There was more colour there than usual.
That’s what was different. It had taken him some time, a slow time, to figure it out, but there at last he had it: there was more colour in her cheeks. But it wasn’t just that, not just the gentle rise in pink that chalked her cheekbones, but also the sudden pink paint on her nails, the sudden pink pout of her lips. Her hair, too, looked blonder. The light in her eyes seemed bluer. Her shirt, bright white, reflected the light of her screen like the sun.
No-one else seemed to notice anything was different, but Norman supposed that was normal. Not many people noticed Sarah. Sarah came into the office each day, stuffed her bag under her desk, reached for one cookie only from the cookie jar, dipped it methodically in her morning cup of tea, then proceeded to fill Excel sheet after Excel sheet with numbers. She was quiet and diligent. She rarely spoke up in meetings. She never made eye contact when she joined the others in the kitchen at lunch. She flushed when invited for drinks after work, and stammered that she had to go home. Though Norman and Sarah both were of a similar age, and therefore expected by most to get along, they had barely spoken two words to each other since the day he joined the firm.
Norman was attracted to the colour, surprised by his sudden heightened sensitivity to the space two spaces to his right occupied by Sarah. His own Excel sheet was less than compelling reading. He watched from the corner of his eye as she got up from her desk, stretched and walked past him, then watched her footsteps as she made her way to the bathroom. For a while he gazed after her, thinking vague circling things. When she returned from the bathroom five minutes later Norman cleared his throat and caught her eye.
“You alright this morning, Sarah?” he asked as she nudged her way past him.
“Oh, yes,” she returned with a smile, “I’m wonderful.”
Sarah was wonderful, and she felt a blush settle over her as she sat back in her seat. Though her physical actions were focused on her work, her mind wandered. She imagined things, just little things, like tonight, would he hold the chair out for her as she sat down? Would he offer to pay for dinner? Would they go out afterwards, somewhere where there was music? Would he ask her to dance? Would he hold her hands, closing the gaps between her fingers with his own, cradle her closer, brush her hair from her eyes and face to reveal her laughter?
The laughter would sit on her lips, which he would kiss, she hoped, for he had promised to kiss her. This promise was contained in each kissing emoticon he sent her, each yellow face he shared sharing his excitement and expectation of their meeting, when they would meet for the first time. She had been afraid for a long time to text letters of love to the strangers she swiped right on her screen, but something about his picture made her believe in him. There was something different about him; something about the colour of his hair, lips and eyes that drew her towards him. She knew him intimately; each contour of his face, the shape of his brows and the curve of his profile, details studied and absorbed through pixelated image after image.
Sarah had wished several times to tell her father where she was going that night, but the glaze in his eyes had stopped her. Though he no longer was in a position to prevent her from doing what she wanted, a part of her still belonged to that part of the past where he had power over her.
The glaze that had come into her father’s eyes in recent years had grown as the disease in his brain had grown. It hid his thoughts from view, so she never knew exactly what he knew when he looked at her. Once, he had reached out and taken her hand across the kitchen table. Shaking, his fingers had clasped her own, folding over her knuckles, gripping the gaps. He had looked at her, and said: “I’m sorry, dear, but do I know you?” Later, after they had spoken for some time, his grip had slackened, his expression hardened, and with recognition at last he had said her name, then said something that hurt her.
She didn’t think he really meant to hurt her. It was just that he worried about her. With her mother gone, it was only natural that he should be afraid to lose his daughter to another man, too. Only natural that he should keep her to himself, in the quiet nights, sometimes the noisy nights, depending on his mood. It was better now, really. It was better now he was forgetting because forgetting made him mellow. It was better that he didn’t know about tonight.
Tonight, upon which Sarah had carefully pinned tiny hopes and tiny dreams. Tiny what-if’s that grew into deeper could-be’s. These thoughts energised her, filled her world with colour, and it was with a skip in her step that she left the office that day, rushing, almost running to the place where she would meet him.
And there she waited. And waited some more. The hours, they disappeared, bled into blackness, the empty on-and-on. Her father, waiting for her at the door that night, did not ask where she had been, but simply wanted to know what was for dinner. She made him a sandwich then went to bed.
The next day, when Sarah came into work, Norman didn’t notice her. There was no colour there anymore.
This story was originally published on Medium.