I paid for our coffees. The Italian guy behind the counter flashed me a meaningful smile as he handed me my change. I threw him a sunny smile back.
Sister had grabbed us a table. As I slid into my seat, I caught the attention of a group of teenage boys hanging out in a nearby booth. One brave boy flashed me a cheeky smile and a wink. I rolled my eyes and chuckled.
“It won’t last you know.” Sister said quietly.
“The attention.” Sister stirred a brown sugar into her coffee and stared at the swirling liquid. “You’ll wake up one day and realise that the only people who look at you are the ones that love you.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Men. They stop looking. The only men that look at me are the ones that I talk to first.”
“I don’t understand.” I shook my head in confusion. “It’s the same thing.”
“No it isn’t. Men don’t look at me without getting to know me. You go around with men staring at you all day. One day it’s going to stop. How are you going to feel when it does?”
“It won’t bother me.” I shrugged, breaking off a piece of muffin. “It’s not like I actually care whether some guy is perving or not.”
Sister laughed. A short humourless laugh.
“Are you telling me that if the guy behind the counter didn’t flirt with you, and the boys on that table didn’t check you out and make bets on who has the guts to wink at you, you wouldn’t feel any different??”
“No, I wouldn’t.” I said firmly. “I still get my coffee and that’s all I’m here for.”
“Elise, you need guys to look at you. It makes you feel beautiful. You need it because it give you reassurance that you look good. That a guy wants you just by looking at you.” Sister blurted out passionately. “Are you telling me that the lack of attention won’t affect you at all?”
“What’s going on with you? Seriously, why are you in a bad mood?”
Sister shrugged, looking unhappy.
“What happened to me?” She said finally. “I woke up one morning and I feel… ugly.”
“You are not ugly!” I laughed. “Seriously, you look like Kate Moss.”
She stared at me.
“Well not in that anorak!” I took a sip of coffee. “Men don’t look at you because you look like you’re about to analyse pond algae” I told her honestly. “You dress in the most baggy clothes known to man. You never condition your hair. And if you’d used sunscreen like I told you-”
She sighed, “It’s a horrible thing to think.”
“I’m jealous of you.” She admitted.
I was stunned for a few moments and began recalling old memories.
Sister wearing simple faded jeans, a baggy top and wellies and still managing to look like she stepped out of vogue. The cute freckles that dusted her nose that the guys used to go wild for. The dirty blond hair with amazing natural highlights of gold and silvery blond. The thin tall boyish figure that I could never have.
“Me??” I gasped. “You are joking.”
“Look at yourself! You look like a cheeky version of Catherine Zeta-Jones!”
I chuckled. “Seriously, are we going to do this? Ok, my turn. You have a natural country look. I was always jealous of your blond hair. Jealous of the way you could eat anything and still be thin and tall. The freckles are so cute. You could have been a model.” I paused. “You look like your mum.”
Sister’s eyes filled with tears. Her mother died when she was really young and she carries a photo of her around with her. I wasn’t lying when I told her she looked like her. It’s true.
I took a bite of muffin “You still give a shit that the teenage boys aren’t winking at you?”
She laughed through her tears. “Well not right now!”
She dried her tears. “I know it sounds stupid, but you love me, that’s why you tell me I’m pretty.”
She nodded. “But sometimes I just want a guy to look at me. Look at me and think about sex while he’s looking at me. It sounds so crude, but I want to be sexy and young again. I want a guy, any guy, to go home and think about me, even if it’s for a split second, while he’s… you know.”
“How do you know they don’t anyway?”
“I know. I can feel it. I’m just another person… fading into the background.”