I’m a couple of steps down the street into my walk past the once thriving buildings now standing mostly empty. The Woolworths, the bank, and the Register all abandoned crumbling next to newer establishments. Only sad remnants of a rich history remain like the dressing rooms in a once-popular dress store and the marble tiled floors of the old hotel that seem too regal now inside the façade of chipped paint. It’s a pretty good day, one which I’ve decided to spend not working, but instead taking in the town since I rarely have the time to do so. My hounds tooth jacket absorbs the heat of the sun shining in on me. I look down to the old feed store that’s been converted into a shop selling overpriced knick knacks.
Seeing his silhouette is pretty much the last thing I expect on a walk I took only to avoid actually going to my house to work. There’s no mistaking it though, it’s him. That lanky form of a guy, more like a teenage boy than a grown man, and that gradually hooked nose. His hair is meant to sweep gradually to the side which causes him to have this unmistakably adolescent head flick every five or so seconds and I can see this atrocity from a block away. He’s wearing jeans slightly tighter than those worn by the majority of men these days, not because he likes the fit, I’m sure, but to make a statement.
I was originally intending to walk down to the river to clear my head of the many things on it, but it’s just too much. I have to see this in person. I take a direct turn into the sun. Nothing will make me happier today than walking over and ruining his day. He would never admit to the fact, but I would know it and god would it be great.
It’s not like he was cool back then and it’s not like he wasn’t cool. I suppose being kind of quiet and not completely hideous looking can help add an air of mystery which serves as your own kind of popularity. This guy was hipster before hipster was even a term in my vocabulary. I envied him. He wrote, he did his own thing despite everybody and that was something I could never do then. Everyone just thought he was so above everything we were all so concerned with back then. I wasn’t confident enough, I guess, to do what he did, although I wanted so desperately be “free.” I wanted to know exactly what book to ask for when I walk into offbeat bookstores. I wanted to have dialogues with my literature teacher about Anna Karenina. I wanted to sit in the sun wearing Ray Ban’s during lunch break just pondering life.
At a certain point, I think I thought that maybe some of that quiet confidence could rub off on me by association. Maybe I had a crush. I really don’t know. He was quiet and everyone wanted to know more about him and I was always too loud or too quiet at the wrong time. No one wanted to know more about me. He found out at some point about my obsession of his essence, of course, since I can’t keep anything to myself and then avoided me like I was some desperate sycophantic loser. I was so misguided then.
I bet he’s on some journey of artistic self discovery for his next award winning work of fiction. I bet he thinks he’s going to come into this town, my town now, and write some epic story as if he discovered it himself like a Generation Y hipster Columbus. I can’t wait to casually walk up into that store, one I go to often enough, as if I was going there all along, as if I belong and completely ignore him.
As I get to the door, he’ll call my name, my hair shining in the sunlight since I remembered, thankfully, to blow dry it this morning and my tight worn jeans on. I’ll turn around looking slightly busy and confused. I’ll look at him and say, “Oh, Hunter, I didn’t see you there. What are you doing here?”
He’ll say, “I was just about to ask you the same thing.”
“Well, I was just picking up some ___________ for my ___________.” I’ll say this very nonchalantly, of course.
“You live here?”
“Yup, I live here and teach down the street,” I would say like I own the place.
“Oh, um, well I was just on this trip, you know, going around trying to experience stuff kind of off the beaten path for my next novel. Celia’s here too, she’s in the car looking up places we should see on the GPS,” he would say vaguely like there was something in between the lines I was supposed to understand.
“Wow, sounds like you’ve got the off-the beaten path thing down to a science.”
“I guess. I mean I should probably be talking to you since you know the place,” he would mumble like I just walked into his 6th birthday party dressed as Godzilla and threw his cake and presents into a wall.
“Ya, well I’ve actually got to run. It was good to see you. Enjoy your trip or whatever and don’t park on 4th street. Good luck with your novel,” and as I walked out the door he would wonder what I meant by that and hate that I knew more about this place than he did. He always thought he was so much more enlightened than the rest of us. He probably was, but still he didn’t have to act so pompous about it.
I’m almost there. I suppose I’ll be looking for a new tortoise shell salad tongs for my kitchen while I’m there. I walk up to the door with purpose and don’t even glance to my right as I do. I want him to notice me and not the other way around. No one calls out my name and I shrug it off as I walk in. He’ll come in after me. I’m looking at various candles and coffee mugs when finally I hear my name. I turn around with this overly smug face like I’m the richest person in the store because I know this is the moment I’m going to shut him down. I wish I was better at hiding my emotions so I could look more nonchalant, but it’s too late now. I look at his face and realize it’s not even Hunter at all. It’s the same lanky figure but I had forgotten he and Alex looked so similar from far away. I had completely forgotten about Alex.
“Alex, what are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since, well, high school?”
“It has been awhile…um…I’m actually here to see you.” He hasn’t changed much since high school. Where Hunter was quietly smug about himself, Alex was just quiet. Even though he looked so similar to Hunter it never seemed as obnoxious somehow.
“Me? I mean, why?”
“Well, I read that article you wrote about this place online? It seemed like it might be pretty cool,” he says. I remember now that he had sat next to me during literature class and always peer-edited my work.
“It is pretty cool. I’d love to show you around, you know- if you want.”
“That’s actually exactly why I came here. I didn’t think I would find you so easily.”
“It is kind of a small town,” I laugh as I nervously tuck my hair behind my ear knowing that it is futile, my hair never stays behind my ear.
As we walk around the places I had already circled three times today, we catch up on what we’re both up to these days. He is working at a small graphic design firm. In school he always made t-shirts and CD covers whenever there was an opportunity, more of a visual artist than a writer. He appreciated good literature though, and he read a lot.
I feel like we’ve opened up enough to each other so I bring up the topic, “You know, I actually thought you were Hunter. It’s crazy; I was ready to ignore the crap out of you as I walked into the store. Is he still as pretentious as he used to be? You guys are still friends, right?”
“You could say we’re friends, I guess. We catch up once a year. He’s going through what I assume is a writer thing, trying to find himself. He’s going out every night getting into trouble and working temp jobs during the day. When he was in town recently, he called me to bail him out of jail.”
“Honestly I didn’t like Hunter that much. I bet he’s justifying all of his antics by writing awesome stuff like he used to, huh?”
“I always loved reading his work in college, but he hasn’t written anything since. He’s too up in his head. You’re the only one I read these days.”
“I didn’t think anyone read my stuff it’s not like I write anything worth anything. I don’t even get paid to write.”
“I’m here aren’t I?”
“You are, aren’t you,” I say in a statement to myself. I felt bad for Hunter, he’s missing out.