“I know I could probably do better than you, physically speaking,” Bob said. “We all have our levels of attractiveness, and it’s funny that we rarely stray, either up or down, from those levels.”
So, Envy thought, could this be why such a presentable, almost handsome young man was never in a lasting relationship? He was a tall man, strong, broad in the shoulders and wide in stance, like a football player, with a fair complexion and neatly trimmed chocolate brown hair. His manner was open and friendly— always smiling, as he was now, with wonderful, traditional manners. He liked to open doors, take the curb side when walking, pay the tabs, bring a rose or a bottle of rosé when he picked up a lady for a date.
But he seemed to have no filter. Was that a result of indulgent parenting? Cluelessness? A disinclination towards self-examination? Maybe no one had ever called him on his proclivity for unnecessary truth-telling.
“Excuse me?” said Envy. They had stopped at a neighbourhood pub, halfway between the stadium and the car, on their way home. It was extremely dark, not as crowded as it should be, and the bartender seemed to be hoarding ice. Envy’s gin and tonic was flat and warm.
“Oh, don’t take it the wrong way,” said Bob.
“How should I take it?”
Bob leaned over and kissed Envy on the cheek. She pulled away. He said, “It can’t be a huge surprise to you, Envy. I met your sister-in-law. She is a model. You are not a model. It’s not a big deal, why do you mind?”
“If you think you can do better than me, physically, I think you should,” said Envy. Of course it was no surprise to her. She was distinctly un-beautiful: her eyes and nose and mouth were placed as if God had randomly thrown these features from a distance onto her face. She tended to have very sensitive skin, so it was rarely smooth and without blemish. She would never be taller, and, she suspected, would never be thinner.
When he’d picked her up at her new condo that evening, she was ready, coat in hand. She took the bottle of rosé and set in on top of a large cardboard carton. The hallway and living room were still stacked with boxes waiting to be unpacked. Bob peered in. “Bit of a hoarder, are we?” he said. She took that remark, and so many others, as if it was a joke. But no, it was not a random joke, it was just Bob’s brain spewing out unfiltered comments like a leaky faucet.
Well, this time it hurt.
“That was a hurtful remark,” Envy said. Bob started to order her another gin and tonic but she put her hand over his and shook her head. “I’d like to go home.”
“You could tell me I have a big nose, I wouldn’t be hurt if it was true,” Bob said, and then, as if he realized the weakness of the analogy, he made the mistake of expanding. “I just believe in honesty. I don’t lie, Envy. It’s not my style. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I wouldn’t be hurt if you said something I thought was negative, because if I am honest I have to expect honesty in return.”
“I am telling you something negative. You say hurtful things and don’t care. You don’t have to share your every passing thought, especially when it is hurtful. Of course I know I’m not beautiful. We ugly ones are the smart ones, remember? Sometimes, crazy as it sounds, I don’t need to be reminded about the fact that I’m not pretty, like when I’m out on a date.”
Bob had the grace to look surprised. “But you are pretty.”
“But you could do so much better.” Envy stood up and put her coat on. Instinctively, Bob helped guide her arms into the sleeves.
“Not so much better,” said Bob, unadvisedly. “I mean—“
“Just take me home, Bob,” Envy said, sighing.
They walked the rest of the way to the car without speaking. This seemed to be the pattern for all her attempts at relationships, since Marcus. A conflict, then silence, then the last chapter finished and the book closed. And burned.
But as Bob started the car, he turned to her and said, “I’ve wanted to kiss you and touch you since I first laid eyes on you. I said the wrong thing. Here’s the right thing: you are not a model, but are the sexiest woman I have ever met. Will you come back to my house and allow me to make love to you?”
Envy stared back at him. She couldn’t help but wonder: Did he finally understand that the truth is not always expedient?
Was he telling the truth now?
- Original Prompt: Lukewarm, February 12, 2017.