He listened to Charlotte’s laugh from where he pretended to study and watched her from behind his notebook. The sun shone in her hair and on her cheeks, and the song of flowers was on her voice. He could pick it out distinctly from among the six of them jabbering away. Hers held a depth of rain and cool darkness, while the others were birds twittering endlessly.
Daniel tried not to stare, but it was May and it was deliciously warm and the calculus upon his lap was heavy and pale, a mushroom upon the green fields of the park. Everywhere, almost-men and almost-women lounged and dashed, flung themselves foolishly into grass pulsing with color, skipped and sang and sauntered. Yesterday hid in the mists of time; the future rippled out endlessly, moment by moment, savored like the wet crunch of golden apples upon the tongue.
Today, Daniel decided (for possibly the seventh or eighth time), he would find a way to get Charlotte alone. Always, she traveled with her gaggle, smiling and setting the world on fire with her brilliant gaze, her music subsumed into the alien feminine scherzo. He’d exchanged words in the cafeteria and classroom, joined in mock fights in the dorm lobby, but he knew no more about her than a thorough scouring of her Twitter feed might (and did) reveal.
In the new-made light of spring, he ached to know her more clearly.
He stuffed his homework into his backpack, stood, and approached with unthinking confidence. Pan’s wild flute strengthened him.
“Hello,” he said, finding it the easiest way to assault the din of discussion. “Charlotte, could I take you a walk? It’s a lovely day.”
Such directness confused the collective. They looked to Charlotte, asking wordlessly if she understood what was being demanded of her, and she looked to them, asking for permission to answer.
“Sure,” she said, her smile returning. “That sounds fun.”
She glanced back unconsciously as she left her almost-twins, like Orpheus looking back to ensure Eurydice still followed.
She and Daniel walked in silence for a time, settling into the path, into the possession of one another.
“Did you see the new Pixar yet?” he asked.
Of course she had. He’d seen her there with her tribe. It was the first question, the necessary question, because to inquire of movies among students was to inquire of weather among farmers.And she began to speak–with joy and passion, she spoke. And he listened, ears tilted, his soul aghast with wonder, at the aria of her speech. When she seemed to come to the end of a thought, and the final strains of music began to trail into holy silence, he would add a few words, prompt a question, and she, after a moment’s hesitation, like a skipped heartbeat, would let forth a melody in response.
He listened and picked out a second theme beneath the first, and like a conductor, he drew it out, and her rich, deep voice flowed over mother and father and brother, touching softly, with great care, upon a phone call or a childhood memory.
And they walked among the shadows and the blinding sun, in grass overfull of chlorophyll, surrounded by young demigods convinced of their immortality. Daniel passed soundlessly; Charlotte colored the sky and painted the clouds and shaded the trees with quick, tentative strokes. She glanced at him and flashed her teeth in unaccustomed delight.
“Why do you look at me like that?” she asked.
“Like what?” he answered, reddening.
She laughed and turned away.
In that burst of triumph and joy, he spoke. From the longing in his heart, he spoke brash, impossible words: “Who are you, Charlotte Nusbaum?”
They had nearly gone full circle, and the sun continued on its dying path, blazing as it fell to earth. At the picnic table, like a flock of pigeons, the others waited, squawking. Daniel touched Charlotte ever so lightly, like wind that kisses flowers, and she stopped. He looked at her, letting the question flutter around them, skittish, a butterfly deciding whether to land or to flit away to other gardens.
Her face was sun upon rough water, blinding and beautiful and confused. She glanced at her cohorts, her band of sisters, for they sensed her, and she sensed them. Daniel could feel the gravity pulling her.
“Should we…?” he ventured.
She shook her head, distracted. The walk was over. The song was ending. With the echoing sounds of footsteps, the lead was exiting, stage left.
The question landed, ever so gently, ready to fly. He heard its tiny feet upon the red of her lips.
“I…Daniel, I don’t know.”
She turned away, and the little butterfly disappeared, and with shouts of joy, the harpies welcomed Charlotte back, and she joined her voice to theirs, and it was swallowed up in the too-bright light of the setting sun.