I didn’t quite remember she was this beautiful. I watch her from far away, fascinated by her smile. It’s a shy, quiet smile, but warm, inviting. Anyone in that bar would want to talk to this girl, but she has no idea. She’s just smiling at her friend’s camera, expecting this night to be like any other. I, of course, now know that is not the case, but I am still happy she is smiling. I’m glad she doesn’t know what is coming, because the way she looks right now almost, almost gives me hope. She is frozen in that second, in that smile, but she is so beautiful and magic I can see her move. Sitting at the bar, sipping on her martini, repeatedly checking her red painted nails, breathing in the night and its possibilities. Without realizing, she is singing along to a song I have definitely heard before but the name of which I don’t remember. I look at her almost as if through a veil; she is untouchable, and it seems to me like she is a mirage, not real at all. She’s happy and young and beautiful and alive; it fills me with heartbreaking nostalgia.
Then I see him. I have been running from this for so long. I stopped going to my old favorite restaurant because I know he started taking girls there after we broke up; I blocked him on every possible social media, deleted all the pictures from my phone, haven’t listened to that song that we used to play in the car in moths and stopped talking to the friends we shared. Now, I stare at his face again. I shake: as irresistible as always. The charming smile, the piercing green eyes noticeable even in a dark bar, the way he looks at her. He looks almost like a stranger to me. Now I know all the things that make him smile and all the truths behind his eyes, but when I look at him, frozen in his perfect smile, I still see the stranger he is to her.
I know his birthday is October 28th, meaning he is a Scorpio, which he hates because it makes perfect sense, but he doesn’t want to believe in astrology. I know his mother’s name is Marie and she is a high school Math teacher, which was very helpful during his senior year because he was having serious trouble studying for the SATs. I know he was raised quite religious, and his second biggest fear is that his grandmother will find out he doesn’t believe in God. I know the worst day of his life was his father’s funeral, and the best was the day he graduated college. I know his first kiss was with his cousin’s best friend at a truth or dare game and his first time was with another cousin’s best friend during the summer before his senior year. I know his first girlfriend’s name was Jacqueline, and now she’s married and has twin girls and lives in Maine. I know he wanted to be an astronaut when he was six, an actor when he was sixteen and a writer until twenty-six. I know his number one bucket list item is to visit Machu Pichu. I know his fears and his dreams, his heart and his mind, his talent with words, every inch of his skin, but when I see the way he looks at her, it is so very easy to forget.
He is just a stranger with a lovely smile, talking to this pretty girl, and neither of them has absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next. She is staring into the camera, embarrassedly asking her friend behind it through a quiet look if she should flirt back, but he seems to not even notice there is anyone but the two of them there. He looks at right at her, piercing her with the green eyes and the smile he knows will work, because it always does, asking questions and making the jokes we all always laugh at. The smile on her face is the first one he ever caused, and they attract each other like magnets; her grin, so genuine, almost unavoidable, and his, so calculated, because he knows exactly what makes girls smile back.
He had been watching her for some time before actually coming up and asking her name. Her friend pointed at him with her head, but she didn’t believe that guy, so handsome he could get any of the girls in this bar, was in fact looking at her. But he was, and he was fascinated. There was just something about her that drew him in, something that made coming up to her and saying hi not a choice but simply the only thing he could possibly do. At least, that’s what he will tell her.
After her friend takes the picture and notices the way they are looking at each other, she informs them she is going to the bathroom as a mere excuse to leave them alone, smiling at each other. They are in perfect sync, talking and laughing almost as if it is choreographed. He says something, she laughs, he smiles, she notices, he licks his lips, she takes a sip, he takes a sip, she smiles back. They’re dancing with nothing but their eyes, and that is more than enough, because he is looking at her like she’s a piece of art or just pure magic, and who doesn’t want to be looked at like that?
I pretend I’m not jealous, every cell in my body hurting with the lack of his touch, every part of me missing the days when he looked at me like I was made of magic.
He finishes his drink – rum and soda, if I remember correctly, which of course I do – and ads more moves to their routine. A hand on her lower back, a tilt of the head, every time a little closer, a slight touch of her hand every few minutes. Her friend is already back from the bathroom, sitting alone on a table where they can’t see her, checking her emails and killing time.
And I just watch them dance. He buys another round, they sip, they laugh, they smile, each minute half an inch closer to each other. It’s dark and they are still frozen in their first smiles to each other, but if I close my eyes, I can so clearly see the way things unfold. They drink and talk as the world gets a little blurrier on the edges, but it doesn’t matter because all they are looking at are each other’s eyes.
When they finish the round, he gets up and asks her to dance. The bar is not particularly full and there aren’t many people dancing, but of course she says yes, because he is charming and sweet and there are no questions he could ever ask that she would not say yes to. He holds her hand and they move to the song that soon they will call theirs. They haven’t stopped smiling in almost an hour.
It kills me, how beautiful she is. The way her smile lights up the entire room, how her eyes are bright blue and there is an entrancing sparkle to them, how she dances with her eyes closed, singing along to the song even though she is not sure about the lyrics, how you can just tell from the way she moves that the man holding her hand has just started to light a fire in her heart. She is pure magic, disarming beauty, all I wish I saw when I looked in the mirror.
The songs ends and their bodies stop moving, closer to each other still holding hands. Their hearts are still beating fast, their souls are still dancing, and he leans in. That single moment before his lips touches hers lasts forever. Those three or four seconds that separate now and then, the moment before everything changes; this is it. Their hearts are beating faster than ever, a million thoughts are going through their heads, the world is blurry in the best kind of way, and they kiss. This is it.
They are still in perfect sync.
My eyes water, and I need to look away. This is too much.
I blink, letting the tears fall, and look everywhere but at her. I stare at the spot he would always sit on my old blue couch, at the TV and the movie I muted about seven minutes ago, at the glass of wine that is my fifth tonight, at the flower print on the box where I unexpectedly found this picture between old letters and telephone bills.
It seems like it was a lifetime away, that Tuesday night where after an hour of begging, Carol finally convinced me to go out with her. As long as I’m home by midnight, it’s what I told her. So I put on my favorite shirt, did my makeup in five minutes, got into that cab, sang along to a few songs, told her I would only have a drink or two and was almost ready to leave when I found piercing green eyes unbelievably staring right at me.
I tell myself to just throw that picture away. I blocked his number and all his accounts, stop seeing our mutual friends, haven’t worn that favorite shirt since he left and don’t turn the radio on in the car because I don’t want to risk crying in case a song that sparks some memories comes up. I should just throw the picture away, but I can’t. Because that unrecognizable girl is smiling, and there is a fire being lit in her heart. Because she is beautiful, and he finds her beautiful, and as much as I hate myself for it, I wish he would find me beautiful too.
If she could listen to me, would I tell her to run? To grab Carol’s hand and leave as fast as possible and never, ever come back? Or would I tell her to stay? To hold onto him and never let go? And what would she tell me? That she is sorry, so sorry, for letting him do this to her, to me, to us, or that it is worth it? That the way she is feeling right now, the way he is looking at her, makes it all worth it?
I’m not really sure.
My brain keeps sending directions for my hands to crumble the photo into a ball and throw it away, but my body stays completely still. All I can do is stare at them, the two strangers in that bar. Him, a stranger because the sweet, loving, fascinated guy in that picture is nothing like the man I got to know. Her, because I am bruised and broken in so many ways that that girl smiling is nothing but a dream of what once was or what I wish it could still be.
So I just look at her, with the ravishing blue eyes, the breathtaking smile, a fire in her heart, and for a second I let myself pretend I am her. I pretend she is what I see when I look in the mirror instead of a face that is only slightly familiar, who has clearly drank at least five glasses in the last two hours, whose smile is fake and almost always desperately melts into a crying face, whose eyes are an empty shade of blue, so empty it’s almost grey.
I don’t recognize her, but I also don’t recognize myself. I don’t understand how it is possible that I am, at the same time, neither and both. I don’t understand how they could be the same; she is so beautiful, so full of life and light, a fire of passion burning in her heart. As for me, I feel empty besides the glasses of wine, and my heart isn’t broken: it has turned to ashes.
I watch as she kisses him back, still in perfect sync. He smiles at her and she smiles back; he tells her smile is beautiful, and neither of them would believe he will one day be guilty of its violent murder.
I can’t move or barely even think, so all I do is look,
as if from far away,
at the girl I used to be
give her heart to the man
who made her