Just for Valentine's Day. Romance is really not my genre, but I kind of liked this story because it is far away from the usual romance tropes.
If You Could See Her
(Originally Published in Lily Literary Review, now defunct)
Mac laughed out loud when Joel Gray sang lovingly to the dancing gorilla. “If you could see her through my eyes...” Cabaret was such a good movie, he thought. He had lost count of the number of times he’d played his DVD.
Still chuckling at the end of the song, he clicked the pause button. He swung himself off the couch and shuffled into the kitchen for another beer. It’d be nice if he could find someone who’d see him like Joel saw the gorilla. True love was a funny thing. It put up a hazy screen obscuring your loved one’s faults. It was a good thing or nobody would ever stay with anybody else. Just too many differences, or maybe too many similarities, broke up relationships.
He plopped back on the couch with his beer and clicked Play. After this one, maybe he’d put on Moulin Rouge. Man, Nicole was a looker. Ha, was that an old-fashioned saying? Well, she was beautiful. Heck, that Ewan guy was pretty good-looking, too. They didn’t have to worry about finding love. Not when they were so gorgeous. He sighed and thought it must be nice.
Mac blinked and realized the movie was over, that he’d fallen asleep in the middle of it. That’s okay. He could always watch it again. Must be tired, though, so off to bed. Snapping off the TV, he lumbered into his bedroom. Already wearing his pajamas, all he had to do was roll onto the bed. Brush his teeth maybe? Nah, why bother? He didn’t have anybody to look, or smell, good for. He just put on his headgear to keep him from dying of apnea and quickly fell asleep.
In the morning, he woke to birds singing and sunshine streaming through the curtains. Another beautiful day. Rise and shine, sleepyhead. After breakfast, he had to go grocery shopping. He was out of eggs and bacon and another case of beer was a necessity. He’d polished off the last of the beer while watching the movie.
As he dressed in sweat pants and sweatshirt, size XXX-large, he mentally made up the rest of his shopping list. Maybe he’d get tortilla chips and salsa. It would go great with the Extra-Hungry Man Mexican dinner he already pictured in his mind. Maybe two of them. Guacamole, too. Yes.
He walked the half block to the bus stop and sat on the bench. The sun felt good on his face and he closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth.
He opened his eyes and saw the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in real-life, prettier than Nicole even.
“Could you move over so I could sit?” she asked.
“Oh, sure, yeah.” He scrunched his massive butt to one end of the bench, giving her a little room to perch her petite frame.
He couldn’t help but keep glancing at her. He wanted to take in the reddish-brown hair falling just to her shoulders, green (or are they hazel?) eyes, and the beautifully pure skin. No makeup, he noticed. Of course, she didn’t need any. Her business suit limned her slender frame perfectly. The white ruffle of blouse showing at her neck was a perfect setting for the most beautiful face he’d ever seen.
She turned her exquisite face to him and smiled. His heart beat faster, his stomach flipped; he even felt his toes curling inside his tennis shoes. Mac melted into a huge, glutinous pile of adoration for this lovely woman.
“Nice day,” she commented, glancing up at the cloudless sky.
“Uh, yeah.” Oh, brilliant, Mac thought. That was certainly charming. “I mean, yes, it is a beautiful day. Much nicer than yesterday, what with the rain and all.” Again, he winced at his own clumsiness.
“Yes, it is much nicer than yesterday. Still, I like the rain sometimes. It washes all the dirt and dust away; it leaves things fresh and clean–like today.”
“Oh, yes, definitely. I agree with you completely.” Arrghh, what an idiot!
“I’m new to the neighborhood. Have you lived here long?” Why was she still talking to him? By this time, most women would be sitting in stony silence.
“Yes, about ten years. I live in those apartments.” He gestured the half block up to his building.
“Oh, really! I live there, too! Then, hello neighbor. It’s nice to meet you.” She smiled broadly, flashing perfect white teeth. “I’m Lily.” She held out her hand to shake.
“Ma...Mac. That is Mackay.” He bit his lip to halt the stutter. “I mean my last name is Mackay. Everyone calls me Mac. My first name’s Paul.”
“I like the name Paul,” she murmured. “May I call you Paul?”
“Oh, of course, sure. I mean Mac is just a nickname. Heh, heh, call me anything you want!” He cringed inside again. Back off. Don’t be too pushy or you’ll scare her off.
They sat in silence for a few moments while his mind scrambled to come up with more conversation, anything to hear her speak.
“So, where do you work? Well, I mean, you don’t have to tell me, you know. But I’m not a stalker or anything.” Blast it! Why couldn’t he keep his foot out of his mouth?
“Not at all. I work for an ad agency. I’m a Demographics Analyst.”
She asked the question he didn’t want her to ask. “What do you do?”
“Oh, I...I’m temporarily between jobs. Just looking for the right opening.” Mac glanced at her and saw her head turn away. “But, but I do some freelance work...programming, web pages, stuff like that.”
“I think it’s wonderful when a man can be his own boss. I’m sure you’re the hardest supervisor you ever worked for.” She laughed at her little joke and he melted again and laughed with her.
“I suppose I am.”
“Well, here’s my bus. Are you taking this one?”
“Uh, no, I’m waiting for the cross-town.”
“Well, then, I enjoyed meeting you and I suppose we’ll be seeing each other a lot since we’re neighbors.”
He waved as she climbed on the bus. On the top step, she stopped, turned, and smiled at him again. Devastation. She was gone. He felt like the clouds had rolled in and covered up his sun. “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east and Lily is the sun.” He didn’t think Will would mind a minor change to his line. He had no illusions he was some Romeo, but now he knew how the young man felt.
His bus arrived. He clumped up the steps and showed the bus driver his pass. The bus was nearly full, so he knew he’d have to stand. That was so hard on his knees, but there wasn’t any way around it. He needed an entire seat to himself. His neck burned as he felt the disapproving glances of the riders, relieved he didn’t try to sit next to them. None of them bothered moving. He accepted that as the way of his life.
* * * *
It was going on five o’clock. He’d pulled a chair up to his window where he’d be able to see the bus arriving. A half-hour went by and two busses rolled through without stopping.
Finally, the last commuter bus pulled up and Lily stepped down. She turned and waved to somebody, maybe the driver, then started up the sidewalk to the apartment building.
Mac jumped up from his chair, knocking it aside, and hurried out to the hallway. He punched the elevator button anxiously, hoping he wouldn’t be too late. The elevator was coming down, so he got lucky and caught it on the way. The car stopped on the ground floor and when it opened...his Juliet, his sun was standing before him.
“Well, hello, Lily. Fancy meeting you here.” He tried to sound light-hearted and, most of all, surprised to see her.
“Paul! How nice to see you.” She smiled the smile that melted his heart.
He stood in the elevator doorway and suddenly realized that he had to get out to let her in. But she stood right in the way and he couldn’t go around. He cursed his grossness, how fat he was.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m in your way.” She moved to one side to let him out.
“Thank you,” was all he could manage as she stepped into the elevator. She gave him a last smile as the doors closed. He stood watching the floor numbers light up as the elevator ascended. It stopped on the fourth floor, just one floor up from him.
Waiting a moment, he then pushed the button. He rode the car to his floor and went back to his empty apartment.
The next day, he was at the bus stop plenty early. She came and they chatted. It was becoming easier for him. She was so kind, so wonderful. She listened to him as he talked about his life and he listened as she told him about hers. Over the days, they met every morning at the bus stop, every evening in the lobby of the building.
Then a miracle happened.
“Paul, I was wondering if you’d like to come up to my place for dinner some evening. We’ve become such good friends in these little meetings, I thought we would enjoy spending more time together.”
He was dumbstruck. She was asking him for a date?
“Oh, you mean you’re having a party. Having friends over?”
“No, I mean just the two of us. Would Saturday work for you?” She smiled, he melted.
“Why of course. That would be terrific. I’ll bring some wine if you like.”
“That would be nice. I think we’ll be having fish. I hope you like halibut.”
“Well, you can see food and I are on good terms. I’ll get a bottle of white wine, then.”
* * * *
On the big day, he hurried to the Men’s Big and Tall shop and found a decent pair of pants and jacket to wear. A new shirt. A tie? Yes, a tie would be right. Did he remember how to knot one?
He showed up at her door exactly at seven. The expensive white wine in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other. He felt giddy. Were the flowers too much? Oh, well, he was here now, so he tapped on the door.
His vision, his dream opened the door quickly and stood aside to let him in. She put her hands to her face in what he considered to be an endearing way. “Flowers! Oh, Paul. That is so sweet.”
She took wine and flowers from his hands as he just stood there staring at his lovely Lily. She wore a white dress, he thought it was a shirtwaist if he recalled correctly. A belt wrapped around her incredibly tiny waist as her hips swelled just the right amount below and her chest just the right amount above.
The small apartment was the same setup as his, so he knew where everything was. The dining table was set with beautiful flowered china, crystal wine and water glasses, and elegant silverware. A lit pair of candles were centered on the table.
Now, he had seen enough movies to know a romantic setting when it was presented. Visions of Bogart and Bacall. No, Cary Grant and Natalie Wood. Elegance, grace, and style. Suddenly, he felt ugly, fat, and awkward. He was so far from being Cary Grant it was pitiful. He wondered how he could have thought...
“Sit, won’t you?” she asked and sat herself on the couch. He hesitated and examined it closely. He was quite an expert at determining what would hold his weight. Reassured by its overstuffed size, he gingerly placed himself at one end. She slid across the couch to his side. Laying her arm across the back of the couch, she turned her body toward him.
They chatted for a while just as they did at the bus stop. It was thoroughly pleasant, and he began to relax. He would put aside the fact he loved this woman and be the friend she so clearly wanted him to be. He could not harbor any illusions.
While they talked, he let his eyes wander for brief moments around the room. What would it tell him about this lovely person he didn’t already know?
On a bookshelf, close by the couch, he saw a grouping of photos in silver frames. Clearly, they were pictures of friends and family. The smiling faces and arms around shoulders spoke of the love these people had for each other. He noticed one with two older people, a man and a woman, standing on either side of a younger woman. They had their arms wrapped around each other. He was puzzled at who these people could be. The older woman looked much like Lily, with the same eyes and mouth. The young woman in the middle, though, was huge. Not tall, maybe Lily’s height, but she easily weighed three hundred pounds.
He squinted to see the picture more clearly and her eyes followed his to the picture.
Paul did a double-take. “Who is...?”
He was shocked and quickly looked back and forth between his vision of loveliness and the overweight, yet beautiful, face in the photo.
“I lost some weight, more than a hundred pounds.” She spoke matter of factly and smiled at him.
He didn’t speak for a few moments, then said, “She is...you are beautiful. Either way, Lily.”
"Thank you, Paul. I think you're beautiful, too." She turned her eyes downward, suddenly shy.
“Yes.” He paused. “Yes, if you could see her through my eyes.” He realized Joel Gray might have been singing the truth after all.
THE END OF THE BEGINNING
This story and a bunch more are all available in "Mixed Bag 2: Supersized." The book is free on Amazon from February 14th - 18th. One whole week of free reading if you haven't got a date.