Monday, June 09, 2014

Route 51

They traveled the same route for almost a year now. Marie cannot remember when it started. Somewhere along, she had begun to take notice. Somewhere along, he had begun to belong to her. And then, he wasn't there on the bus one day. Marie kept looking hoping to spot him. Each passing day, she waited for him to show up. He never did. Marie struggled to come to terms with the change.

The reality of this infatuation was sadly brief. A mad grab at hope, jostled close on the crowded bus. There was the one day she had felt him graze his body over hers and unable to move away. “My stop’s coming”, she’d whispered to him, wanting him to somehow prolong their moment. “A lot of folks get off there. You’ll make it”, he’d whispered back, willfully misunderstanding her. Undeterred, she’d drunk in his cologne, stealing eyefuls of the crease of his lips. And that was all. It felt kind of empty and strange, missing him. Marie sat on her bus, playing with the little bits of this man stuck in her heart.

Duke had begun to sense Marie’s obsession with him some time back. He felt a vague sort of narcissism grip him every time they crossed paths. He would smile at Marie a little extra sweetly, almost unconsciously. Marie picked up the appreciation in Duke’s eyes when she took a little extra care to dress. Duke remembered her now and then with a bit of regret. He had left town for good on a sudden new assignment from work. A spectacled woman passenger on his new commute reminded him of Marie. The girl in a short green dress with highlighted tresses shining in the sun. Marie sat remembering Duke’s deep hazel eyes and the riot of freckles on his face. A sigh of regret escaped both lost in each other’s thoughts.

Several years now into different lives each, Marie and Duke have come for dinner at Rick’s rib shack this evening. They see each other and feel a bit restless as each tries to place the other with a name and a context. It’s that man from route 51, realizes Marie just as her husband returns to their table. Duke turns toward Marie again and notices the man approaching her. “Hey!” He’s off the bar stool in an instant coming toward Marie’s table. “Man, what are you doing here? Whoa!” gushes Marie’s husband clearly excited to see Duke. Apparently these two had been classmates for years, having grown up from across the street from each other. Duke accepts Rob’s invitation to join them for the rest of the evening.

Being in consulting, Rob travels a lot and will have to catch a flight later tonight. The couple had decided to eat out to celebrate Marie’s birthday in the little time they had. The evening progressed warmly. The old friends reminisced easily and regaled Marie with hilarious escapades from their days. Time flew and then Rob was shrugging into his jacket as he kissed Marie on the cheek, ready to leave. “Honey, just relax. I know you love desert. Do that here and Duke will keep you company. I will be fine taking the cab.” He’s glad to leave a bit early as the possibility of traffic had been worrying him a wee bit at the back of his mind. He was glad he was not leaving Marie alone. Duke was family.

Marie eyes Duke’s double banded wedding ring askance, as she sips into her cappuccino. It’s a later addition, not from her time, she’s pretty sure. Has Duke recognized her? She can’t tell. The four past years have not been unkind to him. She finds it difficult to focus as she struggles to block her memories of an imaginary relationship with this man. “You’re very quiet”, observes Duke. This young woman had increasingly impressed him over the course of the evening. First, he was curious because of a resemblance he’d noticed with someone he felt he knew. Now, it was just Marie whose company he was enjoying. She was clearly intelligent and had a great sense of humor. Rob was a lucky fellow.

Duke drunk deeply as he emptied the last of the wine and then slipped in the next question, “Is it hard, having Rob travel so much?” Marie says it is not. Her life is pretty irregular too. Her hours are brutal when she’s on a commission as days merge into nights until her work is done. So Rob’s schedule suits her fine. Duke remembers his recent quarrels with Lara about his lack of engagement in their three-year-old marriage. “Where’d you meet?” he asks on an impulse, as he looks up at Marie. “Route 51”, rings silently in his mind, as their eyes meet and the years fall away.

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