A bright yellow dress pulled him out of his reverie in stages. His visual cortex registered the colour rippling across the lobby and set his eyes following it while gravel-voiced admonitions occupied his conscious mind.
When Roland’s eyes registered the woman wearing the dress, his visual cortex grabbed his conscious mind by the scruff of the neck and yanked it into the present.
Perhaps he made a noise because the woman in the yellow dress stopped and looked at him. Her mouth opened and stopped, as though she had something to say but the words she needed to say it eluded her.
She’s cut her hair, thought Roland.
He stamped on the thought before it became the first thing he said to a woman he hadn’t seen in ten years. With his mind restraining itself, his mouth was free to spill whatever words found their way to his larynx.
“Of all the gin joints in all the world, she walks into mine.”
“Oh Roland.” Her hair might have changed, but her voice paralysed his mind as effectively as it always had. “Will you ever get your head out of the past?”
His mouth moved again before he could stop it. He recognised his foreboding from the time he’d hit the footbrake too late. Knowing what was about to happen didn’t save him from rear-ending the car in front then, and did nothing to stifle his words now.
“Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon, and for the rest of your life. Um. My life. I mean…”
He shut up before it got any worse. What the hell was that supposed to mean? From her perplexed look, she had no more idea than him.
She cleared the look off her face with a laugh. “Don’t make it too soon.”
She turned to the pianist in the corner of the bar. “Play it, Sam.”
“I’m Joe,” said the pianist. “Oh, I get it.”
He launched into As Time Goes By.
Her eyes asked a question as she walked toward him. Perhaps no answer was the right answer because she slid on to the stool next to him.
“Say something.” Her voice was tentative enough to tell him what her question was. She didn’t know if he wanted to speak to her.
“This…this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”