The words sound good, and look pretty in blue ink, on college-rule paper. In reality, the phone booth across the street is empty. Whoever was making out there last, steamed up the windows and now it’s all frosted over, the park is deserted, and I want to throw rocks and break apart the glass on that cheery red phone booth all fake and friendly looking.
This is a set, we’re all just actors, none of it is real.
The bus is late, as usual, not that I care. I’ve got my notebook, my pen, my words, the stories in my head. In my head, Olivia will break his heart, and Tony will return to me.
Return. That means he was with me once. In my head, at least. This isn’t where the story was going, not where I wanted to take it at all. In my story there was no Olivia. But now, she’s worked her way into my brain, her curly blond hair and her color-coordinated outfits and fingernails. I’ve tried taking her out into the wilderness, where she should end up as the first casualty of the elements. But instead, it’s Tony who keeps falling off a cliff or getting crushed by a storm-toppled tree.
Sure, I save his life, and Olivia is less than useless. But still, she’s there. Still, clean and perky and fashionable. Even in my story, she can’t manage to have a hair out of place.
I hear something, or sense something, that makes me look up from my unsatisfactory words, and there they are, heading towards me, Olivia in her tall black boots, and her red wool coat, and Tony, in his leather jacket and sneakers. With a big bouquet of roses, red like Olivia’s coat. They’ve got their arms and eyes locked on each other, and I’ve got a lump in my throat that’s bigger than Olivia’s Prada bag.
I run across the street without thinking, wanting to avoid them. Him. I duck into the phone booth and crouch down, still clutching my pen and notebook.
Brakes and tires squeal and smoke. “Olivia!” a voice shouts. Engines hum, doors slam. “Oh, my God, is she . . . “
There I go again. I don’t want to get hit by a car to win him. I want Olivia to be the one sprawled on the imaginary pavement. My stories always seem to turn in other directions, despite my efforts.
I stand up, press my hand on the steamed-up glass and look out through the cleared outline of my palm.
Across the street, a ghostly outline of a handprint appears in the frosted window of the phone booth.
Across the street, Tony and Olivia sit on the bench at the bus stop. He stares into space. She holds his hand. He stands and places the flowers on the ground in front of the glass enclosure, right next to the street.
I shouldn’t listen in.
“If you can hear me, Lanie, I’m sorry.”
I hate the way these stories keep going. I rip the pages out of my notebook.
Ragged scraps of torn paper flutter from her hands. They fall to the ground like snow, and melt and disappear.