I am Olivia Kaspen, and if I love something I rip it from my life. Not intentionally…not unintentionally either. I see one of them now; a survivor of my tainted, acrid love. He’s a hundred yards from where I stand, flipping through old records.
Caleb. His names rolls around my head like a barbed ball, slicing open feelings that have long since become scar tissue. My heart tries to punch its way out of my chest and all I can do is stand and watch him. It has been three years since the last time I saw him. His parting words to me were a warning to stay away. I suck sticky air into my lungs and try to rein in my sloppy emotions.
I want to go to him. I want to watch the hate surface in his eyes. Stupid. I start to leave and I am almost across the street and to my car when my feet fail me. The sharp tingle of agitation crawls up my fingertips. Clenching my fists I march back to the window. This is my side of town. How dare he show his face here.
His head is bent over a cardboard box of CD‘s and as he turns to look at something over his shoulder, I catch a glimpse of his offbeat nose. My heart clenches. I still love this boy. The realization scares me. I thought I was over it. I thought I could handle something like this; an impromptu run in. I’ve had therapy; I’ve had three years to…
Get over him.
Fester in my guilt.
I muck around in my emotions for a few more seconds before turning my back to the music store and to Caleb. I can’t do it. I can’t go back to that dark place. My foot is lifted to step down from the curb when the clouds that have been lurking around Miami for a week suddenly groan like old plumbing. Before I get two steps, the rain is assaulting the pavement, drenching my white shirt. I back up quickly and huddle underneath the music store’s awning. I stare at my old Beetle through the strands of rain. Just a short run and I’ll be on my way home. A stranger's voice interrupts my moment of escape. I pull back, not sure if he’s speaking to me.
“The sky is red-means trouble.”
I spin on my heels and find someone standing directly behind me. He is closer than what is deemed socially acceptable. I make a surprised sound in my throat, and back up a step. He is at least a foot taller than I am, all muscle, though not in an attractive way. He holds his hands at an odd angle with his fingers tensed and spread apart. My eyes are drawn to a mole that sits like a target in the center of his forehead
"What?" I shake my head, confused. I am trying to peer over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of Caleb. Is he still there? Should I go in?
“It’s an old sailor’s superstition.” He shrugs.
I lower my eyes to his face. He looks vaguely familiar, and, as I consider telling him to screw off, I try to remember where I have seen him before.
“I have an umbrella.” He holds up a floral thing with a plastic handle in the shape of a daisy, “I can walk you to your car.”
I look at the sky, which does appear to be a dusky red, and I shiver. I want him to leave me alone and I am about to tell him so, when I think- What if this is a sign? The sky is red-get the hell outta here!
I study the chipped polish on my thumbnail and consider his offer. I am not one for omens, but he does have a way to keep me dry.
“No, thanks,” I say. I jerk my head toward the store behind me, and realize I had already made up my mind.
“Okay. Hurricane’s coming, but suit yourself.” He shrugs again and steps out into the rain, not opening his umbrella.
I watch him go. His broad back curves against the downpour like a ledge for the rest of his body. He is truly huge. In seconds the rain has swallowed him and I can no longer see his silhouette. I know him from somewhere but surely I would remember such a large guy if I had met him before. I turn back to the shop. The sign above the door reads Music Mushroom, in bright curlicue letters. I look beyond the glass and search the aisles for him. He is right where I left him, his head still bent over what looks like the Reggae section. Even from where I am standing, I can make out a slight furrow in his brow.
He can't make up his mind. I realize what I am doing and cringe. I don't know him anymore. I can’t make assumptions about what he is thinking.
I want him to look up and see me, but he doesn’t. Since I don’t want to lurk underneath the awning like a creepster any longer, I gather my guts, compose myself, and walk through the door. The air conditioning is icy against my damp skin and I shiver. I spot a tall shelf of bongs to my left, duck behind it, and I pull out my compact to check my make-up.
While I spy on him through the slats in the shelves I use a finger to scrub at the smudged mascara beneath my eyes. I have to make running into him look accidental.
In front of me, there is a bong in the shape of Bob Marley’s head. I look into Bob’s glass eyes and practice a surprised face. I am disgusted by the levels to which I stoop. Pinching my cheeks for color, I step out from my hiding place.
Here goes everything.
My heels bite into the linoleum, snapping loudly as I make my approach. I might as well have hired a trumpeter to announce my arrival. Surprisingly, he doesn’t look up. The air conditioner clicks on when I am a few yards away. Someone has tied lime green streamers to the vents. As they begin to dance, I smell something-it is Caleb’s smell, peppermints and oranges.
I am close enough to see the scar that curves itself gently around his right eye—the one I used to trace with my finger. His presence in a room is like a jarring physical impact. To prove this, I see women—old and young shooting him looks, bending toward him. The whole world bends for Caleb Drake and he is charmingly unaware of it. It is truly disgusting to watch.
I sidle up next to him and reach for a CD. Caleb, oblivious to my presence moves down the alphabetized line of artists. I trace his steps and just as I move a few feet behind him,—his body turns in my direction. I freeze and there is a brief second when I have the urge to run. I grind my heels down and watch as his eyes trace my face like he’s never seen it before, and land on the plastic square in my hand. And then, after three long years, I hear his voice.
“Are they any good?”
I feel the shock rush from my heart to my limbs and settle like lead in my stomach.
He still speaks with the same diluted British accent I remember, but the hardness I was expecting to hear isn't there. Something is wrong.
He looks back at my face and his eyes touch each of my features as if he’s seeing them for the first time.