Someone to Watch Over Me
We live in a world of cycles and rhythms. Awakening, activity, tiredness, sleep--three hundred and sixty odd days a year until we die. Every year another birthday, another anniversary of this or that important event; every year another celebration of the birth of Christ, another carved pumpkin, another first snow--and then it begins again.

Seven o'clock, rise. Shower, then breakfast--nothing fancy. The car's still new enough that it starts on the first try. Canyon to 217 to the Sunset Highway, I-5 northbound to pick up 84 east, then 205, then Airport Way and the tower looms strong against the steadily growing daylight from behind me. Eight hours of paperwork, of running errands and listening to the same recorded messages, and back along the roads to home. I have done this every day for a year now.

Portland International Airport, like all such creations, is itself a little universe of cycles--by design nobody stays in airports. Every jetliner that leaves has to land somewhere; every one that comes to PDX has to leave again. The passengers file through in an endless stream, moving from one gate to another in a ceaseless river of human flesh.

Like a spinning turntable, everything we are and everything we do is dependent on rhythm. But sometimes, the stylus skips, even disappears altogether--and that's when things really start to get interesting. What would life be, after all, without a surprise here and there?

"Hey, Mark, can you mail these on your way out?" Having seen me packing up my briefcase, Hal doubtless realised his window of opportunity for exploiting my presence was closing. I sighed and held out my hand, and he flashed a winning smile to pacify me. It didn't really work, though we were on friendly terms and he also knew I didn't really mind, dour face or not. "Thanks--you're a doll."

"Yeah, yeah. You owe me--that's way the hell out of my way."

"Stop whining." The wolf's head dipped down, back to his paperwork, so that the fluorescents caught his glasses and his eyes seemed to glow. "Walking's good for you anyway."

"Like you'd know," I rolled my eyes--Hal had never lived up to the muscular stereotype of his kind, and his figure drew from gravity as a primary shaper of its form. I turned to leave and, catching his middle finger from the corner of my eye, I laughed. "See you tomorrow, Hal--don't work too hard."

"You know me," he said--and I did, which was why I was carrying his mail. It really wasn't too bad a walk, and since the only thing I had to look forward to after leaving the airport was the lengthy drive home and perhaps a bit of computer time or the television, I let myself take my time. The most important part of my daily cycle was still ahead, besides, so what was ten minutes? We have more time to spare than we think.

I dropped the mail off and began a lengthy circuit back, my eyes slipping over the airport smorgasbord, over the bleary-eyed mothers pushing hastily-assembled strollers, over latecomers rushing towards departure, over fellow security men, like me, who had seen it all before and would see it all again tomorrow. And finally I reached my destination.

By the security checkpoint that leads to the southern concourses, new arrivals and outbound travellers might pick up a hint of trombone, a bit of melody from before the era of the electric guitar, and if they were to follow this, threading their careful way between weary fellow travellers, they would come across Café Morocco.

Café Morocco is neither a true café nor African; it's a theme restaurant, of sorts, catering to people who either remember, or wish to remember, the glory days of aviation, the 40s and 50s, when the airliner was a bastion of civilisation rather than a twisted, spiteful commentary on it; when travel was exotic rather than a routine, and airports were gateways to Shambhala.

Its name comes circuitously from Casablanca, I suspect, given the curious attire of the attendants, the mournful, flowing notes of "Perfidia" on the speakers, the tropical plants (fake, I think, like everything else), and the cursive neon sign that announces the café's presence to passers-by.

I entered to the sound of Jelly Roll Morton (as famously interpreted by Benny Goodman's band) and a wave from the tall, dark, and impeccably-dressed man behind the bar. By the time I had swung myself onto a seat there, he had my order ready: root beer, easy ice, the same thing I'd ordered every night since my second day at work.

As I took the glass, I nodded my thanks to him. "How's it going?"

John, the bartender, shrugged noncommittally. "Ten steps above hell..."

"Ten below heaven," I finished with him. The numbers sometimes changed--John had decided at some point that heaven and hell were separated by a flight of stairs, about which he moved from day to day--but the phrasing was always identical. "Anything interesting?"

He looked up at the ceiling while he thought. "Alaskan favoured me with a group of foreign businessmen--all suits and ties. Chinese, maybe? I couldn't quite tell the language."

"They stop here?" I pretended to be surprised.

"Oh, yeah," he laughed. "They spend well. It's great, being the first impression most of these people have of our country. Fletcher Henderson, neon lights, and alcohol served by men in bowties. They took it ok, though."

"Yeah, you think." I took another drink of the root beer, which was homemade. "You know you probably cost Boeing or Nike or somebody some big sale. They get here, they see you... book the next flight right back to Beijing." I pantomimed this with a sweeping hand.

"That's not fair," John protested, proclaiming himself to be an "ambassador of goodwill." This, I had to concede--the price of my drink had been steadily dropping over the last six months, from three dollars to pocket change, and we'd become, I like to think, pretty good friends.

"Alright, alright--maybe. Anyone else? It was slow as hell at the office today--I've seen continents move faster, I swear to god."

Thursdays were like that for the both of us, and John's black hand waved across the sparsely-populated restaurant. "If it was any more dead, my customers would be asking for brains." He pronounced this last word in a sibilant hiss, brainsssss, and I chuckled. "How's Hal?"

"He's ok. Stressed--TSA wants some change to our handling procedures or another, I... not my job, I don't care, you know? That and the Ducks play Saturday. He's brought a different mug in every day this week."

John shook his head and gave me a 'what can you do?' shrug. "Tomorrow's Casual Friday for you boys, ain't it? You know that means his tie will play the fight song, right?" Oh, almost certainly he was right.

"Or he comes in wearing a green blazer and a yellow shirt," I offered, which John conceded was also a distinct possibility. "You know, I've never seen that man with a girlfriend? Or a boyfriend. Or any friend that doesn't have a bill."

"Good guy, though."

"Hell of one, yeah," I admitted freely. We were silent for a few seconds. "God damn it all, John," I yawned. "I don't want to drive home." Portland traffic was notoriously bad, degrading in quality even over the relatively short time I'd had to manage it. John topped off my root beer by way of commiserating. I turned ninety degrees and leaned towards him a bit so that we could continue our conversation as I surveyed the bar.

It was a mix of clients, as it nearly always was, reflecting the makeup of the airport crowd as a whole. Split evenly in gender, perhaps a quarter, overall, wore suits of some kind; half sported the dishevelled look of the weary tourist. In the corner a young woman scribbled in a notebook; along the wall a few people gathered--a band, I suspected, from the vague outlines of instruments in their baggage.

Sometimes this can lead one to reflection. Who were these people? They were unwashed, it appeared, as unkempt as they were doubtless unknown. Did they dream of fame or fortune? Was it some fantasy of strobelights and packed crowds and drug-fueled parties that stretch on into the morning that brought them to the City of Roses? Or something more pragmatic?

"Pittsburgh," John said. "Flew in about an hour ago. Punk trio or something."

"You heard of them before?"

"Heck no," John scoffed. "And I probably won't. They're here on a layover because it was cheaper to get to Denver by way of PDX than it was to fly direct. Anybody who does that doesn't have the money to get famous."

I looked at my friend and raised a sceptic's eyebrow. "Come now, John, you know it's talent, not money, that... oh, hell." I laughed it off--once, many years ago, I'd wanted to make it big on the guitar; I knew the feeling. "What about Hemingway over there?"

"Dickinson," John corrected. "Ordered an iced tea two hours ago--ran out of ice about an hour later; didn't ask for any more. She's from back east, wants to be a poet."

Such was the melange. Los Angeles was only a few airports down the coast--a city built in its own way on aspirations, on hopes for glory. This was Portland, one of the most liveable cities in the country, I'm told, and here gathered dreamers too, waiting to see what happened when they awoke.

I could sympathise with this. At 23, out of college for only two years, I nurtured a future greater than deskwork in a noisy, crowded airport. Though John and I both feigned cynicism, I knew he felt this pull too, felt the energy that comes from the possibility for a new beginning.

This is what happens, I think, each time we disembark. It is a rebirth, of sorts--one enters into an unfamiliar world where all the faces are new, or nearly so. We have the only the baggage we choose to bring, at the close of the journey, and the boarding pass is our ticket to a second chance.

The night before had ended with FreeCell on the computer in my living room, until I could no longer focus, and then suddenly it was morning again, Friday, the last day before a weekend I desired strongly. Over breakfast I listened to the news on KOPB, dismissed it all without really thinking, and began the slog anew.

Hal topped our greatest expectations by arriving in quite possibly the ugliest outfit I have ever seen, yellow and green striped pants and a t-shirt loudly proclaiming him to be from the University of Oregon. His tie, as it turned out, merely repeated this theme, a duck's head square in the centre, but did not play music--a little box on his keychain did.

He tossed a manila envelope onto my desk as I shrugged off my coat, reading the thick black handwriting along the top. "Contractor budget, huh?" Security was not handled entirely organic to the airport, and we sometimes had to bring in outside help.

Unfazed by my look, Hal shrugged his massive shoulders. "I need those in the system, processed, and back on my desk by noon."

"God damn it, Hal," I groused, pulling the haphazardly-stapled reports from their brown den. "I'm a week behind on Dave's little pet project as it is."

"Uh huh," the wolf said, already back at his work. "Dave doesn't have a meeting with the department heads at half past shit o'clock this afternoon. Dave can wait; I want those figures run."

The equipment our guards used, the monitoring hardware and the computers that ran it, were if not dangerously so, than certainly at least past their prime, and there'd been talk of replacing them for at least half a year. Before me were numbers, a vast array of numbers with menacing little dollar signs in front of them. I sighed and got to work.

I finished early, printed off my work and set the still-warm pages on Hal's desk to be met with his ever-vigilant yellow eyes. He looked tired, and rather than raising his muzzle, he lifted his gaze to me. "Well?"

"Go with what's behind door number three," I said, over my shoulder, taking my seat once more. "You could save some money because... who are the French guys? Security National's software is cheaper, but everything else, JMR's your best bet."

"How much money?"

"Six, seven thousand maybe? Minus what it would cost to get the computers talking to the scanners." I shrugged, looking over the numbers still lingering on my computer screen. "I'd say a couple thousand, tops."

Hal now held the papers on one hand, rested his head on the other. "You know, I wouldn't turn down a couple thousand."

"I wouldn't either, but I'm not the one who'd be getting it. Besides, didn't you want to go with JMR anyway? Should've just proposed we take them up on it; saved this rigmarole."

My supervisor laughed, a short, harsh sound. "Oh, yeah. Refit every goddamn piece of equipment in the airport with a no-bid contract. If we did that, every half-assed lawyer that isn't already suing the dead pilots of crashed airliners would be stroking their two-inch dicks so hard they'd catch fire."

True or not--well, no, I knew it was true, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. "God, I hate bureaucracy."

Hal grinned, enough to show his teeth. "You are bureaucracy, Mark. I wasn't in any condition to do this yesterday, so I had them push the meeting back a day so that my budgetary specialist could run the numbers for me."

"I'm your budgetary specialist now?"

"Might as well be something," Hal pointed out. "At least 'budgetary specialist' sounds like you actually know what you're talking about."

I rolled my eyes. "These department heads, everyone else--do they know just how little security's going to help us? Like... they have to know that Osama bin Laden doesn't give a rat's ass about PDX, right? And that even if he did, there's no way we could really stop him?"

The report I'd typed had shielded Hal's face from me, but he set it down now and we looked at each other across the small office. "Of course," he said, almost flippantly. "We're not stupid. It's a charade, just like everything else in life. It's all just a little veneer to make us feel better. You wouldn't want to take that away, would you? What are you, a terrorist?"

I didn't say anything, and we sat, quiet, contemplating. It pained me to admit that he was right, that it was all an act so that we could go to sleep without worrying that our skyways were ever bit as insecure as they'd ever been, that we were holding on to a fiction so that we didn't have to be uncomfortable.

Hal broke the silence, finally, by touching his keychain, and the room filled with the poorly-rendered notes of the Oregon fight song. He grinned at me again, and while he didn't sing, his fingers twitched as though conducting the little computer chip.

I wanted to counter with something, but I didn't know the melody. "Does Oregon State even have a fight song?"

He nodded vigorously with an "oh, sure," and began humming--Chopin's Piano Sonata in B-flat minor. Though I chuckled, I also rolled my eyes again--this time so he could see me--and went back to my safe world, where I was helping keep the skies danger-free, and every key I tapped made a difference.

"Do you fly?"

John pursed his lips in thought ,whistling through them. "Not for three or four years."

I looked into the root beer like it contained tea leaves I might be able to find a few interesting tidbits in. "Would you worry about flying?"

"Worry like how? Like I'd get airsick, or like I'd crash?"

I shrugged and drummed my fingers on the counter for a second. "Neither. I was just thinking about it--I spent a couple hours this morning typing up a report for Hal on upgrading the security here. You think all the money we put into security makes a difference? Honestly?"

"Are you kidding me?" The tall man laughed, his upper body shaking. "Nah. All the money you bastards spend on that, you could bring back in-flight meals and we wouldn't have to spend an hour getting felt up by TSA."

I joined him in his mirth and shrugged, changing the topic. "Hal's tie was pretty normal, for him, by the way. He had this little thing on his key ring instead."

"Who's supposed to win?"

"Probably Eugene," I said, even though I didn't really know, and I told John this too. "I haven't followed football since I got out of college, and even then it was just so I knew when everybody in my dorm was going to be getting drunk."

"Don't like it?" he asked.

"Don't care about it, more's the point," I said. "You going to watch the game?"

He made a see-sawing motion with his hand. "Depends on what else I've got going on."

Having lost interest in what was--for the both of us, evidently--a boring topic, I just nodded. "So how's business?"

"It's a Friday," John said, which meant that it was (or was going to be) pretty good. "We'll start getting the pleasure travellers pretty soon. The bar's been dead, but the cooks have been pretty busy."

"Anyone interesting?" Ironically, because I worked in the airport, I was largely cut off from the ebb and flow, since my office was well away from the concourses; I depended on John to provide for me.

"Not really, is the thing. You can see for yourself."

I turned around to see that he was right, that somehow a busy restaurant seemed lifeless--you had to work to find the characters, to separate them out from blending into one featureless, homogenous mass. "That sucks," I said, and could feel him nod behind me.

"You remember the poet from last night?" I craned my head back to look at John and acknowledged that I did. "She's still here. Behind that support pillar... you can just see her bag."

"So you can," I said, noticing the small brown object--itself featureless and homogenous. "Layover, you suppose?"

John didn't say anything, and I swivelled the stool back around to find him thinking. "I don't know," he said, eventually. "I don't think she really left last night, and she was here when I got on at two. Ordered another iced tea. She left for a half-hour or so a while back, but she hasn't moved since. Just keeps writing."

"Maybe she's a spy," I said, and while John agreed that this was possible, neither one of us believed it. It was still an interesting question, though. Why would anyone spend two days in an airport, sipping expensive iced tea in a restaurant six decades past relevance?

I wanted my life to have some semblance of excitement, and the quiet poet was not the first victim of speculation. How much more unique our lives could be than what they are--why not a spy here, a pro basketball player there? "Probably a college student," John was saying, "writing the great American novel."

This, though more likely, was more banal. "Maybe she's someone really famous. You know, like Joseph Heller, some real recluse who doesn't want people to know what they look like."

"Or," John countered, "a college student."

"You're no fun," I told him, and he shrugged unapologetically. "What kind of crazy college student spends two days at an airport just to write about it?"

"Three, I think. I was talking to Joanna, who works after me; says she was in here Wednesday too."

"That's fucked up," I said, and ended my sigh with a drink, not quite yet finished when I resumed talking. "Can you imagine how much that would suck, living in an airport?"

"Worked for that French guy."

I raised an eyebrow, echoing him. "'French guy'?"

"Yeah, there's this guy who's been living in the terminal at Charles de Gaulle since 1985 or something. I heard it on the radio. It's really weird." We paused for a moment of silence to commemorate the brave soul of such a man who could endure that long in an airport--in France, no less.

Then I shook my head. "That's fucked up," I said again.

"No kidding. You should talk to her," he then said, as though the suggestion followed logically.

He'd caught me off-guard. "What?"

"Find out where she's from, you know, what's going on and all. Ten to one she's a college student, though."

"I'm not just going to go talk to random people," I said, and shook my head once more, as though the suggestion were particularly odious.

John snorted. "You know, you're such a wimp. You need to get out; live a little. What's the worst that could happen?" It wasn't a new complaint, and he wasn't the first to voice it. I weighed its merits and looked over at the pillar. Sighing, I took the first step in sliding down the bar far enough that I could see her, hunched over her notebook.

She raised her head up and our eyes met briefly. Her muzzle shifted in a smile and a nod of acknowledgement. It was the last straw; while I nodded back, I also set my root beer down the counter and got up to leave. "This is ridiculous. Have a good weekend, John." I left them both, the bartender shaking his head in disappointment, and I found I didn't care.

All my life people have tried to get me to change. I'm too non-confrontational, they say, or too quiet, or too reserved. I let people walk over me, delegate my decisions rather than making them myself; I'm too content to sit back and let others be in charge.

The accusation bothered me. It wasn't true, for one--I could be every bit as aggressive as General Patton, I was certain of it, if the right opportunity presented itself. Why fight for a ten-cent raise, though? Why put your neck out for some two-bit unwashed poet who would wind up in the gutter by tomorrow anyway?

It was pragmatic, that was all--I was pragmatic. What right did John have to tell me I needed to live a little? I was living plenty as it was. This left the question of why I was so angry, but I decided that was best ignored. I couldn't even find a cause, anyway--even OPB suddenly irritated me, and I turned the radio off.

On a whim I wound up in Washington, on I-5 northbound, and I didn't know why but it got me out of the rush-hour traffic, moving quickly, and that was cathartic. Live a little!


I was being irrational, I knew--it's easy to tell, when you storm out of an airport, of all places, and wind up heading for Seattle, a city you haven't seen since college and were eager enough to forget. I was being irrational, but I didn't know what else to do.

John was right; nothing bad could come of small talk. Why had I shunned it? What was I afraid of? And, on the other side of the equation, why was it so important? It must have been; the car was still moving north. In my mind, I could see her raising her head and smiling again. And again, and I found myself analysing, dissecting, trying to maintain my distance.

Something hit me at some point--a little voice, I don't know how to describe it exactly. I don't believe in sky spirits or gods or whatever you want to call them, particularly. At the same time, these voices are powerful things. How many times have we heard of someone who woke up in the middle of the night to discover later a loved one had passed on, someone who failed to board an airliner that later crashed. These sorts of things.

Sometimes we do things without really knowing why--a crime I'm certainly guilty of myself. Occasionally, it works out well--occasionally it doesn't. Either way, I've come to decide, we'd better take our chances.

I pulled off at Rainier and turned around.

It was half past nine when got back to the airport, and John had already left, I saw. His replacement, an older fellow I'd met only once or twice, idly washed glasses behind the bar and ignored me as I entered, having told myself that I wouldn't let anything too bizarre come to pass.

She stood out, I discovered, even in such an eclectic place as Portland International. In the time since I'd left (in a huff, I admitted to myself), she had relocated and now sat in a booth along the wall. I circled around the column she'd inhabited earlier and took stock.

She was curled up, eyes closed, knees drawn up so that nothing touched the floor, tail curled around to cover her feet. At first I took her for asleep, and it wasn't until I drew closer that I saw the slight motion of her lips, the nodding of her head to the music with which she sung, quietly and almost under her breath. I recognised the song.

"There is a somebody I'm longing to see," she said, her voice almost a whisper, "I hope that he..." she drew a deep breath with the singer, as though they were talking in person; sharing a thought between them. "Turns out to be..."

Sighing inwardly, and now at her booth, I finished with her, louder, because I'm not good at whispering. "Someone who'll watch over me."

The poet started, her eyes flying open as she turned slightly. "Oh!" I got a good look at her face for the first time, still warm in spite of the surprise, and her eyes were the colour of summer grass. "I'm sorry," she said. "I... must've got carried away."

I couldn't quite tell what she was--her fur was ruddy, and her tail thick, so that I might've thought her a vixen; but her hair was brown, her muzzle not quite as pointed, her build not quite as slim--and suddenly I realised that I was the one getting carried away, and I returned to reality with a shrug. "No, not at all. It's a good song."

"It is," she said, and I noticed she was examining my chest. "I'm sorry if I was disturbing anyone."

I looked down and laughed, unclipping the badge and setting it into my pocket. "No, no, I'm off-duty. I just, ah..." I tried to think of the right explanation, and as I did so she motioned that I should sit, which I did. "Just was wondering about you, is all. You've been here at least the last couple days... maybe more?"

"Definitely more," she confirmed. "I flew in Monday." She had a slight accent--southern, I thought, and I asked her the next obvious question. "Raleigh--it was an excruciating flight. We stopped in O'Hare for a little bit, but it was still far too long in those cramped little airplanes..."

I nodded, in what I hoped was a sympathetic way. "Raleigh, huh? What brings you to Portland?"

"I'm writing," she said with a nod to her notebook. "I'm a poet and I decided I wanted to write about something interesting, so I bought a one-way ticket to the furthest airport I wanted to travel to, sold everything I owned, and moved west. I've been living here ever since."

I blinked in surprise. "Like you have an apartment, or--"

"No, here. Departures, some; some in the waiting area--spend a lot of time here in Morocco, I'm finding." She laughed; looked briefly self-deprecating. "Sleep in the waiting area, mostly--chairs are better at the gates, though, and they let me through security..."

"That must not be very comfortable," I pointed out.

"It's not," she admitted, adding, "but art has a way of demanding discomfort from the artist. Some of Van Gogh's most beautiful paintings were born from the depths of depression." She sounded very sure of herself, comparing her work to that of the greats, and the more I looked at her the more I thought that John was right, that she was young--if not in college, then just out of it. "I'm Kara, by the way."

She had unfolded a paw, I noticed, and offered it to me, so I shook it. "Mark."

Kara leaned back and chewed her thumbnail. "Mark," she repeated. "That's a Biblical name, doesn't tell me much." Her eyes ran over me intently, with every mannerism of a hawk. "You don't quite look like a wolf... Spitz-ish, though. Scandinavian, maybe," she mused aloud, and, having evidently settled on this, folded her hands once more on the table. "I'd say your last name tells me you're somebody's son."

Bemused, I guess, I confirmed her suspicion. "Eric."

"Ericsson!" She said, and clapped her hands triumphantly. "Wonderful."

"My father's real name was Axel, though. And his father's was Olav. I'm from a bit north of Minneapolis, by birth, real Garrison Keillor kind of territory," I explained--and it had been, a small town with many more cows than people, where people couched the future in dreams of the past and everyone knew your name at the post office.

"So which are you, good-looking or above average?" Stunned, I declined to answer, and she gave up after a few seconds. "Fair enough. Alright, Eric's son, your turn--I didn't give you a last name either."

"Ah," I began, and stopped almost as quickly. "Well..." Suddenly it had become harder to look at her, and the act required some degree of effort on my part. "I'd say, uh... I'd almost say you were a fox, but your ears are a bit different and your hair isn't quite the right colour."

Brushing it back out of her eyes, she dipped her head. "So it's not."

"Still, I'd guess your name probably has either two capital letters, or an apostrophe. Or both."

When she smiled, then, I could see all of her teeth; sharp teeth, predator's teeth, but cast in a much more friendly light. "Lucky guess. Most of our names aren't like that... O'Halloran happens to be. You were right about the hair, though. My great-grandfather was Scots, which makes my grandfather half, which makes my mother a quarter, which makes me an eighth... not much, just enough to screw things up."

She had the sort of brown hair that always looks a bit dirty, different colours travelling in streaks down a path that stretched from her ears to a few inches below her shoulders. "It looks nice, really," I said, and she smiled again.

"Maybe. Still, nobody really knows why great grandma Breda was so desperate--I mean, a Scotsman, of all things." She looked very pained by this. "I like to think we've made up for it since."

I wavered between resignation and committing wholeheartedly to the endeavour. "You probably have, yes."

We fell back into sudden silence, though I watched her eyes, increasingly animated, search me; I tried to return the gesture, examining her as well, but she had a way of finding out when this was happening and whenever our glances chanced to meet I felt compelled to look at other things. "Ok," she finally said, "so now we move to the lightning round. What do you do here?"

Her words came so abruptly it took me a moment to acclimate. "Uh... I work for airport security. That's why the badge, though, uh, I sit behind a desk. I don't... really like dealing with people," I admitted. Kara nodded, and after a second or two I realised she was waiting for a return question. "What, uh... how old are you?" This seemed safe.

"Twenty-three," she said, her fingers elevated briefly to show me this, as though it might've happened that I was illiterate but understood hand gestures. "You?"

I raised an eyebrow, somewhat interested. "Same."

"Oh, that's bizarre," she said, and wrote something down quickly in her notebook. She lifted her head to catch my curious expression and smiled innocently. "Your question."

"Um. You're... ah, you're from North Carolina, huh?"

"Yup, guilty as charged. Lennon or McCartney?"

That stopped me for a moment. "Uh, neither, Harrison."

"Good choice," she said, though she stayed away from her pen. "Can I ask a follow-up?"

"Yes," I answered quickly. "Where'd you go to school?"

"Chapel Hill. That wasn't my follow-up question, you dork." I found myself grinning, and it wasn't so hard to look at her and find out she was too. "I get two now." Seeing my shrug, she continued. "Speaking of Harrison, Elvis or Beatles?"

"Tahiti vacation or having your eyes eaten by bats? At least the Beatles have a couple of listenable songs."

Kara laughed and shook her head. "Oh, that cynicism will be the death of you. Hmm, next question. Where'd you go to school yourself?"

"UW," I said, pronouncing it "you dub." "Seattle. My folks are from out there, so it was in-state."

"Sure," she said. "I know the feeling. Um..." Kara leaned forward and stared at me like a gypsy fortune-teller behind a crystal ball. "Psych?"

"Almost, sociology. English?"

"You got me," she said, and threw herself back against the seat to resume her intense gaze. "Advantage, the son of Eric. We now pause for a break from our commercial sponsors."

Our dialogue went quickly now, and each line came easier. "Do we?"

She nodded and dipped her head towards the server who had suddenly appeared. "Can I get you anything?"

I shrugged at Kara, and in a moment of abandon I looked her straight in the eye. "You going to be around for awhile?"

"I could."

Turning back to the waiter, I nodded. "Root beer, please--easy ice."

"Root beer," she repeated, after she had ordered another iced tea and the waiter had wandered off. "Wouldn't have guessed that. I saw it was dark, but I... guess I just figured it was one of those cola beverages that keep sucking the life out of the soft drink world."

"No, root beer. They make it from scratch here, it's very good--you should try some." She nodded, and, in the second or so of silence that followed, the obvious occurred to me. "How did you know what colour my drinks are?"

Kara's face took on the devilish grin easily. "What do you think? I've been watching you."

"Watching me? That's kind of odd."

"I'm an odd kind of gal," she said quickly. "Besides, you're about the youngest regular, and I thought you were maybe doing the same kind of thing I was. Trying to find yourself, all that. I was actually kind of hoping you'd come talk to me, earlier, but you left."

I coughed. "John--uh, the bartender--he thought I should too. I was planning on it actually, but, uh, I decided to run away instead."

She raised an eyebrow, nodding appreciatively to the waiter as he set our glasses down. "Why?"

"I don't know, actually. Like I said, I'm... I'm bad with people. It's basically stupid, if you have to know the truth." I was really almost on the verge of apologising to her--for what, I wasn't sure.

"Nah, I'm sure you had a good reason. Where'd you go to?"

I sighed. "I just got on I-5 northbound and drove. Got to Kelso, across the river from Rainier before I realised--wow, retelling it makes it sound even worse. Basically I got aways into Washington and then suddenly it occurred to me that I was being an idiot. You looked like an interesting person to talk to, so... I came back."

"And am I?" Her predatory look was disconcerting me less and less each time I faced it, because it seemed so charming.


"Well, that's good to know." She started to say something, and then her brow furrowed, and I watched her ears swivel in the general direction of the closest speaker. "Oh! I love this song!" She swayed slightly, humming, and then went stock-still, looking at me with her head cocked. "Who's singing?"

I drew a breath, slowly--as if this helped me to think. "Ray Eberle? It's Glenn Miller, anyway."

"Probably Eberle, then," she agreed, and closed her green eyes to the world until the singer's passionate voice faded into one final swell of the orchestra. "If you could wish upon a star, and you knew it would come true, what would you wish for?"

With a frown, I stopped to think. "I don't know, to be honest. I'd like to have some kind of philosophical answer, but... 'world peace' is so cliché. How about you?"

"You weren't supposed to do that." Kara opened her eyes again. "I, uh... I guess I wish I could stop smoking. It's a bad habit I picked up--in times of crisis, when I have the money... It's actually been almost a month now."

"No crisis, or no money?"

Laughing, Kara shrugged softly. "No crisis, for the moment." She reached down--to her pocket, evidently, and fetched a battered silver lighter from it. In the soft light I could just make out an 'R' on the cap as she turned it in her fingers, holding it up for my appraisal. "I drained the fluid before I got on and they said it wouldn't be a problem, which was nice... I've had this thing for--well," she chuckled softly, speaking, it seemed, to the little metal object and not me. "For longer than I've been able to buy cigarettes, that's for sure."

"Well if you want to give up the habit, the airport's a good place to start. They don't much like smokers here."

"I've noticed," she said, and the emotion was hard to read--wistfulness? Gratefulness? Sadness? Whatever it was she replaced the lighter in the pocket it had emerged from, and smiled brightly once more. "So! You were saying about your wish?"

Wishing was nothing strictly new to me, but I'd given it up a year or so back, when I ran out of things to wish for. Landing a fairly well-paying job in a city you like right out of college, being able to make ready payments on the mortgaging of one's soul that is federal student loans... what more was there to wish for?

I had friends, I had a car that worked (for once in my life), I had weekends spent in blissful unproductivity and a low-maintenance house. I had a job I liked more than I wanted to admit, a future to look forward to. In short I was happy--the obvious answer took a second to hit my brain.

The (mostly) fox across me was shaping up to be more interesting than I could've hoped. She had quirks--she refused to let up, as though I was destined to be the foil to her aggressiveness... but for that, and for once in these situations, I didn't regret this. "Well, I guess I hadn't gone to Rainier."

Eyebrow raised, Kara flashed that grin at me. "Much better than mine. Why didn't I think of that?"

"You weren't the one who just realised how much they missed out on because of a stupid mistake."

"The only reason we make mistakes is to fix them afterwards, Mark. It's a shitty way of growing, but it's ours." She looked at the clock on the wall and frowned. "You're right, though, it would've made things easier if there wasn't that two-hour gap. It's past your bedtime, I bet."

"Yours too," I pointed out, and she made a noncommittal noise.

"Eh... my bed is about a hundred feet that way," she pointed to the waiting area, with its rows of hard plastic seats, and I flinched a bit.

"Does that actually work for you?"

She looked at me wearily. "What, the fact that I'm going to be bent into a permanent 'L' shape because of a, ah... a stupid mistake?" I nodded gently. "I'll admit, this was not the best thought through part of my amazing plan."

"Have you considered getting a hotel room?"

Kara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, because most twenty-three year olds happen to be made of money. Ruining my back is well worth a hundred dollars or night or whatever the hell those goddamn sharks want."

I tapped my index finger, perhaps a little nervously. "Ah... for what it's worth, my roommate moved out a month and a half ago, and I haven't really looked for a replacement, so I've got a spare room. I'd ask for rent, but I mean... it's not like I'm doing anything with it anyway. I'm using it to store boxes."

"You're offering me a room?" For once she was the one being taken by surprise, which made it a new sensation for the both of us, I imagine. "We've known each other for like forty-five minutes."

"True," I said, tapping a few more times. "But we've been spying on each other for at least a couple days beyond that. It doesn't really matter--all I'm saying is it's there if you want it. And... hell, if you're writing about the airport, I'm here for nine or ten hours a day."

Considering this, her eyes shut again, and I could tell she was turning the idea over--if nothing else, that she hadn't outright turned it down meant she trusted me, and gave that a fair amount of weight. Finally she looked at me. "You really wouldn't mind?"

When Kara had told me that she'd sold everything she owned, she was apparently not joking around. Her duffel bag--enough for a week's worth of clothes, on the outside, and maybe a few personal effects--was the only thing she owned, and even my little Subaru took it without really even noticing it was there.

We chatted idly on the drive back to Tigard, which suddenly seemed to be going much faster--not entirely, I knew, because the illusion of speed is enhanced at night. Considering that the more the night wore on, the more the vixen looked the part of someone who'd only slept in airport furniture for five days, she remained as alert as always throughout.

Pulling into a free space, I turned the key off and made sure my pass was secured to the rear view mirror. Kara looked over the building--grey and utilitarian, in the fashion of all the best apartment complexes, and smiled placidly. She'd fallen more silent on the last set of roads, and she didn't speak again until we were climbing the stairs. "Just... to make sure of something. I'm like your roommate now, right?"

"As opposed to?"

She shrugged, and I noticed that the duffel moved along with this. "It's just, I've been in Portland less than a week, I don't... know that I'm ready for a relationship, for instance. But roommate, you know, that's ok."

I laughed and resumed my climb. "I wouldn't worry about it. I've never had a girlfriend in my life and... well, you know, if it ain't broke..."

She laughed too. "Fair enough. Never, though? Choice or circumstance?"

That was easy enough. "Choice. Well, apathy really. I told you I don't do people. A relationship... hell, that'd be like soaking myself in wildebeest blood and going for a jog on the savannah." We were at the door to the apartment, and I typed in the key quickly. "And here we go."

It was a small place, just the two bedrooms and a common area that spilled into the compressed kitchen. My previous roommate and I had rarely used it anyway, since the vagaries of our schedules had made cooking more of a chore than a viable alternative.

In my defence, I will say that I took fairly good care of the place--the floor was clean enough, and all the lightbulbs worked. Kara made a little noise of what I took to be appreciation, confirmed when she said "not bad."

Jerking my thumb to where she might set the duffel bag down, I thanked her for this. "Anyway, I figure anything's better than Concourse A. The bedroom's over th... ah, hold on, actually, I'll make sure there's nothing too incriminating in there."

She followed me to the room, bare save for the bed, neatly made, and stacks of Xerox boxes I'd been accumulating because they made such handy storage. "Looks clean, Mr. Rosenberg."

"Then it's yours."

Kara patted the bed once and nodded appreciatively before doing an about face and toppling onto her back like a felled oak, with a moan that I hoped either the neighbours didn't hear--or that they interpreted rather differently. "God damn," she said, deliberately, and closed her eyes with a yawn. "I owe you one."

"Think nothing of it," I said, and turned to leave. "Goodnight, Kara."

"Goodnight, Mark," she answered, and even before I had cleared the threshold I could see her go limp.

The rest of the house was dark, and I kept it that way; long months in the small apartment meant navigation by feel. I washed up quickly, brushing my teeth as though something critical depended on it, and was putting the toothbrush back in the medicine cabinet when I realised I didn't know if I actually wanted to go to bed yet.

In fact, as it turned out, thinking about it, I didn't really know anything at all. Somehow, the 5th of October had suddenly become perhaps the strangest day of my entire life, and the mechanism for this escaped me utterly. All I knew was that I had left my house that morning planning on returning to a quiet, normal existence... and now it seemed there was a new person--complete stranger, really--lying in the spare bed.

I pondered turning on my computer, seeking help from my friends, and decided against it. Offhand, I really had not a clue what they might suggest--and besides, this seemed like a good opportunity for me to start making my own decisions, since this was what everyone seemed so concerned about.

Probably, I should have considered the day's events moderately fortuitous, and this was certainly the direction I was leaning in as I wandered into my own bedroom and sat cautiously down. That was to say, there was something about returning home with intelligent, friendly people that one would ordinarily want to consider fortuitous.

It wasn't, I had to admit, a problem which had a clear logical solution, and since I wanted a definite answer I had to settle for being screwed instead into a new bout of uncertainty. I decided the best course of action would be to wait and see what Saturday brought, then proceed from there.

And then I went to sleep, curled under the blankets, and had you seen only me, only that room, only that little bit of time and space together, you might've thought it the most banal condition a man could ever hope to attain.

Saturday dawned with typical weekend apathy; indeed, I had quite forgotten I was no longer living by myself, humming quietly as I went about my morning chores. It was only when--toast finished, eggs halfway cooked--the door opened behind me that, with a start, the previous night came back to me in a flood.

"Morning," Kara said, a bleary mumble.

I nodded over my shoulder. "Good morning. You sleep well?"

She yawned widely, her ears pinning, and when she spoke again it seemed to have forced the tiredness from her. "I slept, period. That's more than enough, trust me." With another, less forceful yawn she found a chair and dropped into it. "I'd almost forgotten what it felt like."

"That was your choice," I reminded her, and she answered with a dismissive grunt. "Anyway, is toast and eggs acceptable for breakfast? I have some cereal--I mean, seriously, like Froot Loops or something, but cereal--and some milk, but..."

She shook her head, her eyes closing. "No, I--really, if it doesn't come from a vending machine I'd take it like manna from heaven." I set the plate I'd put together in front of Kara, along with a fork, and she looked up at me. "What, you're making breakfast? You don't have to do that..."

"I don't have to do anything," I countered. "But you're my guest."

"I thought I was a roommate."

"You're not covering any of the rent; that makes you a guest." To my chagrin, I discovered I was out of eggs. Well, Froot Loops it was. "Besides, my cooking is less of a boon than you'd think, even if it doesn't come from a machine. Orange juice ok?"

"Oh, man. First off, this is pretty good. Second... second off? Can you say that?" The question being evidently rhetorical, she forged ahead. "I haven't had orange juice in ages."

"That's a 'yes', then?" I asked, pouring two glasses.


I took the seat opposite her at the small table--my previous roommate and I had only eaten together rarely, so it was something of a novelty to have company for food. Kara ate quickly, like a refugee from some war-torn country where breakfast was a luxury, and I watched her with some amusement between bites of my brightly-coloured carbohydrates.

In the natural light she looked slightly different, the red of her fur softer, the white a somewhat less stark contrast. Unchanged in all this were her eyes, which remained striking--a deep green that would've made a jeweller blush. Shyness aside, it was very hard to keep from fixing on them, and presently she looked up from her toast. "Can I help you?"

"No, no," I said, almost apologetically. "I was just, uh, looking at your eyes." She looked at me sceptically, and I shrugged. "You just have very interesting eyes. Uh--pretty, really. I mean, your whole face, actually, is... quite striking." I settled on this as the adjective of choice, and Kara laughed.

"I'm glad you think so." She finished her plate, save for a few pieces of egg here and there, and as she pursued them she kept her muzzle pointed at me. "The ironic thing, actually, is that I'm sure you do too, but I don't know what you look like."

Having lost cognitive control of the situation again, it seemed, I blinked once or twice. "What?"

"Mm-hmm," she confirmed. "I don't know what I look like, either, though."

"You're... what, blind?"

Kara reclined in the chair and looked at me (well, I imagined, at least) scornfully. "Yes, exactly. I noticed you at the bar by echolocation. No, I'm farsighted--hyperopic, I think, is what they'd call it. Far off things I can see fine--I can drive, no problem. It's just... things closer than about five feet I can't really see."

The next question seemed obvious. "Don't they have glasses for that?"

"Yeah," she said, dismissively. "I've got a pair in my satchel, to be honest."

I set my bowl down to stare at her, puzzled. "Why don't you wear them, then?"

Barking a short laugh, she rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah, that'd work. I'm a vixen, Mark."

This explained nothing, and I said so. "I'm... not sure what that has to do with anything..."

Kara shook her head, as though I was deeply mistaken about something fundamental, but she didn't want to be the one to break it to me. "They must not have many up in Lake Wobegon. Let me put it to you this way, then." She began ticking things off on her fingers. "My hair is brown, I've got a college degree, I spend more time at the library than I do at the gym or at parties, and I haven't seen more men than the USS Nimitz. Glasses are just overdoing it, trust me."

I tried to chart a course around this sudden bitterness. "I'm sure they don't make you look like Stephen Hawking. Hell, they probably look very good on you."

Kara pressed her lips together, coming up with a response, and then abandoned whatever she'd been planning in favour of direct action. Finger raised, bidding me to wait, she vanished off into the room she occupied. A minute or so later, concealed behind the wall, she commanded me to close my eyes and, really, what was I to do?

I heard the sound of footsteps, a chair being dragged along the floor. "Alright, fine. You can open your eyes now if you want."

Since I did want, after a fashion, I followed her orders, and then I laughed in spite of myself. "You're kidding me, right? I needed to close my eyes for that?"

The glasses changed nothing--perhaps, even, they helped it, framing her eyes as though both were suited to hang in a gallery. "I thought it best to err on the side of caution."

"A bit of optimism would help."

She grinned lopsidedly. "The basis of optimism, as our dear friend Henry said of Dorian Gray, is sheer terror. Fifteen years of wearing glasses, you learn to fear a bit. I never fit in with the cheerleaders."

"That's because you quote Oscar Wilde to a man eating cereal that looks like an LSD trip. The glasses go well on you, you're... by far one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen. I say again you need more optimism."

Kara blinked behind the spectacles. "Am I, then?"

"Oh, yes." This was true, if not wholly honest--I thought it was accurate, but I had not made a point of observing many people. "You're too hard on yourself. Of course I might not be the best person to comment on the way people look, but--to me, I'd say you've nothing to fear."

She nodded. "You'd have me judging you on your cereal, after all. Well, ok, I appreciate the compliment, and I suppose I'll keep the glasses around--makes things easier." She fell silent for my few remaining bites of breakfast, and when I had drained the bowl she smiled. "So what do we do today?"

"What do we do today?" I echoed. "Like how?"

"The weekends--what do you do with them?"

I laughed as self-deprecatingly as I could. "I'm a bad person to ask. When the weekend shows up, I generally try to do as little as possible, until it gets bored and wanders off. Kill a lot of time on the Internet. Weekends are Wikipedia time."

"But of course," she said, nodding. "I know the feeling--that's what I'd do. In fact I'd join you, except that I don't have a computer anymore, since I sold it. The sentiment is shared, but I've had to find other ways to occupy my time."

"If you ever need to, feel free to borrow mine--no password. As for occupying time, well--you've got more interesting ways, doubtless."

She tilted her head. "No, not really, to be honest. Go walking downtown, or something like that--it's pretty boring, too. I was just wondering if you had any ideas."

"Well, we could see Portland if you want. There's the Art Museum--probably doing something with Egypt, they always are. If you like dead people, and paintings now and again... we could just walk around--it'll be a bit chilly, but nothing too bad."

Kara nodded slowly. "It all depends on what you'd want to do. I haven't really... oh, experienced Portland, if that's what you'd call it."

The truth, as I confessed to her, was that I hadn't either, and an hour later we were standing in Washington Park. For those who have never been, Portland can be an interesting experience--in a sense, it is a city founded on the principle of not being a city. Washington Park, a hundred and thirty-odd acres west of the heart of Portland itself, is eloquent proof of this.

On all sides, it is bounded by the cosmopolitan--just to its south, in fact, is highway 26, the Sunset Highway. And yet here, for most of the year, one may find roses. Kara found this contrast interesting, expounding on it as we strolled in the Test Garden. It was a nippy day, and we were alone.

"You can see the mountains, a little bit--it would help if the day were clearer..."

"That's Portland for you," I offered dryly, and she nodded.

"I guess. It's weird, though--how many hundreds of thousands of people live here, and here there are trees everywhere, and flowers in bloom--it's almost surreal. Half a million, a million heartbeats not ten miles away, but you can't hear them."

"If you look at the roses, you can forget the city."

Kara glanced from one to me, eyes darkened by the fall sky. "If you look at the roses, you can forget anything. You know... that's the problem of sight. Here, look closely."

The flower she indicated was soft, off-red and velvety on the eyes. Early fog had crystalised to drops of moisture on its petals; one of them, touched by my companion's breath, slid downward and away, shyly withdrawing from our intrusive sight. "It's beautiful," I said, softly.

Kara took a deep breath and straightened, shaking her head. "No. No, there's beauty, and then there's something else. There must be a word for it, but I can't imagine what. Maybe that's the point. That rose--you could take a picture, write an ode, bottle the fragrance up and sell it. But you'd never really get at the heart of it."

"What do you mean?"

"Whatever this is--beyond beauty, I mean--lies in moments. A week from now, this flower will be gone forever. A century beyond that, so will we. But it doesn't matter--that moment, and everything in it, is already past. The best we can hope for is that we'll find another. The handiwork of the divine comes through in instants just like that. We have memory--only--and the pale imitation of human endeavour. The writers, the painters, everyone else like them." It was hard to tell if she found this admirable, or if she was castigating them.

I looked curiously at her. "Aren't you a poet?"

While our eyes met, she was still focused on the garden. "I am, and I think that makes me a sinner. The arrogance of art is in pretending we can keep those little flashes of God for some other time, or some other person. We might as well be building a tower to spit in His eye, to write of roses."

"But everyone does." I didn't know how else to respond to her.

"Everyone does," she said, and resumed walking, leaving me to follow. When I was at her side again, she continued. "Everyone does, because they make such interesting metaphors. The hope of an artist is that you as the reader take what they give you, and you see something in it."

"You hold the mirror up to something." Kara grinned at me, her eyes once more on this plane. "That's the thing about mirrors, I guess, isn't it? No two people look at one and see the same thing--the reflection varies by angle, by the light there, by what it's pointing at."

"It wouldn't be art if you didn't have that freedom," she agreed. "It is a mirror, I suppose."

"Maybe an echo," I suggested. "It loses something when it comes back to you."

"Mm." She sighed through her nose, the breath visible as it disturbed the air before us. "Echoes lose and gain, or we wouldn't seek them out. Echoes make things more interesting."

"Shadows, then. You throw a light on something, give us the hard angles, let us guess at what caused them."

"All of them, yes. Mirrors, shadows, echoes. I think you must have to have a different lens. I envy artists."

"Aren't you one?"

"An impostor, really. I wanted to be one, though, if that counts for anything at all."

"It must. You fooled me. That means you've only got six billion left."

Kara laughed, her eyes closing a little. "To hell with them," she said, the oath turning into another small cloud. "You don't have to care about the six billion if you get the one or two that really matter."

"Maybe, but then you'd have to know who those were, wouldn't you? Might be better to cast a bigger net."

She looked up at me--towards me, at me, through me, I don't know. "Of course. But if you already have a good idea of who it might be, why bother?"

The remainder of the weekend was something of a blur. For being a person who thought their tastes might prove boring, she kept us both out well past midnight Saturday, and nearly did so Sunday as well before I reined this in, pointing out that we both had work, of a sort, the following day.

From the roses, we ranged up and down Portland. The museum, the bars, and a dozen other attractions we took in from the outside, bundled up against the October chill. The zoo--watching the visitors as much as we watched the other animals there--took up most of Sunday morning, and then we began to walk again.

We had only been in the apartment a few conscious hours since Friday, and this failed to bother me as much as I might've thought. Thawing from the night, I poured us each a glass of brandy, and then I raised an eyebrow. "So? How's Portland?"

Kara took a drink first while I sat heavily on the sofa next to her, each of taking an arm. "It's not bad--better than the south, and a damn sight more palatable than a weekend at PDX, I have to say. No offence to your airport."

"None taken. You know, I've never done that before. Just... gone out, like that."

She laughed, almost a giggle, and shrugged lightly. "Neither have I. This is my... post-college effort to try and find myself. Otherwise, I wouldn't move either." She rubbed at one of her legs thoughtfully. "On second thought, I may be done moving now. I should've tried to truck with the cheerleaders more often."

My own legs ached, but I thought about this only at intervals. "You're certainly a character, Kara." I smiled at the way these words rolled. "Fodder for your poetry, at least?"

"No, it's not my thing."

"Just airports?"

A tired nod. "Just airports. And the people in them. I'd show you, but I can't get up."

"Me either." With a great effort, I bent my leg straight and let it fall onto the coffee table. "Some other time, though, I'll remind you."

Kara didn't say anything, and I had turned my head to comment on this when she smiled. "'He is a short colossus, a mute orator; who says nothing, but speaks volumes; who towers above his height--because he is at home, and we will never be.'"

"What's that?"

"It's all I remember--all I ever wrote, actually. The first night I got to PDX, you caught my eye. You knew what was going on, you saw everyone else from a position of familiarity that everyone else... just passing through, you know, we don't have that. It gives you an edge."

"You wrote that about me?"

She nodded. "I did. I would've written more, but I only see you at a bar, and that changes things."

"Either way, I don't think anyone's written poetry before that I had anything to do with. I don't always understand poetry, but... I'd guess you must be good at it. You seem like you would be, at least."

Kara smiled and leaned back into the old cushions of the sofa. "The only metric of quality is enjoyment. On both sides, that is--both the artist and the audience. The audience moreso--you can't just write for yourself. So if you like it, then I'll take that."

"Yeah," I said. "I like it."

"Good. I'm glad--it's like I said Saturday, at the garden. You just have to get to the right people. Then, either everything falls into place, and the things that don't, well, they never mattered much anyway." She closed her eyes and was quiet for just long enough that I thought she might be asleep. "I want to thank you for this weekend, Mark, by the way--before I forget."

At the way I laughed, she opened her eyes again, and I shrugged apologetically. "No. If I'd had my way, we wouldn't have left. Any thanks is owed the other way. You've got the interesting ideas."

"You've got the way to make them happen," she answered quickly. "And to think, I almost missed out on this. Hey, I have you to blame for even dragging me out of Portland International, don't I?"

"You almost missed out on this? If I'd kept driving... nah, that's your fault. And they say you shouldn't go home with strangers."

Kara snickered. "But a stranger's just a friend you haven't met yet."

I frowned. "But a good friend is hard to find."

"Nonsense. The best way to have a friend is to be one."

There was a second or two of silence while I thought, and then I shrugged. "I'm out."

"Yeah. Fat lot of good being an English major does me; I'm out too."

"Well, you're tired--not in your best form, naturally. Get some sleep; I'm sure you'll do better in the morning." With tremendous effort, I stood up. "I don't think I will, but if I don't get to bed now, I might as well just give up on the week as a whole."

She stretched out an arm. "I hear that. Help me up?" I gripped her hand firmly; pulled her, wobbling, to her feet, and she bowed gracefully. "Thank you. If you don't mind, I'd like to accompany you to the airport tomorrow... so if you could wake me, maybe, when you get up yourself?"

"Not a problem. Goodnight, Kara."

Nodding, she seemed to be choosing her words carefully. But then, all she said was an echo--"goodnight, Mark"--and disappeared into her bedroom. Exhausted in the best possible way, I effected my own hasty retreat to unconsciousness.

"You look chipper."

"Look chipper, or look like I've been through a chipper?"

John frowned and waved his hand. "Both, I guess. How was your weekend?"

"You first."

He raised a dark eyebrow at me. "Mine was uneventful. I'd say maybe twelve steps above? I cleaned my house. Now you've got me curious, though--what about yours?"

"It was interesting. You remember that poet woman here last week?"

John laughed richly. "The one you ran away from?"

"Yes, that one," I said curtly, with a cat's self-reassuring haughtiness. "I came back Friday night to talk to her. I realised you were right--for once," I disclaimed hastily. "For once. You were already gone, then."

"No reason to stick around. How'd it go?"

The bizarreness of the weekend hit me with a laugh, and I shrugged. "I think she lives with me now." John didn't answer, but his suddenly open muzzle said enough. "It was very odd--but I thought, you know, I can't just let her sleep in Baggage Claim. We spent the weekend in Portland."

"How is she?"

"Crazy. But I think I like that, you know? She went off on some bent--we were in the International Test Garden, out in Washington Park, and she started talking about roses and echoes and... yeah, I see your face. That was mine too, but I'd do the whole thing again in a heartbeat."

He nodded, knowingly--what he knew, or thought he knew, I didn't care to judge. "Will I get invited to the wedding? I could be your best man. You know, I like suits--that's why I work here."

I shook my head at his joking, though I couldn't keep from laughing. "Well unfortunately, you're going to have to stick with serving drinks. It's not like that."

"Aw, why not? You looked in a mirror recently? Your face looks different, Mark."

"I walked like a billion miles yesterday and the day before. My face doesn't remember where it is, in all likelihood. Besides, you know me. I think we could become very good friends--marriage... I'd have to decline."

"Don't be so hasty," he cautioned me. "If I can see it, so can she."

I shrugged and finished my root beer. "Maybe. I tell you one thing, she's a damn sight smarter than either of us. Not that that's saying much."

"It's saying plenty." I turned at the new voice to find a Cheshire grin and framed green eyes. "Good evening."

"Evening." I found myself grinning back. "John, this is Kara. Kara, this is John."

They exchanged a brief handshake. "What a pleasure to meet the woman I've heard so much about. Poet laureate at twenty-five? Quite an ambition." His teeth flashed white as he smiled.

"Thirty, at the latest. Good things, I hope, you've heard about."

I prayed my fur covered the sudden flush. "Of course they were. You ready to leave?"

She nodded. "Mm. Sorry to run so soon, John."

He answered her with the laugh that made it so hard to hate him. "If I know Mark, I'll see you again in..." he made a show of looking at his pocketwatch. "I don't know, say, twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes?"

"Count on it."

In the car, I turned the radio down to talk to her. "How was today? Productive, I hope?"

"Very much so. I'm beginning to get the familiarity to see new things. It's kind of like that, with novelty. The first couple of days in a new place, everything is strange and marvellous. Then you get a period where it all seems old hat, and then you can move beyond that to start seeing things again."

"You must move faster than me--it's still all the same to me."

"You're just not looking hard enough." She glanced out the window, and I could imagine her gaze flickering along the guard rails as they passed. "You ever notice David, the TSA guy?"

I had to think about this. "The older guy? With the black above his nose so he kind of looks like a raccoon? Yeah, I--I've talked to him a couple of times, why?"

"The black's turning grey," she said, offhand, and then turned back from the window. "Have you noticed how he watches the businessmen? How he makes the extra effort to check their baggage? It's kind of a power thing. He tries to look down on them, but secretly he wishes he was going to some meeting in DC too. He feels trapped."

"I'd never noticed," I admitted, though I certainly wasn't going to say she was wrong. The more I thought about it, the more I might've seen something like that, occasionally--but I never would've guessed, myself. "Can I ask a question?"

"You can always ask questions. For you, though, I'll try to come up with an answer."

"Why airports?"

She tilted her head towards me. "Because they are us--America has a lot of airports. And life in an airport is so strange. You get the whole range of the human experience--people bidding each other farewell, people seeing their children for the first time after a deployment overseas. Births, deaths--it's so very human."

When she put it this way, I saw her point. "Of course, humans are sedentary, and airports are all about movement, I would think."

"Yes," she admitted quickly. "But think about what that means. With the exception of guys like you and John, nobody belongs. And because nobody belongs, we're all on equal ground. None of us has the upper hand. It's interesting to watch how people behave in airports, because they're full of contradictions. They're very personal, and yet very sterile. They don't move, but as you say they're all about movement. They're very familiar, and yet... also very alien. Why do you work in one?"

"Because you can always go somewhere," I said, after a moment to reflect. "You're right, it's strange, but it's also full of possibilities. From PDX, you could be anywhere in the world within a day, day and a half at the most. You disembark, and it's like anything could happen--I used to love airports as a kid."

"Airplanes must be the post-modern sailing ship. People used to dream about going down to the docks, signing up, seeing the world. You think it's like that?"

Again, I might not have come up with this idea, but when she said it, it made sense. "Yeah, really. It's like when you were a kid and you used to throw sticks in the river and think about where they'd wind up. I look at the people at PDX and I think the same thing. And then I think well, if I was one of them, anything could happen. Could wind up anywhere, do anything, go on wild adventures with anyone. Sometimes they stop being people, and start looking like possibility, instead."

When push came to shove, I found that I envied her. She was not, always, terrifically grounded, and she verged sometimes between the bright, outgoing person I had met the Friday previous into occasional fits of almost melancholy contemplation, but beyond all this she seemed to have some idea, some view of the inner workings of the universe that I found overwhelmingly appealing.

Appealing, yes, and worthy of emulation. I followed her lead in trying new things, in coming up with new ways of seeing old objects. Wednesday, to the sound of the Glenn Miller Orchestra's "Moonlight Serenade," she tried to teach me to dance. I'm sure if you asked me to replicate it now I couldn't, but at the time, it worked.

Love, Hal told me, is still wearing the colours when your team is 0 and 10. I'm not sure he meant this flippantly, though Hal is often flippant, and in any case it doesn't matter, because it's an ok way of looking at it. I've come to think that's a good definition--endurance against the odds, belief in the fantastic and the impossible, hope. That, more than anything else--Pandora's final gift to us. Hope, and nourishing the lingering suspicion that we are not, after everything else, alone.

By the middle of the week after I had met her, it occurred to me that I found time apart from her less worthy than time with her, though when John asked about my feelings I told him to shut up and he got the message. I'm not sure what romance is, and I'm not sure exactly what I felt, then. I wanted to be with her, I knew--and more than that I wanted to be worthy of her. This last, for her self-deprecation, was troublesome. The airport, always around us, lent a certain sense of urgency.

"Where are we going?" It was nine at night, well after the sun had disappeared, and I had gotten permission from one of the other security folk to take Kara beyond the common avenues of the airport pedestrians. "This looks different."

"It is different," I said. "This is back in the maintenance area. The weather's going to take a turn for the worse eventually, so I wanted to show you something when I had the chance. Ah--here we go." I turned the door handle; opened it out into blackness.

The roof of an airport at night provides an interesting perspective, one which few people will ever get the chance to appreciate. Roads around airports tend to be low, so that you can't see the runways, and control towers are bright and distracting. It was a particularly dark night, and we were shrouded in it.

"I wound up here on accident one of my first days on the job, back when I was working night security as a supervisor. I've only been back a couple of times..." There was not much to see, then, and I led her towards the edge of the concourse building. "Mostly it's boring--just the city skyline. But sometimes..."

"Jesus H."

I nodded, in the dark. "Sometimes it does that."

Below us, the runway and taxi lights came out in bright neon. Airplanes--lit tails and rows of windows, really--moved about, their vertical stabilisers like shark fins. It was a show that would've done Las Vegas proud, and, silhouetted against the flashing, I saw Kara shake her head. "It's like fireworks that stick around. Good lord, it's gorgeous."

"I just think it's interesting how glitzy it is. But it's not quite like fireworks, because not everyone can see it. Pilots can, I guess, the people in the tower. For the other two hundred and whatever million, we're just left in the dark. So to speak."

"So to speak," Kara echoed, distantly. "Do you see--look at that. Everything's just lights. Nothing's real, out there--you can't see it, anyway. All you can see are the lights, moving--this must be what heaven's like. Nothing solid, just dancing little dots."

After that, she said nothing, and I didn't either. We sat, near the edge of the building, in the dark and the cold, and we looked out over a field of glitter and sparks. Watching the airplanes come and go, the sense of potential remained--but, more than this, the vision of a show being put on for our benefit, beautiful automatons, circling in bouts of the psychedelic.

Then and there, overlooking the landscape forged in the cold fire of a million lamps, I decided that I couldn't live without her. John had been right. I didn't know how to tell her, and so enter the runway lights--for a night at least I could postpone the confrontation. I had no real illusions.

I didn't check the exact time--on purpose. It was an hour or more, I know, that we sat together, there, in complete silence. There was no speech because neither of us needed it. We were aware of what, in that moment, crafted as Kara said with the handiwork of god, we shared. Nobody could see us--we were alone in our companionship.

And I thought--yes, this must be what heaven is like.

Somehow, Saturday found us in Newport. Kara had suggested that we "go west until we can't," which seemed like a good enough idea, and at three in the afternoon, on a cold, windy day, we wound up on the beach, looking out into the surf south of Yaquina Head.

It was a loud and lonesome day--earlier, we'd seen a few people wandering about, but as the wind had picked up they had gone home. We were neither of us so intelligent, and though we didn't dare approach the waves, which seemed at times rather angry, we certainly listened.

"It's a different ocean, you know?" Kara said, offhandedly. "I mean, North Carolina, I used to go out to the Atlantic in the summer, when I had the time. Except when it's throwing hurricanes at us, it's not so... I don't know, ocean-y."


"This could kill you," she said, gesturing at the windswept breakers. "Just take you away forever. The Atlantic--my memories of it, anyway--is a lot more peaceful. I wonder what it's so upset about."

"Well," I ventured, "it's like Sisyphus and the rock. As landlubbers, you know, we think 'hey, if I keep going west, the ocean will end'. I mean we'd be in Japan or something ,but the ocean would end. But the ocean doesn't end--not for the ocean, anyway. It just keeps going, always moving in the same rhythm, no end in sight. It must be frustrating."

"Must be."

"No, I mean it. It'd be a hell of a thing, to be a drop of water. Certainly wouldn't be the fastest--to get from here to Brazil, or Paris, or Victoria Falls, by way of raindrop, but... it'd sure as hell be the most interesting."

Kara stopped. "For all you say, you know... that's one of the most intelligent ideas I've ever heard. You should write it down. Do you write?"

"Are you kidding me? I'm an accountant."

She nodded and resumed walking. "Just don't sell yourself short. You should try your hand at it sometime."

Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting on a bench, on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The sun was contemplating its imminent demise, but neither of us really wanted to move--the sound of the surf, below, from the 'peaceful' waters, was hypnotic, and other things seemed to fade into the background. Still I noticed Kara drawing her coat a bit tighter around her. "Cold?"

"A bit," she admitted. "You?"

"I'm Norwegian."

She laughed. "Touché."

"I've got a blanket in the back of the Subaru--hold on, I'll go get it." Kara nodded and remained looking out to the west, a position she remained in when I returned.

I handed it to her, and she thanked me as she disappeared under it. "You're so well-prepared..."

"Not really. I just forgot to take it out from the Fourth--I went to watch the fireworks. It's pretty serendipitous."

Kara shrugged. "There's something to be said for serendipity. Especially when it's warm."

As the sun dropped lower it became harder to look at it, and so for a while we just talked at each other, instead. I remembered, distantly, that there had been a time when it was hard to look at Kara's face. At some point in the last week, this had shifted until I could hardly bear not to.

When our resident star had finally disappeared, we returned to watching the ocean below us in the steadily dying light, commenting on the phosphorescence of the breaking caps. I would've been content to do this forever, excepting that Kara turned from the water to me and raised an eyebrow. "Norwegian or not, you're shivering."

Was I? Perhaps it was colder than I'd imagined. "Well, it's been a long time since Minnesota."

"You have another blanket in your car?"

I shook my head. "Nah. You don't need two for Independence Day, after all."

"After all," she repeated. "We could probably improvise, you know. I have to guess this blanket could probably deal with more than one person."

"Probably, but you got cold before I did. That makes you the priority."

All the same she had unwrapped it to gain enough freedom of movement to slide down the bench and closer to me. "See, there's this funny thing called body heat--the blanket's not coming up with any warmth of its own. If anything, this is what we call a win-win situation." I had enough time to shrug before she had cast the woollen blanket over me as well. "Simple physics, really, I'm sure."

It wasn't so simple, but I nodded. "Of course."

We sat for another minute, perhaps, in silence, before she suddenly reclined heavily against me, sighing. "How long do you suppose it takes a raindrop to get to Brazil, anyway?"

Raindrops were not the closest thing to my mind, at that point--nor did they become any closer when she put an arm around me, a gesture I somewhat hesitantly reciprocated. "I... I don't know. Ten years, a hundred? A thousand?" She was very warm.

"Probably not worth it, then."

I agreed it wasn't, and we were quiet again, until at last I had run out of excuses and I turned my head to look at her. "Can I ask you a question?"

I cut off her stock response with a nervous laugh. "Alright, fine. I have to imagine you know people better than I do--seems like something you'd know, anyway. What... how would you go about telling someone that you... thought you had feelings for them?"

She twisted her head up to look at me. "Feelings? Like what?"

I shrugged softly. "Like the feeling that you'd... come to define your world by their presence. Like the feeling that you couldn't live without them, and... even if they didn't feel the same way, you thought they had the right to know."

Kara blinked and hmmed. "Specific people? A specific person, anyway?"

"No," I said, a lie neither of us believed. "I'm speaking hypothetically."

"Ah." She feel silent. "Well, in that case... I don't deal so well with hypotheticals, so let's suppose it was me you were talking about..." I agreed that we could suppose that, and she smiled a bit. "Then I might say, 'you know, Kara. I know that ever since the horrific accident at the factory that left you blind, deaf, and otherwise without senses you might not have noticed this, but, why, I'm pretty damn sure I love you.' Something like that--hypothetically."

I nodded. "Thank you."

"Not a problem," she said with a wry smile.

I looked back out over the breakers for a while--a few seconds, half a minute. Then I looked at her again. "You know, Kara, I... I know that ever since the horrific accident at the factory that..."

This was all I got out. She interrupted me to say "oh, be quiet," which would have been enough ordinarily--but then, abruptly, her lips were against mine, and it was impossible for me to speak even had I wanted to. I had never done this before, and it was all very strange--the feeling of her hand at my back, and then, as well, the warmth of her body beneath my own arm. It was strange, and there was not one thing wrong with it.

She broke the encounter as abruptly as she had started it, eyes dancing in what little light the evening had left us, and I took a moment to catch my breath. "I, uh... I thought that only happened in the movies..."

Kara grinned and leaned up for another light kiss, leaving her breath hot against my muzzle. "It does. We're post-modern, we don't have to care about that." We were so close at that point there was nothing to do but return to one another, and we stayed like that for a minute, or two, during which the idea that time could be relative suddenly made much more sense to me than it ever had before.

In the end I was shivering, though quite warm, and Kara buried her nose in the fur of my shoulder to let things come back into focus. "I--ah, thank you. It's... it's just three words, you know, I..."

She shook her head--not much, because she kept herself close. "Well. Better that than 'ready, aim, fire,' right? Besides, I wouldn't worry." She leaned back to look up at me, and she grinned again. "I'm pretty damn sure I love you too, Mark."

"I'm glad we could get that settled, then," I said, arm still tight around her. "I don't know when it happened."

"It doesn't matter," she said. "You don't have to have a reason." I sought out her free hand with mine, let the fingers intertwine. "You know, something occurs to me."

"What's that?"

She shifted a bit, so that it was easier for her to see the waves. "That lighthouse, the one a bit further north. I bet tomorrow, when the fog comes in, and the light from the dawn hits it, it'll really look like something else."

"Probably," I admitted. "I've never been out here this early."

Looking out at the light--we could see the glow, but not the building, from where we were sitting--she reclined against me. "I think we should leave Tigard be for tonight. I think we should find a cheap motel up on the highway, stay here, and get up real early so we can come down and not miss a moment of it."

"Hotel could be expensive," I pointed out.

"Well, you've been awfully generous. I pick up the room, how's that? Besides, the lighthouse... for that, it would be worth it. And it means we wouldn't have to drive back tonight; we could sit and watch the waves for awhile." She leaned her head back--towards me, but not enough to make eye contact. "If we headed back tonight, we probably ought to think about leaving soon."

That ended all debate. "Newport it is, then. Probably have a while. Could stay a bit longer." My sentences, like my thoughts, were somewhat clipped, but she understood it well enough.

"Probably. Get the chance for another kiss or two..."

We stayed on the beach for another hour, the conversation beginning to wander again, bound now by the mutual declaration. At the time, I was torn between surprise and overwhelming happiness--and between the two, obviously, I had no intention of letting surprise win out.

As it turned out, the hotel room was probably unnecessary. Neither of us slept--we spent the night talking, just random chatter, almost giddy conversation, devoid of structure. In the morning--buoyed by new energy as though we had rested, though we had not--in the morning we raced back to the beach, waited for the first flickers of light to come from the east.

We were distracted by each other, of course, and everything came through that filter. But the lighthouse, we both agreed, as the Subaru headed back for civilisation, was everything we'd hoped it would be.

That was the end of us as separate individuals. I made the effort to keep her as separated as possible from my work life, which was mostly successful, but at the closing bell our personalities reintegrated. I played the straight man to her carefree artist's ways, she shattered the monotony of my existence beyond repair, and between the two of us we generally licked the platter clean.

It was mid-November, and we were celebrating a small victory--a collection of her poetry was being reviewed for possible publication. Outside, the late fall rains beat down on the roof of the complex, and the windows, but inside we were warm--increasingly so as my brandy stores diminished--and in good spirits as, abruptly, the lights went out and we were plunged into darkness.

The following morning they were still out, and I opened the door to discover that the world had been transformed. It was bitterly cold, and Kara, who had emerged from her bedroom, bid me shut the door, before she caught sight of the outside. "The hell? You ever see anything like that?"

"Ice storms?" I shut the door and opened the window blinds, instead, with a sigh. "Yeah. We get them every once in awhile."

Kara had pressed her nose against the pane like a small child. "That's something else." It was--the ice had covered everything, leaving it surreal and chill and warped. "Can you drive that?" Could I? No, probably not. I called in to work and put a pot of water on for tea.

"It's funny," I said, returning to the sofa where she had taken up position. She gave me a quizzical look and I sat down, putting my feet on the coffee table with a sigh. "I, uh--I went to put the water on, 'cause I wanted to make something warm, but... of course, we don't have power, so the stove doesn't turn on."

"It is strange how that works, isn't it?"

"I don't know why I do that--I must've stared at the heating element for a good... minute, minute and a half? I mean all the lights are off, but I expected the stove to work for some reason."

"Ah, the comfort of la vie quotidienne." She laughed. "So much depends on the unassuming little electron."

"Yeah. So no tea, anyway. I don't have a generator, or any firewood. Or a sterno stove. Or any petrol."

Kara slumped over onto me as I continued the litany of combustibles I lacked. "Candles? You could do it with candles."

"Maybe--we have some of those anyway. I guess that does raise a good point, though, which is that it's going to get cold here. If we don't have tea, we'd... best find other ways of not freezing to death. I should get the blankets out--if I know PGE, it could be awhile." I unwrapped the (mostly) vixen from me and went out to seek the comforters.

I tossed them on the sofa and had just barely sat down when she sort of leapt at me, abruptly, and I found myself suddenly pinned beneath her smile. "You know," she said, and poked my nose for emphasis. "You know, if we were a little bit more creative, we could probably come up with a less plebeian way of keeping warm than blankets."

Conscious thought briefly took a back seat as she swung her leg over to straddle me. "Or more plebeian," I offered, a bit hesitantly. "You know how the proles can be."

"I do," she agreed. "Of course, sometimes they get it right..." She had somehow managed to angle herself so that there was very little distance between us.

Everything that was happening--and seemed to be happening very quickly--was far outside my comfort zone. This I found troubling for a heartbeat or two, until it struck me--and I think it did actually strike me, the thought that, really, everything that had happened since I met her lay similarly outside. What was one more? I regained the use of my arms at around the same time as, impulsively (the best things come from impulses), I kissed her.

To this she had no objections, and by the time she finally broke it, we were both badly out of breath. She giggled between pants. "Mark, my dear. Do you have... any idea how cliché it would be if our first time was in a power outage--in a, uh, in a snowstorm, no less?"

I shook my head a little. "I think it's only, ah, I think it's only cliché if nine months from now there's three of us."

"Well, you're SOL there," she said, her nose drifting as close to mine as it could without actually touching it. "I'm afraid that's pretty unlikely."

"Well, maybe it's still a bit... clichéd, I guess, but..." It was impossible to look away from her eyes, which seemed to have been lit up from within. "I thought we were, uh, postmodern; didn't have to... care about things like that..."

This answer suited her fine.

And what happened next--well, I don't imagine I have to describe it to you. In actuality I don't really know that I could--I had nothing to compare it against, and mostly what I remember is being somewhat overwhelmed. As with so many other things, I don't know that I would call this a bad thing at all, and I certainly will never forget it, but... how can you put such things into words?

In the end, holding each other close, trying to piece things back together, we talked in low murmurs. These were not new words--we'd said them, both, dozens of times before in the previous weeks. And yet they seemed to take on some new meaning, a dialect of special import. I told her--told myself in the same instant--some sort of an eternal commitment, which she echoed.

In the early afternoon, still giddy, we made tea over melting wax.

She was accepted for publication and told the magazine to use my address for correspondence with her. It was about a week after the ice storm, and we were in my Subaru, driving to work on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. For once--it didn't happen often--her eyes were closed, and we had been silent. Halfway to the airport, she finally spoke.

"I think we should leave," she said.


"Get out of here--out of Portland."

Kara had talked of this before, off and on. "Like on vacation? I've... got some time saved up, I mean--"

"No. I mean permanently. Pick up and go."

I turned to her, taking my eyes briefly off the road. "Go? Where to?"

She opened her eyes, and her face had a sense of urgency on it. "I--anywhere. Miami, Boston, Denver, Phoenix. Just... anywhere but here. I... I can't stay here anymore."

I found myself concerned. "Why not? Is something wrong--are--are you ok?"

A black hand waved the question away. "Yes--no," she corrected. "But we..." she sighed. "I have an address now. I'm... putting down roots. I... I told myself I wouldn't do that, and now look... we need to get out. Start all over again somewhere--clean slate."

I wasn't aware we'd a slate that needed cleaning. "I can't just leave, Kara. I've... got a job, I've got work to do, I'm... still paying off my student loans. I can't just up and tumbleweed myself somewhere."

From the corner of my eye, I could see her biting her lip. "No. I--the things that are really important, those are the ones we... we can take with us. Jobs, there are lots of jobs. Heck, even for me, lots of poems to write, lots of publishers to reject them. But there's only one you, and one me, and... we need to strike out."

"Why?" A moving car at Interstate speeds was not the most ideal place to be having the conversation. "Why can't we stay here?

"Because!" she said, intensely. "Because... if you stay anchored in one place too long, you become less the ship and more the shoreline. There's energy here, I mean--between us two, there's energy and we can't... we're too young to stagnate, Mark. We can't let that go out." It's too important. One of these days, life'll catch up to is--then we can stop moving. But while we have the chance, we have to run."

"But you don't even know where you're running to," I protested. "We can't just do that."

"We can," she answered quickly, voice rising. "If I... if I hadn't just left, then... then I wouldn't have met you, and I can't even imagine that. It's doable, Mark, we... here, here's the airport. We'll just... just get a ticket, and go. And it'll be done, and that's... all that really matters. Being able to move is the purest of human freedoms."

I suppose this didn't surprise me, coming from her. She had often spoke of action over thought; we rarely made plans before doing things. At Yaquina Head, in Portland, during the ice storm, this had seemed a wonderful trait. I sighed and shook my head. "Look, I... we need to get to work. I want to talk to you about this. I'll... we'll talk about this tonight, see if we can't come to some conclusions..."

She smiled sadly and nodded. "Ok. We'll... yeah. Let's do that." The smile widened a bit, though having seen others to compare against, I could see that it was forced. "I love you, Mark."

"I love you too." And that was that.

At work, all day, I considered what she'd said. There's the careful line you have to walk, between being trapped and cutting the lines on your parachute. Because there's freedom, and there's being too free. The former, Kara excelled at--the latter, not quite so much.

I would have been lying had I said that no part of me wanted to take her up on the idea--or, at least, that no part of me wished I was of the right stuff to do so. But the reality was that I wasn't, that I needed stability. And if that meant that I felt closer ties to the land, well, perhaps that was just the way of things.

By the end of the day, I had managed to worry myself into a frenzy, and I practically ran to the Café Morocco. I considered what I would say to her; what she would say to me. I tried to run over what conclusions might arise, because I had apprehended, if nothing else, just how much she appeared to care about this.

John was waiting for me, and he dispensed with frivolities. "What's going on, Mark?"

I raised an eyebrow, heartbeat quickening. "What? What do you mean?"

His hand disappeared beneath the bar, brought it back holding a folded piece of paper. "Is something wrong with Kara? She stopped by earlier and asked me to give this to you--said she might be back later, but... I haven't seen her. Is everything ok?"

"I'm not sure," I said quickly, though by that point I already knew that it was not. I unfolded the note quickly. It was short fairly short--half a page or so, hastily scribbled in the same lettering she always used. I read it out loud, for John's benefit and because without that pressure I might not have finished reading.

"Mark," it began. "By the time you're reading this, I'll be gone--there's no point in dragging that revelation out. I'm giving it to your friend, and so that he won't worry until you're there to worry with him, I'm telling him I'll be back." I could feel the pause in the words, and before I kept reading I had to stop, myself. "I don't think I will be. I've been thinking about what you'll say, and I don't have an answer. I'm sorry." I could hear John muttering something, but it seemed to come from far away. "I can't keep gathering moss. I've been looking for myself, and I haven't found it yet. Maybe someday. I know we'll meet again, Mark, and I hope it's on better terms."

"Ah, Jesus, Mark, I'm sorry."

I shook my head at John. "I'm not done yet." The words were more bitter than I wanted them to be, a bitterness that carried for a few seconds as I began to read again before giving way to melancholy. "I won't forget you--I hope if you can trust me on anything, it's that. So until the revoir, I'll throw my lot in with Mama Cass--while I'm alone, and blue as can be. Dream, Mark." Then her name; nothing else.

And that was it. She was gone.

I thought I might cry, but I didn't. Mostly I was surprised--a little angry, but mostly surprised. I looked at the letter and handed it over to John, who shrugged, speechless. "Well." I said, and swallowed. "That's that." My voice, he would tell me later, was remarkably calm--shock, I think, will do that.

"What happened?" he asked, and I had no idea. I explained as much as I could of our conversation that morning, but everything seemed so abrupt. That was her way, after all.

"She just wasn't cut out for this," I said, excusing her. "It's kind of funny, actually. We met here and one of the first things we talked about was your music. She... tried to teach me to dance to Glenn Miller. Quotes Ella Fitzgerald in that letter and yet... and yet she's the rolling stone, and what does that make me?"

"I don't know," John said, and shook his head. "There wasn't any... any warning, any..."

"Like I'd notice even if there was?" I tried to laugh, and John flinched at the sound of this. "Nah. It's... it's interesting. If I'd known what the cost would be, I would've gone with her, you know? If I'd known. Maybe that was the point--do you suppose that was the point?"

It was rhetorical, of course--how could he answer? "It doesn't seem very fair if it was."

"Oh, sure though. Can I get some root beer?" I need that sense of normalcy, which he seemed to pick up on. "I mean, she made that decision in a heartbeat. She... must've needed to know that I could make the same one."

In context--the context she had given me over the previous, whirlwind month and a half, this did make sense. It was possible, really, that we simply weren't meant for each other, and I supposed it was good that we learned that early. I tried to keep my feelings at bay while I turned things over.

Back at my apartment, I learned that she had never lived there. Every trace of her existence--every piece of clothing, every stray hair, every scrap of paper was gone, the sheets on the bed neatly folded. But for my memories, she might never have existed at all.

At work on Wednesday, Hal commented that I seemed a bit quiet, though--bless his heart--he didn't try to force anything from me. It was good to have a routine to be able to fall back into--the comfort, as Kara had said on a profoundly non-normal day, of our vies quotidiennes--our everyday world.

It was not until I spent Thanksgiving alone that the magnitude of what had transpired hit me, with all the force of a prizefighter and none of the subtlety. I had eaten my Thanksgiving dinners before entirely solitary, but now it became wrong, almost a sacrilege.

That night I lay on my back and stared at the ceiling, tracing patterns in the paint the same as I'd done a hundred times before. There had been a world before Kara, I knew--it was just a matter of finding it. I told myself that I would--that for once, I'd follow through on a promise to myself. And then, fully cognisant of my solitary confinement in the little apartment, I decided to sleep--perchance, as Kara had suggested, to dream.

Because, in the end, my whole life now seemed as though I had been suddenly and rudely awakened from a particularly interesting one. The only tangible sign of her life was the letter, which I read over and over again in the days that followed. Knowing what I did, depression came easily. Anger was harder to place--she was acting entirely in character. How could I be angry?

The answer to that had to come upon reflection. Really, what right had she had to demand I pull up all my roots and flit elsewhere on some ceaseless migration? What gave her that authority? I had a sense of place, now, a belonging, a foundation.

Then I looked at my apartment and felt almost ill. What did I have? A computer, a few weeks worth of clothes, some posters from movies I'd never seen, a bed and a sofa that weren't even mine. My job, I suppose, and a car that, like my apartment, now seemed empty even when I was inside it. How could any of that have possibly been worth it?

I had John, whom I spoke to over coffee in a diner off I-205. "I think I made a mistake," I said.

"By not leaving?"

"By not leaving." I shrugged. "I realised last night that I... this was all kind of a fantasy, the idea that I... I don't know, I guess I thought I belonged here. I do, you know, but... not that much. I can't belong anywhere that much."

"Then she was right." Even outside of his tuxedo, he looked very dignified, and this pronouncement seemed particularly wise.

"Yes, and I don't know what to do about it. I'd... give anything to find her again, but... she could be anywhere in the country."

"I thought she only did airports. Isn't that her deal?"

I laughed bitterly. "Ok, fine. Any airport in the country."

"There's a lot fewer of those."

"Right," I agreed. "And what am I supposed to do with that? Play some kind of stupid cat and mouse game?"

John stirred his coffee, which he had not added anything to, and shrugged. "Do you believe in God?"

"I believe in something, I..."

Before I could speak again, he followed through. "Oh, that doesn't matter. If you believe in something higher, anything higher, then the odds don't matter."

"It's not just odds, it's..."

Once more he cut me off. "Do you remember," he asked, "about a month and a half ago I suggested you do something and you got so stubbornly pissed off at it that you stormed out like a diva? Do you remember that?"

I looked down at my mostly-full coffee, unable to meet his eyes. Finally something clicked, a decision was made without my real knowledge. "Thanks, John. I needed that." I stood and offered him a hand.

He shook it and nodded once. "It's been fun, man. Good luck."

In my only real nod to conservatism I took a leave of absence rather than outright quitting. Hal understood--or told me he understood, and I believed him enough to trust him when he promised that I'd always have a job with him. I saluted him and then, having packed a light suitcase suitable for the carry-on world, I set off.

It was daunting. The price alone, even mitigated through the interventions of a few friends I had in the airlines, was frightening. And there was nothing I could do to guarantee success. The whole operation was patently ridiculous. She had to be at the airport I was at--at an airport, period. And I had to see her, so she couldn't be in the bathroom or tucked in a secluded corner. It wasn't at all a surprise that I didn't find her.

Given the rules of the game I had invented, the failures were ok. Every airport she wasn't at meant a smaller range of possible places she could be. This meant my odds increased each time, a prospect that I, as a man of numbers, found heartening.

Granted, she wasn't at JFK. She wasn't at Reagan National, or BWI, or Sky Harbor in Phoenix. She wasn't at Gowen Field, or beneath the fake mountains in Denver, or anywhere in the sprawling expanse at Dallas-Fort Worth. I was picking locations at random, as I thought she probably would've in my shoes.

At first I saw her everywhere--every flash of light on glasses, every lock of brown hair, every dishevelled duffel bag came to be a sign that she was present, and then a burst of disappointment. Yet this latter, first, and then the former as well began to fade, over time.

Somewhere around SeaTac, my travelling changed a bit. I began to see what she had seen, to pick up on the little things that busy airport travellers nearly often miss, and the jaded employees skim over. I began to keep a journal, written at first in the margins of a Tom Clancy novel and then on a small spiral notebook. My notes were cryptic, at first, and short, but they came to become more developed, more concerned with the patterns around me.

Despite what Kara said, I don't think I can write--the journal is just for me, just for my own reference and my own memories, which I accumulated by the hundreds. If you want to, and if you see something special there, you never have to forget.

It would be nice to conclude that this was the idea--that she was teaching me, somehow, making me an apprentice poet, a visionary in training. I don't think so--that would imply a focus on the future that simply wasn't ever her style. No, I think it was something I came to--and have kept ever since. You know what they say about giving a man a fish.

I had to keep those thoughts distant, in any case, because I didn't want to lose sight of her. Kara was a person, a living, breathing human being--not an ideal, no matter how rosy it might've been. She was a person with her own thoughts, her own movements, her own flaws. I couldn't afford to let that slip away, even as I started to change.

I returned to Portland long enough to put my car up for sale and see if I could find someone to inhabit my now mostly sterile apartment for a month before pocketing that money and, on John's advice, returning to the search. He had asked if I believed in god and now, I realised, I did absolutely. There was no other explanation for my behaviour--a circular reasoning that I glossed over at the time.

Part of me hoped for something especially wonderful in late December--perhaps some O'Henry-esque ending to the saga. This went unanswered, and I spent Christmas Eve in McCarran. The following day I spent outside, enjoying a Christmas sunshine Portland had rarely offered me. It was beautiful--there was a lot of beauty, I found, even in the simple, antiseptic walls of busy airports. In total, they might almost have made things worthwhile.

It was this beauty, ironically, that called an end to it all. I wondered what else I might've been missing--even back home. I wanted to see John again, even if it meant admitting (temporary, I said to myself, temporary) defeat. I figured I would head to one more airport and call it quits.

There comes a point, I suppose, when you have to admit that you've lost. Not everything--I had gained something too, I think, from all of this. I decided I would make my last destination count, in some way, which meant I had to have a reason for picking it.

I've said I believe in intuition, and I believe that God speaks in mysterious ways. I was listening to the music in a little airport shop when I heard the opening beats of a song that I knew I recognised. It wasn't until the first lines, when I heard Denny Doherty's voice, that I could place it properly.

"All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray."

Technically this wasn't true, at least in my case, though it had been winter for three days by that point. At the same time, I could definitely understand the sentiment behind it, the sense of longing--a sense of longing, I realised, that was for a place I'd never been. Well, to hell with that. I told the man at the ticket counter I wanted to know how quickly I could get to Los Angeles.

I don't know why I made that decision, except that I kind of liked the group. On the way to Salem one morning, Kara had heard Elliot's opening vocals to "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and begun singing along, well enough that I turned the radio down to listen to her. It had become a shared promise--I decided that was probably the reason she'd quoted it to me. A sign.

But then, it was Monday. You can't trust that day.

I went to bed with a clear conscious and woke up the next morning for the early afternoon flight. If I intended to try and find anyone there, I was grateful I hadn't yet bought a ticket for home--LAX is massive, one of the busiest airports in the world, with nine passenger terminals.

With a laugh that caused one of my fellow travellers to turn and look at me, I scanned my immediate surroundings. It was an airport she would've liked--busy, with traffic everywhere. I was lost in it--even with the maps posted, with the information kiosks, I was lost. We all were. It was as she had said--nobody belonged, nobody had the upper hand. In a way this was reassuring.

By the end of Wednesday, with the sun beginning to think about turning in for the night, I was done with the outright looking, content to wander here and there, seeking out new sights. If I'd had Kara's inclinations, I shudder to think how much poetry I could've come up with--from the old man whose feet had last touched ground in Thailand to the pair of young children I watched stare out at the tarmac, with its magnificent steel birds and purposeful bustle, for nearly half an hour.

Thursday morning I had decided to return and was making a final survey of the gates. It was early enough that they were still fairly empty--not nearly as vacant as PDX can be, sometimes, but not packed either. My eyes fell now and again on people--there wasn't the same sort of hopefulness, just the joy that came of watching human stories in progress.

A month prior, just after her departure, I though I would never be happy again, and there had still been, until that morning, a bit of hurt tugging at my brain. I was done then--a clean slate, as Kara's last spoken words to me had described. What was the point of sorrow? I think I owed her for this conclusion.

The inescapable reality was that I still loved her and always would. Even then, when I decided I had no cause for sadness, just to hear her voice would've transformed happiness into something wholly transcendent. But I thought, if nothing else, I could probably live absent her. Two weeks before, that would've been a clinical impossibility.

I came to a stop for a moment at one of the gates, stood and looked for a moment at one of the waiting passengers, whose back was to me so that I could only see her hair. I had memories like this of Kara, which came back to me in a sort of stutter. Absent recourse we can forge our own happiness, I have learned. This made the song running through my head inappropriate, and my singing it even more so--and yet I did this.

"Won't you tell her please to put on some speed--follow my lead, oh how I need... someone to watch over me..." I wasn't singing loudly, particularly, but loud enough to hear, for sure, and the woman turned around.

She blinked and half-raised an eyebrow at me, cutting off a question word before she could finish it. I shrugged, as though it weren't any strange thing to be singing in an airport. And then I grinned.

"Hi, Kara."

"Jesus H. Christ," she said, quickly, and these were therefore our first words to each other. They had to suffice, because she hopped over the row of seats to throw herself onto me in an embrace that completely destroyed my ability to breath, and one which I returned without hesitation. "How did you--how did you possibly find me?"

I laughed. What could I do? "Do you believe in god?"

"I... do now, I'll tell you that much. But..."

"Then that's how. I mean, I didn't find you, actually. I've just been travelling. At first I was hoping I'd see you, and then... I guess I kind of resigned myself. It's been a hell of a trip, though--you would've liked it."

"Where all did you go?" She had let go of me, sitting heavily down on the plastic seat, and I sat as well, on the floor and facing her. The litany I returned with encompassed much of the United States--a range greater than I'd ever travelled before. She nodded appreciatively. "And you wound up here?"

"Yeah. I mean... I spent Christmas in Vegas, and I decided I... needed to get home. I've been travelling for more than a month now." Kara blinked in surprise--more than that, shock maybe. "Right after Thanksgiving. I came to the conclusion that I'd screwed up."

Head shaking, she laughed, a sound that was immensely gratifying. "That makes two of us. I left because I thought I needed to find myself, and the... the reality of it is that I already had. I just didn't realise it--maybe it's hard to see, sometimes. I'm sorry, Mark."

"You shouldn't be," I said, and meant it. "This has helped me a lot. You--even if you were wrong, you were still right, if you can imagine. What I had at PDX, it... it wasn't worth it. It couldn't have been worth it, not in a thousand years. I... really, I made the biggest mistake of my life, and I... I had to try and fix it, you know."

Smiling softly, she nodded her head. "So have I." She tilted her muzzle to the side, directing it to the sign by the door to the jetway, which in block letters read "PORTLAND, OR. DEPARTS 8:20." The boarding pass she held up said the same thing.

"I see."

"I guess you wouldn't have been there. But... I would've waited, for what it's worth."

"And I would've returned--eventually. I haven't stopped thinking about you since the last morning we saw each other."

Her ears flattened back for a moment. "Truth is," she said. "I haven't either. I... think you should know that I love you very, very much Mark. And I... if nothing else, I know every word I wrote in that letter to you, and those weren't there. And they should've been."

"Lot of things should or shouldn't have happened," I said. "It's all in the past now; not much we can do with it. You said that to me once, that... that's how we learn."

"So it is. And I think I have, if you can believe it. It's been a lonely few weeks, Mark."

I could only nod. After a few seconds, when she hadn't said anything, I spoke up again. "Kara, I... I know we can't start exactly where we left off, but I... if you're up for it, I very much love you too, and..."

She didn't speak, but I found out suddenly then just how much I had missed the feel of her lips. And when she was finished she nodded. "I think I could probably manage to fit that in. Start off, get a drink at the Café--John's still there, I hope."

"Yeah. I, uh... I'll catch the next flight I can." I glanced around the gate area, which was more full than I'd previously thought. "I don't think they'll have room on this one."

"Ah," Kara said, and looked around as well. "No, perhaps not."

Before I could answer, the man who had been seated next to her before turned around. He was old--his fur grey where it still had enough black left for colour, white where it was not. His eyes were the only part of him that looked young--looked, indeed, like they would always seem so. "Excuse me, but I couldn't... help overhearing you two."

Kara and I both turned to look at him. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir," she started to say, but he shook his head at her, his ears disturbed a bit by the sudden movement.

"No, no. I think--I think it's wonderful. I haven't ever seen you before, but I... I can tell you were meant to be together." He smiled, his tired face taking on a grandfatherly look. "Anyway, I... I have a ticket for this flight, but I'm sure I could speak to the gate agent--they'd understand."

"I couldn't do that," I said quickly. "It's--I mean, worse comes to worse it's just a couple of hours."

He looked from Kara to me, and then he spoke deliberately. "When I was your age, I left someone behind too. In my case, it was because I had been invited to a party at which Adolf Hitler was the guest of honour." He laughed quietly. "The whole way through the Bulge, all I could think about was getting back to her. When I stepped off the troopship in September, it had been about a year and a half, and I learned her train had been delayed... it was just another six hours, and what's six hours after eighteen months? But that was the longest six hours I've ever sat through."

I knew what he was saying. "Believe me, I know."

"I remember they played that song, "Someone to Watch Over Me," at a USO concert. For Marie and me it was different--ours was a bit called the "Moonlight Serenade." I..." he caught the glances we exchanged. "You've heard of it?"

Kara nodded. "The first time we danced--it was kind of dancing, I guess... it was to that song."

"Then you understand what I'm talking about. I know what it's like to be in love, and you can't... you just can't ignore it. There's no 'worse comes to worst' there."

"I still can't take your ticket, sir." Our voices were becoming softer, more intimate.

"Then buy it off me." His gaze had tightened its focus on us.

"Buy it off you?" I echoed. "How?"

"I'm coming back from Christmas with my grandkids." He stopped, frowning a little. "It's... it's the first Christmas I've spent without my wife, she... died in February." Kara and I whispered meaningless apologies, which he rightly shrugged off. "At my age, after that, you... you come to look for a reason to keep going. You want each day to mean something, do you understand? You want it to have mattered, to have... made you want to keep going against everything else."

I didn't see where it was going, but I nodded anyway. "To have had a purpose?"

"Right. You want to have earned the right to keep living. When you're alone, and old, like me, it... it can be hard. You live for a day, an hour--just a moment. Sometimes all it takes is just one moment. But I tell you something. If you can..." he swallowed hard, the corners of his eyes dampening. "If you two can spend the six hours together that I missed out on, then I can justify still being here when Marie is gone. And that--that's more than worth any airline ticket."

I blinked, rendered speechless--helpless, even, and I finally nodded. "Alright."

His smile widened and after he brushed the tear from his eye, he nodded back to me. "Thank you. You don't know how much this means to me."

Those were supposed to be my words, but I think he understood.

If that was truly what he wanted in payment, than Kara and I returned it in spades. The airline was understanding--more than understanding; we spent the flight reclined against each other, trying to make up for lost time, voices like eager children.

Or perhaps there was no lost time. We had stories to tell each other, the mundane experiences of a month apart that made that sacrifice real and present. I had changed, to be sure--this was her fault, and she took the blame for it with a grin. There was no going back to mid-November--but then, the new year was only a few days away. We drew up resolutions, made plans.

"You know what's funny?" Kara had turned to me, just off the plane. I shook my head. "How much this feels like home. I mean, not Portland--right here, this terminal, this airport. It's a strange place to be able to call it that, but... it feels right."

It did. There was familiarity, here, at long last. And yet. "It does. But--it's also home, I think, because you're here." She grinned. "Nah, I'm serious."

"I could get behind that," she admitted. "It wouldn't feel right without you either--I'm glad I didn't have to get back here before you did."

So we were agreed. In the Café Morocco, with Duke Ellington playing in the background, time might not have progressed a day--save for the astonished look on the man behind the counter. I'd been in only sporadically since beginning my journey, and his hands were shaking as he poured our drink orders.

To anyone else, looking in from the outside, the scene was unremarkable--a couple of friends together at a small café, laughing with the bartender. To anyone else, the music was just music, the conversation was just conversation, the friends were just friends. Nobody could've seen that if god lived in solitary moments, then here was Genesis rewritten, a little block of perfection. If I'd tried my hardest, I don't think I could've convinced the world of how magnificent that was; how wondrous.

But then, you don't have to care about the world, if you get the one or two that really matter.
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