Originally posted October 31, 2008
The light was dim along the back wall of Little John’s Pub. They faced each other across a table, glasses of dark beer and a pack of cigarettes between them. She drank some beer and then laughed at something he said, peering at him over the top of her glass. Whatever he’d said was unimportant. What mattered during the early evening of October 31, 1974, was the look he saw in her eyes. If it wasn’t yet love, it was something quite close to it.
They were young: He was twenty-one, she was twenty. Still, he’d waited five years to see her eyes regard him like that. He’d been a high school junior, she a sophomore when they’d first met. He’d noticed her right away – she was first-chair violin – during the first orchestra rehearsal of the school year. They became friendly, then friends, but he wanted more. She didn’t, and his devotion – as intense as only a high school junior’s can be – sometimes annoyed her. He eventually had no other choice but to accept her friendship, and when he graduated from high school and went on to college a year before she did, her name went into his internal list of regrets.
After a couple of years of college – and some flirtations whose results came nothing close to what he’d felt for the violinist – he spent a year away. A few months after he returned, a mutual friend reintroduced him to the violinist, whose eyes widened at the change in his appearance; she liked the beard and mustache. And they began to tentatively get to know each other once again.
Little John’s Pub wasn’t crowded that night. Located in a shopping mall about two miles from campus, it wasn’t one of the places where students gathered on Halloween. They’d chosen it partly for that reason; it would be easier to talk at Little John’s than at many other places. And they’d chosen it because in 1974, it was one of the few places in town that served dark beer. She’d never had dark beer and wanted to try it.
She lifted the pitcher and filled her glass, then his. As she did, the jukebox against the wall started up. No one had gone near it, and as the music began – he always noticed music, wherever he was – he thought it odd. The jukebox played two songs and fell silent. He smiled at her, dismissed the phantom of the jukebox, and they continued to talk, maybe of her hopes to study violin in Paris after she graduated, maybe of his thoughts of being a sportscaster.
They’d talked a lot in recent weeks, between classes at the student union, on the telephone and during a quiet Sunday afternoon as they watched a football game in the basement rec room at his home. As the game had worn on, he’d quietly placed his arm around her, gauging her reaction. She’d nestled into his side for the rest of the game. When he took her home that afternoon, they kissed, but it ended awkwardly. “That’s okay,” she said as they laughed. “We’ll learn. We’ve got time.” As he drove home that Sunday, the memory of the kiss and the look he’d seen in her eyes made him happier than he could ever remember.
And, now, as they talked about where they might be in years to come, he saw that same look in her eyes. Even at twenty-one, he knew the odds of their sharing the years were slender. They each had roads in front of them, and no one knew where those roads might turn. But there was a chance, and, as they finished their beers and headed out of the pub for a snack, that was enough.
He looked at her as they stood in the entryway and thought about kissing her, and then again when they got into the car, but he held back. He didn’t want to push things too fast. He’d learned. As they drove off, they found that the earlier mist had thickened into a fog that kept them company as they headed to a truck stop on the east side.
The last thing he remembers from that night is flipping the signal lever down, preparing for a left turn across a highway. He never saw the truck. He survived. She didn’t.
Eventually, he healed physically and emotionally, though the latter took longer than the former. Investigations found no misdeeds, just an accident in the fog. He never was a sportscaster, but he became a writer. The memory of the violinist came along as he fell in love again, several times, and saw those pairings fail. He knew she hadn’t been the love of his life, but it took some time – until midlife – to find the one who was.
Still, we all are made up of those things we cherish, survive and endure, and as each October 31st approaches, he gets a little sad. That’s when he finds his shelter in his Texas Gal’s love. And he never drives after dark on Halloween.
The two songs the jukebox played on its own on that misty night? Here they are:
“Time In A Bottle” by Jim Croce, ABC 11405 
“We May Never Pass This Way (Again)” by Seals & Crofts, Warner Bros. 7740 
Edited slightly on archival posting.