CONNELL: These Eyes

By Samantha Mozart

I skipped down the stairs from my piano lesson in the second-floor studio above the row of stores and bounded out onto our Village street. He came around the corner out of nowhere. There he was, half a block from me, walking towards me in his black leather bombardier jacket with the gray fur collar, his short wavy hair still dark. It had been seventeen years. Were I to live forever, I would know him anywhere: Connell. His head was turned to his left, his dark eyes fixed on something across the street, and he was about to run into me.

It had happened once before. We worked together at Shoreline Catering. I cut a diagonal across the warehouse floor to his office to tell him something. Just as I arrived at his open office door, he jumped up from his desk and walked square into me in the doorway.

“Did he plan that?” I wondered. I wondered for seventeen years, the whole time I was away, living in Princeton, New Jersey. I had arrived back in Southern California two months ago, in October, just before the rains began and the snow-mantled mountains embraced the L.A. basin. I loved this time of year.

“Connell!” I said. He was four feet from me and coming fast, as always.

He turned his gaze on me, his intense, dark eyes sparked from somewhere deep and scorched my soul. Time telescoped. I melted. I opened my mouth but words wouldn’t come. I stepped back, so electric was the energy I felt from him. I dropped my eyes, following the line of his indigo jeans from about his knees down to his feet in his gray tennis shoes.

A movie unreeled in my mind. At Shoreline Catering, I balked. I didn’t want to work with Connell. But they made me do it. We delivered sandwiches to office workers. Everybody had a route. Connell would be my supervisor now. He was new: I was experienced. My former supervisor, Tony, was leaving. Tony was my mentor; he had trained me to take his place. But they hired a guy. Monty, the owner, said he needed somebody to pick up the juice from the vendor.

One day I needed someone to go out on a route with me. I wanted Tony to go. It would be the last time we’d have together. “This will be a good time for Connell to see what the routes are like,” Tony said. Disappointed, I took Connell out with me. We were gone about two and a half hours. To my surprise, we really had fun. We laughed a lot. When I went home, I stumbled upon myself smiling, all that afternoon.

Connell would walk around the warehouse by my side, conversing with me as I pulled my cookies and chips and cakes for next day’s order. “I hear you have a big record collection,” he said.

“Yes, I do. I’ve got about a thousand LPs and forty-fives.”

“So do I,” he said. “Our band had a top forty hit about ten years ago. One of the guys from our band is coming to work here. We play a lot of Beatles songs. The Beatles are my favorite.”

“They’re my favorite, too,” I said. How did he know about my record collection? I had told Don, our co-worker, another musician. Had he been talking to Don about me? He knew a lot about me, and I hadn’t told him. What was his interest?

It came to pass that driving home and all afternoon, every day, I found myself still talking to him, in my mind. What is this? I wondered. And what is he doing? Why does he spend so much time talking to me, telling me intimate conversations between him and his divorced dad, the current market value of his house? Why do I tell him anything I think? A shiver shot up from the base of my spine and soared out the crown of my head. Then, He’s married. He’s got a baby and a four-year-old. What’s going on?

I stood in his office, he behind his desk, and told him my humorous take on a story about an incident on my route that day. He laughed out loud. “I like you, Laura,” he said; “I really like you.”

Soon after, he walked into me in the doorway. Was it deliberate?

“This is a good song,” he said later. And he sang the words that played on the warehouse radio, “These eyes, these eyes will never see another love like the one that I have for you…”. He sang me the lines to other songs. “This is a good song.” He sang the Beatles “Little Child” to my name, “Laura Child-Laura Child…”.

I filled out the order form for my next day’s order and placed the paper in the stack with the others so that he could make a master order and call them all in. Often in the mornings when we’d pick up the papers to pull our sandwich and salad orders, I’d find our order sheets together, one on top of the other. He and I were talking one afternoon as I pulled my snacks. He gave me a piece of dark fudge he’d picked up to eat. It was the color of his eyes. I took it and ate it. “Do you want more?” he asked. I looked into his eyes. They turned green.

Then one day, he stood across the warehouse from me. He just stared at me. It happened the next day, and the next. It was the look of despair. “What’s the matter with Connell?” I heard one of my female coworkers ask another.

I came into his office one day as he was leafing through the yellow pages. “Katie needs a hernia operation,” he said. Katie was his four-year-old. “I have to get insurance.” Shoreline, a part-time employer, offered no insurance.

In the end, he got another job, one offering insurance. “What are you going to wear on your last day?” one of the women asked him.

“A black armband,” he said flatly.

He wore a lime green shirt. Shoreline gave him a party. He gave me a quick hug, our first and only. I stood there and watched him walk away. That’s all I could do, just stand there. How can I just let you walk away when all I can do is watch you leave? “This is a good song,” he had said. That was the last time I saw him. I went home and hugged the wall and cried inconsolably.

Now, here he was, right in front of me, not seventeen inches away.

“Laura,” he said.

“Connell. What are you doing here? You look the same.” Words poured out of my mouth like rain in a week-long California storm.

“I have some business in the Village,” he said. “You look the same.”

“You look great,” I said. “How are you? How are Leslie and the kids? I saw on the Web that you and your band are playing around town.”

He didn’t say anything. Just looked. I fell into the fathomless depths of his eyes.

“I saw you were performing and wrote you an email about a year ago. I addressed it to Gary at your band’s Web site. I asked him to give it to you. Did you get it?”

I needed a rope. I was sinking fast. The whole thing was happening again. What welled up were my feelings. After all those years of wanting to see him one more time, my grip was going to slip and I was going to wind up in tears again. Suddenly I wished I hadn’t seen him.

“Yes, I did,” he said. He kept looking at me. “It was a nice note. It made me laugh.”

He looked at his sneakers. He rearranged his feet, then put them back where they were.

“I cried,” he went on. “It was like I just saw you the day before, like we were back at Shoreline.” He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and rocked back and forth on his feet, examining the crack in the pavement that ran perpendicular beneath them.

He raised his eyes and they seared through me. I was done on one side and was about to be flipped over. I thought I should leave, but I didn’t know how to get off the grill.

He got out the potholder. “Let’s walk up along the cliff,” he said. “My car’s right around the corner.”

He drove us the mile to the cliffs, and we got out and watched the waves a thousand feet below, roll in and strike the rocks, their spray soaring, falling back and filling in all the little tide pools.

“Look at how the wind lifts the crystals of the spray,” I said. “The waves roll in and they roll out, one after another, eternally they repeat, but no two are the same.” I shivered.

He hugged his arms close to his body, his hands shoved into his jeans pockets, his head bowed against the wind. “It’s cold today,” he said.

“It’s so beautiful here,” I said, “like heaven. We’d better go.” I immediately wished I could take back my words, catch them on the tip of my tongue, like a frog snapping up a mosquito. “No, I don’t want to go,” I said.

He laughed. He shivered. He turned to face me. “Are you involved with anyone?”

“No,” I answered.

“Leslie and I got divorced two years ago,” he said.

I wanted to hug him. “So, who’s in your life now?” I asked.

“The most beautiful woman these eyes have ever seen,” he said. He took his hands out of his jeans pockets and placed them into his jacket pockets.

A lump rose in my throat. I didn’t want to look at him, but I had to find out, anyway. My heart ached as it slid into my stomach. Tears welled in my eyes.

“That is, if she wants to be. I came to find you today,” he said. “Somebody told Don that you are back here and that you come to the Village on Thursday afternoons.”

Something cold and prickly struck my cheek. Then, another. “It’s snowing,” I said. A snowflake landed on my nose, and then another, and they stuck together.

He looked deep into me and his eyes turned green. “I love you, Laura,” he said. “I really love you. I don’t want to lose you again. Will you spend your life with me?”

Big snowflakes flew close and passionately then. Tears cascaded over my cheeks. I put my hands on his chest. “Yes!” I said.

He pulled his hands from his pockets, covered my freezing hands in his, and then wrapped me in his arms. He trembled. He pressed me so close even a mosquito couldn’t come between us. “Laura Child …,” he said. “Laura Child,” he sang softly. “Laura Child, won’t you stay with me.”

He pulled back just enough and looked down at me. The snowflakes, seeming to fall in pairs, sailed to islands of white in his dark hair. His eyes turned green. He kissed me deep and long.

~ The End ~