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Under the Endless Sky

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He sees her as he stands on the corner, waiting for the light to change. She's on the other side of the street, making her way past occupied bistro seats, her back slightly turned from him. The coffee shop she came out of is busy, but she finds an empty table in a far corner and sits down, drink in hand. She doesn't see him.

For a moment, Wolfgang feels as if he's in a dream. His heart beats loudly; he suddenly remembers to exhale.

It doesn't matter if it's been 5 years since he's last seen her; it wouldn't matter if it was 50. Wolfgang knows it's Kala. He'd know her anywhere. 

The light changes. People walk past him, but Wolfgang doesn't move, rooted to the spot by a flood of emotions: a voyeur into an ex-girlfriend’s life.

He's too honest to let the lie rest. She is more than an ex. She was always more.

He watches as a well-dressed, middle aged man walks over and talks to her. Wolfgang can practically hear it in his head: The asshole asks to sit with her, maybe keep her company, get her number. She's gorgeous, and she's alone.  

Kala says something. Wolfgang can tell from her polite smile that she's turning the ass down. But the man still stands there, and her smile disappears. Kala says something else; the ass finally leaves.

Wolfgang gives a sudden exhale. As if a part of him truly thought he could just walk over there and forcibly remove the man for her.

A light breeze blows a tendril of hair across Kala's face, catches on her mouth, and blocks her sip of chai. (Wolfgang imagines it's chai, because that's what she almost always drank.) She looks impatient, brushes her hair to the side with elegant fingers that no longer flash a wedding ring.

He'd almost forgotten: He heard she was recently divorced.

The middle aged man is barely dismissed before some younger man - a boy, for fuck's sake - tries his luck with her. Wolfgang watches Kala tilt her head and actually smile. She talks to him - Wolfgang can't believe she's giving him the time of day - and shakes her head before the boy leaves, too.

Someone bumps against him and Wolfgang looks up at the light again. He's been standing there forever, staring. Idiot. He's unsure whether he should just keep going or approach her and say hello: She'd probably pour the drink on his head and tell him to fuck off.

It didn't exactly end well.

Wolfgang frowns a little defensively: He's not the one that got married.

After he walked out on her.

He scowls. Kala married not long after he left the flat he shared with her. Even after all this time, there's a bitterness there that surprises him: She had said she loved him. 

But...He had left her without a word, and Rajan was there: persistent and wealthy and beloved by her family. Wolfgang couldn't blame her for marrying Rajan. Not really.

He stares a second or two longer before he makes up his mind.

He will say something to her, if only to give her the opportunity to finally tell him off after all these years. He owes her that.

It's certainly not because he wants to see her. Or because he misses her.  

Five years, though, is a long time. Wolfgang's jaw ticks involuntarily. They've had no contact, not even through mutual friends or acquaintances: He lost touch with most of them on purpose, not long after he returned to Berlin. He'd only heard about the divorce through some random tweet.

Maybe she'll look at him blankly, mouth some kind of platitude because he was a whole marriage ago and life goes on.

Maybe he is nothing to her but an awkward memory. She was married to Rajan, for 4, almost 5, years. Did they have any kids? He always pictured her with kids.

A little girl with your large, dark eyes and wild black hair? 

Or a little boy with your beautiful smile and silly, silly laugh? 

He doesn't examine why each of these images feels deliberately brutal. Why the thought of the life she built with Rajan, even short-lived as it was, makes him feel physically sick.

His gut clenches. Without really thinking, Wolfgang heads to her table.

...

Kala notices him almost as soon as she sits down with her chai.

At first, there is a moment of panic, when her head tells her to turn right back around, act as if she's changed her mind about sitting outdoors: It's crowded outside after all. But just as quickly, a defiant little voice tells her to stop. It is a beautiful day -- when was the last time it was this nice in Chicago? -- and she came out to enjoy it. She is not going to let him run her back inside.

Wolfgang Bogdanow. Of all people.

Kala wills herself to relax, enjoy the weather and pretend she can't feel Wolfgang staring at her from the end of the street. She wants to turn her head to look at him; see if he's changed a little in the five years since she's last seen him. She wonders suddenly if she is mistaken and it is not Wolfgang on the corner.

She sneaks a glance and inadvertently catches the eye of some man who thinks she's looking at him. Kala stifles a groan when he gets up and approaches her; he asks if he can join her. She smiles tightly, turns him down, but he doesn't go right away. He tries to charm her. She frowns and tells him she's waiting for someone.

Kala is annoyed she's resorted to that lame excuse: Now she's going to look like she's been stood up when she leaves alone. She grimaces into her cup. Who cares? Why does she even care?

The man goes back into the coffee shop, and she's irritated to feel relieved he'll never know she's by herself. She shouldn't care what anyone thinks. She blames Wolfgang for her distraction. At least, she thinks it's Wolfgang.

She still finds it odd when someone tries to flirt with her. She'd gone from dating Wolfgang to marrying Rajan with no space in between.  She was always with someone until this last year, and her divorce was finalized only a few months ago.

Kala brings her cup up to take a sip and almost swallows her hair in her absent-mindedness. She pushes it impatiently aside.

A young man comes up to her and it takes her a moment to recognize her friend's younger brother, just graduated from university and looking for a job. She exchanges a few pleasantries before inviting him to email his resume to her. She smiles at his gratitude, shakes her head, casually mentions she doesn't have much influence. He flounders at what to say next, suddenly reminded that she is no longer the wife of the CEO. He thanks her awkwardly before leaving.  

Kala gives a humorless smile. She stepped down from every honorary position she held as the wife of Rajan Rasal the week after she asked Rajan for a divorce. She tried to quit her job from the company as well, but Rajan wouldn't accept her resignation, not until she found another job.

Which she has. In Toronto. And she is going to start over.

Kala takes a long sip of her chai. She is going to discover what she is like without someone; be deliberately single and selfish and do things because she wants to do them, and not because someone else does or because she's on some brutal schedule.

She frowns and stares unseeing at the people walking by. She ticks off things she wants to do -- that she will do -- because she's free: frivolous things, like take a dance class or learn to paint; take a cruise with her mother or maybe go by herself somewhere. Move to another country. Kala gives a little smile: She is surprised to realize that it's been ages since she's felt this bold, this empowered.

And as she thinks this, she sees Wolfgang walk toward her, and it is him: maybe a little more weathered, certainly just as good-looking. Kala's eyes widen: The fight-or-flight response is almost overwhelming, but she doesn't move.

She won't move. She's been waiting for this moment for over five years.

And now maybe she can have closure.

......

(Six Years Ago)

He finishes lunch with another woman at an outdoor cafe. They talk leisurely, the meal already paid for, neither in any particular hurry. Wolfgang smiles at something his companion says, turns his head as he looks absently across the tables. And then he freezes, eyes abruptly widen. His smile fades.

Kala walks by the cafe. Her long, dark hair spills over her shoulder, partially covering a vibrant scarlet blouse. She wears an equally colorful teal pencil skirt that flatters lean legs and a well-shaped ass.

He watches her, rapt. She looks distracted, catches her bottom lip and furrows her brow. 

Maybe she feels him staring at her, but she turns her head just a little, and her eyes lock with his. 

It is such a cliché they will laugh about it, self-conscious and tentative, months later: their proverbial “love at first sight”.

But by God it's true. Time feels delicately suspended, hung on a breath, the moment their eyes meet. Kala doesn't turn away. She stares, too. Her eyes grow large; a flicker of recognition sparks between them.

It takes a second for her to register that he isn't alone. Her glance shifts to the woman sitting across from him: the woman whose face turns quizzically in the direction of her partner's stare. Kala blushes, hurries away. She crosses the street and disappears around a corner. Several buses are ambling in that direction.

Wolfgang follows impulse: He mutters an excuse and crosses the street after Kala, rounds the corner in time to catch a glimpse of a teal skirt get on the 151 Sheridan. He gets in just before the bus closes its doors, scrambling for exact change because he doesn't have a transit card. He sees her at the back of the bus, staring at him, wide-eyed. There are two vacant seats beside her.

His heart pounds. He chooses to put an empty seat between them, not wanting to frighten her, realizing too late that he might seem frightening.

Kala isn't frightened. She feels her face burn.

......

“Hey.”

Kala  looks up at him, arches an eyebrow, but doesn't smile. She doesn't look surprised. She says nothing, cradles her cup of chai loosely.

“Mind if I join you?”  Wolfgang tries not to let his anxiousness show. She's not particularly welcoming, but he didn't expect her to be anyway.

She pauses briefly. “If you want.”

He watches her, wary, even though he is the one to ask, and squeezes between the temporary plastic fences that separate the bistro tables from the pedestrians on the sidewalk. He sits on the seat across from her, folds his hands on the table, inches from where her own are, and fights the urge to reach for her, lay their palms together.

"It's been a long time," he says. He feels awkward, and there's a sadness in that thought when he remembers how it used to feel with her.

"Yes. It has," Kala agrees, peering into her cup. She opens her mouth slightly, catches the corner of her lip with her teeth in a gesture that is so familiar that it jolts him. How many times had he pried that lip loose with the pad of his thumb, kissed her worry away? Her eyes are downcast, brooding.

“I'm sorry to hear about your father.”

Whatever else she expected him to say, it wasn't that, and she looks sharply at him. He is startled, too: He hadn't meant to say that, even though he means it. “I saw the notice in the paper. He was a good man.”

“Yes.” Kala takes a breath, her voice tight. Her father had liked Wolfgang very much. They got along remarkably well for two people with absolutely nothing in common except for Kala. Her father died just this past winter, right before her divorce became final.

They stare at each other for several seconds. Wolfgang's gaze drops.

“Did you have something to say to me, that you are sitting here, now?” She's impatient. Kala’s finger absently taps against the cup; another telling habit he'd almost forgotten.

Wolfgang gives a half smile, somehow comforted to know he still recognizes these little things in her. He looks at Kala almost mischievously. “You look beautiful,” he finds himself saying. “I wasn't sure you'd say anything to me at all; I thought for sure you'd throw your drink at me. I guess you still can. But you haven't, so that's good, right?”

For a split second she's tempted to smile back at his audacity. He can see the quick uptick of her mouth. Wolfie, she'd say, exasperated.

But then it all comes back: Her face shutters, lips tighten. He knows the moment he's lost her.

Kala stares coldly at him. She feels a little light-headed.

She’d been on the edge of telling him what she thought, what she wanted to say to him; stating her peace so she can neatly tie the loose ends of her life. For closure.

But she can't have that conversation with him. Not here, when he smiles at her like everything is ok. Not when there is something unexpectedly raw inside of her, even after all these years.

Kala opens her mouth to tell him she has nothing to say, but her throat constricts and she is suddenly afraid that she will cry if she says anything at all. And she doesn't want him to get the wrong idea: These aren't tears of pain. They are tears of rage. Of fury. At him. At herself.

So Kala takes a deep breath. She powers through those first horrifying seconds, when she thinks she's going to cry. Then finally, she looks him in the eye and very evenly says: “Go to hell, Wolfgang Bogdanow.”

......

She is on her way to a family party.

After her initial shock, she asks him outright what he thinks he's doing. He tells her in all seriousness that he had to try.

“Try what?” she asks, wary.  

He looks a little surprised himself. Wolfgang shrugs. “Try and meet you,” he says honestly.

They talk for the next 20 minutes; he tries to convince her that he's a decent guy, despite appearances. She listens to him skeptically, eyebrows raised. He has the grace to look sorry, admit it probably doesn't look good that he chased after her.

“And abandoned your date?” she adds.

“She's a friend!” he says. “She's not a date.”

Kala looks doubtful; Wolfgang digs his cell phone from his pocket and offers it to her. “You can even call her!”

Kala doesn't take the phone, but his sincerity to prove his innocence thaws her a bit.

“You're ridiculous,” she murmurs.

“No,” he says, smiling back, dimples creasing his cheeks.  He holds his hand out. “I'm Wolfgang.”

She shakes her head but laughs a little at the cheesy joke, puts her hand cautiously in his. “Kala.”

He shakes her hand gently, the smile lighting his eyes to a piercing blue. He looks at her in a way that makes her flustered and hot. She's never been looked at like that before.

By the time he gets off the bus, she has his business card, his personal cell number hastily scrawled on the back, and agrees to call him that week for lunch. He doesn't ask and she doesn't give him her number.

When she arrives at the party, she polls her cousins whether they think she should call. They want details and flood her with questions. Yes, he was kind of hot. He has an adorable accent that she thinks is German. She laughs when she looks at his card and adds that his last name looks Russian.

Her cousins look him up on the Internet. Nothing negative: public profile confirms he works for a German import-export company. At least he isn't a convicted felon, they smirk.

She calls Wolfgang two days later, nervous that he's forgotten her. She laughs when he sounds relieved that she hadn't forgotten him.

They have a long lunch at a neighborhood deli that Wednesday. They talk a long time. Laugh. Overstay their lunch breaks. Kala would later insist it was their first official date. She agrees when he asks if she will go out again the following Saturday.

Five weeks after that, they move in together.

Seven months after that, it is over.