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"Look, my mother’s worried sick. I need to go home.”
“Is home such a happy place?”
“Yes!” she lied.
“Then why do you walk through the streets crying every night?”
“You do! I saw you twice this week. That’s why I picked you.”
“What? Picked me? What do you mean ‘picked’ me?”
“That’s why you’re here—because you looked so unhappy.”
She squinted at him like he was mad. “Are you saying you brought me here to cheer me up?”
“No, not that exactly. I wanted your company. A girl’s company. A girl who was kind of pretty and… unhappy. You were both.”
She looked confused and angry. “What do you know about my unhappiness?”
“Not much,” he said, “but I know it’s there. And it’s a little like mine. You seem very shy. People scare you. You’re not comfortable with them. You can’t talk to them. Your nose is always in a book. You read sometimes even in the schoolyard. You hang on to the edge of a crowd, but you’re not really part of it. Like me, you don’t seem to have any friends. When I saw you walk down the street Monday night crying, I knew you were probably unhappy at home too. That clinched it. You were the one. And you were crying again last night when you passed my car.”...
Sandra’s astonishment had deepened. She hadn’t dreamed anyone would watch her like that. “What do you mean, I was ‘the one’?”
Ollie hesitated. “The one… I needed,” he ventured. “The one… to be my friend.”
She was glad he avoided terms of romance or passion. “Because I looked lonely and I cried?” she said.
“You passed the unhappiness test with flying colors.... Please, Sandra, let me get you something. Even if it’s just orange juice or coffee.”
She said coldly: “The only thing you have that I want is freedom. Offer that and I’ll accept it.”
Ollie sighed. “That’s not on the menu this morning. But it will be. I promise it will be. Not today, though.”
Sandra objected. “Not even later today? This afternoon or tonight?”
“Not till we’ve been friends for a while, Sandra. Absolutely not till we’ve been friends for a while. If you freeze me out, our time of friendship won’t begin. And I won’t let you go till we have it. This will last longer if you don’t cooperate.”
“What do you mean ‘cooperate’?”
“Talk with me, read books with me, listen to music with me, look at paintings and sketches with me, tell me about yourself and your life. Let me tell you about myself and my life. Be my friend. Let me be your friend. Share meals with me. Share breakfast now, that’ll be a start.”
Sandra cried, “I can’t be your friend if you keep me in a cage. I’m your prisoner or your pet, not your friend.”
Two young men meet on ship when both are recently out of college. They share a flaming ambition. Each aims to write novels that will be internationally acclaimed and win him a place in American letters. One of them, Paul Theroux, achieves the dream in all its glory: becomes world famous, writes over 40 books, and three of his novels are made into films. The other, Shane Hayes, fails completely, but keeps tenaciously writing, decade after decade, plowing on through hundreds of rejections. Then almost half a century later, Shane contacts Paul, who remembers him, reads three of his books, likes them, and praises them with endorsements.
In writing to agents and publishers Shane could now say, “Query for a novel praised by Paul Theroux.” No one offers a book deal because of an endorsement, so rejections keep coming. But more people let him send at least a sample and are predisposed to see merit in it. At his age, time is crucial. In the month he turns 75, Shane receives contracts on two of his books from different publishers. He will always be grateful to the literary giant who remembered ten days of friendship half-a-lifetime after it ended.
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