The next morning the boy woke up an hour before his alarm went off and lay in bed staring at the ceiling—'who the hell makes a ceiling out of cinder blocks?'. The light from the hallway flowed under the door and reflected off the linoleum giving the room a dim underlighting. 'So that was it', he thought. 'My first girlfriend and she broke up with me after only a week and a half.' His arm stretched toward the ceiling as he made shadow puppets with his hands. What had he done wrong? His eyes circled around the room, scanning as though the answer lay in some dark corner. Did she feel like he'd ignored her? They circled again. Was he too distant? Circled again. Was he just a temporary stand-in for the guy she really wanted?
He thought of the conversation they'd had, the conversation he had demanded and she'd tried to avoid: "I guess I want to know why?" he mumbled. His fingers tugged at the loose strands of his jeans unconsciously. She sat crosslegged on the bed, computer lying in her lap; she wasn't looking at him. The silence punctuated by the clicks of the touchpad as she browsed the internet. Click. Click. The moment stretched out into awkward infinities and his mind rapidly tried to formulate responses to all her potential replies. "It just didn't feel right," she answered eventually. Silence again. Click. Click.
"Do you think we'll still talk to each other in five years?" He apprehensively stared at the carpet, bowing his head against rejection like a traveler against sleet. Months had passed as he slid deeper into depression. Even being aware of it made no difference. And as he fell further down the slope, covered in mud, he put her on a higher and higher pedestal. She was his anchor, the center of his existence around which he constructed everything else.
"Yes." She didn't make eye contact. He thought he was over her, that they truly were just friends and good ones too. Mutual support, respect, care. But there was always the nagging feeling that she tolerated him out of pity or a sense of responsibility for his mental state. "No, I mean, do you think we'll still be friends in five years?" She smiled over the screen of her laptop reassuringly. "Of course."
A year later he fell in love with her again. Torturously in love. He knew he shouldn't be but she was all that was preventing him from hanging himself.
Valentine's Day approached and a compulsion came over him. He'd bare his soul to her again. Maybe she'd understand this time. Maybe they could give it another try. The boy drove into town and went to the store. It was 15 below with windchill and his face was pelted with snow as he walked from the parking lot. 'This is stupid. You are stupid. You shouldn't be doing this,' he thought as he made his way towards the aisle overflowing with pastel shaded merchandise. A bear, he needed a bear. He walked down the aisle glancing at the shelves. The only ones left were powder blue bears with 'Hug Me!' embroidered across the stomach. He bought one anyways. It wasn't a bear, it was a symbol—a plea for her to care about him in the same way he cared about her.
"Hey," he said, "I've got something for you." He smiled as he handed her the bear and the candies. "Awwww, it says 'Hug Me!'" She smiled and then leaned over and put her arms around him. The boy tucked his head into her shoulder. "Thank you!" He held onto her in desperation, drinking in the fleeting physical contact it provided. He opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, then closed it again.
"I'm so sorry."
He looked off to the side with a tired expression. She'd done it again, a harsh reminder of his new place in the hierarchy of her life. "You said we could talk last night. And the night before. And you didn't show up either time." She made eye contact for an instant, her face an apology. "I know and I'm really sorry about that and I don't blame you if you hate me." The words came out all at once, escaping her like the rancid air from a deflating tire.
The week before he'd asked, humbly, if he could get something off his chest. Her response? "Of course; any time." He didn't see or hear from her for five days. He asked again: "yes, I get off work at 10." So he had waited, alone, for three hours. The next day she called him, "I'm so sorry, I totally forgot." Forgot. Even on face value it was a cruel excuse—that it was a lie made it nearly unbearable. 'It's ok,' he had said, as though his heart were too strong to be damaged by betrayal, 'but can we talk tonight?'
"Yes, I'll be there."
He was quiet for several minutes, silent anger filling the air with unspoken demands. "I..." she started and trailed off, deciding how much to tell. "I was...with Grant those nights and I...ended up tied to the bed..." The anchor ripped loose from the bottom. Sex was more important. Did she not understand? Did she not know he had stayed alive all these months just for her? "Oh," he said, "I was just going to talk about how I have no reason to live."
He decided to kill himself.
"What?" Another year and a half. She sat in the chair facing away from him, alternately scrolling through Facebook and shopping for new shoes. "Emily," he repeated. "Whaaaaaaaaat?" she drawled, smiling and tilting her head as she swiveled back and forth in her chair. It was a childish act meant to be cute—he'd gotten over it a long time ago. He watched her as she swung back and forth, dispassionately admiring her legs through the plum purple yoga tights she wore far too frequently. She was going to be pear-shaped when she got older—there's no fighting genetics—but for now she was fit with only the telltale portents of middle age. "Can we have an honest conversation?" The chair squeaked quietly every time she reversed direction. "What about?" She stopped swinging for a few seconds to type in another web address. She still wasn't looking at him.