By Heidi Payne
I can’t remember where I know him from. He looks back at me over his shoulder saying, Come on! You’re gonna love this. We’re climbing the stairs of some kind of bell tower, I think. I’ve never been here before, but he has. He keeps saying we have to go all the way to the top of this tower, that the view is going to be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen—the kind of view that physically takes your breath away and makes you reassess your place in the world and probably even believe in God, or at least some kind of deity.
I think we must be getting close to the top. We must be almost there—but then we’re not. And we’re not. And we’re still not. We keep climbing and the stairs unfold in front of us like a pop-up book—only it’s always just around the corner so we don’t see it happening.
Where have I seen him before? Is he that guy I sat behind in Sociology my sophomore year of college? The one I liked to pretend I knew?
I start to slow, but he says, We can’t stop now! Come on! It will be so worth it. I promise.
So we keep climbing and the stairs keep going and where have I seen this guy?
Maybe he’s that guy that asked me out and I was so flustered because no one had ever asked me before, so I said no right away. And then I wished I hadn’t, but I felt too embarrassed to say I changed my mind, and the next time I saw him he was with some other girl.
The stairs start to feel like they’re stretching, so even though we’re going up, we’re actually moving down. Maybe right in the middle, not moving at all.
Or maybe he’s that friend that I felt really close to. The one I fell in love with during a barbeque in my parents’ backyard the summer before I went to college. The one who never asked me to do anything like this, just the two of us. The one who forgot my name sometimes.
I slow again. He just keeps saying, Come on! It will be worth it, I swear. You’ll love it. I know you’ll thank me later. It’s so worth it.
And suddenly I wonder how he knows what I would love. How does he know that whatever’s at the top of this tower will be “worth it” to me?
I stop climbing. He doesn’t notice and keeps going, disappearing around the next corner.
I stop trying to figure out who he is. He just has one of those faces.
I just stand there on the stairs. I’m not even tired. I’m not breathing hard and my legs don’t ache. There’s just an empty feeling in my gut that feels like a tower stretching forever. A tower with no bell inside.
Heidi Payne is the author of multiple manuscripts in various stages of editing. She recently graduated from the University of Idaho with a B.A. in English-Creative Writing. When she’s not writing, she can often be found playing the piano, baking muffins, or tap dancing on the porch.