*Note: This short story is a sort of prequel. It introduces us to a few characters that will be in The Sound of Serendipity, months before the novel takes place. You can read the book without reading this short story and vice versa.
I’m not sure why I’m sitting here. I don’t know if watching people is something a sane person does, but I can’t help it. As I turn a page of my paperback while discreetly peeking up at the people walking past me, I smile. It feels a little less lonely here with all of these stories around me.
I allow myself to come here once a week, usually during my lunch break, but since I was behind schedule yesterday, I’m sitting at my seat before work. Typically, the park—Central Park—isn’t as busy in the morning, making it easier to focus on one single story for a bit. But this crowd makes it nearly impossible because, where there are people, there’s a rush to try to avoid person-to-person contact. People are so afraid of having to speak to strangers. There’s nothing scarier than speaking to a stranger in New York City, and apparently, I have more in common with people than I like to think.
Maybe it’s this Thursday; maybe something is causing people to be here on this beautiful summer day. There’s music and food and the sound of laughter is enough to make me want to stay right where I am. It’s here, at the park, surrounded by all of these sounds that I recognize the sound of optimism. That feeling has escaped me for so long. It’s what makes me look up from the paperback I’m pretending to read and just breathe.
Mid-inhale, the air just whooshes out of me like a punch in the gut. Directly in front of me, there’s a man. His head is thrown back the way mine was just a second ago, and it’s making its way back down until I can see his face. The world turns into some sort of romance movie, where he’s in absolute slow motion and I’m staring at him without fear of being caught. As if the moment he catches me, I won’t look away.
His gaze shifts and his brown eyes meet mine. Look away, look away, the scaredy cat in me chants. But I don’t. I hold his stare, not saying a word, not altering my expression. He blinks and faces the woman I hadn’t noticed beside him as the world rights itself once more, the loud cacophony of cellphones ringing and footsteps falling bringing me back to where I’m sitting. His companion smiles and he removes his hand from hers, shoving it in his pocket with a grin. My stomach drops.
Before I can talk myself out of it, I’m standing. As they walk past me, not noticing my eyes following them, I shove my book inside my purse and grab my headphones and place them over my ears. Though I usually love the noise-cancelling headphones, they’ll make it near impossible to hear anything they say. Still, I follow him for a full forty minutes—ignoring the way my heels pinch my pinky toes and the fact that I’m supposed to be heading to Kingsley Records already—all while convincing myself that there’s a reason. I don’t want to blame it on my weird quirk because it feels like so much more than that to me. No one has ever gotten me to follow them. No one was ever that appealing. It wasn’t just that this man is gorgeous, because he is. I stare at the hands that remain empty or in his pocket when she reaches for one of them.
I typically watch, I wonder, and then I watch them leave. In his case, I couldn’t. He kisses her and laughs at her jokes and I dream of a world where I’m standing in her place, even when he avoids holding her hand. As they head toward the park’s exit, their kisses deepening and their steps quickening, I know that I wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a man like that. Still, I wonder when I’ll see him again. I wonder if I’ll ever see him without her. His grey T-shirt disappears, and I decide to change my routine to see if I bump into him again. There’s something about the way his hands are shoved in his pockets that make me think that maybe I could be the one to fill them. Those same hands that push through his hair in a way that I’m desperate to try for myself.
For the next few weeks, I come to the park every day during my lunch hour. Even on the days I don’t work. Out of the twenty-three days I sit here, I see him every day but the weekends. Each day, he’s with someone new.
I figure out what kind of man he is by the fifth day, and by the eighth, I’m mentally switching places with every woman he shows up with. I notice the things they do wrong, and I see the things they do right. If it were me, I’d pay closer attention. I’d do anything to keep that look in his eyes that dwindles the farther they walk, as if he’s waking from a dream. Truthfully, if it were me, I’d be too afraid to do anything but watch him, same as I am now. I should be disgusted by his antics, but the opposite is happening. I can feel my uncontrollable heart deciding for me, yanking on the leash I use to try to keep it from flying into crazy love. Fruitless effort. This beautiful stranger’s laughter sounds like a song that I want to hear on a continuous loop.
His laughter sounds like it could make me happy again. I remember what it feels like to be that insanely happy. When you take away the happiness, you’re only left with your insanity. Maybe this guy could make me happy, but the best thing for me to do would be to stay away.
I tell myself that if I never speak to him, only watch him, it will keep me safe as I fall for him.
Copyright © 2016 by Cynthia A. Rodriguez. This is an excerpt from The Sound of Serendipity (ISBN 978-0-9904189-8-6). The names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this work are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.