Cecilia decided she would meet him after all. But only because she was lonely. She had nothing else to do and the sun was out so it seemed like a good idea. She was in one of those irritable moods. It was sunny outside and she didn’t want to waste the day away in her sad poky apartment. She wanted company. She wanted to be wanted. She couldn’t remember much about his way. How his mouth moved when he spoke and the words he liked to say. She did remember that his voice broke very late, much later than all the other boys in the class. When he walked he had a slight limp; his left foot arched to a point like a circumflex. She pictured his wooden symmetrical face and the mass of curly hair that framed it. There was something different about him. He was the last boy in the year to have sex but somehow this made him more credible. All the girls felt a kind of brotherly love towards him. Cecilia had always known how he felt about her. The way she would catch his sideways glances in those arduous French lessons. He made her feel uneasy. His stares were so severe. It was as if he could see right through her shiny outer shell and straight to the grit. When she was young she tried so hard to bury the grit. But now she knew it was desirable. That the grit is what made her excite them. The men that were mad with lust and the women who also wanted a piece or her. The grit suggested a vulnerability that they understood. The grit suggested some form of humanness that was relatable and endearing.
Cecilia was with a friend that night. They had been to some literary festival her mum had organised in their hometown. It was a hot day and they felt restless and excitable. They didn’t want to go home so instead they shared a bottle of red at the cheap bar with sticky floors. Then they shared a pizza and went to an art gallery and watched twelve guitarists strum the same chords in complete synchronicity. It was boring. They went outside to smoke. They were debating whether to get a taxi home when he tapped her on the shoulder.
:You were my first crush
:Oh, it’s you
:You don’t even remember my name, do you
They talked about their favorite poets and he explained the parts of a car. He was an engineer. She wasn’t much interested in learning about the parts of a car, but she liked talking to him. He drank whisky and ginger. They had tequila shots. They connected on Facebook and he messaged her the following morning.
:It was nice talking to you last nite
:Yeah, you too
:Do you like Japanese food
:I do. But I can’t handle sake
:Wanna get sum Japanese food
Two years had passed. She moved house, got a new job and dyed her hair blonde. Other things happened too. She’d had an accident and fell of her bike. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. Almost died. Now she was a vegan. Almost thirty. Had a few grey hairs. She woke up that morning in one of those irritable moods. She wanted to be wanted. It had been a while. Earlier that year she’d decided to boycott Tinder and Bumble and all those apps that promise you lots of sex. She’d had lots of sex but it was mostly bad. She would rather not have bad sex. She would rather be celibate. She would rather die lonely and sad than have bad sex with strange men. She sent him a message on Facebook.
:Fancy getting some Japanese food
:Will you drink sake
:When can you get here
His face was a sticky fingerprint on a screen; clear in outline but vague in detail. She went through his Facebook profile pictures. Nothing but memes and film posters and pictures of aggressive cats with red eyes. Nothing with his face. She put on red lips and fluffed up her hair with dry shampoo. She’d probably used about half a can of dry shampoo. She made a note to buy more dry shampoo. She fed her cats – she had cats now – and then she slammed the door. Put on a podcast and got on the bus.
Andrew was shorter than she’d remembered. His shoulders were hunched over; he still looked like a little boy. He was leafing through a Penguin classic. She waited for the traffic to make a clearing. She crossed the road. Her knitted dress brushed against her thighs as she put one foot in front of the other. The slit that ran up the side revealed an athletic leg and a birth mark that was shaped like a crescent moon. Andrew looked up from his book. His cheek was disfigured; a long serrated scar connected the tip of his left brow to the corner of his mouth like a piece of string. He looked sad and deflated. There was something different this time. His hair was straight, not curly. It was glued to his head with some sort of heavyweight gel. Each hair was completely immovable and cemented in place. She considered going back the way she came. Back on the bus that would take her home to her empty apartment. It would be easy to leave. She was two minutes from the bus stop. But it was too late, he’d already seen her. He smiled and waved her over. So she went.
The next morning, she woke up to a series of messages. The first two had been sent at 03:38 am.
:Ur prettier in person
:U don’t know how hot u r tho
Then another cluster of messages followed at 4:00am.
:Why didn’t U kiss me
:You think I’m ugly, don’t you
:Do you have a boyfriend or something
She received the last message at 6:08am.
:Fuck this shit. U women are all the same
Natalie Baker is a freelance writer and editor based in London. Her writing has appeared in Occulum, Severine Literary Journal, Bad Pony, Synaesthesia Magazine and For Books’ Sake. When she’s not writing, you can find her supporting the charity project Bloody Good Period as their fundraising coordinator, and working (late into the night) on her first literary novel. Follow her on Twitter as @NataBakeEditor or visit her website https://www.natalieclairebaker.com.