Filling the Void

        She began to apply her makeup, still naked, in front of her mirror. As she applied her concealer and swept on her eyeliner, she wondered how many more times she would have to go through this. She wasn’t used to wearing makeup, so it took longer than she had thought. There were so many colors to choose from and so many tutorials to watch that she would almost rather spend the night in pajamas watching TV in bed than finish this charade for yet another pointless first date.

        She found herself pathetic–thirty-eight years old and still looking for someone to fill the void that the family aunts said could only be filled by a husband. For a few years, she even thought she had found the right person; it was five years, five years of concessions and expectations, five years that ended in a phone call and no surprises. And since then there was no aunt (or any empowered female figure) that would make Priscilla believe in love. For some time she had tried, tried men tall, short, bald, hairy, young, old, and even women; however she had reached her limit and limited herself to a healthier routine.

    But the moments of solitude still existed. The cat at home was not enough. Despite her exhausting job, the gym, her friends, and all the rest of her social life, she had still kept her bed cold and vacant at night. Besides, Flávia had promised that it would be the last time she would try to be more competent than Cupid.

    She applied the finishing touches to her makeup. She had already chosen her outfit: nothing too short, nothing too tight, nothing too much. She couldn’t remember the moment when she stopped making a point of trying to be perfect on the first date. This would be her third first date this month, but as far as first dates since her last relationship ended, she’d already lost count–along with a considerable fraction of hope.

    She didn’t understand why this first date was still making her so anxious. She had to repeat to herself so many times that no matter who she met, no one could belittle her career and her achievements throughout the year–at least, not on the first date. She tried to avoid negative thoughts about herself, a lesson she’d learned after her first boyfriend drove her to therapy emotionally abusing her so much that she couldn’t admire anything in her life but him. She thought back to her wonderful career, the apartment she had just paid off, her bank account, her family–which didn’t have as many problems or confusion as other families–the parents who were still healthy and supported her at all stages of life, and her friends who had become part of her family.

    Flávia was the group’s matchmaker. She had married her high school sweetheart and had one of the most perfect relationships anyone could imagine, so perfect that all the group’s friends had already given up on finding someone like Renan. After all, there was probably only one man like him within 100 kilometers, and since Flávia had already found him, there was no hope for the rest of them. Flávia had been married for over ten years. The path had not always been without turmoil, but she had never lost hope in love, and she couldn’t see her friends giving up on living something as special as what she had.

    This time, Flavia did not want to assume too much about the person. She always said that expectations would not help when they finally met, and she was right. She’d been more relieved than surprised when the date wasn’t at a restaurant; her last first date was at a barbecue restaurant, and she still didn’t know what was worse: when she tried to gnaw the meat off the bone and it fell and bounced off her plate and into her lap or when she looked up and all she saw was a man with greasy hands and lips smeared with barbecue sauce devouring his ribs. He kept trying to talk during dinner, and talking as he chewed, the noise coming from the opposite side of the table was something she wouldn’t soon forget.

    Priscilla was ready; she had to be strong. She took one last look at the bed, which was currently being occupied by her cat, and wished she didn’t miss having someone to share her day with before falling asleep.

The bar was a little far from her house, but she could take the subway–it was only six stations away. The subway was much more convenient than taxis, and it still allowed you to deal with your nervousness by trying to guess what everyone in the train car was on their way to do.

    That night, due to the late hour, you could divide passengers into two groups: those who were returning home to deservedly rest after their day of work or study and those who were ready to enjoy the night. It was interesting to note the clear difference between the two groups. One group could barely keep their eyes open and hold their belongings while seated, and those who couldn’t sit up had difficulty standing upright, while the other was struggling to sit still and had anticipation written clearly on their faces. The only thing that united everyone there was the desire to reach their destinations, except Priscilla.

    It didn’t take long to reach her station. Many got off with her, since it was a nightlife hotspot–point for Flávia, since dark dates in empty places feel like horror movies and that was not her favorite genre. It still took five minutes to walk there, and with each step, Priscilla found it harder and harder to control her anxiety. Her mouth was dry, her hands were a little shaky, and once again she thought of her bed and the shows she could be watching.

    Once she arrived at the bar, though, the atmosphere was nice. It wasn’t very big, but it wasn’t tiny either. The music playing helped the ambiance, but it was quiet enough for those who wanted to talk. There was a stage, and, because it was Friday, she believed there would probably be a performance that night.

    Priscilla had her favorite places to go at night, but when it came to a first date, she never suggested them. She had once had a first date at one of her favorite bars, but the night had been awkward. She didn’t click with her date, the conversation didn’t flow, and the silence at the table was deafening. They had never exchanged messages after that day, but ended up running into each other constantly at that same bar. When Flávia suggested a place she had never heard of, she didn’t need to think for a second before accepting the offer. She was satisfied with her friend’s choice, but intrigued that her friend had suggested a place she had never introduced to her before.

    She was greeted by the smiling hostess, who asked if she had a reservation. Because there was a performance that night (a famous local cover band would play hits from the 90s), all tables had been reserved.

The news felt like a blow to the chest. Flavia revealed so little about the blind date that now she didn’t know how to respond. Definitely, this would be the last time I would accept to participate in an “Operation Flavia-Cupid”.

    She tried to be as polite as possible, asking for a few moments to contact her friend and digging through her purse for the cell phone she had just put away that seemed like it had entered Narnia. While she was looking for it, she suddenly heard a deep male voice saying “We are together–oh, I mean…at the same table”. Priscilla froze for a moment, not sure if he was referring to her, but never wanting anything quite so much. She always paid attention to detail–she had a real passion for the Portuguese language and loved how you could recognize a person’s personality by the words and expressions they used. The fact that he didn’t say “she’s with me” was the difference between company and possession. The past wouldn’t let her forget that.

    She took her attention from her bag to face the owner of the voice in front of her, and all she saw was his smile. Finally, their eyes met and Priscilla couldn’t believe what she was feeling. She didn’t know how to react–for a moment, she felt her legs were about to run her out of there as fast as possible, but it wasn’t the time to run. She felt a shiver run down her spine and fade into nothing and her hands began to shake. Her mind was like a storm, with flashes of her youth flashed like lightning, preventing Priscilla from completing any logical thought, and for a moment she felt like a romantic comedy, where the main character without any explanation magically wakes up fifteen years older or younger, and it was as if in that moment she had become a teenager again.

    “Hi,” he said, maintaining his soft gaze with an unwavering smile.

    “Marcel,” was the only thing Priscilla could say.

    “I wasn’t sure you would recognize me, it was so long ago,” he replied, smiling even more.

    How could she not remember, how could she forget the prettiest smile in her high school. Yes, there was a period when the smile was hidden by acne and the treatment that left his cheeks red and peeling, but for Priscilla to see Marcel’s smile again after so long, it still brought her such joy.

    The hostess seemed to have noticed Priscila’s hesitation and cut in:

    “Excellent! Just to confirm, the table is for two and the band starts at 11:30 and will be playing two sets. If you want to request any song, there is an order pad on the table, and if you need anything, there is a button on the table to call the waiter. If you have any questions, just call me, but otherwise, have a great night and enjoy the show!” she said cheerily.

        Priscilla looked a little more composed after the speech. Marcel handed over a paper from the order pad, thanked her for everything, asked for the menu and addressed Priscila:

    “I had a whole speech prepared because I didn’t think you would recognize me, I didn’t prepare myself for if you did,” he smiled again, but this time a disconcertedly. “Look, I understand if you want to leave, but I would really like you to stay.”

    Priscilla smiled shyly. She felt her face burning and feared that Marcel could see her skin turning pink. Her heart slowly started beating more slowly and she felt able to articulate herself better again . Not in her wildest dreams could she have imagined that she could be on a first date with her high school crush.

    “I would love to,” she replied. She was a little taken aback by his formal tone, but it was too late to say anything now.

    Marcel pointed to their table, they sat down, and soon after, someone brought the menu. He didn’t take long to decide on his order and even suggested some options when he saw that she was having difficulties. Priscilla understood that the choice of location had been his and not Flavia’s, and was pleased to know that he had also avoided dinner, but she was afraid to be in one of his favorite bars.

    There were so many questions Priscilla wanted to ask, so many things she wanted to say:

    “I need to go to the bathroom, do you know where it is?” She wondered if she had become a teenager again, because she felt her cheeks getting redder with every word she uttered.

    Priscilla didn’t actually need to use the bathroom, she just needed time to put her ideas in place. She looked at herself in the mirror and all she saw was the reflection of a fifteen-year-old girl.

    She remembered the first time he noticed Marcel. She was a sophomore in high school and had been transferred to another class on account of her grades. 2B was certainly much better than 1E, you could see by the interaction of teachers with the students that, finally, she would be able to study in peace, but it was still a room full of new faces, and trying to make friends was not exactly Priscilla’s forte. Luckily, two students who were in the drama club with her were in the room, and they made a point of including her in their group. One of the boys in this group always spent his free period with his other friends who were all boys, and that’s how she saw Marcel for the first time.

    From the beginning, she never thought she would have any chance with him. After all, he was always smiling, his group was always walking around the school during breaks, talking to almost every popular student at school. Why would someone like him look at someone like her?

    The end of high school came and went and they didn’t exchange more than a few dozen words in passing, and after graduating, they each went separate ways. Priscila started college in another city, the group of friends broke up, and since at that time social media wasn’t around,  they didn’t keep in touch.

Years later, when Priscilla had forgotten about her unrequited crush, one of the few friends she had from high school was talking about teenage love, and that’s when she revealed that Marcel was super shy during high school and he had never had courage to speak to her.

    Priscilla had often imagined what it would have been like if they had had the chance to get to know each other better when they were teenagers and every time she came to the same conclusion–thank God it hadn’t happened. She was immature, but beyond that, her father was very protective and would never have accepted the fact that she had a boyfriend before college. At her house, all her parents wanted was for their children to go to college, have a profession that would guarantee a certain financial stability and then (and only then) worry about their love life. The hormones of adolescence, though, proved hard to resist, and having only her friends who were just as immature as she was to advise her, Priscilla became pregnant in her freshman year at college, the instant she left her parents’ house to study and felt free to experience everything her parents had kept her from.

    The weeks that followed her missed period and the positive test were the most stressful of her entire life to date. In a moment of desperation she revealed the pregnancy to her best friend at the time, he insisted that she go to the doctor and she would never forget the words she had heard at the consultation: “I need you to be honest about what you intend to do from now on. I would prefer to recommend a place that preserves her life than to find her in a hospital emergency room.” Priscila was only 18 years old, her parents were so proud of her having entered a prestigious public university that she didn’t have the courage to destroy the dreams and hope that her parents had in her. She left the gynecologist’s office with a card in one hand and tears.

    Her friend stayed by her side the entire time. He walked her to the clinic, held her hand, and comforted her throughout the procedure and in the months that followed. Nightmares, a tearful night, and a feeling of guilt followed her, but in recent years, she had come to terms more with that part of her past and her decision.

    She looked at herself in the mirror. Her teenage had given way to a straight smile and her hair was no longer tied up like most days in high school, but it wasn’t just her physical appearance that was different, Priscilla had achievements and failures over the years; she had matured and was nothing like the teenager who spent her breaks waiting for the brief moment she would see the smile that would brighten her day. She was an independent woman capable of lighting her own path.

    It was not the time to think about the past. If he had contacted her, it had to be to meet Priscilla today and not the one he knew from high school. For a moment, she felt a sudden surge of confidence that she didn’t usually have when it came to knowing what she felt. She smiled, fixed her hair, and returned to the table, determined to have a first date without the ghosts of her past.

    “Everything okay?” he asked, looking a little anxious.

    “Yes, but I can’t say that I wasn’t a little scared. Flávia didn’t give me any details about who I was going to meet today and, suddenly, it’s a blast from the past!” Priscila couldn’t help but laugh.

    Marcel smiled, relieved, and told her how he had seen a photo of her with Flávia and could hardly believe they still had mutual friends, but at the time, Priscila was in a relationship and he thought it best not to interfere. Later, he reconnected with Flávia, who broke the good news that her friend was single, but this time, he was the one in a relationship. It seems that Flavia-Cupid was not content with a “no” and, a few weeks ago, when they met again, she suggested the blind date. Marcel feared that he hadn’t made a good impression in high school, as he was very shy with girls, but most people assuming that he was just arrogant because he was popular.

    Both talked a lot about their lives after school. It was all very pleasant and natural, they felt like old friends who had not seen each other for years. The only difference being that in those thirty minutes, they talked more than in all the time in high school when they saw each other every day.

    The bar was gradually filling up and coming to life. It was impossible not to notice how Marcel was known by the people who frequented the bar because every five minutes someone came to the table to greet him or wave at him–even the waiters knew his name. At one point Marcel said:

    “I’m so sorry…I wanted us to have a special moment, so I invited you to one of my favorite places with one of my favorite bands playing, but I didn’t take into account that people here don’t leave me alone! If you want to go somewhere else, I don’t mind”.

    Priscila thought for a moment, but when she was about to respond, the band started playing their first song and she only had a chance to nod her head.

    She had never stopped to think about how many songs she still remembered the lyrics from the 90s and how many memories the songs brought back. The band was excellent, but Priscilla didn’t want to have her conversation interrupted. She sometimes found herself gazing at Marcel while he was distracted by the band.

    “One Minute To The End Of The World” was the last song of the first set. Everyone in the bar was euphoric–it was the perfect song to end the first part of the show and keep everyone hanging on and wanting more. The band thanked the audience, and, before leaving the stage, thanked Marcel specifically for having requested the last song.

        Marcel looked at Priscilla with a horrified expression on his face. He shook his head and awkwardly said he had requested the song, but that they usually didn’t mention who had made the request. Five minutes later the band’s lead singer was at the table, pulling out a chair and taking a seat next to Marcel. He lifted the beer he had in his hand and clinked a toast, laughing as if he knew he had put someone in a very uncomfortable position, and took a sip of the beer. He looked at Priscila and repeated the action, raised his glass, toasted and drank his beer, but this time after laughing he said:

    “Marcel is from our town, he’s been here since no one knew us. He always brings a lot of friends to our shows, but not tonight–tonight he just brought you. I have no doubt there’s a good reason for that. Take good care of him for us, the whole band likes him a lot,” he laughed again, raised his glass again, and toasted with both of them this time.

    Marcel looked uncomfortable, but Priscilla was loving all the attention people gave him and the attention he gave her. She smiled and said:

    “I want to stay, I like it here.”

    He smiled and the two continued to talk, this time about the banalities of life, TV, movies, the Internet, and seemingly everything else until the second set started, and they picked up where they left off until the beginning of third set and didn’t stop until the bar was so empty that one of the waiters came by and told them it was closing time.

    Marcel tried to pay the bill, but Priscilla insisted on splitting it. He offered to ride in the taxi with her, even though her house wasn’t on the way, but she thanked him and gently said no. They exchanged phone numbers and added each other on social media. Both had such a pleasant evening that neither of them was willing to risk it with more.

    Before getting into the taxi they exchanged a long hug and though Priscilla kissed Marcel’s cheek very close to the mouth, they didn’t kiss. Their faces stayed close together for a few seconds, but the impatient taxi driver wasn’t about to wait any longer. In the taxi, they exchanged their first messages and promised that they would see each other soon.

        Priscila came home, checked on her cat, took off her makeup, showered, and lay in her cold, empty bed. It was 5:30 on Saturday morning She closed her eyes and smiled, a smile that makes everything seem a little easier, that inspires jealousy in those to whom smiles don’t come as easy.

    The night had been perfect. Marcel was much better than she had ever dared to imagine, even more because he was real. The past would still haunt her, but she now felt strong enough to face it.

    There are times when someone’s perspective on a certain aspect of life shifts, and when it does, it seems that the world needs five minutes to readjust itself to this new view and everything else seems to be of negligible importance. Priscilla was in the middle of this; she was not lonely for being alone in bed, nor apprehensive that Marcel was the man her aunts spoke of. Perhaps this emptiness could only be filled by herself, and as long as her heart was not complete, she would not be ready to love.

Proofreader/Translator Evelyn Jamila

Published by Tassia Kespers

Escritora, professora, tradutora, revisora, mãe e exploradora nas horas vagas.

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