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note :: assignment for a writing course, in which we were provided a partial first sentence and told to choose a random song. It has nothing to do with the content of the story, quite honestly, but I left it in.

The first time Gervais heard Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger" he was on the receiving end of a particularly vicious right hook, delivered by a man he had met only thirty seconds earlier. As it turns out, thirty seconds is more than long enough even for someone in a drunken haze to realize that another man is fondling his girlfriend, analyze and consider the situation, and respond accordingly. Unfortunately for Gervais, his reaction time was much slower, and as a result he found his face on a collision course with a fist before he even registered the presence of its owner.

Admittedly, Gervais was considerably more involved in the brunette in the curve-hugging red dress than any aspect of his surroundings. Once he had spotted her, tucked into a small half-circle booth on the far side of the dance floor, nursing a cocktail all by her lonesome, the rest of the world became completely irrelevant. Gervais had spent many a night in Red, a mildly posh club installed in a mildly posh area of New York City, perched on the stool just at the far left corner of the bar. From there, he could sip gingerly on his gin and survey every corner of the club. He'd found just the right speed at which to drink to make the cover worth his while and keep the bartender from harassing him and still spend an entire evening watching his favorite entertainment – humanity: young, feverishly hip, inebriated, and uninhibited. There were no ads and it was cheaper than the movies or Broadway. At any rate the music and the drama were two separate beasts, which was better anyway (Gervais made a point to avoid Red's monthly karaoke open mic night).

Until that night, Gervais had never had any inclination to participate in "the show". He was a professional spectator, a fly on the wall, a witness but never anything more. It wasn't so much that he had chosen that lifestyle; it was more of a survival adaptation. Gervais had sometimes thought that if the fates had not seen fit to deposit him in South Bend, Indiana, he could have made an excellent ninja. He had always been able to enter rooms without anyone noticing, and for a few days in grade school had become convinced that he had developed the power of invisibility. If he could not be invisible or a ninja, Gervais had simply concluded that he would learn to be a connoisseur of other people’s lives; a collector of the overheard, a gourmet of the accidentally witnessed. If he could maintain the minimum requirements of participation in life, then he could devote all his free time to this pursuit. Why take on the risks and stresses of being a genuine player on the world’s stage when it was so much more entertaining to be in the audience?

That was until the lady in the red dress changed everything. Until that night, Gervais had been quite content in his marginal existence. He had no need for the contrivances and clumsiness of "entertainment"; why watch reality television when reality itself was spread out before him, vast and unedited? Of course, he had found that there was a fine art to tracking down the best of the selection. For a while he had mined South Bend in every way he could think of. After a while, though, even mail-order spy equipment and a police band scanner wasn't enough to satisfy his desire for interest. So, after some consideration he moved to New York City – a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of teeming human drama. Finding entertainment was as simple as leaving his closet-like eighth floor walkup (which was a desirable undertaking for other reasons, as well, in spite of the discouraging prospect of returning to it). He had found club Red about a month after his move, and had spent every Friday night there since, almost a full year.

But never, not even for a few minutes in all that time, had anyone in the towering, pulsating city captivated him as instantly and completely as the brunette in the curve-hugging red dress, sitting alone in the half-circle booth on the far side of the dance floor. There was nothing obviously unusual about her, though she was attractive. The dress was simple, not very expensive or fashionable; her makeup was moderate though precise; and her hair an ordinary color by any standard. She sat with her legs neatly crossed, absentmindedly striking the ice cubes in her drink against the sides of the glass as she stirred her cocktail, a thin red straw loosely tucked between two polish-clad fingertips. Still, Gervais noticed something in the way her gaze flitted across the club, alighting here and there and then taking flight again.

Here it landed on the wife fiddling nervously with her wedding ring and trying to hide her annoyance at a drunken husband telling loud, inappropriate jokes to her friends. The conversation was inaudible over the music in the club, the clink of glasses and the motion of the crowd, but the content was clear in the husband's broad, rude gestures and the friend' tense smiles and half-hearted laughs tucked under a mortified hand. There it settled on two men on the dance floor, dancing close as if they were alone in the world, oblivious to a nearby cluster of college girls whispering to one another and mocking their motions. In the restless motion of her gaze he recognized himself, recognized another bystander. She was like an exclamation point in the sentence of his life, which had heretofore been nothing but ellipses.

Gervais watched himself as if from outside his own body as he left his stool, wove through the twisting dancers on the floor and across the club, to the booth where the woman in the red dress sat. He heard himself as if from another room as he told her that he had been watching her. He fell into another dimension when she answered him, and said that she knew; she had seen him there before. Wasn’t this the best place in the city for people-watching? Gervais didn't remember much of the rest of the conversation; only that with every passing second he felt like he was falling further out of himself in the disbelief that he imagined might come from suddenly meeting oneself in a club. He was on another plane of existence when he realized that he was kissing her and she was kissing him back, her ordinary, beautiful hair falling on his shoulder and twisted in the fingers of his right hand.

He never saw her boyfriend returning from the bar, never felt the fist as it connected with his jaw, barely saw the world swing up and away as he fell backwards, but every word of that song rang clear in his brain. Every word rang clear, irrelevant as he had always been to life, through the silence left by the crystallization of one thought – being a bystander hurt a lot less, but only because he had never felt any thing at all before. Nothing was going to be the same.

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