The Stranger

By Bailey Cole
“I know it sounds insane.”
“I mean, sure, you’ve seen the girl before. We don’t live in a huge city…

The Stranger

By Bailey Cole

“I know it sounds insane.”

“I mean, sure, you’ve seen the girl before. We don’t live in a huge city, so it’s not surprising. But that’s all it is.”

“I don’t know. I feel like I know her.”

“Then just say hi one day.”

It would, under normal circumstances, be easy to ‘just say hi,’ but for some reason, for years, Chloe had refused to say anything to this girl. Rebecca was right, Columbus isn’t a huge city, but seeing the same girl in random places over years? That was strange.

Chloe couldn’t remember when it started, but she had seen the girl a month ago, and then a few days prior to talking to Rebecca about it. She had definitely seen her around, at the Polaris mall in the game store, at the zoo, at random parks, at a Kodaline concert at the A&R bar. It wasn’t necessarily strange, of course, those were places that people who lived in Columbus went, but it was strange that she stuck out. How many other people had Chloe passed over the years and never remembered? What was so special about this woman that she remembered her, and kept an eye out for her everywhere she went?

She seemed like a normal woman, young, maybe mid-twenties. She had dark skin like Rebecca and her hairstyle was different about every time she saw her, but she was definitely the same person. Over the years, they started to nod at each other, or smile like one does at a stranger. Then, the last time she saw her, leaving Schmidt’s restaurant as Chloe was going in, she waved.

Chloe wasn’t necessarily shy, she talked to strangers, asked people in the grocery store their opinion of certain foods, and made small talk on the bus. But for some reason, she couldn’t even say hi to this woman. All attempts to find out who she was by other means turned up useless. It seemed easy to walk up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Chloe, I’ve seen you around a lot, isn’t that strange?’ but it never happened. Chloe even practiced it at home, but to no avail. It’s like she froze up when she saw the woman.

Chloe didn’t see her for a few months, which was normal. She put her guard down and stopped checking every face at every place she went into. Life moved on as it always did.

Now in the fall, Rebecca and Chloe went to New York to see the trees changing color. They were a little late and a lot of the trees had already started to drop their leaves. They stopped at some little restaurant in Poughkeepsie and were eating a dessert when someone walked through the door. There was a bell that rang out; it had happened a handful of times since they were in the place, but this time, for some reason, Chloe turned and looked at the door.

The woman was there. The same woman from Columbus was states over, in a small town, eating at the same random restaurant.

“Oh my god,” Chloe said. The woman looked over as she was just scanning the restaurant, saw Chloe, and smiled the goofiest smile Chloe had ever seen. Chloe did the best she could to wave, which was a bad attempt; she slammed her hand on the table in the process, but ignored the pain to save face. The woman smiled back, then turned towards the other side of the restaurant and started to order food.

“Maybe you guys are connected,” Rebecca said, leaning forward to keep and eye on this woman.

“I told you. It’s like I know her. Like I knew her. I don’t know,” she said. She turned back around to face Rebecca.

“Maybe we were, like, sisters in a past life. Spouses, neighbors,” she said. Rebecca, eyes still on the woman, shrugged.

“You believe in that stuff?”

“I do now. What else would explain it? Why would she be here?” she asked and Rebecca shrugged again.

“I don’t know. It’s really weird,” she said, finally looking away and back to Chloe.

“Or maybe she will be important in my life. Maybe we’re connected in this lifetime,” she said.

“So it’s fate you guys keep running into each other,” Rebecca said. Chloe poked at her slice of yellow cake and bopped her head around, avoiding answering definitively.

“Go say hi.”

“What? No. I’m too nervous,” she said and Rebecca rolled her eyes. Chloe added, “Next time. Next time, I’ll say hi.”

Once back in Columbus, Chloe looked at every single person she walked past. Every woman on the sidewalk as she drove by, sitting in nearby restaurant booths, going into the movie theater she was in, but she never showed. She had vowed to finally say hi, and she never saw the woman again. She wondered if that was all it was meant to be, to let her know that the universe had some control, that she wasn’t completely alone, her and everyone else just wandering aimlessly. There was some sort of connection, something laid out.

Bailey Cole is currently working at a museum in Ohio and writes when she has the time. She’s inspired by the little things around her work and the real life stories she reads online.