by Heather Graham

He was perched, legs crossed, on a forgotten flower box outside the run-down old movie house. Autumn was just beginning to stretch its crisp, colorful arms across the city, tickling my cheeks with a cool breeze as I pretended not to stare at him. He was deep in concentration, pencil scraping across the sketchpad in his lap, drawing the people at the café tables sipping their coffees or the skeletons of summer roses and tulips that littered the flower box.
I remember the first time our eyes met. They were light blue with specks of silver and gray, like the Angelite stones I used to collect as a child. I felt my cheeks grow warm as I stammered out a nervous “hello.”
I read your paper,” he said matter-of-factly, “you’re a great writer.”
Only I wasn’t a writer at all. I was imaginative and liked to tell stories, but I never skilled or confident enough to put them to page and call them “writing.” He refused to believe it. On any given day he would plop down in the chair across from me in the library to inquire about a paper I was writing or ask me about a story he thought I should pen. Some days he would tell me his own stories. Some were mundane about his dog’s latest adventures, his parental drama, or his roommate’s naked yoga classes. Other times he spun exciting tales of Madame Bovary and Joan of Arc.
In the corridors and stairwells between classes, we unraveled like cheap scarves exposing the dirt and scars that hid the poetry of ourselves from the weather of the world. Together we tore away the things we thought we were not and decorated ourselves with the things we could be and maybe had been all along. We collected lucky pennies and found inspiration in candlelight.
On the last day of spring, when the tulips and blossoming trees painted the city in vibrant colors, I nervously shoved a sketchbook into his hands. “A place to keep those inspired thoughts of yours,” I babbled. My cheeks were warm and my hands trembled as he examined the gift. “Create something amazing,” I added.
He smiled and moments later I was pressed against his chest in a tight hug. The tweed of his jacket scratched my chin and the scent of over-priced cigarettes and pretentious imported tea filled my nose. As he pulled back, our eyes met again, like that first day, familiar now. Comfortable.
Now on the sidewalk outside a movie house with “character,” on a hipster-littered café sidewalk, the man on the flower box paused his sketching and took a long drink from his coffee cup. Then, as if he could sense my gaze, he lifted his eyes to meet mine.
Brown eyes.
In a crashing instant, I realized that the artist was someone else. His eyes were not right. He was missing careless facial hair and sharp cheekbones. His hat was wrong and so was his jacket. I had been so suddenly haunted with memories that I had failed to see that this was a stranger. Someone else’s memory. Someone else’s history. Someone else’s first gaze and last goodbye. Not mine.

And he was just a ghost.