Anna smiled and tightened the rainbow scarf around her neck. "Thanks again for the cookies, Auntie Jane." She balanced the plate of gingerbread cookies in one hand while scooping up a brightly wrapped package with the other. "And for the beautiful gift."
Auntie Jane laughed. "You haven't even opened it yet!" she exclaimed.
"I know," replied Anna, "But any gift from you is sure to be great." She directed a wink at her still-laughing aunt and headed out the front door.
Winter mornings in New York City were the best. The air seemed clearer and more breathable somehow, like a breath of fresh air for the lungs. The streets were swept clean and the shops which outlined the city were decorated in all their Christmastime splendor. Passerby in their colorful coats and various shopping bags huddled in groups and pairs and talked and laughed. The festive mood in the air was contagious and Anna was beginning to feel giddy off its effects.
In a rare change of mood, Anna decided to make a stop at her favorite restaurant and treat herself to a nice lunch before heading home. The day was too beautiful and full of possibilities to be spent holed up in the house.
"Table for how many?" asked a waiter upon Anna's entrance.
"One," replied Anna, scanning the half-full room, "Just one."
After the waiter had led Anna to her own private little booth and took her order, Anna simply sat in silence and stared out the glass windows, feeling for what seemed like the millionth time in her life that she was missing something.
The next day was a busy day for Anna. She had to finish running some errands for her mother and complete a long list of Christmas shopping. A stuffed purple hippo for her little cousin, a new diary for her best friend, a shiny china set for Auntie Jane- the list went on and on.
"I'm leaving now!" cried Anna as she hastily stuffed her right foot in her sneaker, "I'll be back around 6 o'clock!"
"Alright!" called her mother from the kitchen, "And don't forget to bring your cell phone in case I call!"
"Yeah, yeah," muttered Anna, donning an orange coat and a brightly knitted cap, "I won't." She patted her back pocket to make sure her cell phone was intact and realized that she hadn't removed it from her pocket since the day before.
The first stop on her list was the toy store. Even though she was practically a high school graduate, Anna still secretly enjoyed being around toys and stuffed animals. They made her feel young again, as if she was still in the 5th grade and the only thing she had to worry about was which colored gumdrops she should use for her gingerbread house.
On her way to the shop, it took Anna a while to realize that something was a bit off. Random passerby on the street were staring at her with wide eyes in what seemed like disbelief. It was all very strange to Anna, who used to glide through the streets like an invisible ghost.
Is something on my face? Anna wondered, Is it something I'm wearing?
She didn't have time to ponder long, for at that moment her cell phone vibrated inside her pocket.
"Hello?" answered Anna, pressing a finger against her left ear to hear more clearly. She kept her head down low so as to avoid the gazes of the strangers as they walked past her.
"Anna!" cried a silvery voice over the phone, "Oh my god, I've been trying to reach you for hours! You'll never believe what I'm going to tell you!"
"No," replied Anna, sighing with relief, grateful that her best friend had called at such a convenient time, "You'll never believe what I'm going to tell you. People are staring at me all weird, like they can't believe their eyes or something. It's so-"
"Well," interjected Eva, "That's because you were on TV this morning!"
Anna still couldn't believe it. After hearing the news from her friend, she quickly cancelled all shopping plans and trekked to her friend's house just to see it with her very own eyes. But no matter how many times she saw it, Anna couldn't wrap her mind around what her eyes were absorbing.
"Play it again," commanded Anna in a faint voice, her body rigid with tension.
"Thank god I have Tivo, eh?" remarked Eva before forwarding the footage to the beginning once again.
A pretty young lady reporter was smiling at the camera, preparing to speak. A boy with a mop of dark brown hair was standing next to her with his hands in his pockets, looking awkwardly at the ground to avoid eye contact with the camera. He was wearing a black cardigan over a green vintage polo and had a bit of stubble on his chin.
"Hello, I'm Bridget Johnson, standing in for a special segment in celebration of Arts Week," started the reporter, "I'm standing here with one of New York City's youngest and most talented up-and-coming artists, Johnny Macht."
Anna watched for the fifth time with dazed eyes as the boy, Johnny, looked up, grinned, and gave a small wave to the camera. She noticed that he had milk chocolate colored eyes and that a dimple flashed on the right side of his cheek when he smiled.
The blonde reporter flashed another smile before turning to Johnny. "So how old are you?"
"Nineteen," he replied, raking a hand through his unkempt hair.
"Nineteen," repeated Bridget, "So young, and yet so amazing- weren't you recently hailed as one of the most innovative young artists by The New York Times?"
Johnny gave a nervous chuckle before replying, "I guess, yeah."
"So you're known for your paintings," continued Bridget, "And your most notable one is called Flight."
At that moment the camera zoomed into a breathtaking painting of a man standing on the edge of the top of a tower, with one leg thrust forward as if he were about to break into a sprint. His head was facing the light blue sky and his massive white wings were stretched out wide behind his back. He was completely naked from the waist up and what was left of his business suit was disintegrating from the waist-down.
The painting was so vivid that it seemed as if the man was going to leap out of the canvas and fly away. Anna lost her breath just looking at it.
"It's my favorite work of yours," complimented Bridget, as the camera flashed back to the two, "Can you tell me your own favorite personal work of art?"
Johnny's eyes seem to gaze blankly at the camera before he nodded his head. "Yeah. It's the one right over there." He pointed to a painting at the far end of the gallery and began to walk over to it, his hands still shoved firmly in his pockets. As the camera began to pan into Johnny's favorite piece, Anna felt lightheaded.
Because the girl in the painting was her.
It was a profile painting. Her head was turned toward the audience, her expression making it clear that she was caught off guard. Her bare shoulder was exposed, but a crème colored cloth was wrapped around her chest. It was almost as if the artist had called her name, and as she turned her head toward the sound of his voice, he captured her face.
Everything was accurately depicted: from Anna's wavy jet-black hair to her cheekbones, nose and translucent pale skin. The perfectly captured curve of the girl's upper lip and the striking hazel eyes in the painting were also identical to Anna's. He even included the little beauty mark Anna had near her right eyebrow.
"It's you," breathed Eva. "It's really you, isn't it?"
Anna didn't hear her friend because Johnny was speaking. "It's one of the more recent paintings of mine. It's called Girl."
"She's beautiful," gushed Bridget in hushed tones. She lifted her curious blue eyes to his and asked, "Is the girl in the painting a friend?"
Johnny's eyes had a faraway look to them as they traveled the painting. "No. I've never met her. I don't even know if she exists. She came to me in a dream."
"And you went through all this work to paint a girl you've never met, but only dreamed of?"
Johnny's eyes were still transfixed on the painting as he nodded.
"Wow," said Bridget, and then shook her head in disbelief. "All I can say is wow."
Anna's heart was beating abnormally fast.
What am I doing here? she asked herself wildly, her stomach clenching in nervousness, Am I crazy? Should I go back? I should go back…
But deep down Anna knew that she couldn't go back, no matter how much she wanted to. Ever since she saw the footage on TV, a strange restlessness had presided over her and took control of her mind. She couldn't sleep at night and the lonely void that had been haunting her for years was getting bigger. For the past couple days, Anna's heart, body and instincts were screaming for her to do only one thing:
Find Johnny Macht.
After a day or two of contemplating, Anna decided to succumb to her will and looked up the building where Johnny's studio was located. It turned out to be in a business building, a place where artists were represented and galleries were usually hosted. When she had first tried to set up a meeting with Johnny, she received a flat-out no- until the receptionist tore her eyes away from the computer screen long enough to see Anna's face.
And so here she was, sitting on a couch in the lobby, waiting for Johnny to come down from his studio to see her. He had no idea who he was expecting; the receptionist simply told him that it was an urgent matter, and that he had better come down straight away.
When Anna saw him emerge from an elevator, she quickly stood up and held her breath. At the sight of his face, the nerves in her stomach died instantly.
At first, Johnny did not see her and made a beeline toward the receptionist. Anna saw him ask her a question and she pointed over his shoulder to where Anna was standing.
The moment Johnny's eyes lit upon Anna, he froze. His eyes widened in pure disbelief as his breath caught in his throat. Some indefinable emotion flickered in his eyes as he continued to stand there and stare, not able to move.
They stood facing one another like statues for what seemed like an eternity until Anna raised her hand and gave a little wave. As his face broke into a wide smile and Anna's did the same, she felt as if she had known him all her life.
The feeling that something was missing in her life had finally vanished.