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Strangers

Ok.


You're standing outside of the building, a Narc-Anon meeting going on inside. The only sign of your existence in the depth of the shadows is the occasional spout of cigarette smoke striking the light just beyond where you stand. You hear people coming and pause to listen. Some random, angry idiot man and I come through the doors of the building beside you. My hair is haphazardly put up in a bun that's held in place by a pencil. I say to the man, "you can't possibly love me, you don't even know me," and such truc. He contests. You consider involvement, but I'm holding my own and you figure it's best to stay out of it as long as it doesn't get out of hand. Besides, it's interesting to watch all of this unfold, to watch my face and know I can't see you. I try to convince this guy to return to the meeting, "Fuck you" he says and storms off into the street. For a moment you're afraid I might actually go after this fucker, but you see a guilty sense of relief creep into my expression as I watch him go. The idiot keeps raving and throwing insults that become incomprehensible as he moves farther away.


I sit down on the stoop and pull the pencil from my hair; a wavy mess topples onto my shoulders. I hold the pencil for a moment, looking at it intently, and then very deliberately and slowly, break the tip with my thumb. I continue breaking the pencil several more times before throwing the stub end into the street.


And now you know it's your time. You pull out an unlit cigarette and step quietly from the shadow.


"After that, I'd need a cigarette, too," your deep voice sounding even more controlled than you'd planned. I start slightly, but don't move to leave. You hold the unlit cigarette out to me. I look from your hand to your face and back again. I reach out, and take the cigarette, our hands brushing in that way that sends a tingle to all the wrong places. I hold the cigarette close to my mouth, my eyes still on you, still piecing this whole evening together. In my head, I flash through fast-paced snapshots of all that will come: coffee, the dark apartment, the bed strewn with clothes, the depth of your kisses, your hand gripping my thigh and the sound of your breath in my hair. And I make my decision.


"I don't smoke," I say, and place the filter end between my lips.


"Neither do I," you answer as you exhale a lungful of smoke and pull a lighter from your coat pocket, leaning in to light my cigarette. We both half smile. And I inhale the sweet poison more deeply than I'd expected, realizing that I really did need a cigarette. You sit on the stoop beside me, close enough to feel my warmth, but far enough to keep me feeling uncompromised. You already know that I've made my decision one way or another, but you also sense the fragility of the situation and perhaps even the fragility of me.


We smoke in the silence of unformed sentences, waiting for something unspoken to break us into what comes next.


I watch you in the periphery of my vision as I say, "So, how much time do you figure we've got?"


But you don't perceptibly react because you know I'm fishing for some shred of information to go on.


"Why, you waiting for someone?" and even before you finish uttering it, you know it's exactly the perfect thing to say.


I glance at my watch and then turn my face to you, a tiny sigh slipping accidentally from my lips. You look at me in that unwavering way that makes me suddenly aware of needing you.


"I've got promises to keep-" but you cut me off.


"And miles to go before I sleep."


And I smile self-consciously for not having even realized I was quoting one of my favorite childhood poems, and for feeling that rush of heat in my face. You've left me speechless, which you understand doesn't happen that often, so you bask in the weight of my silence.


"Coffee," I finally ask without actually asking because I know you already know. You say nothing and then you nod, taking a final drag of your cigarette before tossing the end into the street where it lands beside the pencil stub.

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'A word after a word after a word is power.' 

-Margaret Atwood

The English language was the only instrument I was ever meant to play in this life. Stories and poems are a way of letting the air into rooms that have long been left unvisited. Whatever may have brought you here today, I hope the journey resonates with you.

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