After a few blocks of lurking in the shadows, clinging to graffitied walls, and ducking behind putrid dumpsters, my window of opportunity arrived. My threadbare canvas jacket was nearly soaked through from an unending mist. The soft rain cast a foggy veil over the night and formed halos around the light posts. My blood was electric as I darted in and out of neglected alleyways. I was unbothered as I tripped over more than a few sleeping mounds in the darkness of the littered side streets. Their irritation at my presence had been fleeting and they reeked of old liquor. I shuddered to think of what I would find on the bottoms of my shoes in the morning. It did nothing to stunt my determination, the roots of which had dug deep into my core and spread like a compelling poison.
She was worth it.
I was stirred from my reverie when one of the lumps over which I had recently stumbled heaved and let loose a series of gurgling coughs. Disgusted, I held my breath and moved to the other side of the narrow backstreet, not daring to breathe until I put significant space between us. I emerged into the open air of the avenue. After a deep breath, I smiled. It reminded me of the last time I had held my breath there.
The first time her brilliant blonde hair danced past me on the street, a full minute passed before I realized I had stopped breathing. When I inhaled again, the city’s foul air had been punctured briefly by her honeyed and unfamiliar scent. She moved effortlessly through the crowded sidewalk, wholly unaware of the shock wave she had left behind. My stomach was a tangle of wriggling anxieties as I stepped tentatively into her wake. A flurry of thoughts raced and tackled one another in their efforts to reach the forefront of my mind, but nothing could draw my focus from her. The suits and bags of passersby knocked against me as I pushed in opposition to their current, her glistening ponytail always just a few steps ahead. A cobalt sweater set off her platinum locks; its vivid color a beacon in a sea of the typical gray and black shades of city fashion. It hung, comfortably worn, beneath the strap of a messenger bag that bounced on her hip while she navigated the quitting time horde. My pulse quickened when she slowed and I nearly tread on the backs of her white sneakers. Quickly, I sidestepped into the entryway of an adjacent building and slouched against the wall, overcome with exhilaration. After a moment, I poked my head out in time to spot a streak of blonde as she passed through the heavy glass door of the downtown location of a community college.
We walked together most evenings after that. I faithfully waited for her at the bus stop, bouncing uncontrollably when I saw the headlights round the corner, headed my way. My vigilance was rewarded by the briefest of moments when she stepped from the bus and the night air caught her hair and sent it flying. Then she would pull at the yellowed strands until they were coerced in a high ponytail, adjust her messenger bag, and we would be off. We always took the same route. The bus schedule left little time for distraction before her class started and I respected her focus. Once she was safely tucked away in the college’s muted interior, I would take my time retracing our steps to the bus stop. Her honey scent always wafted thickly even after she was gone. Some nights I would lose myself in the memory of it as I waited for her class to end. There were other evenings, like tonight, when time would pass with agonizing stillness. If that were the case, I would roam the cross streets and alleyways, finding distraction in their bedraggled occupants until it was time to return to her. I had never been late before and tonight would be no exception.
The late night walk from the college was followed by a lengthy wait as the bus did not return frequently after rush hour. The flickering tube light cast an unnatural sheen over her, and from where I stood nearby, her hair and skin looked green. She pulled her arms tightly around her body against the night’s chill. I always wondered why she didn’t sit on the peeling bench beneath the awning and chose instead to stand just in front of the stop’s partial enclosure. Tonight, however, that choice was to my advantage. The bus’s schedule and the street’s regular occupants were as familiar to me as my own home. I patiently waited as the last few students entered a nearby parking structure.
Then we were alone.
Though her phone was tightly clutched in one hand, she never looked at it. Instead, her attention was spent looking up and down the sidewalk or into the alley ahead. She did not see me as I stepped from the shadowed side street just behind the bus stop. My breath grew short and my heart raced as I slowly closed the distance between us. My nerves found calm as the familiar comfort of her sweet scent washed over me and I paused to savor it a moment. Nervously, she raised up to her toes and down again, the greenish yellow hue of her ponytail glinting in the pale light. Every move she made sent my nerves back into overdrive and I shivered with anticipation. My hands were sweaty as I balled and opened my fists. I was just a few steps from her now.
At the sound of her name, she turned and I froze. A man I recognized from the college was jogging toward us from the parking structure. He was waving a book and smiling. Abruptly, I turned on my heel and walked past the bus stop. The man went by me as though I were invisible. Their chatter faded as I moved down the block, glancing back only once when I heard the bus approach. A flash of brilliant blonde met my eyes just before the bus door shut. She was gone. I sighed, disappointed, but not angry.
There would always be tomorrow.