The night was cold and the walk was long, but she barely felt either. She marched one foot in front of the other, arms wrapped tight around her abdomen, struggling to keep her mind empty. It will be over soon, she thought. One way or another, it will be over soon.
Mike’s Diner was open and brightly lit, as it always was. A group of teens sat in one corner, joking and laughing amongst themselves. She tried to remember what it was like to be that age, to be out late at night and free because nobody expected anything of you. She couldn’t. She felt a pang of sadness, and when she realized it was the first emotion she’d felt in longer than she could remember, she was happy. Things were looking up already, she thought.
Alyssa was sitting in the corner, a glassy look to her eyes, dark circles under them. She slid into the booth across from Alyssa and forced something that she hoped looked like a smile onto her face.
“Thanks for coming out so late.”
“Yeah. Yeah, don’t mention it.”
“Really. It means a lot to me. I know this can’t be easy for you.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you hungry? Can I get you anything? They make good pancakes.”
Alyssa reached across the table and took her hands. “It’s okay. You don’t have to get anything. You just talk, and I’ll just listen.”
She looked down at Alyssa’s hands, the skin so soft and smooth, and she thought, I can’t do this to her. I can’t.
But she had to. It was killing her.
She looked up into Alyssa’s eyes. She motioned for the two of them to bring their heads close together, like the giggling girls sharing secrets in the far corner of the diner. She spoke.