He was not the type to enjoy bars, or alcohol for that matter, but he felt obligated and a bit pressured by his friends to celebrate. A 21st birthday, after all, was a day that some of his friends weren’t lucky enough to see. So he went a bit begrudgingly, but excited nonetheless, and sat a few seats down from some tired-looking mill workers who he guessed were regulars. The bar itself was nothing to write home about, a dimly lit hole in the wall with creaky stools, greasy counters, and a pungent odor. The type of establishment that, given the choice, he would avoid. But here he was, neatly dressed and struggling through a beer — he didn’t like the taste — when she walked through the door.
She entered with a flourish, alone, and the men turned their heads and took a collective gasp. She was taller than most women he had seen around town, with a slender figure and a mess of curly black hair. And, boy, was she beautiful. It was a simple beauty, the rare kind born from good genes without the artificiality of makeup, foundation, and whatnot. Something about her seemed familiar to him, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Maybe it was her large brown eyes or easy swaying walk, triggering the memory of a forgotten dream. She looked around, noticed the thirsty looks of the two men in the corner booth, ran her fingers through her hair, and walked toward him.
There were plenty of open seats at the bar, but she chose the stool right next to him. His friend nudged him under the table and whispered something unintelligible, then turned and walked away. He was nervous and his palms were sweaty, because he never really knew what to say to women, and particularly those as beautiful as her. He fiddled with a napkin and felt the heat rising in his neck, and then was relieved when she said, “I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“M-makes sense,” he hesitated. “This is my first time here but I don’t particularly enjoy this setting.”
She thought about that for a second, and then matter-of-factly replied, “Me neither.”
She played with the edge of her dress, a flowing wrap in a vivid shade of blue. It looked expensive and exotic, like she picked it out of one of those fancy magazines that he saw in the stores. Of course, he had made enough passing glances at storefront windows to know that her dress was not from any place in the area. He watched her as she twisted the fabric in her fingers. She leaned in and whispered into his ear, “I know a place we can go.”
The heat rose to his cheeks. “Okay,” he said.
She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him toward some stairs in the back. They looked old and rusty but seemed stable enough. He followed as she went up, and they climbed a couple flights until they arrived at the roof. She led him to the edge, where they could watch the sunset and see the light fade into the pine trees. They listened to the harmony of nature — birds chirping, frogs croaking, owls hooting — and they sat close together with their legs dangling off the side like kids. They talked about things, like her love of nature and his love of books, and he noticed the flowery smell of her perfume and wondered why he couldn’t smell it before. They noticed the uncommon brightness of the stars, little pinpricks of light shining through the black depths of space, and she showed him some of her favorite constellations. After pointing out the various stars that compose Ursa Major (the big dipper), she sighed and said, “I’ve always wanted to fly.”
“Why?” he asked. He much preferred the familiar comforts of having two feet on the ground.
“Why not?” she looked at him. “Being up there with the stars and all the freedom in the world would be magical, a dream come true. There wouldn’t be anybody to tell you what to do, or what to think, and you could just be yourself.”
He thought for a minute. “I guess so,” he said, “but it’s impossible.”
There was a long silence, interrupted occasionally by the slow murmur of voices drifting from downstairs.
“You know… it’s always the things you want most that you can’t have.”
He nodded solemnly in agreement and watched the starlight reflect in her eyes. She had a kind of heavenly presence, an unforgettable beauty and grace. She turned toward him. “Besides, what is life without dreams?”
He didn’t respond. Lost in her eyes and the darkness around them, and in a moment of blissful peace, something inside him changed. Robert Smith realized he loved her.
He loved her.