The leaves were falling from the trees. The wind carried them past Ran, down the street, past the end of the block. She was carrying a white box, tied with a wide pink bow – a cake for Karen.
The wind had a sharp edge to it, but Ran was dressed for the cold, in a brown leather bomber jacket and the gusts were at her back. She walked by the lawns, wooden fences, poplars swaying, wind vanes twisting and turning.
At the end of the lane, on East 14th Street, stood Karen’s two-story house. The mowed grass was strewn with the scarlet leaves, from the beginning of fall. Ran opened the gate and let herself in. On the stone flagstone path lay a plastic bag, containing a rolled-up newspaper, protected from the rain.
She knocked on the beige door, with the three glass panes at eye-height. Karen came to the door, coming down the mahogany steps.
“So good to see you!” Karen exclaimed, “Come right in!”
Karen’s arm was in a blue sling. “I’m sorry you couldn’t make the office party,” Ran said.
“Oh no, it’s fine. I hurt my wrist lifting that TV for the break room,” Karen said, “I was very grateful to get some time off.”
“It must be hard for you,” Ran said, setting the white box down on the kitchen table.
“My friend from spin class comes by once or twice a week,” Karen gave a dismissive wave, “It’s been helpful really. You figure out what your priorities are.”
“Only you would call a sprained wrist ‘helpful.'” Ran chuckled.
“What did you get me?” With her free hand, Karen undid the pink bow, and lifted the lid of the box. A bright yellow, and baby blue cake greeted her, exhorting her to ‘Get Well Soon.’
“Everyone at the office pitched in,” Ran explained, “It was nice, actually,”
“You shouldn’t have!” Karen said, “Oh, only you would ever be so considerate.” She came over and gave Ran a hug, with her good arm.
“I’m heading back to Cali soon,” Ran said, “It was the least I could do,”
Karen busied herself, finding a knife in the sink drawer. She cut the cake, “Don’t you have some publishing house business to tie up first?”
“Yes, I finished drawing up the new contract with Jerry,” Ran said, “The heads and the tails of it.”
Karen handed a slice to Ran on a paper plate, “Oh, please tell me you don’t have to go?”
Ran took her slice and leaned against the sink, “I’ve been in this town long enough Karen. I feel like I’m stagnating. Paddling so hard and standing still. I have to strike out on my own.”
Karen sighed, “Such vision. I wish I still had it. I gave up writing long ago.”
“That’s the point,” said Ran, “If I stay here, I’ll give up writing too. Plus, I haven’t used my surfboard in a while.”
“Well, we had a good run, didn’t we?” Karen smiled, holding her cake, with the fork stuck in it. They moved to the living room. Soaps were playing on TV.
“We sure did,” Ran said, sinking into the armchair, “And then I ran off with that Aron woman and got my heart broken.”
“You should have stayed with me all along,” Karen said, setting down her cake and switching the channel, “Then you wouldn’t be leaving the East Coast!”
“It wasn’t because of her,” Ran protested.
“Oh, come on,” Karen laughed, “It’s totally because of her. You want to get away from where this heartbreak happened. I get it.”
They ate the chocolate cake in silence, watching a rerun of “Days of Our Lives.”
Karen brought two bottles of Sam Adams out of the fridge, “One for you.”
“I just want to write one more novel,” Ran said, sipping her beer.
“But can you ever get back to that time, in college?” Karen asked, “That time has passed, hasn’t it?”
“I’ll just have to write the experience, in a unique way,” Ran said, “In a different light, like an Impressionistic painting.”
“You’re full of surprises,” Karen said.
“I’m just trying to recapture a feeling,” Ran continued.
Karen put her beer down on the coffee table, “Why don’t we recapture our feelings – for each other?”
“Oh, Karen,” Ran mused, “We never lost our feelings.”
Karen got up and kissed her on the lips, warm from the hoppy foam. “I want to remember you forever,” she whispered.
“You do have me forever,” Ran answered.
“And soon, you’ll be gone,” she retreated to the couch.
Ran got up and followed her, kissing her harder. They gripped each other in that house, as the rain began to fall.
When they broke away, Karen patted Ran’s shoulder with her free hand, “You should go. I’ve kept you long enough.”
Outside the beige door, Ran watched the leaves chase each other down the road. Her lips still tingled, her cheeks still stung. She walked down the path and willed herself not to look back.
Mahler – Adagietto, 4th movement, Symphony No. 5