I cleared my throat and looked at her in the eyes. Her face betrayed no emotions and, believe me, I tried to look for any. I felt my hands go sweaty and the urge to run away almost overwhelmed me. Almost. I planted myself deep and remained rooted to where I was. I maintained eye contact.
“So, uhm,” I started to say. The words felt clumsy. I couldn’t blame them. I felt clumsy doing this. “Sorry,” I smiled at her. “I’ll be saying ‘uhm’ a lot. Anyway, uhm, hi, I’m Jude.”
She remained silent as she continued to listen to me. We were alone and yet I felt like a thousand pairs of eyes was looking down on me, waiting for what I would say next. I opened my mouth and I gave them what they want.
“I’m of average height and of mediocre accomplishments. I’m twenty three and skinnier than most guys. I don’t have a Hollywood smile or a face girls will go gaga over. I’m not the guy some girl will be looking twice at when seen in the streets.” I laughed at that. I scratched my head and went back to speaking. “I’m not athletically built. I am in love with books and I love getting lost in stories. I imaging myself laughing with the characters in their triumphs and I feel the realness of their heartbreaks with the tears on my cheeks. I love to write. I write poems and stories and my thoughts. I write to somebody sometimes. I write to nobody most of the times. I’ve never thought of myself as a great writer. The greatest compliment I gave myself was ‘good’. I don’t know why. Uhm, hmm…I blend easily. I step out and I get washed away by this ocean of faces and you won’t be able to spot me in it. I am as faceless as they are. Am I being too hard on myself? I’m Jude and I am a couple of levels down in the self-esteem category. I have brown eyes and slightly sunken cheeks. I have gigantic dreams.”
I felt myself starting to unravel. I felt myself shedding parts of myself. I continue…
“I love to run. I love the feeling of your heartbeat steadily rising. Sweat rolling down your cheeks. I love the feeling of being able to get to one place to another. I love the feeling of my shoes hitting the pavement and pushing me forward. The way I try to catch my breath. I love the feeling of running. It’s the closest I can get to flying. Uhm, I’m Jude and I’m all of these things with a sprinkle of awkward and a tubful of clumsy.”
Her lips remained a straight line.
“Uhm, I’m not really good at this…feelings stuff. I’m Jude and I love you, Margo. I love you with my insecurities and my blinding imperfections. I love you with words both written and spoken. I love you as I love writing. I love you with each letter I write and with each word I form. I love you in the paragraphs and the pages of my stories. I love you as much as I love running – you make my heartbeat go faster and you make me catch my breath. You’re the closest I have to flying. I love you, Margo. Skinny, awkward me with the brown eyes and the average height and the not Hollywood face. Uhm, I guess that’s it. That’s what I’ve been wanting to tell you.”
The Japanese woman in the painting kept her silence. She looked at me with her porcelain white face and her almond shaped eyes.
“Speechless huh?” I said. “Better than running away screaming in sheer horror, yeah?” I shoved my hands in my pockets and I stepped out of the house. I checked my phone and I see her message. She’s already at the party.
The party was alive and it screamed and sang and the air was filled with its beer drenched breath. It was an explosion of lights and casualties lay outside on the grass with beer cans in their hands. I parked my car and started walking towards the house, already feeling uncomfortable. I saw her rush out to me and pull me by the arm. I was introduced to faces whose names all got jumbled in my head along with the music and the voices.
“Hey?” I said to her.
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“I’ve something to tell you. Come on,” This time it was my turn to hold her in the arm and pull her my way. I led her outside to a space free of drunken bodies and couples whose lips were locked with one another. I took a deep chunk of the night and shoved it deep in my lungs. Here goes nothing…
“Hi, I’m Jude,” I started.
“Yeah, you’re Jude.” She said laughing. “I–”
“There’s more,” I said smiling.
She raised her hand to her lips and zipped it and I told her everything I told the Japanese woman in the painting. The words stumbled after the other and I felt lightheaded and strange and I just couldn’t stop. I watched her face changed expressions. I finished and the night waited with the stars and the leaves and the grass for her answer. I felt my hands go sweaty so I wiped them on my pants. She cleared her throat. Then I heard something from her like a laugh caught in a tight place.
“Wow,” Margo ran a hand through her hair. “And I thought I was drunk. OK.”
“Hi, Jude,” Margo said. She smiled at me. “I’m Margo and this is me…”
I listened to her. I grabbed hold of every word as they float out of her cherry colored lips. I held her hand and I felt fragments of insecurities and doubts dissolve into a puddle of nothingness. I listened to her and I started to see Margo in different ways. I saw a kaleidoscopic Margo, a rainbow Margo; each one of them truer than the last. Each one different and yet similar at the same time. I loved each one of them.
The night released its breath and the stars seemed to have grown brighter.
“Come on,” she said after a while. I followed her as she ran to the car. We got inside and I turned on the engine.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“There!” She pointed straight into the darkness of the street.
“There’s a good place,” I said.
And so we drove away.