I can see her out of the corner of my eye, but she doesn’t realize it. Maybe she does, actually, now that I reflect on it; but it’s an unspoken rule that she speaks first, and that I answer the inevitable with an air of surprise.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” There it is. There it is again, the one question that no matter what day of the week it is or what month or year or even how I’m feeling; I will always lie to the question she poses. The same lie, the same expression on my face, guarded, as I refuse to respond in the way I want to.
And surely she can see my eyes as I wipe the tear away, clutching onto my wounded pride like a child clutches onto their security blanket, surely she can see the water that threatens to betray my steady voice. But she doesn’t comment. Never does.
I sling my backpack over my shoulder, and she’s still standing there, blonde hair surrounding her face, a look of puzzlement on her china features.
“I’m fine,” I repeat, the lie almost catching in my throat, but it still spills over the brim, still slips out into the afternoon’s muggy heat as I nod for emphasis.
She pauses, as if there’s something on her mind. This is not new, this is Kobe Bryant refusing to pass, but everyone’s still making a hullabaloo about it and I wait expectantly.
“Okay,” she says softly, walking away, leaving me behind again, oh God why can’t she come back?
“Are you okay?” I cringe when I say that, it sounds so wrong. Of course she’s not okay. I can see it in her face, in the burden she shoulders and in the tears in her eyes. Her face is calm and impassive, but not to me, oh, it is never emotionless to me. I can see through her façade like it was made of mesh.
“I’m fine,” she says quickly, too quickly, and that’s when I know she’s not fine. Oh, you can see it in her stooped posture and her eyes that are just a little too bright and I want to reach out and hug her, touch her, be there for her but she is made of glass, fragile as a snowflake, so I just wait, wait for her to let down those steel gates.
She moves to put her backpack on and that moment of quiet when I believed she would let down the walls is gone. I still watch her cautiously though, waiting for her to shatter.
“I’m fine,” she says, and it’s more forceful now but she means it less, I know she does. I try to figure out the words to say to her, but everything catches in my throat like so many words do.
“Okay,” I say softly, but the words jammed up against each other and I just walk away. And I hate myself for it. I really do.
But I do it anyways. Even though there are still a million words threatening to come out. And I decide I will let them out softly, like a creek draining an ocean, and it will take a thousand years but I will wait until she has drunk her fill.