As it were, her story was never one about romance.
On a yellow beach towel spread upon the sand lay a sunburnt girl of 17. She had an easy smile and an ethnicity that was never fully confirmed. Often, but not always, she turned heads when she walked, out of what she could only imagine to be people’s bemusement. The attention made her notably self-conscious. She had full, soft lips like a cloud that had yet to be kissed. Her eyes, dark and shining, could seduce unwittingly, but only with handsome strangers she passed on the streets. Once at age 16, she became entangled in an innocent friendship with a Spanish boy at summer camp. To her stifled dismay, it never amounted to much more. That was the extent of her love life.
As it were, her story was never one about romance. Yet still, she was amused and curious by those who’s lives were about it, and she liked to pretend sometimes that she was one of them. That day on the beach, he looked at her with sparkling eyes – bright, clear, and shining. They had a joyous life in them, intense and light, that was apart from the casual manner of his words and movements. When her eyes met his, she greeted the warm spark that fired with a thrilled detachment. Around them, their friends’ conversation drifted off into a happy bartering of petty words. She only held his gaze for a second, before tilting her head away, laughing at something someone had said. His girlfriend shifted under his arm, leaning into him. Jay obliged without complaint, but his eyes hovered on the girl across him. They paused at her warm cheeks, where a flush of rose bloomed. They paused at her smooth hair, which flowed over one shoulder and shivered when she moved.
But let it be said again that this is not a love story. She had been in similar situations countless times before and every time it was the same. A boy would notice her, take interest, and make her heart flip. In the beginning, the flips were tumultuous things that shook her and made her swoon, dreaming of what could be. But as every instance resolved to nothing more but a bewildered amusement for her, the heart acrobatics became a part of a worn routine she knew by rote. For example, later that day, as she sat out on the deck reading Tender is the Night, Jay came out with his Canon film camera and began to photograph her. She smiled drily and laughed, as rehearsed countless times with countless people before. When he photographed her again, from another angle, and once more, up close, a warm, fluttering thrill rushed to her fingers and toes, right on cue.
The flat emotions that always ensued felt overused, but regardless, they were there. It was all so typical and all too tired. She hated herself for always playing along, yet she was helpless in stopping the rose-colored rise of hope that made her do so. A penchant for the dramatic, the sentimental, the mysterious, and the fantastic left you with only that – a stubborn sense of hope, sincere and unfulfilled. She never let herself think about exactly what it was she hoped for.
It should be noted that the realm of men, or rather, boys, remained a distant thing for her, something to concern herself with when she was older, like taxes or job interviews. But if she were honest, she would notice how badly her heart ached sometimes. She was 17. Yet unlike most other 17 year-old girls, her life on the whole did not involve romance. She still couldn’t decide if she hoped it would one day. Over and over, she asked herself earnestly, “Am I cynical, because I know that reality kills romance eventually? Or is that why I’m also immensely romantic, so that I can survive reality’s harsh truths? Cynical idealist or idealistic cynic…”
Then she’d realize she was getting too philosophical and would tell herself to stop thinking so much. She knew she only became that way after spending too much time by herself.
Amour, you stupid thing, she would murmur. You make me look lonely.
Meanwhile, her life went on. She closed her book and turned around. Jay took another picture.
“Hey you, cut it out!” she told Jay, pretending to laugh. “Stop wasting your film on me and go find someone more photogenic.”
Unfazed, he continued to snap shots, stopping to concentrate on the composition and positioning his camera closer to her.
“Dammit Jay, you’re making me uncomfortable,” she muttered, grinning despite herself.
The air around them was golden and dusty as the sun slipped under the sky. A warm breeze wheezed by. Her internal acrobatic performance was well underway. Jay paused to look up then said,
“It’s okay. You smile when you’re uncomfortable.”
She chuckled softly, wondering whether the butterflies in her stomach signaled an instinct to barf or an instinct to swoon. Moreover, she merely thought it interesting for butterflies to be there at all.