Today is Fiction Friday, for more FF participants go visit Jane the Sane.
This is a short story based on the lyrics of the song Grey Sky Eyes by Carbon Leaf. Another Sassy and JimmyEW collaboration.
Now for your listening pleasure see below for the full song, just created last night because Youtube only had stupid and/or poorly recorded versions. See how much I love you? Hit play and listen while you read.
I walked briskly down the cold, busy street so intent on my thoughts I didn't notice the business man on his cell phone, or the bike rider, or really any of the 10 people I bumped into that morning. I had lived this day a hundred times already but this time was different. This time I was living it outside of my mind.
As I got closer to the coffee shop, I picked my gaze up from the sidewalk and stopped to glance at my reflection. My dark hair was slightly longer than I was used to but the gel kept it in place and gave it a very tousled affect. That seemed to be the style and although I could care less what "the style" was, I did want to look good today. And I felt like I looked pretty good. My shirt, which was a muted blue, fit snugly over my slim build and the waitresses at my restaurant always told me I looked good in it. But would she think so? I peered closer; I could almost see the blue of my eyes in the reflection as they peered back at me.
"What are you doing?" I muttered quietly to myself. I pulled up the collar of my black pea coat to block the uncharacteristically cool wind as it whipped down the street. In Wisconsin this day would have seemed warm, but living in L.A. for five years had changed my ability to withstand cold. As I stood there thinking about the cold I lost my nerve. Shaking my head, I turned around and began walking back the way I'd come from. I was halfway down the block before I stopped abruptly. I stood there a moment, shaking my head then began pacing back and forth, unsure what to do. Finally I turned and walked back to the window.
I looked hard at my reflection in the darkened window and took a deep breath.
"I'm doing this. I'm not waiting any more, I'm sick of waiting." and with that I smiled a hopeful smile at myself and nodded my head determinedly.
My name is Jonah and I'm a poet, well..., actually I'm a chef, but in essence I am a poet. I see poetry everywhere. The dripping chocolate falling decadently over a piece of beautifully cut cheese cake, the buzzing glow of the street lamp, the curve of an arm...the curve of her arm specifically. I felt very unsure as I walked, until I thought of her. She was what I was very sure of.
I have written hundreds of poems about her over the years. And today IS the day. Today is the day I will tell her how I feel. But I don't know what will happen. You see, Katia, or Kat as I know her, is a star. She plays Ryver Stockholm in the Soap Opera Touchstone and although she has only been Ryver for a year, she has already been nominated for a couple of Daytime Emmys. And now the industry and tabloids have begun calling her the new Meg Ryan.
And I? I am Jonah Gosse, a sous chef, not even the chef but the second in command. Although I’d argue I do most of the work and all of the management of the kitchen. But none of that matters because I can't compete with the hulky leading men, big names, red carpet and Hollywood parties.
"I'm the guy next door," I said aloud, "I'm the guy who cooks your fillet mignon during the day and at night secretly writes poems about something he can never have." my voice trailed off in frustration.
"You fool! Why are you doing this, you've been over this before. YOU aren't enough. You can't compete with what she has, what she is." Anger started to take over my face like a slow spreading rash.
"Stop that.” I hissed at myself trying to contain the rush of negativity I was feeling.
“Do I really want to live the rest of my life not knowing? Do I want to spend the rest of my days writing poems that she will never read? Or do I want to take a chance, even a big chance and say that at least I tried.” I sighed heavily and clenched my jaw in determination. I am going to do this, even if we can't be friends anymore, even if it is the end of us, I am going to try.
With that last thought I walked off with a confident stride, towards the only thing I was sure of; that this woman, draped in mystery, held my love inside her.
But as I neared the end of the block I felt it come back, the uncertainty of my ability to give her everything she’s used to, everything her life had become since she'd left the restaurant. Those negative thoughts only lasted a few moments because I shook myself and began talking aloud. Valarie, my prep cook, had told me once that to stop unwanted streams of thought you needed to start talking out loud. Something about talking stopped the thoughts. So if there was ever a time that I needed the nagging doubts and fears to stop playing games in my head, it was now.
I shoved my iPod ear buds into my ears and switched on the music. Poignantly, the song that began playing was Walk Unafraid by REM. Suddenly Michael Stipe was there walking beside me for a moment, telling me to walk unafraid, to be clumsy instead. To hold my “love me or leave me” high. To crush this charade and shred this sad masquerade. It was just what I needed.
"Thanks Michael," I said with a smile and began talking aloud again, this time in a clear voice instead of a murmur.
"I know that isn't really her," I said assuredly, knowing this with more than my head.
"That glamour and glitz isn't who she is. Remember, I’m the only one that sees through it. I’m the only one she lets see her without her pretty happy mask on." As I spoke I didn't fret about what the people around me would think, they were the least of my concerns. And besides, the iPOD gave a buffer as well as the illusion I may be on a cell. So I continued on with my monologue, holding with what Valarie said, only now I began talking to her. I imagined looking at her pale face with her light grey eyes staring widely back at me. Her long black hair parted down the center and falling softly down her shoulders. I loved her long hair, how sometimes she'd put random little braids in it or tied it into a knot to keep it out of her way. Not many women had hair that long anymore. I imagined what I would say to her if she was with me at this very moment.
"Kat, look at me for a moment. I mean, really look at me. You see me here; I'm standing here in front of you because I can't live this lie any longer. I can't hide it anymore. Kat, you and I...there is something about us that is different. I feel it and I know that you feel it to. I see it in your eyes when you let yourself out. I see something in there when I hold you. That night, the night in the rain after your audition for Touchstone. That night for a moment your veil lifted and you let me in. You let the fear flow out of you in great wet tears and you wept on my shoulder. You were worried about getting my shirt messy and I laughed at you because I was already dripping wet. Do you remember sitting in my apartment afterwards? You were wearing my bathrobe while your clothes were in the dryer and sipping on hot chocolate. Do you remember the hours we spent just talking that night? You let me in, you told me how afraid you were of disappearing and how you went into acting as a way to hide yourself. That contradiction confused and unnerved you.
You never told me why you hide, but I can see the sadness in your eyes. They reminded me of clouds moving over a blue sky just before a rain. I so desperately wanted to make the sun break through, to see them glow."
As I stopped talking, to listen to the music unfold, I began living that night again in my head. Before that moment in the rain we were just two people working at the same place. We'd laugh and joke around occasionally but nothing more than a casual acquaintance. I worked in the back and she was the hot waitress/actress, like most waiters and waitresses in LA. Most of them never stopped being a waitress, hitting it big was so rare and a dream of so many there. Dreams are what brought people out here in the first place. Some did make it though, like Kat. It was like she really was there to briefly grace my world with her radiance before becoming a real star.
I used to watch her from afar, hovering at the kitchen door, and just observe her curiously. She'd smile and laugh with customers, charm the tips right out from under them. But when she thought no one was watching her and she was alone I would see her change. It was like watching rough water suddenly calm into a silent lull, her smiles falling off her face leaving a quiet stillness that seemed infinitely sad. I had watched this happen a few times, always unobserved from the kitchen, but I saw it clearly as if she were right in front of me saying, "That isn't me! I don't know who that is." I felt deep inside that this was what I was seeing, so when she broke down in the rain one night after my shift she only had confirmed what I felt I already knew. I took my coat off and slung it around her shoulders and walked her the three blocks to my apartment.
That night is when all her hopes and fears came spilling out of her. She cried about how broken she felt and how much effort she exerted to keep her veil up. She never told me what broke her but it didn’t matter to me. After her heartfelt confession I saw a lightness come into her and a smile returned but this one was different because it shone in her eyes as well.
After that night we shared, we really became as close as two friends could become. And always, when we were together she’d arrive and the façade would slip away and she would stand there before me naked in her realness. And I grew to love this girl, this quivering woman who stood before most people as a butterfly but showed me that she really had just built her cocoon to hide in; never intending to emerge from it.
Then, inevitably, she started getting more popular. Touchstone began writing more story lines for her and the busier she got the less I saw her. Her schedule became so demanding that she had to quit the restaurant and although I was happy for her I was sorry to lose that closeness I was used to. She would still call and talk to me whenever she had a spare moment, but our schedules never seemed to work out and now it has been far too long since I’d seen her last.
As I walked up to the coffee shop, I could see Kat through the large bay windows. Some caffeinated fans were getting their pictures taken with her.
And there it was. That beautiful smile of hers. She seemed to glow, just glow whenever it came out. It showed off her perfect white teeth, made her eyes sparkle, and turned her into a star. Now I'm no casting director, but I've got to imagine when you see this beautiful woman smiling like that. Like you could actually feel her smile - well, I'd pick her to be the next big thing too.
I waited for the impromptu fan club to dismiss before walking up to her. Part of me still wanting to avoid this conversation but another part told me that the right moment would not be amidst drooling fans either.
I weaved my way through the dispersing admirers and stopped just in front of her. I went to take her hand and she pulled me in for a big hug.
"Wow, how long has it been, Jonah?" she asked reminiscently.
"Almost six months" I said as a matter of fact. "Your waitress retirement party, remember?" I chuckled.
"Oh, yeah...The official end of my screwing up people's dinner and spilling their drinks party, how could I forget?" she laughed.
"So, what's on your mind, Jonah?" Kat asked in that concerned tone of hers.
I sat down beside her on the couch in the now quiet corner and gathered up every ounce of bravery. Then I started speaking.
"Do you know the movie Groundhogs Day?" I asked her with a sly grin.
"The Bill Murray movie? Yes, I love that movie." Kat responded.
"This is the end of my groundhogs day." I said, knowing this is not exactly how I practiced this but going with what first came to mind.
"See, in the movie he relives the same day over and over but you never quite know if its punishment or a gift or maybe just a hiccup in his life." I stated as if a metaphor was going to make this easier.
"I have relived this day over and over in my head ever since that first night we spent together. That night was like the most real and tangible night of my life. Just sharing thoughts and feelings and knowing I was talking to the real you, the real Kat. Not the one who wears that big beautiful smile all the time, just Kat with no mask.”
I waited for a response from her, for any response. She just looked at me waiting patiently for me to continue. But I saw her face change, her mask slipped a little and she became very serious.
"You see, Kat, there’s something to us. There is something here," I said moving my hand between us like a line. "I used to watch you working, I would see you and I was never enamored like the rest of them. I never cared about your beauty because when I looked in your eyes all I saw was you, not your facade. Kat, I can't compete with your world but you know what? I don't want to. I want to be something real to you, something you can see and touch and believe in. Because Kat, I love you and if I don't do something about it right now, then I might as well just give up on everything. Because in the end of it all, in the end of everything. This is all that matters. Us, people, love, lives and everything that comes with it.” I looked down at my hands for a moment, wondering if I should say more or if I should get up and run for it. I decided I had come this far, I might as well say all I had to say.
“Kat, I don't care if we have only one day together because at least I will get to live that day with you, outside my head. Kat, this is it. This is a chance to be truly happy, what do you say? Do you want to jump with me? Because I'm ready to jump, in fact I just did, but I hope you'll be holding my hand so I can fly instead of fall." I stopped abruptly looking into her eyes, every second feeling like I was underwater. The pressure of the silence was suffocating me. But I waited, waited for a response and what I got wasn't spoken with words but was silent vulnerability.
Her eyes widened and filled with tears as she struggled with what to say. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came. Still, I waited for her to speak, knowing she would when she knew what to say.
"I'm afraid," She said in a trembling whisper. A silent tear slid slowly and gracefully down her cheek.
I took her small hands into mine. Her fingers were thin and cold and I rubbed them between my hands to warm them. I leaned close and looked hard into her eyes before speaking.
"Listen to your heart, Kat. What would you do if you weren't afraid?" I whispered back to her.
Kat nodded her head thoughtfully and, as she nodded, a smile broke through but this smile was an unpolished smile, her real smile.
"I am no great thing." She said to me in warning. "Me, I'm just a person and I'm not special. My eyes neither rain nor they glow, they are just me. I am just Katia." She said with more tears coming to the surface.
I touched her face softly, wiping away her tears with the back of my hand. Then I smiled widely.
"Kat, that’s just it. You are who I'm in love with. You right here with me now. None of that other stuff. This is it Kat, this is us."
Kat nodded happily, her breath catching in small heaving gasps as she tried not to weep. But her efforts were to no avail and she collapsed with great racking sobs. I pulled her to me, smelling her hair and reveling in the feel of her in my arms again. It had been a long time since I'd touched her, let alone hold her close.
“I never.. I never thought anyone could ever care about me till you Jonah. Never me, for me. You made me hope and hope made me afraid.” she stopped speaking then and leaned into me crying softly.
"What do you say Kat," I whispered softly into her ear.
Indistinguishably Kat's sobbing became made of both tears and musical laughter. She pressed into me, her body shaking with the strength of her emotions and said in her musical laughing voice
"yes, yes, yes. For a lifetime, for a year for how ever long we have in this world, yes."
And at that moment, we flew.
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