Today I have decided to stop hiding. Today I am going to start living.

Yes, even in my head it sounds a bit silly, a bit like it belongs in one of those self-help seminars. It has nothing to do with that and everything to do with something inside me.

Maybe it was just seeing the same people all the time and wondering what they think of me.

Like the older man on the bus, the one with the groceries. I smiled at him today on my way to work, although I am not sure he noticed. He seems so sad, so lonely with his single bag of groceries. I think he lives alone. Does anyone visit him? Did he lose his wife? Today, unlike every other day, I find myself with an urge to talk to him, to ask if he would like company for supper. Not something one does in the big city, not in a place where everyone is given their space, especially strangers. Or at least that is the way it has seemed to me.

Until today. Today when I stuck a flower in my hair and decided that wearing my red sweater was completely appropriate for work. Why should I try to blend in with the walls and seem conservative? I like red. I like flowers. I like feeling pretty.

For once, I smiled back at the older woman on the elevator on the ride up to my floor. She seems rather no-nonsense, but I wonder if she had a wild past. Did she wear risque underwear or pose indiscreetly for a photograph for a lover at one time? Did she do it last night? One never knows.

I was a little surprised to see another guy on the elevator, one I'm not sure I've ever seen before. Maybe at the coffee shop down the street? Or out at a club? The way he looked at me made me flush a little, like I could tell he was thinking approvingly of the way I've changed. In fact, it is hard not to feel like so many people around me are silently cheering for me, and I want to shout out encouragement of my own.

Stepping into the elevator on my way to lunch I flash a smile at the woman who looks just a bit awkward in her heels, like she'd like to kick them off. She looks a little surprised that I met her eyes, and I can't help my smile hitching up a little bit more as I notice the child's bobby pin tucked into her hair. It's mostly hidden, but it makes me think she has a little girl. I wonder if they are close, or if her mother is too busy working.

The portrait artist is in the park again, and I smile at him, then laugh as he demands I let him draw me. Then I think about it, stick out my hand for him to shake, and introduce myself. "I'm Anna. And I need to grab some lunch since I won't get time to eat again until I get home, but I could come back. I'll even grab you something if you'd like. But I think you're right. It would be a good day for a portrait."

He tells me his name is Adam and that he would love a sandwich and a coffee. He pulls out some bills, but I shake my head. "Trade? Lunch for a portrait, plus whatever is left of the fee?" I have a good job. He looks like he's been living on kraft dinner and ichiban noodles for a little too long. He laughs and accepts, although he tries to assure me all he'll take is lunch.

I smile at the waitress in the diner when I ask for two sandwiches and coffees to go. "Thanks, Sally." She looks a bit startled, then shakes her head and laughs. "It's Josee, actually. The uniform fit and I just never got around to getting a new name patch. Easier to just go with it. I don't mind being called Sally though." Her accent is lessened by time, but she still sounds a bit nasal and a bit French. I can't help but wonder if she misses where she's from.

I head back to meet up with Adam and we laugh as he sketches amidst bites of his sandwich. He tells me about art school, and I tell him about working in an office. I see him wave to various people who walk by and flush as they look at me curiously. Then I straighten my spine. I can do this if I want. There is nothing wrong with it, nothing wrong with having my portrait sketched.

When Adam hands me the sketch, a few minutes left of my break, I flush with pleasure but give him a slightly skeptical look. The woman on the page doesn't look like me. Too mysterious, too... full of life, I guess. But then, maybe she looks like me today. I hand Adam a $20, knowing it's more than worth it, and point out it will be worth far more when he becomes famous. He tries to laugh it off, but I can see he's pleased.

In the elevator I see that young man again, the one who was looking at me this morning. I look down at my toes, noting that I scuffed one shoe a bit. Then I glance at him again. Considering.

"I'm Anna." My voice sounds a bit hesitant, and I wish it sounded different. But it seems like coincidence seeing him again and I have to think it would be stupid to pretend we aren't standing right next to one another.

He looks surprised, then flushes, clears his throat, and offers me a sheepish grin. "Bryan." Something about the way he grins at me makes me return the smile. His floor is the next one, but he hesitates getting out. "I'll... see you around, maybe. Anna."

I should ask if he wants to meet after work, or for coffee later. But my old self recoils in horror and I realize I'm not quite ready for that. But I smile at him. "Definitely." I know the floor he works on now. And I think maybe it would be nice to see him again. To do more than just see him.

Because today I am tired of familiar strangers and I start to think maybe it is time they became something other than strangers.

The End

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