Seventeen minutes pass like an eternity and you don't know how this phone call will end, because there's no obvious way of discerning anything from the long silences and monosyllabic grunting. But then she starts to cry and time goes flying by in ten minute intervals. She stays quiet at first. It's strange to you, having to pick out the telltale little noises—the tiny rhythmic hitches of breath here, and the sniffles from time to time. Normally she cries loud and for the most part unabashed. You ask her to stop, almost because you know it'll make her sound like she usually does. This hard-hearted alien that's replaced her is too much for you to take.
She apologizes, once at first and then over and over again. Neatly, smoothly, you slide back into the role of protector. You begin with your understanding silences and little humming noises. They don't seem to help much, but she doesn't cry long and then it's back to the silences and the slowed down clock.
It's funny how you can't make yourself cry in situations like these. You're free with your tears; you'll cry at a sad story. You've broken down in public reading your favorite novels over. Television and movies can make you feel like you are dying. When it matters, though, you cannot bring yourself to cry. You feel like crying, you want to be crying, and tears will even gather behind your eyes, but you cannot make them fall. Something holds you back—pride, maybe, or perhaps just fear. You don't want to sound stupid, after all. So you regulate your breathing, maintain the quiet pleas, and don't push yourself too hard.
By the time you've finished she's going to stay, but as usual, you're no longer sure she should. When you first received the notice that says she's leaving you, as always, reacted badly. This morning you sat there knowing what it would be even before you opened it, but once you did you felt the now-familiar slam of sick nerves playing in your stomach. You were warm for once but you still started shaking. When you went for the phone it was hard to walk and you thought you'd fall down the stairs but you ran them anyway.
The first time there was no answer. You sent an email and then tried again. This time her sister answered, calm enough and sounding like her. You asked for her quickly. Your words tripped over one another and you thought it might be her; when she paused and told you to hold on your mind began racing to all sorts of scenarios of being hung up on, of being passed to her mother. But another voice answered after a moment, this one half-asleep and sounding less like her own self than her sister had. The silences began then. You didn't know how to break them so you sat through them too. Once in awhile you'd manage it with tiny pathetic declarations. You could hear your own breaths shuddering when you drew them in and exhaled. You wondered if she could hear them, too, and almost hoped she did because you were doing them mostly for her benefit. As always, you instantly began to feel better in her presence. The quivers are more than likely mainly intended to make her feel guilty.
In the end it took half an hour to understand that she would stay. You began to think, as you always did, that maybe you shouldn't have called, or maybe you should tell her to go. It's just that you hate when she tries to leave like that. If you didn't fix it you'd stay sick for days, like you did last December. It wouldn't be so bad, you'd lost nearly five pounds that month, but you're not sure you have five pounds to lose anymore. As it is people ask your friends if you have an eating disorder, and sometimes you wonder that yourself.
You start telling her it's all right if she wants to go. It is, after all, if that's what she really wants. You just want to do it like this, and not in a way that makes everything seem so impossible. You could handle it, you think, if you were both in agreement and it hadn't been sprung on you the second you got out of bed.
You have work to do. You should start it, and you should call the people you've been neglecting lately, but you can't help but think she was only lying to you so she could get off the phone. You tell yourself she'd never do that, and it's probably true, but you can't help but think it.
Later she logs on and over the next few days apologies are plentiful. Things are in place again, just like that, and you put it out of mind and pretend it won't happen again.