MEETING OF A LIFETIME • by David Batteiger

There is an energy in the room, I’m sure, but I can barely notice it over my own anxiety. I share the space with around twenty others, but I know they can’t compare to my devotion and appreciation of his talents. I’ve watched everything he’s done, read every word he’s written, seen every interview given.

It’s not a large space for the number of people, but adequate, with a table full of soft drinks and snacks. I gravitate towards it, grabbing a bottle of cold water, but I don’t think I can stomach chips or a candy bar. I take a seat in one of the chairs against the wall and will myself to stop fidgeting.

A young woman enters the room and the small crowd quells, anticipating her words. She tells us that he’ll be here soon, but that he’s running late. He won’t have as much time to spend with us as he needs to leave for the panel immediately after. I tell myself it’s fine. Even to speak with him for a few minutes will be a dream come true.

And then he’s here, shaking hands and smiling. He looks exactly as I would have expected. Perfect haircut, California tan and that polished Hollywood smile.

He makes his way around to each person quickly, stopping to share a few words, snap a selfie or sign a book. Finally, he’s in front of me. With practiced charm, he grasps my sweaty, outstretched hand, and asks my name. I tell him, my voice dry and caught in my throat. I explain what a big fan I am, how much I’ve enjoyed his work, as he signs my book.

And then he’s gone, whisked away to the next person.

I try to look comfortable, not empty and devoid like I feel, as he makes his way through the remainder of the room. He leaves, thanking the entire room, bidding us to hear him speak at the panel. I will, but with the same vacant enthusiasm filling me right now.

I find myself lagging behind as the others leave, searching for another bottle of water and my self-esteem. The build-up to the moment, the thought that I’d somehow have a meaningful conversation is fading quickly and painfully. I’m realizing I probably said the same things as every other fan. I’m no different or more special than any of them.

“Kind of anticlimactic, isn’t it?” she says.

I hadn’t noticed her in the room before. Preoccupied with the expectation of connecting to an idol, I was oblivious to her and every other star-struck admirer. Her brown hair is back in a messy pony tail, giving way to striking blue eyes. I can’t seem to do anything but stare at her, bewildered.

“You want to skip the panel and go get a coffee?”

I’m taken off-guard by how forward and intent she is. I hesitate but smile back.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she quips with a devious smirk and beguiling eyes that make my face flush with exhilaration. Amongst the shards of my shattered dignity I might have found a shining gem.

Moments later, we’re in a convention center café and she’s sitting across from me stirring a chai latte. Somewhere in the building, the panel is going on and a throng of his devoted are probably peppering him with questions, but all I can do is trace the lines of her face in my mind as we talk.

I finally find my voice and open up, “I feel like such an idiot. Like we were going to trade phone numbers and text each other on the weekends…”

“I know what you mean,” she replies. “I stopped worrying about who I was coming to meet at these things,” she pauses, flashes those arresting crystal eyes, “and wondered who I might meet instead.” She stops and wrinkles her nose as she takes a sip. “Too much cardamom.”

Somewhere in the distance there are cheers from an overcrowded hall, but they are only muffled background noise. I’m here realizing, in this moment, that none of the reasons I came will be important. This will be the meeting I look back on for a lifetime.

David Batteiger lives in Ohio with his wife, two daughters, dog and turtle. He writes works of short fiction to preserve his sanity and entertain the masses, which up until this point has been composed of his wife, daughters, dog and turtle. The turtle has shown the most interest thus far.

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