The first thing he noticed was her lips. The far-hanging brim of woven straw shaded her eyes and obscured her nose, but the blush pink dips and curves of those fleshy doors to her mouth were outlined, enhanced to draw his attention. They beckoned to him, calling in a way that made him uncomfortable. He found himself tensing his legs, clenching his fists, holding his body in place, still, as if his subconscious was wary of his intentions, as if the control room, the board of officials in the back of his mind, suspected he’d leap at her, malign her flawlessness, and attack those perfectly formed gates to her pearly whites.

          Occasionally, the bottom lip disappeared, clenched by unseen ivories, masticated and released, slightly darker than before, still pink. She smirked and crossed long legs that seemed deformed in length after so long a time spent staring at her mouth. She was a model, maybe, at least, she could have been, possibly, in a different life, if she was ten, twenty pounds lighter, perhaps. She had that look, the faraway eyes that occasionally peeked from below the darkened space beneath her hat, the salon-perfected hair, and boutique couture accompanied by expensive accessories and technology. He could see her collarbones when she shifted in her chair, but her hips said that she was over indulgent one time, maybe five times too many per week. She was pretty, but it was those lips, the ones that belonged on the cover of a makeup tube, that deserved to glisten with gloss, that seemed to have been made to exhibit color, that created an intoxicating glamour that mesmerized him.

          She reminded him of his first crush, this stranger who sat across from him, buried in one of those housewife books, one of those rags with a cleavage-baring, buxom maiden caught in the arms of a steroidal dark-haired pirate on the cover. Yes, she reminded him of Jeannie, that sable girl who’d danced across a forgotten meadow in a place from so long ago that it may have been a daydream. Jeannie, who had those same lips, curved, full, blush pink. The sprite who had stood on the tiptoes of tiny feet to press her impeccable puckers to his jawline, his cheek, the corner of his smile, before sliding just slightly to seamlessly match her mouth to his. Jeannie, who had shattered his heart ten days later when she had moved on to be some other boy’s first kiss, not realizing she had left him, the first boy, yearning for her in a way that had pushed him to seek that classic sweetness, that unspoiled innocence, that faultless flavor for years on end.

          He stared at that strange woman’s lips, curled his hands into fists, and leaned across the aisle, harshly whispering, “You have—I wish—I don’t forgive—” He stopped, gathered his thoughts, gathered his things, and stood. He towered over her in the aisle, staring down at the blue ribbon in her hat, and snarled, “I hate you,” though it wasn’t what he had meant to say, but he couldn’t bring himself to take it back. He waited a moment, still clenching and unclenching his fists before stalking away to find another seat, but she was always in sight, so he found himself at the airport bar. He drank to Jeannie, the one who started it all, to Lori, who just happened to come after, to his ex-wife, Dyanne, and still those lips reminded him of innocence lost, of his daughter, who never wanted to see him, of his son, who used to look up to him, of his dreams when he was too young to realize what a disappointment life was, so he drank to them, too. He drank, using the credit card that was almost maxed out, ringing up an astronomical bill in the hopes of drowning a pain that he could never articulate, feelings he wanted to destroy, and heartache he never admitted.

AZURE ARTHER is a native of Flint, MI, who resides in Dallas, TX. Although she is obsessed with literature, she has found that her passions have been evenly distributed between writing, teaching, and parenting. Her work has appeared in several publications, including Burningword Literary Journal, The Rusty Nail, and The Chaffey Review.