Mrs. Shephard picks her grandson up from his piano lesson at the same time every week, at which point Daniel breaks open the phone book and picks up where he left off.
He’s already been through the Lewises for England but he hasn’t given up hope yet (he refuses to think she’s changed her name; it’s more impossible to him than remembering a girl he’s never met).
But he has met her, because the subconscious builds dreams from life and he could never dream up something as horrible as her death on his own. Those nights he wakes up in a sweat and disappears to the bath, falling asleep inches above the water. He’d rather risk death than risk explaining the dreams to his fiancée.
Somehow, he still always wakes before Theresa.
This week is different (he feels it in his bones, sees it in his dreams) so on a whim he pulls out the Los Angeles phone book while David practices Chopin in the background. It’s impossible she could (not) exist but more impossible she could be so close to him without either of them knowing.
Daniel’s never been a big believer in destiny; just because he doesn’t understand something yet doesn’t mean he won’t eventually. Some things just take their time.
But even as he rationalizes, his finger slides to a halt below her name; a shiver runs down his back (the phone begs to be used with purpose). Instead, he calls Mrs. Shephard and asks her to pick David up early. Family emergency is closer to the truth than he means it to be.
He doesn’t call her, though. Daniel knows it’s wrong, knows he has a fiancée coming home in a few hours, knows music professors don’t chase after imaginary friends, but he chases after her anyway. Drives up to the museum where she works and buys a ticket to the Ancient Egyptian Sculpture Exhibit (it’s not every day he dreams a girl into life).
Daniel knows his breath shouldn’t catch in his throat; he’s seen her a thousand times before. But he’s never seen her in this blue dress.
The program says she’s the assistant curator of the museum, so they must be short-staffed or she loves her work far too much because she’s guiding the group, and teaching more than leading. He hides behind taller men and women with bushy hair, hopes she’ll catch a glimpse of him between monologues.
She smiles at him once, without recognition.
It sticks in his gut, leaving the museum, that it’s not really her.
He doesn’t care.
Daniel calls off lunch with his parents and Theresa with a lie, and even though it’s not like him, he’s learned well enough from all of them. He doesn’t go back to the museum this time but heads to a pub down the street, decorated with crenellations from the wrong time period.
In the middle of his third rum and Coke, she walks in (business suit, all style; still, her body language screams for a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses).
When the bartender brings her the glass of wine, she looks around, confused, until the he points Dan out.
Most girls wouldn’t walk over and start a conversation with a man wearing a sweater vest so he’s more than a little nervous when she does. He manages to say my pleasure and act like he doesn’t dream about her every night (even if most are more like nightmares). She wouldn’t understand, yet.
She hesitates, but writes her number on a bar napkin for him before she leaves, and the curve of her wrist imprints her scent on it.
That night, he dreams of tropical fruit in every variety.
He breaks up with Theresa the next day. She screams, rants, and leaves so quickly he hardly believes it’s happened. Waits, fidgets, expects her to burst back in and demand more of an explanation from him.
That comes later, from his father (his mother is content to arch her brow; asks about his tenure instead).
It’s customary to wait two days (or one, he’s never sure) before he calls, and his fingers stumble over the keypad. He’s never done this before (but then, neither has she).
He gets her voicemail and stutters out a message, cheeks burning. Sometimes Daniel wishes life was more like sheet music and less like prose (running up and down through time and patterns, instead of always moving forward).
When she calls him back, Dan has the ominous feeling he’s going to screw this up. He does.
After the waiter leaves he asks How are your sisters? before realizing, she hasn’t mentioned any sisters, has she? She stares at him with wider and wider eyes as he tries to explain and then gives up. I’m sorry, my mistake, he rushes.
He doubts she’ll ever call him back so he pours into his work (misses her call asking tentative questions).
They play phone tag for a week.
He shouldn’t be up at 3 a.m. when she calls him from some pay phone outside some apartment, but he can’t stop writing. He’s never written music before, but he’s grateful for doing so now, for all the wrong reasons.
Even over the phone he hears her teeth chattering and imagines her lips turning a soft shade of blue as she asks him Would you come? It’s a long story.
Without even trying, he’s suddenly her knight in shining armor.
In the morning, he makes her coffee, and she makes him waffles and he spills the syrup on the floor trying to help her. Not much of a knight in shining armor, he thinks, but she’s laughing and then her lips are on his.
They spend the day inside watching old movies on the sofa, her hand looped through his like it’s a normal lazy day and they have nowhere to go, nobody to see.
On a whim he asks if she’d like to go see a record store he knows and they can pick up some old records (Geronimo Jackson? she asks and he grins. Of course).
They’re nearly at the door when a confident knock startles her and his heart skips beats like it shouldn’t when she answers it, sees a man around the door. He waits, hands clenched nervously in his jacket, until he hears her tell the guy, I don’t care. You blew it, and the door shuts.
We can stay in, he offers. Knows that furrowed brow of concern too well. Forget him, she answers and smiles again. Let’s go, okay?
He stops himself from asking any questions by stepping forward, kissing her softly (she meets him halfway). Thank you, she murmurs; doesn’t need to say for what.
He really should have bought armor, in hindsight, because the date cop has a cop friend who’s also Charlotte’s friend and heard a twisted story. Dan didn’t mean to get into a bar fight but these things happen (they escalate). The good cop ends up pulling the bad cop off him and Daniel vaguely remembers saying something like you had your chance.
So maybe he did mean it, a little, but nobody kicks a girl out into the street because of some stupid picture.
You’re going to be fine she says later, rolling her eyes at him as she wipes the blood off from around his eye. He winces and she chides him. Stop being such a baby. He can tell she wants to be mad but getting beat up compensates for such things.
Can I make it up to you? he asks instead of really apologizing (because he’s not really sorry and he’s never been in a fight before).
He doesn’t want to waste any time with her (doesn’t want to make the same mistake twice).
They have dinner with her cop friend the next night and he and Miles get along far better than they should. More than that, he thinks they’ve done this before - they three sitting over drinks, with tinny music playing in the background as Miles tells him to stop worrying about it already.
Charlotte tries to reward him when they get home but somehow Daniel knows what to do this time – pushes her back on the bed and works his way up until she’s shaking and twisting under his hands. She falls asleep first and he waits to drift off, taking in the scent of her skin and the silk of her hair.
He’s never been this good at anything before (not piano, not physics, not dreaming).
She asks, months later, what made him so sure about her (stares past the glittering ring wanting real answers). She has the right, he knows.
I knew, because I’d never been sure about anything before, he tells her and keeps his heart (the ring) on the line. Holding his breath, he shuts his eyes when she pulls the ring on her finger.
The cool metal between their bodies is the second thing he’s ever been sure about.