She picked up a folder off the top of the pile on the desk and looked at the papers inside it before carefully placing a label in its upper right-hand corner and writing down a few words to identify it. Then she bent over and placed it in a box by her feet, one of many such boxes filling her abnormally neat room. Her friend sat facing her on the bed and watched her, absently rolling a clear marble in his hand as she worked without seeming to think. When the marble fell to the floor and rolled under the desk he looked up at her.
“You’ve changed.” His flat and yet somehow accusatory voice broke the silence. She stopped writing and dropped the pen.
“I just want to clean up,” she mumbled. Her tiny hands reached back to her hair and tugged a black curl so hard it was almost vicious.
She knew why she’d asked him to come, but that didn’t make this any easier. They hadn’t spoken in a few weeks, and she knew he was expecting an apology. She couldn’t give that apology honestly, but the time she had given herself to tie up loose ends was rapidly winding down, and she needed to fix this. Somehow.
Something had snapped in her earlier this year. She’d been fine, and then she hadn’t. She looked down at the floor, her eyes following the path the marble had taken.
“If we’re just going to sit here, can we have some music or something?”
“I gave away my iPod dock. And my iPod.” He sighed, but didn’t reply. She turned to face him. He looked away mistrustfully. There. That. She wanted to erase that before she did what she’d resolved to do. If she could get that out of his eyes, she’d feel better.
“Okay. I…” How to go on? Should she apologize? Lie? Or try to keep some semblance of the truth?
The way his eyebrows raised and eyes widened made her childhood friend look a little hopeful. It was like a dart in her throat. Lie. She’d lie.
“Imsorry.” It tumbled out of her mouth as one word, quick, like it couldn’t wait to touch the air, to wreak its untruthful havoc on his ears. She breathed. “I’m sorry.”
He didn’t reply.
“I’m sorry I told you…what I told you. What I thought about. Considered. You were right, it was…some kind of joke.” Lie. He could tell. “I’ve just been…a little crazy this year.” Truth. Perhaps the only one so far. She suddenly picked up the pen she’d dropped and began writing, her face close to the paper as she spoke. “You know how sometimes you just get so you can’t see clearly anymore? I well, I…I think that’s what happened.” Her voice was down to a whisper now. “And I’m sorry.” A sob came out on the last word. She hadn’t realized she was close to crying until the tears began. “I’m sorry I had to drag you into this. It’s just that you were the only, the only one I could tell. I didn’t know how I was going to make myself get up every morning without telling someone, and you were the only one there.” She put the pen down again and lay her face on top of the folder, beginning to shake with sobs.
“But nothing happened,” he said. “Life was completely normal.”
She nodded in agreement. “I just snapped. I don’t know. I don’t know.” She lifted her face and pressed her hand to her mouth, trying to suppress her sobs. “I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t know.” She looked at him. “I’m sorry.”
He moved closer to her, trying to pull her into a hug, but she withdrew, hugging her knees to her chest as a barrier. He sighed. “For what? Crying? Finally telling me the truth?”
“It was the truth,” she wailed. He froze. But on some level, he’d known that when she’d asked him to come over today, and he’d already started to accept it. “I was thinking that. I am – ” She stopped. There was silence for a long moment, and her crying began to slow. She picked up her pen and tried to continue labeling, but her hand was shaking too badly. After a while he got up and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. A few seconds later, he felt her slump a little and heard the pen drop to the floor. He squeezed her tighter.
“I wish I’d understood,” he whispered.
“I wish you hadn’t had to,” she whispered back, her voice rough and shaky from having cried. He let her go, but sat on the very edge of her bed to be closer to her. She wasn’t really sobbing anymore, but tears were still running down her face, and so he reached over to grab the tissues on her bedside table.
“Thanks,” she mumbled, wiping her eyes.
“You gonna be okay?” he asked her. She looked at him, her pale green eyes watery, her nose red, her cheeks flushed, and he scrunched his face. “Sorry. Dumb question.”
“Thanks,” she said quietly.
“I’m here. I’m just sorry we couldn’t have gotten to this earlier,” he said.
She shook her head. “I don’t think I would have come this far. You know. I wouldn’t have…”
“Fallen apart?” he supplied.
“Yeah.” She smiled tentatively, and he returned it.