Fourth

Photo by Dave Meier

Photo by Dave Meier

She is the kind of girl who would never have acknowledged his existence, back in the day. But now, now that he is wrinkled and gray and round in the middle—now that he is not threat, in other words, and not an option—now she sits on the other side of his desk and talks absentmindedly of the race she will run this summer. She smiles with abandon, a perfect set of straight white teeth, save for the snaggletooth, which reminds him of someone from long ago, someone who had acknowledged him and later came to regret it.

He is a man who fixates on things. In the picture she shows him of last year’s race, he cannot stop staring at the splotches of blue paint on her tan thighs, the green paint spattered across her flushed face, the pink paint in her brown hair.

“People throw it at you,” she explains, “as you run the race. It’s all about diversity.”

“Must take forever to wash off,” he says.

“Nah,” she says, waving dismissively at him. “Besides,” she says, “if it does take a bit longer than usual, isn’t that the point?”

He smiles at her. She smiles back.

They turn to the subject of her paper, the one he has just graded, and she takes in his recitation of his written feedback while chewing on the end of a pencil and nodding. She writes nothing down, but he doesn’t fault her for this. He’s not really say anything of interest, anything he hasn’t said more eloquently in writing. He is unfocused. Or, rather, he is focused, but on the wrong thing: he is still thinking about paint-spattered thighs.

She collects her bag and thanks him for his time. On her way out the door, she pauses, looks back over her shoulder, and gives him one last smile.

The girl with the snaggletooth from back in the day, she smiled at him once. And he’d written her a love letter in return. It wasn’t the first time he overreacted to a simple kindness, this love-starved lad, and it wasn’t the last. They never spoke again, though, he and the snaggletoothed girl. He didn’t blame her. How could he? He may not have known it then, but he knew it now, after many hours spent looking in the mirror and searching for the right word.

Creep.

He was a creep, and he always would be. Good for them, he thought, for seeing that earlier than he had. Good for them for keeping a safe distance.

I write and publish new short fiction for free every day. If you like what you’re reading, support me on Patreon to read tomorrow’s story today.