Us by Emmeline Millhouse

I saw you. 

Yes, you. And you saw me. And I knew from the beginning it would be us, it would always be us. When I sat down at the bar, you slid over to me, smooth ink hair, doe blue eyes. You were real; not like the other phonies who smiled for a tip, but with a smile as sweet as strawberries and soft as velvet. You didn’t tell me your name. You didn’t have to. I saw it on one of those cheap bronze clips against your button-up black polo. You didn’t have to ask my name, but you did because that’s the kind of person you are. You did it to everyone, but I knew mine meant different to you. 

You flirted with other guys, and I admit I would get jealous. But I knew you didn’t mean it. It’s work. Work pays bills. But you knew better with me. Sly glances, passing shots, small talk, giggles. Our connection ran deeper than that. I knew you better than everyone. They didn’t see the way you bit your lip; left side, soft nibble, when you think. They didn’t notice the smell of the lotion you applied every other hour; peach honey blossom. They didn’t know that your favorite color was yellow; not sunshine, but sunflower. Nor did they realize that you keep a separate notepad in which you write everything because everything matters to you. To me, too. 

I know you work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday from one to six. Then you work Thursday, Friday, Saturday from five to midnight. You don’t work Sunday because you visit your parents. Your least favorite day is Friday because it’s busier that day, and you have less time to mingle; you’re chatty, which is good because I don’t talk much. You always park in the same spot; every time out back, the third spot to the right. You’re always frustrated at your coworker Dan because he parks off-center, and you have to squeeze to get out of your car. But you never want to confront him because Dan is dating the manager, and you need the job for your student loans. Web design, right?

You drive an old Volkswagen; 2014, chipped silver with a dented fender. You also keep a very tidy car, which is good because I can’t stand people who are disorganized. You have no trash or open valuables because you’re smart. You also never walk to your car alone at night — you go out with your coworker, Leslie. But you’re not helpless. You can take care of yourself. I know you have had pepper spray since last year, and you carry it in your right coat pocket. 

You have an active social life but only a few close friends. You post often; where you eat, where you hang out, or when you’ll be somewhere. You accept friend requests from anyone from everywhere and have quite the following. You even have an old Facebook account, but you must have lost the password because you haven’t posted in years; it’s mostly reduced to word scramble games, happy birthday posts, and different life events. 

First homecoming, first prom, and high school graduation. Your mom tags you often in more recent events; family get-togethers. Or when she gets more nostalgic, she posts childhood photographs. 

Most people don’t know your house is ten minutes away. It’s a one-bedroom, with a creaky fence and sheer blue curtains. You’re allergic to dogs, but you don’t mind being allergic because when you were ten you had a run-in with a dog, and it bit you on the arm. You’d like a cat, but your landlady has a pet free policy. Your way of rebelling is feeding the neighborhood cat, which is known as Scrubs. 

I know you get up at eight every morning and blast the radio station that has the ’80s and ’90s rock. You usually begin jogging thirty minutes later. You go around the block four times; you’re active and take care of yourself. When you get back, you shower and then sit down at your computer checking online job websites for freelancing gigs. Your dining room table overlooks your backyard, and that’s where you like to work from home the most. That’s where you are right now.

And you’ve really outdone yourself today. You’ve curled your hair, and I can tell you’ve put a lot more thought into what you’re wearing. Job interview maybe? It hurts where I’m crouching in the bushes, but I get the best view of you from here. Grey blazer, white blouse. Where are you going today, beautiful? You check your watch; I check mine. Saturday. The clock says 11:45 p.m. You get up from your chair, and I can see you gather your things. You close your laptop, put it in your oversized fake leather purse. Then goes your notebook. A laptop charger, your phone charger, your headphones. You spritz yourself with some perfume and out the door, crimped hair swaying behind you. Minutes later, I hear your car ignition start. I wait a couple of seconds before easing from my position.

I’ve never gone inside your house before, but I know you’d understand if I did. And it isn’t hard. You always leave your backdoor unlocked. Always. Today is no exception. 

When I walk into your house, it’s exactly how it’s always been. A small kitchen, old fridge, mini living area, and that table where you sit every morning. It smells like that perfume you just put on; clean, sweet, slightly fruity. Like how you always smell. It’s like how I’d imagine your house would smell like, too. Your kitchen is full of sticky notes. Mostly on your fridge. Some have positive affirmations. Others have different quotes, most of them about the meaning of life. You even have song lyrics. I smile. That is so like you. So positive. Like me. Some of them have no meaning to them; they’re random words that are meant to unlock the secret parts of your mind to help you remember. Your mind is amazing. I don’t touch any of the notes because I know that there are rhyme and reason to them. You wouldn’t like them to be disturbed. 

It isn’t hard to find your room next. Your bed is made, it’s king-sized, with lavender bed sheets. You have a chair in the corner and a tall dresser. On top of your dresser are pictures of you with friends, family, and other trinkets that you’ve obtained over the years. There’s also a bowl full of jewelry; charm bracelets, rings of different shapes and colors, earrings of different sizes. But that’s not what stands out. 

A large cork board is on one of your walls, and it’s full of pictures and sticky notes. I’m drawn to it, a magnetic pull. My shoes make soft padded noises against the old brown carpet. Some of the pictures are blurry; shadows, faint outlines in dark settings. Others are perfectly clear in daylight. They’re all of one man, I realize. Most of his face is covered; a variety of hoodies, scarves, sunglasses, caps. But he’s familiar. He’s me. It was me in alleyways, in the park, me at the bar, me in your backyard, my car parked blocks away from your house on different streets. There were sticky notes with my name underlined. They accompany pictures with timestamps and days spanning months. But there are other pictures of me. Me in cafes or restaurants unhidden by baggy clothes or caps. There are also pictures of me at my own house and pictures inside my house without me in them. They’re accompanied by smiley faces and comments. 

Something gnaws at me; a growing trepidation. This was wrong. It had to be. How did you get inside my house? How did you see me? I had been so careful. All those days and months of watching, you were seeing me too? Watching me? Waiting for me? Did you know all along? My love? My adoration? And yet you had never said anything. 

But this felt different. This felt different from my love. My love was pure. I respected your distance, didn’t I? I hadn’t approached you. I hadn’t crossed your boundaries or entered your private spaces. Was this love for you? Your way of expression? Yet it felt predatory in a way, almost aggressive. The pictures and notes loomed over me forebodingly. 

I didn’t hear the soft roar of your engine. I didn’t hear the ignition shut off in the driveway. I didn’t hear the sound the locks made when the key was turned. I didn’t hear the questionable silence before the door closed. I didn’t hear your footsteps move across the house. I didn’t smell you because everything smelled like you. I couldn’t sense you because you were everywhere and nowhere. When you got to the door though, I could feel your eyes, searing into me. 

Because you saw me. 

Yes, you. You saw me. And you knew from the beginning it would be us, it would 

always be us. 

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