He was invisible, or at least as invisible as a man can get and still be solid and alive. It wasn’t as though no one ever saw him, but they didn’t notice him. They’d greet him absently and immediately proceeded to forget him. That’s what he was, forgettable.
He was common and average, from his name James Smith, to his height, build, and weight, to the color of his skin. His eyes were a common brown, as was his hair. His clothes, while immaculately pressed, were somehow neither dated nor fashionable. He didn’t stick out, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was, as he thought, the way it was, and that was that.
From a young age, he learned that he didn’t matter. His parents only tolerated him, lavishing their attention to their eldest son, and their youngest daughter respectively. He had middling grades, no athletic abilities, and barely any artistic talents. He wrote poetry under a pseudonym, which was published by some obscure online magazine, but was never paid for the honor.
It didn’t matter to him much. He didn’t have many friends, and the few girlfriends he ever had almost immediately forgot about him, moving on to their next boyfriends, most often without bothering to tell him about it. He shut that part down, repressing his need to engage with anyone, especially with people of the opposite sex. He saw no use in putting himself through that torture ever again.
The only thing that might be considered remarkable was his uncanny ability to play the markets. He bought stocks from every job he worked for, that being one of the benefits he took advantage of. Soon he’d sell and trade, looking for patterns, listening to the prognosticators on the business channels. His worth reached $100K by the time he was twenty-three, $1 million by twenty-seven, and he was nearing $10 million, hoping to hit it before his thirty-first in less than a month.
He didn’t need to work, so he didn’t. He passed his time idling away in one non-adventure after another, visiting art museums around the world. He took pictures of European cathedrals, castles, and monuments. He heard the best symphonies played by the greatest musicians in the grandest auditoriums, and met the most talented singers. What he didn’t do was go off the beaten path. He never had an adventure.
James Smith sat in a coffee shop across from Central Park, having gone to the Big Apple to see an off-Broadway production solely because he read a favorable review. He sipped his Irish cream latte while scrolling down the page on his phone, wondering where to go next. He didn’t notice the woman in front of him until she interrupted his research. “Do you mind if I seat here?”
James took his eyes off his phone and looked up and almost gasped. In front of him was his exact opposite. She was tall and thin, her perfect skin almost translucent, with only a few freckles dotting her otherwise flawless face. Her head was aflame with a mane of red hair, curls framing her heart-shaped face. She wore a short dress which showed off her toned legs, and she wore impossibly tall red stilettos.
“Oh,” he stammered as soon as he found his voice. “Please. I was about to leave anyways.”
“I wish you wouldn’t,” she sighed before taking the seat next to him and breaking into a nervous laugh. “I’ve been hit on by one creep after another, and I just need some peace for a moment. I’m hoping they’ll leave me alone if they see me sitting with someone. My name’s Vesper, by the way. Vesper Deering.”
“Oh,” he stammered again, not know what else to say. “Smith. James Smith, and that makes sense. I can stay a little longer.”
“So I’m not keeping you from anything important? A job or a wife?”
“Nothing at all,” he states wistfully. “I’m enjoying an extended vacation and I’m not married.”
“Not even a girlfriend?”
“Not even a hope for one,” he confesses, embarrassed by his admission.
“I find that hard to believe. You’re a good looking man,” she says before blushing. “Or are you gay?”
He shakes his head, amused by her question. “No, I’m straight. I’m just not the kind of guy people, and especially women, notice.”
“I noticed you,” she says, flushing scarlet again.
“You’re the only one.” He looks around, and everyone in the coffee shop steals glances at her, men and women, and even he’s being eyed enviously by just about everybody. “I see that everyone can’t keep their eyes off of you, and I don’t blame them. You’re beautiful.”
“I know,” she sighs sadly, before looking at James and seeing his reaction. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not conceited or vain, but I’m being told constantly that I’m pretty and that I’m beautiful, and men can’t stop hitting on me. Sometimes women can’t as well.”
“That must be exhausting,” James says astonished, the very idea sounding foreign to his ears.
“And I can’t imagine what’d it be like not to be noticed, but sometimes it would be a welcome change.”
“It’s not so bad, but it does get a little lonely at times.” James sits in shock, having never thought about his situation.
“So what is it you do?” Vesper inquires, trying to get the conversation started once more.
“Nothing really. I play the stock market full-time, and I make just enough to indulge my love of art, theater, and traveling.”
“It was,” he sighs. “It’s grown stale but I don’t know what else to do.”
“You could always go off on an adventure,” Vesper says wistfully. “If it were me, I’d try something new and exciting. For instance, I’ve always wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.”
“So why don’t you?”
“Because I don’t have the funds to do so,” she states. “Oh, there’s always somebody willing to give me what I want in exchange for favors.”
“I can’t imagine being bold enough to try something like that.”
“I’ve dealt with it my entire life,” Vesper says wearily. “For once, I’d like someone to like me for my mind, and not for this,” she motions at her body.
“And I’d like some one to like me.”
“Not anything in particular, just like me. Like I said, I’m usually not ever noticed.”
“That’s a shame. I think everyone needs someone, a friend, a companion, a lover.”
“I’ve never had any real friends, and the few I have now are more interested in my bank account than my company. The last lover I had was, well, so long ago that I’m embarrassed to tell you.”
“Then mine was so recent that I’m equally embarrassed to admit. Finding lovers has never been difficult for me,” she shakes her head sadly. “I just can’t find someone to love me, truly and really love me for me. I think I’ve taken up enough of your time,” she says suddenly, looking at the watch dangling on her wrist. “The guys that were harassing me are gone. I think it’s safe for me to go.”
“Oh,” he says, feeling suddenly disappointed. “You sure?”
“I think so. You can walk me out, if you want. I could use an escort. I’d appreciate being able to walk the street without the cat calls.”
“I won’t promise that you won’t be whistled at, but I’ll do what I can.”
James stands up, offers Vesper his arm, which she happily accepts. “You’re quite the gentleman, aren’t you?”
“I can be, when given the opportunity.”
“Then I’m glad I gave it to you,” Vesper smiles.
The pair walk out in silence, James allowing his mind to wander, thinking about what it would be like to have an adventure. “Kilimanjaro,” he says quietly after walking almost an entire block. “It’s in Tanzania, isn’t it?”
“It is,” Vesper nods.
“Never been there,” he says, his wanderlust kindled. “I don’t suppose you’d go with me? I’m not sure I’ve ever had a real adventure before.”
“I hope you don’t expect me to sleep with you in return,” she jokes.
“I don’t, but you don’t know what you’re missing. My lovemaking prowess has often been described as ‘just what the hell do you think you’re doing?’ I think my aforementioned lover fell asleep once. It was quite the fiasco.”
Vesper begins to laugh, and not a polite chuckle, but a loud laugh, ending with a snort and another wave of laughter. “Well see, Romeo,” she grins before kissing his cheek. “We’ll see. How about something a little nearer to home before we start traveling the world.”
“Technically I live in Ohio, but in actuality I’m a bit of a vagabond. I’m staying at the Plaza at the moment, and you know, I’ve never actually been to Niagara Falls. Is that close enough.”
“Better, but how about Gray’s Papaya for a hot dog? It’s only a couple of blocks away, and I’m famished. Haven’t had a bite to eat yet.”
“I’d like that,” he says. “I’ve always meant to go there but never quite made it.
“Today’s your lucky day then, James.”
Later that evening, after he walked Vesper to her apartment, he walked a little straighter, his eyes focused on the road ahead. He witnessed a subtle change in how people regarded him, noticed by passers-by, and he smiled, glowing from the small kiss goodnight that Vesper had given him on his cheek. Somehow, he didn’t feel so ordinary anymore.