To Be Beautiful
He said her name out loud, feeling the familiar shape of it start from his lips and roll off of his tongue. It confused him, the way it made him feel. It was just a name and yet somehow he let it mean so much more to him. It was a memory, a lost good bye, the gradual creeping feeling of heartbreak. William had always been average. He was of average intelligence and average appearance; he had always blended into any group of people and invisibly made his way through life. Meredith was the opposite. She was beautiful and profound and everything that everyone wanted to be.
She had called earlier that day. Her voice was still the same as he could remember it from years before, but something about the way she said each word was different. It was as if she was walking on a tightrope high in the sky, carefully placing her feet and waiting for imminent disaster.
Meredith walked into the book store they used to love with hesitance and confidence at the same time. She seemed to be discovering herself all over again within the glistening book covers she used to know so well. Tall and slender with fiery red curls cascading down her back, Meredith looked exactly as he remembered her. But she also looked exactly the opposite of how he remembered her.
“Hey, Will,” she said with a hint of shyness and a touch of redness inching its way across her cheeks, “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Suddenly, the swirling colors of the towering book cases melted away into tickling grass and the day turned to night. Meredith was still there, but she was almost fifteen years younger and they were outside in the backyard of the house Will grew up in.
“Do you ever wonder what you’ll be like when you’re older?” she said, as she laid on her back looking up at the night sky above her.
“Yeah I guess,” Will responded as he looked over at Meredith. Her green eyes were gleaming and her cheeks turned upwards into a smile. He could have sworn her freckles were dancing.
“Oh, Will! You’ve never really been the type to talk, have you? But that’s okay because it’s why we work as best friends.”
“You’re right, Mer.”
“Well anyway, I think about who I’m gonna be all the time. I want to be beautiful when I’m older. Just like those stars up there. I want someone to look up and admire me.” Will couldn’t help but think to himself, You’re already beautiful. I admire you. But he never had the courage to say it.
Fast forward a few years, and Will was thirteen. He stood in the living room of his home, gazing out of the big window that looked out onto the street. Meredith came biking around the corner in a floral skirt with her wild hair tied back into a low ponytail. Will ran outside to meet her.
“C’mon Will, grab your bike!” she said with a flip of that long, curly hair Will had always loved.
As she smiled at him, he felt something unknown pierce through his soul. It sent shivers through his body, and made his legs feel hopelessly lost underneath him. He fumbled with his bike as he pulled it from the fence it was leaning on, and tried to steady himself on top of it. Will followed Meredith through the streets, weaving through and around cars. Her face lit up with every sharp turn; she’d close her eyes for a second to feel the wind on her freckled face. Finally, they reached a beautiful open meadow where every blade of grass glinted under the summer sun. Meredith set her bike down on the ground and ran out to the middle of the field, spinning and twirling as she closed her eyes and felt the warm breeze on her skin.
“Isn’t it just beautiful?” she asked.
“You’re beautiful,” Will said quietly under his breath.
Meredith abruptly turned towards him with a surprised look on her face. Will had never surprised her like that. She got closer and closer to him until their faces were almost touching. Will looked down at the ground, but she stared right at him.
“Have you ever kissed a girl, Will? Cause I’ve never been kissed,” she said.
Will shifted his eyes up and down, attempting to gather the courage to do what he knew she wanted. Meredith leaned in and he kissed her. She giggled and ran back to her bike, and they never spoke of it again.
They grew older and at the same time, they grew apart. Will was reserved and didn’t have many friends, let alone girlfriends. Meredith, the social butterfly that she was, fluttered around and teased every boy without even trying. She didn’t seem to realize that she left a trail of admirers wherever she went. Will would often see her biking by his house through the big window he used to sit at, and she was still beautiful as ever.
Then in her senior year of high school, Meredith was offered a modeling job in Paris. She walked up to Will’s house when she found out, hovering over the door with her fist, wanting to knock but frozen in time. It had been a couple years since they had really talked. They would say hi in the halls and smile when they passed each other on the street, although they both wished to be more than two ships passing in the night.
Meredith left everything she knew and flew to Paris to follow a dream that had never been hers. She soon became a supermodel, her picture on the covers of high fashion magazines. Every once in a while, William would stop in the supermarket and pick up a magazine that featured her. He’d search for her dancing freckles, the stars in her eyes, the natural blush that easily flushed across her face. He’d search for the beauty he always saw in her but it wasn’t there. Her beauty was taken away by an electronic eraser, her face falsely beautified until the true beauty was gone.
Back in reality, William stared into the eyes of the girl he loved. Her face was sunken and dull, her eyes weighed down by faint dark circles.
“Will? You still haven’t said anything,” she said nervously.
Two words and she was sobbing.
They stood there, across from each other in the book store. He stood and she cried. What the fashion industry did to her? William couldn’t know for sure. But he could see her frail body and the makeup that streamed down her face that was swallowed in tears.
“All I wanted was to be beautiful, Will,” she said in between sobs, with her face deeply buried in her hands, “I wanted to be someone you would love.”
At that moment, he knew there were three words that had always been true and always would be true. He knew he could say them and he would have what he always wanted. But he was average and she was anything but. He was average and she was more beautiful than any star in the sky.
So he said nothing at all.
Authors note: I wrote a version of this short story a few years ago and decided I wanted to add a some changes and upload it onto my blog. I thought it might be interesting to explain that there was an actual person that inspired this story. My favorite babysitter in Holland (name has been changed) left for Paris and became a supermodel when I still lived there. I remember watching her bike outside my living room window. She would bike past every once in a while and every time I saw her, she got skinnier and skinnier. Obviously, the rest of the story is fictional but this was something that had a big impact on my life so it is important for me to include it on my blog. I’ll attach pictures of my babysitter-turned-supermodel below: