“Tell me,” I said.
“Give me a second to compose my thoughts,” she giggled and glanced down at me. “I was hoping you’d have more to say to buy me some time.”
“You know I never answer your questions the way you want me to.”
“Or you just don’t answer them, Miss Mysterious.”
“Even no answer is an answer, babe.”
She rolled her eyes and looked out at the city that sprawled out around us. We loved coming up to the roof on days like this – a rare overcast, but not rainy day in the middle of a tropical summer.
“I had spent the larger part of the morning researching some new camera models before heading off to meet a friend for lunch. I was getting annoyed because I couldn’t find something that met all of my needs that wasn’t disgustingly expensive. My current camera at the time was still in fair working condition, but I had just received a bonus at work and wanted to treat myself – also, I figured I could sell or give my camera to someone looking to get into photography.”
I loved her voice. Perhaps subconsciously that’s part of the reason why I never answered her questions with much detail or depth and just put her own questions back onto her. I just wanted to hear her speak forever, I wanted to learn about her forever. She had this way of speaking about the world that was insanely enchanting without too much annoying optimism. She saw things so purely and became enraged at times when she observed pain and imbalance. Seeing her angry was rare, but she wouldn’t stand for injustice. I don’t think she is capable of forgetting anything which might be both her blessing and her curse. Remembering the good meant remembering the bad, too. I was also in awe of her ability to be understanding of herself when in pain. She has this grace, the way she just holds of herself with such care and love and says to each of her emotions and facets and thoughts in turn, “It’s your time to be felt and heard now.”
“My friend messaged me the location for this new spot she wanted to try. It was this sushi place she had been telling me about for weeks. It was so good, too – really worth all the hype it had been getting.” She put her hands up in the air and exclaimed, “And you know how much I love me some salmon sashimi!”
I laughed and stroked her back. She’d been trying to go vegan for the longest time, but almost always switched back over to pescatarian after about a month. She hated that I was able to “do it so easily” or so she always says. I just didn’t like the idea of eating anything with parents and/or a face.
“Anyway, so I got up to get ready and for some reason I just felt this urge to pick up my camera and take it with me. So I was walking around my apartment in my underwear with a DSLR around my neck, and after I put my coffee mug in the sink I looked up and saw my girlfriend walking towards me holding her phone and smiling down at it. Nothing out of the ordinary, I thought she was going to show me another one of the memes she found hilarious and I would fake laugh and then she would kiss me to get me to stop and then call me cheeky and walk away and I’d slap her ass and she’d laugh and call me childish.”
“So many ands…”
I sat up and hugged my knees. I knew so much about her and her life because of the way that she rambled on when she told a story. There were always so many detours and digressions and for each story, she always had to so kindly provide me with context. Despite how much I knew about her, there was something about the way that she looked into my eyes that made me eerily certain that she knew absolutely everything about me without me having to say a word.
She clicked her tongue and nudged me before continuing, “I asked her what she was looking at and she bit her lip and paused for a moment before showing me the screen. She had taken a picture of me. She said it was ‘A wild Willa in her natural habitat’. It was weird for me to see a picture of myself that wasn’t a selfie or a group picture. I was so used to being behind the camera, you know. She told me I looked stunning. I told her she was silly. She told me that she was right. She was always right, so I had to believe her and give my cognitive dissonance the middle finger. She joked about me using it as my new profile picture. She didn’t ever make jokes like that, so I could immediately tell that she wanted to say something she had been thinking too much about saying. She bit her lip again and tugged at my camera strap. I asked her what she was thinking about. She couldn’t make eye contact with me. She gently traced the curve of my left collarbone with her finger, her gaze resting on the clock on wall just behind me. She glanced at me and then back at the clock and said something about me being late to my lunch date. I asked her what she wanted to tell me. She sighed and then finally resolved to look me in the eye. She was still holding her cell phone up between us, the ‘Wild Willa’ picture now beneath her lock screen.”
She stopped and lit another cigarette. I thought it was weird (or perhaps great storytelling) to stop right before what was clearly the climax of her epic tale. She was biting her lip now, maybe the way she recalled this ex-girlfriend of hers had done.
“She told me she loved me.”
I started thinking about when we started dating and how far we had come in the time that had elapsed since then. We hadn’t said that to each other yet.
“I had told her I loved her about 3 months prior. I knew she would need time to say it back, so I wasn’t expecting it then. In fact, it would’ve been very noticeably insincere if she had said it then. She was never a woman of many words, but when she had something to say you could trust that it was important and genuine. And in that moment, she had decided me worthy of those words and the knowledge of her feelings that she had been keeping locked away safely in her own head.”
I related to that. I was never quick to talk for what I always felt was just the sake of talking. Suddenly, I realized that in all that Willa had ever told me, she had never mentioned this ex-girlfriend or any girlfriend for that matter. She had always made it seem as if ours was her first real relationship.
“What happened to make you want to end things?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said with an exhale of smoke.
“When did you break up?” That was the question I truly wanted answered. I needed to determine how much time she had had to get over this girl whom had apparently made her so happy.
“We didn’t,” she said slowly and looked over at me almost sadly.
I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as anger trickled down my spine in the form of a cold chill.
“What are you saying?” I said shakily, now sitting straight up.
Then she smiled and shook her head at me. “You’re so smart, and so cryptic, Miss Mysterious. You can figure this one out.”
“What sick joke is this, Willa,” I felt my voice growing louder and more vicious. “When did this happen?”
“Three months from now,” she said instantly.
I froze along with my anger which was subsequently replaced by confusion. I had no idea what to say, she made no sense.
“I love you,” she said and then rested her dwindling cigarette in between her lips.
She reached over and tugged at a strand of hair that had fallen into my mouth as it stood agape.
“That… that doesn’t,” I sputtered as her finger touched my lower lip. “I thought you were telling me your happiest memory.”
She put out her cigarette, and then kissed me. My eyes stayed open as my brain was desperately trying to reboot.
“That’s not a memory,” I said breathlessly as she pulled away.
“It’s a memory of the future,” she said with a cheeky grin.
“Not what a memory is,” I said quickly. My brain was starting to come to.
“I put a lot of thought into how I’d tell you,” she said. She stood up and began twirling around on the rooftop. “I also thought about what I wanted it to be like when you said it to me. Technically, it’s a memory of thinking about it then, right?”
“You wouldn’t have it any other way, baby.”
I smiled and nodded. Then I became serious.
“What?” she stopped twirling.
“What if I can’t say it then?” I looked up at her and by the way her face softened, I’m sure I must’ve looked terrified. She walked over and sat behind me and wrapped her arms around me.
“That’s the joy of the future, right?” she kissed me on the cheek. “We can embrace the unknown and make it our own.”
“You loved that that rhymed, didn’t you?” I smiled and rolled my eyes. She was adorable. She was adorable and she loved me.
She threw her head back and laughed – a sound so beautiful that it might now be my happiest memory.
“I mean, who knows?” she said, still giggling. “Maybe you’ll be the one who slaps my ass.”