I turn around in the store and see you there, right behind me, and neither of us is expecting it. Your smile sends a jolt straight through my stomach. I smile back timidly.
You pick up a bag of tortilla chips from the shelf and walk to the counter, headphones in. I didn’t know you like plain tortilla chips. I wonder what you’re listening to–music? a podcast?–and why… just because, or to drown out the sound of your own thoughts?
My friend and I walk to the counter. I engage her in a friendly argument–do you say it care-a-mel or car-mel?–my brain detached. My voice manages to sound upbeat. My heart is all a flurry and frozen, arrested in uncertain flight, ambushed by vulnerable feeling.
You exit without looking back.
‘You okay?’ my friend asks on the way out. ‘I wish I could have spared you that if I knew.’
I shake my head. I’m crying. ‘No, I’m glad,’ I say. And I am. So happy and so sad. That smile. I saw you today. You smiled at me. And ouch ouch ouch. The missing. The pain of being apart from you stealing my breath again.
What a strange beast this kind of love is.
‘I’m glad,’ I say again. And I mean it. The night is warm. The plastic bag rustles. We put our arms around each other’s shoulders. I wipe my tears with the sleeve of my flannel and march up the hill.