It was just like any other day this summer, clear skies, quiet streets. I made myself a cup of coffee and shuffled out the back door to water the garden. A few tomatoes were finally ready to be picked, so I pulled them off the vines and set them in my basket. A few months ago, I had built a chicken coop and fenced off a section in my yard so I could have chickens. The hard part was actually getting the chickens. I drove around to houses in the surrounding countryside until I finally found a few scrawny birds and trapped them, getting hold of them and taking them home. They were a lot fatter now and produced big orange-yolked eggs for my breakfast everyday.
After feeding the chickens and a few other animals I had acquired, I made myself breakfast and grabbed a book, planning on spending the day reading. Sunday was my reading day. I turned on the tv, setting the volume low just for background noise, and sighed. It was a book about court intrigue, British, stuffy, and it only reminded me that the past was as good as my life was ever going to get. Everything was downhill from here. I set it aside and finished my eggs while staring into space. There was nothing in this house I wanted to read, so I hopped on my bike and sped to the library, hoping to find something that wouldn't draw my mind to unpleasant topics.
I spent hours there, combing the stacks and pulling out anything that looked promising. Once I'd finally filled my backpack to the point of discomfort, I set out for home, cutting through the streets by taking the trail and hoping I didn't run into a branch or anything. The path needed some serious maintenance.
I got halfway down the trail when I started hearing things. Usually I heard animal sounds my mind would warp into human ones, but I'd never misinterpreted anything into something like what I was hearing now. Instruments. I stopped pedaling and listened harder. There was no mistaking the sound of a badly played oboe. They could be horrible at the best of times. I was either finally losing my mind, or something was really going on. I dropped my backpack in the middle of the track and tore off on my bike at top speed.
The trail passed by an apartment complex, what seemed to be the source of the sound, the parking lot in full view. I stopped and pushed the kickstand down, climbing up the small hill on the side to see where the sound was coming from. What I saw was incredibly confusing at first. There seemed to be about fifty chairs, each seating a different stuffed animal: bunnies, monkeys, bears, even a giant Elmo. They were all facing a set of tables covered in different instruments, the larger instruments sprawling out the concrete: a drum set, double bass, a keyboard.
But what shocked me most of all was the girl. Finished, she had set the oboe back on what I assumed must be the discard table behind her and was now holding a violin in her small hands. She looked strangely familiar: golden red hair to her hips, petite frame, fair skin. I decided I must be imagining things. Of all people for me to discover, Genevieve Jettson would be the one my brain would pull out when I finally lost it. But when I heard her speak into the mic, I knew she had to be real. How many times had I tried to recall the sound of her voice while I was overseas years ago? I stood there like stone, staring at her while she flipped a page on her music stand and took a breath, feeling rather than hearing the tempo she was aiming for as her hands began to play her favorite piece, a concerto by Mendelssohn.
I listened, impressed by how much her skills had improved since I'd last heard her. When she was finished, I decided to announce my presence via applause and stepped over the brush to the concrete, maintaining a distance so I wouldn't appear threatening in case she didn't remember me.
She whirled around at the sound of me clapping, her bow flying out of her hand and knocking a rabbit half out of a Christmas stocking to the ground.
"I'm sorry," I called, staying back. "I heard you playing, so I came to see."
Her body was as still as a statue as she stared at me for what felt like an eternity. I began to suspect she was a mannequin and I really was delusional, until she finally started walking toward me.
"Who are you?" she asked, stopping about twenty feet away. Her eyes looked me over and I suddenly felt self-conscious. Perhaps my hair really had begun to thin like my grandfather's, as I had suspected.
"You actually know me, if you remember. My name is Everett. We had a lot of classes together. You were my principle in the symphony-" she squealed and ran toward me, her arms flung about my torso. I froze for a moment, surprised.
"Well, if I had to go nuts, at least I'm seeing you." She started patting my chest and pinching my face. When she went to tug my earlobes, I gently caught her hands and held them.
"If you're done poking and prodding at me, I can assure you I'm real. I thought you might not be when I saw you at first, too, but it seems we've both been wrong."
Her face flushed and she stepped back. "I'm sorry, I just can't believe it-" she took a deep breath, and her face twisted as tears began to form. "I-" The dam burst, and she covered her face with her hands, sobbing. "You have no idea, I've never been so-"
I pulled her into a hug. At this point, any excuse for human contact was irresistible. "I thought I was the only one left," I murmured, relishing her warmth.
Her hands steadied as she started to calm down and I felt her pull away. "I've been trying-" She paused for another deep breath. "I was just about to leave town and take a road trip around the country. I have never been so scared for so long. I knew I was going to break if I didn't do something, if I couldn't find anyone..." Her voice trailed off, eyes staring into the distance. "Would you like a cup of tea?" she asked, snapping back to reality.
"Why don't we go to my house?" I suggested. "I've been out all day, and I need to feed my dog."
She smiled a bit. "Sure, but I need to feed my cat first."
Thrilled at the prospect of having a guest, I followed her up the stairs and into a third floor apartment. It was a bit messy inside, but smelled pleasantly of lavender and mint. She offered me a bottle of water, making me realize how thirsty I was. I finished it while she dumped the last half of a can of wet food into a dish, and a huge Norwegian forest cat came bounding into the room. She hugged it while it struggled to get to the food, then finally released it. As her pale hands swept the fur from her black dress, she said "I'm going to change real quick," and disappeared into a bedroom, popping out a few minutes later in a flowing t-shirt and yoga pants revealing nicely toned legs. It reminded me of one of the few times I'd been brave enough to compliment her, and she'd responded that all short people had nice calves from being on tiptoe all the time.
"Did you walk here?" Her voice brought me back to the present. "I noticed you must have come up from the trail."
"Biked, actually. I was on my way home from the library."
"Then I will grab mine and follow you home."
We walked down the stairs, and she took her bicycle from the rack at the bottom. It was a nice town bike, basket in front, lower cushioned seat. I would have to watch my speed.
I politely hauled the cumbersome transportation over the little ridge for her and handed it back once we were on the trail. After a short ride the wrong way to retrieve my books, we followed the path to the street and turned right, ignoring the sidewalk, and pedaled down a bit til we got to my street. We took another right and pulled into my house at the end of the block.
"So why did you choose an apartment?" I asked curiously as I held the door for her.
She stepped through and away, frowning. "I tried to live in a nice house, first, but there was too much space. I was afraid to leave any lights off, I couldn't sleep...I was going crazier than I'd like to admit. The apartment slowed that down."
It sounded like she was experiencing a magnified version of the paranoia that had started to eat at me before I organized my life. I put a hand on her narrow shoulder. "I think I know what you mean. Why don't you stay here for a bit- I can make us dinner, we can watch a movie or chat; I don't know about you, but I'm thrilled to find another person, and I would love to spend some time together."
"That sounds amazing," she said, smiling up at me. I headed to the kitchen feeling lighter than I had in months.