Staring out at the city laid out below him, he wondered why he was so masochistic in spending his nights here. After all, the view just made him remember her.
Which was ironic. She hated the city. She never lost a chance to rant about it, either. She frowned the first thirty minutes she walks into a mall on weekends, and muttered curses under her breath when stuck in traffic. Then later, she’d complain about the crowd and the heat and the noise. Her voice would reach a pitch of such shrill indignation he’d fight back a grimace of pain – knowing she’d start on him if he so much let himself wince – and vowed, over and over, to live in the rural areas when she could. Somewhere isolated, she would specify, scowling at the long line of cars in front of her.
This was a girl who practically lived in cafés and 24-hour fastfood chains when she was bored. He had to hold back a smile.
“I mean, look at this,” she would say, gesturing all around her. “Wouldn’t you rather be in a clean, quiet place? Somewhere you can actually relax. Somewhere you can look up the skies and see stars, and not air pollution.”
Most of the time he’d just shrug in response. She took that as the cue to sigh in exasperation and give up on the subject – but not before romanticizing the possibility of moving right there and then.
Until one time, when he quipped, “The city’s pretty relaxing,” in an off-hand voice. She looked over at him with disbelief written all over her face. He would, too, to be honest. He couldn’t remember the last time he disagreed with her.
“Oh, please -”
“No, I’m serious,” he interrupted, thoroughly enjoying the way she wrinkled her nose at him in annoyance. “It’s not relaxing to be in it, I suppose, but it’s relaxing to see the city. Rushing cars. Lights. Skyscrapers.”
She shook her head and snorted. “Whatever. I’m not even going to bother.”
“Come on,” he said, laughing a little. “I’ll show you tonight. You’ll see.”
She rolled her eyes before fluttering them at him. “See how wrong you are?” she asked in a voice that would’ve been sweet if it wasn’t so out of character. It sounded threatening.
He ignored her question and raised his eyebrows, offering, “We’ve got a rooftop at our apartment.”
She settled back into her seat as the light in front of them turned green. “Why are you so persistent?”
A yes. He shrugged and smiled. “Just trying for a change.”
That night, he led her up series of staircases, dragging his guitar with him. She had looked at it in curiosity when he brought it out, but he didn’t bother to explain. He switched the guitar to his left hand as he reached for the keys to the door of the rooftop with his right one. He had borrowed them from the caretaker, who handed it to him without question. Probably because it was too damn late in the night for him to bother and ask why.
She walked a step behind him, her arms crossed. She had taken off her makeup and was in a tank top and pajamas, her hair still wet from the shower. He approached the little dining table set by the corner of the balcony to put his guitar down before beckoning her over. She was still scowling as she took his hand. He pulled her beside him, his arm going around her shoulders, before whispering, “Look.”
“I already am,” she whispered back, looking annoyed. He smiled and gave her a nudge, ignoring the way his heart seemed to beat faster. The view was eerie, and could almost be considered surreal. The dark outlines; the glow of lights. The quiet rush of the cars on dimly lit roads.
“You always say you’d rather be in a place where you could look at the stars,” he started, breaking the silence. “But if you think about it, cityscapes gets you under the same spell. The contrast of the glowing lights against the dark sky. The depth. There’s the possibility of life in outer space you can wonder about when you look up, but there’s the realization of the thousands of lives going on around you here. A thousand possibilities in each of them on what could be happening.”
She didn’t say anything for a few moments. Then she sighed, leaning against him. “Very profound of you.”
The closest he would ever get to her agreeing. He chuckled. “I try.”
Silence overcame them. He looked down at her, and he wished he was profound and brave enough to say what he really wanted to; what worried him in the years that had passed that he contradicted her in one of her passing moments of frustration.
Years. Of her, of him, of them – coexistent. Every now and then there was the irritation of going through the same argument; the tiredness of the same routine. Even the way he held her now was overly familiar, and as much as he hated it, there was the urge to release her and step back – even if she was practically putting all her weight against him. She was more than if not as easily bored as him, and he knew she felt the same way at times. Her venting was nothing new, he supposed, but goddamn if it wasn’t getting more frequent. And it always ended up in wanting something new; in being somewhere else. He couldn’t comfort her like he used to. When she wasn’t upset about something, they spent more and more time in silence.
He was caught up in paranoia. Maybe he was interpreting her the wrong way, but this was him showing her what he wanted to say: there was still beauty and love in them, in what has always been, and hopefully what will always be. He could still see it. And inside, he was practically begging her for her to reassure him that she could still see it, too.
He released her, and she straightened herself, looking over at him. He smiled at her as he reached for his guitar and leaned against the table.
“Besides,” he said, “what use do I have for stars when I could just look in your eyes?”
She grinned, shaking her head. It was an old line he started back in when they were in high school. He was a sucker for composing poems and songs back then, and he made that line the basis for one of his first compositions. For her.
He started to strum.
The way he did now, sitting on one of the chairs of the same table that he had leaned against two years ago.
He shook his head, strumming to the same notes of the same song. The pain of losing her had turned into a dull ache, but it was there nevertheless.
He stared out into the city laid out before him, the glowing lights blurring together. A thousand lives. A thousand possibilities in each.
A thousand possibilities in him. A thousand possibilities in her. A thousand of possibilities for the two them.
Maybe it wasn’t in the odds. Maybe it was just inevitable.
It was all over