Jeanine and I work doing data entry. On Fridays, we cross the street and drink daiquiris before going home. We’d seen him around, straight black hair he tossed back, heavy eyelids covering the bluest eyes, and a weird, thick moustache. His smile was enormous and he floated over to our table with such practiced languor; he had to be kidding. Still, I ran off to fix my mouth: shell-pink pencil, matte lipstick, concealer and fixative.
When I returned, he watched me even while telling Jeanine that people with fingertips like hers were clairvoyant.
Staring at me, he said, “Keith.” And ordered us fresh drinks. After a while, he whispered, “Come with me. I want to talk to you.”
I shook my head but Jeanine said, “Go on, Robyn.”
He wrapped an arm around me, issuing me outside. At seven it was still light and the stream of people flowed past in waves.
His finger under my chin, he said, “A beautiful affliction. Corrected and healed.” Keith traced my scar covered with concealer and I was too surprised to react. He fingered his moustache. “Mine’s a lot worse under here. But yours—I’ve always wanted to kiss a harelip fixed like yours.”
No one has ever said, “harelip” directly to me. The word’s offensive. My tiny scar’s noticeable only in bright light. So, I’ve no right to complain.
His nose didn’t look flattened. And who knew, under that moustache? His smile really addled me. So I said, “Now’s your chance.”
“What?” Like he forgot. And then, “Oh yeah.” His arms circled my waist, tipping me backward for the kiss: people noticed.
Maybe because Keith said the truth—out loud—I took him to the apartment I share with my sister. Of course, I’ve heard “harelip” usually whispered, or shouted from far away, but my family protects me, as if it’s something shameful. So when he touched my mouth and said, “a beautiful affliction,” it sounded like the truest love.
In my room, I said, “I never do this,” which was true.
My sister knocked on my door, “Robyn? Do have company?”
We had our clothes off. Keith pressed into me and stopped, his eyes wide. “Am I the first?”
“No. I’m twenty-two.”
“Well, I’m twenty, but I can tell—I’m the first.”
We did it all night with intermittent rests. Keith was determined I “get off.”
“If it’s happening, you’ll know.”
It happened and kept happening.
At dawn, he said, “I’m leaving, Robyn.”
Stretching my hand up, I brushed my fingers through his moustache, which suddenly looked sparse. “Do you really have a harelip?”
“Yeah.” Then: “No, I just said that. But don’t smear that gunk on your mouth. You’re way prettier without it.”
“You lied about that?”
He was dressed and opening the door. Like taking pity, then, he weaved back, his face above mine. “Yeah, but we had fun. Maybe I’ll call you.”