“A Passing Glance”
a short story
Gary Baker, September 2013
I'm glad you chose to meet me here, Raelyn” Turen began, watching the newcomer from over a steaming ceramic mug. All around them, the busy city of Paris bustled in the throes of mid-morning tourism and locals making their living amongst the less-than-warm fog. “Though I'm really not sure what to say.”
The woman stood across from him, having just made her way to his table moments ago, appearing as formal as they came in terms of European corporate attire. Her pinstripe grey pencil-skirt had been freshly ironed while her well-tailored blouse had been ruffled only at the hems where the belt of a taxi cab must have held. All in all, she was more magnificent than Turen could possibly remember.
She gave him a curt look, one of not wanting to disclose much of anything until she could be sure he was the one she intended to meet in the first place. “Well, what do you want?” Straight to the point, it seemed. “You talked about some sort of 'question' in the email you sent me?”
Again he sipped his italian coffee lightly and watched for a reaction, something that might indicate she remembered him just as much as he did her. “Look,” he finally decided, “I'll be frank: I know who you are, where you came from, and who you used to be.”
The frank glare returned tenfold. “As does anyone,” she kept her hands in her blazer pockets and her purse held firm to her side by her dominant elbow. “I don't know what you think I am, but I'm no criminal.” The thickness of her accent made Turen squeamish, wishing for things to be how they might have once been if he'd only had the courage to ask.
“No. You're right, you're not.” He scowled as a group of tourists passed by, fellow Americans by the looks of them, but Americans less-inclined to appear at home in a foreign country than he, who blended in almost too well. These days he practically lived everywhere but the 'good ol' U.S of A.' what with all the time he spent abroad for his company. “I guess what I'm trying to say is that we used to know each other.”
And suddenly there was that recognition, hidden just as quickly by a flare of fiery anger. “And you stalked me?!”
“What? No!” Hands flew in the air between them, expecting a slap that never came, though her eyes seemed to be rending him to bits in some imaginary slaughterhouse. “I know it sounds weird, but I'm not a stalker!”
She stood taller, more powerful, and regained her calm composure in the snap of a finger. “Then how did you find me? From your accent, I can guess we haven't met in more years than I would like to admit, right now.”
She was right. It had been almost thirty years since they last saw each other. Years that had ticked away like boulders in a handheld hourglass. “I'm not a stalker,” he repeated again, trying to keep his own composure and keep his Armani suit pristine and decent, free of thrown coffee stains. “I will admit that I kept tabs on you for my own sake, but I never did anything more than that!” He felt the tension in his jaw increase and suddenly, despite his intentions, he wanted this all over and done with.
“A stalker watches with the intent to move,” he continued, “they keep tabs with the intent to follow, they watch with jealousy as a life is lived. But I'm none of that.”
The waiter slipped passed a newly arrived Russian couple and smiled at Raelyn, pleasingly. He gestured to the chair, commenting about how lovely it would be to sit and stay a while, which Turen translated right alongside. After the two were done, she finally let loose a withheld sigh and let the man pull her chair out for her, then sat down and leaned back without ordering.
Turen knew her meaning, having learned it from multiple corporate meetings throughout the years, normally indicating that he only had so much time before she'd stand right back up and walk away.
“I kept tabs because I wanted to meet you when the time was right,” he mumbled. “We met over thirty years ago, back in California when we were twelve, and I knew that you'd never see me then and never would unless I became something with my life.” Turen lost his stoic posture, leaning back comfortably in his seat, letting the wicker press softly in return. “I fell in love back then, a love that has not died since that day that you spoke my name in such a way that no one the world over has done.” He recalled just how she had stood out from the Americans even back then, her foreign family having kept the usual drawl from her voice, instead instilling the soft 'ch' of her homeland when speaking words with a 't'. When she pronounced his name, back in middle school, sounding more like 'chu-ren' than the usual 'tur-in', his knees had virtually disappeared. “I didn't understand it then, how you could put me to my knees with just the way you pronounced my name, but I do now and I did years after you left.”
He paused for air, to let her speak, to let her take the chance to point out what she had thought of him way back then, but found eerie silence, instead.
“Look,” he sighed, “I know you don't remember, and that's not what I want anyways – I actually expect you not to....” But then what did he want? He wasn't being very clear, that much he knew, but what was worse was that his mind tumbled end over end in an even darker storm with sails completely unfurled. He shouldn't even be with her, be near her after so many years, even – especially -- if she remembered him, as she was married, now, and had children already.
“And yet...” she hid her eyes behind the menu, comfortable enough to be ordering breakfast at long last. Then she slapped the over-sized brochure to her crossed lap and shrugged. “And yet I do.”
Turen choked on espresso long-since-swallowed.
“You... you do?”
Her face was unreadable, set in determination and unwilling to express the slightest nuance of what was at play behind those blue expanses of space. “Lets put it this way, Turen,” deep inside he allowed himself a quick sigh at the sound, relaxing even more, “how do you think it feels for me, having seen you about to make that move,” she looked up with an eyebrow drawn high, “the one I wanted you to make all those years ago; when you came to ask me not to go, only to chicken out and wave goodbye instead? Had you asked me to stay, right then and there I would have demanded that my parents leave without me and let me live with you, no matter how angry and rude your family was. I would have asked you to come with me if mother wouldn't leave me with you. I would have done something, anything to keep you in my life,” a tear slid across her cheek and she brushed it away silently with the back of her sleeve. “But then you hugged me and wished me safe flying.”
The waiter arrived again, refilled Turen's mug as asked, then listened as he translated her order for a moderately spiced chai without foam. The man took the menu's away then, and skipped off and back to his routine.
Watching him go, Raelyn pursed her lips and absently checked the time. When she seemed sure there wouldn't be anything delayed by staying around longer, she looked back to him and shrugged again. “For years all I could think about was going back to see you, but mother said you wouldn't remember me, that you were a passing glance and nothing more.” Raelyn glared as the waiter returned with her order, far quicker than she'd apparently expected.
The silence from before was nothing compared to the extended moment of reciprocating insecurity between the two. She sipped at her chai, still sitting as pristine as ever, while he let the aroma of the newest glass sing to his senses. Around them, another group of tower-viewers wove their way through the tables and chairs on their way to the next street over, some mumbling about bagels, others openly excited about every piece of architecture in sight.
Finally she perked up again in distressing anger, “but I have a family now! I have kids older than we were last we met – albeit not quite as old as I was last I thought of you, even so far as my husband knows of, but he doesn't even know the true last time I wished with all my beating heart to see you standing before me.”
Turen felt his heart skip, a lasting sorrow embedding itself deep in a place he'd let fill with cobwebs what felt like centuries ago. “Oh, Raelyn....”
And emotion bloomed across her cheeks; a pale, washed crimson racing over her nose and dimpled upper lip. “Turen, it's Ree.” She winced almost to herself, “it always has been for you, and you alone, ever since you called me that as we parted last; when you wished me goodbye for the last time.”
“Not even your husband...?”
She flipped a hand, distractedly, “my husband calls me Rae or Lynn. Not Ree.” Raelyn brought her mug to her lips and sipped steaming chai, scowled until the flavors were approved enough, and set it down again with her fingers held wrapped around it. “He thinks I dislike the name, that I feel degraded by it's use in bringing me to a child's level... but, really, I never liked it because it always brought me heartache.”
An Iranian couple came into the outdoor seating, led by a female waiter in the uniform of white and black, and sat down one table over. The man checked a gold pocket watch from his dark grey blazer pocket, then adjusted his glasses and ordered a double 'espresso con panna', a bagel on the side, and his companion in her beautiful yellow summer dress ordered the same but with a croissant and jam on the side.
Turen smiled at them, spotting the logos of some of his own subsidiaries on both her heels and his slacks – hidden, of course, as it always was in Turen's companies. Often he found it easier to market designer brands that appeared custom-tailored due to there not being any logos in easy view.
Unless one knew where to look.
He turned back to Raelyn, then, with a wince. “I'm sorry.”
She snapped herself back to proper composure and sat up straight, dusting off her blouse moments before checking her makeup in a small mirror. “So now I must ask you: why have you come to me? To seek answers? To hope I will finally 'know you' and fall into your arms, as you so seem to hope?”
The corporate businessman wanted to reach out a hand for hers just then, wanted to tell her he understood her anger at him, and that he had already learned to live with it from himself. Instead he sighed and brought the his glass up for a quick sip. “Rael-...Ree. Ree, I'm a businessman now. I own a corporation, and I travel the world doing what I can to make the world a better place.” He shrugged lightly, loosing the tinge of a smile. “In fact, just last month I set myself to Africa and Africa alone. I gave myself one whole month to the one continent alone, and churned up schools and hospitals like oil rigs over an old under-sea fossil ground.”
Turen leaned back with his ceramic mug held aloft, watching the sun reflect off the surface as it began to burn off the fog. “I met one child there who asked me to adopt him, to give him a family that would care for him... and do you know what I did?” He looked up, caught her eyes, and nodded, “I looked at his scars, his bruises, his blemished skin pockmarked with disease... and I said yes. Now he lives with my assistant owner in New York, acting as a working part of a loving family with decorated, snowy Christmases, and presents to send home to his sister who chose to stay.”
He felt her eyes linger on him, felt them try to pierce his aura for motives and things beyond his ability to grasp. Finally, while studying the freshly-stained rim of the pale mug, he mumbled “and I did it all for you.” But that wasn't enough, not even for himself. He needed clarity, if nothing more. “I did it because I felt that somewhere out there you might have kids of your own – as I now discover you do – who would need the good Karma that I was sending your way. I wanted them to meet one of the children that I had saved and have a best friend and a happy childhood all because I had given them peace.” It was a pipe dream in most people's opinion, he knew, but the more he worked at it, the more likely it seemed to become. As the number of people he helped to relieve and displace into better homes increased, the chances at such a success rose in a proportionally dramatic way.
Just that was enough to make him smile and keep moving.
“I wouldn't be the man I am today if I didn't believe that you loved me just as much as I you, or that I could still win you over.” Turen slid out his phone, a slim band of unbroken platinum, and shook it to bring the screen on at full. Instantly the flat face lit from within and revealed his home-screen: an international social media website that had infected more lives than any other before it. And it was funded in a large part, by Turen's company. “I saw you start a family via social media, and just knew you never knew me... and I get that now. I see why, and I appreciate knowing that you chose to live a beautiful life, even if that meant that I wasn't right there beside you in it.”
Raelyn leaned forward with a scowl, giving him subtle clues to do the same, and held her glass inches from her lips to at least partially hide her words from the couple beside them. “You understand that we are contemplating marital suicide over coffee right now, right? You understand what that would mean for you commercial reputation, having an affair with a happily married woman with children nearing mid-high-school? ...that it would be nearly physical suicide just to think of it?”
The businessman dropped his gaze to the flower bins along the street thoroughfare. “I know. And I don't expect to do so, either. I would, let me remind you,” he glanced back at her, locking eyes for a burst of infinity before losing himself in the pastels of tulips again, “but I wont. For your sake.”
“Then why are you here, Turen?”
Again he withheld a deep longing to loose a sigh at the sound, feeling the twists of fate wronged by time and chaos theory churn into butterflies in his stomach. “I want to say 'closure', but that would never settle with me deep inside.”
Raelyn was silent for a long time, slowly, ever so slowly, moving back to sit comfortably in her seat.
Turen shook his head dismissively, “honestly I don't even know, anymore. Now that I know you have always loved me like I did to you, I almost feel worse than I thought I would. Now I'll never marry, and I feel I'll miss out on something great because of that.” He perked his lips to one side in a lop-sided grin, “I… I just don't know.”
As she watched him warily, he took one last swig of the black Italian coffee and, with a flourish, flipped a confidential folder out from within his blazer and placed it on the table. “There is one thing, though,” he said, turning completely business-like with the click of a pen. “I want you to accept ownership of my newest Euro branch, a wealthy bonus of three-hundred million in the accounts already, just for accepting.”
Her astonishment was classic. She might have guessed as to who he was by the name in his email, but that he planned on giving her a job this high in his company with a healthy sum of money to throw around? Clearly it had never crossed her mind. “What?” She stammered. “Why?”
He let out an amused exhale, “because what I am today is all because of you, that's why.” He tapped the list of documents with the open pen tip. “You have the necessary resume, so it wont look like much more than an odd tactical decision to anyone else, but realistically I owe it to you. If not for you, I might be flipping burgers in Seattle right now, blowing the forty-three candles out alone in a run down shack along the highway.” He sat back and scanned the local views of Paris, looming all around them like a populated city of artistic gods. “You made me the man I am today, even if it wasn't the real you but a fantasy ghost that gave me hope. So I owe this portion of my fortune to you and you alone.
“That's also why I chose today, when I knew you would be out looking for another job to take on, after that debacle back with KuriCorps.”
Raelyn's eyes shot wide. “Did you...?!”
He grinned childishly. “To be honest, it wasn't hard; he was going to skim you off anyway what with the upcoming budget cuts. So I guessed the time right and knew you'd never miss the opportunity, whether you knew me or not.”
Suddenly losing the informality to regain his business composure again, Turen struck his hand out for her, pulling his cuff back with his less-dominant hand. “Welcome to the family, Miss Raelyn. I'm sure you'll do fine in your new position.”
Raelyn smiled with a laugh. “You know my husband is going to get a hernia, right? He knows about you; it would have been wrong to keep everything from him all these years.” She reached forward and took the pen, “at this point I think he honestly believes you to be some girlish fantasy, but wait until he sees your name on my checks!”
The corporate owner smiled. “And Ill provide all the best lawyers he needs to put me away for a lifetime.”
She stopped in her tracks on the page, eyes fixed in space from shock alone. “...upon which I alone would receive your fortune!” Her eyes traced across the lines she was signing, reading just what it was she was getting herself into, “you'd give up everything, just to keep me living happily?”
“Think about it, Raelyn,” he said with growing enthusiasm, “we were born on the same day, virtually the same time, and on opposite sides of the world. We were then brought together long enough to meet when we were twelve and fall in love and were then separated for decades.” He lifted his mug once more and saluted her, comically, before downing the remains. “After all that time our love never died, nor diminished, and if anything it grew.”
Finally he set his mug down and waved at the waiter for the bill. “After all that, you can't tell me we wont see each other in the next life, where perhaps after I help you live the best life you can think of in this one, we will be given the chance to live together for an entire lifetime for the sacrifice we are making here.”
As she signed the rest of the lines needed, he felt his heart lighten. Just knowing that no matter what happened she would be in good hands and cheerful circumstances brought him all the joy he needed. Even if he couldn't have her, he knew, the least he could do was to set her up to nearly the highest peg financially for ten lifetimes. “I don't know about you, but keeping that in mind, I'd give up everything if it meant that you could live happily in this life just in case the next hand isn't so benevolent.”
Her light eyes sought his one last time, only to find him already on the phone with what sounded like another lesser-corporate owner; another like herself, she mused.