The black silk of her dress shone under the city lights, throwing minute glints of silver toward his eyes. He walked only a few steps behind her, flanked by two of his friends, and watched her walk. She was short; only her two-inch heels kept her from being a full foot shorter than he.
He didn’t mind.
She was beautiful. He knew it, his friends knew it, the people strolling by on the sidewalk knew it, and even those in cars flying down the street knew it. More than a few catcalls were made, and each one felt like a little jab into his stomach. She was his girl. Sort of.
He ground his teeth over how powerless he felt in his situation. She liked him, he liked her. They had hooked up; multiple times, in fact.
That made no real difference, though. To her, at least. His own thoughts on what they’d done had changed considerably, and he had no doubt that the physical aspect was casual. That still didn’t stop him from falling for her, utterly and completely.
* * *
They were alone, this time. Out on the town, on an unofficial date. Let’s get drinks tonight, he’d said in a text message two hours earlier. She said that that sounded good and in the intervening time spruced herself up after her evening yoga class. The martini bar was crowded, with a distinguished and generally attractive crowd populating the area around the small stage in the back corner. He still thought she was the best-looking girl there.
She had her hair up in a bun, with her bangs hanging over her forehead and stylish glasses resting across the bridge of her pert nose. Eyes that shone brown, or green depending on the light, gazed out from behind them. Her shirt was a calm peach, but the arrangement of the fabric ensured that it was anything but plain. It was low-cut, looping in a strap around her neck and folding over at her navel. The shirt was tied at the side, leaving a bare inch of skin between it and the jeans she wore.
He’d had a hard time not staring from the moment they met up in the small plaza outside the bar.
They engaged in small talk for a while, then began—for the twentieth or thirtieth time—getting to know each other in ever more intricate ways. She loved dance; he was more of a sports person. They were both writers, and he seized on every opportunity to establish that connection. Most of all, though, he tried to get her to talk about dancing. It was her passion, he saw that clearly…and he had every desire to engage that passion. When she spoke about jazz dance, or modern dance, or contemporary dance, or ballet, or anything related to dancing, her eyes were set alight with the love she had for it. He felt altogether too un-manly admitting it to himself, but when that happened, his heart just melted. Nothing compared to seeing her speak of the things which made her most happy. Except for perhaps those occasions when she fell asleep resting her head on his shoulder…but that was a different story entirely.
He forced his mind back to the conversation. It wouldn’t do to miss a crucial tidbit about her, something that might pop up again and make him stumble somewhere. She was talking about summers in California, where she was born.
“I’m much more of a summer person, and I like the beach way more than the mountains,” she was saying. “I don’t really ski much.”
He shrugged; that didn’t matter much to him. He didn’t ski either, and he, too, thought that the beach was far superior in terms of fun. “Yeah,” he responded, “I pretty much spend all winter inside.”
She smiled at him while he spoke, and took a sip of the dirty martini sitting on a napkin in front of her. He almost lost track of his sentence, watching her face light up. It was simply absurd, he decided, how pretty she was.
The problem, of course, was her reluctance. He knew that there was some sort of history; hell, everyone had some sort of history, even him. He had to admit, though, that not everyone had the kind of history she did.
He’d done his share of research. While he smiled at her across the small table, in the dim light, he thought back to the picture he’d seen of her ex-boyfriend. The guy who she was still friends with, who had been back in town a couple weeks ago, who
looked like a God Damn movie star.
He struggled not to pound his fist on the table, not to lose his smile. The worst part was that, despite all of that, he couldn’t give up. She was that amazing, to him.
“What are you looking for?” he found himself asking, to his horror. To cover his own surprise, he took a healthy sip of the eighteen-year-old scotch in a glass next to his elbow.
She lost her own smile for a moment. “What?”
He knew it was a bad idea, but thoughts of her ex filled his mind. “What are you looking for, with me?” he asked again. “Or maybe I should say, where do you see this going?”
She was silent for a time as she looked at him, her eyes searching through his. He felt as though she were trying to see the emotions he kept inside, and he tried to emote those through his gaze, hoping that she would understand the pain she caused.
It was fruitless.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “Honestly, I don’t.”
He only looked at her, unwilling to open his mouth, afraid of what more might come out. She met his stare, and he saw the regret in her eyes. She feels bad, really bad, that she can’t offer more, he thought. That slowed the plummet of his mood somewhat, but the fact that she couldn’t commit to anything still hurt.
“Look,” she began, “I’m sorry. You know what sort of spot I’m at right now. I don’t know what I want, or when I’ll want it. I…have to get my own life in order before I can live up to someone else’s expectations.”
He nodded, mute.
“I do know that if it were to be anyone, it would be you,” she continued, after sipping at her martini. “I wouldn’t be good enough for you, the way I am right now.”
The absurdity of her statement rocked him back in his chair. “That’s not true,” he said, finally. “You’re amazing. You’re…” he trailed off, scared to say the word that lay on his tongue: perfect.
She shook her head in adamant denial, but he couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the way her bangs swayed and threw of glints of the dim overhead lights. She stopped shaking her head, but kept her face turned away. Her eyes were hidden by a wave of her brown hair when she spoke.
“I don’t understand what you see. I’m not at all your type; I’m nothing like the girls I know you like.”
That was true.
She went on. “I just don’t get it. I wish I were that way, for you, but I’m not.”
He thought before speaking, this time. After a moment in which he sipped at his drink and collected his thoughts, he said, “You don’t have to be any different. I like you the way you are.”
She didn’t answer right away, and he had the feeling that she couldn’t find a way to refute that. So, he took matters out of her hands.
“Listen. Just think on that. I’m not saying that you have to make a choice right now, or even soon. All I mean is that you should know what I think about you, and that the door is open when you feel like taking that step.” With that, he tossed down the last bit of his scotch, stood up, and went to the bar to cover the tab. He made sure to add a nice tip for the bartender—the place was a favorite of his, after all.
She was out of her seat and walking to cut him off when he turned away from the bar, intending to leave.
He met her a few feet from the doorway and gently grabbed hold of her arms. It was difficult to avoid staring straight down her shirt at the tanned cleavage she displayed, but he maintained eye contact. “Think about it. I’m gonna give you some time, some room. Let me know when you want to see me again.”
There was a wary, scared look in her eyes, and he almost stayed when she said it would be better to talk about it right then.
With firm resolve, he stooped, kissed her lightly on the lips, and said goodnight. He left her standing there, clear confusion on her face. While he climbed the stairs up to the exit from the subterranean bar, he could see the glow of white lights from the plaza outside. He made himself focus on those and not look back, despite the growing unease in his stomach.
With gentle trepidation, he walked alone into the silver night.
* * *
It was three weeks after he walked out on her. The height of summer was upon the town, and even at such a late hour of the night, he felt more than a little warm in a dress shirt and jeans. The occasion demanded it, though, so he suffered in silence while they strolled through the downtown area. For the first time, he’d made the first move and took her hand while they walked past loud clubs and crowded bars. Lurid lights of varied colors shone down on them as they perused the nightlife.
After a time, she shook her head. “I don’t think I’m really feeling a bar. Can we just keep walking?”
He nodded. Perfect; it would have been much more difficult to do what he needed to do, in a raucous and sweaty crowd. It also gave him more time to settle the jitters floating through his midsection.
They kept on their path, heading south and away from the busier streets. He stole glances at her as they did, savoring the sight of her hair done up in curls, the smooth curves of her legs below the hem of her short pale dress, the noticeable swell of her
breasts from underneath the plunging neckline. She looked even more beautiful than normal, which he would not have thought possible. He supposed it was fitting that she should that night, since he knew that he might very well never see her like that again after what he had to say.
They passed by more and more closed shops and restaurants as they left the late-night areas and into a quieter part of the downtown quarter. It was here that his favorite places sat: a bustling pub, despite the hour; an exquisite steakhouse; and, of course, the underground martini bar at which they had spent many evenings together.
As they approached the plaza outside the bar and came under the glow of the white lights, he felt a twinge of guilt about that night, weeks past. He knew now what kind of anguish that had caused her, and he deeply regretted it.
He was afraid he would do it all over again.
She squeezed his hand and smiled up at him when they stepped over the border of the plaza, the strains of classic jazz washing over them from speakers set in the lights, and cement replaced under their feet with cobblestones. “This was where you
surprised me that first time, dancing while the music played.”
He couldn’t help but smile back, nerves or no nerves about what he had to do all too soon. It was a splendid memory. “I asked you if you thought I looked okay in a dress shirt and vest, with my hat.”
“You looked great.”
“So you said.”
She laughed, the light sound of her voice cutting through the music and lifting the weight from his chest just slightly.
He decided then and there that it was the best time for it. “Sarah, I think it’s time.”
Her smile faltered.
He continued, unabated. “You know how I feel, how much I want us to be together, really together.”
She turned to face him fully, his hand still entwined with hers.
“Nick…” she began, her face purely blank. Under the lights, her dress shone silver.