His voice was panicked.
"W-w-w-what do you mean by that, Gabi? Are we... growing apart?"
It felt as if he was right next to her when the words were delivered over the phone. Ironic, she thought.
"No, I mean,"
She sighed. How come he could be so easy to talk to and so difficult at the same time?
"I mean we're just at a disadvantage right now."
A dropped moment of silence.
"Look, I meant what I said two weeks ago..."
"It doesn't feel like it."
"Well, you can't blame me for this? I didn't know whenever you kissed me that two weeks later we'd be separated for who knows how long."
She was perplexed by this answer.
"Again," it was aggressive now, his tone was shifting uneasily and she started to breathe heavier.
Her mind raced to the ideas of last semester. It's true, they had been separated twice before, but then it wasn't by force. Or perhaps, maybe it was.
She had sworn him off like someone who had quit smoking. Cold turkey. The boy was bad for her. She knew it, everybody knew it. He was deep, a description that not many people got in her book. Why she liked that depth she never knew. It was purposeful, not accidental. It was the same characteristic that simultaneously enthralled and infuriated her. It broke her heart, she's realized that now. She thought that his depth was exclusive to her, that it only went as deep as she wanted it to. A well, a pit, a black hole. She should have known better. His depth reached far beyond herself. And for that, she was scared. Rumors spread like weeds around her cracked and blistering heart. Stories came out of the walls. Her? But she's my friend, how could you be talking to her, too? All the while I was falling deeper and deeper into you and you were trying to catch someone else? How could you...
"I'm sorry, I overreacted," he finally whimpered.
She hadn't realized a minute of silence had enveloped them.
"I'm just so afraid of losing you."
The words pounded inside of her but her memories held her captive. She bit her lip. She shouldn't have said it but,
The question came out ruder than she had planned.
She imagined the look in his face whenever he heard this.
"Gabi," he whispered. "Are you, are you a-a-a-actually asking me that right now?"
"Yes, I am!"
She couldn't help the fury now.
"Why would you even doubt it? I-I-I was stupid, I know that now. Do you still not trust me?"
His disbelief made her shaky.
"I, I don't know..."
Silence, disappointment, heaviness.
"I guess," she finally squeaked. Her eyes got wet, but she blinked back tears. No, you will not cry over him...
"Ben, I was just saying... "Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side..." I didn't think this would lead to... I don't know, I didn't think me saying that would come to this conversation."
He laughed sadly. An oxymoron. A favorite of his.
"What is this conversation... a break-up?"
She bit her lip again.
"I don't even feel like we got started."
"Maybe there's a reason for that."
She was afraid what he would think if she said that. And then her lips formed the words and she just said it. Now a full and anxious quietness shaped her emotions.
She stood up. She had to move. Leaning into every word he said was plunging her deeper and deeper. Climbing out of the well. We're climbing out.
"Maybe there is."
Her heart sank. Why did it sink? Was she waiting for him to say no, to fight for her, to make her believe that he loved her? Why? Why, when she was climbing out did his submission make her want to jump back in?
"I don't know maybe this was a bad idea,"
"Do you really think that?" she asked with a pungency she hadn't expected.
"No," he denied romantically. "I have never regretted the night we spent together."
"Neither have I," the words rushed out of her before she had a second to proofread them.
Two breaths. Again he felt much closer than he was. She wished his arms were there. She missed that sensation of feeling safe and secure and isolated from any kind of danger. Why him? She didn't know. Why he could make her feel that way, she couldn't explain. Maybe their roots had entangled.
"I will tell you as many times as I need to that, I-I-I-I'm sorry for everything in the past..."
"Oh, Ben.. I know.."
"No, I don't think you do. I am truly, truly sorry. I never knew how much pain I caused you, a-a-a-and the idea of that pain makes me feel so much more for you. You have been nothing but a good friend to me and I have found myself helpless to thoughts of you, it's like..."
She took a breath, listening to his words made her weak.
"It's like part of me is missing when I can't talk to you. I can't see you or touch you or be close to you. Everything you do gives light to me. It's intoxicating."
Now she felt herself sitting in the well again. Roots tangled freely.
"Gosh, I'm sorry, that's probably not helping your move to friend-zone me."
She laughed but it was brittle. She was still infatuated with thinking about what he just said.
"Are you in love with me."
It wasn't a question, she didn't ask it like a question. In fact, it was a pure impulse; the thought as if a jewel dug up by an old miner whose coal mine would soon explode.
"Uh-" he couldn't believe she asked him that, and in such a way he didn't feel capable of answering.
"Because you act like it. And I'm afraid that I'm in love with that."
Now his chest was throbbing with the mechanical fury of his heart. What was she saying?
"I'm afraid I'm in love with love."
The recognition felt like a sunset on a mountain. She was out of the well now, perhaps still sitting next to it, but nevertheless free.
"Can you, e-e-explain that?"
"Yeah," she was suddenly confident. "I love the idea that you're in love with me. It's quite selfish actually, if I have to be honest. In fact, it kills me how badly in love I am with just the sound of your voice telling me that you're in love with me"
"But, I never..."
"Is that terrible? It is!"
She interrupted him insanely. Confidence turned to self-frustration in a second.
"Have I been, all this time, in love with the simple idea that you might be in love with me? If you dropped me right now, would I miss you or just the attention that you give me? I don't know, Ben, and that drives me absolutely crazy trying to figure it out. I'm too deep, I'm too entangled."
He tried to hear the words as she said them but the rate at which she was speaking began to blow him away. Slowly, he pieced together the reality she was conveying.
"Hey," he said so softly it knifed her. "Can you not beat yourself up, please?
Another realization. She loved the way he caught her world as it was crashing down.
"You are not at fault here. Okay? No one is. If that's how you feel about me then that's how you feel. I can't change that and to some degree, you can't either."
For a moment it felt as if they were laying in a green field on a summer night looking at the stars. She relished in the fantasy.
"I think what we have is something really different."
The phrasing made her laugh. Yeah, that's for sure.
"And I say that because... I-I-I never thought that you would take a second chance on me. You didn't have to. But you did."
Why did she? She recalled how it felt to be ignored by him, to see other people with him, to feel the icy chill of his presence whenever it was necessary he be in the same room as her. She could have continued the stalemate if she had felt that the man on the other side of the wall had given up... but oddly, it always felt like a long, purposeful silence. Every glance, every wayward look that got cast between them, being met with casual, polite excuses, held a punch. It was utterly perplexing.
And whenever they had opened the gates and the words came flooding in, the relief or maybe even the risk, was electrifying. Her brain still questioned every time she reveled in his presence. Her cold and chained up heart still wanted to reach out through the prison bars but her mind, the guard, would swat away the grasping hands. It was not a shock whenever she grabbed his hand in a movie theatre that he had let go of it softly and said, "no, let's... let's not." However, it was no surprise that whenever he let her into his apartment and no one was there that the couch and his body soon became a permanent fixture. They had been starving themselves for so long. Every kiss felt like the first. Every breath was enticing. She was disgusted with herself and how badly she wanted him close to her. Months later, her disgust had forced her to flee from him, her hunger hidden again with the excuses and shamings of herself.
And then, that night. They stood together, frozen with cold, on top of a watch tower, left open for tourists and dumb kids like them to explore. The thought of themselves as 'dumb kids' made her smile. They sat there, looking at stars and clouds that passed by the moon. Her knees pulled up to her chest, they gently fell against his own. And he looked at her then. His eyes so dark, so deep, so easy to fall into. He asked if he could hold her hand and the image of their fingers interlocked and the white fog of their breath felt poetic. That image alone made her say, "why not?"
Had she known that two weeks later a major pandemic would separate them and force her to think about all of these moments, would she still have looked at him, and with hunger in her eyes say, "why not?"
She didn't know the answer.
And that plagued her.
His voice awakened her from the slouched position she had taken up, half-drooling and squinting at the lamp next to her bed.
"oh, sorry," she managed to say. "I didn't know I..."
She yawned and heard him laugh.
"It's alright, I knew you fell asleep like 5 minutes ago. Wow did you hear anything I said?"
"No," she admitted and laughed at herself.
"Yeah, I didn't either," he chuckled and sighed a pleasant sigh.
"I was just thinking about everything and I guess it just put me to sleep..."
"Well, it is late too, sweetheart."
She smiled at his voice.
"But hey, before you go, can I read you this quote I found today?"
"Oh yeah, of course. You know me and quotes."
"Growing apart doesn't change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad for that..."
Hmm, she'd never heard it before. But instantly she felt as if it applied to them. Their friendship was different like that. She thought it over in her mind, and softly asked with veiled fear,