In Providence

In Providence: A Boy, A Girl and The Avon

“My blood was pumping. I was sitting there and my heart was racing. I was thinking, ‘What am I doing? What do I think I’m doing here like this? Have I lost my mind?’”

She was across the street when she saw him standing in front of the Avon Cinema on Thayer Street. After getting dinner with her friends, she decided to hang around for a bit and find some excuse not to go home. The relationship back home was eroding, and every arrival seemed to include a rebuke over a door left unlocked or a cat unfed or rent money that should’ve been on the counter, but wasn’t.

Rather than ruin an otherwise frivolous Friday night, she found an excuse to walk up and down Thayer the way she had when she was a teenager.

A few months ago, I wrote about Thayer Street, and how much it’s changed since I was in high school, when standing out in front of Store 24 was considered high recreation. Now, everything’s a little more corporate, and if you’re looking to kill time, you’d have a hard time walking down the collegiate avenue without feeling pressured to do something or buy something or get lost. Random encounters and run-ins with friends seem to be a thing of the past.

Or so I thought.

“Something — He was just standing there, but something about him caught my eye. He was handsome, definitely. Handsome doesn’t really do much for me just by itself though. Something else was going on there and that’s why I crossed the street.”

He had a wool cap on, a blue scarf, a big navy blue coat and black jeans with black boots to match. His face was clean-shaven, and he looked like he was waiting for someone. She checked the marquee and the next movie was about to start. Something told her that she should buy a ticket.

“I felt like — It felt bad that I was standing there staring at this guy, because if that were me and it was some guy looking at me, it wouldn’t be cool, right? It would be so not okay. But I thought, ‘If you stop looking at him and just go watch the movie instead, it’s not like you’re following him. You’re just–going to see a movie.’ Was I hoping that would turn into something else? I don’t know. I just felt like I had to go in.”

So she did.

As she walked by him, they caught each other’s eye. She wasn’t even sure what the movie she was about to see was about, but she got her ticket and sat down inside the theater one seat in on the aisle in the back row. Right before the lights went down, like some kind of reward for her bold move, the guy waiting outside appeared — taking the seat next to her.

“I couldn’t believe it. Like, what was he doing? It looked like he was meeting someone else there, so I’m thinking — Did they blow him off? Did he get stood up? I was thinking — Should I be worried? But he didn’t follow me in here. I followed him. Unless he was waiting outside the theater for some random single woman to show up so he could — This is what happens when you do something crazy. Someone else does something crazy and you end up dead. But then you think about all those old movies where people would do crazy things and it would end with them falling in love and you think, ‘Why can’t it be like that? If something bad can happen when you take a chance, why can’t something good happen?’”

Despite the unusual circumstances, they followed proper etiquette and didn’t say anything during the movie. At one point, he got up and she thought he was bailing on her, but he was just using the restroom, and then came right back. She thought about a lot of things — how far could she take this? Could she put her hand on his hand? Could she whisper something to him? Could she even look at him?

“I was watching the movie, but I wasn’t watching the movie. I couldn’t tell you one thing about that movie. I don’t even remember what it was called. I think it had subtitles, but I don’t know. I never took my eyes off the screen, but my mind was somewhere else.”

When the movie was over, she waited for him to get up. He didn’t. Neither did she. Other people shuffled up the aisles. The credits rolled. They were almost finished, when he got up and walked out of the theater.

“I thought that was it.”

She thought about going home. She thought about the rent money her boyfriend was going to claim wasn’t on the counter. She thought about the unmade bed. She thought about how loud the television was going to be when she walked in and how many empty glasses were sitting in the sink with alcohol residue still in them.

That’s what she was thinking about when she walked out of the Avon — and there he was.

“He said, ‘Hi.’ I said, ‘Hi.’ He told me his name. I remember he held out his hand and I laughed. How many times do you meet someone like that? A handshake was like — I almost didn’t shake it, because it was so silly. I guess some girl stood him up. She texted him some excuse right as I was walking by him and he just went in like I went in. He asked me if I wanted to go get a drink, and I said, ‘Yes.’ People used to meet each other like that all the time, but I’d never met anybody like that. So random like that. It was really cool.”

They went to get a drink and spent the next few hours talking. That was almost a year ago. I asked her if they were going to go back to the Avon for their anniversary, but as cute as that would be, she told me they’re going to spend the night at home. She likes being home now. A lot can change in a year.

“I’m just glad he never wanted to talk about the movie. That was what I was worried about when we sat down for that drink. I thought, ‘Please don’t let him ask me about that movie we just saw, because I wasn’t paying any attention to it.’ I was just thinking about him. But we had a lot of other stuff to talk about.”

She told me people love hearing the story of how the two of them met, but she doesn’t think it’s as romantic as it sounds. That it’s as simple as taking a chance and then another, and then one more. I tell her that there’s not a lot of magic left in the world, and most people will take whatever they can get.

Especially if they can still get it on Thayer Street.