It was in Reno a summer or two ago, next to the frozen food wall at one end of a supermarket on a golden afternoon. Best-friend-from-college Jeneane and I were picking up a few items.

There he was: Halycon Sage, the hero of my metafictional novels, hub and center of my world-building, whose writing career began, like mine, with hearing the dream words: “One-hundred-and-one Cows: A Novel”.

I glanced again at his face, unobserved. Yes, it was definitely him. An Indian man picking out his groceries, maybe Paiute or Washoe considering where we were. There was a quietness about him. Shorter than I’d imagined, and he’d aged a little, hair a bit gray, an added fullness to his face. Sage ten or fifteen years after the first novel.

The aisle was empty except the three of us. I looked again, then walked quickly to my friend. She’d read the book.

“Look, it’s Halycon Sage. See? Should I talk to him?”

“Yeah, go for it.”

Did she and I even talk, or were there only gestures, a nod of the head, a shared eye-sparkle? You know how you communicate with someone you’ve known forever.

I needed to acknowledge him, but I didn’t know how. Obviously I couldn’t say, “Hello, you’re my imaginary author that I made up.” Stepping up to him, I told my inner truth, lightly disguised in a form that made more sense.

“Excuse me, sir, I had to say hello to you. You really remind me of someone I knew a long time ago.”

There was no questioning or challenging, no social embarrassment. He turned and looked at me, saw I was sincere and that it mattered a lot.  Like Halycon Sage, he was so kind. Gentle, unhurried, a face full of experience and depth, full of knowledge and a deep courtesy.

He shook my held-out hand. We looked into each other’s eyes and smiled. I don’t know if he thought my treasured friend was dead or just swept from me by the winds of time, but he understood. Our words were soft and few.

Then we went our ways, having shared love, respect, and understanding. I think he knew how much it meant to me. And I will never forget him.