I will always remember the day I took the train into Manchester, New Hampshire, as the day my life began. Would you believe it? That day, I thought life as I knew it was ending. Actually, if I hadn't taken that train, I can't imagine I would have met you, but we're not quite there yet.
The sky was Prussian blue that day, much deeper and darker than any of the other summer blues. I remember thinking how much I wished I could paint on the train, just to see if I could capture the richness of the colour. Usually a summer sky shifts, it sifts and flows like the skin on something living, but today the sky was solidly, honestly, no-fooling blue, a colour that had nothing to hide. Have you ever seen a blue like that? It seemed to me that the longer I stared up at it from the smudged window, the more I felt I was drowning in it, being pulled through the star holes in the sky to whatever lay beyond - another sky maybe, who knows?
The city etched itself against that dark blue to the rhythm of the train on the tracks, adding variations of the same shade of grey on the horizon, letting me know we'd be pulling into the station soon. I took out my iPod, pressed Pause, and slid it back into my purse.
I was twenty. It was the start of my second year at the University of New Hampshire. Much to my father's chagrin, I was pursuing a degree in fine arts - painting, to be specific, but you know how I paint. I painted you, once, do you remember? I used lots of yellow.
As I gathered my bags to get up, I felt something hot and wet blossom on my tank top. My coffee had spilled. I brushed it off as best I could, afraid to get caught in the hustle and bustle of people who had handed their destinations over to the conductor but who all of a sudden were in the hurry of their lives.
"I'm so sorry!"A man holding my coffee cup looked down at me - important distinction here, I have to interrupt myself. He looked down at me, he didn't look down on me, like many others seemed to back then. That's a very important difference, remember that.
"It's okay." I barely met his eyes, coffee still dripping from my top. I figured I'd spot-dry it when I got to my new apartment.
"No, no, let me buy you another cup. Do you have time?" I almost, almost said no, but he looked so repentant. He reminded me of a little boy who stepped on his mother's toe and made her cry by accident. I smiled at him.
"I guess so. Thanks." He stepped in front of me, clearing a path, and I followed him off the train. He led me to a Dunkin Donuts at the station.
"I'm David." He offered his hand, kelp-green eyes sparkling with good humour.
"Anna," I replied, shaking it and smiling again. I couldn't help myself - he made me think of sunshine and brightness.
"So was that just coffee, or was it some special kind of thing?" He gestured to the empty cup I was holding.
"Just coffee," I replied, letting him turn back to the line so I could study him. He was older than me, perhaps by ten, fifteen years. He had messy hair, so dark it could be mistaken for black, and beautiful eyes, as green as those old glass soda bottles, and just as clear. He wore glasses, not the black-framed ones that are so in style now but a simple wire-rimmed pair whose frames were somewhere on the border of oval and rectangular. He had a strong jaw and an aquiline nose. His eyebrows were beautifully arched, calling to mind other, historical arches, like at the Coliseum or perhaps something a little more Greek. I might have painted him as a king or a general, if not for the give around his mouth and eyes: laugh lines.
He turned back to me, and I pretended to be reading the sign behind him.
"Anna, here's your coffee." He handed me the cup, warm from his hand and the drink.
"It was great to meet you, David. You really didn't have to do this." He shrugged.
"Pay it forward, I guess." He gave me a smile that made those lines deeper and waved as he walked off.
I grabbed my bags and walked to my new apartment. This was strong coffee, stronger than what I'd had before. I'd probably be up all night.