by Taylor Balfour
“I didn’t think you would be here.”
Given the way she wandered in without a second glance, without hesitating in the doorway, not surprised to see his name scrawled on the whiteboard, he knew she was lying. He didn’t comment. He watched when she sat on his room’s couch, the aged wood creaking under her. She flinched.
“Where else would I be?”
She didn’t answer. She already knew. In the silence, he drank her in. It had been a while since he indulged in such a taste.
She cleared her throat, collar bones rattling. “You look good.”
Not garnering a response, she struggled to clear her throat again, lifting a hand to tuck away a strand of raven.
He noted the pale strip across her wedding finger, tan lines squeezing in on either side. “You look good too,” he lied.
“Thanks,” she breathed, wrestling her hands in her lap. Her sweater, knit and baggy, flapped like flags at half-mast. “My hair’s a mess. It needs a cut.”
He could tell she was trying to keep it light. “Are you growing it out?”
“No.” She swallowed, struggling. He watched her throat bob, as if the bones were a second away from popping like corks. “I’m not allowed scissors.”
He nodded, but said nothing. He should’ve known not to pry, but he didn’t feel guilty. “How’s Mallory?” He asked.
She smiled, her hollow cheeks sinking. “She’s been good.”
“I miss her.”
“She’s been well,” she continued. “She's reading a level ahead of the rest of her class.”
He offered a hollow smile. “Sounds about right.” He blinked, then returned to default neutral. “Is she here?”
“No.” She fidgeted. “She’s with Charles.”
His eye twitched.
“She likes him,” she said before he had a chance. “He’s been helping her with her reading.”
“How long has he been around?”
She blinked. Her stringy hair waving by her ears. He watched it. Anything to stop himself from looking into the hollow sockets she called eyes.
“You know when.”
“I don’t, actually.”
He clicked his tongue, the wind knocked out of his chest. It was the only sound he was capable of making.
“I know you don’t like him, but--”
“That’s not true.”
“But he’s good for her,” she continued. “He’s helping her with so much.”
“I wonder what that’s like.”
She flinched at the statement. His emotionless, blank stare forced the knife in deeper. He knew the statement would bring her pain, yet somehow it didn’t warrant an expression change. Maybe she really had changed. “Don’t be like that,”
“Honest, you mean?”
“It needs to be this way for her.”
He shook his head, a smirk of longing dancing on his lips. “It didn’t. There were other ways.”
He could see the lump in her throat, like the sunrise through a thin blind threatening to burst. The skin was thin enough that he was worried it might. Maybe it would blind him. Maybe that’s what it would take to get him to stop staring. To stop searching for Mallory in her imitator’s eyes. “You know we couldn’t hurt her like that.”
“I would take any bullet for her,” he said, voice walking a tightrope. “But somehow I took one that didn’t exist.”
“I couldn’t stand the thought of her witnessing this,” she snapped, her tightrope snapping under non-existent weight. Her mind was heavier than her mass. “It would be torture for her.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s torture for me, though. Right?” His gaze drifted out the window, listening to hum of fall leaves. “You didn’t want her to be without either of us. You didn’t want her to be alone. But where is she now?” He squinted, trying to see the dance of autumn. His eyes were too blurry. He knew why. “Not with us.”
In the midst of fall’s performance, she glanced around the room, soaking in its chill. On his nightstand stood a clock and a cup of water, barely touched. His whiteboard was scrawled with a mess of data, but the release date was left blank. The room, in it’s entirely, was cursed with a lack of soul.
The rustling of leaves drew her stare outside, witnessing the trees waving to one another. She recalled the scent of fresh lilies in her bedroom, the scent paired with her holding the crayon-etched ‘get well soon’ card—the one she had left at home.
Teary eyed, the waved guilt heaving, she held out her hand. Her gaze danced along the patchiness of his head, the swelling of his cheeks, the loss of that familiar warmth in his soul. “I’m sorry we drifted apart.”
He remained silent, hands fidgeting on his sheets, his gaze glued to the wind.
Her hand lowered, watching him fiddling with his ring. “I’m sorry I drifted away.”
With the blank grin of hollow expectations, he turned back. His eyes drooped, his heart sagged. “I’m sorry we need to stay that way.”
The door wheezed as a presence slipped through it. In strode a redhead, one with eyes of panic. They hushed spotting her target. “M’am, you’re not supposed to be here,” she claimed, darting to her patient’s side. Her gloved hands wrapped around brittle bones, lifting her from the grungy seat. Her patient’s legs wobbled, but her stare stuck to the figure before her.
“I’ll tell Mallory you said goodbye.” She breathed, hardly retaining the energy to speak as she was whisked to his door frame.
He watched her for the flickering of a moment, unflinching as she was ripped from his room. It was so forceful he feared she would crumble to dust. “I know you won’t.”
The door clicked shut, and he was gone. Once more lost in the dance of autumn, ready for the leaves to carry him home.
She regretted not keeping her promise. She’d wished she’d brought the card.
Taylor Balfour is a writer, bookworm, dreamer and professional bunny lover. For most of her life, writing has been one of her greatest passions. Now being the news writer for The Carillon as she works towards her Journalism degree, she's one step closer to achieving her goal of writing professionally. If she isn't wandering around campus with music blaring, she'll probably be stuck in a coffee shop, laptop open, procrastinating on that essay and scribbling down poetry and book ideas.