“Are you coming?” Lily called from the car.
Sylvie stood in the middle of the green grass of her front yard, unmoving. What was she doing? She had been settled in her life for a while, now – ten years. Her days as a college student at Colorado State were well behind her. She was finally established in her career, owned her own house, lived a life that was good.
And then he had called.
Even after all this time, she knew his voice the minute he spoke her name. And that laugh? Well, that was what she had noticed first all those years ago.
“Who is that?” Sylvie whispered to her college roommate, Amber. It was their senior year and they were at a house party on Gilmore near campus, standing outside near the old oak tree out front. The music was turned up high and blasted from the speakers propped in the open windows. Soon Sylvie knew the cops would come and tell them to take the party inside. It was nearing midnight.
She grabbed Amber’s arm to get her attention and asked again.
“That guy,” Sylvie pointed across the yard. “Who is it? The one in the Rolling Stones t-shirt?”
Amber looked to where Sylvie was pointing. There was a small gang of college boys wrapped around the plastic tub that held the keg of beer. Christ, Amber thought; it was as though they were protecting the Hope diamond, itself. The boys – surely not men yet judging by their behavior – all looked the same to her in their Colorado State sweatshirts and ratty jeans. Men were so standard, Amber thought, so simple. Why Sylvie didn’t prefer the complexities of woman she didn’t know. But to each his own.
“That’s Jack,” Amber answered. “He used to be a student here but I think he graduated last year. He’s a pretty good guy – fun. I think he played in a band or something. I kinda remember seeing him on stage at Flippers last year but I was mostly toasted and was hitting on this hot chick.”
Sylvie nodded as Amber spoke but kept her eyes on Jack. There was something about him that she couldn’t put her finger on…something familiar, but not necessarily in a ‘we’ve-met-before’ kind of way. She started to feel a sense of exhilaration building within her the longer she stared at him and then – boom – fear; paralyzing fear. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. How is it that a complete stranger garnered such a strong reaction from her, she wondered. When she looked at him again, there it was: an almost irresistible pull to go to him. She didn’t believe in love at first sight and yet she couldn’t look away.
The boy known as Jack laughed again, throaty and full, and Sylvie poured her beer on the ground. Amber was still talking about the hot chick she had tried to pick up but Sylvie wasn’t paying attention. She hadn’t heard a word Amber had said once she changed the subject away from Jack.
Sylvie steeled herself, took a deep breath and marched over to the keg.
“I’m empty,” she mumbled and soon one of boys turned the tap and the beer flowed into her red plastic cup. She kept her head down as it poured, almost overwhelmed with shyness, something completely foreign to her. She had always possessed an abundance of confidence and could easily talk to anyone. She spoke up in class. She was a singer and had been on stage in front of a hundred or so people, before. But now as she stood by the keg of beer, she found herself in a bubble, numb and silent. She knew the boy with the laugh was right next to her. She could feel his warmth.
It was then that she noticed he was wearing sandals. Sandals, for god-sake! It was mid-October and she was barely warm enough in her sweatshirt, and here this boy – the one she couldn’t even speak to – was wearing silly summer footwear. She started to giggle.
“What’s so funny?” Jack asked.
Sylvie snapped her head up with a smile to answer, but when she met his eyes, the bottom drained out. “Oh, no…” she thought, her heart pounding loudly, her mind whirling into a dervish.
She didn’t believe in love at first sight, no way! She didn’t believe in soulmates. It was all romanticized muck-ruck that belonged in the movies. And yet, just looking at him made her feel weightless and light, and – did she actually feel giddy? It didn’t make any sense to her and she definitely didn’t want to feel this way about another boy. Her plan was and always had been to marry her high school sweetheart, Trent. And even though they had attended different colleges, they had remained together and true through the last four years. After graduation they were to be wed back in their hometown and settle down into a house next to Trent’s parents. It was set. It had always been set.
“Hey!” Jack said again lightly. “You! Pretty girl! What’s so funny?” and then he stopped and looked closely at her. “Hey, I remember you. We had a Botany class together last year.”
No way, she thought. She would have remembered him – his blue eyes that traveled to her soul, his laugh that reached her core. But then she felt relieved. Relieved that she had met him before, even for a second, because that mean this couldn’t be love at first sight. Her rule-following, sensible self had been thrown completely off kilter imaging she could succumb to something so ridiculous as love at first sight, but now… well.. at least it wasn’t that.
But what was it? A passage from a Shakespeare play that Sylvie was made to read by her high school English teacher fluttered into her mind. She didn’t even know she had memory of it; it had meant utterly nothing to her at the time.
But there it was.
Hear my soul speak: the very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service.
She looked back into Jack’s eyes and – there! He felt it too, and a kind of wonder spread across his face, beautiful like the sun.
Sylvie rushed away from the keg and the gang of boys and Jack to the backyard where it was dark and still. She sat heavily at the picnic table and burst into tears. She was so afraid. Terrified.
She heard him padding softly through the grass and soon he was next to her, sitting at the picnic table. As naturally as they had been together forever he picked up her hand and placed it to his mouth. He kissed her palm gently, his lips as soft as a ballad.
“I don’t even know your name,” Jack said. “I can’t believe it, but I don’t and yet here you are. My one.”
Sylvie shook her head, the sadness almost overwhelming.
“Sylvie. My name is Sylvie,” she said and he smiled.
“But why did I find you now?” she sobbed, surprised and also not surprised at such a question to a stranger. “It’s too late. My life is all planned.”
“Oh, Sylvie,” he whispered, holding her hand like a jewel.
Sylvie knew even within her young, inexperienced 22 year-old brain that having your life completely planned sounded ridiculous, but that’s how it was done in her family, in her home town. And she had to admit that it was what made her feel comfortable and safe. She wasn’t a risk-taker. She wasn’t fearless. But she was a great protector of her own heart. And at 22, she didn’t have the nerve or strength to change any of that now. Besides, what sounded even more ridiculous than having your life planned out before you was think you were in love with someone you had really just met.
“I don’t even know you,” Sylvie mumured.
“And I don’t even know you,” Jack answered. “But I do; we do know each other. And you know that.”
She knew she couldn’t stay any longer. She could not let herself look into his eyes again, the place where she tumbled over and over into joy, grace, lightness. She was too afraid.
Sylvie stood up to leave.
“Sylvie,” Jack said still holding her hand. “We’ll see each other again in this lifetime. I know we will. And when we do, it will be amazing. We have an an epic love story to live together. And I promise you that you will never be afraid again.”
He gave her a crooked smile and she pulled her hand from his and rushed away; away from his words, the unknowns, and yes, the possibilities.
She hadn’t seen him since.
And now it was another mid-October and she was 32.
How he found her after ten years she didn’t know, but when her phone rang last night just before 9 and he said her name, she knew it it was him.
Oh, she had wed her high school boyfriend after college just as she had planned but not surprisingly, just a few years into the marriage, things had crumbled. Neither she nor Trent were really full human beings then, and as they matured into the people they would become, they knew that being together for life was not in the cards. It had been devastating as all divorces are but, perhaps, not as painful as she had thought. Her ex-husband had stayed behind in their home town and Sylvie decided to take a job in San Francisco. The day her parents drove her to the airport, her mother kissed her goodbye and said, “I know your life hasn’t gone as planned but maybe that’s a good thing. We can’t know how many truly amazing things that might be out there for us, right?”
Her mother had surprised her because she assumed her parents lived a stable life with no real drama – one that had been planned and accomplished down to the letter. But her mother gave her a wink as she walked away and Sylvie smiled.
She ended up loving her new job and San Francisco, in general. She found friends and expanded her world and discovered that even though she hadn’t planned it this way, her life was enjoyable nonetheless. She had never remarried and would have told you that she hadn’t thought of Jack in years, but after hearing his voice on her phone last night, she knew she had.
He had been with her the entire time since that one night years ago.
“Sylvie,” he had said when she answered the phone that night.
It was a statement, just like that. Her name from his voice.
Her brain immediately began to flip through her life; constructing a very quick a roadblock to stop him from spinning her down an unknown path. She was to give a big presentation at work the following day – something that could result in a long-desired promotion. Dinner that night would be at Imu’s with her current boyfriend to celebrate. She was hosting a co-worker’s baby shower the following weekend; her mother expected her to visit soon. Her house needed work – it always did. There was the plumbing appointment to be made, the dry cleaning to be picked up. Her best friend would be by in the morning to take her to breakfast before her presentation. It was a life set in a motion, and a pretty good one, at that.
“Sylvie,” he said again. “I – um. I’ll be in San Francisco tomorrow morning. I have a four-hour layover before I head back to Italy.”
Italy! Had he been in Italy this whole time?
“Will you meet me?” he asked, and when she didn’t answer, he called her name. “Sylvie?”
“I’m here. I don’t know what to say, Jack. I can’t tomorrow. I have to work and I have this presentation and then in the afternoon I am leading a training session…” she began to babble, nervous, afraid. No! she told herself. Don’t feel excited. Stop it. Now.
She found her voice.
“I don’t even know you, Jack. And you don’t even know me.”
“Ah,” he responded, “but you know that’s not true. We’ve known each other forever.”
“I have to go,” she whispered into the phone.
“Sylvie, wait,” he said hurriedly. “I’m going to text you information about my flight and an e-ticket to Italy. Having a ticket is the only way to get into the airport to see me during the layover.”
“But you don’t need to purchase a ticket to Italy for me to get into the airport,” she said. “You should have purchased one to LA or something cheaper.”
“Sylvie. I’m hoping to convince you to come with me during the layover,” he said. “To Italy.”
Her stomach flipped over and she almost dropped the phone.
“I can’t just pick up and leave, Jack. I have to go,” she said and quickly hung up. A few moments later her phone beeped with a text.
“Let’s go,” her friend Lily called to her out the window of her Durango the next morning. Sylvie had stopped in the middle of her front yard on her way to Lily’s car. The portfolio in her hand seemed bulky and heavy, weighing her right side down crookedly. The sun was low in the sky but there was a promise in the breeze. She focused her gaze on the grass and thought absently, “I need to rake up these leaves.”
After Jack’s call Sylvie had made it through the night and through her usual morning routines in a fog, willing herself each minute not to think about Jack. Just continue on. It would be too hard to change everything mid-stream; to let go of her fear of the unknown and try for – what had he called it so long ago? An epic love story. No, it would never work.
But now, moments from getting into the car to drive with her friend to breakfast, she froze. She suddenly thought of her mother, telling her that day when she first flew to San Francisco that there must be a million amazing things out there in the universe for her to try. Sylvie looked down at the cell phone she held in her hand and turned it over and over as though it held the answers to the world.
Wait, she thought. Maybe it did.
Sylvie walked towards Lily’s SUV and stopped at the driver’s side window.
“I can’t go today,” she said. “I forgot. I’m actually going to Italy.”