I check my hair in the rear view mirror of my car. In about a few minutes, I’m going to meet my date set up by Will. It was his idea really. After having successfully pulled a matchmaking stunt for Troy Walsh and Stacey Albright, he decided to “upgrade” his matchmaking skills by pairing me and another girl by the name of El Hopper. He later gave me a note from her, asking me to meet her at Enzo’s at 6:30 and she’ll be wearing a shawl for recognition.
So here I am, in the parking lot of Enzo’s, the restaurant which, according to Will, was very “First-Date” central. I loosen my shirt collar and smooth my hair once again. It still remains so mussed and untidy that I feel like an American version of Harry Potter without glasses.
I shake my head and I climb out of my car, locking it carefully. I reach the front desk and recite to the host, “Table for two, under Mike Wheeler and El Hopper.” The host checks and nods. “Yes your company is already here.” He directs my attention near the orchestral area. I glance behind him to see a girl looking at the band performing. She had short light brown hair and a dark dress adorned with flowers. I then see the aforementioned shawl and I nod in agreement.
I make my way to her, and all the while her attention hasn’t wavered. I decide to cut to the chase and address her, “El Hopper?”
She turns around and it’s like someone flashes a beam of light in my eyes. I’m blinded by the girl looking at me. She has light brown eyes, a honey-complexion and perfectly sculpted eyebrows. And apparently, I’m not the only one, as she cranes her neck to see me better and she’s staring at me for an uncomfortably long time.
She finally recovers by shaking her head. She awkwardly stands up from her seat, and sticks her right hand out. “Hi, I’m El. Nice to meet you.” I smile politely and shake her hand.
“Michael Wheeler, you can call me Mike.” We both sit down and she unexpectedly apologizes. “Sorry about staring at you. I was”
“Enjoying the view?” I offer to complete, coming across as an attempt to tease her. And almost immediately, I regret saying it. Surprisingly she rolls her eyes while smiling. Soon, we engage in flirtatious banter even when ordering our food and commenting on the ambience of Enzo’s. She orders lasagna and I go for classic ol’ spaghetti and meatballs. I tell her my connection to Will and El reveals she is in Art class with him.
I then find out that El is into fashion designing, and is heading to New York to college like me although she is hoping to get a job opportunity to Paris, the capital of fashion since the 16th Century.
I smile as she reveals that last detail with such a wistful tone. I look at her eyes, so downcast. I take a step further, “Hey, do you need to be home by an appropriate time? Cause I’d like to show you something after dinner and it’s a little long drive.”
She stares at me with a skeptical edge. “If you would like to.” I add in a reassuring tone.
She continues to stare at me. But in a minute, it’s as if the sun comes out from the warmth glow on her face when she smiles. She shakes her head. “No not really, and yes, I’d love too” she replies.
Half an hour later, we’re driving to the spot I usually frequent, with El next to me. She doesn’t say anything or engage in conversation, so we drive in silence. But soon the mix tape in my radio plays Billie Holiday’s ‘Autumn in New York’, she hums softly to the tune. I softly sing with her. We both were heading in the same direction to the City of Dreams. The song spelled hope and melancholy at the same time. It held promise and destruction to an incomprehensible degree.
We reached our destination. I turned off the car and locked it carefully. I took El down past Lover’s Lake to the woods surrounding the back. El asks at one point as to where we were heading. But I shrug and whisper, “You’ll see” in a secretive tone. She rolls her eyes but doesn’t push further.
I look down at our hands a few spaces apart from each other. I don’t know what makes me do this but I lightly grasp her hand in mine. I brace myself for El to either push it away or politely ask me to leave it. But what surprises me is that she squeezes it lightly. I smile as I lead her down a familiar route.
And I introduce to my secret haven, a bridge buried in the woods over a brook that I’ve lovingly nicknamed ‘Lover’s Bridge’. And from her behavior, she’s appalled. She excitedly runs to it, and I follow her pleased.
She looks down from the middle of the bridge at the brook below. She seems infatuated with the way the moon’s reflection bounces off the water.
I decide to be brave and proceed to take off his shoes. She turns around and sees me and asks alarmed, “Hey what’re you doing?” She obviously misunderstands the situation as me stripping.
I shrug explaining a ritual I believed to be true, inspired by the universal belief about wishing on a star. For a minute, El hesitates by looking at the water and then at me. I wordlessly offer my hand to her.
She sighs, and then proceeds to take off her shawl and flats. She takes my still open hand and I lead her to the edge. We sit comfortably and stare at the full moon while swinging our legs leisurely.
I look at El who marvels at the moon. Her curls bounce off her face and the moon’s light shines on her face so dimly it brings out her features. Her hazel eyes, her perfect nose, her thick eyebrows, her pink lips. And all the while, I whack myself mentally for not knowing her soon. I look at the moon, its imperfect surface bouncing light at me. I close my eyes, whispering a silent wish to never stop the wonders that happened tonight.
“You made a wish?” El pipes up in a shy manner. I open my eyes and look at her. She looks ethereal even in full view. “It’s right next to me.” I answer truthfully.
I see the blush spreading over her cheeks. “I’m your wish?” she asks incredulously. I ignore the urge to roll my eyes and I nod fervently.
“I wished that the prettiest girl next to me would not run away and she’s still here.” I elaborate.
She looks stunned. “You think I’m pretty?” she whispers barely audible. “Yeah, really pretty.” I say as adamantly as possible.
And what happened next was something I can’t possibly forget. She suddenly leans in and kisses me. I make a surprised noise but I don’t protest. I smell apricots from her hair. She leans further and the next thing I know I’m slipping from the arch.
I yell out and I clutch El’s elbows for balance, but I miserably fail and fall in the brook with El after me. I grimace at how cold the water is as I’m deep in the water. I come up for air and El is facing me. All of a sudden, out of nowhere El just starts laughing hysterically. I try to give her my best scowl but I give in and start laughing too.
She stops to catch her breath but she never stops smiling at her. I swim over to her and I dare to encircle my arms around her waist. She automatically wraps her arms around my neck. We stare at each other. Her warmth leeches into my skin. And she looks at me as if she’s searching my soul. And in that moment, I lost all sense of where I was and how cold I felt and how despite being so tired I was bursting with energy all thanks to the girl in front of me. And I know she feels the same by the way she looks back at me.
I whisper the thought that came to me the same day which was scrawled in a notebook under my pillow. “There’s only one heart in this body, only one soul. Have mercy on me, lover.” And something electric starts to pulsate in the air.
We surrender to the magnetic forces that pull us together. We find our hearts and souls intertwining and I’ve never been so satisfied and comforted at the same time.
3 years later
I open my eyes tentatively and take in the surroundings around me. I’m in a hospital bed. A familiar song plays softly in the background which slowly reduces to buzzing in my ear. I feel pain throbbing in my ribs and left arm. I blink and try to sit up. A woman comes next to me and eases me back onto the bed.
Hazy but various details tumble in my head. Waking up as usual. Finding El gone, with a note scrawled in her writing explaining she had to leave early. Eating breakfast of cereal with cold milk and receiving a text from El explaining that she will be held late. Deciding to take a run through Central Park and turning up the volume on my phone. Going around a corner and being hit by a car.
But I remember something which buzzes in my head. El telling me something. But I can’t quite catch anything. The ceiling blazes a sickly shade of white. About a month ago, I was here holding a baby, my son in my arms. And now I was here. Drowning in a pool of grief for having lost him. And maybe, even El.