The five off us sat in the dimly lit bar, the walls of which were lined with rows and rows of books. Mila carefully folded the sweater that Madison gave her to wear so that she didn’t get it dirty, exposing her tanned, tattooed shoulders. The shirt she wore underneath it was bright yellow and more fit for the California sun than it was for autumn in eastern Europe. She wore knee high socks and tiny black shorts, showing off tattoos which all seemed to have a story behind them. She speaks slowly and carefully at times and I found myself hanging on her words because her insights and comments were clever.
Mila is a beautiful girl and I get the feeling that she’s looked at constantly but listened to less intently, so she fucks with people a little bit just to see who is paying attention and thus who is worth paying attention to. She made strange statements and weird references about puppets in shop windows and dystopian movie-esque strategies for finding the friend we were looking for. There was a darkness to her humor that borders on sardonic and every comment she quietly made drew me in a little more.
We’d met her in the hotel lobby to get a cab and when Mila joined our group I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’d seen her around for the past few days, but I wasn’t exactly sure who she was or what she did. We all climbed into a van together with seats facing each other and I sat opposite Mila, watching the streets from my backward facing position and listening to the comments she made as the old city slipped away. The driver dropped us in a spot where we were supposed to meet a friend, but in finding ourselves under a bridge rather than on top of it, we had to find him before we could cross it. Standing on the cobblestone near the bridge is where I really saw Mila for the first time.
The four of us found our way on to the bridge and found Sam under one of the arches that soared above it. Together we walked the length of it, crossing over the river looking at the old city as we weaved through tourists, getting to know each other with questions along the way. We stopped for a picture beneath one of the bridges arches and the sun fell slowly from the sky, burning the clouds a bright pink as the day slipped away. I looked up at the arches that towered over head and when I brought my eyes back down to the bridge, she was looking at me, turning away when my eyes met hers.
We stumbled across the book-lined bar while looking for a place to eat and stopped inside. Sliding into a booth, I ordered a Makers Mark Manhattan on the rocks and Mila ordered Becherovka, letting me have a taste of it after describing it to me. It had a hint of anise to it, which is a flavor I very much enjoy but rarely share in common with others so it was another reason to appreciate Mila.
Mila is polyamorous and has a partner that she is very much in love with on the west coast. She’d spent the day with an industry friend and I’d spotted them holding hands on more than one occasion as we walked through the old city, but it felt less like there were boundaries in conversation and flirtation and more like we were all having interconnected moments.
I was getting to see Madison outside of work in a way that I really enjoyed: I appreciated her friendship already and in a lot of ways she reminds me of my little sister. Brian and I talked about the people that we both knew in common in the industry and I talkedto Mila about movies, rattling off ones we thought each other should see. I listened as Sam talked about being excited to go home to his wife and kids after so many days away from them and liked the bashful smile that crept onto his face when he said that he couldn’t wait to be home with them.
We said goodbye to Sam and the four of us that remained hiked up the hill looking for the old castle, getting lost along the way because we were more interested in the conversations we were in than in sightseeing. Madison and Brian talked ahead of us, Mila and I trailed behind just a bit.
We talked about polyamory and how it worked for her. She hadn’t asked yet what my situation was, but she openly shared that she and her partner were very much in love and that one day she wanted to have kids with him. She told me that it wasn’t always easy to navigate the complications of seeing other people and she admitted that she sometimes tested his patience a bit.
“He puts up with a lot from me” she said, sounding grateful that he did.
“You don’t want to have kids, I take it?” she asked, turning the question toward me.
“I do, with the right person who also” I said, admitting it out loud a little shyly. “Do you?”.
“I don’t want kids just for the sake of having them, I want them because I’m with a partner that is so special/great that I want another of them in the world” she answered. She spoke about life, love and relationships with such candor and related to one another so instantly that I found myself wanting to take her hand in mine as we walked and talked.
“So there isn’t anyone that you are seeing?” she asked, sounding a little surprised and maybe a little sad at the thought of it as we stopped on the side of the hill, looking out at the lights and an abandoned Starbucks that looked out of place and out of time.
“There are two people actually” I answered and I thought then of both Aurora and Laila. Mila’s lips turned up at the corners in a smile and we were quiet for a moment.
We talked about the cold north where I live and she smiled when I told her what February was like here.
“I want to come to visit in the dead of winter” she said, and I could picture the snow swirling around her when she did. I could imagine the winter wind catching her long dark hair, making it dance as it collected flakes of snow. I could imagine the cold all around us and the color it would bring to her cheeks. The look in her eyes made me feel like she was imagining those things too.