Waiting for a sign

Monday’s writing prompt was this photo, which I took years ago at the historic Paramount Theatre in Oakland. I’ve been obsessed with Missed Connections lately and it seemed a natural starting point for this freewrite. Fiction always feels so ponderous to write. This bit is fast to read but it was about half an hour of writing.

Oakland's Art Deco Paramount Theatre at nightIt was a chilly night in Oakland. She shivered a little and moved further back within the shelter of the theater entrance as leaves blew past her on the sidewalk.

let’s meet at 730, he’d written, outside the paramount like last time.

Was it stupid to have responded to a Missed Connections post? Maybe it was stupid to have even gone to Craigslist in the first place, but she was so hungry to meet someone. Finally, a possibility, after months of weepy afternoon green tea Frappuccinos with girlfriends and lonely nights sobbing for Evan. She was ready, she knew it; it was time to get back out in the world. But Missed Connections… was that really the place to start?

She’d been waiting for Emma, outside the Paramount Theater, on a night much like this one — though the air hadn’t yet picked up that fall nip, so that she could get by with bare shoulders if she huddled close inside the entrance, her sheer summer shawl tucked around instead of draped over. The weeks of jogging around Lake Merritt had done her good, and she felt fit and pretty and a little daring to be out downtown on a weeknight. As she looked around the entry her eyes fell on a dark-haired guy standing around the other side of the ticket booth. He was clearly waiting to meet someone, just as she was. She loved the razor-sharp cut of his hair past his ears and the way his forearms looked in rolled-up dark grey shirtsleeves. He saw her looking at him, and she forced herself to smile instead of looking down or away. He smiled back, his expression managing to be both gorgeous and kind, and started toward her.

Just then Emma had appeared at her side like a cat pouncing. “Sharon, babe! You look so cute!” Emma swooped on her in an energetic embrace, all long beaded chains and ruffled jersey. “Come on, I’ve got the tickets, let’s go in I HAVE TO PEE SO BAD.” She grabbed Sharon’s elbow and maneuvered her rapidly toward the double glass doors, pulling the ticket envelope from her clutch as she did so.

Sharon looked back at the guy with frantic apology in her eyes. He must have heard the whole exchange; Emma never spoke softly even in a quiet room. He gave her a wistful grimace of a half-smile and a deep shrug of regret, hands open to show: I can’t follow you in, my friend is bringing the tickets. She scrunched her face in longing and turned away as Emma pulled her in through the doorway.

She’d looked for him at intermission, and thought she’d caught a glimpse of his dark head above the crowds — but it was gone by the time she made it across, and she had to run to use the restroom before the second half began. After the show was done she’d been so caught up in the drama that she’d actually forgotten to look for him as she and Emma walked out of the theater, gushing about the actors down Broadway to the BART station. Emma got off at MacArthur, and before the train reached Ashby, Sharon had remembered the guy and was wailing inside.

At home she logged onto Facebook, needing to reach out, and seeing a friend’s post, suddenly remembered Missed Connections. She Googled and found it, and clicked the East Bay tab, wondering if she had the nerve to post something. Then she saw the top line and her heart lurched. Paramount tonight, hope you’ll see this – m4w. Shaking, she clicked on it, and read

Around 7:30 outside the theater, our eyes met and we smiled. Before I could come over your friend carried you away. I had to wait for my sis with the tickets, I’m sorry I couldn’t find you later. I don’t know if you’ll read this but if you do I hope we can connect again.

I can’t reply right away, she thought, it’ll look desperate. I’ve got to wait. She checked her email and read through an entire message from her mother without understanding any of it. She was seeing a dark-grey shirt and a sad smile over empty outstretched hands. I’m going to have to do something in the meantime, she thought, and went to her bed and tore off the sheets. She lugged the laundry basket downstairs to the basement and while she waited for someone else’s clothes to come out of the washer, she fetched her mail.

Twenty minutes later she returned to her desk and reread I hope we can connect again. Heart racing, she clicked reply to this post and began to compose her message.