He watched me writing in my notebook, tapping the end of the pen against my lips, stopping to sip my coffee. Just when I thought he wasn’t going to approach me, he did.
“Can I sit here?” His hazel eyes sparkled, he already knew the answer.
“Sure.” I smiled as he sat down across from me.
“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are? That sounds trite, but I’m actually curious: do you?” He actually seemed curious.
“Yes, I have some idea, but I welcome reminders from handsome men. Thank you.” I surprised him. He expected a blush, a giggle, a protest.
“Can I ask what you’re writing?”
“I’m making notes for a book I’m working on.”
“You’re a writer?” He raised his eyebrows, as if I had admitted to being a stripper.
“Yes, I think so.” I grinned, because I love answering that question.
“Very interesting. Can I take you to dinner sometime?” He thought he knew the answer, that’s why he asked the question.
“I’m afraid not, but thank you for the offer.” A polite smile to soften the blow.
“Why not? Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No, I’m not seeing anyone.”
“So you just don’t want to go to dinner with me?” One raised eyebrow. He knows he’s a breath from being an asshole.
“Oh, I would. I would love to get dolled up and have an adult conversation over a decent meal with you. That’s why it’s not a good idea.”
He rubbed his chin, genuinely confused.
“Okay, why? What’s the worst that could happen? I might try to sneak a kiss? Stick you with the bill? What are you afraid of?”
I looked at him very carefully.
“The worst that could happen, do you really want me to tell you? You’re asking me to have this conversation with you? You want to hear it?”
“Hell yes, I want to have this conversation. I want the writer to tell me what’s the worst that could come from having dinner with me. Shoot.”
He bowed up just a little, resting his folded hands on the table, leaning in as if I were about to give him stock tips.
“It starts with dinner, you’re handsome, obviously confident, probably intelligent, we enjoy each other’s company, you kiss me goodnight, and that’s where it starts. Right now, in this moment, I’m beautiful. I’m intelligent. I’m whole and rational and sane. I’m invisible. When I wake up tomorrow, there will be no messages waiting for me. I’ll have a good day, or maybe I’ll have a bad day. No one will notice. No one will care. The sun will set. I’ll make a pot of coffee and write until I’m sleepy. I won’t remember my dreams when I wake up. Rinse and repeat, that’s my life. It’s a nice life. But if you kiss me, I can kiss all of it goodbye. Maybe I won’t like it and I’ll have to hurt your feelings, but you asked about the worst case. I might like it. That’s the worst case. Because right now, you want me to like it. You want me to like you, and if you kiss me and I like you, then you’ll want to kiss me again. You’ll want me to like you. You’ll be sweet and charming and funny. You’ll be very attentive, very caring. You’ll tell me how beautiful my eyes are, how you love the way I laugh. I’ll have a bad day, or a problem, and you’ll want to help. I won’t want to to let you, but you’ll help, and I won’t stop you, despite my best judgement, because I like you. You’ll say you care about me. I won’t believe you. You’ll decide that you want me to believe you. You will crave me, you will shock yourself with your own passion and desire. You’ll prove it over and over and over again, until I believe you, until I truly believe that you care about me, that you see me, that you want me. You will meet your goal. Mission accomplished.
That’s when you’ll stop caring. When I’ve just gotten started. I won’t notice right away. I’ll be busy thinking about you every time something wonderful or horrible happens, I’ll buy clothes in your favorite color without thinking about it, you’ll be the first person I want to talk to when I’m confused and frustrated. But at some point I will realize that you’re not really listening anymore when I’m frustrated. That you’ve stopped watching me walk through the room, that you’re looking at our waitress the way you used to look at me. You’ll become dismissive enough that I call you on it, and it will piss you off. That’s how I’ll know you still care at all. I won’t mean to, I won’t do it on purpose, but I will start making you angry whenever I need to know that you still care. I will accuse you of not caring, I will actually believe you don’t care anymore, until you’re angry. Then I’ll realize that you expect me to live on scraps now; you won my trust with proper treatment, but now I’m just a pretty doll that sits happily on your shelf gathering dust until you get tired of staring at the waitress’s ass. We’ll bicker all the time, I’ll stop eating and start trying to figure out what’s gone wrong, why this always happens, and how I can stop it, until I realize you don’t want to stop it. I’ll get scared and angry and tired, and I’ll say something nasty and unforgivable so you won’t be able to drag the end out until you find someone else. You’ll use that trap door to escape, by my design.
Then I’ll spend the next few months or years going over every single thing we ever said or did to each other. I will dream about you, you’ll haunt my dreams. My entire waking life will be about figuring out what’s wrong with me. It won’t occur to me that you’re incapable of honesty or intimacy, I will operate on the assumption that there’s something awful about me that men discover when I finally let them in, something that they all refuse to tell me about on their way out the door. I’ll wake up every morning expecting a message from you and knowing in the same breath it isn’t coming. I’ll be invisible again, but I won’t be used to it, so everything will hurt. Breathing, walking, reading, writing- your shadow will invade my entire life while my mind works our dead relationship like a rubix cube until I’m exhausted and I hate both of us. Then I’ll finally have gotten used to being invisible again, I’ll be back to where I am today, but I will have lost all those months, and I won’t have learned a damn thing except your favorite food, your favorite color, what it felt like to love you, to think that you might love me, and the bittersweet taste you left in my mouth when you decided to move on. That’s the worst case scenario.”
He stared hard at me for a minute. I was shocked that he’d made it this far, frankly.
He leaned in. “What if I married you?”
“I wouldn’t marry you. But if we did marry, it would just take longer for the story to play out, and when it did, you would say if you didn’t love me I wouldn’t be folding your laundry and wearing your ring. I would have to uproot my entire life to remove myself from your shelf.”
“Your worst case scenario, is that what happened the last time you let a man get to know you?”
I shrugged. My composure was perilous at this point.
“Can I go break his jaw?”
I laughed. “If you take a step-stool and a death wish, I’ll consider you well prepared.” Now it was me smirking at him.
“Do you like being invisible?” Again, he was genuinely curious.
“I like the congruence. I like knowing that I’m invisible. Every time I get close to actually enjoying it, someone sees me.”
He rubbed his chin and I could hear his five o’clock shadow bristling under his palm.
“I see. You’re a great writer, and you were half right at least.”
He stood up and a wave of relief rushed over me. I resisted the urge to unfurl my limbs.
“It was nice to meet you. Good luck with your book.”
“It was nice to meet you too. Thank you for an interesting conversation.”
He took two steps, leaned in and kissed me. One minute I was watching him square his shoulders, and then the tip of his nose brushed the tip of my nose and his lips landed on mine with conviction and tenderness, his jaw opening slightly and setting firmly as I tilted my head up. By the time I realized I was kissing him back he was walking towards the door in an easy stride, out into the street, out of sight, not looking back. I licked my lips and picked up my coffee.
His card sat on the cover of my notebook.