While planning my solo trip to Switzerland, I booked an eight-day stay in a Bern apartment. I could tell from the AirBnB website that the apartment owner was a beautiful woman, but I wouldn’t learn just how captivating she really was until she’d try to kiss me.
It was summer in Bern. The nighttime air was absolutely perfect. My hostess Lily* and I spent most evenings outside on her balcony, comparing notes from her small town life to my big city life, while staring at an outline of the Swiss Alps in the distance.
Lily was breathtaking. Tall and lean with wavy brown hair and a near-perfect smile, she could’ve been a model, but she chose instead to be a doctor at a local hospital (her lack of vanity drew her to me instantly). She smoked these long, thin cigarettes that said Vogue on them, and she spoke softly, but with a sexy Franco-Swiss accent.
Her 30-something apartment was the kind of apartment I hoped I’d someday be mature enough to maintain: candles lined her bathtub and her fridge, spotless and organized, was stocked with fresh vegetables to cook with. I bragged about her in my emails to friends back home. Everything about her was enviable.
Lily was casually seeing someone. Some weekends, he’d whisk her off to Italy on his boat, and other weekends, he’d take her to the north of France. I’d assumed the whole “fear of commitment” plague was strictly limited to the island of Manhattan; that Lily probably wanted something serious with that guy. But one night on her balcony, she told me otherwise.
“The guys here,” she said, puffing on her Vogue, “they just want to have fun.”
Whereas I usually said that same sentence with an eye roll, she didn’t say it with a drop of contempt. She giggled and played with her toes instead. I wondered if she even knew how beautiful she was.
Lily was fascinated by my life in New York, and even more fascinated by my decision to travel alone to her quaint little town. In her eyes, I was “brave” and “interesting” and “smart” and “sexy.”
It was an honor to be complimented by her. For some reason, when most men called me those same things, I sort of just shrugged it off, almost as if I didn’t feel the compliments were credible. But Lily was so perfect and poised that you’d be inhuman not to fall under her spell, and when she said them, I knew they had to be true.
That night, we split a bottle of wine. We stayed outside for hours and the tipsier we got, the more she had me convinced we were kindred spirits. I’d decided then I was a Lily-in-progress: one day, if I was lucky, I would be even half the woman she was.
With wine flowing through her, Lily began to get a little handsy. She got up out of her chair, stood behind me and crouched down so she was the same height as me sitting. I felt her long, thin fingers run against the back of my ear as she tucked pieces of my hair behind it.
At first, I didn’t think much of her hands in my hair; it felt like a big-sis-little-sis-type gesture. It’s what she did next that surprised me.
After standing over my shoulder for a minute, she settled back into her chair. Her eyes looked lustful and inviting. I smiled at her, and before I could say anything, she leaned in to kiss me.
Startled, I jumped back. “Oh, uhhh, I’m sorry, I…”
“Oh,” she echoed. “No, uh, I’m sorry. I thought you would be alright with it…”
We sat in silence for a minute. She lit another cigarette while I swirled around the wine in my glass. I decided to break the awkwardness.
“You know, I think you’re one of the sexiest people I’ve ever met,” I said, trying not to sound patronizing. “Like, ever. I even tell all my friends back home about you…” She looked down nervously and half-smiled. “…It’s just that I only kiss men.”
Lily took a big gulp of wine. “It’s OK. I understand. I like to kiss men and women. And you, you are… spectacular.”
I wouldn’t have minded kissing her. In fact, I chalk up my aversion to her perfect, pink lips to a knee-jerk reaction. She was spectacular to me, too.
It’s been five months since I last saw Lily, but I still think about her: about her Victorian era-like elegance, about how a woman like her could be single, but not at all jaded, about why someone so irresistibly self-assured would make a move on such a hot mess like me.
Lily, with her idyllic little life and her laissez-faire approach to it, made me feel more significant than most of the schmucks I’ve ever dated. But more than anything, without even knowing it, she taught me there’s little sense in stressing over love: over what could have been or what could still be. Because once in a blue moon, a beautiful person will just show up at your front door – or will be your AirBnB host – and, well, you’ll just have to go with it.
On a night when Lily was with her kind-of-beau in France, I went into her jacket pocket and took a Vogue cigarette for myself. It still kind of smells like her: delicate. Flowery.
I don’t intend on smoking it. I just like to hold it.
*Name has been changed.