Neither of them can believe they let themselves be persuaded to come out tonight. It is winter in Boston or New York or Toronto. They both have exams to study for. Graduate degrees to get. Student loans to justify taking out. But someone pleaded and someone else insisted and somehow they have found themselves here. The room is an odd mix of dark wood and plastic. They try to remember how to be social. He sits down next to her at the bar. She glances at him. He notices that they have the same eyes. Piercing blue or liquid black or stormy gray. Both of their faces are chapped from the wind blowing off Lake Michigan or the Thames. She pulls a tube of balm out of her pocket. Uncaps it. Smoothes it over her lips. He pretends not to watch. She pretends not to notice that he is watching. He asks her what she’s drinking. Winces at how stupid his voice sounds. She grimaces sympathetically and thinks to herself that he has a nice face. Sees his sweatshirt. Realizes that they went to the same university in New Brunswick or Ann Arbor or Montreal for undergrad. She tells him this and offers to buy him a cider or a beer. He accepts. They talk about school and Shakespeare and faraway places they want to visit someday. They discuss war and death and politics. They talk about parents. He likes his. She likes her mother, not her father. A song they both like starts to play. Then a bad song comes on. Then another. And another. She wants to leave. He wants to go with her. They pay for their drinks in euros or dollars or pounds. They decide to go to his place since his roommate is out. They get into a taxi. The snow is swirling on Seventh Avenue. The Vienna State Opera House is lit up against the night. The hands on Big Ben strike eleven. She reaches for his cold hand with her gloved one. The cab lets them out at his apartment. They go upstairs. They kiss. They undress each other. They fall onto his bed. His last thought before he sleeps is that if the condom broke and she becomes pregnant, their child will have beautiful eyes. They wake up early in the morning and eat bagels or croissants or pan dulce for breakfast. They smile cautiously. They do not want to seem clingy or desperate, but something fits. There is a comfortable ease in the way they eat and speak. They both have classes to get to but agree to spend the next day together. They meet at the riverbank and hold hands as they walk along the Danube. They go to the Met and look at the suits of armor and the hieroglyphs in the Egyptian wing. They eat goulash in small restaurants on the winding streets of Prague. He meets her friends. She meets his parents in the suburbs. The days are getting longer. They like kissing the most in the late afternoon, when the world glows soft purple and they can imagine they are the only ones in it. They decide to move in together. They pool their belongings and buy an apartment to put their mismatched sheets and plates in. They adopt a cat. They cook spaghetti and coq au vin and tortilla de espana in their tiny kitchen. He finishes grad school. Starts working as a lawyer or a professor. She still has one year left. Starts sending out resumes. Her sweaters are threadbare and all her jeans have holes. Weeks pass. She gets a letter. Reads it once. Reads it again. Reads it so many times that the paper warps beneath her sweating fingers. She bites her lip until it bleeds. He can taste it when he kisses her. Something is wrong. She is crying. He sees the letter. Reaches for it. As he reads she tells him that there is a job somewhere far away, a different country, at a magazine in Paris or a fashion company in Milan or a lab in Sydney. It is ridiculously perfect, she says, the opportunity of a lifetime, a childhood dream come true, every incredible cliche she can think of. She didn’t think she was going to get it. He looks at her. Realizes that she is not crying at the prospect of making an agonizing choice. She is crying because she has already decided. He briefly considers what their life could be like in this new place. Stops himself. He has a life here. He cannot give up his job in this economy. He cannot give up his entire family, he tells her. Maybe she nods. Perhaps she understands. Perhaps they fight and call each other selfish. Maybe their yelling sends the cat dashing for the fire escape. It doesn’t matter. She moves out at the end of the month. She takes half of the plates, the books, the clothing. He keeps the cat. A year passes. They often unknowingly get drunk at the same time, despite the difference in time zones. Two years. They both love their jobs. Three. He thinks he sees her on the subway but can’t be sure. Four. She gets engaged and breaks it off within a month. Five. He buys a ring he can’t bring himself to put on his girlfriend’s finger. Six. The cat dies. Seven. There was a car crash. A lightning bolt. A razor blade. He hears the news from a friend of a friend. A Facebook update. An announcement in the paper. Her name floats before him on a screen. He can see the truck skidding on black ice. The flash in a field soaked by sheets of rain. Blood trickling down white bathroom tiles. It is winter and the streets are dark. The bar where they met went out of business years ago. He goes to one that has just opened. Orders a cider or a beer. Bad music is playing. He hears a voice call his name. Turns and sees his sister’s friend. She is wearing a lot of makeup or no makeup at all. He does not notice if she is pretty. He buys her a drink. They talk about work or an article one of them saw online. After an hour they go out to the parking lot and press against each other. She is his best friend’s mother or his brother’s ex or possibly his cousin. It doesn’t matter to him because in this tiny moment held between their lips someone else is not cold and dead in the ground but alive, alive, alive.
SOPHIE PANZER splits her time between her hometown in New Jersey and Montreal, Quebec, where she studies history at McGill University. She attended the 2014 Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and received a national medal for journalism from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Her work has appeared in the Young Adult Review Network, Teen Ink, The Veg, and Yiara Magazine.