Andy sat in the foyer of the Windsor Hotel the next morning flipping as casually as he could through the daily newspaper but he wasn't really taking anything in – he was too distracted. He had woken insanely early and spent several hours sitting on the bed, watching television, strumming his guitar, pacing the room. He'd showered twice – so nervous and excited and terrified he was. It was like going on a first date all over again even though he remembered their first date well.
He – Denny – had gotten tickets to an indie music festival in Melbourne during the summer. It must have been three or four years ago, when they'd both reconnected again at university. Andy couldn't be exactly certain – the burden of carrying the memories of two lives made it difficult to pin point. It was an incredibly hot day and he and Soneya has spent most of it in specially provided mist tents – basically tents fitted with sprinkler systems to cool down the revelers at the venue. It was a wild and crazy day but during it they had fallen for one another. Andy remembered that they had been childhood friends – almost inseparable. Soneya was a willowy tom boy, athletic, bold and very self assured even then. He...Denny...had been awkward and shy but in her company he felt at ease. Once they become a couple at university, it was as though the years they'd spent apart had never been. They were as inseparable as adults as they had been as children.
The memories were as clear to Andy now as if they had always been his own and he smiled at the realization.
Every so often Andy looked towards the foyer entrance to see if he could see her. He checked his watch. It was still only early. He cursed himself for having readied himself so early but he didn't know what else to do. The anticipation was too much. The thought of seeing her again was just too exciting for him.
Andy folded up the newspaper – again - and, placing it down on the table, he stood then searched out out the mens room from his vantage point. Just as he was about to walk over to it, he caught a glance at the entrance once more and...
There she was.
Soneya was standing there, just inside the door surveying her surroundings, looking for him. She had dressed lightly - svelte cargo pants, a singlet top, her large hat from the previous day.
Andy walked towards her and she smiled reservedly upon seeing him.
“Hello” Soneya greeted. “Wow. You've been put up in some pretty nice accommodation”
Andy nodded, craning his neck to look around the foyer of the resplendent hotel. The morning sun streamed in through a large sky light far above bathing the foyer in an ethereal light. When he looked back her again he was struck once more by her beauty, the way the sunlight danced over her auburn hair making it seem more beautiful than he ever remembered.
“Yeah. My school did pretty well in getting us into this place. The dean might flip out though when he finds out how much it was costing them”
Andy looked at her and smiled.
“I'm glad you came. I know it might be a little awkward for you”
“Not at all” Soneya replied. “It's nice to be able enjoy a little down time while I'm here. The Festival is good and all but...it's just nice”
“So...” Andy ventured. “Do you like coffee?”
Of course she likes coffee...
“There's a really great coffee house not far from here called Enzo's” Andy suggested. “I found it when I first arrived here. They make an awesome cup”
Soneya's eyes widened in surprise then but Andy but didn't react.
“I know it” she said slowly. “...very well”
Soneya seemed to gaze at him, assessing him as Andy gestured towards the door.
Andy knew he was taking a risk by taking her there, to her and Denny's old, favorite place – but the gamble appeared to pay off for him and they spent a couple of hours right up until lunch time, enjoying several cups of coffee and talking. Andy felt the echo of the way it had once been when Denny and Soneya sat in this very place – when they were studying for exams on rainy winter afternoons when it was pouring with rain outside. Or during summer when classes were just beginning and they were coming to grips with a seemingly insurmountable workload. On weekends, when they just craved being alone together – Denny and Soneya would seek their refuge here at the little cafe and just curl up together reading a book to each other and sipping coffee. Here was the place that had once felt like a second home.
Coffee eventually did turn into lunch. Soneya had completely lost track of time from the moment they had sat down. She felt herself relaxing, her guard had come down completely and she found herself enjoying the company of this shy but amiable American. All the while, as they talked, that potent sensation of deja-vu visited her once again, the feeling of somehow knowing him, the feeling of familiarity about his presence. He was quiet, considerate. He was interested in her. Soneya talked about the practice and the house in Stafford, how she hoped to make something of her grandfather's legacy and turn it around into something to be proud of. She avoided talking about Denny entirely – not because she consciously set out to but because it just happened that way.
After lunch, Soneya suggested that they go for a walk through the City. She stopped by a florist in a French inspired arcade to pick up some Lily's for Joss as a thank you for having her at Joss' Williamstown apartment. Andy recognized the florist. Denny had bought flowers there for Soneya and Andy smiled inwardly, pleased that Soneya still favored it.
And just when Andy thought Soneya might choose to end their day together in the early afternoon, he was pleasantly surprised when Soneya turned to him as they strolled along the banks of Melbourne's Yarra River.
“Would you like to go for a drive?” she asked hopefully.
She doesn't want this day to end! Andy thought excitedly.
“Where?” he inquired, intrigued.
“Well...I have to drop these flowers off at Joss' apartment, otherwise they'll shrivel up in this heat. It's in Williamstown, just over the bridge, say about a half an hour from here. I can drop you back to the Hotel if you'd like”
Williamstown! My home!
Andy managed to stifle his alarm at hearing mention of the seaside suburb by feigning a thoughtful expression, as though he were considering her proposal. He studied her with a lop sided half grin.
“Am I correct in guessing that you're enjoying yourself?”
Soneya blushed embarrassed and eyed him suggestively.
“I could be” she replied.
Andy wanted to take her in his arms right then and kiss her. He wanted to feel her lips against his, to hold her hands and feel their warmth but he restrained himself.
Finally he nodded.
“That sounds like a great idea”
They drove to Williamstown, in the Volkswagen sedan that had once been Denny's. Williamstown was a cosmopolitan beach side suburb where Denny had spent his childhood. And as they entered the suburb on a thoroughfare that flanked the waters of Port Philip Bay Andy was overwhelmed with a new collection of Denny's memories – ones that he'd not experienced before. Memories of Denny's childhood - of fishing from the jetty near the Williamstown Port with his father on cool Melbourne mornings, playing with Soneya on the beach after school when they were just children, of sailing a small yacht on the water as a teenager. Images and visions of the life Andy had 'adopted' – they assailed him with a speed and ferocity that threatened to overwhelm him. But he rode the wave of them once more until it settled back to a gentle swell.
Neither of them wanted the day to end.
By the late afternoon, Andy and Soneya found themselves in Williamstown's chic restaurant district and decided to find somewhere to have dinner. Seating themselves on the balcony of a waterfront cafe that overlooked Port Philip Bay they ordered a bottle of wine and relaxed back in their seats to take in the view. The majestic City skyline dominated the landscape to the north, towering above groups of moored yachts that rocked gently on the swell of the Williamstown harbor, their masts swaying to and fro.
People were enjoying walks on the nearby esplanade, playing on the beach, swimming in the sea. A tall-ship slowly made it's way across the water, it's sails billowing full in the late afternoon breeze bringing the salty scent of the sea to Andy's nostrils. As they sat at their table on a balcony overlooking the sea Andy thought it all reminded him a little of Chicago. He sat back in his chair and exhaled, almost unconsciously feeling a calm unlike any he'd felt before. Everything seemed so pure here, so clean...and so familiar. Even this cafe in which they sat now – Andy knew it well. It had been one of their favorite places. Soneya hadn't revealed that to Andy.
They'd enjoyed a beautiful lobster that was quite unlike Andy had ever eaten before. They drank a local wine and continued their conversation almost uninterrupted. The day had been wonderful.
Soneya smiled as Andy stretched and gazed out across the water.
"I can see that you're enjoying yourself" she commented as a waiter clear their plates and refreshed their wine glasses.
"I am," Andy replied. "This place is surreal. It's like something out of a dream or a picture book. Is everyone in this City so...laid back?"
Soneya followed his eyes out across the waterfront.
"Hmm...It is tranquil here. Though Melbourne itself is like any other city. It has its fair share of problems"
"So city law doesn't appeal to you then?"
Soneya shook her head and sipped her wine. She glanced at him fleetingly, suddenly unsure of when she had told him she was a lawyer.
"N...not at all. I decided that rural concerns are enough of a challenge on their own. And I prefer the people. They are far more...real...than anyone here. I would rather help them there than destroy people here. There's enough aggression in the Melbourne law fraternity. I don't want to get sucked into it"
"That's quite noble" Andy remarked.
"It is," Soneya agreed with an earnest nod before smiling broadly. When she did, Andy felt light headed.
"What about you? The guitar seems to be very much a part of you. It defines you, yes?"
Andy returned her smile with his own and swirled the wine in his glass, holding it up to the light from outside the restaurant to study it.
Soneya's breath caught in her throat then as she watched him.
The way he held the glass, the way he inspected the wine...
Andy rested the glass on his crossed leg.
"It's everything to me," he said wistfully. "It's carried me through some difficult times and I've not always been very kind to it. But now it's the one thing that I want to do more than anything...it's pretty much been the only thing I was ever good at"
Soneya brow creased into a frown fleetingly.
"Surely you're good at more than just the guitar"
"Getting into trouble...possibly...I was exceptional at that. I dunno...unfortunately I think I made an art form out of calamity instead of applying myself. But there has always been the guitar. It is a gift that I've come to treasure"
"Well, I think it's a very noble gift so here's to it," Soneya raised her own glass toward him and he met hers with his. They drank, looking at each other, a sense of something passed between them both.
"You know...," Soneya began. "I have to say this, and please don't think I'm crazy but..., you seems very familiar to me. It's like...I feel like we've met before.
In Andy's mind that voice pleaded at him, tell her, tell her!
Andy flushed pink and smiled awkwardly.
"That sounds like a very bad line - even with the Australian accent"
Soneya laughed and covered her mouth embarrassed.
"I know, it does right? God I'm such a klutz...but it's true. Are you sure that you've never been to Australia before?"
"I haven't...sorry. Not even once"
Even they were true, as Andy spoke them he felt as though he was lying. Again the voice tugged at his conscience.
A jazz quartet began playing in the far corner, their light music filling the cafe.
Andy's mind drifted towards the final, the seemingly overwhelming nature of it.
"I can't believe I'm here...that I've made it this far," he mused. "I've never done anything like this before"
"It's a wonderful opportunity for you," Soneya agreed. "I can only imagine how nervous you must feel"
Andy looked out across the waterfront towards the beach and gestured with a nod.
"Shall we take a walk on the sand"
Soneya nodded and smiled a little bashfully.
"That would be nice"
Making their way down to the waters edge, Soneya slipped off her sandles and stepped- gingerly at first - into the sea, feeling the cool water against her ankles and feet.
"I can't believe how beautiful it is here" Andy marveled, seemingly awestruck by the pristine sand so close to a metropolitan environment. "There's nothing like this in Chicago"
Andy took off his own shoes, setting them on the sand and joining Soneya as she luxuriated her feet at the water's edge.
"There is something addictive about the seaside" she mused. "So - are you nervous? About the final?"
Andy wandered a few paces along the shore line, hands in his pockets.
"I'm petrified," he answered truthfully. "I came here with no expectations what-so-ever. I mean, Christ, I was a last minute entry - the Conservatory didn't even want me on the delegation. Now...I want it more than anything. I don't think I've ever wanted anything more"
Soneya watched him, her hand shading her eyes from the late afternoon sun.
He stands at the water's edge, his hands in his pockets, thoughtful...
Yet he is not out of focus nor out of reach unlike her dream.
This was the dream?...
Small waves, no more than a few inches high washed up on the shore line now but as they strolled slowly along, watching a gaggle of enthusiastic children playing in the shallows, a bigger wave broke unexpectedly over a ridge of sand, slapping against Soneya's ankles and causing her to over balance. Reflexively she reached out with her hand and Andy grabbed it pulling her close to steady her. He held her until he was sure she was safe. She looked up at him to thank him and in that moment their eyes locked and neither one of them could look away. Andy couldn't resist. He leaned in gently, his finger rising to touch her cheek and their lips found each other. A soft, slow, electrifying kiss that lingered - igniting a well spring of warmth and emotion with them both so powerful that neither could pull away nor wanted to. Soneya's hand cradled his jaw, her lips parted and she touched her tongue to his, teasingly, exquisitely...rolling around it, then gently pulling back. Soneya sighed audibly as Andy pulled her close to him, sliding his hands between her arms and holding her softly there.
Then, suddenly an alarm bell sounded in Soneya's mind and she pulled herself away from Andy abruptly. Flooded with guilt Soneya mind swirled and she felt as though she might fall. Her expression held melted into one of bewilderment, embarrassment, shame...
"What have I done?" she gasped reflexively.
Andy was stunned where he stood, dazed by the afterglow of the kiss but feeling extreme awkwardness now as he reached out to Soneya. She put her hand up defensively and searched nearby
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she said breathlessly. "I shouldn't have done that"
Though in his mind, Andy sensed he knew the reason for her sudden switch in behavior and what she meant by her apology, he remained floundering before her.
"No, no Soneya please...I shouldn't have. I'm sorry"
Soneya felt nauseous then as the familiar, irrational guilt assailed her conscience All she wanted to do was to run away from here, from him - this exquisite stranger who made her feel. He made her feel.
"I sh...should go Andy," she stammered as she hurriedly bent down to put on her sandles and stood up again. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for any of this"
Andy's heart pounded as she turned away from him. All these long months of searching, the battle within himself to make sense of the additional presence that resided there. His and Denny's emotions collided together somewhere deep inside of him, melding together until they were all but indistinguishable.
This is it!
Denny's voice rang in his ears and Andy turned to face Soneya who was walking away from him.
"Soneya!" he called out desperately.
Something in the tone of his voice made Soneya stop and slowly she turned around to face him.
Andy stepped forward holding his arms out by his sides and it was then Soneya realized that his accent had changed slightly.
"Soneya...it's me. It's Denny"
Soneya's eyes went wide and she blinked.
"Soneya...I don't how to explain what happened. I was in the dark after...it happened and then...somebody found me – in Chicago” Andy voice quivered. He became animated then and, unbeknown to him, it had clearly spooked her.
“I was lying in a trauma room in a hospital,” he went on. “They told me I'd overdosed – that I had died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. But I was revived - something happened to me when I was revived. I woke up and I was in this - this - body"
Soneya's purse strap slipped from her shoulder, falling to the sand. Her jaw slackened slightly but she said nothing as Andy approached her.
"Ever since then I've been...plagued...by these...memories...of this old life, of this place - of you. I couldn't make sense of them at first but I realized I was remembering everything about my old life"
"I...I can't believe," Soneya whispered, her lip quivering.
"I couldn't believe it at first either" Andy continued his voice cracking. "But I remember everything - the hospital, our home, everything we planned to do. It all came to me, gradually at first, but I remember. And then I found you...I found Stafford – on the Internet. I found Denny's page on Facebook. I had these clues to go by – the things I remembered. It was all there!"
Andy stepped forward but Soneya threw up her hand abruptly stopping him.
"Are you fucking kidding me?!" she hissed venomously.
Andy shivered violently at the sound of her voice and he looked at her seeing a palpable anger in her eyes. He froze where he stood.
“Soneya...it's the truth. I remember it all”
“How dare you!” Soneya spat, backing away from him slowly as angry tears welled up at the edges of her eyes. “How dare you play this game with me. How could you even begin to be so cruel? Who do you think you are?”
Andy felt a nauseating panic then. His mouth went dry and he struggled to force his mind to work.
“What are you – some kind of sick stalker?!” she continued, her fury becoming white hot.
He thumbed his chest firmly then interrupting her.
“Soneya, look at me. Surely you can see it. Surely you can sense something – can't you?” he was pleading with her now, his voice rising. “What about that kiss just then – tell me it you didn't feel something. Why would I make something up like this?”
But Soneya shook her head furiously and back away even further as he stepped forward again holding his hand out towards her.
“No! Don't you come near me. If you do I will call the police”
She wheeled around then and stumbled on the sand before running away. Tears were streaming down her face now, her heart and mind filled with confusion and anger. Andy stood there on the beach watching her go until she had disappeared. He was too stunned to move.
“What have I done” he whispered breathlessly.
Copyright © 2009 Dean Mayes.