All the things I’ve been thinking about in both my personal and professional lives splashed together to create this. It’s the longest story I’ve written in a really long time and I like it. It was partially inspired by pictures I took from the Jersey side of the Hudson River, like the one below, and Foster the People’s “Waste.” The lyrics to the song are actually not inappropriate for the story, but I was more inspired by its sound than its words, which I didn’t check until after I wrote this short. Specifically, it got the first line to pop into my head and, therefore, the title. I might rename it later, but I’m not sure what.
Soaring into the Light
We were soaring into the light. Or at least it felt that way.
In the past two weeks, we had undone two years of being coworkers, acquaintances, friends by association. We had found out why Abe from advertising thought the other was so cool. We realized that we had both taken piano lessons from the same teacher and with some digging through old shoeboxes of ticket stubs, discovered that I sat in front of you at her concert with that string quartet from Chicago in 2003. We empathized with each other’s childhoods, knowing how rough it could be for single-parent households.
It all started when I saw you sitting in the Starbucks on Hudson Street and said “Hi” because we made eye contact before I could turn away and pretend I didn’t notice you. I said, “Hey, how are you? Why are you all alone?” I added the last part when I saw you looked sort of down and could probably use some sympathy for whatever you were going through.
“I’m alone now, but I wasn’t a few minutes ago. I just busted up a job interview,” you said solemnly.
“A job interview in a coffee shop? That’s pretty ghetto.”
“It was for a job in the coffee shop,” said you.
“Oh,” said I. “Well, I know it’ll work out better for you. At least you still have us at The Chilltown Times.”
“No, they fired me today,” you said.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” I was hungry and I wanted the conversation to end but I didn’t want to be rude. “Why?”
You hesitated before confessing, “I told Deveraux he was a total moron.” Rex Deveraux was our editor-in-chief and he was a moron, so I didn’t blame you. At this point, you looked like you were about to cry.
I fought the urge to roll my eyes and say, “Drama queen!” and instead said something like, “I’m sorry. You just told the truth. Well, you’re too good for the Times. It’s time for something new. Something better.”
“Thanks,” you mumbled. You were actually crying now.
“That bad, huh?” I said. You nodded, I felt awkward, and I said I hoped you had a good day before walking to the cashier furthest away from where you were sitting.
I got my coffee – small, iced, with extra caramel syrup and soy milk – as well as a mini lemon bar. I was about to leave when I heard you call after me.
“Would you…like to have coffee some time?”
You said it so awkwardly, I couldn’t say no. Then again, I didn’t say yes, either. Instead, I simply sat down next to you and used a coffee stirrer to cut my lemon bar in half.
Since our impromptu coffee date, we expanded our horizons, so to speak, and went to all sorts of places. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (specifically for key lime tarts and the Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibit), Tops Diner in almost non-existent East Newark, Central Park for picnics that were more romantic than either of us would like to admit, the Monroe Center for the Arts in Hoboken for about a million different little plays by the billion different theater companies that called it home.
Together, we jumped eagerly into a life so different from the ones we had before. I could hardly believe that there was ever a time when you were afraid to use (mildly) offensive language around me or when laying my head on your shoulder wasn’t the normal thing to do when we were riding on the PATH train or when I wasn’t completely in love with your face.
And now we were here, flying down the highway with the top down.
“Take your top off!” you suggested.
“No!” I playfully shoved you and laughed.
“Have you ever flashed someone?”
“No, and I don’t plan to.”
“No!” I crossed my arms and stuck my tongue out at you. “Stop telling me what to do. Why you pushing this all on me, anyway?”
“Oh come on, you’ve never done it before, so how could you know what it’s like? I mean – you could totally enjoy it! Try something new!” you said. Your argument was so weak that I couldn’t tell if you were joking or not. Regardless, I was not going to flash anyone, I said to you firmly. You just laughed and we continued on our way.
We got off at our exit and were driving towards my house when you made a sudden turn down an avenue we had never taken before.
“Where are we going?” I asked. “Aren’t you going to drop me off?”
“Nope,” you said. “We’re going to my house tonight. We’re going to watch ‘Inception’ because I’ve never seen it before and I want to. Actually, we should just go back to my house and watch every movie we’ve never seen and order in all the food we’ve never tasted and just make love on every horizontal – or vertical – surface in my apartment.”
I could hardly believe my ears. We had never discussed consummating our relationship and considering I had only really known you for two weeks, I wasn’t planning to put out at any point in the super near future.
“…But we’ve never even kissed,” I said.
You quickly leaned over and planted one on me.
“Keep your eyes on the road!” I scowled. You had wandered over the line a bit and you swerved to the right to get yourself straight again. “I know I’m hot but you don’t have to jeopardize both our lives to just to make out with me,” I said jokingly.
“Well, you only live once,” you said. “And that last part was optional, by the way. It’s the most important thing we could do tonight – but it’s optional. You don’t have to make hot, passionate love with me if you don’t want to.”
You sounded so un-smooth that it was sort of adorable and I couldn’t help but laugh. Or maybe I just laughed because I was too confused to come up with any other reaction.
We turned onto a road that looked more familiar to me and after a few blocks, I realized we were on your street. You found a pretty good place to park and we only had to walk four blocks to get to your place. We got in and almost immediately, you fired up Netflix on your Wii and began the nearly impossible process of trying to spell movie titles using the game controller. We finally found the movie we wanted and pulled out your old-fashioned popcorn maker so we would have something to snack on.
“I’ve had popcorn before,” I said.
“Wow, big accomplishment. I’m sure you’re the only person in the world who has. It’s a rare luxury,” you mocked.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I mean, I’ve had popcorn before. You said we were having things we’ve never eaten before. You lied to me.”
“Well, you’re going to eat me for dessert, aren’t you?”
I laughed. “Ahh, stop! Why are you being such a perv today?” I threw a popcorn kernel at you and it bounced off your nose.
“I can’t help it.” Again, you zoomed in for a quick kiss. I barely felt kissed afterwards and wondered why you were being so strange. Part of me said, “This guy’s a weirdo. Run away!” Still, I stayed and helped you drizzle melted butter and sprinkle seasoning.
“Inception” was taking too long to load or was being glitchy or something so we decided to try watching things using On Demand, but we couldn’t find anything you hadn’t watched already.
“This sucks,” I said.
“My life sucks,” you said.
“Oh? I thought you were totally getting action from me tonight. And you still think your life sucks?” I stuck my tongue out at you and then flashed you a grin.
“Well, I haven’t gotten it yet and you’ve been sort of fighting me on it, so yeah, I’d say my life sucks.” You leaned over, slowly this time, and put your lips against mine. This time, you took things slow and gave me a real kiss. I kissed you back. You eased me down until I was lying down on your couch while I undid the buttons of your shirt and, under the influence of the sexiest smile I’ve ever seen on your face, pulled off your belt. You took my earlobe between your lips, kissed down my neck and tugged at my dress with your right hand to reveal my shoulder while reaching under my dress with your left.
I stopped you.
“I’m sorry. This is kind of fast for me. I mean, it was only two weeks ago when I realized your last name didn’t begin with an ‘L,’” I explained.
“We didn’t really get very far,” you said.
“I know, but I’m not used to things like this,” I said, straightening my clothes. “I – I want us to count for something. I really like you.
“You’re someone I can see myself falling in love with.” Shy, I looked away while I fessed up.
“It’s okay,” you said glumly. You hugged me and kissed my forehead. “It’s okay,” you said more comfortingly. We exchanged awkward smiles and you hit my nose with your index finger.
“What was that for?”
“You didn’t know my last name!”
“No, I knew…I just thought it was spelled differently!”
You laughed and let me off the hook. “Come on, stay the night at least. We’ll just sleep – we can cuddle!”
We washed up, brushed our teeth using the same toothbrush even though I thought it was super disgusting and curled up in your bed. Our bodies fit together just right. You looked into my eyes and stroked my hair until I fell asleep. It was the best sleep of my life.
Two days later, I had no idea where you were. You weren’t picking up my phone calls, no one answered the door at your apartment and there was no recent activity on your Facebook. I felt foolish for thinking that maybe things were different with you and that you would’ve understood if I didn’t want to sleep with you just yet. I wondered if our chemistry was totally imagined and felt even more foolish. I asked one of your neighbors if he had seen you recently and he said that yes, he did or at least thought he did. I realized you hadn’t disappeared off the face of the Earth – you just didn’t want to talk to me anymore. I happened to be drinking a Slurpee when I swung by your place and learned that you were there all along; I threw the Slurpee at one of your apartment windows when no one was looking. All right, so I missed. But it’s the thought that counts.
The next day, Rex called me into his office for a “very serious talk.” I wondered if he was gonna fire me too.
“You’re a great reporter and we want you to fill a void in our newsroom,” Rex said. I realized that in the past two weeks, no one had been chosen to permanently fill your position. Sure enough, he asked me to take your place.
“As I’m sure you’ve heard, our old Waterfront reporter is no longer with us,” he said. I chuckled in my head at the way he referred to you like there was a chance that I didn’t know who you were. “We’ve been holding out on having someone take over for him permanently because we’re hoping the treatments work and he pulls through –“
“Oh, I’m guessing you haven’t heard. I assumed you did since you sit next to Beth and she’s an awful gossip.”
“I stopped talking to Beth because all she did was spread malicious rumors about everyone,” I said.
“Oh, well. Regardless of who is spreading rumors or is gossipy or not, he has leukemia and actually, I thought you might’ve noticed, but he’s been out for maybe two or three weeks now. He had some sick days left and when he told me he was, you know, actually really sick, I told him to just use them if he wanted. Vacation days, too. He was a mess,” said Rex.
“He seemed perfectly wonderful to me.”
“So you want the beat or not?”
“Uhm…yeah. Yeah, sure, I do.”
“Good, because I would’ve given it to you even if you didn’t.”
I spent the rest of the day having to tell all your old contacts that they needed to send me press releases now, not you, and they all seemed so unshocked. Some of them even said, “Oh yeah, we heard,” or “He told me and I felt so bad,” or “How is he?” The last remark really upset me because it was something I should’ve been able to answer.
“Why didn’t he tell me? Don’t people with cancer only do stupid things like that on TV shows and movies?” “Was this what he was crying about in the coffee shop?” “Was asking me out some sort of I-should-do-it-because-I’m-dying thing like ‘Inception’ was?” Eventually I stopped asking questions and just curled up under my sheets crying. I kept crying, more intensely than I thought I would, but only for a few minutes at a time. And then I’d stop and go about my business for a few minutes before remembering you and crying again. It was kind of funny, when you think about it, to end up crying while riding a bike, eating cereal, doing Tae-Bo, listening to Ke$ha, cutting my fingernails. At the same time, there was nothing funny about it.
Would you die? The thought occurred to me, unfortunately, while I was at Panera interviewing Ricky Danger, the lead singer of a band performing at Maxwell’s. I had to excuse myself, lock myself in the restaurant’s bathroom and cry it out while eating a pumpkin muffie Ricky bought me. He patted my head like I was a puppy and told me it was okay. I nodded along but didn’t think anything would ever be okay again.
At some point, I stopped crying. You were gone or not talking to me. I had accepted it. I was, in some ironic twist, replacing someone I had just discovered was irreplaceable. I had accepted it. You had leukemia. I had not accepted it, but I was trying.
I was walking home one evening on the waterfront walkway from Hoboken to Jersey City and the light was absolutely beautiful. The sun shone down and made everything look so surreal. I felt like I was walking through some computer-generated rendering of what this walkway was meant to look like, which doesn’t sound like a breathtaking experience at all, but it was. I looked out at New York City, which was more beautiful and radiant than ever and looked like a majestic castle floating on the Hudson. “You’re not going to be around for beautiful moments like this,” I said under my breath.
I heard you calling my name and turned around. You were there. I was angry. “Why haven’t you been returning my calls?” I snapped.
“I’ve been in the hospital,” you said quietly. “I have something to tell you –“
I ran towards you and hugged you as hard as I could. “You have leukemia, I know,” I said in a low voice. “I love you, I love you, I love you. Don’t ever leave me again.” I usually didn’t allow myself to be that vulnerable or honest, but this was a special case.
“I know we haven’t known each other for that long, but I love you, I do,” I said.
“Time is nothing,” you said. “I think that’s the life principle I’m supposed to be learning from this – I’m not totally sure, but it sounds good, right? Time is nothing. What you do with it is everything.”
“That was the fortune in my cookie that time we ordered from that Chinese Halal place,” I said.
“Oh, well, still. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I just…I wanted to have someone to love and I didn’t want pity-love, like ‘Aww, you have cancer’ love. I wanted to really be in love with someone when I died – “
“You won’t die –“
“Well, I hope I won’t. I have good chances, actually. But I might. And it’s sort of selfish, but I wanted to love someone so I took a chance on the girl I always had an office crush on.”
“I understand,” I said. “I’m glad you did.”
“Actually, since I’m being all honest and forthcoming here, I asked Sarah from advertising out first and I was kind of flirty-flirty with Ami. But I got lucky with you!” You kissed me.
“Hah. Well, not lucky enough,” I teased. “I hope this isn’t the most insensitive scheme to get it on with a girl ever.”
“I wish it was,” you chuckled.
I was still afraid, but now you were here and the sun was shining bright. I hid my fears in the shadows. “Well, it might work if you’re nice, charming and handsome – you have an advantage, you’re naturally the latter.”
“I am, aren’t I?”
“It’s Wednesday. They’re showing ‘Inception’ in the park in about…three hours. That gives us time for dinner.”
“Is that the swanky one with the red ceiling an the big electric-fan looking flowers on the walls?”
“Not sure. I’ve never eaten there. I’ve never had sushi before, actually.”
“Really. I’ll race you there.”
“That’s not fair! I’m wearing heels! Hey, come back!”
I grabbed your hand and we ran, darting through the weary commuters heading home as we raced through Hoboken Terminal’s trains and buses toward the next few hours of our lives.
We were soaring into the light.