I could feel his gaze on my shoulder as we traveled down the red line going toward Fondo: I had gotten on at Espanya and he came through the doors at Catalunya. He was reading biography of Truman Capote, which gave him points, and he had a scruffy beard that only Spanish men seem to pull off. I, on principle, refused to make eye contact with anyone on public transportation, but he was cute enough that I was tempted to break my rule. It would have been easy to look up and smile at anytime during the next four stops.
He surprised me with his boldness before turning charmingly shy; he was brave enough to strike up a conversation with a girl rather determined to look at anything but him, but when the time arrived to ask for my number, he clammed up. I took pity on him and shouted out numbers that he frantically typed into his phone before the door swung close at my stop.
Our first date was in Parc de la Ciutadella, and we stole all the sunlight on the last warm day before winter swept us away. I sat cross legged, leaning toward his burly form, laughing at his sarcastic commentary of the passersby. He was a little rough around the edges, the kind of boy who grew up playing rugby and learned that pain was just weakness leaving the body. When an energetic dog wandered over to us, he melted and cooed and talked to the creature like it was his baby. It was enough encouragement; there were spaces in his heart to be filled with lovely, loyal things.
At the end of the date, he walked me to my door and stared at the ground as he earnestly asked to see me again. I agreed and he nodded, head still inclined toward the concrete, shoved his hands in his pockets, and said goodnight. I shut the door and leaned against it for a moment, feeling both full and empty at the same time, like an echo filling a tunnel. I bit my lip and then opened back up the door, quickly padding down the stairs back to the street.
I saw his defeated back, fingers wrenching through his hair and shoes scuffing the sidewalk in anger and frustration. I called his name, he turned around, and I kissed him.
Arc de Triomph
In his arms, I feared nothing. Without uttering a single word, he could hush all my fears and doubts. On days when I was homesick, he would take me around the city, and I would fall in love with Barcelona all over again.
He would call me his little bird because I was always chirping about one thing or another. He, on the other hand, was quiet, more reluctant to share his feelings, opinions, and observations. It did, however, make everything he said more special.
When I showed up for one of his rugby games, he burst with pride. I was the only girl on the sideline that didn’t fret every time someone bashed into her significant other, and when he did split his eyebrow open and the team medic was in the bathroom, I calmly opened the first aid kit and unflinchingly cleaned up the blood and butterfly closed the wound before sending him out to the field.
“That’s your girl?” asked an incredulous teammate. He smirked a proud, Peter Pan smirk, causing his teammate to whistle.
After the game, I lay on his chest and balanced an ice pack on the lump slowly rising on his forehead.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he lowered his eyes with a smile tucked in the corner of his mouth. “You’re going to make me fall in love with you, and we can’t have that happen.” But it did. Sort of.
As the months passed and cold air dampened Barcelona, we became better fighters than lovers. His reticence led to misunderstanding, and my stubbornness refused to let him ever be right. His ugly head of jealousy reared, and my indifference frustrated him to no end.
But he listened. Details were always given the utmost attention. One glance at my face and he could tell my mood. He remembered every special day and knew that I had a weakness for flowers. He picked up books from the library that he thought I would like and tucked notes in my school bag.
After big arguments, we would go to the dog park and watch the animals play, wishing that our happiness relied on something as simple as having a tennis ball to chew. We would sit there, holding hands until our anger faded, and in one meaningful look, we would silently forgive each other.
One night, we never looked at each other. We walked down to the metro, and I released his hand to feed my ticket through the machine. We stood on the platform like complete strangers, and when the metro arrived, we took it toward Fondo. All the way, I could feel his gaze on my shoulder.
My stop arrived and I pulled away from him, like a magnet snapping from the release of attraction, and walked out onto the platform, leaving him to continue down the red line. I never looked back.
…When I got off at Glòries six minutes later, the scruffy-faced, Capote-reading man had not turned a page in his book. However, the last page in our book had been turned without even cracking the spine. I never had to look up at him to know our whole story from start to finish. Four stops on the red line were sufficient: such was the nature of love on the metro.