It was a bright summer day. I remember waking up all excited. It was the first day of school and I was eager start. Looking out of the window, I remember not seeing a single cloud in the sky. As if someone had taken a brush and cleared it so that nothing would disturb this day.
My first class of the day was “Introduction to Human Rights", and that’s where I met him."
"Yes. I was running late, and by the time I arrived, there was only one seat left.”
“Let me guess” Trish pretended to make an educated guess “Next to him.”
“Exactly” Anna confirmed.
“So, did you bond right away?”
“Well I wouldn’t call it right away,” Anna laughed.
Trish remained still. The look on her face suggested she was waiting for an explanation, so Anna went on.
“We’ve spent almost the entire lecture arguing about the curriculum.”
“What do you mean?” Now Trish was simply confused.
“You see, the course was a general introduction to the law of human rights. It was supposed to discuss the evolution of this law in all its aspects, but for some reason, Professor Thea Schmidt, who was teaching this class, focused mainly on women's rights. Daniel disapproved of it. In his opinion, our struggle has already bared its’ major fruits and there are other groups that are in much bigger need of the laws’ help and protection.”
“That’s when you knew?”
“No. At first, I thought he was just another clueless and full- of- himself kind of guy. You know, the kind that goes to law school just because it sounds good with the girls.
He completely fit the profile: tall, dark hair, green eyes and a smile that said: “I can say anything and get away with it”. So, my initial thought was to ignore him. But, something in the way he spoke, the passion in his voice while he was making his arguments just didn’t add up with the rest, so I decided to go along.
I set my own arguments directed to show him just how much women's struggle for equality is far from over. I was so focused on my speech that I didn’t pay attention to how carefully he was listening to me.
By the time I was finished, I lifted my eyes up only to see him staring at me with a big smile smeared all over his face. All my enthusiasm immediately changed into a big sense of disappointment.
“But of course, you wouldn’t understand how serious it is, you’re just a guy…”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you, on the contrary, it's nice to meet someone who is as passionate about these things as I am”, he insisted.
“Actually, I think our passion refers to quite different things” I committed quite sharply, hoping this would be the end of our conversation. Apparently, he had a different idea”.
“Not really,” he proceeded “first, I want to apologize again. What I said earlier, I didn’t mean to disrespect, I know that women are still struggling, I guess… everyone identifies with what's closet to them.”
“Right…” my impatience was getting the best of me by now “So, what struggling movement are you a part of exactly?”
Daniel laughed, “It’s not exactly a movement,” he replied, “but, we do have a parade once a year.”
"I'm gay" he added just to be certain.
There weren’t many times in Anna's life when she was left speechless. This was definitely one of them.
“I’m so sorry,” she managed to scramble while sinking deeper into her chair, as if it could make her disappear or at the very least, her shame.
“It’s ok,” said Daniel, still quite amused by the whole situation.
“Can we start over?”
“Hi, I’m Anna”.
“Nice to meet you, Anna, I’m Daniel."
“That’s it”. Anna pulled her shoulders to sum.
“That’s how we met. We’ve been best friends ever since”.
“Right”, Trish nodded. She had that teasing look in her eyes implying that she was thinking, or even worse, going to say something not entirely appropriate.
“Well, if you can’t have it any other way, I suppose it’s the next best thing”.
“Ok, you are crazy, and I have to go to class.” She gave Trish a farewell kiss before heading her way.
The truth was, she had a few more moments until her lesson but, she decided that this conversation wasn’t really going anywhere so it’s better to spend her time on something more useful, like drinking a cup of coffee.
“If you ever get tired of looking at him, give me a call, I'll be happy to replace you.” She could still hear Trish's' voice following her from behind.
“That girl has serious problems,” Anna smiled to herself.
She met Trish last year by what began as a strange and a rather annoying incident.
In her final semester that year, she took a class called” The Feminist Legal Theory". It was supposed to be a very interesting course, discussing the rise and impact of feminism upon the law.
Professor Gabriella Williams who delivered it, was a world-known lecturer on this matter and Anna was looking forward to learn and to be inspired.
However, in the last moment, something unexpected happened, and the Professor dropped the course. Some speculated she got sick; others blamed it on a rocky relationship with the management. In all cases, Ms. Hellen Braun, her replacement was far less exciting.
It’s not that she wasn't familiar with the material, on the contrary, she seemed to have quite the knowledge. Being the descendant of the late Elizabeth Stanton, one of the leading figures of early feminism, and, an active feminist of her own. However, it was her inability to pass it on properly that hurt her as a teacher.
She spent the entire lecture talking in the same monotonic voice that did little to arouse interest or even maintain that which was already there. Therefore, what Anna imagined to be one of the more exciting classes, turned out to be one of the most disappointing ones.
Thus, when she had to write the final paper, she had no idea where she was going to start. She couldn’t rely on her notes from class, there weren’t any. She tried to write some for several times but, ended up using them as a pillow. The only thing she did have, was a list of the literature required to complete the paperwork that was sent to them by email.
Needless to say, Anna wasn’t looking forward to writing this paper. She used every possible excuse in the book to postpone it to the very last moment.
When she finally got to it, her luck came through for her and the library contained most of the books she required, except for one.
A quick check on the computer revealed that there were five copies of that book and they were all borrowed.
“Never mind,” she thought, “that one is only relevant for the end”.
She could start with the rest and then come back to check on this one in a few more days. In any case, she had a whole week to get it done and the librarian said that one of the books is due to be returned in 3 days.
It came as a big surprise to her to learn how easy writing this paper was, despite her inactive participation in class. In fact, the more she read, the more it reignited the initial passion she had when she first signed up for this class. She began to think of all these ordinary women who started this struggle. Mainly what was it that made them suddenly stop doing, and instead start asking.
"We are all born into a certain reality and most of us will spend our entire lives living in it without questioning.
You get into the water, just like the rest of the people around you and you start to swim. But, what about those who don't? Those who dare to stop, to raise their head above the water for a moment and question where it is that they are going, and do they even want to get there? Or maybe there is another way that is more right for them to go?
They say ignorance is a blessing, and maybe sometimes it is, because swimming against the current could really do mean sacrificing everything you hold dear.
So, what was it that drove them do it anyway?
Was it their strong belief in the idea or the ability to see beyond themselves and sacrifice their own lives for the greater good?
We tend to think that people like that must be fearless, but I think that they are simply more afraid of not doing anything, because, here is the thing about ignorance- once it's gone, and you see the truth, you can never go back”.
Anna put down her pen. She didn’t even remember when she picked it up and began writing. This wasn’t a part of her assignment. She had no idea what she was writing it for, but she had a feeling she would be doing more of it one day.
By the end of the third day, the paper was almost done, in exact timing to go get that last book. Thus, the next morning, at exactly eight, Anna reported at the library. Feeling all cheered up that this assignment turned out to be not as burdensome as she initially thought it would be, she turned to the librarian.
“I'm sorry, the book was requested for a delayed return. It will not be returned for another three days but, I see that there is another copy due to be returned tomorrow. You can come back then if you'd like.”
She didn’t like it, but there was nothing she could do about it. She had no way of tracking who had the book and she couldn’t rely on technology to help her in this case. There are some things you just can’t google.
"Thank you ", Anna tried not to let her emotions overcome her manners, after all, it wasn’t the librarians’ fault the book wasn’t there.
The next day the book still wasn’t there and so was the day after. With only two days left, Anna began to feel the pressure rising.
“Maybe you can ask for an extension on your deadline?” Madison, that was the librarians’ name, tried to help.
“Are you kidding?” said Anna slowly releasing a sigh of despair "After I spent most of her classes trying not to fall off the chair in my sleep, I’d be lucky if she gives me the time of day. I’m beginning to think maybe she’s the one holding all the books just to punish me for that.”
“I recognize this book” a third voice suddenly crushed the party, if you could call it one.
When Anna turned her head to see who that voice belongs to, she stumbled across a somewhat of an energy ball, wrapped up in a small round body, with a similar round face that was framed by a red curly hair. On the tip of her nose, she wore a big cat-shaped glasses that enhanced her big greed sparkling eyes that were followed by a big purple hazed smile.
“I think my roommate has it. I’m pretty sure she’s done with it and she just forgot to return it.”
“She studies Sociology and Anthropology so I’m guessing she needed it for some research she was doing”.
The new girl then went on describing her roommate to a T.
“I’m Trish by the way” she finally introduced herself.
“It’s nice to meet you, Trish, I’m Anna.”
“Are you sure it’s the same book?”
“I’m sure. I love books and I rarely forget a book I see. You can ask Madison; she sometimes uses my help in this place.”
Madison nodded her head to confirm. Trish promised to talk to her roommate as soon as she got back to her dorm and if all goes well, Anna was set to come pick the book later that day.
“I don’t know how to thank you” Anna concluded. “You are saving my life you know, well, at least my academic one”.
“Don’t thank me yet, let’s make sure you get your book first, then we can discuss payment; I accept a big cup of latte, self-made frosted muffins, you know the ones that are hard on top but soft and warm inside and men which are a combination of both” she winked.
That night, at exactly nine PM, a knock was heard on door number 12 at the Weld Building.
On a normal day, Anna would probably be late. Punctuality wasn’t her strongest quality, Daniel and she often discussed that, but tonight she couldn’t afford to take any chances.
"Trish, it's Anna, are you there?"
Anna looked again at the address Trish had given to her earlier in the library.
“Elm doors, entrance B, room twelve” she repeated to herself.
Anna lived at "Ivy’s" which was about five minutes apart, unlike Daniel, who was taking a residence at the “Crimson’s”, located all the way across the yard.
“Daniel…" she was suddenly reminded of him, "he is going to have so much fun with this if it's not going to work out".
When she first got this assignment, Daniel urged her to finish it as soon as possible. Not only so that it wouldn’t weight on her, but also to prevent situations just like this. But Anna just dismissed him. Lucky for her, she was granted with great resourcefulness that allowed her to easily find solutions for almost any problem or obstacle that may arise, even in the last minute. This time, however, it seemed that she was running out of options.
“Come on Trish, open up” She raised her hand to knock again when the door suddenly opened.
“Hi, come on in. I’m sorry, I was in the shower, didn’t think you'd come so early.”
“What you mean early? Its five after nine now. We did say nine, right?” Anna checked her watch just in case.
“Yes, we did, it’s just that I’m used to when people say nine, it usually means nine-thirty at best”.
“Oh, how I wish Daniel could hear you now”.
“Who?” Trish’s head peeked out of the kitchen door.
“Never mind” Anna waved her hand. She looked around. It looked just like her place; central living room attached to a small kitchen, bathroom with toilet (she could never understand that combination) and two rooms. One of them was closed with the name “Tina” written on a dried piece of paper. The other one was widely opened.
“That must be Trish's room” she got closer to look inside. At first glance, it looked like one of Picasso's finest work; A bunch of unrelated things was thrown all around the room in the most colorful mixture she has ever seen.
On the left side wall, five shelves looked like they were about to pass out from the burden of the tens of books they were struggling to hold. There were books standing and lying on each other and some squeezed breathlessly in between. Beneath the shelves, there were an additional two piles of books arising from the floor.
“She wasn’t kidding about loving books…”
Anna herself loved reading, but this was a whole other level.
The central wall was all covered up with notes, posters of bands Anna has never heard of, but looked like they had popped out of some cartoon movie, alongside posts of upcoming shows at the city’s Opera House and Theatre, and of course the schedule of “The Boston Book Club”.
Underneath all that was the writing desk, although, you could only guess that based on the four legs that were supporting it, the rest you'd have to complete by imagination since the top of it was hidden underneath a bunch of papers and some additional open books.
The third wall luckily was mostly occupied by a big window but, next to it stood the closet that looked like it had nausea which resulted in the ejection of almost all its content on the bed.
Overall the place looked nothing less than a complete mess, and yet, there was something very warm and inviting about it, just like in its owner.
“Ohh, sorry about the mess, I wish I could blame it on the hard week, which I indeed had but, unfortunately, it looks like that any other week as well".
“Actually, I think it has a certain charm to it”.
“You do?” Trish said surprisingly, hiding a little bit of hope underneath.
“Yes, I mean it’s a mess but, it has character; personality, I like it” Anna stretched her shoulders. “If you want though, I can help you clean.“
The truth was Anna didn’t have the time for it. She had to go back to her dorm and write the paper, however, she was so thankful to Trish, she wanted to return her the favor.
It took them nearly three hours and by the time they were finished, Anna knew everything about every book in that room. It was one of the more interesting conversations she ever had, except for the ones she has with Daniel.
Trish thanked Anna and placed a book in Anna's hands.
“I hope you’ll find what you need there”.
Anna took the book and pressed it against her chest.
“I can’t believe I am actually going to be able to finish this paper. I was beginning to think it was a lost cause and, just the thought of asking the professor for an extension… after falling asleep in her face practically every lesson…”
“Yeah… that could have been unpleasant”.
“To say the least…anyway, I want to thank you again for everything”.
“It’s ok really, in a way you’ve helped me too and I don’t just mean the cleaning”.
Anna’s face suggested she wasn’t following.
“The thing is” Trish Shaw to explain “I really did have a tough week…"
“You see” she went on explaining, “Each year, my parents and I take a trip to our homeland Greece for a reunion with our family. It’s always a big event and this year it’s especially important because my grandfather isn’t well.
When we got the exam schedule 2 months ago, after a careful examination, I saw I had a one-week break, so I told my parents to book the flight for these dates. Then, two weeks ago, the university suddenly notified that the date of the exam has been moved up three days!".
“Have you tried talking to the faculty? Ask them to let you take the second date?”
“I did, but they didn’t want to listen. They just said that I shouldn’t have scheduled anything until the end of the examination season”.
“So, what did you do?”
“What could I do? I flew to see my family. There is no way I was going to miss that and now I don’t know what to do. The second date for the exam is supposed to be tomorrow and I still haven’t been able to convince them to let me take it. If I don’t do it, I’ll have to repeat the course and you know what that means…”
Anna knew exactly what it meant.
“Anyway, you helped distract me a little bit from all of it so thank you for that…”
“That’s just wrong!” Anna caught herself thinking out loud.
“Yes well, there is nothing more I can do. At the end of the day, I'm just one person...fighting a Goliath like that... let's be honest, I didn't have many chances, to begin with..."
"You do know Goliath eventually lost right?"
"Yes, of course, I know" Trish pretended to be offended "but I doubt this can the case nowadays. This is just how our world works."
"Hmmm …" Anna did her thinking face, "I think you are looking at it the wrong way" she continued.
"First of all, just because things are the way they are, doesn't mean it's the way they're supposed to be. In some cases, you just have to try harder or be more creative and secondly… you are not one anymore" she winked and turned away to leave.
"Wait, where are you going?"
"I think I can help you. What time is the exam tomorrow?
"Ahh at five PM," said the confused Trish "What exactly are you planning to do?"
"Leave that to me. Consider it a thank you for today, considering I haven’t brought you coffee or muffins and the only decent guy I know here is my friend Daniel and he's gay, so he won't do you any good."
Anna smiled and while turning away to leave, she noticed that for the first time since they’ve met, it was Trish that had the surprised look on her face; she liked it.
The next morning Annas' first stop was at the student's com. Ten minutes later she was on her way to the Dean of the Art and Science faculty and her last stop was the University's Dean. Needless to say, no one was expecting her but that never stopped her before. Setting up appointments was for matters that could wait, but this wasn't the case.
It was half past nine when she left the Deans' office; Professor Dan had his visiting hours from nine to ten in the morning today and it takes exactly fifteen minutes to get from the point where she was standing to his room; she loved when things got along. It reminded her of the "Tetris" game she used to play when she was little, where each shape falls perfectly into its neighbor space to create a perfectly smooth line.
"Just like this day is going to be," she thought. She texted Trish telling her to meet her at the library at four in the afternoon. She figured that should give the board enough time to decide her request.
At a quarter to four, Anna still hasn’t heard anything. She was beginning to feel restless. She hated to lose in general but, in this specific case, she was more upset about disappointing Trish.
"Maybe I should give the Dean a call," she thought and as she was picking up her phone to dial, she noticed a small round figure moving at a colossal speed toward her; Trish. She was all giggly and perky and not showing any sign of slowing down as she got closer. Before Anna even had the chance to do anything, Trish's arms were already hanging around her, expressing her all 120 pounds of gratitude.
"I just got a call from the Deans’ office," she said when she finally let go "they are allowing me to take the test. It turns out that no one else failed it so they are going to do it as an oral exam, just for me".
"That’s great," said Anna with a sense of relief. "they must have called her directly," she thought.
"Yes, it is, thank you so much".
"I'm just glad I could return you a favor. To be honest, I was beginning to lose hope when they didn’t call me back".
"Well they did, and something tells me there was no question about it. You don't fail much do you?"
Anna remained quiet, but in her eyes you could see a glint of pride. When it came down to fighting for what she believed was right, especially concerning other people, there really was no stopping her.
"So how did you do it anyway?"
"The only way I know how. By using the K.M.C method."
" "K" is for knowledge. Whenever you are dealing with something like that, first, you need to know what or who you are up against. Also, you need to know your own rights and what possible ways of action you have."
"Then" she continued "Once you've figured that, you move on to "M".
“M…” Trish tried to guess what’s next “making sure you’ve got all the information?"
" “M" is how nowadays’ David fights. In contrast to what you may think, today’s strongest weapon is not the bottom box. It doesn’t require the use of dangerous substances and it can be operated by every two years old. Media. It can make you or break you with a single post. Unfortunately, like any weapon, it is often used for destruction but, in your case, it can be used properly to right a wrong.”
“Don’t forget” Anna added,” M” also stands for the key player in almost every one of Goliath’s decision. At the end of the day, it’s cheaper to retest you then to cover a possible scandal that this story could create.”
Trish listened carefully, taking notes in her mind. She was impressed.
“The final component is "C". Confidence. Forget how big they are and how small you are. Focus on whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Look them in the eyes and make your arguments based on the knowledge you have acquired. Never lose your temper or talk disrespectfully because that is the exact sign of weakness. Also, never make threats but remind them that you do have ways of actions and through that, make them see that the solution you want is also the most beneficial for them. Most people, including the ones you’re facing, are only interested in their own gain. So, if you manage to make them see it in your proposal, you probably got them.”
What she failed to mention that day is that she had one more card in her pocket. Anna’s father, Andrew Smoke, was a successful lawyer, a Harvard graduate and no stranger to the Dean. She knew that if she asked him to, he could help her, but she preferred not to do so. She favored the direct approach much more.
A clumsy passerby brought Anna back from her daydreaming just as she was about to enter her favorite café.
“What a strange day, “she thought to herself.
"You don’t usually think about how you’ve met your friends. The really good ones especially, it seems they’ve always been there."
“Maybe it’s the timing” she took a deep sip from the fresh coffee she was just brought.
In just a few months she, Daniel and Trish will be graduating.
Four years fly by fast. There were a lot of things she would happily leave behind, midterms being on the top of her list. She was excited about stepping out into the world and using everything she has learned to make a difference. Daniel used to make fun of her, calling her naïve, even though he himself had some pretty big ideas he wanted to pursue and Anna knew that deep down he was hoping she succeeds not just for her sake.
Nonetheless, there were some things about this period of time in her life that she knew already she was going to miss: being able to see her friends on a daily basis, missing a class or two just to stay in bed or even this cafe she was sitting in right now.
She found it completely by accident a few months ago. One day she decided to take a walk around to clear her head when she realized she was lost. As she began walking around trying to find her way back, she stumbled across an old passage between buildings. Overcame by her curiosity, she decided to go in.
It was a new, modern neighborhood, with buildings so high you could barely see their end watching at you from above, laughing cheerfully as you try to escape, with not much luck, from the dazzling sunlight reflected from their shiny frontier, hoping it will finally prevail you to enter and try all that they have to offer, which is why Anna was so surprised to see what she saw.
Inside, she found herself standing in the middle of a small square. The buildings supporting it didn’t resemble the rest of their surroundings. They were old, yet well preserved, with planters decorating every window, and trees climbing the outside and from within the small cracks of the walls. In between the leaves, small colorful light balls were peeking like children playing hide and seek.
For some regular passerby who isn’t looking intentionally for this place, chances are it will pass unnoticeably, faded into the background of the towers. Even if one makes a quick stop, you could never guess from its dull and rather shy outside appearance what it holds inside.
In the middle of the square, stood an old almond tree. It was just beginning to blossom so you could see the tiny flowers peeking out from their buds, trying to catch the last beams of light. Standing under it gave you a full view of the surroundings. Each building had a coffee house below or a small restaurant, but one specifically caught Anna's eye. It was named "Emily's House" and it really did look like one. It was all made of wood from the outside and within.
From the open windows, you could see the light of the fire coming from the big kitchen oven meets with the one from the giant chandelier and together spread to lighten up the candles upon the tables. There were only eight small wooden tables, decorated with green and white paper tablecloths. In the middle of each table, stood a small porcelain doll in the shape of a girl carrying buckets of water or a boy chopping wood, accompanied by a cat or a dog licking his hands and feeling extremely happy about it.
The walls were covered with black and white pictures of endless mountains and hills. Some had cows or sheep grazing the grass next to a farm or just in the open. A group of people reappeared in almost all the pictures. But the most amazing thing there was the scent of fresh pastries that caused any passerby to be drawn to it instantly
Anna wanted to know more about the place; where did the inspiration came from, who are the people in the photos and most importantly, who is Emily. But, none of the several employees she talked to, could give her a straight answer. All they could tell her is that the owner was an old lady and after she left, she passed on the business to her granddaughter Sophie, who was now an orchard. Recently she had to leave on an urgent family matter but was due back any day.
In the following weeks, Anna visited frequently at Emily’s hoping to meet Sophie and get some answers. She had a good scent for stories, and she had a feeling that this one is particularly good. As time went by and there was no sign of Sophie, Anna was about to give up, until one day, she came in only to have witnessed an unusual sight. All five members of the staff were standing in a straight line, arms beside their bodies, like soldiers. The small crease between their eyes was showing on and off again as they were following closely the figure in front of them. The latter was marching back and forth, giving them directions. When she saw Anna at the door, she stopped talking.
“I’m sorry,” said Anna when she finally got out of her state of shock, “I didn’t realize you were closed”.
“Actually, we were just about to finish, you can come in”.
She thanked the staff and released them to their duties.
“I’m sorry about that; I just got back after quite a long absence, so we had a lot to catch up “.
“You are Sophie “Anna's eyes lit up when she realized she would finally be able to put her curiosity at rest.
“Yes, that’s right, can I get you anything?”
“Actually, I was hoping you could tell me a little more about this place and about Emily”.
“You want to hear about my grandmother? Why?”
Anna was used to having people looking at her in a bizarre way, not understanding why she would care to know about something that had nothing to do with her, but she didn’t mind.
“I would just like to know more about the history of this place”.
Sophie maintained her suspicious look for a while longer and then she pointed her finger at one of the pictures on the wall:
“That’s her, Emily”. The picture she pointed on had five people, standing in the background of a big house. Emily was the one in the middle. She must have been somewhere in her thirties. Her hair was accurately styled into soft, gentle finger waves. Her ears were decorated with small, tear-shaped pearl earrings that matched the pearl necklace she was wearing perfectly.
“Beside her is my grandfather, Johan.” She continued. “Next to them is my mom and the other two are their housekeepers and gardener.”
“They look happy”.
“Yes, they had a good life there in Berchtesgaden. My grandfather ran a very successful paper plant and Emily managed the house. “
“What made them come here?”
“Life did.” Sophie stopped for a moment. Anna noticed the sudden change in her voice.
“Two years after that picture was taken, came world war two. It destroyed much of Austria, including my grandparent's hometown. After it was over, they tried to rebuild their lives but as they soon discovered, unlike restoring a house, rebuilding your soul is much harder with every small brick growing to be impossibly heavy to lift under the weight of memories. With every place reminding them of the horrors of the war, they felt they couldn’t stay there anymore.”
“So, they came here, as far as possible”.
“Yes, Emily had a distant relative here in Boston, who arranged a job for my granddad at a construction site and Emily began to work at a bakery. She was always a great baker, even from back home, but here she met people from all around the world and was inspired to try new things. After receiving many praises for her doings, she decided she wanted to open her own bakery.
She started small, selling from the house but as the first year came to its end, she couldn't keep up with the orders, so she rented a small place and hired Alfred.” She pointed at another picture, a more recent one where Emily was seeing cuddling up to a tall, grey persona.
“They continued working together, just the two of them for three more years until she finally had enough money and confidence to open this place. I remember the look on her face on the opening day. She was ecstatic”.
“And your grandfather?” Anna threw the question into the air without thinking and just like that it landed right into the basket.
Sophie straightened her look directly at her as if he was saying without words “how did you know?”
“It’s complicated,” she replied when she got back to her senses.
“He had a hard time readjusting to the new life here. Despite being halfway across the world, the memories refused to let go. They haunted him at nights and clouded his days. He was proud of Emily but at the same time, it was hard for him to see her moving on, succeeding on her own, not depending on him as she used to. He struggled with himself for a long time, but the roots of fear run much deeper than the ones of logic.
One day, Emily came back home and he was gone. All he left was a note, saying he was sorry, he met someone else but that he wishes her all the best. A few months later, he met my mom for coffee and she found out that there was no one else. He was just too ashamed to admit the real reason”.
Anna nodded her head as a sign of her disapproval. “It must have been hard on your grandmother “, she finally said.
“Yes,” Sophie sighed “She was devastated, even more so after she found out the truth. She kept running this place for two more years, then, she taught me everything she knew and announced she was going back to Austria.
She said she missed the friends and family she still has there but, my guess is, she just wanted to go back to the place where it all began, where life was more simple and more clear on who does what.
Anna remained still. She wasn’t sure what to say. Thoughts were running in and out of her mind like trains at a train station at rush hour. Such stories always challenged her understanding of the world.
“I swear to you D, no matter how hard I try I can’t understand it", she used to say to Daniel on their conversations on such matters. She really couldn’t. To her, fixated and restricted thinking was the biggest threat to society. Daniel agreed, but he was more patient about it “It’s not necessarily a conscious choice one makes. For many, it’s what they were raised to believe. Questioning that is challenging the reality as they know it and that’s…”
“Exciting” Anna interrupted him.
“I was going to say frightening. For most people anyway “.
“So, we need to come up with something big to change that “she would announce proudly.
“I am counting on you too.” Daniel patted on her shoulder.
“Are you ok?” Sophie’s voice brought her back from her thoughts. Anna looked at her watch- a quarter to two. She missed her entire class, but she didn’t mind. Hearing the story and finally getting the answers she wanted was worth it.
“I’m fine”. There was so much more she wanted to say but, there was no point to it now. She thanked Sophie for sharing the story with her and went on her way back to the university.
She had two more classes scheduled for today and after that, she was supposed to meet up with Daniel. That was their usual arrangement. Almost every day after school they met for a beer at the Horizon.
Most pubs around the university resembled an underground basement, with barely enough space to breathe let alone move. Horizon was different, it had plenty of space for everyone to sit as they please and from its big wide-open windows, you could see the entire landscape spreading in front of you like a giant road map with endless possibilities.
Sometimes Trish or other friends joined them for a drink. The way back home though, was reserved for Anna and Daniel alone. Of course, walking wasn’t the main part as much as the conversation that took place during it.
They talked about anything and everything from how their day went to the new government policies and how they are going to change the world each in their own way. Every day was a different theme. Sometimes they agreed and other times they didn’t quite see eye to eye, which led to an even longer conversations into the night, where each tried to convince the other of his righteousness. All in goodwill of course.
Today Anna knew exactly what they are going to talk about.
“What do you think?” she asked after she finished sharing Emily’s story with him.
“I think that it must have been a very hard situation.”
“For her, sure” she wanted to continue explaining her thoughts when Daniel interrupted her “for both of them…”
Anna stopped and straightened her look directly at Daniel.
“I’m not saying I agree with his decision to leave,” Daniel stated while signing the truce sign with his hands. “I just think that It wasn’t so simple for him too. Our ego is the most fragile part of our body. The smallest blow could lead to a devastating injury.”
“Just to be clear”… Anna pretended to not fully understand, “when you say “our ego”, you mean a man’s ego?”
“Nice try Anna!”
“Can you imagine though,” she continued after a few moments of silence .“Having a certain dream, holding on to it for years until finally, the right conditions arise for you to be able to make it come true and then to have your whole life fall apart because of it?”’
“No… but that’s life. You rarely get to have it all. That’s why there is no point waiting for the right conditions because there are none. Every choice is like a negotiation, even if you end up getting what you want, you need to pay or give something up in return. All we can hope for is that she knew the stakes and made a conscious decision that she is at peace with. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t feel sorry for her because, at the end of the day, she got to live her dream.”
Anna scrunched her nose. She knew he had a point. She just didn’t like it.
“What would you choose?” she finally asked just before they were saying goodnight.
Daniel smiled. He loved his daily conversations with Anna, especially because of the way they affected her. She would light up like fireworks; her eyes sparkled, her cheeks got red and she spoke with such confidence, as if she was a commander of an army, giving the soldiers the final speech before going out to the fight of their lives.
“You would make a great politician,” he used to say to her, but Anna just twisted her face in response. She wasn’t interested in politics at all; to her, it was just something that stood in her way. Daniel was the one with the affinity for it. He believed in the system and he loved the law, he just thought it should be the right law at the right time.
“Every perception, every rule or behavior begins for a reason. The problem is that many times, from that point on, it tends to be passed on from generation to generation as is, without being reevaluated of its relevancy to the constant changes of the knowledge and the evolution of the society” he used to explain. Yes, Daniel loved rules, and Anna thrived on the exceptions.
The following day, Anna finished her classes at 15:00. Her roommate was gone, so she allowed herself to spread herself across the entire living room. She made herself something to eat, caught up on the news and made her daily call to her mother. Then, when the evening fell, for the first time in a while, she found herself with nothing to do. Trish went away to visit her parents for her father's birthday and Daniel had a date.
Over the four years they’ve known each other, Daniel went on quite a few dates, but none turned out into something serious and most were provoked by the other side. This time it seemed different.
“I met him 3 days ago at the convention,” he told Anna a couple of days ago.
It was an election year and the presidential fight was at its peak.
That day, Kevin Adams, the Democrat’s candidate came to speak to the people of Massachusetts and Daniel was not about to miss that. His mind wasn’t entirely at peace with Kevin, but, in a country where there are only two parties and you are gay, there are not many options to choose from.
As he was standing there, trying to concentrate on the speech, a nearby conversation caught his attention.
“This is so boring…when are they going to get to the interesting parts…Did you hear he was about to leave his wife for a Vegas dancer right before he decided to run?” said the first voice.
“Oh my god, that story is so last week. Didn’t you watch the news last night? Glam channel had a special, an hour and a half news edition instead of their regular half an hour show, dedicated to the elections. They specifically stated that this story wasn’t true. In fact, he and his wife have a loving and committed relationship” a second voice was heard.
“I’m afraid you’re not updated as well “a third voice entered the conversation.” I read this morning that they go to swing parties every month and they change the club every time so that they don’t get caught”.
“Stop, no way that’s true!”
“No, I'm serious, I read it on Fame online. They even have proof. Here I’ll show you.”
“Is that an iPhone 10? “Oh, if my parents don't buy me one soon, I will literally die.”
Next to them stood an older woman. As it turned out, they were all students of the same class and the older woman was their teacher. She wanted to bring them hoping to arouse their awareness, but, the look on her face as she was listening to them talking, suggested she was losing her hope for that.
Daniel went back to the speech when he was distracted yet again. This time, it was a different kind of conversation. A group of people discussed Kevin's approach to discrimination. In their hands they were holding a sign with Obamas’ 2004 speech written out "There is no black America, there is no white America" only instead of black they wrote gay and the white was replaced by straight.
“One of them was Rob... After the rally ended, we just kept talking on and on. I haven’t had so much fun in a long time, so I asked him out”.
“Good for him,” thought Anna as she was sitting in her living room trying to think of something to do herself for the night. She used to go out to a lot of dates, but like Daniel, she had a hard time finding someone who could challenge her intellectually for more than a few dates. Purely physically based, pure fun relationships were of no interest to her so, in the past few months she let go of that part of her life.
Footsteps were heard outside the door. Anna thought maybe that was Amanda, her roommate. Even though she lived there, she was almost never in. Occasionally, she would storm into her room, grab something and run quickly out again.
Her major was art, yet Anna never saw any piece of anything related to that in her room. No picture or a book to be seen, although, Amanda herself, was quite a piece of art.
She had a long, blond hair that fell perfectly on her shoulders. Her skin was white with a bit of a natural tone and completely flawless. She had large blue eyes and perfectly contoured lips. Anna never measured her scope, but she was pretty sure it was by the international standards. In short, she was the American dream and she was treated as such. Guys would hit on her everywhere, following her with their puppy eyes, smiling at her every word.
The few times, Anna joined her on an outing, the attention she got used to drive Anna crazy. It’s not that she was jealous of the way she looked or the attention she got; it’s the nature of the attention that disturbed her.
“I don’t understand how she agrees to that" she used to think to herself.
In the few conversations they had when Amanda was home, Anna knew there was more to her and she just couldn’t understand whether Amanda herself didn’t see it or if she simply gave up on it after years of "shut up and be pretty” comments.
Anna herself also received quite a bit of attention but, unlike Amanda, she was much less forgiving towards it. That’s why although she always made sure to look presentable, she usually dressed pretty simple even when going out, but lately, both Trish and Daniel mentioned on separate occasions that she had been taking it too far.
She got up from the couch and looked at herself in the mirror. Her soft chocolate hair was wrapped up in a bun on the top of her head, her white skin looked pale and tired and her light green eyes had two big suitcases under them (that’s how she called the swelling under her eyes when it was very puffy). Then she took a look at her body that was wrapped in a sports bra, a faded T-shirt, a pair of casual jeans and flip flops.
“They’re right, this is taking it too far”, she admitted to herself.
She picked up the phone and dialed
“Hey”, answered the cheerful voice on the other side “what's up?”
“Hey Trish, I’m sorry to disturb you on your father’s birthday, I was just thinking about what you said about a new club opening and I thought maybe we could go check it out tomorrow night?”
“Sure, I’d love to, but I thought you decided to take a break from all that, what made you change your mind?”
“Well, I looked in the mirror and…”
“What you mean?” Anna protested “It’s not that bad!”.
“No, of course not.” Trish apologized laughingly.” I just meant I understand where you are coming from. Everyone has these days, except me of course, I’m always awesome, “she laughed once again. She was right. No matter when you saw her, she always looked great in her own special way. That’s probably because very few things really got to her. She was almost always happy and smiling and her good mood reflected on her looks.
Trish didn’t fit any stereotype; she was a dork, but she dated a lot and was asked out very frequently, despite the fact her looks were far from the classic beauty. She was smart, funny and open and she lived her life to its fullest. Basically, she did whatever she felt like and she didn’t care about how others felt about it.
Anna herself also didn’t feel the need to explain or justify her life choices in front of other people, however, it was important for her that they see who she is as a person ahead of anything else. That is why she often diminished the importance of her good looks or even hid from it.
"Not tomorrow,” she thought to herself while taking one last good look in the mirror before going.
The next morning, at seven a.m., Daniel was standing in front of his closet, picking out his outfit for the day. Unlike Anna, he had no problem with the way he looked and although he never planned his entire life around it, he didn’t try to hide or ignore it either. He just embraced it as part of who he was. Besides, just like in Amanda’s case, even if he did try to cover it, it would have been virtually impossible.
He was six feet tall, with black Tom Cruise hair, navy blue eyes, and a natural eight pack. Even with a simple gray golf shirt and dark blue jeans that he wore today, he was impossible to ignore.In their first year of university, girls constantly approached Anna trying to be friends with her to get close to Daniel. She had to break many hearts back then.
At seven-thirty, Daniel took one last look across the room to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything and then went out the door. Although his class did not begin for another half an hour, Daniel always loved to come early. First, there was the coffee stand he used to stop by and secondly, he hated been late, especially to something important and school was very important to him. He used to daydream about the day he would graduate and make his way into politics.
Daniel had a brilliant mind, one that did not require him to participate in the class in order to pass it with excellence, but he loved to participate in them, especially in professor Macnamara's course on the constitutional theory.
This class was about everything concerning the U.S constitution; how it was created, its power, it's meaning, and effect on the cosmopolitan politics and of course, all the questions and controversies around it.
The course by itself was interesting enough, but what made it extremely good and wanted was the professor teaching it. Professor Macnamara was a weird-looking guy. He was in his early fifties, his semi-grey hair lied in a complete mess over his head as if he had just come out of a tornado storm.
He wore fancy suits, but they were sometimes put together in a way that made absolutely no sense. Overall, his appearance was associated with the image of the wild professor and yet he was one of the most popular and requested professors in the entire university.
On several occasions, he received the reward for excellence in teaching. That is probably because no one could lead a debate like he did. He could take the most boring topic and turn into the talk of the hour.
In last weeks’ lesson, they discussed the topic of the 26th Amendment. Until 1970, the voting age was 21, then, after a long fight beginning with Jennings Randolph in1941 and ending during the Vietnam War by President Johnson, it was claimed that it was unreasonable for someone who’s fit to fight and die for their own country, not to be able to take part in the decision of who leads it. This led to the voting age to go down to 18.
“So, what do you think?” the professor asked, “do you agree or disagree with that claim?”
The students began debating among themselves.
“Of course it’s the right thing,” someone announced proudly “and the drinking age should come down too.”
That last part created a debate of its own that was ever more vibrant than the last one.
“Alright now,” the professor made a stopping sign with his hands” let’s remain focused on the voting.”
They kept arguing for a few more minutes. Most of them agreed with the decision, but the focus was on who had the better argument. Everyone tried their best, yet no one seemed to catch the professors' attention until a different voice was heard…
“I think you are asking the wrong question professor,” said Daniel.
“Explain yourself please.”
“Well, I think the right question is whether age is the appropriate criteria for voting.”
“Go on,” the professor smiled.
“The premise, in this case, is that the age is an indicator of your ability to make a conscious educated decision, however, there are many cases in which a physical illness or environmental neglect, for example, simply don’t allow it regardless of age. Under the current law, these types of people will either not use their right to vote or worse, will be exploited by someone to vote for his own preference. In which case, not only do they not enjoy this right, but their voices are being mistreated.
Another example of a different kind are people who are not involved in the ongoing state and governmental matters by choice, again, regardless of their age. In their case as well, they will either pass on their right to vote or worse, vote after some friend's choice, or which one of the candidates face he has seen more on the street posters or any other improper reason. “
“What are you saying; people with disabilities shouldn’t get to vote? Some student sitting three rows ahead of Daniel turned around and yelled at him.
“Or that we all need to do some sort of general knowledge exam to receive our right to vote,” Another classmate protested.
The classroom stormed.
“Calm down now!” the professor interfered “let’s all keep in mind that this is just a theoretical discussion. By the way, the idea of an exam is not such a bad one. We all take one to get our drivers’- license because we want to make sure we don’t hurt other people. Well, our voting as well has a big influence on people's lives so the least we can do is to make sure to make a conscious, rather than a random choice. As far as disabled people go, think about it this way.
It is clear to all of you why we won’t let a six-year-old vote but, what if we have a grown up whose biological age is over eighteen, however, due to some sort of illness, his mental state is one of a six-year-old, should he be allowed to vote?”
As the students began to storm outside, the professor smiled at the bright student as he was finishing his statement.
“That kid has a bright future ahead of him,” he thought.
Daniel smiled back.
Today he didn’t have a class with Prof. Macnamara, but that was actually a good thing because he probably wouldn’t be able to concentrate anyway. The truth is he was busy thinking about his date with Rob last night.
On his break from classes, he told Anna everything he learned about him so far; they were about the same age, but Rob was already doing his first year of residency at Boston Children Hospital. He was going to be a child physician and when he talked about his job, you could see he was completely in love with it.
Although they spent almost four hours together, to Daniel it felt like less than five minutes, which is why he insisted on meeting again tonight.
“Two nights in a row? That’s never happened before”
“No, it definitely has not,” Daniel confirmed, "but, I promise tomorrow we’ll do our usual routine at the Horizon.
“How can you be sure, maybe you’ll want to see him tomorrow too,” Anna teased him.
“Even if I do, it won’t help me. They are going out of town for a couple of days on a tutorial trip.”
“Oh, I see,” Anna pretended to be offended “well, as long as it’s for the right reasons, I’d love to see you tomorrow. “
The rest of the day went by quickly and soon Daniel found himself standing in front of his closet once again, after a nice cold shower picking out clothes for his date. Usually, it took him no more than a few moments to get ready but tonight his mind was distracted. He hoped his date with Rob would go as well as last night's did, now that he had something to look up to and he thought about Anna. At lunch today she seemed strange. He decided to pay her a visit on his way out.
A little past eight p.m. Anna was just about to finish getting dressed. Exposed, the club they were going to check out was supposed to be the new promised hit in town. The doors opened at 22:00, but they set to meet at Trish's for a drink before that.
Trish was now living with her boyfriend Tom. They met six months ago in the library and have been inseparable ever since. He was like the male version of Trish; smart and funny and he even resembled her in the way he looked. Whenever they went out together, people thought they were siblings. They didn’t mind it though, it made them laugh. Anna felt a warm sensation spreading through her chest. She was happy for Trish.
A sudden knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
“Anna, it’s Daniel, are you there?”
“Daniel… what is he doing here, doesn’t he have a date?” she wondered as she rushed to open the door, “I’m coming”.
“Hi, I just wanted to … ah… talk to you before I go, are you ok?
“Ahh “he pointed his hands at her silhouette
“Oh yeah... what do you think?” She stood before him in a small black dress that embraced perfectly her every curve. Just as the dress ended, it revealed two long sculptured legs that now appeared to be even longer due to the 9-inch nude colored heels she was wearing. Her brown hair, usually tied in a ponytail, smooth with a few mischievous curls at the bottom which laid gently on her shoulders.
“You look taller. “
“Thanks that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”
“You look great, I just don’t understand what happened, I mean it's not your regular style”
“I know, but you and Trish keep telling me I need to upgrade a little, so I did. Is it too much?”
“No not at all, just make sure no one at the club will get a different idea ok?”
“Ok dad,” now it was Annas’ turn to laugh.
“Don’t worry, I may look different but I’m still me, besides, Trish and Tom will be there with me and why are you even bothered by it, you should be concentrating on your date which is by the way in 20 minutes. You should go and while we’re at it, so should I”.
They walked together to the main entrance and then each went his separate way.
The new club, Exposed, really was a sight to see. The entrance had an old looking, metal door, the kind you would expect to find in some old castle. Its weight was only highlighted by the very visual effort seen on the doorman’s face and hands each time he had to open it.
It's inside, however was the more interesting part. Unlike most places, its inner space was round, not square. A giant mirror ran through the entire wall from bottom to top. In the center, was a round bar with a big mirror chandelier above it and the entire dancing floor was divided by poles which were also covered with mirrors. In fact, it seemed like the only place that didn’t have mirrors was the floor. The constantly changing lightning manipulated them in different ways. Some, for example, made you look brighter or greener; there were those that shadowed half your face and others who bared it all.
Anna turned away over to Trish, “let’s go find ourselves a seat.”
Despite the early hour, the place was already pretty full, as it always is with new places.
“Listen, did I mentioned how good you look tonight?”
“Yes, you did, twice,” Anna blushed.
“I’m serious, I don’t know what happened, but you should keep it like that”.
They finally found an available spot and Anna volunteered to save it while T&T (that’s how she referred to Tom and Trish) went to get something to drink.
It must have been no more than five or ten minutes that they were gone but, to Anna, it seemed like much more. As soon as they left the table, she was surrounded by a group of overly enthusiastic and very determined young men. Armed with ready to go lines and witty jokes (or so they thought). Each tried his best to convince her that he is her white knight in the shiny armor.
It’s a good thing that Anna stopped believing in fairytales a long time ago. In fact, she considered them to be responsible for most problems between women and men today. “If you are taught and raised upon a fiction, you can never love something that is real," she used to say. It’s not that she didn’t believe in long-lasting love or even chivalry, rather she felt its interpretation as it was manifested in books, did not level with the reality.
For one thing, she resented the idea of herself or any other women being portrayed as a gentle flower who needs to be “saved” and secondly, she considered the presentation of the good as perfect, both in the way the characters look, and, how they behave. This has made people develop unreal expectations towards their partner, which leads to frustration with their imperfect relationships, resulting in the partner's inevitable inability to live up to such demands.
To Anna, the whole scene appeared as a chapter from the National Geographic channel. She smiled back and answered their questions politely while keeping her restrains to make them see she was not interested in anything more. That of course only made the guys try harder, although, at some point, she wasn't sure who exactly they were trying to impress, her or each other. A few minutes into their conversations, Anna got tired and began to think of an excuse to end it when T&T arrived. As the guys left to pursue their next target, the three of them could finally sit down and enjoy their drinks.
It was the middle of the night when she got back to her dorm. Usually, there was no way she would get into bed without taking a shower, but tonight she could barely drag herself to bed. That new drink she tried in the club, free your mind it was called, really played its number on her, though it is fair to say it blurred her mind more than anything else. She wanted to call Daniel to ask him how his date went, but she fell asleep before she even finished thinking about it. Luckily, she didn’t have anything to worry about.
Daniel’s date went perfectly. They sat for a beer at the Horizon which led to another one and one more. Rob told him again about his job, his patients- children, many of which he was still in contact with even after he finished treating them, and his plans for the future. He also shared his concerns about whether to go to work in a private or a public hospital.
"Private practice is exciting because you usually get to work with the most advanced equipment there is, which allows you to be in one of the latest developments and give your patients the most progressive treatment to date but, its biggest advantage is that you don’t have to see sick kids and then tell their parents you can’t treat them because they are not insured. There is no worse feeling than that.
General hospitals, on the other hand, with all their difficulties, show you the reality as it is. It’s important because it keeps you grounded and every once in a while, with a little imagination and creativity, you manage to help even those you thought you couldn’t - and those are the stories that keep you going.”
Daniel listens quietly. He was impressed. Especially since he himself, had a lot of issues with the healthcare system. That was one of the many things he hoped to change in his political career.
“Do you think it will ever change?” Rob asked suddenly as if he had read Daniel’s mind
Daniel smiled. “Is a change, any change possible? If so, then what makes this
change different from any other? “
“It’s a more difficult one”
“Because, it requires a lot of work, a lot of money and perhaps most importantly, overcoming the objection of major key players, a.k.a the insurance companies. “
“So does space traveling and yet we still managed to put a man on the moon, defying one of the natures’ biggest laws. Surely what you are talking about is no harder than overcoming gravity”.
“Maybe…still, we’re talking about a very big change”
“It makes no difference whether it’s small or big. If you take someone who lives in a small house and right next to him, you put a neighbor with a big, fancy house, then this someone will probably won't object to having a nicer home for himself as well. However, take a person who has lived his whole life in a small place without seeing anything else and then suddenly put him in a mansion he will be terrified.
It’s the essence of change, especially into something unfamiliar that scares people because for some reason they tend to think that it will most certainly be a change for the worse. Once you open their mind to that, it doesn’t matter what change you want them to make.”
“How do you do that?”
“That is the right question”.
Now it was Rob’s time to be impressed.” Well, if you ever do decide to run for some political party, you definitely have my voice and I don’t give it away that easily”.
They both laughed.
The next day Anna woke up with a big headache. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was messy, and her makeup was smeared all over her face. After a nice shower that cleaned everything up, she sat on the couch next to the window with a big glass of water. This was Annas’ favorite part of the day, to sit down quietly while observing the university come to life. She reached for her phone for her usual morning talk with Daniel.
"Hello?" an unknown voice answered her call.
"I must've dialed the wrong number,” she looked at the screen, but the number was right.
"Hello? “said the voice again.
"Yes hi, I’m sorry, I’m looking for Daniel, this is his phone, right?”
"Yes, it is, but he is in the shower right now, can I take a message?"
In the background, Anna heard Brody, Daniel's roommate voice.
“Ahhm..” she said all confused “just tell him Anna called, I’ll try him again later"
"O. K will do. Have a nice day"
Anna put down the phone. In all the time she has known Daniel, he has never brought someone to sleep over at his place. Her head was still destressed from last night and she was struggling to arrange her thoughts. With the long day ahead of her, she decided to let it go for now.
Tuesdays and Thursdays were the days she volunteered at the local shelter for abused women. This place was close to her heart. No matter what happened in her life, she almost never missed her visits there. She even brought her father and Daniel there to lecture about women's rights. Other times she just sat and spoke to the women, listened to their stories, holding their hands. It gave her strength and comfort, but more than anything, it was a constant reminder of how tricky and elusive life's path is. Often starting as an accidental bump along the way, no one would suspect it to be a warning sign for the cliff ahead.
Like many, when she first started to volunteer there, Anna expected to find a certain type. She was surprised to see the enormous variety of women there. At her very first visit, she got in right on time to hear a lecture. It was given by one of the former residents of the house. As she was telling her story of survival Anna lowered her head. Then, she took out a piece of paper from her bag and began to write:
“It won’t happen to me". How many times have we used that line, maybe not even in a conscious way, but just as some general state of mind.
When we stumble across a homeless person on the street or hear about a drunk driver getting into an accident.
Sometimes it feels like much of our life is spent believing that. The scientific explanation for it would be that it probably serves as a protective mechanism, but does it really protect us or rather makes us complacent to the danger?
I heard a lecture today. The woman giving it was the head of a big cosmetic company. She was beautiful, elegant and fluent. It wasn’t until she began to tell her story that you realized the painful truth hiding behind the sparkling jewelry and flawless makeup.
Many of us when we hear of such stories, our heart goes out to the victims, but along with it, often unnoticeably, we also point an accusing finger.
“How could she allow it?…why didn’t she reach out for help? I wouldn’t expect it to happen to someone like her…” and so on.
We don’t want to admit it, but we must think that because otherwise, how else do we explain the accompanying thought that "It won’t happen to me". That right there suggests that there must be something different between us and them. Well if what I’ve witnessed today has taught me anything, is that sometimes there isn’t.”
That night as she got back to her dorm, she put it in her drawer. It was getting fuller by the day and Anna still had no idea what she was going to do with all these writings.
Today there was no lecture scheduled, so she just joined the session with the social worker. In these sessions, women got the chance to speak up about anything that comes to their minds. Usually, those concentrated on their fears from their abusive partners, fear being left alone or raising their children alone and the shame. Many of them felt ashamed of their situation and often felt responsible and guilty. These sessions were very emotionally intense for everyone involved and by the time Anna left, she was exhausted.
The sun had set down and the evening lights were shining in all their glory. Anna took out her phone. She was supposed to go to the Horizon to meet up with Daniel but in light of earlier events this morning, she wondered if it was still happening. Daniel confirmed firmly, so she hung up the phone and headed straight towards the bar.
The place was more crowded than usual tonight, probably due to the Celtics game but, they managed to find a quiet spot in the corner. Usually, Daniel would make her sit in the best spot in front of the TV. He even dragged her a couple of times to see the real thing, but tonight he was O.K. with the occasional peak. Tonight, his mind was elsewhere, he was still set on yesterday's date.
"So, here is what I know so far, "Anna opened up their conversation “He’s a doctor, a political activist and he has a nice voice on the phone.”
“Oh yes, about that… I didn’t know he was going to answer it and for what it’s worth, he did remember to tell me. “
“It’s fine D, I was just joking, although his voice really is nice. “
Daniel glanced at the score. The Celtics were leading 35:23 and it was only the second quarter.
“Life is good, and it just keeps getting better." He took a sip of his beer and leaned back with his hands stretched behind his head. “I’m tired,” he added after a few seconds, “let’s go home”.
“So, how are things with Daniel and…what’s his name?” Trish asked while grabbing a passionate bite of her sandwich. Lately, between Tom and the finals, she and Anna had barely seen each other, therefore, in their five minutes encounters in between classes, they tried to squeeze in as much as possible. That included eating.
“Rob, his name is Rob and he is great actually.”
"That’s great, I’m happy for him.”
"Yeah me too. “
"You don’t sound too thrilled, is something wrong? You don’t like Rob?"
"No, of course, I do. Don’t mind me, I’m just tired. I’ve got two big exams this week and I need to prepare everything for the graduation party and the end of the year party at the shelter. I just have a lot on my mind you know”
“I know, “she gave Anna a big and warm hug, “but I also think you miss him…Daniel.”
“Maybe.” Anna shrugged her shoulders, pretending to think about it, even though she already knew the answer; she just didn’t want to admit it because it made her feel selfish and like a bad friend to Daniel, now that he was finally happy.
"Well, I’m sure you’ll both figure it out, you have to. After all, what would the world be like without Anna and Daniel?" Trish laughed. “Listen, I’m sorry I have to leave so quickly but I still have some final errands to run before the dinner tonight".
"Oh, that’s right, I completely forgot about it. Good luck".
Two weeks ago, Tom took Trish on a romantic getaway in Vermont and proposed to her. Anna remembered the day Trish told her very well as it was the middle of the night. She had just come back a meeting with the graduation party committee, her head was exploding from the different ideas, and she couldn’t wait to get into bed.
Just as she began to close her eyes, her phone rang- "I’m getting married!” a scream came through the phone before she even had the chance to say “Hello”.
Trish had a strong voice as is, but on top of the hangover Anna already had, it was magnified by one hundred. After that, falling asleep was nearly impossible.
A week later, Anna came by to T&T’s home to help Trish pick out the perfect outfit for when they announce their engagement to their parents. After going through her entire closet twice, they settled on a purple skater dress with orange sandals, which went along perfectly with her red hair.
"It’s ok, don’t worry, it’s only the biggest thing that had happened to me so far."
"No, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to, it just slipped my mind."
"Relax, I’m kidding…gee, sometimes I forget how sensitive you are. “
"Call me later, I want to hear all about it".
As she headed to her dorm, Anna felt a sudden sense of sadness come upon her. Up to this point, relationships weren’t on the top of her to-do list. Even as a kid, when all her girlfriends used to play "house”, she was busy thinking about how she was going to conquer the world.
This included continuing her humanitarian work, especially with women, preferably through the UN, all the way to becoming an ambassador and a spokesman for them, leading the fight for human rights while inspiring others and becoming a role model. However, in the last few months, seeing her two best friends so happy, she couldn’t help but wondering if she's not missing out on anything.
"Am I being too indifferent to it?"
“No, no “she immediately dismissed that thought from her head. She was upset with herself for falling into the same trap she was trying to make everyone else see.
“We all have our own path to happiness; besides, I’m only 20 years old, I have plenty of time to find love.” She told herself and felt a bit better right away. Still, just to make sure she wasn’t restricting herself to anything, she decided to be more open to the possibility of a relationship right now and to dedicate more time in her schedule in favor of dating.
So she did. Over the next few weeks, Anna has gone on dates almost every single night. Much to her surprise, it turned out to be not as bad as she thought. Some, of course, turned out to be bad ideas from the early beginning, but with others she had quite a nice time and yet, at the end of the day, none of the impressions lasted beyond a single night.
Anna tried not to give it too much attention, after all, she wasn’t looking for a groom, just exploring the possibilities, still, one troublesome thought kept wondering in her mind-
“What if I am the problem?”
Her phone rang “Daniel, hi”.
"Hey, what's up? I feel I haven’t seen you in ages".
"Yes well, I guess that between your relationship and my efforts to be in one we need to think of a new time frame for us".
" Ahhh confusing times… "
"So how is that going? The search for the one."
“I’m not searching for the one, I don’t even know if I believe in the concept. "
"Oh, there is the skeptic rebellion I know and love."
"Go ahead make fun, anyway there is no point talking about it since there is no one yet".
"I see, well until he comes, would you like to grab a beer with me tonight?"
"Tonight? What you're not meeting with your boyfriend?" She teased him.
“Now who’s making fun? I'm not seeing him tonight; Actually, I haven’t seen him in the last few days. He has some big meeting with the hospital management he has been preparing for all week".
"Anyway, are we on for tonight?"
“Actually, I have a date planned but I guess I can reschedule for you".
"Are you sure, I mean what if he is the one?"
"If he is, he will wait until tomorrow, I've missed you."
"I've missed you to, see you at seven."
That night two good friends sat down for a couple of beers and a long heart to heart talk. They talked about anything and everything, just like they used to and by the end of it, they agreed that no matter what, they will try to meet at least once a week. After that, they both had a good, sound sleep.
It was now the final week of school. Anna opened her bedroom window and took a deep breath. It sounds silly, but she could swear it felt different, the air of graduation. Of course, she still had several exams to get there but, she could already feel the end.
As she walked to her class for what was about to be one of the last times, she took a long and hard look at the place that was her home for the last four years. The place that contained all her hopes, fears, and secrets.
A warm feeling spread inside her chest as she recreated some of her favorite memories of it; falling asleep on the books at the library after a long night of deliberating, the whispering of the trees as they escorted her and Daniel through their daily walks in the park, the benches on the way to class filled with loved ones whose minds wandered far away from the material and the classroom where she sat for so many hours listening to great people, dreaming of becoming one herself someday.
A familiar figure drew her attention away from her thoughts. Jenny, one of Anna’s classmates was jumping up and down with a shiny face and an even shinier ring on her finger. Surrounding her there were a bunch of other girls from the class, all cheering agitatedly while examining the size of the diamond.
"Hey, Anna come here, did you hear? Jenny got engaged just last night."
"No, I didn’t, congratulations".
"Yeah and it only took her three months to get him there," said Julie. Julie was another classmate. From the first moment, she declared that finding herself a husband was no less important than finishing her degree.
“Leave her alone,” another voice disrupted. It belonged to Kristen. “We all know she is not interested in these sorts of things."
"That’s not true!” Anna began saying. “I want to be happy and if I felt it could happen in a marriage then, of course, I’ll go for it, but I don’t see it as a target of its own. There are many ways to be happy.” She felt she was being apologetic and she hated it."
"There she goes again,” Julie grabbed her shoulders softly, “our favorite feminist.”
"I just don't think you should chain yourself to a certain idea, any idea, just because it’s the common thing to do, that’s all”.
They concluded the conversation with the understanding that everyone should do whatever suits them. Anna felt much better, however, as she approached her seat, she couldn’t help but notice almost all the people who started school with her as young eager freshmen, were now married adults, some of them even had kids. Even though she believed everything she just said, that same heavy feeling began crawling along her chest again. She felt a strong urge to talk to someone, so as soon as the class ended, she picked up the phone and called Trish.
"Anna you are a mind reader; I was just about to call you to rescue me.”
“Rescue, why what happened?"
“What happened is that I’m checking out bridal magazines and I’m drowning, I thought maybe you want to come over to help me up?"
"Oh I see, “said Anna. It's not exactly what she had in mind when she called “I would love to… it's just that I have something I need to get done today. It's for my assignment, there this little thing I forgot to do, but, how about tomorrow? I’ll come straight after school O.K?"
"No, but if there is no other option … I’m kidding, of course, it's ok. You finish what you have to do, that way tomorrow you’ll be able to focus all of your attention on me."
"You got it; I'll see you tomorrow.”
"All right, hey wait, you called me, did you need something?”
"Ahh no, just wanted to check in" Anna lied. She lied twice already since she didn’t have any assignment to do either. She hated lying but Trish was so happy, she didn’t want to bother her with her problems.
“It’s for a good cause. Tomorrow I'll be all freshened up and will be able to give her the attention she needs,” she told herself.
After calming her conscious, she picked up the phone yet again. Daniel and she weren’t supposed to meet until Thursday and it was only Monday now, but she figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
” That's weird,” she thought. That’s the second time today he was not picking up or returning her call.
“Come to think about it, he didn't return to any of my calls yesterday as well.”
That never happened before, for them not to talk for two whole days, something was really off.
She decided to write him a message, just to let her know if he's ok and that she is worried. After that, she turned to her computer for help.
It did, when she finally lifted her eyes from the screen, three hours had gone by without her noticing, however, other than the hand moving from eight to eleven, nothing really changed.
Her feeling of heaviness which followed her around the day was still there, and Daniel still hasn’t called. That only added to her list of concerns. Part of her hoped he was just busy having fun with Rob, but, at the same time, she was also angry at him for not caring enough to call. She was also angry at herself for not asking him for Rob's number, just in case.
“Enough Anna, beating yourself up won’t help “, she told herself while pouring a glass of wine.
“You’re just a bit stressed out, nothing Sinatra and a hot bath can’t cure.”
After almost 40 minutes of soaking in warm water, covered in the soft lavender flavored bubble bath, she felt much better. As she made her way to bed to the last sounds of “My Way”, she gave her phone one last look just in case, and there it was, a message from Daniel. It was a short, three-word message, but it explained everything. She rushed to call back.
"Hi," a barely heard voiced answered. "I'm sorry I didn’t call you back, I just needed some time for myself.”
"It’s ok, "said Anna "so what happened?”
"Exactly what I wrote, we broke up."
"Right… “Anna fought to keep her head straight. The half bottle of wine she just finished didn’t help, “I'm sorry, I guess what I meant to ask is, why?"
"No, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to take it out on you, see that’s why I didn’t call before. Maybe we should talk tomorrow; I’m not exactly in the best shape right now. "
"No, I'm not letting you go through this alone, give me five minutes, I'll be at your place. "
"Are you sure? I'm telling you I am quite a mess, I’ll just ruin your evening.”
“Do you really think I can enjoy myself while you suffer? Besides, it was ruined anyway”.
"What you mean, why?"
"Doesn't matter, nothing serious, I'll see you soon".
A couple of minutes later, Anna was standing outside Daniel's room with what was left from her wine. Daniel opened the door.
"Ok,” said Daniel after examining Anna's face across the threshold “I get why I have red eyes, but, why do you? "
"What you mean, why?” said Anna. She sounded offended, “I’m sad for you”.
"Are you sure that's all? Over the phone, you mentioned that you had a bad day. "
"I'm fine, besides we're not here to talk about me".
"That's not how it works, we’re here for each other, why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?"
"That’s just the point, I don’t know what’s wrong. I feel like I’m going insane!" She stammered through her tears.
“I never used to bother myself with dating questions, you know that, but lately it’s been on my mind, so, I thought I’d start dating again and I did. I even enjoyed them at first, yet nothing led to anything more and after a while, everything began to look so pointless.
The guys all started to look the same, tell the same jokes and basically, I got bored but instead of giving up, I just put in more effort, which led me to be even more frustrated when I don’t even understand why I did it in the first place.”
“It sounds like you’re simply confused.”
“I am and I hate it.”
“Don’t! I know you’re used to having everything figured out, but, life doesn’t always work that way. Circumstances change, you change, and it doesn’t make you crazy, it just makes you human.”
“I just wish you told me earlier,” he went on "instead of you dragging it on with yourself for weeks. “
“At first I didn’t realize there was a problem and, you were so happy, I didn’t want to burden you, then, when I figured it out, you disappeared and I was so worried, I really was… but…” she stopped.
“But…” Daniel encouraged her to go on.
“But” she continued with hesitation, “another part of me was also angry at you for being too busy with Rob and maybe forgetting about me. Maybe I have changed as you said, changed to be this horrible person.”
“O.K. I’ve heard enough,” Daniel stopped her. “Anna you’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. I’m sorry again for going missing on you like that, and, as you can see, I’m not busy with anyone right now, but even if I were, whatever happens in my life, good or bad, our friendship is the one constant thing I can count on and I hope that you feel the same way."
Anna nodded. “What if there is something wrong with me D… what if I can’t fall in love?”
“That’s not the case, I can assure you”.
“How do you know?” She served him another glass of wine, “your turn" she declared. Daniel followed.
As it turned out, the big review that Rob had, didn’t go so well, and he blamed it on being too hung up on his relationship with Daniel and not putting enough time and effort to prepare properly for it.
After that, he decided that he couldn’t divide himself between work and Daniel, so he chose his work. His exact words as Daniel quoted were "the children there need me more than you do".
Anna didn’t know what to say. She wanted to comfort him so badly that she just couldn’t find the right words. Then again, she was also on her fifth glass of wine.
Daniel was also half-conscious. Before she came, he had successfully chugged a full bottle of his own wine and now he had two more glasses. Finally, Anna spoke but all that came out of her mouth was "He’s a jerk ".
"Yes, he is,” Daniel laughed. Anna joined him and they found themselves laughing over nothing for the next half hour.
"I’m really sorry," Anna said again on a momentary break, "for what happened with Rob and for my thoughts earlier today. It seems like lately, you don’t have much luck in the choice of people in your life."
“Anna, I told you, you and I are fine so if you insist on beating yourself up, you going to have to find a different reason because here there is none, ok?"
Anna sat down quietly. "You know," she said, "You are one of the few people that saw me at my worst. Sometimes I wonder why you are still here".
"Because Anna, I've also seen you at your best, and your best is amazing ".
The next morning Anna woke up with a huge hangover. It took her a few moments to realize she was still in Daniel's room. Daniel was nowhere around. After a few glasses of water, she found a note from him saying he had something to finish at the university and that he will meet up with her later.
She made herself a cup of coffee and tried to remember last night. Her head was aching and so did the left part of her body, probably from sleeping on the couch but other than that, she felt good. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t see in the mirror those dark clouds over her head.
She headed back to her dorm and after a quick shower, she felt all freshened up and filled with new, good energy. Now was the time to call Trish to go through those bridal magazines as she promised her.
They made plans to meet in one hour at Trish's. On her way over, Anna stopped at their favorite coffee shop at the university to get Trish a cup of her favorite nut cappuccino and a blueberry muffin. Even though she knew she made the right call by postponing their date, part of her still felt bad, so, she decided to do something nice for her. That turned out to be quite a mission.
The coffee shop was full of people despite the fact, that it was the end of the semester. Anna looked at her watch. Fifteen minutes had passed. She was already late, and three more people still had to go before her.
On a regular day, it wouldn’t have bothered her this much, but Trish had to go on a few errands later today, so they had limited time to meet and Anna hated to disappoint her once again.
All of a sudden, the guy that was standing just in front of her turned over to her, "If you'd like you can go ahead of me". He was tall, with dark hair and his deep ocean blue eyes stared right at her. It took her a few moments to pull herself together, "I don’t understand” she said.
“I saw you in the mirror, you look like you are in a hurry, so, if you'd like you can take my turn."
"Oh, thank you, that's really nice of you, but, I’m not in that kind of rush. It’s just my friend Trish is getting married and she asked me to come over to help her pick out a dress. I was supposed to be at her place ten minutes ago, but I wanted to get her favorite breakfast”.
"That’s very nice of you," said the tall dark stranger.
"Not really," said Anna and explained to him shortly about how she was supposed to do this yesterday but canceled for personal reasons.
"It’s still a nice gesture," said Matt. That was the strangers’ name.
"So, how long do you think it will take you to find that dress?”
"I don’t know," answered Anna, "why? "
"Well, I thought that maybe after that, you and I could have a cup of coffee."
"You want to have coffee with me?” Anna heard the words but couldn’t believe they were coming out of her mouth. " I sound so desperate," she thought to herself while wishing there was some sort of a delete button she could press on, and undo that last statement.
"That’s what I just said,” smiled Matt.
She wrote her phone number on a piece of paper and they said their goodbyes.
Later on, at Trish's, what started as a targeted mission spread into a whole day event. Trish ended up canceling all her errands and they spent the entire day together.
Thinking back, Anna probably should have brought a few more cups of coffee, but, in the end, they managed to pick out just the right dress and do some catching up along the way.
At six pm, the two girls leaned breathlessly on the couch. As opposed to what she expected, this experience got Anna so caught up, that she in fact, forgot all about the interesting encounter she had earlier that day at the coffee house. Now that they finished with their business, she recalled it once again. Trish noticed it.
"What’s with the smile? " she asked. Anna pretended she had no idea what Trish was talking about, but Trish knew her friend all too well
"Are you going to tell me or am going to have to force it out of you? " she asked.
Anna knew that there was no point in arguing with her, besides, she wanted to share it with someone and she wasn’t supposed to meet Daniel for several more hours, so she told her.
"What?" Trish focused her big two eyes at Anna. They looked like they were about to come out of their holes. “You mean to tell me that you have been sitting here for half a day and only now you remembered to tell me? "
"It’s just a random meeting at a coffee shop; it’s not that big of a deal. Besides, this day is about you, remember? "
"Ok, first of all, I'm quite capable of sharing the spotlight, thank you, and secondly, it is a big deal because I don’t think I've ever seen you light up like that when you talk about anyone. Are you going to see him again?"
"I don’t know," said Anna. She explained that she gave him her phone, but she never took his and just as she was finishing explaining, her phone rang. It was an unknown number, that was shortly identified as Matt's number.
After quick greetings, they agreed to meet at the university gates. He said he prefers to take her to a restaurant instead of coffee but he wouldn’t say where. Anna didn't insist. She usually didn't like it when men took control, but this time she didn't mind and found it quite charming.
It was almost seven pm when Anna got back to her dorm, which meant she had a little more than an hour until her meeting with Matt. As she was putting on her favorite black dress, her phone rang again, this time it was Daniel.
She had a weird feeling in her stomach. Earlier today he texted her to meet him at ten o'clock the park. “Did something happen? Maybe he wants to reschedule the meeting." Anna didn’t want to cancel her date, but for Daniel, she would do it in a heartbeat. The phone kept ringing while Anna tried to sort out her thoughts. "What if he asks me what I’m doing?” She didn’t want to lie to him but telling him, the truth could hurt him and that was even worse.”
“I’ll just say I have something I have to do, and I will meet him later and if he asks to meet now, I’ll just cancel with Matt”.
Daniel just wanted to confirm their meeting later that night and it was Anna who insisted maybe they should meet now. Daniel sounded worse today than he did yesterday, and Anna was extremely worried.
“Finish what you have to do and then we’ll meet." Daniel managed to convince her. Still, she wasn't calm when she went to see Matt.
Fortunately, he managed to take some of that anxiety go away through their date. He was funny and charming and a bit shy and the conversation between them went so fluently as if they have known each other for years.
He told her that his father owns one of the most respected magazines in France "L’observateur” (The Observer). He could have started working there in any chosen position but, Matt wanted to earn his place at the company so, he went to study journalism and he chose to do so half across the world so that he could bring a new perspective and also to get a little bit away from his famous heritage. He needed to find out who he was on his own, without anyone labeling him as “the son of…”.
Anna listened carefully after which she put her impressed face on. That didn’t happen often. She wanted to stay and hear some more, but she had to go see Daniel as promised. She apologized to Matt explaining that she has a friend in need that she had to go see.
"Don’t ever apologize for these things, "Matt said. "Your friends are lucky to have someone who cares about them like that," he added.
"Thank you for understanding" Anna replied, and they said their goodbyes.
Daniel was going out of his mind. Anna was supposed to come over in a few minutes and he had no idea what he was going to tell her. When he called her earlier to arrange a meeting, he realized that she had absolutely no idea what was going on. That only made things that much harder. He was still struggling to make sense out of it, and he was hoping to do it together with Anna, but now he also must be the one to break the news to her. Daniel didn’t even know how to start a conversation like this. Anna was his best friend and they’ve always been able to talk about everything, but this….
He noticed he was breathing heavily; he rubbed his eyes and forehead to ease the pain in his head while circling the room for the god -knows -what time.
The truth was, he was scared. It took him a while to understand it since he wasn’t easily scared. In fact, he was pretty fearless. The last time he remembered feeling this way was when his father got very sick and he was just a child back then. You could throw pretty much anything at him and he always remained cool and calm. Losing the people he loved or seeing them get hurt was the only thing that really got to him and now he faced the threat of losing his best friend and he had no idea what to do with it.
“O.K, let's stop focusing on the results for a second and instead focus on how exactly I am going to explain this to her ".
Whenever Daniel had a problem, he used to go back to the beginning and from then, analyze every step until the end; somewhere in those steps, he found the solution. That kind of thinking is what got him to be one on the top of his class at law school. Except that in this case, he had no idea where it began and what exactly "it" was. This "case" was completely foreign to him.
He decided to start with the facts:
Fact number one- Rob and he broke up. He took it pretty hard. He drank a lot.
Fact number two- Anna came to console him. She was in a pretty bad shape herself and she also drank a lot.
“Combining those two facts together, the outcomes of the evening don’t seem so insane,” he thought. Except that they weren’t just two people getting drunk together. They were best friends and he was gay, and it wasn’t his first break up that made him feel bad, but this had never happened to him before. He was always a very self-controlled man.
In his previous relationships, whenever things got bad, he would spend a few evenings getting drunk, maybe withdrawing for a while from his social life and sitting at his home alone playing Xbox, but that’s it. Never something more, never like this.
So, what was different this time? He rubbed his eyes once again when the doorbell rang and got him to jump off his seat.
"That’s it," he thought as he reached to open the door “moment of truth. Whatever happens, we’ll just have to deal with it”.
"Hi,” Anna tried to hide the excitement in her voice. Daniel hoped she would have remembered something by now, but, her cheerful hello implied otherwise. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t missing anything before saying something that may hurt her, so he asked if something happened.
“What do you mean?” she pretended not to follow along.
“You seem to be happy about something, want to tell me what it is? “
“It’s nothing and we can talk about it later, we are here for you now, remember?"
"You’ll be here for me if you tell me what happened, please, I need to know”.
“D...you know your happiness means the world to me…I met someone today…”
“A guy, you mean?” Daniel asked. His anxiety level was now even higher than before. Just as he thought things couldn’t get any more complicated.
"Yes," she answered and then she told him the whole story, including their date from several hours ago. " D, I really like this guy, I don’t think I've ever felt like this before, "she said while circling the room, the same room Daniel was circling earlier with much less happy thoughts.
Anna noticed the half-sad half-serious expression on Daniel's face.
"I’m sorry, I know its bad timing, with you breaking up with Rob and here I am so giggly. That’s why I didn’t want to say anything before, but I promise I’m going to be here for as long as you need to go through this.
Besides, if I've learned anything from that experience, it's that when you hit rock bottom, you can only go up from there. Remember how we were yesterday? And look what happened to me today… you will get better too, I promise.!"
Daniel looked at her carefully. She was glowing. He couldn’t remember the last time he saw her like this. He thought about what he needed to tell her and in his mind he pictures her happy face turning into something else. He couldn’t bear the thought of breaking her heart like that and he didn’t. They talked a bit about his breakup with Rob and then she left.
The following weeks Daniel tried to avoid Anna as much as possible, using all kind of excuses. He couldn't break her heart the other night, but he couldn’t pretend everything is normal either, so instead he kept his distance while trying to make sense of everything that happened. This, however, only made Anna insist more. Finally, he realized there was no escape, so he agreed to meet.
Instead of meeting at the Horizon, Anna suggested meeting at the University Park. "We haven’t been there for a while and it's such good weather to be outside," she said. Daniel agreed. To be honest, he didn’t really care where they meet, he was busier thinking how he is going to look at his best friend in the eyes after lying to her like that.
With every conversation they had since that night, he hoped Anna would remember something on her own and takes of him at least part of that burden but each talk ended up with disappointment. Her happiness was growing almost parallel to his feelings of guilt and he felt more lost and confused by the minute.
It was 5 minutes to seven, but Daniel was already at their meeting spot. Anna was one of the closest people to him and he always felt comfortable in her presence but now he had no idea how to act around her.
He tried to think about what they are going to talk about. He would probably say that it's hard on him and that he is still feeling down and she would probably tell him that it's going to get better and all the other encouraging things that friends are supposed to say and then he would smile and nod his head as if they were talking about the same thing.
Honestly, Rob was still on his mind and he missed him, but the other thing bothered him much more.
"Hey, you! " a familiar voice came from behind him. He could barely hear it through the sound of his beating heart. He turned around and there she was. Much to his surprise the sight of her actually calmed him down. He realized how much he missed her.
They spent almost two and a half hours talking about everything, much like they used to do and for a moment, Daniel felt like things were normal again and then Anna started to talk about Matt and Daniel felt the reality hitting him. She was really into this guy and there was no way Daniel was going to ruin that for her.
On his way back home, he made the final decision that he was never going to tell her. “There is no reason we should both carry that burden,” he finalized his decision.
These next few weeks flew by like hours for Anna. She was excited to finish her degree; her friend Trish was about to get married within a week and she and Matt were doing great. The only thing that spoiled her joy was the fact that she was still worried about Daniel. Although he seemed to be back to normal, she sensed he was not himself yet and she didn’t know how to help him.
"You are a good friend Anna, but there is nothing you can do, just give him some time," Matt used to say to her. She knew he was right but watching her friend suffering like that was really hard for her especially when she was so happy.
"A week from now I will be Mrs. Tom Scott. Trish Scott. Mr. and Mrs. Scott," Trish laughed to herself on her way to the university. She already had everything set for the wedding so she could allow herself to take a moment to digest.
The whole situation was strange to her. Much like Anna, she never dreamed about a big wedding or a wedding at all but, meeting Tom changed that. It changed her. She still had all her major characteristics present-her wild hair, colorful clothes and the complete ignorance of what everyone else thought, but she was more subtle now, more peaceful or maybe that's just how happiness looked like to Anna, from the outside.
Halfway through, she ran into Daniel. She hadn't seen him since before his breakup with Rob.
His face was fallen, and he looked skinnier than she remembered. He was still very impressive to the foreign eye but to those who knew him, he was definitely not at his best.
She came over to him to say hello. Daniel was happy to reply. He shared his excitement to see her and Tom exchanging vows and assured her that it will be very emotional. Then they talked about the end of school and real life ahead. Trish made sure to ask him subtly how he was doing, and then she brought up Anna.
"She is really worried about you."
"I know,” said Daniel "I tried to tell her that she shouldn't be, that I'll be fine, but you know how she is…"
"Yeah," Trish laughed “once she sets her mind to something… "
"You should be thankful she has Matt now, otherwise she would have all her attention focused on you."
"Yes, she seems really happy with him.”
Trish noticed the sudden change in Daniel’s voice.
“Ohh,” she said, “I see what's going on here."
"What you mean?"
"I went through the same thing with Anna when you were with Rob." Daniel still wasn’t following but he had every intention to find out.
"Look, when two people are as close as you and Anna, it’s natural to be a little jealous when a new person comes into the picture. But like I told her, you will find a way to make it work, don’t worry. After all, I can’t imagine a world where there is no Daniel and Anna," she laughed.
“You’re right", Daniel gave Trish a big hug as a feeling of relief came off his chest.
Later that day, Trish told Anna about her meeting with Daniel. Anna was sure that he was getting better but what Trish told her got her all worried again.
"Maybe I should have spent more time with him this week, after all, soon I may not get to see him for a long time".
Anna knew that Daniel was planning on staying in Boston, to work for a big legal company for a couple of years and from there to progress with his political career. He initial plan was also to stay in Boston, keep working at the women's shelter and from there to see where the road leads her. Her career plan wasn't one that had a clear definition, it's not like she wanted to be a lawyer or a teacher.
Anna wanted to reach people on a global level, to empower them, to open their eyes to see beyond their confining thoughts and fears so that they could live a happier and more fulfilling life. Only, she wasn't quite sure how to do it until Matt gave her an offer that she never thought of but could be the key to her dreams.
Given that his father was the owner of one of the most known magazines in France, Matt asked him to give Anna a chance at writing a weekly column. He explained to him about all of Anna's ideas and even sent him a couple of the things she wrote (without her knowing).
The results were soon to follow. His father loved the texts. Also, he had never seen Matt so enthusiastic about a girl and he wanted to help him any way he could, not mention the plus that agreeing to that kind offer meant his son was coming back home, overall it was a win-win situation for him.
When Matt first broke the news to Anna, she was so overwhelmed, she forgot to be angry at him for sending her texts without her consent. There was no doubt in her mind that this was a lifetime opportunity for her but that also meant leaving everyone she loves and cares about and moving to the other side of the world and for Anna, this was not a simple mission. She was never connected to material things or places but the people in her life, they were another story.
After a few days of debating with herself, she realized she had to talk about it with someone, but Trish was busy with her final preparations and Daniel was not in shape yet, so she decided to wait until after the wedding.
She did, however, share the news over the phone with her mother and sister, both encouraged her to take the offer without thinking twice, still, she wasn’t sure.
The thing with postponing though is that it seems like a good idea at the beginning, but in fact, it only prolongs the stress and intensifies the pressure, and in the end, you still must make that choice.
The wedding day was finally here, and Anna still had no decision. She looked at the view from the hill she was standing on, at Green Mountain National Forest, where in a few hours her best friend was about to get married.
Tom and Trish loved nature. Almost every Saturday they went on some trek or hike or camping so it made sense they will also choose a location like this to celebrate their reunion.
The place was organized very simply, a big wooden table was set on the side where the caterers were preparing the starters. Next to it, were the chairs, set in two long rows with enough space between them for the bride and groom to pass.
At the end of the road, right above where were they were going to say their vows, was a big sign with the phrase,” One ring to rule them all” (Tom and Trish both were big Tolkien fans). On the trees surrounding the area were several lightning balls. That was it.
Anna smiled. The last wedding she attended was her sisters last year. She still remembered how Ella made her spend the night on the porch of some wedding store to get her hands on some designer dress (which she didn’t eventually get because someone else literally grabbed it out of her hands). Or that she couldn’t choose between arriving at the wedding in a limo or a carriage or a balloon. At some point, Anna swore she heard her sister fighting with her future husband about how the napkins should be folded. She wanted them to be in a swan shape, but he argued that it’s not that important, and therefore, not worth the extra money.
At least here, Tom and Trish went for something that had their name written all over it. Every choice they made suited and expressed who they were, what they loved and believed in and that was nice to see. That same feeling of honesty followed throughout the ceremony and even those who sat at the back could hear and feel that they meant every word of their vows.
During the ceremony, Anna sat between Matt and Daniel. They both didn’t know anyone else there and although they already met each other several times, Anna always felt like there was some tension between them. She felt it now as well.
After the formal ceremony, it was time for food and dancing and Anna discovered that Matt was quite good at the latter. “Just one more bonus to add to the list,” she thought to herself. As she screened the room with her eyes, she saw Daniel immersed in a deep conversation with someone.
"Who is that?" Anna found herself thinking out loud. Matt turned his face to look, but he had no idea to whom she was referring.
“Who is who”? He asked.
“The girl, dancing with Daniel…”
"I don’t know, but he seems to be having a good time, so why are you worried?"
"Because….he doesn't even know her!"
Matt stopped dancing and looked at Anna, " So, it’s not like he’s going to fall in love with her and she is going to break his heart, right?”
"No, of course not."
"Ok, so like I said, nothing to be jealous about", he winked at her. Anna didn’t find it funny. “Don’t be ridiculous of course, I'm not jealous. It's not about that, it's just that I'm his best friend and for wees I've been trying to make him feel good and all of the sudden this girl comes out of nowhere and succeeds where I have failed "
"Don’t think like that, sometimes it's just easier with strangers than with the people closest to you."
"Maybe…" Anna sighed "but still, do you mind if I have the next dance with him?”
Anna turned towards Daniel and signed to him with her hand to come dance with her. Daniel agreed. He knew he had no choice, any refusal would make Anna suspicious and that was the last thing he wanted, especially today, so he made his way towards her reluctantly, trying to disguise how he really felt under the fakest smile he managed to put on.
The first song went by just fine. They had a good talk, some laughs and just as Daniel began to down his guard, it happened. The second song began, it was “In Your Eyes” By Peter Gabriel, one of the songs that played the other night.
Daniel didn’t even notice it at first, but Anna did. As Daniels hand slightly moved along her back to change positions, Anna felt a cold tremor along her body. One by one, she began to see images of things she couldn’t make sense of, until she eventually pulled away from Daniel.
"Are you ok, what's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said with a trembling voice, "I just suddenly didn’t feel so good."
She was beginning to remember. Daniel saw it, but he didn't know what to do, so he played along, "Do you want to go and sit down for a while?"
"No, I'm sure it’s nothing, probably going to go away in a minute". It was indeed so un-probable and surreal, she convinced herself it was just the alcohol misleading her.
They began to dance again, but the sensation she was feeling didn’t disappear, instead, it became even stronger. Image after image. They were so detailed and so real that Anna felt like she was going crazy, until she finally couldn’t take it anymore “I'm sorry, I need to go sit for a moment."
"I’ll come with you," Daniel argued.
"No! "she stated firmly. "You should stay here I'll be fine; I'll see you later,” she turned away.
"Anna, wait!" he tried to stop her, but it was too late. She blended into the dancing crowd. There was no doubt in his mind. She knew. Now the question was, how are they going to deal with that? and is she ever going to forgive him, or has he lost his best friend for good?
The rest of the evening kept getting worse and worse. He tried to find Anna but she was nowhere to be found and after his failed attempt to find Matt, he figured they had already left. He tried to call her several times but there was no answer, so he also said his goodbyes and went home. It wasn't much better there.
As much as he tried, he couldn’t sleep and spent the entire night going through different scenarios in his head while rolling from side to side.
Finally, when the fatigue got the best of him, he managed to catch a few moments of peace, only to be awakened by a strong persistent ringing.
He didn't remember setting an alarm clock for today, but he soon realized that it was the door ring.
Daniel got off slowly, put on his robe and headed towards the door. Anna stormed right in like a hurricane
"I need to talk to you," she said before he even had the chance to say hello. She looked tired and disoriented.
"Sure, let me just make us a cup of coffee," said Daniel trying to steal some time. He wasn’t prepared to face her now.
"No, no coffee," she insisted, "first I need to get something off my chest because otherwise, I feel like I'm going to go crazy".
There it was. Daniel's heart was beating fast. The talk he avoided and was afraid of for the last few weeks was here. There was no escaping it now.
"All right, what's going on?” he said as if he didn't know what she was going to talk about.
"Yesterday…" she began to say and then stopped for a moment to catch her breath. "Yesterday, when we danced together, I began to see images in my head ...like memories of you and me on that night I came to you after you and Rob broke up."
The more she kept talking, the harder it got for her. She stopped every few words.Daniel wasn’t sure if it was because she had such hard time believing it herself or because she thought he wouldn't believe her. Either way, he hated seeing her like that.
"In those images I saw, she continued "we were doing things that we shouldn’t be doing. Do you understand where I'm going?"
She explained how at first, she thought it was because of the alcohol, but she didn't drink that much at the wedding. Then she thought of just asking Daniel upfront, but she figured that if something like that were to happen, he would definitely tell her about it,
"So I guess I'm here to hear from you that I'm crazy or temporarily insane so that I can put it all behind me and move on."
He looked deep into her eyes. They were filled with hope. A hope he so desperately didn't want to erupt for her, but it was too late now. He couldn't keep lying to her anymore.
"I wish I could tell you that Anna, I really do," he lowered his eyes to the floor.
"What you mean, did you have images like that last night too?"
"Yes, I did, only it wasn't last night, it was the morning after the night you are speaking about."
Anna sat on the couch holding her head between her hands, "so it wasn’t an illusion, it was a memory" she said with a shaky voice.
"Anna I'm so sorry, I.."
"Wait a second!" she interrupted him "what do you mean you remembered the following day? You mean to tell me you had knowledge of it this whole time and you didn't say a word to me?" Anna wasn’t sure which news was harder for her to hear.
Daniel tried to explain that at the beginning he wanted to tell her, that very same day when he left her that note in the morning and again at the university park, but each time she began to talk about Matt and “you were so happy, finally, I just didn't want to ruin it."
Anna didn't seem even remotely impressed "you were my best friend, you’re supposed to know me better than anyone, how could you possibly think that I would prefer a lie as sweet as it may be, over the truth?"
"I am still your best friend," he tried to argue, but Anna was in the flow and it was impossible to get a word in there.
"No, you're not!" she stated firmly. "Best friends look after each other like I have been doing these last few weeks, trying everything in my power to help you get over your breakup with Rob, when all this time you have been looking into my eyes and lying to me over and over."
The disappointment in her voice killed him. He repeated this conversation a hundred times in his head, but now that it came to the moment of truth, he couldn’t find the words.
"Look…” he finally said “why don’t we take a short, I'll make us some coffee, you relax a little and then we can continue talking. I'm sure we can work this out, I don’t want to lose you Anna!" and just as he was about to leave the room to go into the kitchen, she got up.
"It's too late Daniel," she said and then she left.
His first instinct was to go after her and try to stop her but then he thought that it may be a good idea to take some time off.
"I will see her tomorrow and we'll fix this.” He told himself. He was wrong.
Tomorrow came and Anna was nowhere to be seen or heard. He tried to call her several times, but he kept getting her voice-mail. He left her a few messages, but she didn’t reply to them either.
He thought about calling Trish. She was on her honeymoon and he didn’t want to disturb her, but he didn’t know what else to do and he was starting to get worried.
He thought for a few minutes what he was going say to Trish, without telling her the whole story or making her worry about Anna, but then he realized it was pointless, Anna wouldn't call her, she would never bother her on her honeymoon, not even for this.
His heart broke for Anna. Usually something as serious as this, she would only share with one of her two best friends, either Trish or him and neither of them was an option at this point.
"I have to find her," he commanded himself.
His last two options were her dorm and Matt's place. Since he didn’t have Matt's phone number (a thing he was very sorry about at the moment), he rushed to her dorm.
After five minutes of constant buzzing, the door finally opened but it wasn't Anna who opened it, rather her roommate, Amanda. She stood there in her games with her eyes half-closed.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" she said (or at least that’s what Daniel thought she said, it was hard to understand from her half-sleepy and fully-drunk talking).
"I’m sorry I woke you up, I was wondering if you saw Anna, it’s really important I find her," he said.
She looked at him in an uncertain way as if he was asking her whether she has seen an elephant walking on two in her room. Then she mumbled her name a few times
"Anna…. Hmm…, let me think for a moment… I think… oh yeah, she was here, a few hours ago. She came with some guy; I think it was her boyfriend Matt. He helped her carry her bags out, I think they are going on vacation or something like that."
"A vacation?" Daniel repeated, "Do you know where to?"
"No, but I think it’s a long one because she took a lot of bags with her."
"A long vacation?” Daniel took another look at Amanda. She had no reason to lie to him, but it was hard for him to believe what she was saying.
It wasn’t like Anna to just take off and leave. She never leaves an issue until it is solved and even after that, she keeps on talking about it just to make sure that everything is clear.
"She must have misunderstood something that Anna said,” he thought.
“In her current state, that’s the only logical conclusion," but just in case, he decided to check Anna’s room. It was completely empty. Then the reality hit him. Amanda, in fact, misunderstood her, and so did he. Anna didn’t leave for a vacation, short or long, she just left. Amanda, in fact, misunderstood her, and so did he. Anna didn’t leave for a vacation, short or long, she just left.