Painted Smile by Davena O’Neill

The cigarette smoke mixed with my breath in the frosty air as I stood outside the door. Glad I’d worn my coat, I wrapped an arm around my waist. Another party, another row, I lit another cigarette, slower this time. 

 “Hello stranger”.

Turning to face the familiar voice I smiled.

“Hello yourself”.

We hugged, his lips briefly touching my cheek. I inhaled him.

“Should have known I’d find you out here”. 

He leaned against the wall, hands in pockets, a smile in his eyes that still made my stomach flutter.

“Oh, were you looking for me?” I tried to sound light, afraid I sounded pleading.

“Always”.

His smile gone, I broke eye contact. He cleared his throat, I smoked.

“Having a good night?” he asked. I shrugged. “It was a good win, a reason to celebrate”.

I shrugged again, “there’s always some reason”.

“You don’t have to stay”.

My mouth went dry, shocked he’d actually said it. 

Slowly he moved away from the wall and stood in front of me. Our breaths mixed, creating a cloud around our heads. I let myself remember then, the feel of him, his taste, his touch. Longing, like an acid, burned inside me. I put a hand to my chest; sure I’d feel a gaping wound.

“How’s Jill?” I asked. My attempt to regain some control, to force him back, but he stood still, just shook his head.

“I wouldn’t know. It’s over”.

It was me who took a step back. This changed things, didn’t it, couldn’t it?

“It just wasn’t right. Fair I mean, on her”.

“Don’t”, I whispered.

He shook his head again, then stepped closer, so softly touching my cheek.

“It’s always been you. You know that”. 

I couldn’t think of anything to say. This moment that I had wished for, prayed for, lighting candles, bargaining my soul. Here it was and I was mute.

“I could walk you home?” The light in his eyes flickered then, vulnerable, unsure. He nodded towards the door, “would he even notice?”

Pride hurt I turned my back to him, lit another cigarette.

“That’s just the drink talking, like before. You’d change your mind in the morning”.

I heard him sigh. He ran his hand down my hair and I leaned my head into him. But I didn’t turn. His hand fell away, I heard his footsteps. I turned then.

Look back, I willed him. If you look back, I’ll go with you, I swear.

He stopped, buttoning up his coat, pulling the collar around his chin. His head turned to the side, as if checking. I held my breath. Hands thrust into his pockets, head bent, he walked away.

I watched him for a while, letting my cigarette burn out, spark slowly fading. A burst of laughter as a couple staggered through the door holding it open. 

“In or out love?”

One final look back, but he was gone. I painted on my smile and went back inside, the door banging shut behind me.

Davena O’ Neill writes about moments, the small everyday events that shape us. She lives on the west coast of Ireland.

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