"Stay with me; I want to be alone."
- Joey Adams
For three days, I tried to forget the way Sebastian had jerked away from me as if he’d been burned. For seventy two hours, I tried not to think about how we’d left things, how I’d all but run back to my house alone. For 4,320 minutes, I tried to tell myself that I hadn’t just lost my best friend and that it wasn’t my fault again. For 259,200 seconds, I failed.
My phone sat silent and still on my desk; the only time the screen had illuminated in the past three days was when I compulsively checked for messages from Sebastian. There were none. I didn’t blame him - it wasn’t as if I was eager to text him either. The last words I’d said to him were burned into my brain, and I had no idea where to go from there.
“I’m sorry,” I had said, my voice bordering on desperate. “I just can’t. Not with you. I’m sorry.”
“What does that mean?” he had replied. I could still see the embarrassment flushing his cheeks, the uncertainty in his eyes as they avoided mine.
“I don’t want to lose you.”
I had lost him.
The words on my computer screen seemed more accusing than comforting as they screamed, “You are valid.” I snapped the lid shut and headed downstairs for a glass of water. When I rounded the corner, I found my mom sitting at the kitchen table, a stack of papers spread in front of her as she stared straight ahead at the wall. She jerked, then looked over at me, a tentative smile and red eyes turning my way.
“Hana,” she said. “I haven’t seen much of you these past few days. How are you?”
I shrugged. I didn’t want to talk to her.
“You look like you’ve been crying,” she commented as I walked past her to the cupboard.
My mom didn’t call me on it. “I noticed you haven’t been going out at night lately.” I glanced at her sharply. That was meant to be sneaky. She just gave me a soft smile. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk?”
I filled my glass with water without paying attention to my movements. It was cold in my hands, refreshing against the humid summer air. “I think I screwed up a friendship,” I found myself admitting for the same reason you tell embarrassing stories about yourself. With a sigh, I slumped into the chair across from her.
For a moment, my mom studied me, then she got up and crossed to the refrigerator. Without a word, she set a half full carton of ice cream in front of me and slid me a spoon. “Tell me about it.”
“Don’t you have work to do?”
She gave a half shrug. “It’s nine o’clock at night. Anyone who works this late is just avoiding something else,” she dismissed. “So go ahead.”
I took a spoonful of ice cream, keeping my eyes on the crystals lacing the lid as I said, “The guy who lives next door, Sebastian, and I have been hanging out for the past few weeks. And we’re actually pretty close.” I felt awkward talking to my mom about this. We didn’t have that kind of relationship. “But then a few nights ago, he… wanted to be more than friends. And I said no. And now I don’t think we’re anything, which is…” I scowled and dug my spoon into the hard ice cream. “Romance ruins everything.”
“You don’t like him?” she asked, leaning on her slender elbows.
“I like him as a friend,” I replied, almost angrily. “But I don’t do relationships. I don’t see why we can’t just be friends. Isn’t that enough?”
My mom nodded. “For some people. For some people it’s not. Have you talked to him about this?”
“No, I haven’t talked to him at all since that night,” I admitted.
“You should,” she advised. “Tell him you want to go back to just being friends. If you two are truly close, I’m sure he’ll understand. He’s probably missing you too right now.”
I sighed. “Doubt it.” He had other friends. He didn’t need me. “Besides, it would be way too awkward now. We can never go back to what we were.”
“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.”
“I make everything awkward.”
My mom sighed. “Hana, I know you don’t want to hear what I’m saying. I get that. Just, please, if he comes to apologize and wants to just be friends, give him a shot, okay?” She reached out and touched my hand. I almost flinched. These past few weeks had changed her as much as they had me. “You’ve been happy lately; I could tell. Isn’t it worth a little awkwardness to stay that way?”
I stood and picked up my water. “We’ll see,” I said. This was too much baring of emotions for one conversation with her. Baby steps. Pausing in the doorway, I added, “No promises.”
It was early yet, but I didn’t feel like being awake any longer. Consciousness led to thinking which led to the hot ball of embarrassment bouncing around in my stomach, and I hated that more than anything. I followed my nightly routine on auto-pilot, then climbed into bed. It took a little while, but eventually I drifted off into a fitful sleep.
My prayers for it to be a dreamless one were not answered, and I found myself running through a hazy forest, Sebastian somewhere behind me hissing my name. He sounded muffled, and my feet picked up speed. My heart was pounding, and I could hear it echoing around me. It sounded strange - hollow and uneven, more like knocking than a heartbeat. I tripped and my eyes flew open, taking in the dark bedroom. The pounding continued.
“Hana! Hana, please let me in,” Sebastian’s muffled voice begged.
I sat up, my eyes snapping to the window where Sebastian’s face loomed in the moonlight. “Sebastian?” I breathed, too quiet for him to hear me through the glass. He motioned for me to come over.
After only a moment of hesitation, I slipped out of bed and headed to the window. This time, my heart was pounding for real. The night air was warm, but a steady breeze chilled my bare arms. I stepped back and folded them across my chest as Sebastian climbed through the window.
“Seb, what the hell-“ He looked over at me, and I stopped. No longer cast in a haze of sleep, I could see Sebastian’s face clearly in the moonlight, and it was streaked in tears. “Seb-“
“I’m sorry,” Sebastian interrupted, his voice holding a tone I had never heard before. It made me uncomfortable, and I had the wild notion that if I flipped on the lights, this strange illusion might be dispelled and he would go back to being his normal self. I don’t know why I didn’t try it. “I’m sorry for trying to kiss you, and I understand if you hate me for it, I shouldn’t have done that, and I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, and you probably don’t want to see me right now, but I didn’t know where else to go, I’m sorry-“
“Wait, stop,” I said, stepping forward with my arms out like one might approach a skittish dog. “I don’t hate you. It’s my fault, not yours,” I assured him. It wasn’t hard when I believe it. “But what do you mean you don’t know where else to go? What’s wrong?”
Sebastian sat down on the edge of my bed, and I moved to sit next to him. I still felt awkward and tense, but for a whole new set of reasons. “I promise I’ll tell you. Just… not now, okay? Please.”
I didn’t even think of disagreeing. “Okay.”
There was a short pause while Sebastian drew in a shaky breath. “Can I stay here tonight? I’ll sleep on the floor, or on the couch, or wherever you want, I just… can’t go home tonight. I’m sor-“
“Stop apologizing,” I cut him off, my voice harsher than I intended. “Of course you can,” I continued, softer. “Do you need anything else?”
“No…” Sebastian hesitated, then shook his head. “No.”
I pulled the fluffy comforter off the end of my bed - it was too hot for me to use it anyway - and spread it on the floor. From my closet, I grabbed a few more blankets and piled them on top, then placed one of the pillows from my bed at the head. “Are you sure you’ll be comfortable here? I’ll sleep on the floor if you want.”
“Please don’t,” Sebastian said, still not meeting my eyes. He had his glasses on, and they made him look even less like his normal self. “This is just fine, thank you.” He lowered himself to the floor, smoothing an idle hand across the blankets.
As he curled in on himself, I hesitated, looking down at his back as he took a shuddering breath. I considered saying something, but it didn’t seem like the time. If I were that upset, I would want to be left alone. But then again, Sebastian knew dozens of places where he could be alone, and yet he came here. I was still frowning as I climbed back into my own bed. “Goodnight, Seb.”
There was a long silence, then a light sniff. Almost too low to hear, he whispered, “Thank you, Hana.”
I half felt like crying myself.