He positions himself between me and my friends at the bar. Touches my forearm, squeezes my shoulder, leans in to me in agreement. I am the only girl in the bar; the only person in the world.
Yesterday he was the beautiful stranger, the almost-missed meet-cute. That smile, the quiet confidence. The perfectly timed bad joke, as I pushed the door on my way out.
A look back.
Yesterday he was shiny and full of hope and possibility. A sort of something, not nothing. The topic of late afternoon conversation with colleagues, the object of text-message analysis.
Tonight he is dulled by the effect of one too many gin tonics and physical proximity, and the necessary logistics that were required for us to find ourselves together in the same bar again.
He stares into the emptiness, here and not here.
‘What are you thinking about?’
‘It’s complicated, I’m complicated. I haven’t had an easy life. I don’t want to burden you with any of it.’
Old Me (leaning in): Here are my scars, here is my story. Have it though you haven’t earned it. May it serve to reassure you that you’re not alone.
‘I’m not really looking for complicated right now.’
‘So I should have said I was perfect, then, to get you to kiss me?’
Old Me: Your perfection doesn’t interest me. The hundred different ways in which we are uniquely damaged are fascinating and beautiful. Let me help you.
‘Why don’t we get a coffee tomorrow, instead.’
‘But I want to talk now. I never get along this well with people I’ve just met, with girls I like. I trust you. That must mean you’re special.’
Old Me: I know what it’s like to be misunderstood. I live for those nights where time ceases to matter and conversations open our world and we are more human than usual, more vulnerable. Maybe I am special. Most people don’t see that, but you do. I will waste many good hours trying to understand you.
‘I think you should go meet your friends, we’ll talk tomorrow.’
‘Okay. But come with me. Please. I don’t want to leave you just yet. But here, this bar, this context I can’t be myself. Let’s go somewhere else. Please, Ali.’
Old Me: Okay. Because we never do know. And isn’t it the unplanned nights, the days you did the unexpected thing, took the chance, that pay the biggest dividends? And maybe he is handsome and deep and thoughtful and maybe only you can understand him. Maybe this is the whole point. What do you have to lose? At the very least it’ll get your mind off the Other One.
‘Passe une bonne soirée, au revoir.’
It feels something like progress.