It was a chance meeting. Or so I thought at the time. It seemed so cliché, how we met. Something that only happened in books or movies. Fantasy not reality. If I could go back, if I knew what I know now, I would have run. I would have taken one look at your lazy smile, at your lips that were a shade darker than most, at your pale skin and tousled dark hair, and I would have run.
But I can’t go back.
And I didn’t know better.
I didn’t know you would ruin me.
I was at the movies with Jess. She begged me to go. Even though it wasn’t a movie I was interested in, I went anyway because that’s what friends do. And I had nothing else on. Dad was at home, doing what he did every night. Sitting on the couch, whiskey glass in hand, staring blankly at the television as it attempted to amuse him. It was rarely successful.
Jess liked cliché movies. She liked that they were predictable, that the good guys always won. I didn’t. But I should have. There is something to be said when evil is punished and goodness is rewarded.
It’s the way it should be.
But it’s not the way the world is.
We were waiting in line to buy tickets and arguing about ice cream. She liked the crunch of the chocolate-covered topping. I didn’t. She wanted vanilla. I wanted boysenberry. It seemed important at the time.
So distracted was I by our argument, I never noticed you watching. I never noticed the way your eyes narrowed with recognition.
You knew me but I didn’t know you.
To me you were a stranger.
A random person in the crowd.
It wasn’t until you caught me that I saw you. One minute I was standing in line and the next I was falling into you. I didn’t know that you were the one who made me fall. That you saw me and knew who I was. That you planned it all.
Later, I would look back and imagine telling our children how we met. It was silly, I know, but I liked to imagine. I liked to think of a world where chance meetings turned into love. We would laugh as we recalled the story. Our eyes would shine over the heads of our children. We would smile. Our hair would be speckled with grey. You would kiss my cheek.
We would be happy.
Those around us chuckled when I stumbled. But you saved me. Colour flooded my cheeks as I found myself clutching onto you, my head buried in your chest.
You smelled of rain and of smoke and of something sharp.
You helped me to my feet, depositing me back beside Jess. “Are you alright?”
Jess laughed. “Don’t mind her. She’s as clumsy as they come.”
It was a lie but you didn’t know that. You didn’t know the only reason Jess said it was because she thought you were attractive. And you were. Dressed in a leather jacket with rough patches on the elbows, you looked at me and smiled. And it was in that moment I decided I would not take the backseat. Jess wanted you but fate had delivered me into your lap. Almost literally.
“I’m fine.” That was the masterpiece of a reply I came up with. Jess was the bold one. Jess was the one with the witty replies and battering lashes.
You hovered by my side as though you were afraid I might fall again. “Are you sure?”
Jess grabbed my arm, tugging me forward as the line moved. “She’s quite sure, thank you.” She had decided to go for the ‘blunt’ option. Hard to get. This was the tact she took with most men she liked, and I knew she liked you by the tilt of her chin and the glint of mischief in her eyes.
But you didn’t respond. You took your place behind me and every time I stole glances over my shoulder, I was met with the intensity of your gaze. Your eyes were heavy, as if you despised the world so much you couldn’t stand to see it fully. I liked the way they fixed so solidly on me. You weren’t afraid that I would notice you were watching. You wanted me to.
Once we had made our purchases, you approached the counter and requested tickets to the same movie. You didn’t use its name. You didn’t ask for recommendations. You looked the girl in the eye and asked for four tickets to the same movie as me. It was only then that I noticed the rest of your group. There were four of you. All male. All intent on seeing a different movie than the one you requested. They groaned and cursed. I didn’t blame them. Their complaints echoed my own when Jess suggested it, but you held firm, your eyes sliding to mine, holding a question or a challenge. I wasn’t sure which.
Jess grabbed my arm again, almost causing me to spill the overstuffed box of popcorn. I hated popcorn because I could never stop eating it. I hated it because it got caught in my teeth, because it was both salty and sweet, crunchy and soft. But I still ordered it. Maybe I was attracted to things I hated. Maybe that’s why I noticed you. Subconsciously, I knew that one day I would hate you.
We sat in the middle of the theatre. Middle seats. Middle row. It was tradition. I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting for you to appear. Jess noticed and elbowed me in the ribs. She was physical like that. Hitting and slapping, hugging and squeezing.
“You like him.” She said it in a sing-song voice, as though we were thirteen again and she was taunting me.
“I do not.” I spoke with none of the maturity my twenty-one years deserved and poked out my tongue.
Then I glanced over my shoulder again.
“Oh my god, you do!” Narrowing her eyes, Jess leaned in close. “I wonder if he’s any good in bed? He looks like he could be. He looks fit. Lean.” Her head cocked to the side. “Then again, you never can tell.”
I ignored her and shoved a handful of popcorn into my mouth.
And then you walked in.
I promised myself I wouldn’t look. You were nothing more than a stranger in a theatre who I would never see again, but all that fell by the wayside when you sat beside me.
You smiled and held out your hand. “Killian.”
The proximity made it awkward to shake your offered greeting. “Sophie.” My name was mumbled around popcorn. I swallowed. “What sort of a name is Killian?”
You lifted your eyebrows. “What sort of a name is Sophie?”
I shrugged, feeling the colour creep back into my cheeks. I didn’t mean to sound so blunt, so accusing. I shrugged. “It’s the name my parents gave me.” After taking another handful of popcorn, I tilted the box your way and you buried your hand into the pile. Somehow it felt dangerous, naughty, as though we were caught in a forbidden act.
“Same,” you said.
Then you sat back in your seat, placing one piece of popcorn in your mouth at a time and started to talk to your friends, dismissing me as nothing more than the girl you sat beside. Because that’s all I thought I was. Your friends were still ribbing you about your movie choice. They had no idea it was because of me that you changed your mind.
If I had thought to notice them, I would have seen their groomed hair-styles, the stiffness of their collars and the expensive cut of their shirts. But I didn’t notice any of these things because I only saw you.
I wanted to talk to you but my mind was blank. I couldn’t think of one question to ask as the lights dimmed and the trailers started to roll. Not one amusing comment popped into my head. So instead, I tried to ignore you, even though I could feel the heat of your body next to mine.
During the movie, I stole glances at you. I noticed smudges of black across the ridge of your jaw and wanted to ask what they were from. I noticed your feet were placed on the back of the seat in front of you but you removed them when the usher walked past. And I noticed that your jeans were ripped and faded and covered in the same dark smudges that marred your face.
Your drink was in the cup holder closest to my seat and every time you reached for it, your arm brushed against mine. I wanted you to be doing it on purpose but I couldn’t tell whether you were or not.
You ignored me, but the only thing I noticed was you.
Jess laughed loudly and I was jolted back to the movie. It was a romance of some sort. I didn’t need to watch to know the plot. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy does something stupid. Girl is sad. Boy is sorry. They live happily ever after.
Jess was transfixed. She got emotionally invested in movies. She couldn’t watch a sad scene without crying, just like she couldn’t watch a funny scene without laughing. She even cried during television advertisements.
It was during the apology part, the part when the boy declared his undying love, when I felt the brush of your finger. It was faint at first and I thought I imagined it. But then it happened again.
Your hand was on the armrest. Mine was on my leg. They were close enough to touch, but not without effort. Your little finger stretched out to stroke mine. Such a small movement. So innocent. But it felt anything but. Your finger twisted to cover mine, linking us together in the smallest of ways.
I was on fire.
I glanced over, but you were watching the movie. It was as though you had no idea what you were doing. The flashing light of the screen illuminated your features, darkening the hollows under your eyes and sharpening the angles of your face. My heart raced. I was certain you would be able to feel the thud of my pulse through our entwined fingers.
The movie finished and the credits rolled. Red lights blinked, highlighting the steps of the theatre.
Your friend leaned forward. “What did you just make us watch? That was pure fucking rubbish.” He rose to his feet.
I don’t know when it happened but your touch was gone. My hand felt cold. I looked back up to find you staring at me, leaning forward, your hands grasping the armrests, ready to follow your friend. But instead you waited. For me.
“Did you like it?”
I glanced over at your friend’s retreating back and mimicked his words. “It was pure fucking rubbish.”
You stood and shrugged. “I didn’t mind it.”
Then you walked away.
And even though I barely knew you, even though I thought we were merely strangers who met at a movie, I felt the loss of you.
Jess tore my attention away by elbowing me. “So, what did you think? Did you like it?”
I smiled. “Sure did.”
She stretched into the air, her top riding up her stomach. “Liar.” She yawned. “But didn’t you think it was sad when she stood there at the beginning, eating toast over the sink, all alone?”
“Why would that be sad?” I was genuinely confused.
“Never mind,” Jess muttered. “I forgot you actually like being alone.”
“Not all of the time.”
“Most of it.”
It was true. I worked. I ate dinner with my dad. I watched television in my room. I went to sleep. Loneliness didn’t worry me. I was content to get lost in worlds that weren’t my own. I wasn’t always that way. Things were different after my sister left.
Not that she left voluntarily, but it sounds so much nicer than dead.
Even though Dad still had hope, even though for the police it was an unsolved case, I knew she was dead. She would have found her way back to me if she wasn’t. Nothing would have stopped her.
I dumped the leftover popcorn in the bin and exited the theatre. And there you were, waiting for me, leaning against the wall, ankles crossed and your hands pressed into the pockets of your jeans. As I approached, you tipped forward and fell into step with me, phone in hand.
“Can I have your number?”
Later, I wondered if you had seen the eagerness in my expression. Did you laugh at how easy it was? How quickly I fell?
Beside me, Jess groaned. “My god, Sophie. He’s not asking for my number, is he?”
I flashed you a nervous smile, fumbling through my jacket pockets, searching for my phone. Then I realised I didn’t need it and the creases of your mouth crept up. It had never happened to me before. I didn’t attract attention. I took after my dad like that, even though, physically, I was the spitting image of my mother and my sister.
Pulling my hand out of my pocket, I told you my number and you tapped it into your phone.
And then you were gone again. Only this time it didn’t feel like loss.
Jess chuckled. “Sheesh, he’s keen. A little strange, but keen.”
“He was nice.”
“Nice?” Jess shuddered. “Fuck nice.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket. There was a message from you and with it came the first clue, though it never occurred to me at the time. At the time it was nothing. I didn’t register. If I had, it would have set off alarm bells. But I doubt I would have listened. I was too taken with you. There were too many explanations, reasons, excuses. Too many things in my mind that made me blind to your intention.
Keying in the lock code, I pressed on the new message.
‘It was nice to meet you Sophie Rush.’