Tea Leaves and Diamond Bracelets

Mesquite

Match Two: Mesquite:

She’s wasting away.

Florence started to look more frail. Her red hair looked stringer and brittle. Her eyes looked so empty. Her clothes hung off of her body now. Sometimes, Florence could barely stand up without any help. This was like that winter she went with Alfred and Lydia to Coney Island only worse. Was she ever that pale?

“How long does she have?” Alfred asked Lydia.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “The doctors say about ten months to a year. But now…” She clutched her wrist.

“It’s going to be okay,” someone spoke up. Alfred and Lydia looked up to see Florence sitting across them on the couch. She smiled with her bony hands in her lap.

“I am okay with the news,” Florence said. “You’ve told me what was going to happen. I have accepted it.”

“Florence…” Lydia said.

“It’s okay, Lydia,” the older sister said. “I have accepted that I will die soon enough.” Alfred stared at her with big eyes. How could she be this brave? Florence wasn’t mad at her illness. She didn’t curse it. She didn’t cry over it. She seemed to cherish each day before the end came.

“Hey, Florence,” Alfred said.

“Hm?” she asked.

“Could we go to Coney Island again sometime?” he asked. “All three of us.” Lydia turned her head with shocked eyes.

“You serious?” she asked. He patted her on the head.

“Of course,” the American man said. “We are all family.”

“Since when?” Lydia asked.

“Aw, don’t be like that!” he said. “And here I was thinking that we were getting close.” The young woman wrinkled her nose and clicked her tongue.

“What was that for?” Alfred asked. He and Lydia looked up when they heard laughing. Florence covered her mouth as she giggled.

“So nice to see you two getting along so well,” she said. Lydia raised her eyebrow.

“Huh?” she asked. Alfred rubbed the back of his hand and laughed.

“You can say that!” he said.

“No,” Lydia said.

“And yes,” Florence said.

“Yes what?” the American man asked.

“I would like to go to Coney Island one more,” she said. “With both of you.”

“Yeah!” Alfred shouted, pumping his fist into the air. Lydia rolled her eyes and rubbed her forehead.

“Whatever,” she muttered under her breath. Florence sat back and smiled.


Florence’s declining health isn’t his only worry, though.

Alfred’s having strange visions again. Something about them seemed off. He’s had nightmares before and they meant nothing to him. But these felt too real. He saw that high school gym again. That fifteen-year-old boy stood watching the basketball game again. His clothes hung off of his body. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in days, but he wouldn’t go get something to eat. Alfred couldn’t understand the reason, but something about that boy looked familiar.

He couldn’t see his face. The blonde bangs hid the boy’s eyes. Someone walked up to him and tried to talk to him. The boy functioned like a normal person for the most part. He smiled and talked to that other person in front of them.

But it was all an act. The skinny blonde boy was hurting on the inside.

It seems unfair that I have to keep living like this. I just don’t know if I can keep living like this. It’s so exhausting. What if things don’t get better? I’m scared that I’ll be trapped in this cycle forever. I’d rather die than live with this for the rest of my life. Things are already falling apart. I’ve gained so much weight and I don’t think I can tolerate gaining any more.

Alfred shook his head. He found himself back in the living room.

“Are you okay?” Lydia asked. The American man looked up.

“Hm?” he asked. The young woman tilted her head.

“You look so pale,” she said.

“Do I?” he asked. “Oh.” Lydia made another concerned look on her face. Alfred put up his hand.

“Don’t,” he said. The American man stood up.

“Where are you going?” Florence asked.

“I don’t feel so well,” Alfred said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He walked out of the house without saying anymore.


Alfred could feel his head swimming outside. He narrowed his eyes as images of an empty high school hall flashed in his eyes. That basketball game again. The bathroom stall where the teenage boy sat on the floor, crying. Counting all of those calories. Weighing himself after eating. The need to drink anything in state. The falling in and out of a fog because of the lack of food in weeks. The smile hiding the internal struggle he was going through. He thought that he was hiding it well. No one would think that he was that sick. He realized it wasn’t working when all eyes were on him. He must have looked a right mess too. None of his clothes ever fit right on him anymore. He looked so pale, so sullen. They even started to see bones through the skin. When he opened his mouth, death came out.

Why do I have to do this alone? But no one can help me. They don’t understand what I’m going through. I won’t be able to explain. They’ll try and make me eat something. They’ll police me.

Several adults talking to the teenage boy. Those adults kept asking him questions about his well-being.

“Are you sick?”

“Why are you hiding food?”

“Why are you so skinny?”

“Have you been eating lately?”

“Are you okay?”

“Why are you wasting away like this?”

“Have you eaten today?”

“Can we talk?”

It didn’t help that this boy’s friends, assuming they were his friends, pleaded to him as well. Some of them lied.

“Talk to us.”

“You look great.”

“You’re wasting away.”

“Are you sure you are okay, man?”

“Get it together.”

“I’m worried that you might die if you keep this up.”

There was always that girl around him. He couldn’t see her face. Yet, she had the bluest eyes that he had ever seen. She stayed by his side and tried to get this boy to open up. It hurt her inside to see him wasting away like this. This girl tried to reach out to him, but he turned her away. Even still she wouldn’t give up on him. That girl stuck by him through the worst of it. In fact, he remembered the last words she said to him.

“I just want to let you know that I am here for you always.”

He couldn’t understand why, but those always hurt him the most. He could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks.

Suddenly, his cell phone rang.

“Hello?” he asked.

“Alfred?” a woman’s voice asked.

“Florence?” he asked. “What’s the matter? Did something happen?”

“No, no,” Florence said. “I’m just calling to see if you are okay.”

“Oh,” the American man said. He rubbed the back of his head. “I’m fine. I just felt a little bit ill. I’m on my way home now.”

“What happened to you?” she asked. “You got so pale and went quiet on us.” Alfred stood on the sidewalk, blinking.

“Did I?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Oh…”

“What’s going on with you?”

The American man rubbed his forehead. “I don’t really know. I am just having a weird time. Sorry about that.”

“It’s okay. If you want to talk to me, I will be here for you.”

Alfred froze. Those words sounded so familiar to him. He could see the girl in the hall talking to him in the hall of that school. The boy looked like he had been crying again. She pulled him into her arms and started crying too. She whispered those words in his ear.

“I will never leave you. If you want to talk to me, I will be here for you.”

“Hello? Are you still there?” Florence asked. “Hello? Hello?” Alfred jumped back into reality.

“Huh? Oh. I’m still here,” he said. “Uh… Listen, let me get home first. I’m going to take and go to bed. I’ll call you in the morning, okay?”

“Alright,” Florence said. “Good night.”

“Good night,” Alfred said back. “Love you.” He hung up and walked home with his hands shoved into his pockets.

When he made it home, Alfred froze. He ran into another problem of his. That little girl with the pink Hello Kitty backpack stood on his porch. She still had that same glow in her eyes. Alfred predicted that she would be happily talking about how she would get to go home today. He couldn’t figure her out. What did she want with him? Why did she keep talking about going home so much? The American man tried talking to her but ended getting nowhere with him. He didn’t feel like dealing with this child today.

“Listen, I don’t know who you are, but could you…?” Alfred started to ask as he opened the gate. As soon as he stepped into his yard, his heart pounded against his chest. He began to see it all again. The hallway, the basketball game, the bathroom, and there was a new scene this time. That girl who wanted to stay by his side lay on her back in a bed undressed. She looked up the boy with desperate eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks. How did they come to this point? What was she to this boy? What did her do to make her cry? Why was she crying? This girl kept whispering something to him while she was in tears.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“No,” Alfred said back in reality. “It’s not your fault. I’m so sorry I hurt you and everyone I love.” The American man sank to his knees with tears in his empty eyes.

He wasn’t the only country with strange images like this.

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