Romance Drama

The last time she asked to talk to me like this, it didn’t go well.

We’re sitting underneath the stairwell at school. The walls by the landings are covered in flyers held up by blue tape, the kind that’s almost paper and doesn’t get stuck to surfaces as easily as others. The ground is covered in stains from God-only-knows-what. The yellow paint on the edge of every step is peeling off. A few years ago, they painted all the “hazards” with the same garish shade of bright yellow. The next day, the former third member of our former trio promptly crashed into a basketball hoop and got a concussion. Her mom tried to blame us, but it’s not our fault she can’t speak loudly, gesticulate wildly, and pay attention to her surroundings all at once. We just happened to be the ones listening to her at the time.

There isn’t a trio anymore. 

The memories that are coming back to me right now don’t make me sad. It’s May of our senior year, which means it’s time to start letting go of what we all know won’t last forever. It won’t be our school for much longer. She’s running away from this town, which I guess makes sense. She’s never been one to conform, and this town makes it known that that’s just not the way we do things here.

I take a moment to examine her posture. To me, she’s always been easy to read. An open book, per se. She doesn’t quite wear her heart on her sleeve anymore, but these days it seems like no one would even bother looking at it if she did. Her sleeves are always wiping off her tears, and the world has decided they’re done waiting for her to stop crying. Maybe she decided to just stop asking them to.

Her oversized sweater is pulled over her wrists, reaching to the tip of her thumb. Her jeans are rolled at the end, maybe to put emphasis on her torn-up high-tops. I’m pretty sure she’s had them since at least freshman year, and they’ve seen a lot. Better days, for one. I swear, she’ll walk to hell and back in those shoes and think nothing of it. I bet if she had friends, their signatures would be all over them, but they’re blank. Covered in dirt, but empty. 

Her hair is pulled back and her eyes are puffy, but not in the way that means she’s been crying. No, that’s sleep deprivation. It looks like she’s surviving on pure caffeine and adrenaline at this point, which almost makes me laugh if she didn’t look so miserable. Something tells me this is a bad time. It fleetingly crosses my mind that she probably hasn’t slept in a while and that I should be concerned, but when was the last time she was concerned for me? I push it away. She’s been fiddling with something on her backpack, the twisting of her barely-shaking hands conveying the nerves she’s probably trying to talk herself out of feeling. We’ve all been doing a lot of that, lately.

The something is stuck to the smallest pocket, next to the dozens of keychains dangling. Most of them are from traveling. Every year, her parents take her on the most extravagant vacations they can afford. Since they got divorced four years ago, it’s been a constant competition to see who can be the best parent. A game of bribery and custody agreements. They don’t know that that competition only makes her hate them more, but I do. They don’t understand that she’s tired of playing, but I do. At least, I used to. I don’t entirely know who she is anymore, but I used to know everything. Heck, I was close to being invited on one of those vacations at one point. But then she called me here, and everything fell apart.

Of course, I know that I’m nothing special to her anymore. I haven’t been since then. Or maybe I have, but she’s too proud to admit it, and I’m too proud to ask. I’m just good at keeping secrets because, honestly, there’s no one for me to tell either. Not the way we used to tell each other everything. Now, it’s not even like she wants to tell me, specifically. She just needs to tell. Just needs to say something. Needs to get the burden off her chest.

I mentally scoff. That’s what I’ve become—someone who holds other peoples’ burdens. I am nothing but a carrier of baggage. Mine and hers. I suppose she needs to be a little lighter for the act of betrayal she’s about to commit. Can’t carry all the trauma with her to the city, right? Idly, I wonder if this town feels indignant too. If it knows she’s leaving it behind for something that she’s been lusting after forever, something she’s never even met. Does the town feel like she’s cheating on it, too? Or is it just me who feels betrayed, feels cheated on? I don’t know if anyone outside of her family will feel her loss as much as I will, which strikes me as a sad way to go, even for her. Is that how people know they’re ready to be taken home?

Finally, she clears her throat, and I take a closer look at her hands. The something she’s been turning and picking at for what feels like ages now is a pin. It has one stripe each of pink, purple, and blue on it, almost like a flag. It’s been on her backpack for a few days now, but no one here knows what it means, and no one is brave enough to ask. We’re not sure she’d even answer anymore. She might just stop, look at us with eyes that are far away from here, give us a sad half-smile, and keep walking. I have no clue why she wants to talk to me today, even. I suppose I’m the closest thing she has to a friend anymore, so maybe she deserves sympathy for that, but then again, maybe not. 

Suddenly, she inhales. I can’t imagine that being pleasant experience—these stairs smell like sweat, old french fries, and graphite. She shifts forward and opens her mouth, still touching the pin. Her eyes shine like a promise.

“Can you keep a secret?”

August 18, 2020 00:04

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