The movie previews are showing when she walks into the theater with her friends, right past his seat. Her group sits a few rows back from the screen, a few rows ahead of him.
He watches her giggle at the funny parts—the improvised comedy and seasoned superstars—and imagines how she’d look in his embrace, staring up at him lovingly and him gently placing his forehead against hers, running a hand through her long hair.
Trying to watch the movie but really watching her, he imagines the movie ending and him walking out behind her and her friends, approaching her in the hallway of the theater to tell her how beautiful he thinks she is and that he’d love to have a slice of pizza with her sometime, and she’d give him her number and he’d call the next afternoon, arrange a date at Villiani’s over on 33rd street and 2nd ave.
He imagines asking his cousin—the owner of the house he stays at in Long Island, of the couch he sleeps on and the bathroom he uses to shower and brush his teeth—if he can stash the boxes of clothes and books lying on the backseat of his car in the garage for a couple of hours so he can take her out in something that doesn’t resemble a storage closet on wheels. He’d ask his cousin if he could hold on to forty of the two hundred he pays a month to sleep on that couch and use that bathroom, so he can at least pay for the date.
He imagines taking her out, her eyes lighting up whenever he tells a particularly good joke, his eyes lighting up whenever she laughs. He’d discuss the superiority of New York pizza with her, walking over to fifth ave afterwards, up to 48th street to point at all the ridiculously expensive stores they’d pass, declaring with envious undertones, “But seriously, I’d never buy anything from that damn place, even if I was rich.”
He imagines eating ice cream and touching her hand by accident, then not by accident, their first kiss near the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, done precisely there so they could come back a decade later and reminisce.
He imagines taking her home and her asking him, shyly, if he wants to come up for a drink or two. He imagines waking up the next morning with her back against his chest, the smell of her already becoming a part of him.
He imagines telling his cousin he won’t be living on the couch anymore, that he has to get his own place, for himself, for her. He imagines not having to wake up before everybody else anymore, not having to leave the house the moment he’s done in the bathroom, come home after everybody’s gone to bed simply to shower and sleep.
He imagines not living out of the back of his car, not having to search for places to read and write anymore, not hanging out at the library all day and relocating to Denny’s when the library’s doors close.
He imagines not going to the movies alone anymore, and when the movie’s over, he walks out behind her and her friends and imagines that everything went exactly how he imagined it would be.
The girls giggle about something, then head out the door and into the snow, bundling close, turning left and shuffling down the sidewalk. And he imagines he turns left with them. Imagines it vividly—like it’s happening right there in front of him—then turns right, and walks away.