I See You
~ Gerri Leen
I look, tasting the moment, the hesitation—even perhaps the fear—as you take me in with a sideways “I might not have seen you” glance. Will you run? Leave the bar and go find your girl of the moment in some other place? I know you won’t look me straight in the eye.
Even that night you didn’t. When we touched, the lights were out, my hair whipping around your face but our features hazy at best.
That was great.
I could have been anyone.
I am. Not that you’d know it.
I have an early meeting. I know this is . . . awkward. But I really need to get my rest and I sleep best alone.
So cold. You could have been made of stone.
I left, like a dutiful doormat. Used and discarded. Hurting because I thought you liked me.
I make my way to where you are. I don’t look directly at you, either, but I’m like a hunting cat, keeping you in my sights even as I pretend to have other prey in mind.
God, you’re beautiful.
But how did you know? You never even saw me there. Not the woman I am. All you wanted was the body that you took fast and hard, not seeming to think you should make it good for me too.
You edge toward the bar, and I move to block your way to the door, just in case you lose your nerve and try to flee. But you don’t.
I should give you credit for that. You stride forth to a stool like some mythical hero. Your phone your shield, your wallet full of cash your sword. Women will fall before you like soldiers to a superior force.
The one you’ve picked for the night is already yielding—you have a type, don’t you? Those of us who want but can’t have, who sit and wait as our fairer sisters are taken to the dance floor, offered drinks, seduced onto balconies and decks and into grimy bathroom stalls.
We are the left behinds, the uncomfortable, the fidgeters, the ones who wonder why we picked this dress, these shoes, this purse that’s too big to put on the bar and too little to put at our feet.
I came without a purse this time. I came not in a slinky dress but jeans and a leather jacket. My boots are flat and sensible and could kick you to shit.
My hair is curly tonight. I didn’t spend hours trying to tame the whirls and serpentine bits that refuse to give in to the flat iron and blow dryer without a fight.
Under my jacket, I have on a plain white t-shirt. In my pocket I have my phone, my keys, my lip balm, and enough money to buy my own damn drinks.
I am not here to catch. I am here to set free.
The woman you’ve latched onto looks at me. She’s annoyed. This is her moment—possibly the only one that will come—and I’m ruining it.
I nod to you, noticing you still won’t turn to face me fully. I call you by the wrong name. It’s petty but it amuses me, and your face twists in what looks like irritation.
She doesn’t frown. You haven’t gotten to the introduction stage yet. For all she knows, that is your name.
I lean in and smell her perfume. Desperate and exactly what I wore the other night. We are all twins, in our sleek outfits with our self-tanned legs and straight hair and spicy floral scent.
Tonight, I wear lemon. It reminds me of youth, of a time when men did not slay me after I gave them everything.
I tip her chin up, turning gently, making her look from you to me. Her skin is soft—too soft for the likes of you. “He’s selfish and he won’t make you come. He’ll send you home once he’s finished with you. Come find me when it’s done. We’ll be a gang, sisters tarnished by this man’s blade.” I make a sneering noise. “Well, not that large a blade, if we’re being honest—just between us girls.”
You try to pull her away.
You’re special. I could see that right away.
You weren’t wrong. You also weren’t sincere. Special to you means victim, means prey, means strike fast then leave. Means cut out my heart. Why not take my hands too? My head?
You can take what you want—no matter how deep the cut, you won’t kill what’s real inside me. You won’t slay the monster you’ve awakened.
“He hurt you,” the woman says.
I nod. “He’ll hurt you, too. But if you need to go down that road, do it. Sometime pain is liberating.”
She looks rebellious. Like she doesn’t believe me—or doesn’t want to. For women like us, those are often the same thing.
And you want her. It’s a powerful thing for a girl who’s usually left sitting, guarding the drinks.
“She’s just pissed it didn’t work out for us.” Your voice is soft, reasonable even. Using logic in the face of my bitterness. Mister Rational.
I can see immediately that it’s the wrong tack to take. She looks at you, her head cocked, her eyes almost fiery in the low light. “How long were you together?”
How long did you give it? That’s what she’s asking and she already knows the answer—she’s figured it out. She’s smarter than I was. But then I didn’t have me telling me hard truths.
I smirk. You stare into the mirror over the bar and our eyes finally meet.
You’re not as handsome as I remember. Not now that I see you fully, with eyes not blinded by relief, by gratitude, by loneliness. You have a weak chin. Shifty eyes. And you’re sweating.
I let one side of my mouth go up slowly, the universal sign of contempt. I know my eyes are dead.
She’s the one who responds. She laughs and slides off the barstool. “You look so cool,” she says to me. “Wild. Sexy.”
Everything I thought you were.
I don’t take my eyes from yours. You stand frozen, your mouth grim.
“I am. You can be, too.” I finally break the gaze and take her hand, pulling her onto the dance floor. Our dance isn’t sexual. It’s defiance. It’s victory.
Men stop to watch, frozen. As if they’ve never seen two women dance for themselves, not for them.
“My friends are freaking,” she says with a laugh. “They always leave me behind but now I’m getting all the attention.”
“No one leaves us behind anymore.”
Her smile falters. Her “that’s right” is shaky. There’s something lost about her, as if suddenly she’s doubting our path.
I slip my jacket off and put it around her. It’s heavy and warm and broken in perfectly. She’s smaller than I am so it swallows her a little. I tell her it suits her and it does. I’m not going to lie about things like that. We don’t need that.
Then a new woman comes into the bar. She sees you, her face broken—but her back straight.
“Sister,” I whisper, recognizing another former lost soul, and take the hand of my new friend.
We follow the girl as she strides to the bar—to you.
She’s in black jeans. A gray tank top. Sneakers and a bracelet of skulls around her wrist.
You see her in the mirror, then you see us. You don’t move except to motion for the bartender as if we’re nothing to you. Just three women happening to stand behind you—not a threat, not a reminder, not revenge waiting to happen.
You can pretend all you want, but the way your hand shakes as you lift the glass to your mouth lets us know what you’re really feeling.
I reach the new woman just before she gets to you. “There’s no satisfaction there.”
She turns to face me. She’s prettier than my new friend and I are. You threw her away too? Do none of us measure up for you?
“This is our bar now,” I say. My new friend nods. This pretty girl turns and stares at you in the mirror.
You glance up, frozen, not a single forgivable excuse coming from you. Not a lie, either. Or an insult. You say nothing.
Stone cold silent.
But men like you always are. Even when you never shut up.
Me? I feel like anything but stone. It’s as if there’s a fire inside me. I grab my girls’ hands and lead them to the other side of the bar. We’re proud, even if we’re just learning to be. We’re beautiful, even if we aren’t. We’re not seat-holders. We’re not the girls who wait.
We soon have men hovering. We don’t have to pay for our own drinks.
We do anyway.
Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. In addition to being an avid reader, she’s passionate about horse racing, tea, and collecting encaustic art and raku pottery. She has work appearing or accepted by The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Nature, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and others. She’s edited several anthologies for independent presses, is finishing some longer projects, and is a member of SFWA and HWA.
See more at gerrileen.com.