They were waiting for pizza when he told her she seemed miserable a lot. She had been using the side of her nail to scrape at the skin on her other hand. She heard him as she finally got the three tiny splinters out of the side of her ring finger. It felt satisfying to gouge away the small patch of calloused skin and liberate these tiny pieces, separate herself from them. They had been there for quite a while; it was time.
She registered his words with the usual wave of shock and warm ooze of shame. Then regret. She knew she shouldn’t have told him anything. No divulging fears, no admitting hopelessness, no sharing the stories of the dead people. Then he never would have known. She sure wouldn’t be paying for it now.
But it always did get to this point. She thinking she was happy enough, pleasant enough, even keeled enough, doing enough for others, and they – whoever – being overpowered by the darkness anyway.
The darkness had been there as long as she could remember, much longer than the splinters, but not unlike them. Both were unnatural additions at first, but then had settled in and become part of her. Painful at the moment of impact, but then the pain had dulled to something entirely tolerable. She hardly knew she was walking around with it all anymore, until someone experienced it and reminded her.
She did her best to look at him without giving away how small she was feeling. She tried to sound casual, “I don’t feel like eating here. They don’t look like they’re ready for customers.” He sat across the small table from her, quiet, watching. She didn’t care. All she wanted at that point was to get herself to a safe place. Home. Where she could be alone and awful and it would burden no one.
As a child she would wish to be gone from sight often. Anything to avoid the adults that seemed so put-out having her around. She was young and sad, they were old and all business. Not particularly interested in the care and feeding of their younger brother’s two little kids that had recently lost a mother. Sometimes it got better if she did things for them, like helped with laundry or yard work, but mostly it was easier if it was more like she didn’t exist.
His voice brought her back, “where do you want to eat then?” Fuck the pizza; she wanted to run. “Maybe I should just go home, so you can enjoy the rest of your day off. I didn’t realize you considered me to be so unhappy.” There was a pause and then he offered, “Well, that’s one option, but I don’t want you to go.”
He told her he didn’t need to be apart from her. He didn’t need her to stop sharing. He wasn’t asking for a different person. He wished for her to see her potential and the ways in which she limited herself. He wished for her to take better care of her heart. Then he took her hand and kissed the back of it. The tender gesture broke her tension and need to be gone from him.
Their order arrived. The top of the box was printed with a grayscale image of a European cobbled road curving alongside an old stone building. They took the pizza and snuck it into a pub down the street, tipping the bartender with a slice and a five dollar bill for looking the other way.
This time they sat side by side at the small wooden table. They took long pulls from their dark beers as they watched the sun set over the water. The pizza was delicious, warm and flavorful. Her finger hadn’t felt this good in quite a while.