A conversation I had with an old friend of mine is the inspiration for this story.
The street was crowded and bustling, but somehow she saw him amongst the flurry of activity. He wasn’t hard to spot - he often had an air of standing still while everyone else was rushing, and of course, he hadn’t changed in the years that had passed. She had a few moments of regarding him before his eyes alit on her. She had a peculiar urge to run away, but instead stood her ground as he approached her. How many times had he walked up to her in the same way, that same casual gait that was laced with confidence and nonchalance? Impossible to count.
Upon reaching arms length, he grabbed her by the elbow and said, “Do you consider me to be a narcissist?” She was not left time to give an answer before he was pulling her to a café with a patio nearby. Depositing her in a seat, he signalled to the waitress - a very pretty blonde girl - and ordered two coffees. Having done with all this, he turned to face her again. “Well? Am I?”
She was not at all surprised to having been accosted thus; he was never well versed in small talk. The fact that nearly four years had gone by since they had seen each other, let alone had a conversation, would have led her to believe that this would be one of those instances where he would be (at least a little) taken aback by her sudden appearance in front of him. She had once again underestimated his imperturbable character. “A narcissist? Oh, I don’t know. No, I don’t suppose so. I mean, you may be quite selfish, but you’re not in the least bit vain.” It was true, he was not vain in the slightest. He dressed with complete disinterest, and rarely was he concerned about his body or looks. “No, you’re not vain, although that may be because you think you’re perfect just the way you are…” She trailed off. He was coolly gazing at the waitress, but he was listening very closely.
“Hm. I’ve come to understand,” he said, removing his gaze and glancing around the café’s patio “that I might in fact be quite a narcissist. For example,” and he glanced back at the blonde waitress, “I am more aroused by someone being attracted to me than anything else.” She knew this very well, it had in fact, been a source of much contention between them, the problem that he could hardly resist someone who was attracted to him. He did hate to disappoint. She sat mutely, waiting for him to continue.
“Attacks on my character are inconsequential, in fact, I welcome them. But a negative remark towards my skill, my ability, my cleverness in doing things is an absolute crushing blow to the old self esteem.” He looked at her now, his green eyes limpid pools of…what? They were so inscrutable.
“Well,” she said slowly, removing her eyes from his, uneasiness spreading through her bones, “ Isn’t almost everyone attracted to someone who is attracted to them? Isn’t that just human nature? Most of the time, anyway, there are of course exceptions.”
“You mostly certainly have that trait.”
“Oh do I?” she shifted, trying to get comfortable. “I imagine I do. I have always been extremely susceptible to the charms of…other people.”
“There are a whole slew of other points I had to make, but I forget them now, and - this coffee is quite good, isn’t it?” It was, they sipped it in silence for a moment. She watched the waitress, who kept stealing glances at him. It amazed her, how magnetic he was. “Perhaps you are a bit of a narcissist too, huh?”
She stared into the depths of her mug, slightly offended. “I feel I’ve got a pretty good handle on all the flaws in my character, and narcissism is not one I’ve worried too much about.” He nodded his acquiescence to her subtle refusal to continue the conversation; he had always been able to read her, much like one would read a book. “So how is your life?” she said, brightly, changing the subject with speed and a smile. He unceremoniously dumped another sugar in his coffee and stirred it absent-mindedly.
“Oh, all is well, much the same, you know.”
“And the old ball and chain?” She inwardly cringed at her airs of insouciance. He knew as well as she did that one of those flaws in her character was unbridled curiosity. She couldn’t help but ask about the girl though, what was her name? Marie.
“She’s fine. How’s yours? I believe his name was Dylan?”
“We broke up about a year ago. I’m seeing someone else now. His name is Michael, he’s really quite brilliant. He’s an ecologist, you know, making all these scientific advances that are bound to save the planet one of the days.”
“Oh? Do ecologists make a lot of money?”
“I don’t suppose they do, normally, but he has his own company…he’s quite wealthy actually.” She couldn’t help but boast a little. She wanted him to know that she was okay, that she was worthy of other people, that she had merit in her own right…that brilliant, fascinating ecologists would find something in her that he himself had not.
“And he lives here, in the city?” She shifted again, desperately looking for the waitress, so she could ask for her cheque.
“Oh no, he lives in New York, actually, it’s where his company is based out of. But he has some family here, so he comes often to visit.”
He smirked at her, incredulity plain on his face. “And you two are doing the long distance thing?”
“Love knows no bounds,” she shot back, crossing her arms across her chest.
“Your love does,” he said back, quietly, a grin on his lips that didn’t quite reach his eyes, and suddenly the mood at the little table had changed, and she squirmed with the urge to get up and run away from him, this man, this monster, sitting across from her.
“Sometimes things just work out,” she replied back, after a moment. “I’m not…I’m not banking on anything, I’m not opposed to any particular outcome.”
“Yes you are,” he said, leaning back, crossing his arms in mimicry of her (whether conscious or not, she couldn’t discern). “You are violently opposed to being happy.” She coughed, and finally catching the waitress’ eye, she stood up.
“Well I doubt any option I have available to me now promises complete and pure happiness, so I don’t have to worry about that thwarting any plans I may have. Although I have been feeling increasingly carefree. Thank God I’m not opposed to that.” She kept her voice light, hoping to chase away the ghosts that lingered at the table with them. He stood up as well, and she forgot how much taller he was, and it startled her slightly. He matched her tone.
“Ah, you should join me in not caring, it is marvellously freeing! You’re only a couple of years too late!” And that old teasing tone was back in his voice, the one she had missed with fervour.
“Oh, as much as I’d love to not care, I simply cannot bring myself to do it. Against my nature. I’m predisposed to care about all the wrong things.” And she threw a bill down on the table, and said simply, hoping her voice did not shake with all the emotion the encounter had wrought, “Goodbye,” and walked away. She looked back twice. The first time, he was standing where she had left him, hands in his pockets, looking towards her retreat. At the end of the road, before she was to turn a corner, she looked back again, cursing herself as he did so. He was talking animatedly to the blonde waitress. She smiled, secure in the knowledge that she had changed, and that she was happy, in her own way.