Bodega

She knew him as one of the boys that liked to hang out outside of the bodega. He was always nice and she would always smile. But while she could recognize him, point him out from a crowd, she didn’t know his name.

One night she dropped her keys and it all changed. He held the door open for her when it happened, caught them in midair before she could react. They laughed. They talked, and it was as if they had known each other for years, so that hours later they were still sitting on her front stoop, dreading the moment they would have to say good bye.

They never did, instead making plans for the next night and the next, until they were spending every waking moment together.

He shared his favorite games with her, his favorite songs, his favorite restaurants. She shared with him her favorite movies, her favorite plays. Her favorite musicals.

They made big plans to go to the ballet. Christmas was two weeks away and they both wanted to see the Nutcracker live, classic that it was.

She wore a dress with a full tulle skirt, the kind that made her feel like a ballerina herself, and as she watched him arrive from the ballet hall steps, she saw that he wore slacks and a button down shirt.

It was the first time he had dressed formally in the time she had known him. It was the first time he had dressed formally in his life.

He’d gone to the city, shopped at one of those suit stores he’d seen on TV and even had the pants tailored. As he crossed the street, watching her smile widen on the other side, he thought about how she made him want to be a better man.

He didn’t hear his friends as they approached. He didn’t see them as he crossed the street, so that by the time they crossed his path and stopped him, they had witnessed the worst of his joy and clowned him for it.

They made fun of his new pants for the way they were belted at the waist, the way they snugly fit, the way he carried himself in them of all things. They clowned his corny smile, the fact that he was going to a ballet, and as his expression began to change, they reminded him that it was all in good fun and there was no point in being sensitive.

She watched it all from those steps, unsure of what it all meant from a distance, but aware that it was best that she stay put, that she would only make it worse, whatever it was. But when he finally came to her it didn’t matter, because she could sense that something inside of him had fundamentally changed.

They watched the performance in stiff silence. Any attempt to talk or incite a smile was met with one word answers and grunts. He held her just long enough until it was okay to let go, and even before the play was over he was all set to go.

He forgot to kiss her goodbye. He didn’t call. He didn’t reply. He didn’t even hang outside of the bodega anymore, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t figure what she’d done wrong.

Time passed. Weeks bled into months and suddenly, miraculously, she saw him on the train. Their eyes met. He turned away. He was with his friends. Just like that, it was over before it began. And no, they never said goodbye.

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