Music drifting into his ears as he clobbered down white sidewalk tiles, the lyrics telling him about falling in love and letting go of anxieties, Keith forced himself to keep looking forward.
Not behind him or to his sides, because, as he told himself, who knew who stood in his blind spots. But the more he avoided trying to keep his eyes away, as though he had a horse’s blinders on his face, the more Keith wanted to look. Temptation had lodged itself in his mind, and he knew from past experiences that it wouldn’t ever go away until he acted on it.
“You’ll be my so-o-o-o-o-o-u-l mate forever,” crooned the singer piping into Keith’s ears, an 808 banging around in the background of the song to prop up the singer. Whenever anyone ever asked Keith what sort of music he liked, he had a habit of jutting out his lower jaw in regret and closing his eyes in contemplation as to how he could spin his tastes to something that the average person would find palatable. But try as he might, Keith couldn’t find any way that could make the typical, middle-of-the-road bubblegum pop that any given radio station played sound appealing to the people who asked him about his music preferences. So he stopped talking to them altogether.
Which, he had thought, didn’t sound like such a bad strategy when he’d first schemed it up.
Now, though, there were costs. Measurable costs, as he would’ve said if he was using the jargon his job made him babble out every day. Not even “costs,” if he wanted to take things even farther, but “downward assets,” as though something as intangible as heartbreak could get classified into the most mundane of corporate-ese and plotted onto some line chart for mid-level executives to examine in the middle of a meeting.
Even though it was her face he had been trying all this time not to see, no matter how forward-facing he had to look, it came back to him in his mind anyway, defeating the whole purpose of his discretion. Keith noticed that it became clearer and more vivid the longer he kept his eyes open, as if a single blink ran a fading photograph filter over her.
“You’ll be my so-o-o-o-o-o-o-u-l mate forever, and ever and ever and ever.” Then something about two halves of the same heart coming together, a casual reference to destiny, and a line that made even Keith cringe: “When push comes to shove / I’ll always choose love.” Whatever that meant, Keith always thought when he heard it.
This time, though, he didn’t cringe. He was too worked up about her face stuck in his mind. What if, Keith wondered, this was some cruel trick fate and his brain were playing on him? That until he ran into her by accident, which he’d been working so hard not to in his walks around the office park’s sidewalks for days, he would never be able to get her image from his mind. But, he reasoned, if that were the case, she would just end up asking him the same question that had driven them apart to begin with, and then the pain would double itself.
So Keith let the words of the song wash over him and told himself that he would just have to wait out it out, that eventually, her face would disappear. He began, under his breath, to sing along. He sang off-key.
“You’ll be my so-o-o-o—” he started.
A figure had come into the distance.
Keith halted in his steps and in the song, which kept blaring on by itself on his phone.
The figure came closer.
Keith’s jaw jutted out.
“It’s a mirage,” he told himself. “It’s her face blown up to all of herself, only now she’s walking toward me. But when I get to her, she’ll just disappear. Like they do in those movies in the desert.” Keith waited for the image of her to dissolve as soon as it walked by him.
But some part of Keith must have believed there was something physically real about the figure, because Keith’s heart was beating hard, and his knees began to buckle in toward each other. His pupils were dilating.
“I’m fa-a-a-a-a-l-ling in love and letting it all go-o-o-o-o-o—”
At last, the figure was no more than a few yards away from Keith on the sidewalk, and she was looking at him, and he doing his best not to look at her.
One thing, though, was different, and Keith noticed this when he peered up at her as she passed by. She had little white earphones jangling out of her ears and diving all the way down to some unseen device tucked away in a back pocket.
“What music are you listening to?” he asked as she passed by.