Weeks beforehand he could only think of the last time he had seen her, Noelle—luggage in tow, shouldering a door, and refusing (he assured myself) herself a glance backwards. It was the most predictable, and cheerless, moment of their relationship but, as often happens, also the most ineradicable. In their parting were the sinews of nostalgia. That instant was crystallized, became the past, was transformed into a memory; and with it their history was gilded, became sacrosanct in relation to the present, and their reunion a tangibility in the unknowable future. Their choices, things retrospectively called fate, had made them strangers in space, though not in spirit. If one’s first love is his most fervent, his second love is his most important. It could not be otherwise. The past doesn’t wither away. A force imponderable beforehand forces youthful attachments to retreat, without which the present as an experience is impossible. The past is reified once it is gone; likewise, the present when it is accepted as distinct.
At the ballroom’s entrance a miniature palm tree set on a table (it was nearly 8 pm, pitch dark, and almost 90 degrees), and a hurried man wearing a dark blue suit, muttering indecipherably into his earpiece, shuffled by. From behind, the man was indistinguishable. His walk was commonplace, the tail of his suit jacket flapped against his buttocks, his arms swung busily. His pant legs were creased, the hems of which flopped around his ankles, and he came to a sliding stop at the table. The man in the dark blue suit signed his name to the list of attendees (in curlicue letters that edged out of the rectangular box), received his name tag, shook the hand of one of the two women sitting at the table, and entered the ballroom through a pair of creaky glass-paneled doors. The breeze from the opened doors felled the palm tree; and the women’s four hands slammed too tardily against the table to stop their materials from being scattered. They gathered their things, bending at their knees decorously, easily balancing in their heels. One of the women evanesced, became a lacuna that was but will never be recalled. “Hey,” the other said, steadying herself as she stood, enfolding him in her arms, “you came after all!” He could not recall her name. Reciprocally, however, he embraced her, though less excitedly than she hugged him, simply pressing one hand against her bare, misty back. “How’s it been,” she asked. She wore a bun, coyly bowed her head and smiled like a cat. At the right corner of her lips lay a mole. Flat, perfectly black, the diameter of a lady bug. During the year passed, he had imagined that a stranger had seen his and Noelle’s first and final kisses. Both had landed inelegantly, touching more face than lips, in part, both times, because of his ambivalence about the act itself. Both times, too, when they parted she tucked her hair behind her right ear, and he, starting at his commissures, wiped his lower lip with his index finger and thumb. His stranger could not have perceived the difference, however. The first time, joy coursed through him; the last, though the feelings’ intensity were indiscernible, he felt misery. “I’m doing well,” he said. “Working, chugging along, I moved to Boston, not sure if you’ve heard about that. Everyone there warns me about the winters—”
Rolling her eyes, she interjected: “That’s everyone’s everywhere civic duty, warning the newcomer about the weather.”
“How are things with you?”
“Pretty good, too,” she replied, “I can’t complain.” Running her finger down the list of names, discovering his, and handing him a pen, “I’m really glad you came …,” she said. Then, adhering to his lapel his name tag, “… Have some fun tonight,” words that, to his mind at that moment, sounded like a pitying command.
“I’m sure I will.”
But he had not come to mingle, to fill the blank pages of lost time, only to see her; and each instant he spent socializing was one during which he might miss her arrival. The image of Noelle’s entry had played and replayed countless times in his mind. Would she see him before he saw her or visa versa? If the former, would she avert her eyes? If it were the latter, would he (or should he, he asked himself) avert his eyes? He had come alone, would she too? He had answered each of these questions, though, and constructed a single scenario about their seeing each other again: her attention drawn by a friend standing near the door, he would see her before she saw him. Ostensibly engaged in conversation, he’d allow himself only glances. She would wade steadily through the crowd, approaching sidestep by sidestep where he stood. Then, with her only a few feet away, they would see one another. But here, each time, his reverie would end. Even while lying in bed during the state of half sleep when imaginings are equally unbounded by the laws of dreams or reality his musings stopped there.
Nevertheless, the names and faces of his former classmates were coalescing. Near the hors d’oeuvre table a group dispersed, leaving only the man in the dark blue suit. Greg … Ed … Craig, Craig! Still amused, he laughed, and in a beam of light one could see a tiny bit of bolus eject from his mouth. Coughing, he unfurled his fist which had been pressed to his lips. “Dominick,” he exclaimed, patting him on the shoulder with the hand that had been raised to his mouth (in his other hand he was balancing tenuously a small plate of food and a cup of red wine). There was lettuce in his teeth and tuna on his breath. “I thought that was you standing by the windows. You afraid there might be a fire or something? You should try some of this food. It’s pretty good, especially these things, I don’t know what they are but they’re delicious. So, how’s life been treating you?”
Meeting Noelle for the first time (a chance occurrence during an autumn students’ meet and greet), “Dah-minic,” he told her, “like ‘dominate’ or ‘indomitable’.”
She smirked, amused by his examples, “Oh, what did I say?”
“Duh-minic, like no duh.”
Over-pronouncing correctly, and stretching conspicuously, its first syllable, “Dominic…Dominic,” she then muttered to herself.
In time, for her, affection had made evident the cuteness of her teases and, for him, lessened the irritation. Nestled (he nearly always now remembered them nestled), with smiling eyes and tongue in cheek, she would mutter one of his nicknames as though he were her coconspirator as well as target. “Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum, Dum-minic,” she would say, lowering her voice, aping a tolling bell. Or: “Dum, Dum, Da-Dum, Dum, Dum, Da-Dum…;” Other times, she’d, speaking with a lip-smacking vernacular, call him her “Dummy-neek.” She snickering, his eyelids would shut, then slowly open like theater curtains, revealing his turned skywards gaze, moments which were to them predictable, and pleasure.
“I’m doing pretty well,” Dominic answered. “I moved to Boston, not sure if you already knew about that.”
“Congratulations, that’s good to hear,” replied Craig. “I’m still …” And in this vein their conversation continued, one perfunctorily peppering questions about the past and present, the other answering absentmindedly.
It seemed that each man had removed his suit jacket, draped it over his bent arm, loosened his tie, and unfastened a couple of shirt buttons. Dominic felt a bead of sweat trace his navel then trickle down his lower stomach, considered following the others’ example, but did not. In his daydreams he had never done so; and, above all, fidelity to the scene had to be maintained. That moment he noticed he was standing in the very spot where he stood during all his mindscapes. His environs blurred. As earlier their names and faces had coalesced, now all that surrounded him resembled a pale light flickering in the periphery of his mind and eyes. Their voices merged into a single hum. She was approaching, as he had imagined, sidestep by sidestep, his dreams spread beneath her feet. Was this fantasy, too? The moment was imminent, she was nearer and nearer, and in an instant, daydreams yielded to reality.