By Cathy S. Ulrich
You’re friends with the most beautiful boy in the world. You go out for coffee together, and the barista clips a lock of your friend’s hair when he’s turned round to tell you something. The barista slides the lock of hair into her shirt pocket, near her heart. You see her do it, but she puts her fingers to her lips, so now you can’t tell.
When you get to your booth in the corner, your friend becomes aware of the bald spot on his head, and feels it with the palm of his hand, embarrassed.
Oh, this always happens, he says, and the flush that rises to his cheeks only makes him more lovely.
Just the other day, he says, he went to the mall to buy some new clothes. He wore wide sunglasses and an ugly baseball cap, but he was recognized anyway, and the shoppers began tearing at his clothing, bit by bit, till they had plucked him clean of every clinging piece of fabric, and he was bare in the mall, except for his sunglasses and scuffed sneakers.
You’re so beautiful, the security guards assured him as one draped a jacket over his shoulders and gave him a Styrofoam cup of coffee. It’s fine.
Your friend has plenty of flaws that no one ever seems to notice, like he only ever sings off-key and he always drives too fast and he can’t pronounce the word hippocampus. It’s not even a hard word, but he can’t do it.
Hippocampus, you say to him.
Right, he says. I know.
Last night, he went on a date with a rock star. He carried his guitar round everywhere and smoked skinny little cigarettes. He had your friend stop beside him and admire their reflection in some windows.
Don’t we look good together, he said, and when he kissed your friend, he tasted like the skinny little cigarettes.
Your friend is always going on dates with famous musicians. His favorite was the professional soloist with the violin hickey under his chin.
You’re very intimidating, he told your friend when he called from his tour in Saudi Arabia to break up. Your friend cried for days after that.
Do you think I’m intimidating? he asked, and you said no, of course not, and he kissed you on both sides of your face like they do in Europe. One of his musician boyfriends always greeted him in this way, which he said was a very continental habit.
When you met in the parking lot of the coffee shop, he kissed you on both sides of your face again.
It’s so good to see you, he said, like he hadn’t just seen you last week for a slice of pie at the local greasy spoon. The busboy crawled underneath your table there and caressed the inside of your friend’s thighs. He pretended not to notice.
Your friend laughs when you remind him.
Of course I didn’t say anything, he says. It only encourages them.
The truth is, he admits, he was rather aroused by the busboy’s bravado, and when you thought he was checking his teeth in the bathroom, he was actually letting the busboy have him in the stall.
Tell me I’m beautiful, he said.
So beautiful, the busboy said. He wanted to exchange phone numbers, but your friend wouldn’t do it.
I gave him my boxers, though, he says, and you both have a good laugh at his audacity.
He sets his mug down on the table and clucks his tongue at the darkness of it.
I’d better go check my teeth, he announces, and heads to the restroom. After a moment, you see the barista follow him. You sit at the table and drink your coffee and stare at the mark of your friend’s lips on his mug. No one is looking, so you put your mouth over the smudge and sip from your friend’s coffee.
The bathroom door opens, and you hurriedly scoot your friend’s mug back over to his side of the table. Before he sits down, he kisses you on both sides of your face.
How do I look, he says.
Beautiful, you say. You look beautiful.
Cathy S. Ulrich has lots of beautiful friends, but none that kiss her on both sides of her face. She's okay with that, mostly. Her fiction can be found in a variety of journals, and her humor writing is online at Hollywood Hates Me. She is a regular contributor to LustSpiel.
A gender-swapped version of the story ("The Most Beautiful Girl in the World") appeared in The Mondegreen, Issue 6