By Laura King
He was looking at the abstract art on the walls when he heard a familiar voice ordering coffee. A double shot latte with soy milk and extra foam. That was the drink she’d always order when they went out. He knew it was her even before she tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hi,” she said. “I thought that was you.”
He turned around and gave her an awkward wave.
“How are you?” she said.
“I’m doing okay,” he said, moving left toward the drink counter. “How about yourself?”
“Really well. Just trying to piece everything back into place.” She inched a half step to her right to stand closer to him.
“You look really happy,” he said and moved his gaze toward the barista.
After another minute of silence, his drink was ready. “It was great seeing you. I hope you find everything you need,” he said as he walked away.
“Do you want to meet at that stupidly named bar downtown? Nineteen pages? Tomorrow? 9pm?” She said really fast, as he was almost out the door.
He stopped for a second. “Sure,” he said, leaving.
He walked into Nineteen Pages, a bar that held nostalgic feelings for him. It was the bar where they first met at karaoke Tuesdays. She was already there, sitting at the table closest to the window.
She stood up as soon as she saw him walking toward the table. “Hey there,” she said, leaning in for a hug.
He sat down and as soon as he did, Trudy came over. Trudy was the house bartender who always seemed to be working. “I’ll have a Hef,” he said.
The girl already had a rum and coke she was sipping.
It was quiet for a few moments before she said anything. “I need your help. I want to remember things, but I just can’t.” She looked down at her drink.
He noticed that she was furrowing her eyebrows. That was something she always did when she didn’t understand something. People would mistake it for her being mad and even ask if she was alright.
He wiped his hand over the condensation on the beer glass. “The first time you were here, you told me you hated to sing. I turned around to grab a drink and then I saw you at the karaoke machine singing ‘Zombie’. Oh, you kicked ass.”
She smiled at him and looked at her drink again. “Do you think that we could meet here tomorrow at the same time?”
He looked at her. “Sure,” he said. He flagged Trudy down for another drink.
The guy arrived at Nineteen Pages earlier than the girl had, so he grabbed the same table. He noticed that the bar had some new pictures of authors and musicians on the walls. They still played Etta Fitzgerald and Miles Davis on repeat, except they added a few more jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. He saw Trudy walk by and ordered a beer for him and rum and coke for her. She arrived right after Trudy brought their drinks to the table.
“Hey,” she said, giving him a hug. “I was just caught up going through some things that time slipped past me. I hope you weren’t waiting long.”
He shook his head.
“You ordered for me?”
He nodded. “Rum and coke?”
Her lips turned up into a smile and she took a sip of her drink. It was silent for a few minutes before she finally said anything.
“How was I before the accident?” She asked, swirling her straw around.
He took a sip of his beer before he answered. “You were you. It didn’t change you.”
She was quiet for a minute. “I know I haven’t physically changed. I still look the same. I still remember.” She stopped for a second. “You know, most things.”
He looked at her drink for a second. “The second time we met here, we played our version of the drinking game.”
She smiled. “That sounds interesting?”
“It was a crowded Saturday night, which made it hard to move around to find one another. We finally did meet up, but already ordered drinks. We decided to guess what each other’s drink order was.”
She took a sip of her almost empty glass. “So what was the outcome?”
He smiled. “I thought you would order a mixed drink over a beer. I figured I had a 50% chance of being right. If I were ordering a mixed drink, I would go with ‘Rum and Coke’, so that’s what my guess was.”
“Did you really guess that?” She asked.
“No. I’m kidding. We both guessed completely wrong. You had a margarita and I ordered a Whiskey Sour.” He said, laughing.
“Actually I think we were both right about each other.” She looked at her empty glass and paused for a moment. “Just not about our drink orders,” she said, smiling.
He arrived about fifteen minutes late on their third meeting due to extra traffic around the bar area. Apparently some celebrity was in the area, which made it harder to find a parking spot. Once in the bar, he saw it was quite empty with only a few tables being occupied. She was sitting at the same table by the window, looking outside.
He greeted her as he walked up, and she got up and gave him a hug. She always said it was her Midwestern upbringing that made her hug everyone upon greeting them. He sat down and ordered his usual drink with Trudy.
“I was thinking,” she said. “Maybe you could help me figure out what some of these things are,” she said and brought out a small jewelry box with a latch. Inside were letters, tickets, and other unusual keepsakes that she had collected over the years.
He picked up a ticket from the Empire State Building. That was the trip where they stopped in Chicago and New York. It was the time when her aunt took him in her arms and kissed him right on the lips. Her aunt told him he was the best thing since sliced bread, and that was true because there was nothing else so great as sliced bread.
He held up a letter to her. “I wrote you this letter after our first year together.”
She took it and read it silently. “You forgot to buy me something for our anniversary, so you got all of my family together to hold up a sign that said ‘I’m sorry’? That’s so sweet.” She smiled a little.
He remembered it was their year and a half anniversary, which wasn’t normally a big deal, except they decided to celebrate the big milestones on a non-milestone time. Their year and a half anniversary celebration was really celebrating a year. It was hard to remember what anniversaries they decided to celebrate, which was why he forgot.
She took a sip of water she had in front of her. “What did I do after you wrote me this letter?”
He paused. “You knew I’d forgotten about the day we were going to celebrate and said that it was fine. You handed me a gift basket of little things that made you think of me and said you weren’t feeling that well.”
“So you got my family together to take a picture for me?” She said.
“Well, I had a gift for you, I just forgot which day we were going to celebrate. You didn’t believe me, so I had to do something,” he said. “They wanted to help out, so we brainstormed a little. Your aunt said that our relationship was of utmost importance.” They both laughed.
She held a few concert ticket stubs in her hand and stared at them a while. “I really like this.”
He looked at her.
“I like learning about my life through you. Even though I can’t remember all of these standout moments, I feel like I can put some of the puzzle back together.”
He was quiet for a few minutes. “I think you have these pieces somewhere in your mind, but they’re just not fitting together.”
She nodded. “Will you meet with me again tomorrow?”
He was sitting at their table the next day, when she called him to say she was running ten minutes late. It was Tuesday, which meant karaoke night would bring some of the regulars. Although it was their hangout when they were dating, it had been at least a year since he’d been back to karaoke Tuesday. He saw her walking through the front door talking to a man he’d recognized as a karaoke junkie.
She walked up to the table and gave him a hug. “I just ran into a guy who started this long conversation with me. I have no idea who he is.”
“He’s what we used to call a karao-quack. It was our term for the people who would hang around bars to karaoke all night.” They both laughed.
After taking a sip of water, she said, “I went to the doctor today. She said all my brain scans look good. I can start to think again.” She said the last part with a laugh.
He just looked at her and smiled.
“Can you tell me what happened to us?”
Silence followed that question.
After a minute or so, he said, “You had a lot of things to remember, and I wanted to make sure that you didn’t feel pressure to remember me.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear, which was something that she did as a nervous habit.
“Sometimes these pieces of random memories pop up in my mind and I don’t know how they fit into my life, but I keep them stored away for later.” She stopped talking for a minute. She took her hand that was nestled on her glass and moved it along the side of the table. She started tracing her fingers along the etched mark. “Like this mark. I remember this, maybe not in the same way I did before, but I know it’s important.”
He looked at the engraved mark she was touching. It was still there.
“My aunt was right about you,” she said. She looked at him and moved her hands over his.