That’s how it always starts. Always, with her shrill, overly cheerful greeting that is two octaves higher than it really should be. I feel the usual throb in my ear and wince as I prepare for the next torrent of soprano pitched, glass shattering how-have-you-been-s.
“I’ve been great! Just a little busy here and there, you know,” I reply with a forced smile. A little vagueness helps from time to time I suppose. It helps when I’m trying to protect the last shred of privacy I have left over my life. My eyes unconsciously follow the diamond-studded silver ring on her finger–her left ring finger. She flicks her shiny, ebony hair and it swishes as it sweeps just past her shoulder in perfect, soft waves.
“I’ve been great too! Did you know that recently John and Emma have gotten engaged? And there’s Trix and Hodgson….” She talks animatedly with her thousand-volt smile. Her voice unintentionally trails off into the back of my mind, where it becomes a constant hum, like the hum a refrigerator gives off in the middle of the night.
A deep, gentle baritone snaps me back to reality. My hazel eyes lift and meet his striking blue orbs. An all too familiar magnetism traps me. I feel the empty plastic cup I’ve forgotten about slip from my fingers. It hits the ground with a muted thud.
“Whoops.” He bends down and picks up the cup in one smooth, fluid motion.
My head yells in panic as the thud resounds in my heart. The wall of my defences cracks like glass. It grows and spreads like an ugly web and it branches out like a dead, withered tree. I manage a small “Thank you” as I try to breathe normally. Slow inhales and exhales. Now it’s his turn to start with the how-have-you-beens.
I repeat my answer, but he is a natural-born vagueness detector. He gives me that look with an arch of his eyebrow. I feel my breath hitch and for half a second I am overwhelmed, compelled to let him in, to drown in his warmth. He always gave me that look whenever I was keeping something from him. I always gave in.
“Congratulations,” I find myself saying as I smile and hold my arms out. He gives me a puzzled hug and she follows suit. “I’m so happy for you guys!” I pat them both softly on the back and try to fight the whoosh of sadness that brushes past me.