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Eliana recognized Alan from her old photos of him. He didn’t look so different. Then again he wasn’t much younger now than he was in those pictures. She has always missed him even though her memory has faded to the point where she cannot differentiate between what is memory and what is part of some story her father may have told her over and over again. He was this almost mythical being in her life so naturally she had read everything he had ever written. She had to prevent herself from staring as she sat at a nearby table. He was quietly sipping his coffee with a manuscript in front of him nodding to himself when something looked good and smacking his lips and scribbling in the margins every so often when something was out of place. Eliana pulled one her own notebooks from her survival kit. This one was specially prepared for her trip. No dates. No details. It was mostly just observations she made while people watching and little stories she would come up with about them. It was her writing exercise. She knew Alan was an over the top romantic and would not be able to resist striking up a conversation with a young woman sitting alone and writing at an open air café. The trap was set.
“Excuse me, if you don’t mind me asking, but are you working on over there?”
Knew it. “Oh nothing. Just a little something passing through my head.”
“Do you mind if I take a look at it?”
Eliana feigned nervousness as she pretended to think it over in her head. This was only a little something to pass the time and maintain her cover but the idea of Alan looking over it, even if he tells her it’s terrible, excites her.
“I don’t know…” Come on take the bait.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle. Tell you what, we can trade. I’m stuck on a little something myself. Maybe a fresh pair of eyes will help me out.”
“Oh all right but it’s nothing really. Completely unpolished.”
Eliana and Alan swapped work, hers a notebook she picked up second hand with only a few pages torn out of it and his, a printed manuscript of what looked to be novel. Strange, Dad never told me grandpa wrote a novel. Mark had told her many stories about his life so it never crossed her mind that he would have held anything back. But then again, maybe her dad didn’t know about this. Which was also strange because as far as she knew Alan shared everything with his son. Of course with some of his publishing troubles at this stage in his career maybe he was ashamed to talk about a novel that may never be. She was under the impression that everything Alan wanted published eventually was. Even when his popularity waned he was able to secure at least a small print run of anything he wrote.
“A little lost are you?” Alan eventually asks breaking Eliana’s gaze from Alan’s work.
“Yea, well who isn’t?”
“It’s all over your writing. Do your characters ever find what they’re looking for?”
“They will. Eventually. Hopefully. I just need to get there first.”
“Well I hope it’s soon. You don’t want to spend your entire life running.”
Eliana was finding far too much truth than she had expected on this trip. First on her walk with Mark and now Alan’s insights. It is what she had wanted- guidance- but facing reality was not as easy as she had hoped it would be. Of course she was running. Who wouldn’t? Well, everyone else I guess. She was supposed to be on this soul searching journey but instead had been treating this more like a vacation.
“So what did you think of mine?”
“Well, it’s alright, I guess, but it’s no masterpiece.”
Alan sighed and smiled. “I seem to be having that problem recently.”
“I mean, the writing is great but it’s the story that’s lacking.”
Alan remembers a time when his stories were much more. His life was much more. Full of adventure and excitement. Full of love. He was in love with the idea of love. And that made everything far less real in his mind. No form of reality could live up to the fantasy he had built up in his head and that had affected his ability to write something that felt true in this state of his life. He was losing touch with reality and wasn’t doing much to dig himself out of it. This novel was supposed to be his turning point.
“Look, Alan, let’s be honest here. They’re just not selling. I think you’ve got enough leeway for one more go. One last book but that’s it. Do you want this collection to be it?”
Alan slid his collection back across the table avoiding eye contact.
“I guess not.”
“You’re not out of this yet. Give me something good. Something you really believe in and maybe it’ll strike some chords and then we can print more of your stories. Until then…”
He knew this day would come but he still was unprepared. He would survive. This was not his livelihood. He still wrote enough reviews and educational materials to supplement his residuals from his earlier, more successful works but writing was his passion. And his stories weren’t the same if they just sat on his shelf. They were meant to be read. This one too. He just couldn’t find the right voice to bring what he sees as his greatest idea to life.
“Keep working at it.”
“And here I thought I was to give you advice young lady.”
“You did.” The sad eyes she was looking into bore little familiarity to the man she remembered but that is a lesson she was starting to get used to. Eliana wasn’t sure what the rules were here. How much could she interact before she inevitably changed things for her present time? Could she even change anything? She still wasn’t sure if any of this was real or just an extremely elaborate trick of her mind. But she knows Alan’s writing experiences a resurgence. But she also knows that what he is writing right now does not see the light of day. But it should. She wasn’t lying when she said there was something there. Alan just needed to get reacquainted with the writer he used to be. Here I am helping two writers get their lives on track and I still don’t have what I’m looking for. Is this why I’m here or am I only helping them to avoid my own issues?