A Face In The Crowd
The British Embassy party was winding down. Celebrities and politicians had come to break bread with some of the royals. Security was tight. Police, The Secret Service and their British counterpart flanked the velvet ropes and red carpet. The media, glorified paparazzi in most cases, created another barrier between those at the party and the general public. That was where he stood, with the general public. The tourists mingled all around him. They were excited at the chance of catching even a glimpse of someone famous. No one noticed him. People snapped photos of the building, almost as nervous practice so they wouldn't miss their fleeting chance to immortalize this moment. Once they were back home, they could show their friends they were there, even though they weren't really there. It was as if they thought through some form of osmosis the picture would convey some of that celebrity and fame on them.
He wasn't even sure why he came here tonight like this. Maybe it was the same reason everyone else was there, to catch a glimpse of a celebrity. In his case it was one specific celebrity, her. He wanted to see her like this.
Yes, that was the reason; no use trying to pretend it was anything else.
This wasn't the first time, either.
Yes, with one small change he could have probably walked right into the party. He wouldn't even have to give his name at the door, they would already know who he was just like everyone else did. She would smile when she saw him and perhaps even give him a hug. That's what friends do.
He wasn't here as a friend, though. He was here to be another admirer, like all the rest. He just wanted to see her in her element, from street level just like everyone else. He wanted the perspective of seeing her as those around him saw her. He wanted to be just another face in the crowd.
Most would probably think this akin to stalking, but his motives had none of the sinister overtones. Ten years had passed since he'd first met her and she still fascinated him just as much as that first time. The relationship between them had swung wildly over the years. Twice it had been as close as two people could be; yet both times forces had pulled it apart. The first time had probably been his fault. They were young and he'd been in such a rush to do everything right now, he hadn't realized some things take time.
They had been 21 and 18 respectively when they first met. Now they were 31 and 28. Both had changed so much in those 10 years. They'd grown into the roles expected of them by everyone else. Others had come in and out of their lives, yet always in the background something remained.
Over the years he'd done something like this with all of them. Some would say it was a way of grounding him, but that wasn't the real reason. He just wanted to see all of them as everyone else did, the extraordinary from the ordinary eye. Yet she was the only one he'd returned to see over and over.
He knew only too well what the blinding glare of the spotlight felt like. A whole industry was based on reporting every detail of every moment of celebrities' lives. It was like a virus had been set loose and was running rampant through society. The very notion of privacy seemed to be under assault from all sides. People bitched and moaned about the government doing it and rightly so, yet everyday ordinary people willingly gave it up for just the chance of fame. In this new world, a sex tape was considered a way to advance your fledgling or non-existent career. Raping a fellow student was splashed across Facebook for everyone to see and comment. The cardinal sin of this age was to be boring and normal, decent and hard working. If you were raising your children to be modest, compassionate adults you were looked at as some sort of strange anomaly.
In that sort of environment, a mask or an alias wasn't a luxury anymore, but a necessity. The idea of spewing out every detail of your life across multiple social media platforms, no matter how sad, pathetic or personal just to stay in the public eye didn't appeal to everyone. A few still wanted to turn the spotlight off, especially those like him and the others that did what they did. It had never been about being famous, that had just been a byproduct. The mask and the alias became a way to breath after awhile.
That was another thing that fascinated him about her. She was who she was 24/7. She moved through her life without artifice or subterfuge, always dealing with it on her terms. She didn't compromise her life for the benefit of the cameras. They were there and for the most part she ignored them. She had certainly grown up a lot in 10 years, he thought. He just hoped he'd done the same.
Though tonight wasn't about starting things up again. They had failed twice before and part of him wasn't sure he could take that again. They had found an equilibrium in their relationship, friends who used to be more then friends but now were just friends, but not close friends. Others had entered their respective lives and each had wished the other well in those new relationships. In both their hearts, the one thing they wanted most for the other was that they find happiness, even if it was with someone else.
A stir went through the crowd as the guests started to exit the party. A line of limos waited to whisk them away, limiting the actual contact with ordinary people to the briefest moments. Some of the lesser celebrities and dignitaries were first, each stopping for the cameras to smile and wave to the crowd. He knew she would be coming out soon, as she usually only stayed at these events as long as was necessary.
He caught the briefest glimpse of her and then a cascade of flashes erupted turning the night into the blinding white light of day. The excitement running through the crowd was palpable. It must have been hundreds calling her name and not just the reporters and cameramen either. He pulled his eyes away from her and looked at those around him. They seemed so desperately excited just at the sight of her. It was like the young fans of the latest boy band waiting at the airport to see their youthful fantasies become reality, if even for just a moment.
He had certainly experienced this in his own life and he only hoped he pulled it off as well as she was. As he watched her briefly stop for photographs, he felt a little bit of what those around him felt. If he'd been part of this, instead of a spectator, he thought she should have been given a bouquet of white oleanders. In his dating life he'd learned that in the language of flower giving, white oleanders represented grace and beauty. Looking at her, she seemed to personify both qualities to perfection.
In the next moment she disappeared from view, safely back in her limo and moving off into the night. He watched the taillights for a moment and then turned back to the spectacle still unfolding in front of him.
10 years had passed and he'd experienced life on both sides of the spotlights. As long as he did what he did, that would never change. Tonight, though, he was content to be right where he was and what he was.
A face in the crowd.
She had been to so many events like this she'd lost count. 10 years had only intensified the spotlight she was always under. Fame was the price of being who she was and doing what she did. She wanted no pity for this; it was just something she dealt with.
10 years living in the outside world had changed so many things about her life and perceptions. In a way she'd grown up under the microscope, yet she's always resisted being defined by her fame. She was no longer the wide-eyed, somewhat innocent young woman that arrived from seclusion. Time and the events within that time frame had tempered her. Tragedies and personal disappointments had stripped away some of the youthful excitement for the world, but it was still there. She just hid it better now.
Her path had gone in a different direction then she imagined it would back then. Experience showed her this would be the case with everything. The unexpected tragedy that had hit her home had been devastating, but eventually she'd overcome it. That was the way she was raised, to face each challenge as they came and prevail over them in the end. She'd learned the hard way that was easier said then done in most cases.
Discreetly she checked her watch to see if she'd stayed the required amount of time. She had. There was still a series of thank yous and good byes to go through, but she had those down to rote at this point. Moving among the guests, she smiled and chatted with everyone. More invitations were offered and she always responded with vague, noncommittal replies. Effortlessly she made it through all the protocols these functions demanded and was heading outside for her limo.
The wave of flashes was almost blinding at first. It was something she had never gotten used to. Again she did what was expected of her, pausing long enough for the cameras to take her picture. She knew her picture would be plastered everywhere within minutes. Tomorrow a legion of so-called reporters would dissect what she wore and whom she talked to at the party. It was the very definition of news ephemera that seemed to dominant most of the media nowadays. She played her role at events like this, but refused to participate further. Her life was her own and they could speculate about it all they wanted, she didn't have to aid them in it.
In her mind she counted down the seconds and then with a wave moved towards her waiting limo. She glanced passed the sea of media for just a moment to the crowd of onlookers behind the barricades across the street. She saw him immediately. She would know his face in any crowd. She almost stopped, but then continued to climb into the car. Sitting back, she glanced out the tinted side window, but couldn't find him again. The driver got in and they smoothly pulled away heading off into the night.
His face sprung into her mind. It was a face that could stir so many emotions within her. 10 years ago he had been her first and to this point deepest love. It was with him in those early months she had learned so many things about this world. They had explored it together even as they explored the possibilities of a relationship with each other. Youthful mistakes had ended it, yet those feelings had lingered. They had given it another try, but it seemed events were always pulling them apart. That was the hardest lesson she'd had to learn, that sometimes things just fall apart.
It had been so difficult afterwards, almost as if they were both in limbo around each other. If she had been honest with herself and she usually was, she was a little gun shy around him now. Those two failed attempts had been so painful, she wasn't eager to experience that again. The problem was that they couldn't be just nothing to each other. Too much had happened between them and feelings still lingered. In the end they settled for a relatively distant friendship.
She knew he saw others, just as she had. It was hard to see him with someone else, but the feelings she still had for him wanted him to be happy most of all, even if it was with someone else. That didn't mean it was easy. For the most part she avoided those situations if she could and believed he felt the same way. It put a distance between them, but that was probably for the best.
But he'd been there tonight, a face in the crowd. She knew it wasn't the first time and that he quietly did it with all the other League members too. So many times she'd wanted to ask him why, but held her tongue. She knew he was always watching, observing, trying to understand things in his quiet way, so she would let this be his secret and only his secret.
Why tonight, though, she couldn't help wondering? It had been two years since she last spotted him in the crowd like tonight. A long time ago he had promised her he would always be there when she needed him. He'd kept that promise. Tonight wasn't one of those times; it had just been a diplomatic function.
Sitting alone in the back of her limo, Princess Diana, known to the world as Wonder Woman couldn't help asking aloud, "What are you up to, Kal?"