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I'd seen her before, her face a bare canvas. Eyes red, wet and swollen. I'd seen her hair greasy and unkempt. I'd seen her in baggy clothes and her apartment a mess. -- A short story of two friends, one keeping the other company and having feelings for her.

Romance / Drama
Nelly Neufeld
Age Rating:

Short Story

“The coffee’s good,” she said. Her tone was languid and her eyes didn’t sparkle.

Usually, she is the kind of person to generate eye contact, to make a connection, and to leave an impact.

Today was not that kind of day. Today, she just wanted to be swallowed whole and pass by everyone unnoticed. I’d say her outfit proclaimed that bleak statement of her mind: black layered on black. An imprinted bat sat on her shirt, visible on her chest where she had her jacket unzipped. Her make-up was rather simple, held in natural tones, but I could tell that she had put effort into it. At this point, I wasn’t sure if she had put that make-up on for herself, society, or for me.

I’d seen her before, her face a bare canvas. Eyes red, wet and swollen. I’d seen her hair greasy and unkempt. I’d seen her in baggy clothes and her apartment a mess.

Not today. Today she had pulled herself together. She looked great! I was happy to see her take care of herself, but her energy was off. Her face was done up; her clothes were casual; her vibe was dull. It didn’t quite fit, but it didn’t make her any less attractive.

A few strands fell softly over her eyes. Currently she had her hair red. I liked it, although I liked her blonde too.

The coffee cup hung between her fingers; her other hand rested on her face, covering half of her lips as if to hide. She had her green eyes trained on the raindrop-plastered window – eyes that usually beamed all the brighter due to the contrast of her hair.

But today the green garden in her eyes was muted. The grey sky had taken over and stolen her light. There was worry. Perhaps regret. Too much pondering either way.

“What’s wrong?” I finally asked. I wasn’t one to push or force her to talk if she didn’t want to. I was careful like that, and I respected her.

She was precious to me.

She shrugged, clearly stating that she wasn’t ready to talk yet. I watched the vapour rise from her cup between her fingers. I followed it and ended up on her face again.

“Life sucks,” she said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. Life did suck, but with her it was good.

Her eyes came back at me – as if to challenge me. To see if my face matched my words.

She’d been lied to. Cheated on. Left with empty promises. I understood her mistrust. And because I understood, I was aware that she was testing me, pushing me away to see how long I’d stick around. Or how honest I was about my feelings towards her.

Her gaze rested on me for a while. It made my palms sweaty and my heart beat a little faster. She was analysing me and I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to pass the test and continue our friendship. Plainly said: I wanted her. Oh God, that’s all I want.

I put some sugar in my coffee to make it sweet and fill the time, distract me from my desire to grab and hold her.

“You look good today,” she said.

The compliment was unexpected – especially because she looked like she needed to be cheered up – not me.

“You too; thank you,” I replied quickly. Taking compliments wasn’t a speciality of mine, and I found a quirk of a smile pull at the corner of her lips.

“You’re welcome.” She took a brief sip. The shine of her lip gloss had partly worn off and was nestling on the rim of her cup now. “I like you.”

For a second I wasn’t sure what face I pulled – something between fluster, confidence and gratitude.

“I don’t want to take advantage of you,” she said. Her eyes dipped away as if ashamed. As if she was doubting herself and her motive towards me.

There wasn’t a second in which I believed that she possessed the strength to betray me or waste my time with empty words. I desperately wanted to reach my hand out across the small table and take her hand in mine.

“I’m not sure …” She took a breath and I stayed calm and silent. Her fingers – nails painted black – laced around her cup. “I’m not sure I called you over out of loneliness or because I actually like you.” She still wouldn’t look at me, and for a second I was worried – worried that I was the cause of this disruption and her current suffering. “But I really like you.” Now her gaze came up, looking me directly in the eye. Through it all, I saw her vulnerable, exposed. Confessing honest feelings was never easy. Yet here she was, after she’s had her heart broken, putting herself out again. Others might call it foolish – I call it brave.

“I love you,” I said. It was blunt and tactless, but it was what I felt. She was brave enough to step out in the open; I was meeting her there, reaching out my hand for her to take.

Her lower lip gave, relief washing over her like soft rain. The inner angle of her brows indicated that she was going to cry. Gently, she took the hand I offered and squeezed it ever so lightly. I held her, determined to never let go.

“I love you too.”

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