They are sitting together, but as far apart as they’d ever been; his eyes focused just over her left shoulder, her face turned slightly to the right. A crackle of tension shivers through the air and a heavy sigh slips between them, bringing their eyes up to meet and skitter nervously away. “I’m not sure why I’m here,” she murmurs. He nods and looks at that fascinating something that is anything but her.
“I can’t imagine you have anything to say that is going to magically take away how I feel,” her voice taunt with repressed anger, pride, and something she still wasn’t willing to admit. He frowns for a moment and she can see his chin quivering as if he will speak. She waits. It seems she’s been waiting all her life for someone to manage more than that slight quivering of possibility, and here she sits again… waiting for someone to take a step, take a chance, reveal, relax, relent.
“Where’d the waitress go?” he grumbles. His eyes roam the room, lighting on the exit and jerking away as if afraid she will catch him longing to leave. She shifts restlessly. What good did it do to drink in the sight of him when all she would ever see are his eyes yearning for the door? Her thoughts tumbled back to another time, another place… when he was more adept at feigning interest. Were there really words left to erase such a painful discovery? That could transmute the betrayal of trust? Her blood jerks in thick, sluggish response to the feeling of cold anger washing over her. “She’ll be back. What did you want to tell me?” her fingers nervously clench and relax around the napkin resting on her lap. She feels the thin fiber of it giving way beneath her hand; smooth edges becoming thick and pulpy with the sweat of her palm.
“Um, yeah. Well… I just wanted you to know…” he fumbles for the words as he reddens, “…I wanted you to know it was never my intention to hurt you. I just…” Her head snaps up and he falls silent. She can feel the color leaving her face as the emotions chase over his features. She watches as guilt, pride, and pain war over him and suddenly she realizes this was nothing more than his way to trying to soothe himself… at her expense…. as always. The last thread of hope began unraveling and she sits there, savoring the absence of feeling as she looks across the table at this boy, this child, this juvenile in adult’s flesh.
“You never intended to hurt me.” She repeats softly. He reddens all the more deeply and she almost feels sorry for him. She takes a deep breathe and holds it for a moment, her mind rasping all manner of angry words that would never begin to penetrate his mind. “No, I don’t suppose you did. Rather, you couldn’t see that pretending to be someone you weren’t *could* hurt; that the smiles and nods and assurances *could* harm, or that listening when you couldn’t care less would matter one way or the other to me.”
She pauses to wad the napkin into a tight, protected ball in her hand before continuing, “You didn’t want affection or regard from me. You didn’t know how to handle it. You are no less a product of your environment than anyone else. You need the conditional, you need the only thing you were ever taught. You need the power games and manipulations you were given by those who raised you. You think I don’t understand that?”
She could see anger spreading across his face. She pushed on, still softly, but with a thread of steel, “What? I’m not supposed to admit how obvious this is to me now? That ever moment I took baring my soul to you was some kind of twisted reinforcement to your ego? That in my words you found some sense of superiority over me… because I have bled or cried or wanted to be understood?” He sits before her stonily, and she watches the shutters slam down… sealing him away. For a moment, she pauses… the sharp pain of betrayal lancing through her, taking her breathe and leaving her feeling shaky, sick, and drained, “You never intended to hurt me… but given the choice between hurting me or accepting me you had no choice… is that it?”
In the hooded glance he gave her, the truth was suddenly clear.
She reaches into her purse and extracts two bills, placing them carefully on the table. Slowly rising, she gathered herself to fly… and… as she turned away, her last words drifted like smoke across the distance between them, “You won’t know what you’ve lost for a long, long time,” she paused briefly, then continued, “And by the time you do, I won’t care.” In a wave of perfume, silk, and silence, she is gone.
He waits until the final lingering scent of her has faded and brings his head up to glance around the room. In the casual avoidance of this public place he finds comfort, and the quiet world he is so accustomed to gently swallows him.