An Unexpected Source of Information

It really was a great photograph.

I stared at the picture in front of me, my eyes shifting from one man to the next, all perched precariously yet carelessly on a beam high above the city skyline. I swallowed. I felt nervous just looking at them, but it certainly made for a captivating photograph.

And so there I was, at one of the most touristy places in New York City, standing motionless on the first floor of 30 Rockefeller center, staring at a copy of Lunch Atop a Skyscraper as even the tourists bustled past me.

I blinked, looking from one man to the next, finding myself wondering what each of their stories were. Were they native New Yorkers, ones who believed in a bright future despite the economic despair around them? Were they from elsewhere, having moved to New York to seek better fortunes? Did they get what they wanted? Did they get what they wanted by moving to New York?

I shifted. I was still unused to wearing heels, even the kitten ones that I've just started to wear for work, and it was making me slightly uncomfortable.

"Ah, the photograph at its source," said a voice from next to me.

I turned around, half expecting to see a stranger, definitely not prepared to see her.

"I've always liked this one," Abigail smiled, her eyes sparkling the same way they did in Andrew's photographs of her. "I always liked the fact that they hung this at the Rockefeller Center, the iconic photograph about the construction of an iconic building. Wonder if these people could imagine just how glamorous this building would turn out to be like," she said, gesturing with a little shake of her head towards the photograph.

I wondered if it was a habit of hers to stop by and chat with strangers about photographs, because I was sure she didn't remember me. The time that she talked, however, did give me time enough to recover from my shock at seeing her that I could say something.

"Probably not," I said politely, giving a little laugh that I hope didn't sound too forced. "It's a shame we don't know their stories though."

Abigail didn't say anything in reply. Instead, she looked at me, a curious expression in her eyes. A small smile played at her lips that seemed friendly but at the same time reserved and polite.

She surprised me once again.

"I don't know if you remember me," she said, her voice soft. "But we've met before. I'm -

"Abigail," I finished for her. "I remember."

Her smile deepened. "Hi Violet," she said.

"Hi," I said back, still surprised that she remembered. "It's a small world, running into you here."

It was only just one city, but this one city was huge.

"I work here," Abigail replied, gesturing towards the building at large. "At a law firm on the 28th floor. I just got off work."

It was 10:30 at night, but I guessed that that wasn't unusual at New York City law firms. And indeed, she was dressed for the part of an employee at a prestigious law firm. Pencil skirt, heels, a long sleeved, silky blouse, and perfectly done wavy hair.

"Oh you're a lawyer?" I asked, not sure if I had known this fact before. I searched my brain, but for some reason I couldn't remember. I couldn't remember a lot of what Andrew had told me about her. In fact, the only thing I could recall vividly was the way she looked in Andrew's photographs.

She was perhaps a little older now, but not that much had changed.

"Yes," she replied. Then, there was a small and slightly awkward pause before she asked, "How about you?"

I blinked, and in the back of my mind I couldn't help but wonder if she knew that I didn't work for Andrew anymore. If she knew that I was no longer his assistant. That we barely saw one another anymore.

"Oh, I just started a job recently at the New York Times," I replied. "I'm working to be a journalist. This building's on my way home, and sometimes I stop by to people watch," I said, a little sheepishly.

It was true, since I lived far enough away from central Manhattan to miss some of the life and vividness of being there, I liked to wander around for a bit after work, grab a bite to eat, or sit and write in some shot or restaurant downtown before I went back home for the night. Today it just happened to be Rockefeller Center. And today I just happened to run into Abigail.

She nodded politely, the small smile still on her face. She was friendly and approachable, and there was something radiant about her eyes. It wasn't hard to see why Andrew was so taken with her.

"Hey," she said suddenly, "Do you want to grab a quick coffee? I know it's late and you probably want to head back home, so I can understand if you have to leave, but I thought, since we're both here…" she trailed off, looking at me hopefully.

I was surprised, for sure. It wasn't as if we were friends. No, it wasn't as if were friends at all, but perhaps she didn't know who I was. In all likelihood, Andrew had told her nothing about me save that I was his assistant. Perhaps she was looking to make a friend in the city much the same way I was.

It was on the tip of my tongue to turn her down. It was just too weird. But then I thought about it, and I realized, I had nothing against her. Our interactions, though minimal, were always cordial. And if I had met her through any other circumstance, and if Andrew didn't have photographs of her stored away somewhere with a folder labeled specifically for her, I would have wanted to be her friend.

And besides, it wasn't as if Andrew and I…

"You know what," I said, my voice coming out more genuinely enthusiastic about the idea than I even realized I was. "You know what, why not?"

Abigail give me a smile, a bigger one this time, the first one since she saw me that wasn't really reserved. "Great, I know a great coffee place right around the corner."

And so we walked and talked in a pair that I never imagined I would be a part of. She was right. She did know a great coffee spot, a little shop tucked away at one corner of the busy plaza, somehow hidden away enough that it wasn't invaded by tourists. We sat down, ordered our drinks, and the conversation flowed with surprising ease.

We both talked about moving to New York. We were both relative newcomers, although I was slightly newer than her. Abigail was originally from Boston, another big city, and she had lots of friends from college and law school who was working in New York City, so it made the transition less lonely, even though it was still taking her some getting used to. I found out that she lived in an apartment by herself in Chelsea, a one bedroom that she decorated herself because she 'loves pretending I could be good at interior decorating.' She frequented Chinatown because she was a sucker for Chinese food, and she liked the challenge of her law firm, although she could do with better hours.

I told her about how I was adjusting moving to New York, my desire to be a journalist, my being from a small town in the South. It was surprisingly easy to talk to her. She seemed genuinely interested in my stories, in my background, and it seemed that she didn't really get a chance to meet many people like me. She was from a big town, and although she didn't mention where she went to school, I garnered that it was some Ivy League level university because all her friends seemed to be working at shiny jobs in shiny firms at big cities.

It wasn't long before half an hour passed, really in the blink of an eye. If this was Tennessee, the coffee shop would have long closed. It would have closed before we even got to the place, but since this was New York, it was going to remain open until midnight.

"So…" Abigail trailed off, turning her coffee cup in her hands. We had just finished talking about where we see ourselves in the next five years. "'re things with Andrew?"

My lips parted, but my throat felt parched. I stared at her, but her expression remained in that polite, interested look that told me nothing I wanted to know in the moment.

"What?" I asked, not knowing what else to say. I brought my cup of tea to my lips, took a sip, but found that it did nothing to solve the parched feeling in my throat.

"I mean," and here she smiled a little ruefully, a little sadly, but not unkindly. "I mean, I assume you guys are together?"

It was a question, but not a taunting one. Not one where she was being sarcastic or where she knew I wasn't with Andrew but wanted to point this jab of a question at me anyways.

No, and I realized this with conviction as I stared back at her. No, she was asking me because she was genuinely curious, and because she truly believed that there was a possibility that Andrew and I were together.

And that baffled me.

"What?" I let out, a sound that was barely a whisper. I could not comprehend what was going on. This, more than even her appearance next to me today, surprised me.

She seemed confused but my bewilderment. "Um...are you guys not?"

I stared at her, wondering if this girl was for real. Wondering if we were talking about the same Andrew or not. Wondering if I had somehow developed momentary amnesia and there was a part of my own story that I was missing.

I shook my head. "No," I let out. "No, we're not. We're...I mean...I mean, Andrew and I aren't even really in contact anymore."

It wasn't really true. The trip with him to Tennessee had just concluded last week. We were in contact then. We were in contact all the way throughout the flight back to New York and then back to Manhattan from JFK airport. But we hadn't been in contact since.

That almost kiss back in the hotel room had severed whatever connection we might have had the potential to build on that trip.

Abigail's expression didn't change much. She didn't smile, or seem relieved, or seem gleeful at my admission. In fact, if anything, she seemed more surprised than ever.

"You aren't?" she asked, her voice incredulous, her eyes puzzled.

I frowned back, equally confused. "I mean, why would you think that?"

"Well, because," and suddenly, her face flushed, a pink that just tinged her cheeks. Her voice went quiet, so soft that if I wasn't leaning in, I might not have heard her. "Because he told me he couldn't be with me, because he wanted to be with you."

I blinked. I leaned back. I stared at her. There were a million questions swirling around my head, and I couldn't figure out which one to ask first. I tapped my fingers against my cup, hoping the movement, or at least the sound of my fingernails against the porcelain, would somehow soothe me.

It did no such thing.

She didn't seem to be lying. That was the most surprising thing of all.

"When did he tell you that?" I asked finally.

"Um...about two weeks ago?" her reply was filled with uncertainty, not at the answer she gave, but at the fact that I seemed to be so unaware.

Two weeks ago? Two weeks ago? We had come back from Tennessee a week ago. We had left for Tennessee a week and a half ago. And Andrew had told all this to Abigail before that? He had already told her when we left for our trip? He had already told her all this when we were in the hotel hallway together?

My head continued to spin.

"I'm sorry," I said finally, trying to make my questions come out clearly despite the jumbled up thoughts swirling in my head. "I'm sorry, but did Andrew tell you who I was?"

"I mean, yeah, of course," Abigail replied, her puzzled frown still frozen on her face. "I mean when we first met, we were introduced."

"No," I shook my head. "No, I don't mean when you first met me and I told you I was his assistant. Did he say anything about me besides that?"

And it turned out, he had told her everything. Andrew had really told Abigail everything about us. That I had started off applying for a job as his assistant, that things between us had gradually changed, that we had kissed, that he was hoping to see where things between us would go. That he had feelings for me.

I let out a breath I didn't even know I was holding when she was done with all this.

"But what about you two?" I asked.

Now it was Abigail's turn to look surprised by my line of questioning. "Us two?" she asked.

I nodded slowly. "Yeah, I and Andrew. He was so excited to see you show up. He kept pictures of you from years ago. He has a photograph of the place where you two met hanging in his room after all this time for goodness sake."

I didn't mean to sound so emotional, but nothing about this seemed to make any sense.

"I mean," I went on, because Abigail seemed to not know how to reply. Perhaps I told her even more than she knew, even more than what Andrew had told her. She probably didn't know about the photo of Bairro Alto in his room. She probably didn't know that it was the only photo he kept hanging in his room. "I mean, you guys went out to coffee the first day you came to his studio…" my voice trailed off numbly towards the end.

"Yeah, he told me about you over coffee," Abigail replied, rubbing her thumbs against her coffee cup absentmindedly. The cup tinkled against the saucer as it shifted with her movements. I stared at it. Stared at the ripples that was forming in the liquid in the cup. She went on. "I mean, it was pretty apparent even in the room that there was something going on between you two in the room, so even if he hadn't brought it up, I would have probably asked."

She looked at me, and gave a little laugh that was a bit nervous and a bit unsure. "And then he told me that he wasn't expecting me, and that he needed some time to think things through."

"You guys haven't been dating?" I stared, dumbfounded.

"No," Abigail shook her head. "No, I mean...after that day at coffee where Andrew said he needed some time to think things through, we didn't even really talk to each other. And then…" and here she swallowed. "And then two weeks ago, he called me up to talk. I mean, I think he's right about what he said then. That the time for the two of us was past, and that it was better for both of us to move on from that."

I was at a complete loss of what to say. How could this be? And if it was so, why didn't Andrew just tell me? Why didn't he just say something? Why did we go on for weeks and weeks where I drove myself crazy wondering if he was with Abigail, if he was busy going on dates with her this entire time?

I could think of nothing to say. I tried, I really tried, but no words came out of my mouth.

Instead, I could only stare at Abigail, my expression no doubt a reflection of the helplessness and incredulity she felt.

I couldn't comprehend why Andrew did this. I wasn't mad, I just didn't understand. I don't think what he did in any way benefited him at all.

I just couldn't wrap my head around it.

"You know," Abigail went on when I said nothing back. "You know, I wasn't sure when I saw you today if I should go over and talk to you or not. To be honest, it gave me quite a shock to see you there. But I thought, I really have nothing against you, and you genuinely seem like a good person, and I do want to get to know you."

That was almost an exact mirror of my thoughts, and I had no idea what to think.

I still had no idea what to think when we said goodbye to one another. We had ended up talking until the shop closed, and it was after midnight when I boarded the train home. I was going to be so tired at work tomorrow, but it wasn't as if I could sleep anyways.

Abigail and I had exchanged phone numbers. It was strange, strange to have talked to her for so long, strange to have her number in my contacts.

But most of all, it was strange to hear everything she had just said.

Once I got to my apartment, I locked the door behind me, turned on the light, took off my coat, and wondered how I was going to go to sleep that night.

I was wide-eyed all throughout my nighttime routine. As I was brushing my teeth, as I was changing into my pajamas, as I got into my bed.

Finally, admitting that I probably wasn't going to sleep that night, I picked up my phone, and I dialed Marina's number.

"Hello?" she picked up on the second ring. "Vi?"

I rarely called her this late, and she was already sounding concerned.

"Hi Marina," I said, "I know this is late, so if you don't have time…

"I've got time, Violet," she replied. "Talk to me."