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Walking along 17th Street with his mind firmly in the past and oblivious to the historic present, Eduardo Rojas collided with his future. Not metaphorically, but quite literally.
Both his stack of books and the woman in the yellow dress tumbled to the ground.
"Madre de Dios! My apologies, señorita. I did not see..."
His breath caught, his words drifted into a stammer as the woman turned and he saw her eyes for the first time. Though he considered himself a romantic, Eduardo had never believed in the concept of love at first sight until that moment.
She settled on her elbows, smiling at the slightly open-mouthed stare of her unwitting attacker. Though he had seemed quite determined to keep moving before their impact, he was currently motionless. Torn between wanting to see how long he would stay that way and a desire to get back on her feet, she decided to flip the switch on his internal circuit breaker.
"Usually, it would be considered polite to help a lady up--especially when you're the one who just sent her sprawling." The harsh content of the words was belied by their light-hearted delivery. Vivian Long was far less upset about being knocked down than she was interested in the man who had done so. He wore a brown suit that was the height of fashion ... decades ago. The collection of books he had been carrying was now split between the pavement and a precarious perch in his crooked elbow, save the one in her lap. She lifted it and glanced at the spine while her handsome assailant stammered another apology, letting the rest of his armload fall in his haste to offer her a hand.
"I am very sorry, señorita. I was trying tomake my way through this crowd as quickly and as gently as possible, and I somehow did not notice you, though how that was possible, I truly do not know." Eduardo blushed as he realized what he had just said. It was, however, exactly what he was thinking. Her creamy skin stood out in a sea of predominantly darker tones. Brown hair in braids, deep eyes of hazel that had trapped him momentarily, and a figure that filled out her summery dress in ways that he had best not consider if he wanted to avoid further embarrassment.
"Perhaps your mind was in the Andes of the 1500s instead of Washington in August of 1963." Vivian took the proffered hand, pulled herself up, then placed the book, Marriage and Courting Rituals among Classes in Incan Society and Their Effect on Warfare and Politics, in the hand she released after gaining her feet. She retrieved her sign and helped him gather the other scattered volumes, which carried similarly scholarly titles in both English and Spanish. "Do you work at the Smithsonian?"
"No, I am merely a student. I did several years in the field after obtaining my master's degree in Chile and am now working on my doctorate through an exchange program at Georgetown College. I apologize again for my carelessness and would..."
His words were drowned out as the surrounding crowd cheered the comments from the current speaker. The noise quickly died down as the people once again began to concentrate on the speech.
Vivian smiled again as she pieced together what she thought he had said. "I'm sorry, are you asking me on a date? I don't even know your name!" She struggled to keep a straight face as the man's handsome features contorted in shame, and he immediately began a new apology.
"No, no. I simply meant that I felt I should make amends and would like to...."
"Hush." Vivian placed a finger on his lips. A visible shiver passed through him at her touch, but he did not withdraw. "Have you a specific meeting that you were hurrying to reach?" She lifted her finger slightly to allow his reply, and his tongue darted, subconsciously sampling the site of her touch. Vivian felt the imaginary rasp of it against a distant part of her body.
"Well, no. I simply had not anticipated the immensity of this event and..."
With the heat of his breath brushing her fingertip, she realized he was not the only one stunned by an inexplicably powerful connection. In that moment, it became more necessity than amusement to maintain contact.
Once again, Vivian placed the finger on his lips. "Then you can make amends by standing with me and listening to the next speaker. Witness some history as it happens instead of reading about it hundreds of years later. Then you can take me for that cup of coffee, señor..." Her voice trailed off in an interrogatory tone.
"Rojas. Eduardo Rojas Aguilar."
"What a mouthful! Eddie, it is. Please, call me Vivian. Now, stand here and listen with me. Then you can buy me that drink, and I'll consider your debt repaid. Deal?"
Eduardo started to correct her undignified shortening of his name, but thought better of it. There would be time for that later, he realized, still shocked both at his own forwardness and that he had put himself in a situation where it could come into play. He decided that it would be a more interesting evening than he had expected, although he still had reading to do. Hearing the name of the next speaker and realizing it was familiar from the newspaper, he decided that he would indeed listen. Afterward, the companionship promised to be, at the very least, intellectually stimulating.
Vivian watched the conflict play across Eddie's face before he quieted. She thought she recognized it, both from her own experiences and those of acquaintances. She also noticed the quiet intensity that took over as he glanced down at her sign, then turned his attention toward the stage erected on the monument steps. He might not be up to speed on current events, but he knew something of the struggle, she realized. While his clothes were out of date, there was a fierce intelligence in those eyes. She was very interested to hear his reaction to the speech, which, by all accounts, would be similar to one she'd heard the speaker deliver months ago.
"Very well, miss ... Vivian," he finished, looking at her and stammering over her given name as if it was an inappropriately glimpsed undergarment. Since she'd not supplied her surname, he had no choice but to use the more personal form of address. There was something titillating about the man's discomfiture, she realized. He made her feel like a forbidden fruit, ripe and juicy and begging to be...
"I take it this is a cause about which you are passionate?"
Vivian cocked an eyebrow, causing him to blush at his use of a word with such sexual overtones.
"I mean," Eduardo continued, "with which you are intimate?"
"Erm, involved? It is important to you. Yes?"
"Yes, justice and equality are very important to me."
A loud cheer erupted, quickly followed by an expectant hush. From the far end of the reflecting pool, Vivian could barely see the figure at the podium. She well knew, though, whose voice would emerge from the sound system. A man near her own age. A man over a decade younger than the one sitting in the Oval Office, a short distance away, yet one who shared comparable leadership qualities. A charismatic man who drew people to him by the sheer strength of his vision. When Eddie opened his mouth to speak, she once again placed a finger over his lips. "Listen closely," she mouthed, recalling the earlier scramble to repair a sabotaged sound system.
For the next fifteen minutes or so, they stood side-by-side in the hot sun with over two hundred fifty thousand others and drank the verbal elixir of hope. Eduardo watched its power wash over and through the audience, and he was not immune to its heady effect. Coupled with the undeniable attraction to the woman standing next to him, he felt intoxicated, giddy. He'd no doubt history was being made in that moment--in more ways than one.
He believed the current of his life had just joined far deeper waters and every second that passed swept him further from the banks with which he was familiar. Around him, a majestic river of purpose. Beside him, a whirlpool of desire. Inside him, the roar of shifting paradigms.