I watched and waited, like I did every day, for Bettina. Always her. The one who taught me what it meant to long for someone, to master that harsh, bone-deep ache like it was an art form. It was not simply about aesthetics; it was about need. Even if we never spoke, never touched, I had to be near her. I had to see her, to watch her, in order to be able to breathe.

Nothing could compete with her eyes, displayed beneath Disney villain arches set in an alabaster complexion. At times, they threatened to overwhelm her prim features. Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships with her face, but Bettina only needed her eyes to overtake you.

Blue-black and gorgeous, they flashed brilliantly in laughter, but could broadcast commination just as easily — like the penance that he bestowed upon me whenever I was less than. Her eyes pinned you down, took hold of you, without asking, but you don't mind being caught in the rain when you're thirsty.

Those eyes perfectly complemented her siren song voice. Luring you in and then lulling you, full of mischief, coquetry; she made taking a customer's order into an aria. You could hear it in the pink powder-puff sighs, or in the shimmering green singsong voice she used when she wanted to make a taunt seem more playful. Her laugh, though, was always a wanton red, affectionately uncouth.

From behind the counter, her unrestrained laughter, jangled manic music with a smidgen of brattiness lurking just beneath, made me flinch. I heard that laughter every time he ranted about my deficiencies, my imperfection measured against her flawlessness.

Although she seemed seraphic, there were those who could argue that she was nothing more than a jaded temptress, cleverly cloaked in guileless wonder and beauty beyond the dreams of pornography, merely intent on bewitching the shop's wealthy clientele into giving her a larger tip. I would be lying if I said she hadn't gotten inside of my mind somehow; sorceresses don't just exist in fairy tales. But it was so much more than that.

Her disposition was mercurial; she could be honey-sweet, or fiercely combative, depending on how the light hit her that day. Her stained glass mood swings, true works of art in their refined madness, should have been a warning. Instead, they were smoke to so many bees.

She parlays admiration into devotion, nonchalantly; a person can't help but succumb to worshiping at the altar of her eyes. Some days, I thought of little else but her. I didn’t imagine how cruel the spell was, the first time those eyes pierced me; I didn't know how sweet pain could be.

I stood in line as I did every day, waiting, as always, for Bettina. I ordered the same drink each time; thin women drink black coffee, he had said once. Bettina showed me her sparkling smile, the same one she showed to all the caffeine addicts.

"Small coffee, black?"

She remembered. I nodded, wondering what else she knew about me. If she could tell she owned my mind.

I happened to have cash on me that visit, and as I handed her the money, she caught hold of my hand suddenly. I gasped.

"Oh, wow," she exclaimed, examining the marquise-cut diamond engagement ring on my left hand.

"That's the most beautiful ring I've ever seen."

I snatched my hand from her abruptly, free from her firm grasp. My heartbeat, which had quickened, began to slow back down.

"I wish I had someone in my life who would give me a ring like that," she ventured, somewhat wistfully.

I thought of the man who gave me the ring. Two carats in a gleaming platinum setting would apparently be enough to buy Bettina's devotion. I wondered if a piece of dead earth was enough for the marks I hid with collars and sleeves, and artfully applied cosmetics. Coal became diamonds only under force. My disillusionment was total, devastating. All at once, it seemed like the only beauty in my life was ripped away. Bettina's once-lovely face seemed to take on a pallor; I noticed her shabby manicure and faded, fraying clothes.

"You should really be careful what you wish for," I managed, harshly.

with thanks to Bitriot

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