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When she came back out and waved to some people and went over to them, he said to himself something like “Jesus, what a doll.”   He practically stalked her at the party, losing sight of her only when he went into the bathroom or into another room for a drink.  He was waiting for a chance to go up to her and introduce himself or say anything to her, just so long as they started talking, but she was always with someone, mostly men but sometimes a woman or two.  She never noticed him staring at her because she never turned his way when he was.  He wanted her to and then, he thought, he’d give an expression with his raised forehead and some other thing with his face that he was interested in her or has been wanting to talk to her but didn’t want to barge in and could she free herself for a moment?  How he was going to get any of that in with a look, he didn’t know.  But he thought he could—maybe just smile in a way that suggested he wanted to meet her—and she might even come over to him or gesture in some way—hand or face or some move with her head—for him to come over to her.  Then she was gone.  A man tapped his shoulder from behind, and he turned around. “Aren’t you Richard Bender?” the man said, and he said no and the man said “You look just like him; sorry.”  When he turned back to the spot he’d been watching her at, she’d disappeared.  He looked for her in the room he could see from the one that he was in, but she wasn’t there.  He went through the entire apartment looking for her.  He’d made up his mind; he was going to go over to her even if she was with other people.  He didn’t know what he was going to say; something, though.  Maybe make up a woman’s name—Dorothy Becker—and ask her if she was this woman and then say “Sorry, I haven’t seen her in a long time and I used to know her fairly well and I thought she’d think I was ignoring her if I didn’t say hello.  And now that I think of it, you couldn’t be her because her resemblance to you is from more than ten years ago when she was around your age.  Stupid mistake on my part.   But may I ask your name?  Mine’s … I was thinking of saying I almost forgot it, but that’d be such a dumb joke, Martin Samuels,” and he’d stick his hand out to shake.  If she was with someone, he’d ask that person’s name and shake hands.  If she was with two or more people, he’d just say hello to them.  The joke part, only if she was alone.  Or probably not the joke part; too silly so he’d just give his name.  He actually thought all of this while he was looking for her.  If she wasn’t alone, he’d first apologize to her and whomever she was with for breaking into their conversation.  He didn’t know what he’d do after he asked her name and gave his.  It could be embarrassing, being the stranger of the group and just staying there, but he’d take the chance.  Maybe he’d say “Well, nice meeting you all,” and walk away and try to catch her later if she was alone, now knowing her name and the introduction, of sorts, out of the way.  Then he thought she might be in the hallway bathroom.  When he passed it to look for her in Pati’s bedroom, the door was closed and he could see through the crack at the bottom that a light was on inside.  Although someone could have left it on after using the room. He didn’t want to try the doorknob to see if it was locked. He didn’t want to give the impression he was trying to get the person inside to finish sooner.  He stood outside the bathroom.  This almost had to be where she was, he thought.  And if she was in there, this’d be a good opportunity to speak to her alone when she came out, but another woman came out.  He said “Hi,” went in and locked the door.  He didn’t want the woman to think he’d been waiting outside the bathroom for nothing.  And as long as he was in here, he thought, he should pee.  He was going to have to do it soon anyway, what with the three to four Bloody Marys and bottle of water he had, and then he really might have to go and both bathrooms might be occupied.  He peed, then went through the apartment looking for her again.  Nah, it’s hopeless, he thought.  He went into the bedroom for his coat.  He didn’t see any reason to stay, now that she was gone.  He knew nobody at the party but Pati and she was always getting or taking away things or introducing people.  Birdbrain, he thought.  For that’s what he should have done: got her to introduce him to that woman, but too late for that.  He really hadn’t met anyone on his own here because he spent most of his time trying to meet this woman.  He started to look for Pati to say goodbye.  Then he told himself he’d call her tomorrow or the next day—probably tomorrow—to thank her for inviting him and to ask about this woman he tried speaking to but she was always surrounded by other people, and left.  They waited for the elevator for about five minutes, maybe more.  No, had to be more.  There were long stretches when neither of them spoke and she looked mostly at the elevator, he mostly at her, and every so often she turned to him and smiled a bit mechanically and then looked back at the door.  One time he said something like “We should seriously think about using the stairs, I’m sure the door down there will be open or just needs a good shove,” and she said “I told you:  you go.  I’ll go back to the party and tell Pati the elevator’s not working—yes, I concede; you were right all along,” and he said “Maybe I wasn’t.”  “Anyhow,” she said, “she can call the super.  But I’m not walking downstairs to get out of the building, at least not yet.”  “It’s not that you’re in any way apprehensive of me,” and she said “Do you mean afraid of you?  Of course not.  You’re a friend of Pati’s, so why would I think that?”  The surprising thing was, he now thinks, they weren’t joined by anyone else from the party or floor, which had about eight apartments to it and it wasn’t late.  The elevator came around then.  He said “Like tieups on highways, no explanation when traffic finally gets moving,” and she said “I know, but hurray.”   They got in the elevator and the door closed.  “Think it’s safe?” she said, and he said “I now bet it was just someone unloading a whole bunch of packages or furniture.”  “No,” she said, “it took too long.”  “A huge piece of furniture could’ve got stuck in the elevator door or the person or persons kept the door open with something heavy while they carried some stuff into the apartment, and then got caught up in a phone call there,” and she said “Please, let’s get traffic moving.”   He was nearer the button panel and said “Which floor should I push for you?” 

 

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How They Met by Stephen Dixon