Half-Hour Scenes & Stories
If I had known he would become the filter through which I would process, digest, and judge the world and everything in it, perhaps I would have acted differently that night. Maybe I would have left him to his thoughts, as he stood alone in that crowded room. If I had known he would haunt my heart for years to come, I might never have pursued his attention. But maybe I still would have, knowing that here was a person I would never be able to extricate from my soul. Everybody wants to belong to somebody else.
The first time I saw him, he was like a ghost in the corner, hovering at the fringe of the party like someone peering in from another world. He wore a black hoodie zipped up to his throat and thrift store jeans. With his hands in his sweatshirt pockets, he observed each person lazily. Nobody here interested him. I could see him judging each individual: the stoned ones, the sober ones, the drunk ones. I stumbled two steps toward him. I didn’t yet know why, but I was desperate to be judged, too.
I could tell that when he noticed me, I didn’t interest him, either. My forehead was too wide. My vision slightly blurred. I had someone else’s glass in my hand and it tipped to one side, as if the liquid struggled to escape to the floor. I looked just like everyone else. “Lonely, foolish, irreverent, uncaring.” My mother’s words, not mine.
His eyes slid past me. I didn’t matter. I was one of the many party goers, lost in the crowd. Wasn’t that why I was here in the first place? To be lost, to forget about the shadows haunting my every move? My old life was dead, the people I cared about gone forever. Like so many others after the Exile, I had abandoned a life of mystery and magic for a world of science and anonymity. A world full of callous, lost hearts. It was a simpler existence than the one I had known.
We couldn’t go back. We had once been a population of thousands, living in a land you only read about in stories. Now we numbered forty-eight. Those of us who were left had no choice but to assimilate into this new culture. I went to college. Others blended into cities and took up residence in the sewers. Our old way of life would slowly die out, because it was the only way our people could think of to survive. I abandoned the old life, literally drowning myself in the real world.
It had been this way for several months. I continue to exist among the non-magic folk in a simple shoreline city. The alcohol helped dull my senses, so that I couldn’t constantly hear the voice in the night and the whispers in the shadows. I had begun to believe I could make it.
Then, I saw him. This stranger in the black sweatshirt. I don’t know why I thought he was important. But I suddenly didn’t want to be lost. I wanted to feel special. Unique. He was so above all of — this, whatever this was. The darkness, the music, and the night. I felt he had a secret. I needed his secret. I moved into his line of sight again. I waved.
He stared back, expressionless. His skin was tan, his chin covered in stubble. The nose in the center of his face was a little too big. It competed with his small eyes and made him look as if he struggled to see past it. Maybe that’s why he stared so hard at everyone else, I thought. That obstruction in his line of sight.
Of course he didn’t wave back. He wasn’t here to make friends. He was waiting, I realized, as he lifted his arm to glance at his watch. He returned his attention to the crowd. I wondered what he was waiting for.
Before I knew it, I stood before him. I hadn’t consciously made the decision to cross the room. But there I was, and he was looking at me again. I thought about turning away. My presence didn’t confuse him. He didn’t seem surprised. I felt a tug in my chest.
“What are you waiting for?” I asked.
He didn’t answer right away. His eyes traveled across my face, and dropped to the glass in my hand.
“Jedd’ll be upset if you spill on his carpet,” he said. His voice was flat. In his tone I heard how many others he’d seen like me. How I bored him. How my mere presence annoyed him. I clung to that knowledge: that he was annoyed.
“I’m not like them,” I said, tilting my head toward a couple of girls who had fallen over, giggling. He seemed deaf to their cackles. “I’m unique.”
He sighed. He checked his watch again. He carefully built a wall of silence between us, brick by brick. I bumped off each brick after he settled it into place.
“You keep checking your watch,” I said. I grabbed his sleeve and lifted it out a little so the timepiece glittered up at us. “Almost midnight, I see. Are you waiting for someone?”
This time, when he turned his bored expression on me, I finally felt like an idiot. I dropped his sleeve and took a few steps back, putting distance between us. I could see myself reflected in his eyes: a wobbly little twenty-year-old, hair askew, slightly drunk, desperate for attention. I thought I hated him for it. I clenched my free fist.
“So you’re better than all of us, are you?” I hissed. The skin around his lips tightened, as if forcibly preventing himself from answering. “Excuse me for trying to be hospitable.”
I was an idiot. I was out of control. I could feel the shadows leaning in around me, their whispers taunting me to loose my hold. It would be so easy, to let them go. To show this stranger – this nobody – that I was somebody.
But was I? He continued to look at me with such disdain that I doubted myself again. The room tilted and I lost my grip on the cup. It descended toward the carpet, the liquid sliding out of it, and I remembered his warning about Jedd.
I lost the shadows and they raged to life, swarming the falling cup as it fell, cradling the liquid with their many hands and turning the droplets over and over until they were nothing but water vapor.