Emily, head lowered, eyes glued to the pavement on the way to her first class of Sophomore year, has glistening tears trickling from her eyes. She's dragging her feet, nearly crawling to the doors of the school.
“Emily!” Ava calls. Emily lengthens her strides and picks up her feet a touch more until she's digging her heels into the concrete in a full-on sprint.
“Emily!” Ava calls again, but Emily is out of earshot now. As the two meet at class, Ava’s chest is heaving, leaving her gasping for air.
“Emily,” she sputters, “I tried to call for you.”
"I know. That why I ran," she responded, her voice monotone.
“Emily, we're friends. You can tell me anything. I'm always here for y--”
"Are you really? At four in the morning are you awake and alert and up for a deep conversation that’s never-ending? Are you there when it's the middle of class and I'm in the bathroom so I can cry in peace without anyone asking why? Are you there then?" Her eyes shut suddenly, attempting to fight the tears that long to burst out. Emily loses the fight and breaks out into salty tears that stream down her cheeks.
“Emily, I'm so s--”
"You aren't, Ava. And I don't need your pity. I don't need anyone's pity. I know I'm weak, pathetic, a sissy, and a crybaby like my sister always told me. I've been internalizing everything she's said since I was little. I've forgotten nearly the entirety of my childhood because I've tried to forget what she's said and what she's done and I still could care less that the good memories have faded with the bad. I’m horrified that someone will ask me about my favorite childhood memory because my response will be ‘I don’t know.’ It’s been happening for a long time now. I've already been through therapy and I don't need your pity.” Emily mumbles under her breath. “Maybe I just need your support, Ava."
“Emily, I had no idea.”
Emily’s voice begins to quiver. “That's because I didn't want you to know. I didn't want anyone to know. I just keep getting nudged over the edge by my sister and it's led to a lot of harmful things and I've been alone in all of it. You were never there. No one really was...” Her voice trails off.
“I always have and always will be here for you. I might not be there every time you need me, even now, but I will be when I know you do. Even though you ask what love is, I will try to show you the sisterly love you deserve in place of the love your sister never demonstrated.”
“Are you really sure you can handle that, Ava? No one else has, how can you? Every time someone says they are always there for me then gives up and abandons me, I trust everyone less. The wall to my feelings gets higher, I distance myself from people another mile, and my mask of a smile grows as I proceed to shatter behind it. Everyone leaves.”
The one mask she would never wear was the mask of make-up. Not wearing it prepared her for instances like this when the balling would begin. Her tear-stained eyes stare off into the distance.
“I can handle it, Emily. I'm not like everyone else.”
“That's what they all say,” Emily mumbles under her breath as she carries herself out the door.