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Fiction Romance

The pair shifted in their auditorium seats as credits began to roll. The man uncrossed his legs; the woman smoothed her hair. Before them, each lead actor’s name faded into and out of the darkness of the vast movie screen in succession, shedding a steady pulse of hesitant light through the unlit auditorium every few seconds. From the corner of her eye, the woman pieced together the man as a series of still frames. Straight-backed; ridge-nosed; slender, delicate even, she could tell from the sharpness of his knees. From his peripherals the man could see little, but was instead awash in the ebbing waves of her affect, her characteristics gently pushed forward like bottled messages beneath the moonlit waves of the screen. Even amidst the buttery smell of popcorn, he could tease out hints of her perfume (fresh cut flowers, and something sweet — oranges, perhaps?); she was light and fluttery; yet the way she shared his space, rooted yet malleable, her blonde hair in repose like a sunflower’s petals, spoke to a kind of gentle thoughtfulness.

The auditorium grew a little brighter as full credits began to flow up the screen. 

He’s attracted, the woman thought. She was sure he was attracted to her. His eyes had lingered a bit too long with her when he passed. He had stiffened the moment he sat, then fumbled his arms, crossing and uncrossing, placing and removing an elbow from their shared arm rest before finally settling into an exaggerated posture, legs crossed, one arm resting awkwardly in his lap while the other propped his head up on the opposite armrest. 

She’s interested — I’ll talk to her as soon as the lights lift, the man thought. She was interested, right? Or did he imagine how her eyes widened (green, were they? It was hard to tell), pulling her lips into the slightest of smiles as he passed her in the row, muttering “Excuse me.” Maybe she was just surprised — it was low-light, so maybe, maybe…no, he was certain. She’s interested — I’ll do it as soon as the lights lift.

People began rustling and shuffling their way past the pair and out of the theater.

He’s mannered, the woman thought. He’d said ‘Excuse me’ so gently, with an almost ashamed grin. There was a mix-up before the movie started. Somehow the theater had double issued a ticket to him and another guest, another man who arrived with his boyfriend. Rather than keeping his center seat, her mannered man offered to move seats in his delicate, chivalrous way. The theater manager reassigned him to the seat next to hers, skewed to the auditorium’s left, one of the last available in the theater. And then there was the sincere way he had apologized when their arms brushed atop their shared armrest during the climax of the film. Well-groomed and confident too, she noted as he passed, mid-length hair with a slight wave, a clean-shaven face, and clothes that accented rather than compensated for his wiry frame. He’ll talk to me, of course; he’s confident, and he’s attracted,” the woman thought.

She’s unapproachable, the man thought, his stomach opening into a maw which threatened to swallow his heart, causing it to beat faster and faster. He watched his certitude as it dashed against the impregnable walls of her poise — she was too prim, too proper. She’d flit from any attempted grasp, reject him immediately, perhaps even feel offended that he’d try to approach her in such a public setting. This kind of thing is saved for bars, or concerts, or bookstore cafes, isn’t it? Or god forbid, online dating (he shuddered involuntarily). How careless he’d been, to lose himself in the moment and place his arm atop hers; he feared he’d made her terribly uncomfortable. But then, there was the way she’d laughed and said, “It’s okay,” after he apologized, then returned her gaze elegantly to the movie. He felt what survived of his shipwrecked certitude struggle to its feet and ascend the glacis toward her gateless walls. What harm would it do to knock on those walls? Perhaps a crack could be found, somewhere to pass a note through: an invitation for simple conversation. I’ll just ask how she liked the movie, he thought. 

The light in the auditorium faded upward, and cleaning staff began to scurry in. Between the pair, space snapped taut, holding them in suspension for a single breath, two, three—

He’ll do it if he’s attracted.

I’ll ask, I’ll just say, ‘How’d you like the movie?’

He isn’t asking — damn.

No, that’s a dumb question and too obvious; oh, she’s gathering her purse.

He seemed nice.

She seems like she just wants to leave. I’ll let her go.

Brooms swept, sneakers scuffed, bags wrinkled, and the man exited the row to the left while the woman gathered her things.


The air outside the theater was cold and bitter. The man took out his keys and thumbed the lock button, listening for the beep of his car. Then he realized the futility; he remembered where he parked. He walked to his car, listening to the sifting sound of tires pivoting across asphalt as cars filed out of their parking spots. He unlocked his car, sat down, and turned the key like an automaton. Well, it was a good movie, he thought. I really enjoyed the soundtrack — I wonder who composed it? He reached into his pocket for his phone, but it was gone. It must’ve slipped out sometime during the movie. He sighed and opened his door, stepping back into the parking lot. As he walked back up to the theater, he noticed a blonde head bobbing through a row of cars in the distance. His steps stuttered for a brief second, then sank as he watched the woman dip into her car. The shutting of her car door echoed dully across the emptying lot. The man turned and crossed the remaining driveway leading up to the theater, and swung open the heavy, limp door. 

The entry was dimly lit, checkered with framed, reflective posters of current and upcoming flicks. The ticket box was a low counter with a register and a single cashier. In front of the cashier was a blonde haired woman, regal and precise, with blonde hair that cascaded down to brush the curve between her round shoulders and slender neck. 

It’s him.

I saw her leave; no, it must’ve been someone else.

“Oh, I believe it’s his phone,” the woman said. Her voice glided across the entry, filling it with a kind of dignity it had lacked before. 

“Sir, is this yours?” the cashier asked, waving the man’s phone in the air. 

He nodded and replied, “Yes, it is.” He walked toward the counter and took his phone, smiling graciously. He turned and the pair beheld each other in full light for the first time. She was splendid. He was delightful. As his eyes fell into hers, her smile fell into his, and she said, 

“You’re lucky I found that.”

“Yeah, thanks, this would’ve been a pain to lose.”

“Yeah,” she said, looking down with brief abashment, “I lost mine about a year ago. Total hassle, would never do it again.” They chuckled together. A small silence passed, and the cashier turned away.

“You know what I would do again,” the man said. 

The woman looked at him, perplexed.

“I’d watch that movie again — I thought it was great. What about you?”

May 27, 2022 17:06

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