Claire and I were standing on the sidewalk outside a vehicle repair shop. She was talking to an old, chubby guy with very little hair on his head. He looked… boisterous. That’s one way to put it. He gave Claire a huge grin and told her he’d get her bike fixed in no time at all.
In the meantime, Claire led me to the back of the garage, where there was an empty room with showers.
“Let’s get those wounds cleaned up,” she said, gesturing at my legs. “I have a bottle of soap with me.”
Claire took a bottle from her bag, and handed it to me.
“Do you always carry hand soap with you?” I asked her.
She nodded. “I’m constantly fixing stuff in my bike, and that tends to get my hands greasy, y’see. Soap’s really useful to carry along.”
I looked at the shower head before me, then at my legs, then back at Claire.
“Um… Claire… I can’t, you know…”
“Oh right!” she facepalmed. “Sorry, I forgot about that. Don’t worry, I’ll just wait outside, okay?”
I thanked her. Once she’d left the room, I took off my (mostly ruined) jeans, and started the water. This wasn’t the hot water from school. It was cold. Really really cold. Can people even bathe in water as cold as this? Oh, whatever, it was only my legs I’d be washing. I proceeded to do it, trying not to get my clothes wet, rinsing the dirt and the dried blood off my skin. The soap hurt when I put it on my leg, but it was bearable. Being a cursed kid, I’ve already had my fair share of accidents, and had my wounds treated with products that hurt a lot more than that. This was nothing.
I put on the jeans again, helplessly getting them wet. Then I tried my best to get my feet dry before wearing my shoes, and went off to meet Claire outside.
“You good?” She asked me. I nodded. “Great. Now it’s my turn.”
“Did you get hurt?” I honestly hadn’t seen it.
She pulled her shirt halfway up on the left side of her abdomen, showing me blood-stained bruises running along her back, that looked much like the ones I had on my legs.
“Ouch,” I said, instinctively. She chuckled.
“It doesn’t hurt,” she said. “I’ve had a lot worse. It’s a good thing you asked me to slow down, this accident could have ended getting us both uglier wounds.”
“You should really drive more slowly from now on.”
“I’ll drive more slowly when I’m with you.”
“I meant in general.”
Claire smiled, and didn’t reply. She just took the soap bottle from my hands and headed inside the bathroom to get herself cleaned up.
“Stubborn,” I complained to myself, when I was alone. “Just like her spells.”
We left the repair shop feeling a little better than when we walked in, but still looking beat up. We were walking together down the busy city streets, as Claire showed me the stores and all other interesting places she knew of when we passed them by. The city, she told me, had two lives: by day, it was bustling with commerce: shops and services everywhere, folks in suits going up and down the streets, looking at their wristwatches. By night, though, the business-like side of it died down a bit, and the city began to gain airs of art and romance. There were several restaurants along the busiest streets, most of which featured musicians, who performed slow-paced love songs and other ballads. Some people also performed their art on the streets. Claire and I stopped by a man all dressed in gray who was pretending to be a statue. She dropped some coins into his hat, and the “statue” suddenly gained life, leaning forward to shake Claire’s hand.
“This is fun,” I told her, as we moved on to another performer, one that juggled with fire. There was nothing even remotely close to this back at my hometown.
“I’m glad you like it,” she said, her eyes glistening under the light of the streetlamps and the juggler’s fire. Her hair fell around her face as long, rebel curls, in a very Southern, very foreign fashion. She had a delicate nose and her freckles looked even more beautiful under that lighting. I glanced at her smallish red lips, wondering what it was like to kiss them.
The crowd around us began to clap, for the performer had finished her act. Claire turned toward her and clapped as well. That brought me back to reality. Claire’s lips weren’t mine. They belonged to someone else: Myu, the short-haired girl from school. She knew what it was like to kiss them. I would never know.
F*ck. I’m really letting my instincts get the better of me, if I was allowing myself to think of a friend in such a way.
We left the plaza, and walked down another busy street, one with lots of food stands.
“Anamaria… are you hungry?” she asked me.
“You bet,” I told her. The smells of the food all around me were making my stomach grumble again. I laughed. “It’s looks like I’m always starving when we’re together.”
Claire smiled at me, giggling. Shit, Claire, stop giggling. You’re making my heart skip beats. I don’t like that.
Of course I didn’t say that out loud. I made sure not to, this time.
I stopped by one of the food stands, which was selling corncobs. They smelled wonderfully. We had corncobs back home, of course, and I never had any that smelled as good as that.
“What’s in this?” I asked the salesperson. “I need to have it.”
“Charmed Cobs Of Corn,” she said.
“Really?” Claire asked, suddenly really curious about it. “What’s in the charm?”
“Trade secret, my dear,” the salesperson laughed. “Try them out, you won’t regret it.”
I decided to buy us both a pair. Claire didn’t want me to pay, at first, but I insisted on it. “My way to say thanks for bringing me here,” I told her.
“I got you in an accident,” she said, as we kept walking, still uncomfortable that I had bought her food.
“Yeah, and it’s been a very lovely night ever since. Please get me in more of those accidents.”
She laughed. I couldn’t help but smile as well.
I took a bite of the corncob.
It was… sweet? But also salty and savory and… there was something really hard to describe in it. Was it turmeric? Paprika? Whatever it was tasted wonderful. If I could, I’d have that same corncob every day for the rest of my life.
Claire took a bite of hers as well. She smiled.
“Oh, I know this spell,” she said, smiling. “It’s supposed to taste different depending on whom you’re with at the moment. Mine tastes like cinnamon. It’s surely a bit odd for corn, but it actually tastes quite good.”
“What does that mean?”
“It probably means I find you a little quirky, but great to be with.”
“What does yours taste like?”
“Let me see…” Suddenly, I blushed, remembering my first impressions of it. If I could, I’d have it every day for the rest of my life. God damn it, Anamaria! Really? Have you actually fallen in love with her, or something?
Claire was still looking at me, expectantly.
“Um… olives?” I made that up on the spot. Of course I couldn’t tell her what it really tasted like.
“Why olives?” she asked me, with a curious smile.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I like olives.”
She laughed. “That’s good then.”
That was good.
That was great.
Just frigging perfect.
We were walking back to the repair shop. Claire had finished touring me around the town. She told me she’d take me there too during the daytime, one of these days, so that I could see for myself the change in the scenario.
“It really is like a different city,” she said.
I nodded. Walking through the city alone with Claire had been a blessing of sorts. So much for me telling myself I’d only want her as a friend. Now it seems I was actually, bona fide in love with Claire. Even the corncob confirmed it (don’t doubt the corncob). And as much as I loved walking together with her all alone, in a romantic city full of music and art, it also stung me to know that I had no chance with her. Once this night was over, I’d have to thank her for it, and then politely decline each and any further invitations from her. Experience taught me that sticking around for an unrequited love could only ever end in me getting hurt, and in sixteen years of being alive, I’ve already had enough of that for a lifetime.
Claire asked me to wait outside as she went into the repair shop to get her bike. I stood by the sidewalk alone, looking at the groups of people who passed us by, up and down the street. Some were families, some were couples without children, and there were groups which I can only guess were friends. And, here and there, there was also the occasional loner. I was idly looking at them as they passed, when I saw a familiar face.
A light-skinned girl with short black hair was standing alone in the middle of the passersby. That was Myu, no doubt. I had only seen her once, but I was good at recognizing people.
I felt my chest tighten up. Claire’s girlfriend. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, wondering whether to call out to her. I realized that if I did want to get over this unrequited love, as fast as possible, the best way to it was to stifle those feelings at every possible opportunity, no matter how much it hurt. If so, seeing Claire and her girl being all lovey-dovey over one another sounded like an okay plan.
I opened my eyes again, found her still standing in the middle of the street, and was just ready to call out to her when someone else approached her.
A man, somewhat older than her, if their appearances were anything to go by. Tall, skin as dark as mine, perhaps a little darker, with shaved hair and a stylish coat. He was holding a candy apple, which he gave her. She smiled.
Wait a minute.
What was that smile? It couldn’t be what I thought it was, could it?
She took a bite of the candy apple, and took his right hand in her left one.
F*ck. Calm down Ana, this might not be what it looks like.
I found myself backing down into the shadows, not wanting the two of them to notice I was staring at them. They were gently strolling down the street, the man occasionally taking bites off Myu’s apple. Then she stood on her tiptoes, and gave him a peck on the lips.
All right, I’ve seen enough. I need to find Claire. I walked into the building, not caring if I was originally supposed to wait outside. Claire was packing her stuff in the back of her bike, and the man I’ve seen before was sitting on a bench nearby. They were chatting friendly and idly with each other.
He saw me first, as I walked inside.
“What is it, kid? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Did I? Well, I had just stormed into the building to look for Claire, and I really must have looked quite shocked after what I had just witnessed.
“Something wrong?” Claire asked me, smiling. “I’m just getting this stuff all in place. Sorry for leaving you waiting for me outside, Ana.”
The old man looked between me and her. “Claire didn’t want you t’ see her trying t’ get her spells under control,” he said, boisterously, with a loud laugh. I saw Claire’s cheeks blush a vivid color of red. She was so cute. Wait. Not the time for that.
“Yes?” she looked at me, smiling, still embarrassed about what had just happened. I looked at her smile. Once I told her, what would happen to that smile? Was I so selfish a person that I’d take that smile away from her just so I could think I had a chance? And who was I to meddle into her love life? She might have wanted me as a friend, but at that point in time we were pretty much just acquaintances. Shit. That was my curse acting up again, wasn’t it? This was the very spectacular way in which I was expecting things to go wrong, sooner or later. I’d tell Claire what I saw, and soon enough I’d be known as a devil who tears couples apart. Just like back home. Would I want that?
“…I’m cold,” I said, finally. “Don’t you have a warmth spell there, or anything?”
“Oh, sure!” she said, digging into her bike’s travel bag. “Sorry, Ana, I forgot you were from the North. It’s a lot colder here at nights, isn’t it?”
I nodded at her. She took a large piece of fabric from her bag, and handed it to me. I unfolded it.”
“A sweater? Is this a spell too?”
“Err… no,” she admitted, looking embarrassed. “But it’s as good as one.”
The old man laughed again. “Kiddo, you crack me up,” he said, getting up from the bench and walking up to Claire to mess with the girl’s hair. “Safe travels, kiddo.”
She nodded. “Safe travels, Mike.”
Claire helped me with the helmet again. Soon we were back on the road, traveling down the path that led from the city to our school. I hugged Claire’s waist from behind, not caring about what it looked like, or if it meant trouble to my having an unrequited love for her. Suddenly I felt tired, as if something was weighting on me. I suspected it might have been my conscience. Did I do the right thing, not telling Claire what I saw? Would she resent me for it, if she ever found out? She had no reason to find out, though, nobody knew that I’d seen that.
As we rode down the rest of the way in silence, I kept my eyes closed, praying this night wouldn’t come back to bite me in the end.