Fear. Trepidation. To say they were the only things Kate felt as she tried to eat some breakfast. All the while avoiding direct eye contact with the other table guests. Would be an understatement. She also felt a certain sense of elation, nausea and a whole gamut of conflicting emotions. It was Sunday. It was her birthday. She had finally turned that magical number everyone always talked about. And, in a few hours, she was about to add to that long list of craziest things she’d done in her life.
This could turn out to be either the best birthday ever or—she didn’t finish the thought. The four other guests sat around her were bright and cheery chatting. And, in turn, it was inevitable they directed questions to her in making polite conversation. She met them as best she could with a painted smile. Meanwhile, strange butterflies stomped round her stomach. Twenty minutes later, upstairs alone in her room, she threw up in the toilet.
Nerves won out.
Kate wretched into the porcelain, on her knees; it was quick, bitter, and over in moments. Relieved, she sat on the corner of the bed and began chewing three sticks of gum at once. All the while fiddling with the gum packet unaware she was shredding the wrapping onto the carpet. The tiny fluttering pieces, gathered in a pile at her feet.
It was only just coming up for eight thirty. She had at least three hours, three long hours of nerves to deal with. Kate got up from the bed, went to the window, and looked out at the weather. It was cruel and bitter outside. Branches in the trees opposite, across the road, swayed to some hidden rhythm. Snow lay heaped up in banks, and small swirls of air made little ‘devils’ as flakes danced and twirled. The pavements were clear for the most part but icy in places. Today was definitely not a day to head out and walk the streets. Her only option in keeping her sanity a little longer, at least till the museum opened, were the book sellers. She hoped they still plied their trade up around 6th. She could bus or cab it up there and then hide away rummaging through musty old books and first editions she couldn’t afford. Or, she could sit here and chew her fingernails to the quick.
A little after nine, Kate climbed onboard a bus heading uptown.
Kate wondered if she had made a mistake, as she entered the large and grand looking medieval hall. She clutched her down-jacket and winter gear close to her chest. Had she some how missed the Poster? She thought she had done her usual routine of yesteryear. Had gone to the cafe for 12 noon and sat at a table almost in the same place, if memory served her right, and then? Waited, drumming her fingers on the plain white Formica tabletop.
Waiting and watching as the seconds turned to minutes. She had scanned what seemed like a hundred people, come and go, in the last thirty minutes. Minutes she’d spent eyeing each and everyone, ever hopeful. Some had given her a quizzical look when they became aware she was staring at them. Some gave her an annoyed look, some even smiled. But none, not one, had given her any sign that they might be the Poster of the Tribune ad.
Nothing clicked. No one came and sat down and spoke in code: ‘It’s Winter and all the birds have flown south.’
She’d felt—what? Deflated? Confused?
Now, in the gloom of a place that had been one of her favourites spots, Kate stood beneath the giant suspended stained glass window. She took up the place she had always felt was hers. Where light and dark met on the parquet wooden floor. She never broke the perfect image cast down from above. Her feet stayed on the edge, in the dark. As if—as if she would never know the light, never step into it and—
And what? Kate asked herself. Know love?
Dear god what planet am I from?
For a brief moment Kate stared at her feet. She had the overwhelming feeling she just might cry. Something squeezed at her heart. Which now felt like the proverbial fly caught in liquid amber, struggling with the inevitable: a slow, cold death.
“You dropped your hat.” A quiet voice drew Kate from her thoughts.
“Pardon?” She said, not sure she had heard. She turned to see a woman appear out of the shadows from behind her. Tall and willowy was her first impression. The woman moved with a lithe natural grace toward her, before she bobbed down to retrieve the hat. Kate squatted down, following suit, a thank you rising to her lips. It never arrived.
The woman looked up and Kate found herself staring straight into a pair of forest-brown eyes. Eyes that held her in their thrall for several long heartbeats. She fell. Headlong. There was no doubt about it.
It was then that Kate saw the slow shy smile spread across the woman’s face and, without realising it, Kate let out a single word. “Oh!”
“I’m glad you came,” the woman said.
The words were innocuous enough yet, for the second time in as many days, Kate felt her heart do something strange. It exploded. A cascade of warmth spread throughout her chest, she slipped down onto one knee. The woman seemed to wait there for her, unmoving yet smiling.
“Yes—yes I came.” She heard herself reply, while trying hard to swallow and look away. She could do neither.
“Don’t faint on me will you.” The gentle eyes were full of concern.
“What? No!” Kate felt her face flush, as she finally managed to tear her gaze away. She stood. The woman rose with her, standing a good five or six inches taller than her.
Feeling completely flustered, Kate didn’t know where to look. It was hard to gather her wits with this woman stood so close, almost touching her.
Craning her neck, Kate looked up. The face above flushed but also suffused with a glow, a wonderful radiant glow.
Was it joy? Happiness? Kate wondered if this was what the woman saw radiating from her own face, her own eyes. Because that’s what she felt right at that precise moment, something akin to pure joy.
In response, Kate let her mouth spread into a shy smile of her own. Let her eyes light up with the fire she felt rushing through her veins. Let her hand reach out. Allowing her fingers to brush the woman’s hand. And, in reward, felt long delicate fingers slip between her own and squeeze. It was a simple act but one that made Kate’s heart miss several beats.
She found her voice. “You decided to come out of the shadows.” Kate indicated a lone bench, lost in the semi-gloom behind them, obscured by one of the room’s large ornate columns. Kate perceived this was where the woman had sat all that time and watched her, just as the woman had done again today. The woman had been watching for her, knowing her routine.
“Twenty years living in shadows is long enough.” The woman’s eyes clouded a moment before she glanced back at the bench. Kate understood. They had both come a long way.
“Would you like to come and sit in the shadows with me, and talk awhile?” The woman again found a shy smile. The soft voice and eyes wove their magic. Even before Kate had said yes, she was following the woman to the bench, still holding the hand she didn’t want to let go. If the woman had asked her to run around naked in the snow outside with her, she would have said yes to that too.
“Yes—yes please.” She found her voice. It was husky.
They sat. Sat close.
The next words spoken almost made Kate laugh out loud with sheer joy, making her want to kiss the woman there and then.
“Am I embarrassing you holding your hand like this?” The woman’s face was in shadow, unreadable. Looking down at their entwined fingers, Kate stared at the long bony thumb caressing the back of her hand. She remembered she had to breathe.
“It’s just that—” The face came up registering concern. Uncertainty. “It’s just that I don’t want to lose you, now that I’ve found you.”
Kate wondered how one little statement could say so much. It filled her heart. The woman felt something for her, still felt something for her after all this time. She couldn’t help herself; she so wanted to put that soft enigmatic smile back on the woman’s face; to say something to make it light up. But would words alone mean anything?
Without thinking, Kate reached up and caressed the woman’s cheek. She let her hand linger a moment, cupped round the warmth of a cheek. Eyes closed, the woman responded, leaning into her hand.
“I came—I came all this way to find you too.” Kate heard herself say into the woman’s ear, finding she had moved to lean in. Their faces touched cheek on cheek. Kate felt the warm breath tease her sensitive skin. And wondered if her heart would explode with what she felt. Her chest tight, throat choked.
Where had it all come from?
Again, without thinking, she whispered it in the woman’s ear. “I think I’ve been looking for you my whole life.” Wondering if she were making a fool of herself. But then, deciding she didn’t care. She slid her arms round the tall stranger and pulled her into a fierce hug.
With a gentle flutter of her heart, Kate knew, she had finally fallen in love.
This, this is where I want to be. Always.
She didn’t think she had said anything out loud. That is, till the woman pulled back and, with eyes wide, looked down at her in something akin to astonishment. The smile that broke was like a glorious dawn. Kate let it bathed her in its golden light. Then laughed.
“I can’t believe I just said that—I don’t even know your name.” Though Kate was sure she knew the face framed in all that black hair. Knew the smile from memories long since consigned to a place in the back of her mind, where only hopeful fantasies lived. There was a familiarity to the woman Kate couldn’t quite place, and trying hard to place it, frowned.
“Yes, yes you do.” The woman said.
“I’m R. A. Foster on the books I write and illustrate—” adding, “that’s Ruth Ann Foster, you might have heard of me?” The tone was light and teasing.
Kate knew the name, how could she not. Not only was Foster well known for her work on children’s books, but the agency Kate had worked for had represented Foster. In fact, Wendy Pittman, Kate’s then boss, had been Foster’s agent. It was, indeed, a small world.
“And you would be?” Ruth asked with a teasing look.
“What?” The laugh exploded from Kate.
“Kate … Kate Mackenzie,” she touched Ruth on the arm, “but then, you already knew that, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes I did.” Ruth countered, adding as she covered the proffered hand with both her own, “but there’s also so much more I want to know.” The soft mouth stretched.
“That makes two of us,” Kate nodded, feeling something settle in her heart. Something quite new to her. The warm soft glow of love taking flight.
Sitting close, and still holding hands despite the blatant stares of passers-by, they talked. They talked the rest of the afternoon away. Teasing, laughing, flirting, sharing moments of their lives that had, in the end, brought them on a long journey. To finally be together.
— THE END —