CHAPTER 1 - PHONE CALL

Like a bad roller coaster ride, my first year at Texas A&M University made me sick. For the most part, I was really lost and I didn't know what to do. After my first semester, my grades clearly showed that I was in desperate need of help. My second semester confirmed it. I got a letter from the university stating that I had to stay home and prove to them that I can be serious with my studies. One way to do that was to stay home for a semester while going to the local community college. With the criteria set, all I had to do was meet that criteria and the university would welcome me back.

During that summer, Sidney and I took a history class together. Sidney is a close friend of mine who Iíve known since high school, and we got along real well because his relationships were messed up like mine and also because his philosophical thinking matched mine like no other person I know. I can finish his sentences and he can begin mine. Our thoughts are so symmetrical that itís scary to try and dissect. The biggest difference between us is that Sidneyís an excellent liar. He can lie with the best of them. He can look you straight in the eye, talk to you with his normal voice and tell you a bold untruth. For the most part, he does it to keep himself entertained and to find out how far he can go with it.

We can sit in our favorite restaurant (itís really not your traditional restaurant but we like to think of it as such - we call it The House) and talk for hours over a cup of coffee or a cold glass of tea - depending on the weather, and of course, smoking some twigs till it was either time to go home or we ran out of stories to tell - whichever came first.

Our blueprint for action originates from The House, and it is there, that we spend innumerable hours calculating the dimensions for our problems that we both know can never be resolved. We never reach a solution, but the coffee is great, which always makes up for the lack of ingenuity on both our parts.

"So G funky, are you ready for this bushwhack summer school?"

"G funky?"

"Yeah, thatís my ghetto slang."

"OK. Yeah, I guess Iím ready."

"How long are you out for?"

"They said I have to go to a different school and get my grades up."

"Man, Dylan, that's rough, but you'll be fine. Summer school's gonna suck like hell, but you'll be fine. We'll tear up this joint and flip it upside down. Yeah!"

"What are you talking about?"

"Nothing man, just talking nonsense. Hey, don't look yet, but check out that girl over there! Wooo Hooo!"

"She's alright."

"Alright? Man, that girl is like an investment man, she just keeps compounding. I don't know what she's doing with that loser boyfriend of hers, probably some crack smoker or a dope fiend."

"She's alright."

"Man, I don't know what you're talking about. You're always interested in those fancy shmancy girls! You want one that wears nice clothes and shit like that."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing man, that's your gig."

"I don't know about fancy clothes, but I just want someone that knows how to - well, you know."

"LOVE! I got your gig D-man, we've talked about this before, but you need to get out of that bandwagon bull shit and just go with the flow. That love jive ain't nothin' but a first class ticket to loserville."

"So you don't want one that loves you?"

"Hey, as long as she walks, talks, and breathes, that's fine with me. Hell, she doesnít even have to talk."

"You're crazy."

"No youíre crazy. You know we sit here all the time and talk about all the girls we've dated and all that stupid stuff. Well, I'm sick of that man. A girl wants one thing and you know what? We got that one thing. Now, you may have this sicko emotional cry baby who wants love, but I think it's all a big act. I don't think they dig that shit any more than we do. I've seen some girls that don't give a donkey's ass about love. They all want one thing. And that one thing ain't love."

I didn't say anything.

"Donkey's ass - get it?"

I shook my head.

"Come on man, donkey's ass - ain't that oxymoron or some shit like that. Come on - you're a writer, you're supposed to appreciate that mumbo jumbo."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. So you're saying that girls don't want love."

"I'm not saying that for all of them. Like I said, you got these sick whino babies who want love, but for the most part, they're just looking for that company, that man in their life. Love is in the books, in the movies, it's not for people in our world. It's purely a sick joke that someone made up that everyone fell for."

"Man, I don't know about that."

"Come on. Remember that girl Leslie who I fell in love with in high school. I was all over that chick like a pig on a blanket. I was all over that stupid girl. Man she was my first love, but I won't get into that right now. My point is that do you think that she was after love? Can you honestly look me in the eye and say that she wanted love from me?"

I didn't say anything.

"I didn't think so. You know and I know and that whole fucking High School knows that she wasn't out for love. You know I hate saying this about her, but she just wanted to fuck the living daylights out of me and go to the next one. ĎWham, bam, thank you Sam.í If I would have known that, I would have had more fun, but I didn't. I was out for love and I got jack hammered. That girl twisted me upside down and I'm still feeling the repercussions up to this day."

"But all girls aren't like that."

"I said that already. I'm just saying that most of them donít want love."

"What percentage are you talking about here?"

"About 92 percent."

"92 percent! 92 percent! You're saying that 92 percent of the women on this planet don't want love?"

"Yup."

"Where the hell did you get that bullshit?"

"Out of my ass. I get all this crap out of my ass."

"Listen, you're right about Leslie, but I still think love exists. We may not have seen it yet, but I think love exists."

"Say what you say D-man, but love is a tool for fools."

* * *

I didn't really think that Sidney believed what he was saying. For the most part, he was just really upset that day because we saw Leslie drive across the street with another guy licking her face like a sick puppy. It was a sad display of physical emotions, but like Sidney said, Leslie was that type of girl. Ever since that day, Sidney hasn't been the same and from that point forward, he vowed never to fall in love again. Even though his thoughts concerning love turned sour, this didn't stop him from looking at girls.

Even with Sidney there, I hated going to summer school. I knew almost everyone there because thatís where everyone went during the summer, and of course, seeing some of your old high school friends was an invitation to puke heaven.

"How are you?"

"Fine, how are you?"

Of course you had to smile when you said that, but it was so phony. I was so happy to see Sidney that summer. Being in a class with a guy like Sidney makes the two hours go by fast. We sat at the very back row of the auditorium. We saw everyone going in, finding their seats, and looking for their friends. Everyone was wearing their respective university tee shirts just so you would notice that they go to a fancy university. It was all phony. I would have done anything to get out of summer school.

But it wasnít all bad I guess. If there was anything that carried me through the summer, it would have had to have been Anna. Anna was this girl in our history class that looked just like Dolores OíRiordan from the cranberries. You see, the cranberries is my favorite band because Dolores OíRiordan, is the lead singer for them. The first time we saw Anna, Sidney and I both said, "There goes Dolores." Neither one of us skipped the rest of the summer.

One day, Sidney decided he would talk to her. Sidney is pretty smooth when talking about things that he would do, but when it comes down to it, heís a bona fide chicken. I didnít think he would have the balls to talk to Anna because at this point, she was heralded as a goddess. Talking to her would have definitely separated him from the rest of the boys and establish him as "the man."

Thereís always a fifteen minute break and itís during this time that some of the students go outside for a cigarette and Anna happened to be one of them. I didnít go outside with him for I didnít want him to see me laughing and making him feel stupid. I could see through the glass doors, but I couldnít hear anything. All I could see was him standing beside her, while she was sitting down at the steps. It looked really cool but it didnít last long.

After a few minutes, Sidney walked in and looked like a boy who just did something terrible. I asked him what happened and he didnít say anything. All he did was shake his head. He was smiling a little bit, but he wouldnít say a word. It wasnít until the end of the day that he finally blurted out what he said. This is what he said to her, "Will you buy me a coke?" Needless to say, all she did was look up at him and gave him the look, the look that said, "youíre stupid and dumb so stop talking to me." I asked him just to make sure he wasnít pulling my leg, and he gave me the nod, the nod that assured me that he was telling the truth. I couldnít stop laughing. He just kept shaking his head.

Sidney didnít look at Anna after that incident, but he never stopped shaking his head when he saw her. On the second to the last day of class, I finally decided to take my shot at talking to her. We had this picture of this woman that we took in an airplane on our way to Cancun, Mexico. The woman looked like Dolores OíRiordan so I told my sister to take her picture. All she got was the back of her head, but even with that, she still looked like Dolores. Since Anna looked like Dolores, I was going to show Anna the picture and ask her if it was her.

So that day, I went up to her and said, "Hey, I was wondering if this was you." I handed her the picture and she smiled. I was feeling pretty good. She kept looking at it, focusing with every intent of justifying that it wasnít her. She just kept smiling and finally she looked up and said, "No, I havenít been on vacation in a long time." But she couldnít stop smiling. She handed it back to me and I said, "I just thought it was pretty cool that you and this lady had the same hair and happened to have three earrings on your left ear." I somewhat lost my pretty good feeling after I said that, but she looked at the picture again, and this time she didnít say anything. She just smiled. I took the picture and left. I should have said something else, but I was pretty proud for what I did.

The next day, which was the last day of class, I decided I would do something else. Before class started, I waited for her outside to see what kind of car she drove. I bought this greeting card and I was going to leave it on her car. The card had this lame joke in the front about some llamas drinking some beer and being thirsty - something like that. I left that card on her car and I walked inside the classroom. We were taking our finals and she finished ahead of me. As soon as I finished, I went straight outside and peeked through the glass doors. I saw her waiting and smoking her cigarette. I was too nervous to walk outside so I went to the restroom. When I finally went outside, I noticed that she had left. I ran to the parking lot and saw that her car was gone. I didnít see the card on the ground or anything so I thought that it was at least a good sign. I waited anxiously for her to call me that day or at least that week, but there were no calls. A few weeks passed and summer school was nearing its end.

Four weeks passed and the fall semester was about to begin. Summer school was completely over and my car needed a tune up and an oil change. Even though I wasnít driving all the way back to the university that semester, I still needed to take care of my car. One morning around 7, I woke up and drove myself to Firestone. We always get our car fixed there and theyíre very nice to us because theyíre scared of my Dad. It wasnít even an hour until my car was ready. I was driving home when I noticed whose car was in front of me. I wasnít sure at first so I drove right next to it. I couldnít believe who I saw. The person driving this blue 1984 Mustang convertible was none other than Anna. Itís 7:45 AM in the middle of Interstate 80 and Anna just cut in front of me. I couldnít believe it. She didnít see me so I decided that I would follow her. After all, my car was just tuned up and oil changed, so I knew that it could handle it. Plus, summer school was over and I didnít have anything else to do. I stayed back behind two other cars and kept a keen eye on her blue convertible. We passed my exit and were driving toward Arlington. I didnít know where she was headed but I thought that she might head up there. I certainly didnít think that she was going where we ended up.

I followed Anna from Mesquite all the way to Waco, which is about a hundred miles. She was headed for school. I really didnít know what to do once we stopped driving because all this time, I just wanted to follow her. Thatís when I started to panic because I didnít have a plan. We exited off 17th Street and we stopped at the stoplight. The only problem was that she made a left turn and my lane could only go straight. I tried merging and turning but there were too many cars and by then, she was out of sight. I stopped at the Texaco up ahead and got some gas and a pack of Marlboro reds. I drove around the campus looking for that blue convertible Mustang, but luck was not on my side. Driving home didnít seem as long as compared to getting there. I was pretty excited about the whole thing and I just kept laughing and laughing. I kept thinking, "The things we do... the things we do..." As soon as I got home, I called her university and asked for her phone number. I was amazed on how quickly they gave it to me. They even gave me her dorm room number. I called that number but some guy answered it so I hung up. Two weeks later, I decided that I would ask her out. That night, I worked up the nerve and planned out our conversation.

Sometimes, depending on the person, I get real nervous about asking them out, especially on the phone. I donít do this anymore, but at the time, I wrote out the first part and what I wanted to say because if I didnít, I would have stuttered and it would have been far from being cool. I started dialing the number I got from the university. I was getting nervous. Each number was closer to infinite embarrassment. The phone rang twice and still no one picked it up. Finally, the answering machine picked up and said, "You reached Anna and Valerieís room. Weíre not here right now so leave a message!" I hung up.

I let the phone rest on my hand. I got up and started pacing back and forth. I was beginning to calm down and decided to call again. The phone rang and after the third ring, a voice picked up and said, "Hello." I couldnít get anything to come out and the voice again said, "Hello." Finally, I took my notes and crumbled them in my hands.

"Hello. May I speak with Anna please?"

"This is her."

"Hey, ummmm - this is Dylan..."

Silence.

"I was wondering if you wanted to get lunch or something?" I asked.

"Dylan? .. .. well - Iím sorry - but do I know you? Have we met?"

Her voice was pleasant and soothing. I was feeling less and less anxious, even though she didnít talk much.

"Well, I gave you this card this summer."

Silence.

"I gave you this card... did you get it?" I repeated.

"No, I didnít."

I was feeling pretty good because that would explain the fact that she didnít call back. But at this point, she didnít know who I was so I felt really stupid.

"Well - I was in your history class this summer."

"Iím sorry, but I really donít remember... Have we met?"

"Well, not technically, but I showed you this picture during class."

Silence.

"You donít remember?" I asked.

She started laughing. She had a wonderful laugh.

"Iím sorry, but I really donít," she said.

"You know.. ..at Eastfield.. ..we had history - you know - Mr. Sharpís class."

"Iím sorry, but I didnít go to school this summer."

Silence.

"Is this Anna?"

"Yeah."

"Anna Gray?"

"No, Anna Madison."

"Youíre not Anna Gray?"

"NoÖ"

"Well, is she there?"

"NoÖ" She laughed again.

She confirmed that I called the right number and it was at this point that I became desperate. I never felt so embarrassed in my entire life. I asked her if she knew Anna Gray and she said she didnít. It turned out that Anna Gray moved out of that dorm room and another Anna, in this case, Anna Madison, moved in. I apologized for inconveniencing her and she was very nice and charming on the phone. I was impressed by the way she handled it and I shared her my story - although not the entire story, but just that I was looking for Anna Gray. We discussed the irony of the situation and we talked for a few minutes after that. I apologized again and she asked me not to worry about it. After I hung up, I dialed information. I asked for Anna Grayís phone number and this time they gave me a different phone number. I called the new number.

"Hello."

"Hello, May I speak with Anna please?" I wasnít as nervous.

"This is her."

"Anna Gray?"

"Yes."

"Hey, this is Dylan, from your history class this summer."

"Oh... hey..."

"I was wondering if you were doing anything tomorrow... I was driving through Waco on my way to school and maybe we could have lunch or something?"

She didnít hesitate.

"Sure."

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"So, I guess Iíll call you when I get there."

"OK... Just give me a call."

"So, Iíll talk to you later."

"Alright."

I hung up the phone and started jumping up and down. I couldnít believe what I had just done. I was screaming and running down the hall slam dunking the imaginary goal in front of me. I was doing the Cabbage Patch and the Roger Rabbit at the same time. I was so excited. I asked Lauren if I could borrow her car so that there wouldnít be any car troubles. I drove to Waco from Eastfield Community College around 10 AM and on my way there, the weather was awful. I could barely see through the windshield as the rain was pouring sideways. I got there an hour and a half later and I called from a gas station to find out where she lived.

"Can I use your phone?"

"Outside."

"But it's raining, don't you have a phone in here?"

"Outside."

I just looked at him. He was reading his magazine, while smoking some cheap cigarette.

"Can I at least get some change?"

"You have to buy something."

"What?"

"I can't open the register if you don't buy something."

I let out a sigh of anguish.

"Alright, I'll take a box of reds."

"You have your ID?"

"Do I look seventeen to you?"

He finally looked up.

"ID."

I walked outside in the rain and back in my car. I got my wallet and found my driver's license. After getting my change, I called Anna from the payphone. The rain was less severe, but the wind was really picking up. I could barely put the dimes in the slot, but the numbers were easier to dial this time. The phone rang and this girl said hello. I asked to speak to Anna and she asked me to wait.

"Hey Anna."

"Hey."

"Are you ready?" I asked, again.

Silence.

"Hey Dylan... I canít go to lunch today... Iím really busy... I have to go to the library today Ďcause Iím going out of town this weekend... I have a lot of stuff to do."

"Oh..."

"I hope you havenít left yet."

Silence. All I could hear was the rain.

"Dylan?"

"Actually, Iím already here," I replied.

"Oh..."

"Well donít worry about it... itís OK, I have stuff to do here anyway."

"Are you sure... I mean, I feel so bad... are you sure?"

"Yeah... Iíll talk to you later..."

"Bye."

I couldnít hang up the phone. I just stood there. "Why didn't she call me and tell me this?" I was lost. I didnít know what to do and I realized that Iím in a city where I didnít belong, and all because of some girl that doesnít even know my last name. "What was I thinking?" I finally left the gas station after the rain started again. I walked inside a coffee shop across the street. It was fairly small, but they had a fireplace. I love fireplaces. I was glad to see that there weren't a lot of people there. They had a lot of art displayed on the wall, including this piece that I couldn't take my eyes off. It was a mold of this manís face that was pressed against this iron screen. His face is pushed against the screen with his right hand trying to pull away. While looking away from you, his left hand is sticking out from the screen, like heís showing you something. I couldn't tell what it was. I walked closer to it so I could see what he was holding in his hand.

"Itís his heart," she said while going back to her seat to read her book. I looked at her, but she wouldnít look back. I walked up to the counter to order.

"Can I get you anything?" the waitress asked.

"Yes, Iíll take your house coffeeÖ regular."

I found a spot beside the fireplace. The warmth of the mug and the heat from the fire were a perfect combination to my wet look. I placed my jacket on the rack and after finding an ashtray, I slumped myself on the couch. I closed my eyes and let the warmth of the fire comfort me.

"Would you like more coffee?" the waitress asked.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"I was just wondering if you wanted more coffee."

"Actually, I need a light. Mine got wet." I showed her my worthless matches.

"I'm sorry I don't."

She gave me the look that she didn't really care. As she walked away, I gave a big sound of anguish and slumped against the couch, with an unlit cigarette between my fingers. Within a few moments, the waitress walked back.

"Here you go." She handed me a lighter.

"I thought you didn't have one."

"I don't, but she did and she said you could borrow it." She said while pointing to the girl sitting on a table behind me. The waitress walked away.

I turned around and looked at the girl sitting on the table. She still didnít look back. But as I lit my cigarette, she did something that completely knocked me out. She grabbed a tiny wooden stick from her backpack and held it between her lips. While reading the book in front of her, she grabbed her hair and casually started putting it up, the way only a woman would know. She took the stick, still between her lips, and carefully placed the stick between her hair, with a stabbing effect. Thereís just something about the way a woman puts her hair up.

I walked to her table after lighting my cigarette.

"Thanks for the..."

"SSSHHHH..." she whispered, while gesturing with her hands asking me to wait. She was close to the last page when she started crying. I was staring at her, with her hair up, and she was crying. Her lips were moving slowly and she kept wiping her nose. I turned away and smiled. I sat back on the couch, still holding on to her lighter. After a few minutes, she sat on the other end of the couch.

"Are you alright?" I asked.

"It's just this book - it's so good," she said while wiping her nose with a tissue.

"What is it?" I asked.

"What?"

"What's the name of the book?"

"The Notebook," she said while looking at the cover.

"Oh, isn't that by Nicholas Sparks?" I asked.

Her eyes lit up. With her tears, her eyes glistened like sparkling stars.

"You've read it?" she asked.

"Yeah."

She didn't believe me. "No you haven't."

"Yeah, I could tell you all about it if you want." I said while lighting another cigarette.

"Alright. Go ahead."

"What?"

"Tell me about it."

I talked about the book from beginning to end. She was surprised that I could actually tell her the story, and when I got to the good parts, she started crying. I handed her a tissue while she smiled at herself. She had a beautiful smile. Her smile made me forget why I wanted to kill myself.

"What was your favorite part?" she asked.

"Actually, when I found out what he was doing, I thought that was really cool. I didn't get it until I finished reading the book - exactly what was going on, and their conversations when they were walking. I thought that part was sad."

She started wiping her eyes with her hands.

"I also liked the letters. Those were really the best parts. How about you?"

She didn't say anything. She was too busy wiping her nose and her eyes.

"Are you laughing at me?" She asked.

"No, I'm sorry..." I said while trying to keep from laughing.

"You are laughing at me!" she said while punching me on the arm.

"No really, I'm not!"

She just looked at me with disbelief. There was something about the way she looked sitting on the couch. She was sitting comfortably, almost childlike, yet with the grace and style of a sophisticated woman. There was definitely something different about her eyes. There was something about them that made me feel like I belonged. They made me feel alive.

"Well, I'm sorry for being so emotional. I think it's the weather, but really - it's a good story. I haven't read anything like that in a long time."

"You're right." I said.

"So why are you still laughing?"

"I'm sorry. I'll stop laughing. Here I'll make it up to you. Let me buy you another cup."

I walked to the counter and ordered two more cups of coffee. Before the waitress could fill the second cup, she walked to the counter. I looked at her and when I did, she smiled. It wasnít really a smile, but more of her lips forming some sort of portrait that drove me completely insane.

"Hey, you don't have to do this," she said.

"But, I don't want you to be upset at me."

"Oh, I'm sure I look funny crying over a story."

"Nonsense, I think that's cute."

She tried, but she couldn't help but blush.

"ThanksÖ but I do have to go. Thanks for the coffee."

"Alright."

Just before she walked out the door, she turned around and waved. I took the cup and when I sat back on the couch, I noticed that I still had her lighter. I took it out and lit a cigarette. I was playing with the cover, opening and closing it several times, when I felt the engraving on the shell:

A C M

I looked at it again to make sure. After a few minutes, I walked outside to see if she was still there, but I didn't see anyone. I left the coffee shop and I drove around campus to see if I could find her. It started raining and I could barely see through my windshield. I must have smoked a dozen cigarettes before I headed home.

Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 7