I have spent too many years watching him. I know everything. But being here, now, is a strange sensation, like I no longer know how to breathe. Like he has taken that from me along with my heart.
The words are gone. What do you do when the words are gone? The words that have held you in place for years, the words that somehow both confined and supported. How do I learn to function now that the words have changed?
I have spent too many years just watching, and now I can touch.
I’m not going to touch. I am able to, but I will not. Because he doesn’t know who I am. To him, I am only a stranger sitting at this small café table, insignificant. Maybe, when he glanced at me just now-across the pandemonium and clinking coffee cups- a flicker of recognition lit his brain, and he thought, that girl looks like her. Like the story I’ve always known.
I know better than to hope. Foolish, foolish girl. I know better than to think that he will somehow know me as I know him. My book has been around too long for such childish notions.
Maybe you have read me. Maybe you know me. I don’t care. All I want is him, to hold him, to love him. All I want is for him to know how nonfictional my feelings for him are.
And now he is staring again. I don’t know what to do with my hands, if they should sit in my lap or on the table, or straighten my hair. I don’t know anything, because his gaze on me is hot, and because I know him, I know he thinks I’m attractive.
Dear God, he thinks I’m attractive. I’ve always admired him, the deep blue of his eyes as he took in the words that made me up. That crazy hair that never seems to cooperate with his wishes. His crooked, crooked smile. He’s the attractive one. In comparison to him, I am hideous.
In the three days I’ve been out of my story, I have never seen anything as beautiful as he is.
He can’t control himself. He’s never been able to. I’ve been with him for years, and he’s never been able to resist the barest impulse. So of course, he is up and coming to the table I sit at and he’s smiling.
“Hi,” I say, wary. I shouldn’t be wary. I know know know him. Better than he knows him.
“Hi,” he says back. He’s relaxed, confident. Like he’s done this millions of times. I have done this zero times, and I am afraid that it shows.
“Can I help you?” I ask him, when what I mean is let me help you hold you love you. Let me care for your soul.
“I-okay. This is strange.”
“You, um… you look like someone I know.” The confidence is gone, replaced by a questioning frown.
“And who would that be?” I reply with what I hope is an alluring smile. I hope he can understand my flirtation.
“Well…” He is pondering it, wondering if he should say the insane things he is thinking. I can tell, because there is a crease in his brow, like when he’s reading a particularly puzzling passage in my story, and it’s almost like if he thinks hard enough, he can make everything work out.
“You’re beginning to get a little creepy,” I tease. He grins a little.
“Honestly? You remind me of someone I read about.”
The words have failed me in an entirely new way. In my book, I had my lines written for me, words that I knew by heart. And now… now I’m not entirely sure what to say. Because he recognizes me, but he doesn’t know me. This person, who matters to me more than anyone, doesn’t know who I am.
“I get that a lot,” I decide.
He smiles at me again. So, so familiar, that smile. I know the mind behind that smile, the ever-turning wheels that make him work. I know everything that resides inside of him. Except his name.
How have I never heard his name? How do I not know something that defines him as much as his appearance? How do I love a boy I don’t know as well as I thought I did?
“What do they call you?” he asks, swinging one leg over the other. I fidget nervously, afraid that he’ll think I’m mocking him.
“Emma,” I tell him. I pretend not to see how he blanches, how he bites his lip and looks down. For a moment, I fear my earlier premonition has come true, that he thinks I am trying to hurt him. But he looks up at me and smiles again and says only this:
“What a coincidence.” Not offering an explanation. Just leaving it at that.
“And you, sir?” I begin. “What’s your name?”
He laughs at my formality (I made him laugh!) and takes a moment to compose himself. When he does, he looks me straight in the face, like his name, letters that defined him as much as mine defined me, is the most important thing he’s ever said to anyone.
He says it with vulnerability, but with purpose.
And it is lilting, and lyrical, and sad. And it pulls me in and drowns me in knowledge, in a deep sense of right. Like I would have given him this name myself, after having learned the inner secrets of his soul. His name is the most matter-of-fact yet eloquent thing I have ever heard. And I wonder, suddenly, how I could have ever known him without knowing this, the basest truth of himself.
But his name is too much for you, new reader. His name is beauty and heartache and life and death. I want to keep it to myself for a while. Because it reflects his heart, and that belongs to me.