I made my way down the overcrowded sidewalk stewing that so few moved out of my path. Could they not see that I was in a hurry? Winter was in the air and I’d forgotten my coat when I’d rushed out my door that morning late for a job I despised. On top of that, my day had been arduous, my boss especially hard to get along with, and I’d left work five minutes too late to make the train and was now faced with a long walk home. I wanted nothing more than to get to my apartment, pour myself a drink, and put my feet up.
A sound, carried on a cold gust of wind ripe with smells that only exist in a big city, drew me out of my sullen thoughts. I paused in the headlong rush that was my life, to listen. All around me the cacophony of noise faded to the background as it the city itself wanted to discern what I’d heard as well.
It was in that unexpected, eerie silence that I heard the noise again. Someone was crying. More to the point, a woman was crying. But where was she? The crowd thinned for the briefest of moments allowing me to see a figure sitting on the curb, her feet inches from the rush of traffic. She was hunched over, her long raven hair forming a curtain that blocked my view of her face. It was surreal. Without even seeing her clearly, I knew she was young and beautiful. And for some unknown reason I felt certain she was the the woman of my dreams. My destiny.
I shoved my way to her and lowered myself to the curb a foot or so away. Far enough away so as not to frighten her too badly, yet close enough to be heard over the noise of the city around us. I urgently hoped that my being clean cut and attired in suit and tie would assure her I was of no threat to her safety. I gave her a couple minutes to acknowledge my presence, and when she didn’t, I softly tapped her shoulder.
She glanced up, giving me a glimpse of beautiful brown eyes, red-rimmed and brimming with tears, and full lips, all set in the face of an angel. She looked away quickly, swiping tears from her cheeks as she did.
“Please sir, leave me alone.”
A gentleman would have heeded her request. I couldn’t, I was enraptured. “Tell me what makes you so sad. Perhaps I can fix it for you”
“You can’t fix this,” she said on a sob. “I’ve lost mi Amore.”
Amore. That was Italian for love, and the way the accented words rolled off her tongue filled my head with visions of romantic candle lit dinners with red wine and even redder roses. I’m ashamed to admit that my heart gave a little leap. If she’d lost her love, then perhaps I stood a chance. Though I did hope she’d not lost him to some horrible accident or despicable disease. I patted her back.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. Losing someone you love is never easy.”
She sniffled and nodded her thanks. “He was the love of my life. We’d been together for ever so long. I thought we’d have much more time.”
My heart sank. How could I pursue this beautiful woman when her heart was breaking for the one who was gone? The answer to that was that I couldn’t. But I could be a friend, and she obviously needed one of those right now. I reached over and grasped one of her, chilled, trembling hands.
“Come, let me buy you a coffee. I can’t fix a broken heart, but I’ve been told I’m an excellent listener. Perhaps the way I can help would be to be a sounding board for your memories.” Shame colored my cheeks. What kind of man did it make me that I would willingly subject myself to hearing the tales of her lost love just to be able to spend more time in her presence?
I saw trepidation in her eyes, but I also saw a longing. Not for me, but for someone to talk to. I could have sworn there was a bit of interest for me mixed in that look, but deep down I knew that couldn’t be so. My heart stuttered when she withdrew her hand from mine and shook her head.
“No, it wouldn’t be right. I don’t know you. And why would you care to hear my stories?”
In desperation, I stood and held my hands out to her. “Who better to unload your heart to than a stranger who you’ll probably never see again? You’ll be free to share whatever you need to, to help you deal with your pain. All with the knowledge that there’s little chance our paths will ever cross again.”
She looked up at me through long, dark lashes for what seemed an eternity. Finally, she nodded and slipped her hands into mine. With a sigh of relief, I pulled her to her feet and tucked her hand into the crook of my arm. We talked as I led her to a nearby coffee shop. It was the hesitant chatter of the newly acquainted, but to me it felt so right. I learned her name was Angelique and told her mine was Bernard. I thrilled at the way her accent gave my long-detested name a new life.
We settled into our seats at a small table by the window, and parted ways long after the sun had set.
That day was the first of many we spent in each other’s company. Even though it meant a long walk home, each evening I skipped the train and headed to the spot where I’d first found her. At first it was just to meet for coffee. Then the coffee dates gradually expanded into dinners, and then to outings see a movie or visit a museum.
In the beginning our talks centered around her Amore as she insisted on calling him. I heard of the long walks they used to take. Of evenings spent in each other’s company watching television, sitting in front of their fireplace, or visiting family and friends. Eventually though, talk of her lost love dwindled and we got to know each other.
We talked of her love of cooking and her dream to go to school and become a world-famous chef. I learned she was the youngest of eight siblings, the only girl and the apple of her papa’s eye. She told me of growing up here in the city in a tiny walk-up, all ten of them crammed into an apartment meant for a much smaller family. I reveled in the joy and pride she emanated when she told me how her father’s hard work had paid off and he’d been able to open his own restaurant the year she’d graduated high-school. It was through him and her mama that she’d learned her love of the culinary arts.
I told her of my ordinary upbringing in a small town with just me, my younger brother, and my parents. How I’d watched my father toil day in and day out at a job he detested and how that I believed that was what had driven him to an early grave. With shame, I told her that even though I’d vowed I would never do what he’d done, that I’d come to the city only to take the first job offered simply to escape the stifling confines of the town of my youth. Falling into the same patterns my father had, only without the wife and children. I told her how I envied her dreams and her goals because I felt I was trapped in a cycle I saw no means of escaping. I confessed to her that my dreary existence had ended the day I’d met her and how now my life was one of hope and happiness.
It was on the day the first snowflakes of winter were drifting dreamily to the ground that it happened. The moment I’d dreaded might come to pass from the first when she’d told me her Amore had simply left one day and never returned. For who in their right mind would simply walk away from such an amazing woman?
I’d spotted her long before she spotted me. I watched as she stood by the curb, clutched her coat around her, and lifted her face to catch a snowflake on her tongue. I knew in that minute, that very second, that I was hopelessly in love with my beautiful Angelique.
As I grew near, I knew the very instant she’d spotted me. Her face lit up and she sprinted toward me, her arms wide. “Oh, Mi Amore, you’ve returned!”
I was a little taken aback by her greeting, but I also knew that amore was a term of endearment. A part of me was upset that she would choose to call me what she’d called him. But a bigger part of me was pleased that I’d earned that place in her heart. I grinned and spread my arms to receive what looked like would be an enthusiastic and fulfilling embrace. I could almost feel her lush body pressed to mine. Taste those full, red lips again. So, it was quite a shock when she swept right past me. With a heavy heart, I turned to see who the lucky recipient was.
As she swept her Amore into her arms, I took in his lush dark hair and the excitement in his eyes. I watched as he placed kiss after kiss on her lovely face and she on his. But even with all that, my heart sang and joy bubbled up inside. For you see my true love’s Amore had floppy ears, a big wet nose, and a long tail that beat the air with his delight. Angelique’s Amore, her one true love, was a dog. A big goofy dog who in taking his foray into the city had enabled me to meet my own one true love.
She turned to me, her face alight with happiness. “Come Bernard. Come meet Mi Amore.”
With a light heart, I knelt on the dirty city sidewalk to meet my true love’s Amore.