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Before We Were Strangers
Author: Renee Carlino

First Movement:

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1. Do You Still Think of Me?

Matt

Life was passing me by at high speed as I sat back with my feet up, rejecting change, ignoring the world, shrugging off anything that threatened to have meaning or relevance. I categorically disagreed with all things current. I despised the use of emojis, the word meta, and people who talked on their phones in line. Don’t even get me started on gentrification. There were twenty-one Starbucks within a three-block radius of the building I worked in. Recording studios, film labs, and record stores were dying, if not already vacant corpses turned cupcake shops or blow-dry bars. They had stopped playing music videos on MTV and had banned smoking in bars. I didn’t recognize New York anymore.

These are the things I pondered while sitting in my four-by-four cubicle at National Geographic. It hadn’t felt National or Geographic since I had taken a desk job there a few years before. I had come out of the field, where I had seen everything, and I went into a hole, where I saw nothing. I was in the middle of the city I loved, back in her arms again, but we were strangers. I was still hanging on to the past and I didn’t know why.

Scott smacked me square on the back. “Hey buddy. Brooklyn for lunch?”

“Why so far?” I was sitting at my desk, fidgeting with the battery in my phone.

“There’s a pizza place I want you to try, Ciccio’s. You heard of it?”

“We can get good pizza on Fifth.”

“No, you have to try this place, Matt. It’s phenomenal.”

“What’s phenomenal, the pizza or the staff?” Since my divorce a few years ago,

Scott—boss, friend, and eternal bachelor—had high hopes that I’d become his permanent wingman. It was impossible to talk him out of anything, especially when it involved women and food.

“You got me. You have to see this girl. We’ll call it a work meeting. I’ll put it on the company card.” Scott was the type who talked about women a lot and about porn even more. He was severely out of touch with reality.

“I’m sure this qualifies as sexual harassment somewhere.”

He leaned against the top of the cubicle partition. He had a nice-looking face and was always smiling, but if you didn’t see him for a week, you’d forget what he looked like.

“We’ll take the subway.”

“Hey guys.” My ex-wife walked by, sipping a cup of coffee.

I ignored her. “Hey Liz,” Scott said and then stared at her ass as she walked away. He turned to me. “Is it weird to work with her and Brad?”

“I’ve always worked with her and Brad.”

“Yeah, but she was your wife and now she’s Brad’s wife.”

“I honestly don’t care anymore.” I stood up and grabbed my jacket.

“That’s a good sign. I believe you. That’s how I know you’re ready for some strange.” I often ignored these types of comments from Scott.

“I need to stop by Verizon first and get a new battery,” I said, waving my phone.

“What is that?”

“A cell phone. Pretty sure you’ve seen one before.”

“First of all, no one says ‘cell phone’ anymore. Second, that’s not a phone; that’s an artifact. We should ship it to the Smithsonian and get you an iPhone.”

On the way out, we passed Kitty, the coffee cart girl. “Hello, gentlemen.”

I smiled. “Kitty.” She blushed.

Scott said nothing until we got into the elevator. “You should tap that. She totally wants you.”

“She’s a child.”

“She’s a college graduate. I hired her.”

“Not my type. Her name is Kitty.”

“All right, now you’re just being mean.” He seemed minimally offended on Kitty’s behalf.

“I’m fine. Why is it everyone’s mission in life to set me up? I’m fine.”

“Clock’s a-tickin’.”

“Guys don’t have clocks.”

“You’re thirty-six.”

“That’s young.”

“Not compared to Kitty.”

The elevator doors opened and we stepped into the lobby. A giant print of one of my photos ran the length of a wall.

“See that, Matt? That gets women wet.”

“It’s a picture of an Iraqi child holding an automatic weapon.”

“The Pulitzer you got for it, genius, not the picture.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “That was a good year for you.”

“Yeah, it was. Professionally, anyway.”

“I’m telling you, you have to use that to your advantage. You have a moderate amount of celebrity because of that photo. It’s worked in my favor.”

“How did it work for you, exactly?”

“I might’ve borrowed your name for a night. Once or twice.”

I laughed. “That’s disgraceful, man.”

“Kitty’s into you. You should give that little hottie what she wants. You know there’re rumors about her.”

“Even more reason to stay away.”

“No, good rumors. Like she’s crazy. A little animal.”

“And that’s good how?”

We made our way outside and headed for the subway station on West 57th to catch the F train. Midtown is always congested at that hour but we were nearing the end of winter. The sun beating down between the buildings drew even more people out onto the street. I weaved in and out of the masses while Scott trailed me.

   
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