Friday, December 19, 2008

Love Me, As Well

By Michael Weems

“It’s my turn now”, said Annie. She turned slowly away from Dan and removed her gloves. Dan’s attempts to gaze over her shoulder were quickly thwarted as she turned back to him, presenting him with a small envelope. “Remember the rules”, she continued. Dan tentatively took the card, looking into her blank expression for any clue of what would be detailed within the note that lay inside. In return, he only received a hint of a smile, developing gradually from her lips. Annie had been waiting for her turn ever since Dan created the game. He wasn’t sure he liked being on this side of anticipation. It had been fun to watch her guess and follow his clues but now his mind raced as he waited for her to walk away and the game to commence.

His memories clouded. Dan had found his own clues to be ingenious – tracing a note in the snow that had fallen onto her windshield. Annie had to run outdoors to make sure his message wasn’t erased by freshly fallen snow. He watched from his apartment across the street as she kneeled on the hood of her car, frantically scribbling. “You’re on the clock, buddy”, Annie reminded him, her once hint of a smile turning into a sarcastic grin. Dan nodded and extended his hand to take the card, knowing that once he touched it, that by his rules he would not be able to contact her for twenty-four hours. “Come on”, she prodded, “you can do it. Just take the card, keep your eyes open, and I’ll see you in a little while. Or will I?” She made no attempts to hide her laughter or pure enjoyment of the moment. Dan stood before her, wide eyed, now at the whim of his much smarter and more clever mate. In a quick moment he took the card and immediately placed it in his back pocket. Annie stood on her tip toes, inches away from Dan, and kissed him lightly on the nose and then his lips. Without a word, Annie strode away lazily towards the town’s center. Dan waited for her to turn around and hoped for one last glimpse to decipher any lingering clues he could gather.

Normally, Dan would’ve enjoyed this act – being able to unabashedly gaze at her legs and the natural sway her hips provided as she moved about his apartment. He would feign sleep just to watch her move in natural light – sauntering around his apartment on a Sunday morning in sometimes nothing more than a t-shirt. Lately, Annie had been astute at his attempts to gaze at her. When pressed for an answer, Dan simply admitted his astonishment at how beautiful she was. Annie shrugged off his reply as cheap flattery and let the moment pass. What he meant to say was just how awestruck he was with her. Dan lived in simple amazement at her beauty, grace, and sense of humor, but his inability to express this was deeply set into his self confidence. In his mind, these superfluous poetic words he wanted to express would woo Annie and put him on par with just how she made him feel. When he tried to let them out, he became tongue tied or created new words. His flustered attempt to compliment her one late night in bed came out as “prettyful” causing Annie’s laughter to make the mattress shake and her sides ache. “You amaze me”, she giggled as she stretched her arms and legs simultaneously in her own cat like way while looking into his eyes. In that one comment she had achieved what he had tried to do, without even using big or imaginary words.

Dan created the game as a last ditch effort to put them on an even playing field. At first, he felt like the notion itself had elevated his status. A single post it note placed strategically in Annie’s wallet was all it took to get her imagination running. Her voice message placed on his answering machine contained the curious tone he’d anticipated. “Daniel, what are you up to?”, she purred, “Am I really going to have to wait until I get home for a clue?” Upon opening the door she was greeted with yet another post it note, simply indicating ‘banister’. The initial goose chase brought her to the hamper, the mailbox, and finally to her lap top. She opened the email as he peeked around the corner, happily gazing at her wide eyes. Once she had finished, she closed the computer and without looking at him remarked “I’m in.” She proved to be even more astute than Daniel anticipated, picking up clues at a rapid pace. Her intensity and competitive nature led her to put any other tasks aside and focus intently on his hidden message. Dan scrambled to keep up with her, rashly inserting additional steps just to buy time.

In the last hour, Annie slowly stepped into Mason’s Bar. Her last hint, found underneath the toaster, instructed her to find the final puzzle piece here. Her final clue, inevitably turned out to be Dan. He sat alone at the bar with a drink ordered for her. “My twenty-four hours are up.”, she said with a gloating tone. “Here I am.”. He silently nodded and motioned for her to sit. “Didn’t think I’d figure it out did you?, she asked. Dan motioned his drink to hers in a toast. She raised her glass to his and with an arched eyebrow. “Vodka, Danny?”, she asked. “I haven’t had vodka since I got really sick that one time…”. She paused and held the drink close to her almost as if it were a precious doll. “Our first date,” she said, moving her glass to clink with his.

Once Annie had disappeared from sight, Dan immediately ripped into the envelope, pulling out the note and tossing the envelope mindlessly aside. He hesitated, envisioning twenty-four hours of Annie’s wildest tricks and was sure she’d send him up and down town. Dan hadn’t anticipated Annie wanting a turn in his game. He folded the card back and forth mindlessly in his hands as his nerves took hold. He removed his glasses to wipe them on his sweater, Dan’s glasses slipped and fell into the snow. Blindly he crawled towards where he estimated they had fallen. He scanned all around but the glasses had disappeared. He sat still and the snow fell all around him, slowly covering his hair, sweater, and pants. A serene feeling overcame him and he decided to simply sit and watch the snow. The only noise came from a few cars passing in the distance and he realized that his heart beat and breathing came much more slowly than usual. His glasses had only fallen a few feet to his side and he picked them up, again brushing them against his shirt, only the snow collected there only made them worse. He sat up, shaking the snow from his sweater and his short, graying hair and finally wiped the glasses dry. He inched closer to a street light to read the note.

As he read Annie’s delicate cursive, the panic returned. The calm, slow steady heartbeat and feeling of control flew away. The note simply read ‘One if by land, two if by sea.’ His memory landed then flew from any possible explanation within moments. He thought of dates, clocks, American History, special places in town and his leads all fell flat. He stood quickly and stuffed the note into his pocket, hoping it might provide some insight later on. He looked both ways down the empty street and as he started to pace, realized he had been sitting on the envelope. Dan carried it over to a trash can and as he crumpled it suddenly froze. He opened the small ball he had made of the envelope back up to see a small notation on the front of it, where a stamp usually resided. It read ‘Any light bulbs yet?’. “Damn it!”, he shouted. His pacing took on a longer stride as he pondered her scribblings and as he stood beneath his apartment he noticed one light on. Panic set in again wondering if someone had broken in. He quickly took out his phone and pressed the number one speed dial for his home phone number. Annie’s voice immediately came onto the voicemail.

“Hello,” it started, “to anyone calling for our dear Dan, rest assured he will be back shortly and will return your message ever so promptly. However, if this is Dan. Congratulations! You truly are a smart cookie and I applaud your putting the pieces together so quickly. I also have to tell you that I’m not as clever as you, and this game will be a true struggle to keep up with your wit! I mean, who would’ve thought to assign numbers to each letter in reverse! I think you’re going to win but it’s fun to try right? I really have no idea what ‘1 if by land, 2 if by sea’ means. I made that up to be cryptic and throw you off the trail long enough to record this. Danny, I know you don’t always think I notice the little things, but I really do. I like when you make up words. I can’t help but keep about my business when I catch you gazing at me, but it’s not that I don’t care. I do. I just feel so beautiful and special when I see that look in your eyes, I really just don’t want that to stop. And I can’t tell you how touched I am that you still think about our first date. Getting sick on vodka and having you hold my hair back. Great first impression right? But here we are. Daniel Rivers, I love you. In the interest of spending a little more time together tonight, I say we call it a draw. Deal? Oh wait, I can’t tell if you’re nodding or not. Or can I?”

Dan felt a soft tap on his shoulder and turned to see Annie, smiling and rosy cheeked from the cold. Annie pounced on him, making him fall in the snow. The two lay together and kissed as the snow fell around them. Dan stuffed his phone in his pocket and laughed at her ingenuity. “Still love me?”, Annie asked pulling him up to his feet. “Wondertastically”, said Dan with a smile. Annie smiled and took his hand, leading him back upstairs into his cozy apartment with the one light shining.