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February 13, 2011
My elbows rest on my knees and my fingers are laced in my hair as I watch the denim of my jeans slowly darken drop by drop. My vision is hazy around the edges. The silent tears fall steadily down into the quickly forming puddle in my lap. The sound of my name vaguely registers through the ringing in my ears. I don’t move; the hole in my chest makes me feel like I’m imploding.

“Darcy?” the voice repeats. I barely hear it, and I don’t care to respond. I silently will it to leave me alone, but I hear the springs in the mattress under me squeak and the fabric of my black-and-white floral comforter rustle as the body belonging to the voice sits down at my side. Obviously the source of the voice isn’t leaving. Tears of frustration mix with the ones already falling. I feel a hand softly stroke my hair and another hand rest on my shoulder, and I shrug it off defiantly.

“I’m fine. Just leave me alone!” I insist, shifting to lie on my side facing the wall.
“Darcy, what’s wrong?” the voice persists. I can hear the inflection of genuine concern in the voice. For the first time, I am able to place a face with the voice. My new roommate Elaina. I look up at her and my pulse pounds in my head from the movement. I can see the faint wrinkles between her fair eyebrows, which are knit together. Something about the expression on her face makes me rethink my wish for her to go away.
“You want to tell me what’s up?” she asks gently, and for the first time since the walked through the door, I do.
“My mom just called. Sam died.”
She doesn’t say anything to this, which is the right thing to do. I roll over onto my stomach on my tiny little dorm room bed and bury my face in my pillow. I begin to think about the mascara stains that are surely forming. Then I think about how I don’t care. Elaina sits on the edge of my bed and slowly braids and unbraids my hair until my breathing becomes even. Then another squeak and rustle, and she is gone. I hear the muffled sound of a cabinet being opened in the small kitchenette down the hall. A few moments later, I hear the light thud of a plate/bowl/cup hitting the countertop and then the whisper of the microwave coming to life. The ping of the timer brings me out of my numb, half asleep state. I turn my head towards the hall just in time to see Elaina push the door open with her hip, two transparent glass mugs in her hands. A frothy, milky brown liquid sloshes around inside and the smell of chocolate and peppermint fills the room.
“Thanks,” I mutter hoarsely. She nods solemnly and hands me a mug.
“Careful. It’s hot,” she says, not because she is filling the silence or changing the subject. I take a sip, and the peppermint she added clears my head. A few more sips, and I am ready to talk.
“Sam is my dog,” I begin. “Was my dog.” I look down into the mug of brown liquid and creamy foam swirling around the now-exposed peppermint stick.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” Elaina said. Her voice doesn’t sound prompting; she seems content to listen or just sit, and I can tell that if I continue it will be on my own terms.
“I have had Sam my whole life. My parents always said that he was the firstborn,” I say. I laugh at the old joke. “He was still a puppy when I was born. We grew up together. And now…” The tears cut me off.
Again, Elaina remains silent.
“I’m sorry,” I sniffle.
“It’s okay,” she encouraged. She let me cry for a little while more. She stands up and takes my empty glass from me and leaves the room. A few moments later, she is back with a box of tissues that I recognize from the bathroom counter. She pulls one out and hands it to me. I use it to wipe my eyes, then motion for another to blow my nose. She hands it to me, knowing exactly what I need without me saying a word.
“He used to sleep in my room every night before I left for school. I would fall asleep most nights petting him.”
“He sounds like a special dog.”
“Yeah. He was.”
More silence. It reminds me of the way Sam used to look at me when I would tell him about a bad day that I had.
“When I was little, I started talking to Sam when I was upset. It started the day that I left my bike out in the rain, and it rusted and I got in trouble with my dad for it. I was so mad at my dad for being upset with me. I tried to explain that it was an accident, but he didn’t listen. He told me to go to my room, so I snuck Sam in with me to keep me company. I sat on the edge of my bed and he sat on the floor, and I talked it out. And when I was done, Sam licked the salt off my cheeks from the tears and everything felt okay again.”
“It’s amazing how well pets listen,” she says softly, a smile forming on her face.
“Yeah,” I say distantly. My mind is still in the past, running through a jumble of memories of Sam and me. A low grumbling in my stomach reminds me that I haven’t eaten since breakfast. Apparently Elaina heard it too, because she laughs lightly and leaves the room again. This time I hear the clanking of the jars in the fridge being jostled as the door opens and the thud as it closes again. My thoughts drift back and forth between food and flashbacks. Another ping of the microwave, and she is back with a big bowl of some kind of soup and two spoons poking up over the rim. She sets it down on the pale wooden desk at the foot of my bed and once again leaves the room. She reappears seconds later with a black-lacquered tray and arranges our dinner on the bed at my feet. She pulls the matching chair from my desk up to the side of the mattress as if she were at the dining room table. We both automatically bow our heads, and she quickly blesses the food. I open my eyes and look into the bowl for the first time. Baked potato with cheddar and bacon. My favorite. I look over at her and smile. I fill up my spoon, chasing around a bit of bacon until I have the perfect ratio of broth to potato to meat and lift the utensil to my mouth.
“Thank you,” I say after swallowing.
“You’re welcome.”
My thoughts are all a jumble, but suddenly a memory of Sam and me playing fetch comes to the front of my mind. I smile.

“I saw that,” Elaina says playfully. “What were you remembering?”

“Fetch,” I say.

“Ah.”

“Sam loved fetch. But he would only fetch tennis balls, and he preferred to fetch two at a time.”

“Efficient,” she says, her tone light. I realize that I haven’t been crying for some time now, and I know that it is because of her.

“That he was. But he used to strip the felt off of the balls, so I would have to go get new ones almost every month. It never really bothered me, though…I’m going to miss him,” I say, my voice cracking slightly, but my eyes stay dry.

“Yes, you will. But it gets better. Cross my heart,” Elaina says.

“I know.”

I look down at the bowl, and it surprises me to see that it is empty. Elaina picks up the tray with the bowl still on it and takes it out of the room. I lay back and roll over onto my side. I allow my eyes to flutter closed, and as soon as I allow my body to relax, I feel the tears forming again. This time, though, they don’t hurt as much. My mind wanders again to Sam. I think about what a good friend he always was to me, and I miss him. I press my face further into my pillow as the tears finally escape. Through my eyelids, I see the light in the room click off. I hear the rustle of Elaina’s sheets as she crawls into her bed across the room.

“Thank you,” I whisper to her.

“What are friends for?” she replies.





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