One Year Later

"Who knows, you might meet someone at this wedding," Marina said thoughtfully as she bit into her sandwich.

I rolled my eyes at her but grinned still. "Marina, stop," I said admonishingly.

She went on, heedless of my warning. "I mean, here you are, you blew off the last two guys I introduced you to. You're almost 24, still a virgin –"

"Marina!" I swatted her arm but couldn't help laughing. "We're in public!"

She shrugged, but laughed as well. We were sitting together at a cute outdoor cafe on a Saturday in Greenwich, and it wasn't long before she delved into her favorite conversation of late - my love life.

She had a wedding to go to in two weeks' time, and Blake couldn't go because he had a last minute work trip coming up, so now she was trying to convince me to be her date to this wedding of someone I completely did not know.

"You could though!" she went on, relentlessly. "You could totally meet someone at this wedding."

I shot her an exasperated look. "Okay, I think we have to address the fact that I've had zero luck with the guys you've set me up with. Can we just both agree on that?"

She couldn't argue with that fact. The last guy she set me up actually showed up already drunk to our dinner and proceeded to throw up on the curb afterwards. The guy before that was so reserved that I could barely get the conversation going and I felt like we sat through most of our coffee date in silence. It was a relief when it finally ended.

"Okay but–"

"Anyways, how's work going?" I interjected before she could continue in this vein any longer.

Marina wrinkled her nose. "It's okay, I think the traveling's getting to me a bit though. I might want to switch to a job that doesn't require so much travel. How's the writing job?"

I brightened a little. "Good, actually," I said. "I'm writing a bit about that fight that's been going on with the residents and their condo board on that place on 37th. Apparently the residents are accusing their board of misusing close to a million dollars last year, can you believe it?"

Marina laughed. "I love how excited you get about this condo turf war."

"Well, it's actually pretty interesting! And I feel like it's a lot more substantial of a topic than the stuff I started writing about," I said. It was true - I was still writing local, online pieces only, but they were getting more clicks, and so Bryan's been giving me more and more interesting topics to cover.

In fact, work had been going quite well. A little over a month ago, they had given me a raise - not a big one, granted - but enough so that I felt like I could move out of my apartment in the Bronx and into another one in Brooklyn near Prospect Park.

Of course, it was another tiny tiny place, but I loved the neighborhood a lot more, and I didn't mind being out of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan when I went home every evening.

After almost two years of being in New York, I felt like I was finally finding my footing.

Work was going well, I enjoyed where I lived, I was even making a few friends from the office so it wasn't just Marina who I texted at night, and I was dating, albeit with what I can at best describe as mixed success.

That night, when I went home, I continued to unpack my boxes. I had moved into this new apartment two weeks ago, but it was taking me a lot longer to unpack all the boxes I had moved with. It turns out after a year of living in a place, you can accumulate quite a bit of knick knacks.

I was down to my last box, and I had saved it for last, because I knew what was in it.

With a sigh, I opened it up, and there were the photos of Yosemite that Andrew took and had printed and given me a set of.

It gave me the same little twang in my heart as when I packed them. It had been a year, but it was still there.

I hadn't talked to Andrew in almost a year. I had no idea what he was doing, no idea where he was. I even bought myself a new phone and got a new number, and he wasn't even in my contacts.

Paul and I still texted sporadically, but he diligently avoided anything related to Andrew in his conversations with me, and I never asked.

I took out the photographs, looking through the prints of the rivers and trees. The shot of Half Dome at dawn. The one of a deer caught staring perfectly straight on for the camera in the meadow at dusk.

Not for the first time, I wondered what Andrew was up to.

Most of the time, I resisted this. I resisted the urge to think about him, to wonder about him, to look up what he was doing.

In fact, I hadn't done this in months, but something about today and unpacking the Yosemite photographs again. Something about looking at them weakened my resolve to try my hardest not to think about Andrew Williams.

And so I opened up my phone and I Googled his name.

The very first result that popped up was one about an exhibit of his photographs that was showing at the International Center for Photography on Delancy Street. It was an exhibit about a play on shadows.

I looked at the dates and realized that the exhibit had already been going for about a month or so. In fact, these were the final two weeks that it was showing.

Don't do it, Violet.

I was warning myself, but at the same time, I knew I would ignore that warning.

One of my justifications was that it had been a year. A whole year!

I was different now. I wasn't the same girl who had started working for him. The same one who could barely look him in the eye without feeling nervous or wanting to bolt. I felt better, more rooted in my life, more rooted in New York, and more sure of myself.

My other justification was that it wasn't like Andrew was going to be there anyways. I decided to go that Thursday night, which I felt like was a very unlikely night for people to show up. Plus, it wasn't like this was the first day that the exhibit was showing. I knew from experience of working with him that while Paul liked to show up to their exhibits to check out the people who visited and what they said, Andrew almost never did, not even for the openings.

He definitely wasn't going to show up on a random Thursday a month after opening.

And so, on a brisk Thursday night that week after work, I decided to forgo my usual routine of catching the train back home to Brooklyn, and made the choice to go see Andrew's exhibit instead.

My heart rate did speed up slightly upon walking into the museum, and especially so after walking into the exhibit labeled 'Andrew Williams', but it very quickly became apparent after walking into that wing that hosted his photos, that Andrew wasn't there that night.

Like I predicted.

It made me feel both relieved and disappointed.

There were a few people milling about, mostly couples on dates as they went from photo to photo looking at each print, but there was no Andrew.

And so I walked through the exhibit slowly, taking time to look through each of the photos.

It gave me a sense of nostalgia tinged with sadness to look through Andrew's photographs. To know that at one point, he had stood behind the camera with the exact scenes in front of him as the ones I was looking at hanging on the wall.

And even though I didn't purport to understand much about photography, even after a good amount of time working as a photographer's assistant and with photographers at the Times for pairing photos to my articles, I thought this exhibit was pretty cool.

The whole theme was a play on shadows, with photos ranging from a man walking in the shadows cast by a long column of trees to a cat stretching in the shade of a playground's monkey bars to the shadows cast by a flock of birds on the ground.

It was all pretty cool, but there was one photo that really stood out to me as I walked deeper into the exhibit. It looked vaguely familiar, and I saw that it showcased the shadows of a hanging bridge cast on the water.

As I walked closer I realized why it was so familiar. It was a suspension bridge in Tennessee, just outside of my hometown. Andrew must have taken it when we went to Tennessee together.

The bridge was framed exactly in center view, the sun behind it, shadows cast so directly down on the ground that the whole thing was exactly symmetrical. In fact, it was so symmetrical that you could have folded it in half so that each side matched the other.

I recalled what I told him when we first met, about how I appreciated symmetrical photos, and smiled wistfully.

I then noticed that this one photo was one of the rare ones that had a caption next to it. Most of them didn't.

Curious, I scooted closer and read, expecting to see the location of the bridge displayed or something.

As I neared, I could make out that the ttext was just three small words.

Symmetry, for Violet.

I brought my fingertips to my mouth in surprise. I looked at the caption again, dumbfounded, and I read it at least three more times before I realized that my vision was getting blurry.

No, it wasn't getting blurry, I was tearing up.

I wiped the tears away from my eyes surreptitiously before they could fall, and I looked around guiltily, afraid someone would see me tear up at a random photograph of a bridge and wonder what was going on with this girl.


I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound, and I spun around so fast that I made myself dizzy.

It was Paul.

Paul, who I had met up for coffee with a couple of times in the last year and exchanged a few texts with but didn't really keep in that close contact with.

Paul, who looked almost exactly the same as the last time I saw him, dressed casually in jeans and a gray jacket, looking just as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

Instinctively, I shifted my gaze from him to look behind him, both fearing and somehow anticipating Andrew was right around the corner.

"He's not here," Paul said immediately, answering my unvoiced question. "You know, he never really comes to his own exhibits.

"Ah," I said, still taking a moment to recover from my shock.

Paul was faster than me. He was already beaming. "Hi, Violet," he said, leaning in for a hug. He drew back and looked at me. "How are you? You look great."
I almost laughed. "Besides the red eyes you mean," I said, gesturing towards my face, which were thankfully devoid of tears but probably pretty obviously the face of someone who was about to cry just a second ago.

Paul was still beaming. "Yeah don't cry in this exhibit, you're making me feel bad," he said, laughing.

Despite myself, I smiled. And then I gestured towards the photograph of the bridge. "I didn't expect the caption."

Paul looked over at the photo. He looked thoughtful. "Hmm, yeah not usually one of the photos he would typically submit," he said.

"He didn't say anything to me about this exhibit happening," I replied.

Paul still looked thoughtful. "I don't think he expected you to see it," he said. "Besides, I thought you didn't want him to reach out to you."

I blinked. "He told you that?"

"He said you left your phone behind."

"His phone," I said with a small, wistful smile. "He gave me that phone. I've my own phone now."

Paul nodded, still beaming at me. "It's really good to see you, Violet," he said again. "What made you decide to come see the exhibit?"

I shrugged. "Curiosity, I guess." I said.

Paul and I had dutifully avoided talking about Andrew for the past year. It was as if in the conversations between the two of us, Andrew Williams as a person did not exist.

But now, now that I was at his exhibit and had seen the photo of the suspension bridge with that caption, it was taking all my willpower not to ask about Andrew.

As it turned out, I didn't have to.

"Do you want me to tell him you're here?" Paul asked, his voice softer as he looked at me observantly.

"No!" I said immediately. Then, after a slight pause, I whispered, "Yes."

Paul smiled, and there was a slightly amused expression on his face. "Violet."

I cleared my throat. Before I could change my mind, I said, "Yes," a little louder this time. Then, because I couldn't help the little bit of nagging doubt that crept into my mind, I asked. "Do you think he'd want to come?"

At my question, Paul actually laughed out loud. "Yes," he said when he'd stopped chuckling. "Andrew would definitely come."

And then he took out his phone, and read out loud as he typed his message.

"Violet's at the IPC exhibit."

Within seconds, his phone chirped with the sound of a text message. Paul read aloud again.

"He said, 'I'll come now'."

I sucked on the insides of my cheeks. I was nervous indeed, but I tried not to analyze too hard about why I came to the exhibit today, and why I decided to say yes when Paul asked if I wanted to let Andrew know.

I think the me of a year ago would have definitely ran. No - the me of a year ago would have definitely not said yes to contacting Andrew, would probably have not even come to this exhibit.

"Well Violet, I think this is where I leave you," Paul said with another smile.

I smiled back weakly, my mind already focused on the fact that in twenty minutes, I was going to see Andrew again.

After Paul left, I sat down on the bench directly across from the suspension bridge photo. For a while I watched people mill about, looking at Andrew's photos. Not many people stood around the photo of the suspension bridge, probably partly because I was there, but also because it wasn't close to being the most interesting photo in the exhibit. But after I saw the caption, it was the only photo there that captivated me.

I was glad that there weren't a lot of people milling around me, however, because I was able to be left alone with my thoughts for a while.

I heard Andrew's footsteps approaching and knew it was him before I even saw him. There was just something very deliberate about the way the footsteps were approaching me. And then, when I saw him turn the corner, it felt surreal even though I was expecting it.

I stood up, watching him approach,

Andrew was as handsome as ever, maybe even more so than the last time I had seen him a year ago. For a moment, as I watched him come towards me, I felt as if the breath had been knocked out of me.

He was dressed casually in a black jacket and jeans, his hair windswept but somehow still looking beautiful, and for a moment when he stopped in front of me, I couldn't believe that it had been a year, and not simply yesterday, when I last saw him.

"Hi," he said, stopping in front of me.

I felt breathless, even though I had just been sitting.

"Hi," I said back. I looked at him, this man who was both so familiar and a stranger, and I found that while I felt breathless to be this close to him before, I didn't feel anxious. Not the way I used to.

"It's really good to see you," Andrew said, and his face broke into a smile. It wasn't a huge smile, but it was genuine, and I could tell that he meant it.

For a moment I just took stock of him. He was a year older but looked just as I had remembered him. His clothes fit him perfectly, and he still looked ridiculously handsome - one of the most handsome men I've ever seen, when I first met him and today.

But there was something in the way he was looking at me, something in the way he was smiling that I wasn't used to…and I realized with a jolt that Andrew Williams was nervous. He was nervous to see me, perhaps even more so than I was to see him.

It was so different from our usual dynamic of a year ago that for a while I wasn't sure what to say. But Andrew broke the silence first.

"You came," he said, and then cleared his throat. "To the exhibit."

I nodded and shifted my weight from one foot to the other. "Yeah," I replied. I thought about explaining why I came but decided to go another route instead. I gestured towards the picture of the bridge. "I really like this photo."

Andrew's smile widened. "I thought you might," he said, a bit of the knowing confidence of the person I was used to back again. "I wasn't sure if you would see it."

I couldn't help but smile back. "I'm glad I found out about it," I said. And then, gesturing towards the bench. "Do you want to sit?"

He nodded, and then took two steps forward and we both sat on the bench, next to one another. There was maybe a foot of distance between us, but I could still feel the heat emanating from his body, especially in the somewhat chilly air of the exhibit.

"I've read your articles," he started by saying once we were both settled. "They're very good."

I raised my eyebrows. "My online articles? Which ones?"

"All of them," he said, not missing a beat.

That caught me off guard. "All of them? Even the community garden ones?"

Andrew nodded, the corners of his lips tipping up. "All three of them. Also the one about the guy with the Beanie Baby collection. The one about the woman who won the lotto twice. The one about the foster dogs."

My eyes were wide. He had indeed read them - even the ones I thought were quite obscure and which I knew from our metrics did not really get that many views. Apparently he was one of the views.

"Even the one about the rise in prices of breakfast sandwiches in Brooklyn bodegas?" I asked, testing him.

"I especially liked that one," Andrew said, laughing a little. "I thought about it every time I got an egg scramble at a bodega."

I looked at him in wonder, digesting this piece of information. I never thought that, not when I was writing the pieces, not when they were published, that Andrew would be reading them.

For a while we just sat there in a comfortable silence, side by side, looking at the photo in front of us as people milled about.

After a while, I cleared my throat again. "How are you, Andrew?" I asked.

Our eyes met, and the slight absurdity of the current situation coupled with a year of not seeing one another hit, and we both simultaneously burst into laughter.

I held my hand over my mouth, chortling as I looked over at him, noticing the familiar way that the corners of his eyes crinkled when he was happy.

A few people who were walking around near us looked our way, some disapprovingly, probably never close to guessing that the person sitting on the bench laughing out of turn was the photographer whose exhibit was on display, but we paid them no heed.

When our laughter died down, I felt more at ease.

Andrew looked me in the eye, and replied. "I'm good," he said. "But I miss you."

I drew in a small gasp. It was so straight to the point that for a moment I had to look away from him, back at the photograph. Despite myself, despite a year of telling myself that I had walked away from him and all of that, I felt an ache inside my chest.

"You left," Andrew continued, and even though his tone wasn't accusatory, I could sense that he had wanted to say these words to me for a long time. "After that night you came over to my apartment, the next morning you had left before I woke up."

I nodded, looking back at him once more. His expression was intense and vulnerable at the same time, and I answered truthfully.

"I did," I said. "I was pretty horrified at my actions that night in the early morning when my hangover had worn off, but that allowed me to think clearly. I felt like I could think more clearly than I had for a while."

Andrew looked resigned. "And so you thought to leave," he said.

I nodded.

"And you left your phone on the table."

"I did."

"And your note–"

"Yes," I said, looking away once more, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, thinking of the note I had left on the desk that had once belonged to me in Andrew's flat, along with the phone he had once given me. It was a harsh one, and I felt my insides twist as I recalled it. "Don't contact me."

Andrew nodded. "Yes. Don't contact me."

"You followed through," I said.

He looked over at me now. "Are you surprised?"

If I had to be honest…

"Yes," I answered.

"You said you didn't want me to contact you."

"I did," I nodded. But there were other ways of reaching out even if he didn't have my number. I knew that and he knew that. The first few weeks, maybe even the first few months. I felt utterly conflicted about the fact that Andrew listened to me. It was relief, and sadness, and longing all rolled together.

"You never did reach out," I said. It wasn't accusatory or anything, but if I had to be honest with myself, even though that was what I told Andrew I wanted, I was still surprised that he never tried to contact me in some way. Because even though he didn't have my number anymore, he could have reached out through Paul or Marina. He knew where I lived, and for the first few weeks after, I half thought he might come knocking.

Andrew paused at these words. He was still looking at me, but he turned away, towards the photo of the bridge, before he spoke.

"To be honest, I thought I would give you space for a few weeks. It was in my plan to eventually reach out to you," he said, his gaze still on the photo even as I was looking at him. Then he paused, drew in a breath, and let out a sigh.

"But then one day, about two months after you left that night, I saw you across the street one Sunday morning on the Lower East Side."

My eyes widened in surprise. I don't remember seeing him. For a while I thought I might run into Andrew and was always hyper aware of this possibility anytime I was on the Upper West Side or near a spot I knew he liked, but after a while that feeling went away, and I started going about my day. But still, I never ran into him, so this admission from Andrew totally caught me off guard.

As if he guessed my unasked question, Andrew went on, "You didn't see me. I was waiting at a crosswalk, and you were walking by with your friend Marina. You guys were chatting and laughing, and you looked happy."

He drew in a small, sharp intake of breath. "After that day, I knew I wouldn't reach out to you. More than anything, I wanted you to be happy, Violet. And after that moment, I was afraid to face the realization that…"

He trailed off, and I saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.

Andrew tried again, "That…" and stopped again.

I stared at him in wonder and with a sharp surprise, I realized that he was having trouble continuing because his voice was breaking.

Then, Andrew turned to face me, and his expression was the saddest, most vulnerable I'd ever seen on him.

"That you were happier without me."