I hated looking at it. But I couldn't stop.
Every single time I drove that way, my eyes would lock on the picture, and I'd stop the car. I had each inch of it memorized. I could have drawn it myself, in my sleep. I didn't need to glance that way to know exactly what was there. It was permanently plastered in my consciousness.
She was beautiful. No—that word didn't do her justice. She was stunning. Breathtaking. Sensual yet innocent. A woman of any man's dreams. No wonder her face was out for the world to see.
I felt my stomach turn. In a way, I was jealous. Now everybody could see her. They knew how bright her smile was, and how silky her hair looked. They could see her seventeen freckles: eight on her left cheek, six on her right, and three on her nose. The could see the deep blue of her eyes, and how the lashes on her right eye were shorter than the ones on her left.
But on the other hand, I was glad to have it there. I could look at her any time I wanted, and her face would never change. I wouldn't see her frown. Her hair would always be in place, and she would always have that rosy glow on her cheeks. She wouldn't groan. Each time I looked up at the image, she looked perfect.
I wondered who had paid to have that billboard put up. Women like her weren't usually put on display like this. Sometimes there might be an article in the paper, or even a blurb on the local news. But a billboard? Not normally. Someone must love her a lot, and have a whole ton of money, to get that up there.
“I wonder if there's a reward.” Don't know why I said it out loud. Maybe I was hoping someone would answer me. But there was nobody around, and even if there had been, the car windows were rolled up tight.
I read the words above her head again. Have you seen this woman? Some day, someone may ask me that question, and I'd have to shrug my shoulders and say yes. And I'd wring my hands and lower my eyes, and tell them she didn't look like that anymore. Her hair wasn't silky. Her cheeks were pale. And the sparkle in her eyes? It was gone too.
I'd ruined her. She had been so beautiful, and I'd ruined her. But when I saw her that day, I just wanted to keep her for myself—to let nobody else have her.
So I took her. But she changed. I suppose I'm the one who changed her. She told me she didn't want to stay, that she didn't want to be near me. But I didn't let her go.
And now she wasn't that girl on the billboard anymore. The glow was gone. Her smile was different—the few times I saw it anymore. And I knew, somehow, that no matter what I did, she would never be that way again.
But she still had those freckles. All seventeen of them. But they were fading. Even those would be gone eventually.
I grabbed a pen from the glove box and looked up at the billboard one more time. I wrote the phone number on my hand, started the car again, and drove away.
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