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Asha needed to explain to someone the art of making tea. It didn’t even require much expertise, she didn’t think, but the toilet water that she forcibly threw down her throat suggested that some people needed assistance with even the simplest things in life. No one should be offered such a horrible drink, especially not in a place like this where everything was already depressing.

Placing the empty cup back on its coaster, Asha sat back in the soft loveseat whose arms were weathered with age and constant rubbing of anxious hands.

“Shay?”

At the sound of the voice, she answered because it had been a while since anyone addressed her by that name.

“Tell Tash I’m still waiting for her to get that law degree.”

Asha looked at her dad. At the smooth wrinkle less skin and the luscious hair only slightly sprinkled with gray, then at his auburn eyes that she used to peer into hoping to glean some of the knowledge they held, but that she now peered into only wishing that they recognized her. She nodded placing on a smile that she knew didn’t reach her moistened eyes.

Asha was the lawyer.

And she had been out of law school for five years.

Open-Ended Questions

I’ve always liked to look into people’s houses.

Ask anyone that spends time with me in a car ride. When the music is down low and I’m off staring through the raindrops on my window, you can be sure my eyes are trained on wherever the light shines.

On that perfect christmas tree wondering how long it took the family to put it together…and if they fought over who got to put the star on top.

On the crusty fireplace with wood still stacked high although it’s the middle of July.

On the tv left on with nobody watching, on the silhouettes in what looks like the kitchen, limbs dancing in evangelical delight as they tell the craziest story.

I sit in wonder. Wonder about all the stories I will never get to hear and all the living, breathing beings that materialize as open-ended questions when they pass me by. I wonder about how we as human beings have such a strong desire to connect. I wonder if that’s because there’s so little we know about each other. With every new fact you learn about your best friend, there’s a billion other facts about a billion other people I don’t even know exist.

But that’s the source of all our energy isn’t it? The sense of thrill that accompanies the ignorance. The freedom to supply your own answer with the possibility that the real one could be a million times more interesting…or commonplace.

Maybe after a long winded ten hours, a family of four hauled that tree from the forest and finally fit it into their living room….or maybe a Walmart employee delivered it to their doorstep.

Maybe that fireplace has a mythical legend behind it, beseeching the superstitious owner of the house to leave the wood stocked lest they face an eternal winter…or maybe there’s a stressed single parent inside who can just never seem to find the time.

And why is the TV playing to the empty couch? Was the couple watching suddenly dragged out the backdoor by a couple of rogue IRS officers?…Or did the family dog step on the remote again?

The best thing about these questions is that I don’t have the answer. Every new house I pass is a new adventure and a reminder that stories never end. That’s why I look into people’s houses because although I see them for only seconds at a time, the ideas they spark are forever. And nothing is more inspiring than an open-ended question.

Six Words

This is one of the first stories that I ever wrote. It is, therefore, very special to me and I hope it makes you feel something.


 

Jasmine. That’s what she smelt like. My nose was overpowered with the fragrance until it became the only thing I could focus on. Not that I was complaining. I could breathe this in for the rest of my life and be perfectly content. The perfume she exuded, however, was just the icing on the cake. Even without it, she would never fail to win my undivided attention.

I was never one to dote on girls that I liked, what with the minuscule shred of confidence that I have. I could never muster up the courage to do more than admire from afar because they were all so out of my league. Chelsea was no different. We stood on diametric ends of the spectrum. She was gorgeous, witty, and out-going whereas I was, well, nowhere near any of the above. With plain brown hair and plain brown eyes, I’m nothing special. Even if, magically, I managed to form a complete sentence and talk to her, I feared that she would be indignant towards me and that would just do wonders for my self-esteem. Therefore, I figured it best to remain behind the safety of my cubicle where I can still steal a few quick glances, or 10.

Frankly, my friend, Jonah, was getting sick of this behavior. My nonexistent love life seemed to have upset him more than it did me. According to him, the inculcation he gave me on how to approach Chelsea was going in one ear and out the other. Since I wasn’t doing anything, he threatened to take matters into his own hands and stir up a diabolical plan to get us together. Seeing how his last plan had almost cost me my legs and gotten us fired, I didn’t want to take any chances. He would most likely cause defamation to my name, permanently deleting any shots I had with Chelsea. So when she entered the elevator with me this morning, I thought it was as a best time as any for me to suck it up and speak to her.

Believe me, I had every intention of saying ‘Good Morning’ out of deference but when she stood a mere five feet away from me, my mouth went as dry as the Sahara. The fact that she looked exceptionally perfect today and that we were the only two people in the elevator didn’t help much either. She was wearing a simple blue dress, which made her complexion look vibrant and her red hair stand out. Be still my heart. Literally. It was palpitating as if I just finished the 100 mile dash. My lungs also decided to stop working at this moment. Either that or someone vacuumed out all of the oxygen leaving us in here to die. I figured it was the former though because Chelsea didn’t seem like she was struggling to breathe.

The temperature got really hot and my hands started to sweat but I also guessed that it was just me. Our office for The Boston Globe was on the fourth floor, I didn’t know how much longer I could take this. I tried collecting my saliva so I could moisturize the inside of my mouth and wiped my palms on my pants. Fidgeting with my tie, I thought to myself, you can do this, Kyle. On a scale of 1-10, you’re about a 4 which is at least better than a 1, the way I see it. I mentally rolled my eyes at my fail attempt at boosting my confidence level. Compliment her. No. That’s too risky. I might end up saying something like “I like your fingernails.” I rather not come off as some creepy guy with a weird fetish for women’s fingernails.

The number 3 lit up signaling that we had reached the third floor and my time was clearly running out. Just say hello! It shouldn’t be this hard. Don’t think. Just do it. Do it. Now! Right now! “Hi Chelsea.” I suddenly blurted out. Instead of a calm, easy greeting, it sounded like someone performed the Heimlich maneuver on me and those words were what I threw up. Either she ignored it or she didn’t seem to notice because she twisted her neck, laid her gray eyes on me and offered a sweet smile.

“Hey Kyle. How are you?”

Her smile could easily light up a room and her eyes were so intense that I was captivated, rooted to her gaze. She asked you a question, idiot. “I’m good and yourself?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “Can’t complain.”

The elevator doors finally opened on the fourth floor, releasing me from the enclosed space. My nerves began to relax just as Chelsea stepped out with me close behind. She told me that she didn’t mean to rush but she had an article to write. With one last smile and a flip of her hair, she left me in the hall. The scent of jasmine was gone and I found myself missing it. Although it wasn’t much, that conversation could have gone a lot worse.  I was quite proud of what I accomplished. That’s six words more than yesterday. Maybe this isn’t such a lost cause. Maybe I’ll try six more words tomorrow.