The Cloud Gate, a mercurial, hulking dollop of a sculpture, sat in the middle of Millennium Park on Chicago's magnificent Michigan Avenue. The reflective surface mirrored the brilliantly blue morning sky—thus the sculpture's name—and the towering buildings lining the avenue. Also caught in its surface were the multitude of tourists swarming around, circling it, weaving in and out of the bean-shaped structure's underbelly, and taking pictures in it.
Taylor Middleton stood next to the sculpture. From a distance 'the Bean' gleamed flawless, like a pod dropped from an alien ship. Up close, handprints marred the surface. She had a picture of herself in the same spot, four years prior. She was a different woman then: optimistic, giddy, hopeful, a dreamer and astoundingly naive. She wanted to preserve her memory of that silly girl, thus she didn't take a fresh picture.
A little boy darted in front of her and stopped in his tracks.
"Hi." He waved.
She smiled. "Hi." She tucked her hands in her long green cable-knit sweater. The first touch of autumn had descended.
He ran away, circling around the Bean. His mother arrived a moment later.
"Sorry." She flashed Taylor a tired smile. She rushed past. "Brandon!"
Little Brandon was already laughing beneath the belly of the sculpture. Taylor continued smiling and gazed into the mirrored surface.
She'd had her hair done for the trip, though really, for the trip she'd be taking after she left Chicago. She had it pulled back, the strawberry blond vibrant, straight and silky, freshly cut and falling perfectly. Her eyes were green, her skin creamy and pale. She had her mother's Irish genes to thank for all that. Supposedly, her good looks would benefit her someday.
The Bean reflected the courtyard of concrete squares it sat upon. Behind her, a man was strolling across it, toward her. He was handsome: tall, broad, masculine, his posture easy and self-assured. He had his hands tucked in his pants pockets, no jacket on despite the chill. He wore a crisp white shirt--sleeves rolled up to his elbows to show off thickly muscled forearms--and tailored black dress pants. He was older, one of those men who aged well and even got better-looking, who became more sophisticated and casually sexy as they matured. He had a neatly-trimmed beard flecked with gray, though the silver hadn't reached his perfect coif of dark hair yet. He was tan and fit.
The scent of his expensive, sandalwood-touched cologne reached her nose as he walked up behind her.
He stopped and slid an arm around her shoulders. They both gazed at their reflection.
"What are you thinking about?" His voice matched his looks: deep, rugged, sensual and suave. He sounded like a radio DJ.
She folded her arms. "About the picture we took of ourselves right here. Remember?"
"Of course. You took like ten of them because you said your face looked fat."
She pressed her lips in a tight line. Malcolm Darling was a no-nonsense, plain-spoken, frank and tough-minded man, something she'd once found endlessly appealing but now grated on her every nerve. Another item on the long list of reasons they were ending their relationship.
She slid out from under his arm and stepped away. "I thought the purpose of this trip was to remember the good times we had here. Not nitpick."