Follow Me (vignette)

I always knew we were a little different. There were compartments within Elisabeth that would remain forever locked to me, doors within the vibrant green spheres of her eyes that would always stay bolted shut. Impenetrable.

It was her eyes that first drew me in, those bright green eyes that stared at me so curiously. The shade of them like nothing I’d ever encountered before in nature. Almost but not quite neon. The first time I’d met her, she’d held a wine bottle in her hands, wiping it down with a dark rag. Her narrowed eyes were questioning me across the bar.

“You new here?” she asked in a surprisingly gruff voice.

“Yeah, I’m from Atlanta. Just moved here, actually.”

For a while she didn’t respond. She put the bottle down and moved to take some orders from other customers who’d just walked in. Another bartender came and took my order. I downed two beers before she came back.

“You doing anything now? Any plans?”

I stared at her, half-wondering if she was kidding.


“Follow me,” she said.

Pulling off her apron, she said something to the other bartender, who nodded and then gave me a suspicious look. I tried my best to look innocent as I followed the girl.

She led me through the suddenly crowded bar (Where did all these people come from? I didn’t remember seeing so many people enter the room.), her hips swaying sinuously as she navigated her way past a particularly rowdy bunch of frat boys.

One of them reached out and tried to put his arm around her waist. The beefy twenty-something year old leered at her as his buddies egged him on. The next thing I knew, that same guy was folded over forward on the floor, moaning in pain. The girl stood by the kitchen door about ten feet away. She beckoned me towards her with an impatient hand. Dumbfounded, I followed.

In the kitchen, I watched as she filled a ziplock bag with ice and held it to her left hand.

“That’s quite a left hook you got there,” I said, my voice cracking just slightly.

“Thanks,” she smiled, revealing perfect teeth.

Her pale hair swung forward as she looked at her hand, which I could see was beginning to swell.

“Crap, that’s going to hurt tomorrow,” she muttered, biting her lower lip.

“Doesn’t it hurt now? I mean, you must’ve hit that jerk pretty hard, to make him crumple like that.”

Those green eyes flashed to my face again, unnerving me. “What kind of guy uses the word ‘crumple’?” she asked, smiling again.

I realized to my horror that I was blushing. Even my ears were beginning to turn red.

Mercifully, she averted her face as she turned to toss the ziplock bag into the sink. By the time she’d turned back to face me, my face was (hopefully) back to its usual ashen state.

“So, you got a name?”

“It’s Nicholas. Nick,” I said. “What’s yours?”

“My name’s Elisabeth. It’s nice to meet you, Nicholas Nick.” Her eyes danced as a smile curved her red lips. “What do you say we get out of here? Let me give you a tour of my city.”

I’d only spent 72 hours in my new hometown, Chicago, and already things were looking promising.

I can remember how dark that night was. The moon was shrouded in clouds that were pulled across the sky by a restless wind. It was October and unseasonably cold.

On the way out of the bar, Elisabeth grabbed an oversized coat from the closet in the kitchen, and as we stepped out onto the sidewalk, she shoved her hands into its pockets.

“First, I think I’ll take you to my favorite place,” she’d announced, before she began marching across the street. I had to run to catch up.

“Where is that?” I asked as I struggled to match my pace with hers. She walked very fast for someone who was relatively short, only about five-four to my six feet.

She peered up at me, a strand of hair whipping across her face. “Don’t you like surprises, Nick?”

For some reason, it made me ridiculously happy to hear her say my name. “No, not really,” I responded, but she only grinned, a mischievous glint in her eyes.

We walked in companionable silence for about ten minutes before I took notice of a giant ferris wheel in the distance.

Soon, we’d arrived at her destination. There was not only a giant ferris wheel that dominated the skyline, 150 feet or so in height alone, but also a carousel, a miniature golf field and a funhouse. But the ferris wheel definitely stole the show, no doubt about it. I gazed at it in awe, aware that my jaw was hanging open but not even caring about it.

Elisabeth turned to face me, her pale blond hair caught on a sudden gust of wind. It fluttered around her head like a halo.

“Welcome to Navy Pier. This is one of my haunts.” Her voice was almost stolen by the wind and I had to lean down to catch it. Doing so, I inadvertently breathed in her scent. She smelled like violets and cigarettes. A heady scent, a paradox of smells.

The next thing I knew, Elisabeth was pulling me towards the ferris wheel. “Come on,” she urged, “the lines are insufferable on Friday nights. I want to make sure we get a cart to ourselves.”

She was right. The line to ride the ferris wheel was long. It took an hour, but it was worth it.

The truth was that I was a little nervous about getting on the ferris wheel. Not because of Elisabeth, though I confess she did rattle my senses a bit that first night, and would continue to do so for the rest of our short time together. No, it was because I am deathly afraid of heights. Just getting onto that cart and feeling it sway as it began its ascent made my knees turn to jelly.

“You cold, Nick?” she asked, mistaking my chattering teeth for the chill.

“Y-Yeah. Must be ‘cause I’m from Hotlanta. I’m not used to this cold.”

She playfully punched me with her good hand. “Wait until January or February rolls around. Then you’ll really know what cold is.”

Elisabeth was sitting next to me in the cart and I had to turn my head to look at her. I carefully avoided looking down below, trying to focus on her face instead. We’d managed to get a cart all to ourselves, despite the fact that it normally sat 6 passengers.

“Soon you’ll know why this is my favorite place,” she sighed.

“How’s that?”

“Just watch.”

So I did. I stared out into the starless sky, watching the clouds as they raced each other. The moon broke out from her clouds from time to time, a pale and expressionless face that bore mute testimony over us. The cart continued its relentless ascent up into the heavens, going impossibly high. I balled my hands into fists and tried not to break out into a sweat.

“Look down, Nick,” she cried suddenly.

I forced myself to look down, though my eyes were unwilling. But I didn’t want to look like a coward.

At first I didn’t see much at all. Just an endless expanse of black. But then the moon broke free from the clouds again, spilling a brilliant wash of light below. I could see an enormous stretch of water, its surface rippling with the wind. It glittered and gleamed in the moonlight.

“Ahh, it’s so peaceful here. This is the only place I can really relax,” Elisabeth sighed again and leaned her head gently against my shoulder.

“That’s Lake Michigan, right?” I said dumbly, suddenly feeling the need to speak.

Her green eyes looked at me askance in that disconcerting way of hers.

“Did you fail geography in grade school or something, Nick? Of course that’s Lake Michigan. It’s only one of the five Great Lakes of America. The only one that is contained entirely within the United States, coincidentally.”

“Huh,” I murmured, looking at her.

“What?” she demanded.

“Oh, it’s nothing, I just didn’t peg you for a geography nerd, is all.”

She went to punch me on the arm again, but this time she forgot to use her good hand. She winced as her hurt fist came in contact with my shoulder.

“Ow, look what you made me do!”

I laughed and moved forward to take her left hand in mine. The sudden jolt of electricity that passed from her hand to mine was so unexpected I almost jumped. The laughter died in my throat. I busied myself with studying her hand, opening the fingers to look at her palm.

“At least the swelling’s gone down,” she said so softly I could barely hear her.

I kept my eyes on her palm. “Hmm, very interesting.”

With gentle fingers, I traced the delicate network of lines across her palm.

I took a deep breath and braved her green eyes again. I found I could only look into them in short bursts before my lungs would begin to contract painfully. I was starting to wonder if one could contract asthma as an adult.

“You have a short life line, but your love line is the longest I’ve ever seen,” I said.

She stared back at me in silence for a beat before she pulled her hand back and scoffed at me. “Get out!”

“It’s true. Don’t believe me if you want. My great-grandmother was a gypsy,” I replied airily pretending to be miffed. To my surprise she leaned in close again, an expression on her face I couldn’t quite read. It was as if she wanted to believe me but was thinking better about it.

“You’re so full of it, Nick. I should’ve known better when I started talking to you at the bar.”

I looked away again, trying (and failing) not to smile. To my surprise I found it wasn’t so unbearable after all, being 150 feet off the ground.

After the ferris wheel came back down to earth, I turned towards her expectantly.

“Well, what next, tour guide? Or are you so utterly disgusted with my fortune telling skills that you want to abandon me?”

She laughed, the sound of it ringing like a bell and calling the attention of a few bystanders. Her cheeks were flushed, whether from the cold or something else, I couldn’t tell.

“It’s not the first time a guy has fed me a pick-up line, though I must admit, that was the most creative line I’ve ever heard.”

We began walking in no particular direction, the bright lights of the carousel and the excited yelps of young children receding in the distance as we talked. She asked what I was doing in Chicago, and I explained how I’d recently been hired at a local community college to teach painting. It wasn’t the best paying job, but as an aspiring artist, I knew that my chances were better in Chicago than in Atlanta.

Part of me wondered why it was so easy to speak with her. It was as if I’d always known her.

We left Navy Pier a little after midnight. As we walked away from the pier, our words ran out until we were walking in silence.

The air between us still seemed charged with that same strange electricity. I had an irrepressible urge to touch her, to reach out and brush the long pale hair out of her eyes. To hold her. I was well aware of how insane this urge was, of how insane I was.

As I walked next to this perfect girl, I found myself trying to reason my way out of this attraction. It must be because I’m new here, and lonely, and it’s been a while since I last dated anybody. It must be those beers I drank back at the bar. It must be a hallucination. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and realize it was all a dream.

My brain raced from one explanation to the next like a lab rat in one of those tortuous mazes. But I could find no way out of this tangled mess of emotions that was currently mixing up both my head and stomach.

Suddenly I realized that I desperately needed to find a restroom, the quicker the better.

Just as I was about to open my mouth to ask where I could find a restroom, Elisabeth suddenly announced: “Oh my gosh, I haven’t been here in ages. I can’t believe Johnny kept the place! That is, if he’s still here.”

We stood in front of what looked to be a dilapidated pizza joint. The sign was missing some letters and the paint on the door was cracked and covered in fading graffiti. It had definitely seen better days. Only the OPEN sign in the window looked new, its letters a bright neon blue. Sure enough, most of the tables inside were full, despite the fact that it was 12:30 AM. And if it was open, then maybe it had a bathroom inside that I could use…

“Are you hungry?” I asked, hoping she would say yes.

“Yeah, sure. I’m always down for some pizza. They make the best deep dish. Takes a while, but it’s totally worth it.”

Once inside, the hostess cheerily told us to sit down wherever we wanted. I quickly excused myself to find the bathroom. As I sprinted away, I could hear her asking for Johnny.

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