The landscape was vast, and largely barren. It probably wasn’t technically a desert, but it was scrubby at best. She’d been crossing for a few days now and still hadn’t found what she’d come for. Herself.

She had filled in a lot of forms to travel to this place. And form-filling was not her forte.

“Please provide account reference number 593790 and unique identifier number 439078-1209. Complete Section 1 if you filed form 839. You need to complete section 2 regardless of form 839. You will be entered onto the register for the current designation.’ In smaller print it said ‘we collect information under the legal basis of a task carried out in the public interest.”

The whole process almost made her weep. She was sometimes accused of being scatter brained. There was the time she put cumin, instead of cinnamon, in the cookies. There was the time that the Tupperware she had temporarily stored in the oven caught on fire when she forgot to take it out. And there was the time she arrived at a lecture that had unexpectedly resonated with her. She ended up writing notes on a birthday card for a friend whose party was that night. He got the card, including the envelope, crammed full of notes. “I’ll need that back” she told him as she handed it over when she arrived.

People might think Jade was ditsy, until they saw her climbing out of the cockpit of a fighter jet that she just landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier. Seen in that light, it looked like she had everything figured out. But deep down she knew she didn’t.

The forms were nearly completed at the café. She had been sitting there, filling in more of them and sipping her coffee, when suddenly she was bumped from behind. She pitched towards the table and her coffee pitched towards her, spilling onto her chest, the forms, and of course, her crotch.

She looked around to see a strikingly embarrassed man with a huge dog that was clearly not under his control. He blurted "Gee, I'm, uh, I'm, really sorry! Can I—" but the dog went lumbering off before he could finish. The man wore an earring and the dog wore a bandana. Although both were handsome, they seemed a bit socially inept. At least she had the habit of wearing dark colors. Perhaps by the time she left the cafe it wouldn’t look like she’d wet herself.

Laurel and Jack lent her the truck, the one she always borrowed when her motorcycle wasn't up to the task. She was going to miss driving that truck. This time she needed it to store some of her stuff before the trip. It wasn’t clear how long she’d be gone. Laurel and Jack were the kind of friends she never knew existed until she met them. Their friendship was simply unconditional. They were there for you, for friends, the way most people aren't even there for family anymore. They would give you the air out of their lungs if they thought you needed it.

A few weeks later, on one of her last evenings before leaving on the trip, Jade accompanied Jason to his hospital’s gala event. "Why can't she go with you?" Jade asked him, referring to the new woman he had started to date. "Because I like you better," was his reply. She was exasperated with him but she agreed anyway.

They got dressed up. Jade wore an elegant black dress that Jason said looked as though it had been poured onto her. It was floor length and sleeveless, with a triangular mesh panel that buttoned up the back. "Do you mean it looks slutty?" She took his comment to be an insult. "No, no, no," he reversed gears, "I mean that it looks like it was perfectly made for you and no one else. You look—singular. You look like the uncommonly stylish woman that you are." He was wearing a black tuxedo.

They were mingling during the cocktails and Jason introduced her to Dr. Judith Maxwell. Judith was very warm and friendly. She had a happy face. This woman saves lives, Jade thought. She often thought about that when she was met other doctors socially, usually friends of Jason's. There was another fellow with Judith, not a doctor, she discovered as he went on about metaphysical questions in a British accent. "So if the protagonist creates art in the highest form that he knows, even if it's at a cost to society, or to those around him, the value of the art, that quest for truth, can never be interrupted." It turned out to be a film script that he was working on.

The conversation went on in this vein and Jade felt compelled to interject, "But if that protagonist cannot explain, either to himself or to others, some meaning—"

The Britisher interrupted, "The art itself holds the meaning. Each person takes their own meaning from it, because the power of art speaks to individuals." He paused, "What? Would you have him make cheap prints and sell a million copies. Perhaps he would donate the proceeds to charity? Is that the kind of resolution you’d like?" The man was curt with her, as though she were a school girl too simple for his lofty plot line.

"No. But I think there has to be some sort of balance between moral contribution and artistic contribution. Otherwise it's not compelling."

"No it isn't." She heard a deep, unfamiliar voice from behind her, which she welcomed because it was taking her side in the discussion. The man approaching their circle was striking in appearance. His wild, sun-streaked hair, casual and long, contrasted with the crisp formality of his tuxedo. He looked somehow familiar, the way attractive people do, because they match a type that you see plastered all around in advertisements, billboards, and films.

"I'm sorry," Judith was saying to her, "I don't believe you've met my friend Rex."

"I think you've found the weakness in British Brian's script there," Rex said, "The one I've been telling him about for weeks." They all laughed and the conversation moved on to other topics. All the while she was looking at him because she was beginning to think that she really had seen him before, but she just couldn't place him. It was driving her crazy, like when someone's name is on the tip of your tongue. She was staring at him with concentration. She hadn't noticed that the conversation had slowly evaporated and no one was talking anymore, but everyone was watching her look at him. He was obviously embarrassed by her attention.

That's when she placed him. The strikingly embarrassed man with a large dog that was clearly not under his control. His sheepish expression was exactly the same. He wasn't wearing an earring this time. Perhaps in her instant reliving of the incident her face frowned in the same expression she wore when she turned from the spilled coffee at the cafe table, because he recognized her too, "Oh God, it's you!"

"The dog." She said

"The coffee." He said

The story was told for the benefit of the bystanders and the evening proceeded. As they were on the sidewalk waiting for Jason's car from the valet, they saw Judith Maxwell wave from a car just pulling away. Rex was driving and the car had European license plates, under the American ones.

When Jason dropped her off at home, the reality set in. She was going to be metaphorically putting on her own new license plates. She was leaving in two days.

To be continued, possibly...