Her mouth is a thin slash of pink against the startling white of her skin. She doesn’t pout; her lips naturally set in the sort of straight line that reveals itself as a smile only to those who know how to look for it.
Dark smudges paint the hollows under her calm, brown eyes. She makes no attempt to hide her tiredness, nor to tame the hair that tumbles wildly around her shoulders. The jut to her jaw is equal parts pride and defiance. Pride in the strength they said she didn’t have; a deep, defiant anger at the men who tried to stop her finding it.
She is less pretty than he remembers. Less pretty and more beautiful.
He watches as she curls herself into the window seat and looks down onto the Plaza de España. He wants to scoop her up in his arms and take them back to a time when she still needed him. Needed him in a way he understood.
His fingers clench into a fist and relax again. He doesn’t know her any more. She is older and he is not, because he doesn’t need to be; his world is safe and small, neat and tidy. It is everything that her world left behind when she landed in Madrid.
He is in her world now.
She turns to him and he lifts his head, expectant.
“Talk to me, Daniel.”
As the words leave her tongue, she knows that they’re not the ones he wants to hear. She knows, and she lets them go anyway. She is tired of sending out a sheepdog to fetch every stray thought; to round up all the things that Nice Girls Don’t Say and bring them back, soft and pliant, ready to be sheared of anything that might cause him pain.
He steps toward her. He is close enough that she can smell him again. He is wearing the cologne she bought him for Christmas, three months and half a lifetime ago, back when this made sense to both of them. Back when it felt right.
He doesn’t know that there have been other men since the morning he dropped her outside the terminal at JFK, and watched the breath billow from her lips in soft, giddy clouds. He doesn’t know that even then, he smelled of the past.
Nostalgia, like teenage boys and the end of a good date, often comes before we want or expect it to do so. She let the wave sweep over her that day and closed her eyes, the hard words in her head crumbling away; with each kiss she planted on his lips, another truth went untold.
She doesn’t remember their names. She remembers clubs and neighbourhoods – Chueca and Huertas, La Latina and Lavapiés, Salamanca and Sol. She remembers the way they kissed her, with rough, red wine lips and no shame or hesitation. She remembers their hands on her body. How their cocks tasted in her mouth.
His cock is hard – she knows that. It would be so easy to pull him inside her and pretend, just for one night. To root and centre him in the soft swell of her cunt. But she doesn’t owe him that; she doesn’t owe him anything, least of all the comfort of a happy lie that she no longer aches to tell.
He takes her hand and squeezes it, a gesture profound only in its desperation. He doesn’t speak her language; the words she needs are now beyond him, so he tries to press them into her skin, leaving a red flush that fades as soon as she pulls away from his touch.
The square below her window is full of people. She sees splashes of colour, dipping in and out of the streetlights. She hears their easy laughter, and wonders again at this life she’s found, on the right side of 20 and the wrong side of an ocean. Her fingers spread out against the glass.
Madrid makes her wet. It caught her at a crossroads, and stretched her till she was open and hungry; lean and fierce. It rubbed all her soft curves down to sharp, predatory edges.
She belongs here, in a way that still takes her by surprise.
He stares at her reflection. Her mouth looks softer now, and her eyes glitter against the night sky.
“Talk to me,” she whispers, but this time she doesn’t turn her head. The answers lie out there, in front of her.
They always did.