He almost dropped the Robyn Hitchcock CD, so startled was he at being grabbed around the waist. This kind of thing didn't happen during most of his excursions to Sam Goody. "What the-" he began as he turned around, then suddenly his voice just vanished and he stood, gaping.
It was her. Unbelievably, yet undeniably, it was her. "Alan!" she almost screamed into his left ear, yet the tears that were half-forming in his eyes were not tears of pain. "Amy," he whispered, as they locked in a fierce hug amidst not a few stares. She beamed at him, and he smiled valiantly back through the tears. "We- uh, maybe we can... let's go get something to eat, or something," he managed to say. Perspex Island lay behind, forgotten, as she linked his arm around her own.
They walked in silence towards the mall's food court, and blinding, maddening images raced unrelentingly through his mind. He remembered the coy smile she'd flashed at him after countless double entendres. He remembered how she'd held him after a particularly nasty and wrenching phone session with his then-girlfriend, tears coursing down his face. Lending her his car, going to a mall (much like this one) together, getting a hard-to-find record from her for a birthday gift; these memories and more threatened to choke his brain.
Finally, he broke the quiet between them. "Why, Amy? Why did you disappear? I waited for that call for a long time, a long, long..." Her face grew solemn as his tone grew pleading. "Alan, I- I'm sorry. It was just... Well, I did tell you that Robert wasn't really thrilled that I was calling you in the first place, and..."
She slipped away for her own traipse down memory lane. She thought of how the rumors had spread among their co-workers about a relationship between the two, rumors apparently believed by a handful. Ah, the irony... She thought of how upset her jealous Robert had been at first, and how he'd eventually allowed Alan to become her sole close male friend. And, of course, she thought of that night, that fateful night and the three statements she would regret having made more than just about anything else she'd ever said to anyone in her life.
Amy looked up to find Alan looking sadly into her face, his eyes reddened by the now-unfamiliar sting of tears. They ordered from the generally safe Mexican stand, then sat at a table for physical nourishment and the ease of emotional distress.
He continued to watch her face, both happy and sad to see that face still looked the same. The smile was as sunny, the eyes as bright... Then he realized that she was looking back at him, and he blushed just the tiniest bit as he averted his eyes. "Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked, her eyes twinkling mischievously. "It's just- you're as pretty as ever," he said, embarrassed.
"Oh, Alan," she sighed, wondering momentarily whether or not it had been a good idea to sneak up behind him in the music store after all. Well, she mused, I'm more in control of myself, and my life, now than I was back then. She grinned at him and squealed, "Thaaanks!" "So, how have you been? What have you been up to?" he asked a bit self-consciously. "Let's see," she considered. "Well, Robert and I broke up a couple of months after I... I called you that night. Um, I quit working at Friday's, and now I'm the bartender, at this place in Hoboken. Needless to say, I don't live with Robert anymore. I didn't want to go back home with my mother, so I managed to find a low-rent closet. Remember how we were going to get an apartment together? God, that was so long ago!" She grinned at the memory.
He chuckled in spite of himself. "Yeah, it was, wasn't it? Almost five years now. Well, it took me six months to finally convince Laura that it really was over and I wasn't going to change my mind. She still asks about me, Julie tells me. I left the store a couple of months after you guys did, and a few months after that, my department at the bank closed, so I found a job doing data entry. Now I'm supposedly some kind of artist." He chuckled again.
"Do you still keep in touch with Brenda?" she asked. He smiled at that. "Yeah. We're still as close as we've ever been." Amy took a breath, then asked, "Can you forgive me?"
Although he'd expected this, the non sequitur still took his breath away. "Amy..." he croaked. "What happened was as much my fault as yours. I told you before that you'd done nothing to forgive. I just wish I'd kept my mouth shut when I had the chance..." Now it was her turn to preach. "You wouldn't have said anything if I hadn't provoked you to. Don't blame yourself."
They looked at each other awkwardly over the remains of a few burritos and a last straggling fry or two. He wanted so badly to ask, "Can we start over? Can we be friends again?" She tried to decide whether or not they should re-enter each other's lives: "Done bun can't be undone" ran through her mind, something from Stephen King, she thought. Absently, she rose, tray in hand, and sought the nearest garbage can. Alan stood and followed her.
Once the refuse was out of sight, they faced each other again. "Well..." she said quietly, a sober expression on her face. "Well," he agreed with maudlinism. "It was... it was really good to see you again, Amy," he said. "You, too," she replied, and they hugged again, for the last time. "Thanks," he whispered into her ear before disengaging and walking away. Neither one looked back, at least not that day.