I saw her for the second time in six years at a record store south of Old Town, near the Jazz, Blues and Standards section, leafing past Glen Miller and Thelonius Monk. She was dressed in beige and had her hair drawn back like I never had. She looked almost sixteen. Wire glasses and leather boots. Bangles on her wrist. She was with friends, and that made me happy. They called her Lara. It sounded pretty when they said it. I wish we had named her that.
It was October and it was cold, and I had gone inside because snow was falling and I didn’t feel like walking home. I used to come into Kaffie’s a lot those days. It was a small music shop tucked between a grocer’s and an Oxfam that looked hand-me-down itself. They didn’t have many CDs then, and I like to think they still don’t, but they had plenty of cassettes. Rows and rows of empty plastic cartridges with their inserts missing, replaced by cardstock cutouts with album names scrawled on in sharpie. They had a listening station in the back behind a set of red drapes. The headphones were shoddy but worked ok if you twisted the jack just right. When things were moving too fast, I would close those drapes and listen to old American standards and pretend I was anywhere but Edinburgh. I liked Fats Waller and Charlie Parker. He liked the Ink Spots. We listened to their single “If I Didn’t Care” in the hospital after she was born. I fell asleep with him holding my hand. When I woke later, the room was dark, and he was gone. It was a feeling I hadn’t grown accustomed to then. He would’ve stayed longer, he told me later. But I looked small in that bed without her. Small, and fragile. And so he left.
When I saw her standing in Kaffie’s so many years later, the place that had always been my place, I didn’t recognize her. At least, not at first. But there was something familiar about her that held my gaze. I stood behind the stacks of Contemporary and Classics and listened to her and her friends, and I watched the way she laughed and talked and curled the corner of her mouth when she smiled. It reminded me of someone I had known. A girl who had once been sixteen and beautiful just like her. And I felt something I can’t rightly describe; like I was seeing something blurry up close. She saw me watching and looked over. She didn’t recognize me, but they never do. Time changes us all in different ways. Before long we’re not the person we were and thought we would be.
I remembered how my cheeks grew hot and red, like I had been caught doing something I shouldn’t. I made myself busy and moved to a different section of the store, far enough away that I couldn’t hear what they were saying but close enough to see her still. They stayed a while and searched the albums and found little. Lara was the only one that bought anything. She stayed behind to pay while the rest went out. I was standing where she had been not long before when she found me and asked a question I wished I could’ve answered differently:
“Do I know you?”
“I think I must know you. Or have seen you around some place or other. Maybe you have one of those faces. One of those faces that everyone thinks they know but don’t actually know.” She paused. “I’m talking too much, aren’t I?”
“Sorry, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“I’m Lara.” She extended her hand. “Now we have.”
I shook her hand. It felt warm and different from my own. “Beth,” I said. “My name is Beth.”
“I thought maybe if I heard your name I’d remember. But nope. I don’t know any Beths. Would you believe it?”
“I guess it’s not that common anymore.”
She pointed to the tattoo on my arm where the tracks had been. “What’s your tattoo mean?”
I lowered my sleeve. “It’s an apple.”
“I mean, I know what it is, but what does it mean?”
“I never really thought about it.”
“You know those things stay around forever?”
“That’s the idea.”
She frowned, thinking. “‘The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.’ That’s a line, right?”
“I just like apples.”
There was a moment of silence. And then I said, “I forget about it sometimes. The tattoo, I mean. I’ll look down and see it, and it looks like somebody else’s arm. And I’ll move it, and for a brief moment, it feels like somebody else’s arm too. It’s strange. I don’t know.”
Lara looked at me then, and her expression changed. I felt like the stranger I had become, foreign and unwanted. “Well,” she said. “Well, it was nice to meet you—”
“That’s right. Anyway, it was nice to meet you, Beth, but I should be going. My friends will be wondering…”
“What do you have to be sorry for?”
“For keeping you waiting.”
“You don’t need to apologize. I talked to you.” She paused and began to say something more, but the words never came. She blushed. Mumbled goodbye. And then left.
I remember standing in the store alone, surrounded by those empty cassettes and faded music posters. Something by the Kinks was playing over the stereo. My skin itched, and I felt like crying. I hadn’t cried for some time.
“Are you looking for something?” the old man behind the counter asked.
I said yes. Yes, I was looking for something.
Nicholas Anthony is a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, where he studied English and Communications. He has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Gone Lawn, and Danse Macabre, and won the 2014 McCann Short Story Award. He currently resides in San Luis Obispo.