered that while I’m going about my business you make a point of observing me and taking account of my crazy behaviors”.
He pulled her closer.
“Where’s your bracelet? Did you lose it?”
Had she lost it? She contemplated the answer for a few minutes.
“I don’t think I lost it”.
“Your dad gave it to you. You should’ve cared for it better”.
“Things are things”.
“Not all things are things. Some things are memories”.
Yes! She felt her heart breaking over her impulsive decision to sell a memory to make another one. She knew Dad would’ve been okay but she had missed it on her arm everyday.
He pulled out a long thin box.
“What is it?”
“You ask way too many questions”.
She opened it and found the bracelet. It was exactly like the one she had sold.
“How did you get something exactly like my old one?” She screamed with delight.
“When it comes to you and your things, I have a photographic memory. It wasn’t hard to draw it for the jeweler”.
She felt overwhelmed. She put it on and it sparkled lightly in the setting sun.
She decided to live a little freely with him.
“Okay I got something for you too”.
“Why? I told you not to”.
“I got it still. Wait!”
She reached around the chair and got the small wrapped diary.
He looked at it thoughtfully, then,
“A small gun?”
“What would I give you a gun for?”
“So you could kill me if you ever wanted to leave me”.
“That’s not happening and this isn’t a gun. Next guess”.
“No!!!! You already have way too many devices for your own good. What else?”
“A box of condoms?”
“Come on! Why would I give you a box of condoms?”
“So I could make love to you over and over, and not worry about a pesky kid ruining it for me”.
She laughed louder than he had ever heard her laugh before.
“You’re so silly. Look!” She unwrapped it. “It’s a diary”.
“It’s a diary”, she explained like to a child, “You write in it”.
“What will I write?”
“Okay. Can I start now?”
“Well, typically people write in it at the end of the day. But go ahead!”
He took a pen out and started writing, hiding it from her.
“Can I read it?”
“It is for you”.
“My favorite color is the pink in your face mixed with the gold of your skin”.
So he had a favorite color. She wondered why she hadn’t guessed it before and yet, he had somehow found out her favorite books and writers, sketched a bracelet that she loved when he didn’t see her wearing it.
She was always ahead of others when it came to tasks and contests. He was getting ahead of her in the most important sprint of her life . And yet she had a feeling that he would be left behind.
Amelie’s medical school graduation, in Jared’s words, was the biggest thing that happened in the century. They celebrated everyday for a week. She was sure she was going to lose her virginity to him any day and yet wasn’t scared or bothered by it.
Jared called her one evening after work. She was packing up to go see her mom for two weeks.
“Wanna have lunch?”
“I ate. But can have dinner“.
“Come downstairs then“.
She quickly sprayed herself with a mist and ran downstairs .
He watched her walking to the car. He thought about the party he was at last night. He usually ended up with many phone numbers and a date or two after parties. Last night Amelie called and he spent the party talking to her.
“You’ve ruined it for me”, he said to her even though she couldn’t hear him .
He talked to her all the time. When she was around, when she was on the phone or even when she wasn’t speaking with him. He caught himself frequently talking to her in her absence.
“But is she ever absent?” The inner guy asked.
“No. She’s always there“.
She sat in the car and couldn’t help kissing him. Jared had dated many girls but had never had a girl who initiated physical touch. This was another fresh thing about her. She was shy but not about things that girls are usually shy about. She became shy when she knew he could tell what she was thinking. Or when he caught her looking at him. Or when he would find her checking her reflection in the mirror.
He finally pulled away but put an arm around her.
“You’re going to miss me a lot”.
She didn’t say anything. She snuggled closer to him.
He didn’t have a good feeling about her going away.
“I got something for you”, he said suddenly.
“What’s the occasion?”
“I never gave you a graduation present. That makes me a really messed up boyfriend“.
Was he her boyfriend? She didn’t know. She had never had one.
It seemed weird to know him by a frivolous title.
And she had never wanted to be just another girlfriend. She had wanted to be the one he shared everything with. Who was always there. Who made him complete. Who…..
It was a ring. A ring on a chain. A promise of a promise. A little hope. A step forward.
“It’s a chain”.
“Isn’t it clever, Amelie? I thought to myself what the smartest girl in the world would want and then I saw this and I couldn’t stop.”
Did he not realize that there was a ring on the chain?
She put it on and smiled at him. He beamed.
Inwardly he wished she saw the ring and said something. Anything. Any acknowledgement would do. He was always so afraid of losing her that he feared saying anything about the future. He felt like it was a prophecy that could come true if he spoke.
She looked at him, the blue of her eyes bluer than ever,
“It’s beautiful. Just beautiful”.
He smiled and hugged her. She hadn’t mentioned the ring. He hid his face in her hair and wished his tears poisoned him to death.
“Have you met Isaac, Amelie?” Her aunt stopped her at a dinner party and introduced her to someone.
She looked at him. Short, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, looked very poised. She smiled at him and extended her hand,
“No, I haven’t. I’m Amelie”.
She had been at her mom’s place for almost four days. People had been clamoring to congratulate her for wearing the white coat finally and her mom had shed many happy tears. She had gone to her dad’s grave many times. If only Jared was here, she thought morosely, it would’ve been perfect.
His absence made him more conspicuous. He occupied her mind all the time. Even when she thought that she was alone she would be talking to him. People had commented on how beautiful she looked and she couldn’t help blushing.
She was in love and it showed.
Late one night her mom came to her,
“You should sleep now. You stay up way too late”.
She put away the book she was reading. Her mom said,
“Isaac wants to take you out”.
She was quiet. He had called her and asked her to meet him for dinner. He wanted to do some volunteer work for a local children’s charity and Amelie had agreed.
“How do you know, Mom?” She asked nonchalantly.
“He called me. I find it so proper that he would inform me too. Guys now are so rogue that they have no regard for how a girl should be courted”.
“Is Isaac courting me?”
“Yes honey! Doesn’t it feel great?”
She thought of her courtship with Jared.
“You can’t always have your way”.
“Are we equals?”
That slick smile. His cocky visage. His pretend lewdness.
She heard her mom calling her.
“It feels great, Mom. Being courted feels great”.
They met in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with no parking across the street. She wondered where to park her car when she got there.
Then she found him a short distance away walking towards her.
“They have valet parking here. Just hand them your key”.
They entered the restaurant. She had talked to Jared before coming here but hadn’t told him anything.
He had been his usual upbeat self.
“Are you missing me?” He had asked possessively.
“Cuz you’re here. With me. All the time. You’ll always be with me”.
“Okay thanks for deflecting that one. Again, I’m missing you. Are you missing me?”
“How can I miss you when we are not apart?”
“We are apart”, he exclaimed. “I haven’t touched you or seen you or even heard you much for so many days. When are you coming back?”
“When you’re back”, he said slowly, “you HAVE to meet my mom”.
Suddenly she became uncomfortable. She had never thought of a world where they would have other people. It was just Jared and Amelie. Amelie and Jared. And their kids. And pets. And neighbors. No one else. A whole different life.
“What if she says I look like a chihuahua?”
“She’s probably gonna say that so think of one of your smart replies”.
She smiled fondly at how open he was. With Jared there were no cliches or reserve. He said things as they were. She wondered why she wasn’t more like him. She could be a little straightforward and honest too.
“Is here okay for us to sit?” Isaac asked.
She sat across from him and watched them like she wasn’t there. She stared at herself, wearing Jared’s jewelry on her arm and around her neck, the ring dangling at her throat. She looked at her outfit, pink with gold highlights, his favorite color. She watched Isaac staring at her and looking helpless in the process and Jared’s words came screaming back,
“I never ever want you to dress up if I’m not around”.
She relaxed at hearing him so close. Like he spoke in her chest. Remembering his voice was like having an orgasm reverberate through her body. She wanted to scream and find herself in his arms. She touched the ring on the chain and felt it caressing her lovingly around her neck. Suddenly Jared and Amelie were the only people in the room. There was no one else.
She went out on another date with Isaac. He proposed the night after. She didn’t know what to say but he still slipped a ring on her finger and told her to throw it out if she wanted to say no. It was a canary diamond ring in a princess cut. It must have cost him a fortune. For some reason, it tried to outshine her bracelet. The bracelet gave up easily. Overnight, it started to look blackened and charred. When Amelie saw her bracelet looking insignificantly small against the ring, she took the ring off, polished her bracelet and put it back on. She kissed it and talked to it. She had become strangely protective of Jared’s presents.
The fear of rejection, even though she knew there was no chance of it, was Amelie’s biggest enemy in her quest for love.
She sometimes wondered how it was so easy for Jared to be spontaneous and fun. She lacked so much that was so effortless to him. He was sexy in a careless way. She was pretty and couldn’t be confident about it.
Do opposites attract? This proves they do. But can opposites get tired of each other too? Isn’t likemindedness something to value a relationship for?
She thought about her hesitation. She had never hesitated before and wouldn’t have if like all other things that he did, he would’ve done this one for her too. When it was about ordering from the menu, picking a restaurant, a movie, a bar, he was always many steps ahead of her for which she was very thankful. But when it came to what she really needed, he gave her a ring on a string. Why didn’t he just give her the ring?
Medical school hadn’t done her justice. She was a quiet teenager and now an even quieter young adult. When she was with him and heard herself laugh, it was like an alien sound that echoed around her for hours.
Her fingers trembled but her voice was steady,
“Hey, honey! I miss you”. Jared never needed an opening. He was like the clear sky after the rain that can’t hide the sunshine.
“I miss you too”.
“How’s everything? How’s your mom?”
“Everything’s good. How’re you?”
“I’m not good. Come back, Amelie”.
Her heart broke. In a million pieces. Her soul ached. The string started to get tight around her neck and she couldn’t breathe.
He was the love of her life. Everything that life was worth living for had something to do with him. She had saved herself for a man like him. Then why could she not believe that?
Her eyes started to get wet. She heard him breathing heavily.
“I can’t take it anymore. When you come back, we have to get closer. I really wanna feel you, taste you, smell you…..”
“I got engaged yesterday”.
There was silence then his loud laugh. “You’re a cockblocker. Who needs kids when you are so good at it? Why can’t we have phone sex when I’m in the mood?”
Tears started rolling down her cheeks.
“I got engaged. Seriously. His name is Isaac”.
“Do you sometimes lie? Like once in a lifetime?”
“No” she sighed, “I’ve tried to lie. Couldn’t do it”.
“Congratulations. We should celebrate”.
Her tears came down hard.
“Thanks. Are you happy?”
“I’m very happy. See there is a reason for everything. You went to see your mom. Found yourself a husband”.
“You’ve started to talk like me”.
“May be. You rub off very easily on people, Amelie! You’re so good”.
“Yes, Amelie! I’ve never met anyone better than you. When are you getting married?”
“We haven’t set a date yet”.
“Will I get an invite?”
No, she thought, you won’t get an invite.
“It’s a small ceremony and my mom’s paying for it so I’ll have to ask her. Would you like to come?”
No, he thought. I’m just being nice even though I want to kill both of us and let our spirits free.
“If I’m not doing anything else then why not? You know I never say no to free food”.
They laughed. She swallowed her tears and hung up after a few mindless jokes that he made. He broke down and cried for hours.
Everywhere he went, he was reminded of her.
He thought of her when the sun set.
He thought of her when he saw his mom buying a new bracelet.
He thought of her when his little brother asked him if he could buy the Encyclopedia Brittanica for his twelfth birthday. Amelie loved his little brother and wanted to meet him most of any other of his family members. Somehow she always knew how to love the right people.
Then why did she leave, he thought. Did she not think we were in love, waiting to get married or whatever it was that I needed to do to keep her forever?
His mind circled the same things over and over throughout the day. He found himself aimlessly walking in bookstores hoping to see her. Sometimes he went to see old French classics of war and famine, slumped low the whole time, his eyes fixed on the entrance to the theatre, waiting for her to emerge from the shadows so he could catch her unawares. A few times he went to a bar that he had taken her to and she had grown so fond of their prawns that they had eaten there for a full month. He avoided looking at the color pink as it reminded him of her cheeks, the color rising as she listened to him teasing her and loving her. The white of Amelie’s eyes was blue. When she cried they kept getting a deeper shade of a really light blue. He asked her once about how her eyes were so unusual looking. Did she inherit them from one of her parents?
She looked at him like he was deranged.
“You like my eyes?”
“I love your eyes”.
“Did you never wonder if I had osteogenesis imperfecta?”
“I did wonder that”, he replied mock-seriously , “But then reminded myself that I have no idea what that crap is”.
Amelie’s laughter made him sing the whole day.
Sometimes when at night he sat lonely on the internet, looking for another Amelie, his heart broke a million times. A dagger soaked in anger and sharpened with his new love-hate feeling for Amelie pierced his heart. His eyes teared up and then would dry themselves. He woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, sure that it was all a dream. It’s a dream, he said to himself, this is a dream too. I’m not really awake and she is not really gone. We are together. I have to wake up. I have to wake up.
In the morning he had a feeling of emptiness and sadness.
As he was looking for his jeans one day, he found the diary she had given him. Next to the diary he found a little piece of paper with Amelie’s handwriting. May be she had put it in there and he just had never noticed.
He tried to read but just her thought and her writing and her overwhelming presence that never left him alone clouded his eyes. He rubbed them hard and tried to focus. How did she write so neat? Doctors are notorious for their scribbles but Amelie had an amazing handwriting.
He finally went into the bathroom, vigorously washed his face and came back to read it,
“Your heart and my heart are very, very old friends”. (Hafiz).
He howled in pain and collapsed on the floor. Five hundred miles away Isaac saw Amelie wearing his ring and took her in his arms.