- You called your dad to tell him you had a new girlfriend. He sighed and said, “Oh, another one?” You felt a flare of self-righteous defiant falling-in-love, just to spite him. You filled yourself with a determination for the new romance that lasted at least a month.
- When you met her, she smiled at you. Across a crowded room, no kidding. She’d made you feel like you were special, and that you mattered to her. She could hold your gaze and you were weightless. When you met a year ago you felt like you were floating when you looked in her eyes. You were mesmerized by the gleam, the shine in the way she looked at you. Now in a crowded room you can’t read her glance, if she’s looking at you at all.
- Sometimes she’ll say something. Call you “honey” out of habit, or laugh too loud at a joke you’ve already told. Those times you feel a rush of warmth, a love that suffuses your tired heart and rushes up to flush your face. After a while it goes away again.
- It took you months to put any of this unease into words. Now they’re words you’ve hidden away, folded and tucked into a crack between thoughts, because you don’t want to have to look at them.
- Your best friend got a sweater when you were at some department store together. It was cashmere or something fancy, warm and soft. You’d loved it, been jealous, because it was your favorite color. A sort of gray-green, a soft pretty color. She bought you a sweater for your birthday. It was red, and when you opened the present the smile you showed her felt familiar.
- You spent two hours talking to someone about how you felt. A new friend, maybe, and you felt like you were saying something important even when you were quiet, just looking at her. It was probably just that it was different, would have been forbidden if it had been anything. Even so she’d fallen asleep with her head on your shoulder and her hand on your leg, and you’d lain awake feeling wistful for something that never existed.
- Sometimes you have whole conversations with your girlfriend and you get by just guessing when to say “uh huh” and “you’re kidding.” You don’t feel bad. Sometimes you can tell she does the same thing when you talk. Often.
- Last week you saw that new friend. When she smiled at you – it might have just been your imagination – she looked wistful too.
- Yesterday you and your girlfriend argued. It was about something stupid. It’s always about something stupid. You apologized. She said, “I know. It’s okay. I love you.” You didn’t believe her and you said, “Okay. I love you too.” You don’t think she believed you either.
I see a girl on the bus every day, on my way to work. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying this to introduce some romantic fantasy. It’s not some wild pretense that I know her, know deep into her soul. That’s ridiculous, I don’t know anything about her beyond what I can see from a few seats away on the bus. What I can see is this: She sits, always, in the same seat. It’s the third seat back from the front, on the right side. She sits with her spine straight but her neck bent over, head looking down at whatever’s in her hands. It’s almost always some simple object, and she turns it and turns it in her hands, looking at it so intently. Her hands are small, and the nails are barely chewed – nibbled, really – and there’s a round scar on her right wrist, at the top bone where her watch sits. Her eyes are wide when she watches what she’s holding, and they are very round, and blue. They are not so round when she is not staring in fascination, I think, at a penknife or whatnot. They go up a bit on the outside tip, and the blue is grayish but in the brightness, when the bus passes someplace bright and the sun washes over her through the window, her eyes are light and clear. Her hair is brown, and in that light it has hints of red, but otherwise it’s dark and plain, and barely curls at the ends brushing her shoulders. She has a short straight nose and full lips, and her face is round like her eyes. She never wears anything fancy; just sweatshirts, jeans. Sneakers, usually. Sometimes she pulls her feet up onto the seat, her knees touching her chin or pushed to the side. Once in a while she brings a book and reads instead of playing with some trinket, and sometimes she forgets what’s in her hands to stare out the window, face reflecting the play of light as the city rushes by. She has a habit of pulling up one hand, absentmindedly, and rubbing her nose, pulling her index finger over the top of the tip of her nose as if there were a fly sitting on it that she was trying to banish. She does this at least once every time she’s on the bus, and I see her with her hand moving, scrunching up her face, eyes distant. I take the bus almost every day. I’ve memorized the way this girl looks, even though I don’t know her at all. I just see her nearly every day, from 8:13 to 8:29 every morning. I’m often tired, because I’ve had a long day before and not enough sleep, despite everything, and some mornings I have to drag myself to the bus stop even without coffee. I do, though, I wait at that bus stop every morning even when the cold drizzle is stinging my face. Not because I’m responsible and have to go to work – obviously, that too. But each morning, it is oddly and quietly comforting to see that girl, the stranger, rub her nose like she always does.
There seemed to be a dragon flying overhead. Theresa couldn’t believe it. Barely anybody else was glancing up, and after rubbing her eyes and looking back she assured herself it was nothing but an odd-shaped bird.
When she got to the office, she could have sworn that the man sitting at the front desk today had pointed ears. He nodded at her cordially enough, and when she stood in the elevator she shut her eyes tight and told herself to get a grip.
The work day passed mostly without event; that thing that looked like a tail flicking from a co-worker’s skirt was probably a scarf. Or something. She decided to get a lot of sleep that night, she was clearly seeing things.
She walked home, feet tapping the sidewalk as always, chiding herself for being silly – she didn’t believe in that stuff. She needed a good night’s sleep and an aspirin, that was all.
A moment later, she stopped short. That was definitely a goblin walking by.