I snapped to attention and found myself sitting in a fancy restaurant in front of some delicious beef lasagna on a delicate plate, a set of elegant dining tools, a beautiful ceramic vase with flowers, and my gorgeous girlfriend.
“James? Is something wrong? You’re not eating.” Leona picked up her glass of water and raised it up in front of me. “Cheers?”
I smiled warmly and clank my glass against hers. “Cheers.” I replied. I mechanically gathered my memories up. Last night, after I had finally gotten Freeman to wake up and head home, Leona had called me.
“James! Guess what? Guess!”
“Whoa! Calm down, honey.” I had never heard her so excited. She is always the mature one, strong and firm. Whatever happened, it must have been really special.
“Remember the fashion company downtown I’ve talked to you about?” Her voice had been trembling with excitement.
“Yeah, of course. The ADD Company.” How could I forget when it’s the only thing she tells me about besides our love for each other?
“I got hired as designing assistant!” Leona literally said the words in squeaks. “I just got their call and I got the job! I start in the new year!”
“Oh my god! Oh my god!” I couldn’t help but hop in my chair with joy. “This is so exciting! Your dream is coming true!”
“I know! I’m so happy!” Leona had sounded like she was at the brink of bursting into tears. “I’ve wanted to be a designer in that company for years!”
The ADD Company, or the Allina Douglas Designers Company, is one of the most prosperous companies in the Canadian fashion industry. Their designs are characterized by combinations of historical and modern, by mixtures of different cultural styles, and by the practicality of the garments. Their clothing is designed to be beautiful, delicate, and comfortable to wear. Leona’s wardrobe consists mostly of ADD garments, as well as her own designs.
“Leona, we have to celebrate this.” I had said. “Wanna meet me tomorrow evening?” And so here I was, having a fancy dinner with one of the future ADD designers. She was wearing a fabulous black and white checkered cocktail dress, and her golden hair was tied back into a loose ponytail. Glimmering silver flowers decorated her hair in the way twinkling stars decorate the night sky.
“You’re beautiful.” I said softly. She smiled, looking a little embarrassed. We leaned toward each other and kissed.
“Eat your lasagna when it’s hot.” She said after the kiss, and twirled some of her pasta with a silver fork.
It had been almost a year since we started dating, yet Leona was still awkward when it came to these romantic moments. She was the girl who had denied the loyalty of all suitors, who held out a hand and said no without the least bit of hesitation or any second thoughts. Before we met, she was said to resemble one of the falling snowflakes of a chilly winter morning: its movement unpredictable; its destination vague. Even when a boy thought he had finally grasped her in his hands, she always had a way to vanish and escape, as snowflakes would melt and disappear when cupped between both hands.
When I first saw her, I didn’t have the least bit of interest in her. I had already heard of her high tone from most of the guys I hung out with, and the way she walked—her chin parallel with the floor, her arms swaying powerfully and stiffly at her sides, and each of her steps so firm and confident—proved the boys right. She always went about with her own ways, never clustering with the other girls on campus. Despite her good looks, fashionable style, and irresistible glamour among the boys, she was a lone person, a soul so lonely it didn’t know it was lonely until someone with the right keys opened the locked doors.
Almost a year ago on a foggy winter day, when the mist was so thick it seemed solid, I came upon Leona kneeling beside a small puddle of rain water. Keeping my former impressions of her pride and unfriendliness in mind, I decided not to interfere with whatever she was doing. It was not until I saw drops of water fall into the puddle did I realize the puddle wasn’t of rain but of tears.
I was dumbfounded, not knowing what to do. I quickly searched my pockets and found some tissue paper, which I handed to her gently, not saying a word as not to hurt her dignity. She stared at my offer for quite a while, as if examining some exotic creature, before reluctantly taking it and wiping her eyes. As if aroused by a sudden shock, she flung herself into my arms and buried her face into my chest. I held her slim body, and she cuddled herself to my strong one. We stood there like statues for what seemed like hours, with me all the time confused and nervous and her not making one sound. I could tell she wasn’t crying, but that was all I could figure. Was she meditating, contemplating on whatever was troubling her while hiding in my arms from the cold? Or was she merely asleep, tired of the world and all the questions one could find within such short a period of a lifetime?
When I was deciding whether or not to see if she was still conscious, she pushed herself away from my chest and dashed out in the opposite direction. I watched as she disappeared into the grey silk of mist, her golden hair damp from the humidity and sticking to her scalp, her run agile and quick despite the fact that she was wearing heels of at least four inches. It was then that I felt a wave of pity rise inside of me. I had never thought someone who so preferred to be alone would one day find herself lonely, and apparently she hadn’t known this either, for the next day I found her alone sitting beside an apple tree, which was bearing fruit so fat and red the branches were all bent over due to the weight of the apples.
Leona had a different shine on her face that day, not the usual proud glow of gold, but the pinkish beam of a girl in love. Although her face was narrow and small, the slight blush of her cheeks made me think of one of the apples on the tree beside her. As soon as she saw me, she patted the vacant space beside her, gesturing for me to sit down. I did as I was told, bestowing on her my famous smile, as if she were all the other girls I meet every day in the hallway to my classroom.
A few awkward moments passed by as we sat there, with her staring at her knees and me smiling out at her, trying to look natural. At last, when everything seemed to have frozen in time, she held my hand gently and asked if I could be by her side like this always. Immediately I knew what she wanted, and I responded as I always did whenever one of the boys asked me out for a game: twirl, smile, “sure,” wink.
After we started dating each other, Leona opened up more. She started to join in with the giggling chats of other girls in her classes; she shares opinions about fashion trends with girls who are also interested in the topic. Most of all, she even started to feel comfortable with other guys, especially the ones I hang out with. No longer is she the pearl in the shell which nobody could approach, and she seems to be very happy about it.
I never knew what had happened to her on that misty day. It never felt right to ask when we were with each other, either with our friends or alone. After some attempts to bring out the question, and always stopping myself mid-sentence when I peered into her eyes as deep as they were green, I eventually decided not to bother her with the topic. She would tell me if she wanted me to know.
Perhaps this is the reason why I always feel some kind of unexplainable distance from her, a gap between us so narrow that even an ant wouldn’t have noticed if it were to walk across it. Yet, the gap is there, visible or not, and I can sense it. Sometimes it feels just like the valleys between the hills of my fingerprints, so small and shallow it is hard to tell if it were really there; other times, when Leona would occasionally slip back to the prideful girl before she dated me, as if the mental switch of her independent disposition were turned on, the invisible gap between us would feel so deep even the most skillful of flying birds would feel the tingling of acrophobia when peering down the slot.
Maybe constantly sensing the existence of the space between us is the reason why my mind often wanders off to other places when even the beautiful blond girl with dazzling green eyes is sitting right in front of me.
“James?” I was once again pulled back to reality. Leona was looking at my face with anxious eyes. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah. Never been better.” I said frantically, giving her the brightest smile I could manage. I saw her look down at my untouched lasagna, and I quickly scooped up spoonfuls and jammed them into my mouth. “Yum! This is so good.” I said between bites, trying hard not to choke myself.
Leona, after giving me one last suspicious look, giggled at my apparently comic face and started to stuff her own mouth with pasta. I almost spit out all the lasagna in my mouth when I saw Leona’s delicate, small face puff up into a round ball. She blushed, feeling a little embarrassed, but was having fun anyway. Under the dim golden light of the restaurant, her round, pink face resembled one of those apples that were dangling from the tree beside her six months ago.
I was so immersed in the fun with Leona, that it was not until we had no more food to stuff into our mouths that I saw the big, orange eyes looking our way. I immediately jerked in surprise, knocking the table with my knee and nearly sending all our plates and glasses across the room. Rubbing my knee and biting at my lower lip to fight back the pain, I looked at the direction where I saw Freeman, but he was already gone.
“What’s wrong, James? Are you alright?” Leona hurried to my side to check my knee, and that was when I realized that everyone was staring at me with shock written all over their faces. Looking around at all the dumbfounded expressions, I felt like I was an alarm clock that had set off in the middle of the night, with the ringing so loud the people in the whole neighborhood had jumped from their dreams in a panic.
“Sorry, everyone.” I apologized. When everyone had continued with whatever they were doing, Leona was still staring at me as if my face was turning colour. “Did something happen?” She demanded. “You’re acting strange today.”
“No. Nothing happened.” I bit back tears. My knee was hurting so bad I could swear I would find a palm-sized patch of blue bruise there when I got home.
Leona surely wasn’t persuaded, for she walked back to her seat, all the time keeping her eyes on me, as an eagle spying on her prey. Watching her expression turn from confused to anxious to suspicious, I had no choice but to tell her the truth.
“I saw Tutto Freeman standing back there. That’s why I jerked.” I said it simple and plain, not realizing that it made no sense.
Leona looked behind her, trying to see for herself if I was telling the truth. When she saw nobody that had amber hair and orange eyes, she turned to me again, her face stretching with more suspicion. “I don’t see him.” She said as-a-matter-of-factly. “Besides, why would he make you jerk like that?”
She was right. Why did I have to make such a fuss just at the sight of Freeman? We were in a public restaurant, which was a place where most of the locals would come to on special occasions. It was totally reasonable for Freeman to come have dinner here with whomever he was with. Even though he was the strangest person I could ever imagine to live on this planet, he was still a human being, with his own family and events and life to go on with. Why would I be so surprised when I see him looking at us? I would do just the same if I spotted him eating in the same restaurant as I was. People always feel special when coincidences happen.
“I don’t know.” I said frankly.
Maybe I had looked like a boy lost in the woods without any way to tell north from south, because Leona’s expression had softened and her suspicion quickly turned into sympathy. “How’s your knee?” She asked. Changing the topic was her way of apologizing without really admitting it. Even though she became dependent on me for company and love, she still had her former pride buried somewhere inside her, with a corner of it sticking out whenever the sand covering it was disturbed.
Before we left the restaurant, I stole a last glance at the place where I had seen Freeman’s orange eyes staring at us. But of course I didn’t see anything but the fancy wallpaper and the picture hanging from the wall. I admit jumping at the sight of Freeman was an odd behaviour, but spotting him when he wasn’t even there was even more confusing.
Before I had time to start making up an explanation to console myself, Leona had already called a taxi cab and was waving for me to hurry up. Pushing Freeman to the back of my mind, I sprinted out into the dark, chilly night, all the while mistaking the pair of orange circles as streetlamps in the far distance.
-羅寗 Michelle Ning Lo