Picture by Ewan-M: Essex Tracks
Annabeth is fair and young and lovely; she kicks off her sandals to walk through summer puddles, she knows half the lines from your favourite movie by heart, and she’s never had an ice-cream. If you buy her one incredulously, she’ll jump at the first lick and then she’ll let it drip all over her arms as she laughs in in astonished delight. (She always eats as much as you, though she wears a size 6.)
You’ve been sent to Chigwell to speak at a conference or to look over the company accounts; or at any rate, you own a grey suit, which is more or less the same thing. You’re grumpy on the train, presumably (a week in the country! Ridiculous!), and you make cross noises about mobile phone reception, and you pull the heavily-embroidered coathangers from the hotel’s shabby wardrobe with a wrinkled nose.
Annabeth works at the hotel bar, or maybe she cleans your room, or the kitchen at the company with the accounts you’re going over. Maybe she’s a busker. Maybe she was wandering the streets looking bedraggled and you offered her space on your wickerwork hotel sofa for a few nights, because that’s the sort of man you are: kind to passing homeless blondes who wear lipstick and don’t smell. The point is, you’re somewhere unfamiliar, your life is a grey and dreary one, and there she is. You don’t have long together, but somehow she seems to understand you better than anyone else. Better than the girlfriend who broke up with you because you’d forgotten what was truly valuable in life, or the wife at home who wants to have a child if only you weren’t so afraid, or the grown-up son still bitter about the product-placed Transformers toy you didn’t buy him for a distant Christmas.
You’ll have fun with Annabeth, leaning over a wall somewhere picturesque and shouting into the wind, carefully pulling a single hair from where it’s caught between her lips, running into the woods together laughing and then suddenly falling silent. Maybe after a while she’ll get angry at you, in a pretty and tearful sort of way: she’ll ask you what you’re really running from, or how you’re going to come to terms with the absence of your father, or when you’re going to realise that it’s not your fault your sister died.
After a few days, or a few weeks, it’ll be time for you to leave. You’ll want to stay, of course, but you can’t, and she won’t come with you if you ask - she’s probably got one of those terminal diseases that makes you pale, anyway. She might even have to return to a mysterious faerie world that’s never explicitly discussed, for all you know, I mean she’s called Annabeth. Whatever: point is you have known all along that your time together is fleeting. So you’ll hug, maybe kiss, and then she’ll disappear into the crowds, or the rain, or the mountains, or the fog, or she’ll stand waving as your train pulls away. You don’t have to tell her what she means to you. She knows you’ll never forget her. She’s changed something inside you, something you didn’t even know was there.
When, later, you can’t find your wallet or your netbook, you’ll be too embarrassed to phone the police. Watch out: this could cause identity theft problems in the future. Still, at least you were enlightened!