‘Better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all’
They yelled, their rapid fire backchat alarming the neighbors who had overheard raised voices coming from the house. He was immensely frustrated; everything she said only fueled his anger. She couldn’t take it anymore, and her final words silenced him. It was all over, the love story that they had desperately tried to hold on to had failed, just as she expected it would. She thought she had won. She had done what she’d set out to accomplish. She was heading home, fulfilled and content, university was over, and she was ready to spend the summer holidays alone. Yet she felt as if she was headed in the wrong direction.
She was superficial, a social butterfly who favored shoes over books. She was the girl whose world revolved around the web of societal expectations, a girl whose major life decisions were dictated by her similarly underachieving group of friends. A girl who lived life on the edge, but her edge was on the wrong end of the moral scale. She envied the guy who dared to live the life she could never have. “You don’t love me Michael; you love the idea of me. I can never fit the role you want me to play. I don’t deserve the fairy tale world you want to live in, and you will never settle for the reality that I have.”
“Rebecca, what do you want?”
“Everything you don’t.”
He was the dreamer, the boy with his nose in his books and his head in the clouds. He didn’t obsess over trivialities and the societal expectations he was meant to live by. He held his heart on his sleeve and his edge was adventure, and moments in life that left you breathless and filled with purpose and beauty. He loved the girl who was too afraid to take the risk and exceed all expectations placed on her. They were made for each other, in spite of each other.
“Dammit Rebecca, don’t give up on a life you’ve yet to live! For once in your life do something for you, not them. Don’t settle, accept nothing less than passion and perfection or live your life afraid to step out of the shadow of the person you follow.”
It was late spring in the last few weeks of the semester and the heat had trapped them both in the cool shaded area of a nearby cafe. Rebecca fiddled with the napkin in her hands as she traced the folds of the fabric, but her attention wasn’t on the napkin, or the white iPhone buzzing away at her side. It was on him. He was telling her about a novel that he’d just discovered and all the details he found on its fragile pages. He described an incredible story filled with all the rich and colorful characters she would dream about that night. They were beautiful, and she was mesmerized by his words. They could have been sitting there for hours, but you could see it in her eyes that she loved every minute of it. He loved the way she listened; her head tilted, her mouth slightly ajar, and her intense brown eyes reacting with every emotion she was expected not to have.
It was then that a pair of heels clacked on the pavement and a high pitched, meaningless greeting distracted them from his storytelling. Rebecca immediately withdrew from the secret escape that they had created. Michael’s face calmly lost its enthusiasm as he studied her carefully. Her face had hardened and twisted into an overly enthusiastic smile as the intruder lent in to plant a light kiss on her cheek.
“Rebecca! How have you been?” But before she could even respond the woman continued.
“So this is the boy you’ve been hiding from us, Michael is it?” she said, making it more of a statement. He smiled politely as his eyes flickered back to the person across from him. He couldn’t even recognize her; the corners of her lips tried for a smile, but her eyes had lost the wonder they once had. Before she was delirious, curious and thrilled, like a child hearing her first real fairy tale. Now she just seemed to be playing a role she had rehearsed far too many times.
“Rebecca tells me you’re a successful writer, how impressive,” she teased. His head was angled towards the woman but he kept a steady questioning eye on Rebecca as she quietly looked down to the floor.
“It’s a rewarding career, I’m happy to be pursuing something I love,” he said carefully. He’d never published a thing in his life. The uncomfortable conversation ran on until it was obvious that they were out of tedious small talk, and with that she left them there to sit in uncertain silence.
He watched her until finally their eyes met. He understood why she’d felt the need to lie. And he had no interest in calling her up on it. He only smiled at her; a warm, real smile and she swallowed hard.
“Do you want to read it?” he said as he passed the book over to her side of the table. She picked it up slowly, held it to her chest, and grinned.
The cool air of the night blew a cluster of leaves in their direction, encircling their feet. It was finally winter break and they shared a silence as they walked hand in hand on the grass, passing a sign warning them not to. They barely spoke, they were both afraid that breaking the silence would shatter their stolen moment and so they didn’t, they only walked, completely aware, completely alive, and completely happy. For the night was theirs, and with not a single person waiting to see their fairy tale end, they were free to do whatever they pleased and live how they saw fit.
“It sucks” she remarked to the guy hunched over, his forehead creased, reading the blurb of the book he’d acquired. He looked up instantly at the woman with a confused smile on his face. She stood there, radiating confidence, white iPhone in hand, tracing a light finger along the row of books on the shelf across from his. She paused and then pulled out a book from the shelf to study it closely, completely unaware of the world around her. He shook his head in slight bewilderment; she was beautiful, and poised and indifferent. She didn’t belong in the quiet corners of his paradise, and yet she knew exactly what she was looking for and why she was there.
“You read?” he asked, gesturing to the book in her hand.
“Apparently,” she said with a sigh. She looked up at him and smiled sweetly, her big brown eyes giving away only what she wanted, and yet he could see right through her. He had no interest in the games she desired to play.
“Well, thanks for the tip,” he said and returned the book. It was a classic, but she needed the victory more than he did. He then made his way through to the front of the store, ready to leave empty handed. She watched him go and looked down at the book in her hand.
She would buy the book that was required for her first unit of university, then return to her shared apartment and discuss the usual topics; the unsentimental ordinary moments that when tied in with a joke, can make the dryness of it all seem a little sweeter. Later on she would make her way to the local bar and proceed with the mindless chit chat expected from her friends as they groaned about the coming year, and she would wait until someone approached. She would wait until Prince Charming found her sitting there on the bar stool. And when he didn’t come, she would go on living, and continue to live the same way she was meant to.
Or maybe… she could put the book down. And she could ignore the fear of rejection. And she could ignore the expectations. And for a moment, she could feel as if she possessed the power to write her own story.
She quickly made up her mind.
She strode up to the door and threw it open. He turned to see the source of the sudden noise.
“What’s your name.” she said breathless, excited, and maybe even a little scared.
“Michael,” he replied casually, a curious smile spread across his face. She could have filled a thousand different words in the silence that followed. But she let it linger, and for once thought carefully about what she chose to say next.
“And what do you want, Michael?” a strange question, a significant question. He was surprised by it, but his smile did not falter as he replied.