Reggie hugged his cardigan closer. There was a breeze on the canal that he didn't remember being there before. It was so unlike the California breeze he'd grown used to. The breeze here was cool and the sky was gray. California's breeze was warm and it's sky was bright, yet he reaped none of the benefits often associated with sunshine and fresh air in the six months since he'd been back. Sara had grown concerned. He'd wanted to be happy, for her, but instead of being comforting, the warm sun on his face felt like a slap. Reggie walked the beaches endlessly, as if searching for something in the sand that would unlock a door to the way things were.
The barge bumped the side of the canal. The boat's captain, if you could call him that, nodded to Reggie and smiled through his graying stubble. Reggie put one foot on the stone staircase that would take him to the street level, then the other. He paused before continuing. He'd never stood here alone before, but he hadn't come back to stand at the side of a canal. Up the stairs went and the familiar reddish glare washed over him. Reggie could feel Jim's elbow digging into his ribs; hear their beer bottles clinking together in a toast to the adventures their night would certainly hold. They were on leave with a pocketful of cash and a what-happens-here-stays-here attitude.
Maybe he'd find her again. Rose. His heart quickened for the first time in a long time at the memory of her long tempting eyelashes and even longer and more tempting legs. She had to still be here. It wasn't the sort of place you moved on from, Reggie imagined. Jim had spotted her first, almost hidden away in a third-story window, yet fully on display. She had bent down to blow the boys a kiss and they'd run up the building's steps like schoolboys, fighting each other to be first.
Later on, in a bar filled with sickly-sweet smoke, Reggie and Jim had sat speechless, empty shot glasses lining the bar in front of them. Reggie remembered with a cynical chuckle how a lay he'd won by the flip of a coin had made him feel so alive. Rose was the ideal woman, although Jim would argue that her friend, Lily, was more deserving of the title. Another round later and the two boys stumbled out onto the street. Jim had run himself straight into a lamppost, Reggie remembered. Every corner had one, yet he still imagined he'd look up and see the exact same one right in front of him. Maybe Jim would be there, too, laughing and puking his guts out on the cobblestone.
Reggie kept walking. Both sides of the canal, along with their side streets, held stories high buildings with ceiling to floor-length windows. Instead of being seductive, the red tube lights on either side of each window now only reminded him of the bare fluorescents that had hung above their bunks. No longer were the women in this place young and supple. They had aged, just like he had, much too fast in the short time they hadn't seen each other. Each girl's eyes looked just like the next's. They all had Rose's legs, her curves. Reggie felt no excitement at the spectacle before him. Instead, he wished he could hear Jim's piggish catcalls instead of the welcoming cries of dungeon masters who stood on the porticos of each den of sin.
His breath grew short. A woman was walking several yards ahead of him. She was flanked on either side by a large bodyguard. Insurance. Protecting the merchandise. She was not old and haggard. Her pin-curls were the same as he remembered. Surely, this was the girl from before. Reggie's pace quickened. When he was close enough to get her attention, he called out her name. She didn't skip a step to acknowledge him. Again, he called, more pleading this time. She stopped, and her human armor moved closer. She turned, looking at this character inquisitively. He repeated her name, quietly this time, for before him stood the woman he'd been dreaming of for the better part of a year. Rose looked back at him with hardness in her once soft eyes and said firmly in accented English, "That's not my name," and continued on her way once again. Reggie jogged to become parallel to the striding beauty, all the while spouting foolish recollections so she'd remember him. The bodyguard on her right became more interested in Reggie than Rose seemed to be, turning abruptly to block his path. Reggie's exclamations met more forceful contradictions from the much larger man. Nothing mattered to Reggie but her recognition. The one tie to that night was walking away from him. He couldn't let that happen. He fought harder, causing a scene.
Shoving ensued. Reggie's feet left the ground in the grasp of the giant and he turned them into weapons, flailing in every direction in a desperate attempt to pursue the disappearing woman. Finally, having had enough of Reggie's futile struggles, the bodyguard hurled him toward the stone building. Reggie felt the feeling of flying and was suddenly not traveling towards a stone facade, but away from the terrific blast of an improvised explosive device in a far off desert. The shattering glass and red glow of the window his body made contact with was not a whore's playhouse, but shrapnel and best friend's blood raining down around him. The bodyguard left him with one swift kick and Reggie sat in the ruins of a window and a memory.
And he finally cried.