I live my life as a story to give myself perspective and space, to make my actions have to be a bit more daring, but it is rare that I feel I have entered someone else's story exactly on cue. As I pass through the doors of the Acropolis Diner, I can almost hear the third person omniscient narrating "Little did he knowâ€¦"
Daniel, clad all in his characteristic black, sits across the Formica table from Hannah, lithe, pale, and bespectacled, her light blonde hair cropped short in a way that is superbly feminine. He silently picks at his omelet as she drawls about her boyfriend, her accent the product of rural Appalachia escaping to upstate New York. I later tell Melanie that Hannah has a Southern twang that is caught halfway between a dame with moxie (whatever that is) and a librarian in Virginia. They are two characters in the most authorial sense, but different genres entirely. She stepped from Tom Robbins's first draft of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, he vanished from a Grant Morrison short story on vampires. Yet they are roommates and, as their banter persists even as I take my seat beside Hannah, they get along wonderfully. With them, I feel more fictional, a condition I swore I was curing. Yet, in being fictional next to these characters, I felt more myself than I have since Melanie left. I simply do not know from what story I've come to join them, either since I have been too busy living it or because it only began when I opened the glass doors of the diner.
There is never a moment with them where I am a stranger. I've been speaking to Hannah for months online and, exactly once, on the phone when I called to ask if they were free to meet with me tonight. Just as Hannah does not stop discussing some moment with her boyfriend -- who is only referred to as Boyfriend -- because I have joined them, they do not regard me as anything other than a friend who has finally arrived. To this first meeting with Hannah and second with Daniel, I feel late at the very worst.
Daniel asks after Melanie, specifically how I am holding up on my own. I tell him I am doing well, that it is much easier being able to chat with her online on a regular basis and that I write daily letters or emails to her, that I intend to marry the girl when I get a chance. I appreciate his asking and acknowledging we have a moment of shared history and interest.
Once we arrive on the grounds of Vassar College, my stated destination when Hannah asked what we were going to do, Hannah immediately asks if the campus security is going to nab us for trespassing, given that the college let out weeks ago and summer session is yet to start.
"No, of course not. You look enough like a Vassar girl that you could get away with it. If security comes around, your name is Franny Glass," I contrive, assigning her the name of one of my favorite fictional characters, since she doesn't quite look like a "Valentine Wiggin."
Hannah immediately expands on this, filling in her imagined history as a double theater major with the ease of gossip. Daniel contributes nothing but a nod and a smile, but both speak his meaning perfectly.
I remember that Hannah works for a crazy family at a ship building company. While this allows me to picture her in a hardhat I am almost certain she does not wear on the job or recreationally, I am fairly sure she is on the logistical rather than physical side of the girders. I ask what Daniel does, directing the question at anyone who will answer.
"He's a file clerk," Hannah states. I nod my head, because I have secretly started basing more aspect of my established character Dryden on Daniel through tweaks and revisions that have so far occurred only in my head. As Dryden works in technical support at a low level, I find this to be a comparable enough job, though I am amused to learn Daniel might be displaced as everything is digitized and the hard copies are discarded against the rules of file clerking.
"He likes it," Hannah continues. "They give him a little cave where no one bothers him."
"I don't especially care to interact with people at work," he says, though I get the feeling that he could abridge the sentence at the word "people." I believe that he likes people well enough, but in a divorced, observational way that borders on a predator with a full stomach watching prey, less the explicit creepiness. With his silver teeth out - if they come out - Daniel could pass for someone with secrets but not especially unusual. His hair is shoulder length and would be wavy were it not for pomade that renders it slick and shining. His wardrobe is explicitly black, though I reiterate that he states he is not a goth, but that isn't strange enough to arouse the suspicions of anyone who didn't take the time to get to know him.
"Are Daniel's teeth always silver?" I ask Hannah after a stretch of silence, realizing as I say this that I regard her as his translator despite the fact that I have previously had an excellent conversation with him. Still, I have to talk to someone and Daniel seems taciturn unless forced to be otherwise by omelets or direct questions.
"They aren't totally silver, right, Daniel? They're a mix. An amalgam of sterling and white gold andâ€¦"
"And platinum," he completes. I know enough to grok that his mouth is full of magick, but not so much that I grasp the exact intent. Whatever was done to his mouth, as apparently irreversible as it was, was not cheap and was therefore not done idly. He must have some grand occult scheme that is worth an android grin.
I try to lead them to the Shakespeare Garden, something I find difficult with only streetlights as my guide, though I can't promise my sense of direction would be much improved by day. We wander onto a thin wooden platform surrounded on either side by tall grass, thinking it is the likeliest way to our destination. When we arrive at an exit, Hannah and I try to get Daniel to randomly lead us to a garden he has never seen, since someone who knows where it is can't find it. He flatly refuses.
"He's always like that," Hannah says.
"Wait, I know exactly how to handle this!" I proclaim. He had previously referenced role playing games, so I inform him that he is now the head of the party with full decision making powers and go so far as to follow him a few steps to prove it.
"So this is how you what to play?" Daniel says and runs down the boardwalk, into the tall grass and dark.
Hannah and I exchange a look and to not follow after him. "He'll be back," she assures me, and perches on the edge of the bridge on which we stand. I follow suit, detailing to her how I already consider her a good friend and explaining why I need new blood in my life.
I am aware that explicitly telling someone they are your new close friend reeks of desperation and social awkwardness, but it happens to be true. I very much need new friends. Conor has been out of my life for years, a boy I considered a spiritual being. The excuse is only ever his own head, but it isn't as though he can exchange it for one that can handle the world differently. Zack is soon to move to Chicago to pursue his latest dream of photography, doted after and followed by his ex Cristin. From what Dan Kessler say, Zack is already out of contact with any friend who is not Cristin, a fact I independently noticed. If he won't communicate when he is in the same county, I can't hope much hope for flowing conversations once he is in the Windy City. Dan Kessler and Stephanie have acquired an apartment and jobs in New York City, not a fatal physical distance but one that has previously crippled friendships. In fact, the original reason I contacted Daniel was that I was aware this summer would derail all of my close male friendships and couldn't allow myself a life of only Amazons.
I appreciate Hannah and Daniel not only for themselves and how purposeful I feel in being their friend, but because they represent the deserts of the fork in the road I was forced to take in the breakup. I would not know either of them had Emily not dumped me - would not have had this night with them - nor would I even know Melanie existed. Four lives would be the poorer for it, though I can't help but feel my poverty would outweigh at least Hannah and Daniel's. I am arrogant enough to know how much richer Melanie's life is with me in it, because mine is just as much.
Daniel returns and we say almost nothing about his departure. We give up on the garden, though I am sure I know just where to find it this time, and I lead them back to the center of campus so they can return home.
We pass the Vassar library and Daniel notes that not all of the iron monogrammed gates affixed to the windows correspond to alchemical symbols. Hannah does not find this a peculiar statement, though she is an affirmed atheist, so I follow suit and only state that it's nice that some do correspond.
"Are you two going to dissect having met me?" I ask Hannah. So there is no accusation, I explain, "This is something I would very much do and will be doing in writing, so I like to know."
"No, Daniel will just nod sagely, so it wouldn't do me any good to discuss it with him. I'll analyze it on my own, though it does sound more like something you would do." The way she says this last sentence is tinged with knowledge and I wonder if she's read these entries. At how much of a disadvantage am I?
The issue of a purpose to my presence in Daniel's life in introduced again. I had taken it for a joke originally, but am assured that Daniel means it in a literal way.
"Daniel assumes anyone in his life is there because they've got something to say to him," Hannah informs.
"Will I vanish the moment I find the right words? Because I've got to admit that this kills my motivation."
Daniel shakes his head. "You probably won't disappear."
"Will you get superpowers?"
Hannah and Daniel seem to consider this but, it seems, superpowers aren't a requirement either. There is just something I will need to tell him.
"I don't say profound things intentionally," I inform him. "Only randomly and without meaning to. Like, the head of Emily's clan was thinking about stepping down and mentioned wanting to hand over the reins to me, to have it be my clan. Bear in mind that they are rigid and formal Gardnarians and I cast circles with candy canes and invoke literary characters, so I should be about the last one he should pick. I laughed and said that this sounded like a lot of pressure and I would prefer not to. Apparently, this was the right thing to say, put everything in perspective for him, and he publicly thanked be for it. Baffled me to no end, but I thought it was amusing. That sort of thing has happened a few times, so that is probably the best you are going to get."
Daniel said that this was good enough and we did not discuss it further, but I continued to think on it. Hannah more or less considers this an eccentricity of Daniel's and does not take it terribly seriously, but I began to come around to his way of thinking. I'm not sure if it is to say some magic words, but it does seem factors in my life were leading me to know him. For example, I'd been gently pestering Hannah to meet me for months before I knew Daniel existed. Had I met her first, I am certain she would have introduced him to me and I would have inexplicably taken to him, as I have. Though he does not mention it at the time, he had met with my friend Jenn, she of the wings and metal allergy who thought better than to allow me to rebound crush onto her. I had earlier joked with her that they would be unable to kiss because his teeth would cause her to catch fire and was firmly told on both ends to stop my matchmaking. That seems too unlikely to be coincidental, beyond the fact that I found them on the same site, populated by hundreds of thousands of users. Daniel and Jenn are not wholly of this world, concerned with things like spirits and sigils. I'm sure she could get behind portents as well as he has.
Not to be an utter solipsist, but, aside from the site, I am the sole uniting factor between these three unique characters. I contacted each of them independently and created friendships before seeing they were already interrelated. I was irrationally fond of them all sight unseen but exponentially more so once we met. I don't like easily, not to the level I do with them, so it is hard not to begin to agree that there is something I trifle preordained going on. Further, I'm going to be working at Vassar this summer, blocks from Daniel and Hannah's apartment. If they are characters, there is a plot to be had. Far from being less fictional, to solve this I may have to indulge exactly the level of magical realism as would befit them. If I'm the connecting point, then I am possibly the protagonist, a dangerous thing to be as they are the ones forced to move the plot forward by action.
It should be a blessedly interesting summer.