There’s something about her eyes.
It’s like she’s staring right at you, but not quite. She’s been watching me for a good ten minutes or so. I finally decide to look back at her and she flinches a little. She draws the oversized coat she wears a little tighter around herself. She tilts her head very slightly as if urging me to make a move. But I don’t. I just sip my coffee, and hold her gaze.
Eventually she gets off the bench she’s been sitting on and walks over to mine. She sits down next to me and stares straight ahead. It suddenly occurs to me that this doesn’t happen very often. Staring at beautiful strangers at the park and then having them come sit next to you for no apparent reason. And she is a particularly beautiful stranger. She inches slightly closer towards me and I catch a whiff of her perfume. She smells like roses. But then again most perfumes smell like roses. She looks straight ahead at the empty bench she vacated.
After a few minutes of arguably the most uncomfortable silence of my life, I extend a hand and say, “Morning. I’m…” but she cuts me off with a wave of her hand and mine falls stupidly on my lap.
“I don’t need to know,” she says.
“Oh. Umm, nevermind,” I mumble.
Polite. Perhaps another approach.
“So, do you come here often?” I try.
She ignores me completely. By this point, my entire body is telling me to leave. But for some unfathomable reason I don’t.
“Do you believe in love?” she asks.
“Simple question. Do you believe in love?” she asks again, now staring aimlessly at the grass.
“Well, yes, I suppose so. Why?” I say, slowly. Now I’m curious as to where this conversation is leading. ”Is something bothering you?”
She turns to face me, her eyes are beginning to tear.
“Pretend with me,” she says.
“Pretend what?” I ask, my heart beating dangerously fast beneath my chest.
“Pretend that you love me,” she says, her lips trembling.
I’m about to reply when a breeze brushes against us, blowing her soft hair across her face. I feel the need to brush it aside with my fingers. I resist.
“Okay,” I say. Her left eyebrow rises slightly, very slightly, as if in surprise. Then she shifts and goes back to staring ahead again at nothing at all.
“Where did we meet?” she asks.
“Umm… at the park?” I mumble. Perhaps this was a bad idea.
I sigh and take another sip of my coffee. I lean back and stare ahead at nothing at all as well.
“We met at a cafe. I tripped and nearly spilled my coffee over you. I’m pretty clumsy,” I say. I notice the slight twitch of her lips but it quickly disappears.
“So you asked for my number shortly after that?”
“No, you gave it to me without me having to.”
She snorts. “Funny. So where did we go on our first date?”
“The Rocky Horror Show.”
“What?” she turns to look at me and I’m laughing. “Seriously?”
“Yeah. Unconventional first dates. You seemed like someone who’d appreciate those.”
“It was the most fun I had in a long while. But the best part of the date was afterwards. When we went to the beach and walked along the shore kicking at pebbles and stuff. You remember what we talked about?” I ask.
“Yeah. I told you about myself. You seemed like the kind of person I could talk to about anything,” she says. “We talked about our families, our jobs, everything.”
I’m not even sure why I say it, but I do. “And remember what I told you at the end of the night? Just before I walked you home?”
“Yes,” she says, taking a deep breath. “You told me you loved me.”
“I did,” I say.
“And I freaked out,” she says.
“You did,” I say, smiling.
“But I think I sort of loved you too. Even then, I knew,” she says.
“You did,” I say, smiling less.
“Remember that one time, when we went to the museum. And we got locked in for a night?” she’s laughing now.
“Yeah, neither of us had our phones with us,” I supply.
She’s really laughing pretty hard now.
“So we slept in one of those makeshift caves, next to this awful looking caveman statue. And you said it reminded you of your 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Wilkes. Because of the unibrow?”
I laugh too. “Yeah, God help that unibrow. Felt like it was staring at me half the time in class.”
“And remember those nights when you’d just hold me. You’d sing me the most random songs. Completely out of tune, ” she says.
“I was not out of tune,” I say.
“You were!” she grins.
“As you say,” I reply, rolling my eyes.
Suddenly she’s hugging me. Her hands gripping my shoulders. I’m not sure what to do, so I extend my arm and pull her closer towards me so that she’s resting on my chest.
She settles in and says, “I missed you.”
My breath gets caught in my throat.
“I missed you too,” I say, knowing I shouldn’t. This is wrong.
“I miss you every day,” she mumbles and I feel a patch of wetness on my shirt. She’s crying, and all I can do is hold her tight.
“I miss everything about you. I keep trying to forget. I keep trying to pretend it never happened. I keep telling myself that there’ll be someone else. Someone else can replace you. But there’s no one,” she says, sobbing.
I run my fingers through her hair but do or say nothing else.
“I come back here every day. I keep hoping I’d see you. Praying you’d still be here, drinking your coffee and watching the birds like you do every morning. But you’re never here,” she says. “Why did you go? Why did you leave me?”
“There was somewhere I needed to be,” I say.
She buries herself into me, and I feel myself getting sucked in along with her. Lost.
“Everyone misses you. Jayna cried for months after the accident. She looked up to you the most. You were more than just a brother to her. She never got to tell you that.”
“She didn’t have to. I know,” I say.
“I don’t know if I can go on anymore,” she says.
“You have to,” I say. “You will.”
“I can’t,” she says, finally looking up at me.
“You must,” I say, leaning down and placing my lips upon hers. I allow our lips to linger together only slightly, and then pull away. She closes her eyes for a moment and I know this is wrong, so very wrong.
She pulls herself out of my grasp and then looks at me.
“Thank you,” she says.
“Was he…” I begin to ask.
“Don’t. Please. Don’t ask,” she says. “But thank you. Very much.”
She stands and begins to walk away, not even stopping to look back. She pulls her coat tighter around herself .
I sit and watch her until I can no longer see her. Until I feel the sharp pang of lost in my chest. Until I realise that there’s so many things I could have said, should have said, probably would never have said anyway. I sit and stare at the bench where she sat. And come to realise how dead I feel inside.