“So beautiful,” he sighed, “it breaks your heart.”

But he was not looking at or listening to me; he was staring into a past distance. He shook his head slightly, dispelling the ghosts. He was looking in my direction again, those eyes I once spent hours pondering whether blue or gray, but his manner turned professorial.

“Unattainable beauty cannot have that effect. Longing might dent the heart, but breaking it needs something you can hold.” He fisted his hand for emphasis.

I reached across the table, and dumped three teaspoons of sugar in his coffee, stirring it loudly. He likes it black.

He continued, oblivious, “But only briefly. Here, and then gone.” Theatrically, he opened his hand.

We never had Paris, only shoddy, bohemian imitations like this cheap restaurant where the candles dripped wax on empty Chianti bottles. I felt a pang—of longing? Grief?—as I watched him, my first love, my once lover, but not my future.

“Heartbreaking beauty is always transitory. The Japanese know this. That’s why they’re fascinated by cherry blossoms,” he concluded with a flourish.

His smile wavered as he regarded me. I had missed my cue to look adoring. I looked down at the dingy tablecloth.

“I don’t know,” I said, glancing up through my eyelashes. He relaxed; I had been recast as the slightly dim ingénue in need of further explication. “Beauty’s such a vague, overused word. And breaking hearts—an abused cliché. Don’t you think?”


PHOTO Judy Olsen Photography

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