I got on the hotel elevator, and pushed '4'. At '2' a fashionably dressed woman got on, gave me a pleasant brisk smile, and looked away. Obviously not a Portlander; a little too smart. Here on business, perhaps. Now what would that business be?
I met her eyes again. An incredulous look was dawning on her face. Mirrored on mine, I suppose. "Annie?" I ventured.
"Ann," I corrected. That, I knew, was what she went by now.
"Dale!" she said. We hugged. Took a good look at each other. I had last seen her, when? In 1974? She had been a rather dowdy and subfusc teenager then, intense and inturned, her innate luminosity blossoming only at odd moments of self-forgetfulness -- no teenager, alas, has many such moments. Now it had risen to the surface; she was voluble, confident, and stylish. We chattered away as we went on up to the room.
Not such a coincidence to meet, here; I was on my way up to the room she was sharing with Wilbur. But I would have been prepared to see her there. Here the surprise was so deep. Thirty-four years puts some slack in a tie; we reeled it in, talking of who knows what.
We opened the door. New hugs, new startlement: it was Billy. Wilbur, I mean. But it was Billy. The years seemed to have touched him not at all. Ann and I were a generation older, but he was a young man still, eager as ever, beads around his neck, the least disillusioned of the three of us. Ann and I, I think, hope mostly to be able to defer the future until after we, anyway, are safely out of it; but he still looks forward to it. And his enthusiasm swept us along.
High school buddies. We drove about until we found the new trendy neighborhood of Portland, which I, typically, didn't know about, but which they, typically, did, even though I was the native and they were out-of-staters: Mississipi Avenue. I'd never even been there. But we found a lovely cafe and had brunch and talked and talked. They had both fallen in love with Portland.
"Why," said Ann, "is everyone so happy and nice here?"
Well, largely because Ann and Wilbur were so happy and expansive. Wilbur, of course, has always been ready to talk to anyone; and Ann was so happy to be out of her somewhat depressing daily round at home. They stopped to ask people where to eat, and chatted up the waitress when we got there; their verve was irresistable, and I'm not surprised that Portland, a good-natured and friendly, but not very outgoing town, responded to them by flowering, like a shy woman at a party carried away and made bold by meeting a man who can talk.
I had a massage scheduled. As I drove them back to the hotel we made plans for the next evening. "Maybe I can even talk Martha into going out," I said. "Here," said Wilbur gaily, "bribe her with this." He slipped off his glittery rhinestone bracelet and handed it forward from the backseat. "Tell her she has to come."
I drove home from my massage, after dark, along the dark streets of the industrial district along the Columbia; very dark, but punctuated by brilliant streetlights. The bracelet on the dashboard sparkled, blazed, corruscated, every time I drove under one.