Year 2. May.
They stand in the gym corridor. Her, the boy.
She stares down at the speckled floor, the blacks amongst the less defined blotches of gray and ivory, studying the weaving of her laces, the lining of silicone where wall meets floor, the wrinkled fabric of her shirt—anything but him. The tapestry of silence—thick enough to cut through— ensues.
Her tongue is like a block of cement, sitting uncomfortably at the bottom of her mouth. Every limb feels misplaced, every fiber of her body tense, like a spring—wound tight and ready to launch forward, ready to bounce uncontrollably, without rhyme or reason.
But she ignores all instinct screaming at her to do something, to say something, to reach out. Instead, she turns slowly—shifting her hair, now cropped short instead of the signature ponytail, out of her face.
She thinks of everything she wants to do, everything she shouldn’t—couldn’t.
She studies his eyes, the way they naturally narrow into slits, the way they curve and fan up at the ends. The mole at the left—his right. She watches the light from the tiny window at her back travel through the particles and dust and air and into his pupils, diving in, deeper, deeper, turning—melting the seemingly solid onyx into oozing amber.
Yet the silence does not relent.
She opens her mouth to start, to crack open this shell that has hardened around them like tempered chocolate, like the freezing of water—but is met instead with a look she can’t quite place.
Melancholic, ambivalent, bittersweet—the way one looks at a photo album of long-forgotten friends, of memories stowed away in tattered cardboard boxes shoved into the rusting warehouses of their minds. Of black, cream-lined parkas.
Utterly devastated yet in complete control, all at the same time.
And it hits her, his answer. Without him having to lift a finger, to open his mouth, she understands, and she quietly returns his smile.
She takes a breath.
I didn’t quite know how to say this, she says, I still don’t, but as you probably already know, here’s what I wanted to say.
Three characters, translating into three words that make and break universes.
At that, a slight shift in the light—a slight glint in his eyes.
She lifts her head. Do you—
I know what it means. He says curtly.
She waits for him, for the acknowledgement, for the Alright then, I guess you’re done, I’ll get going then. The well, then, is that all? The nod, the slight wave.
But he remains silent, motionless.
Minute after minute, her fidgeting grows more rapid—frantic.
She takes a breath, then: idontknowwhattosayiwasnotexpectingthiswhyareyoustillherewhatareyoudoingwhywhatwhatsgoingoni—
He says nothing—does nothing but let the corners of his mouth turn a bit upwards. A faint movement, barely noticeable.
Hope flares up like the bursting of a torch inside a lighthouse amidst a storm, but is quickly quenched by the same glint in his eyes she’d witnessed moments ago, the one she’d caught and scrapbooked in her mind. Another look, another memory to be pulled out and examined over and over again, until time erodes it—polishes it into simplified print, romanticizes it.
So she continues rambling—anything, to fill the gut-wrenching silence that continues to sit between them—because silence is the one thing she can’t stand, the one thing she just can’t sit through—and he continues staring, occasionally passing the same bittersweet expression, a smile, and she rambles, and he looks, and that is how things are, how things were, and that is how things go.