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I swallow the laughter that settles impatiently in my throat, itching to crawl up and release a steamy cloud in the drawn face of December, who’s disagreeable when it comes to such things. The last angle of my mind, unbending before infatuation, reminds me that the joke is still yet to be told and I hold silence. I hold it in the palm of my hand, crushed amidst the compacted snow and grains of dirt.
The seconds slow, a cruel punishment for my haste, as if I’m passing a cemetery without a snatch of air to appease my lungs. Then the chortle rises as a bubble from my oval lips and he grins a dentist’s smile in my direction. Bronze eyes, brimming with frothy tea for wind bitten tongues, fill with liveliness then empty. His features, all working against him, compel me to blurt out the question I’d never wanted answered. “Who do you like?”
The corners of his mouth turn down and I read disappointment in the saddened lines of his face. He mistakes me for a person he can tell and begins speaking. “Angela, she’s…” He casts out for a word as though fishing for the lochness monster. He needs something big, “…staggering.” What, did she trip him in the hall or something? The bitter thoughts suppress the less welcome ones and I’m able to smile through the acid that churns my weakened stomach. Rather than watch his face, blank with honesty, I roll a snowball between fingers for distraction’s sake.
“She’s really great,” he continues. “I watched a movie with her the other day. I just…” Concern and doubt knot as strings around his neck. “…Don’t know if she likes me.” The lack of confidence in his classic good looks makes me drop the snowball I’d been fidgeting with. I immediately brush off my gloved hands, as if it were on purpose and every ounce of shock did not now live in the snowball’s two-millisecond descent. “What about you?”
I dread the words that fuel my heart; it’s as though he’s pushing down on a car’s accelerator that is linked to my own life force. “No…nobody.”
“Oh come on, please,” he begs, and my brick walls crumble before his capable methods.
“You really want to know?” I wonder if any guesswork has hit him with these words, but the response is still yes, spurring me into danger zone. “You.”
Four eyes meet, two laughing, two serious.
“No really, who?” He offers me a spectacular save from a headfirst dive, but stupidly I stick to it.
“I have to go.” The one and only lie he’s told me. Also the last.
He sits with me on the bus, bouncing and rattling in the unsteady frame. He’s playing with the zipper on his jacket, then turns with anticipation scribbled in loops on his forehead. “Who do you like?” he asks me. I recall another set of lips that bore the same question, lips that I adored just as these.