I adjusted my tie.
I tried not to glance back in the mirror. I knew how I looked. Ragged. In some ways, handsome. Every man likes to think the same. I tried to settle my wavy hair into slicked back waves, I drew a line of black under my beady eyes with kajal before the embarrassment killed me. I had dismissed my make up artist for the night. I didn’t want the fuss of attending a Gala choke me in ways that I couldn’t cope with pressure and social obligations, not to mention the silly red carpet and the posing.
I was good with it. Brilliant. They loved me. The third person always did.
They didn’t even know me.
It was fifteen years ago when I received my first break. I was doing well even before then. On a small scale.
But when things are tiny, the pretending is easier. Putting up a show of ‘Who I Am’ to 5 million people is brutal.
I think I’ve forgotten too. I think it doesn’t matter anymore.
I close my eyes and snap my fingers. That’s how easy it has become. The next thing I know, I’m seated in my black limo, a couple of women pour champagne and a black guy wearing far too many tattoos stares moodily out of the window. I have tattoos too. They are called scars.
I interact. Detached.
When I get out of the car I smirk. Flashes blind me. But if I can smile absolutely gorgeous in the dead of darkness that is my life, these flashing lights should be a cake walk. I strut on the red carpet, with a famous actress on my side. Tomorrow they’ll debate the depth of our friendship, whether there is something going on, give us a cheesy couple name and resurface pictures of us from two years ago.
Clunk, clunk. That’s when I heard her boots hit the ground. I turned to look at her, not realizing how hours had passed and I was sliding my way through the fifth glass of champagne. Broken lights filled my vision, and I don’t know whether it was the whole hilarity of the glam and money in this room, but it did seem to be shinning, illuminating. Maybe it was all her.
It felt like it didn’t take me anytime to see her. Like she had popped in to say ‘Hello’ just from yesterday.
Because she had.
Not to say Hello, though.
The moment her eyes landed on me, round with realization, she ran toward me – boots clunking and all. She was dressed as a black swan. Feathers hit the ground she threaded on and covered every inch of her skin. The actress on my side pinched me and commented about the feathers. I, on the other hand wanted to touch the delicacy.
She didn’t want to say hi. She spread her arms like a bird ready for flight. She flew toward me with a smile that I had known from so long ago. That smile never seemed to fade. I had never known her without that smile. A smile that was happy, that was shy, that said ‘Sweetie you’re fooling no one. Least of all, me.’
I wasn’t fooling her. Not in this moment.
She was here in front of me in less than a blink of an eye. We looked the same, the same tarnished picture from 15 years ago. And I closed my eyes and didn’t snap my fingers. It was that difficult. But she always found a way to win even when she was losing everything. She stood on her tip toes and kissed me whole. Tips toes, because I was at least a foot taller than her.
“I always wanted to do that,” she said.
She wouldn’t have ever done this 15 years ago. She never had, anyway.
I let my astounded face stand in front of hers, as for the first time I participated to struggle for words. She laughed, as the actress on my arm strayed away from me with disgust and jealousy. “Is that your girlfriend? She looks a lot like Heidi Klum.”
Her voice had changed. She could be so many different people I didn’t know but once upon a time we used to stay up till 3 a.m trying to figure out the world. She was my friend. An acquaintance. A little lesser than that, perhaps. We were nothing and something at the same time, revolving in different atmospheres, wearing different faces for different dresses. We were nobody together. I didn’t even know her.
She didn’t even know me.
I leaned in toward her, both of us seemingly suspended in the past. A past that lacked everything this moment had. Connection. Attraction. Us. Nice clothes. She knocked on my chest and not for the first time did she find it… Hollow. Only this time the sound was clearer, sharper.
“Do you want to get out of here?” I asked.
I held my hand out.
She held her hand to hold mine and in that tiny second, in a frame where time stopped, I saw a tattoo on her wrist.
Those were my initials.
A tap on my shoulder shook me out of this void. I didn’t want to strain my bones and turn around, so I let my arrogant posture speak for itself and the man moulded his body to interact with me. “Luke Gallaway,” he said to me. “My man are you giving us a run for our money!”
I bit my lip, shame – sadness clouded my head. My hand was still held out to her. But she twisted her arm away from me, rubbing her tattoo as if someone had stung her there.
“Get out of here with you?” She laughed. She disguised everything so well. “Wouldn’t risk getting a tabloid article with you… Luke.” A lump fell down her throat as she uttered the unfamiliar name. She curtsied to the laughing man. And clunk, clunk.
She walked away from the man she didn’t know any longer, just as I had walked away from a girl who was trying to decipher A. H.
I wanted to scream out to her that I was still him.
This was all a mask.
Somehow she heard me and turned around.
We held our breath.