AN: This is a one-shot submission for a tumblr project known as musedays (check it out) and posting here too because feedback makes me happy :3
This started out with a strict plot plan, but rambled on too long, and got me tying myself up in knots, so it ended up a lot more visceral and vague than planned.
Honest feedback gets muchos loving ^.^
She presses on the pencil until it starts to bore through the paper with each stroke
Go away. Go away. Go away. Go away.
She stayed after class for peace and quiet. She stayed so she could get ahead with her work. She stayed because she knew there was no one to eat lunch with today, and hiding behind a studious attitude softened the blow of being alone. His arrival ruined everything. He can't take a hint. He keeps talking, talking, talking, in that smoke-riddled voice that sounds both too old and too young, and makes her ears hurt.
She can hear him coming over. The shift of his trainer soles scuffing over the linoleum floor of the Art room. She can feel him loom over her shoulder, feel his eyes moving over her work, taking it apart, analyzing it – analyzing her. It makes her skin crawl. Her shoulders hunch up as she curls in on herself.
"Interesting," he says. His finger thuds down to land a fraction away from her pencil, in one of the few white gaps. He's pointing to a pair of eyes staring up out of the page.
"You could make those look better by softening the lines. Break it up a little – use some shading. Especially in the irises. They look completely flat."
Did I ask for your opinion?
"Thanks," she says, quickly turning her head to flash him a weak smile, "I'll give that a try later. It's only a rough doodle though."
His finger rises out of the way again, and she thinks he might have shrugged.
"Doodles can be good quality too, you know."
"I'm sure," she says.
He steps to the side and drops down to crouch next to her chair, his arms lying over the table top, parallel to the bottom of the next page, full from corner to corner with graphite scrawls.
"So what's this all about then?" he asks. She can feel him looking up at her, his eyes working under her skin like needles.
None of your business.
When she goes for too long without saying anything, his elbow knocks against her forearm, demanding an answer.
"Nothing, really," she shrugs.
"I'm guessing it's not coursework," he says, rising out of his crouch a little to study the scrawls on the second page. "You know what it reminds me of?"
Go back to your side of the room and leave me alone.
She shrugs, and lowers her face closer to the page, letting her hair shut him out like a curtain.
"It reminds me of this thing…uh…people…" You mean therapists… "used to get me to do when I was a kid. Take the things that scared me that lived in my head, and put them on paper. It was a way of drawing them out – to stop them from bothering me, you know?"
She knew. He didn't need to demand an answer from her this time. It still wasn't enough though.
"So is that what you're doing then?" he asks, after another moment of silence.
"No," she lies.
"I think you are." She hears another thud of his finger coming down on paper. "I have this one too!"
He sounds almost gleeful. A joyful exclamation of finding a common trait with her.
She can't help it. She looks up, despite herself, to see what he is pointing at. A crude figure – meant to be kneeling, but looking more like both legs end at the knee – low detail hands pressed against its chest, while a more detailed pair emerge from a darkened gash that runs from its throat to is naval. Two shadowy, pointed ovals indicate a pair of eyes in the depths.
She takes a deep breath.
"Of course you do," she says, her voice half as bold as her words. "You're the one who told me about it."
She did it. Her heart races and her tongue tingles. She actually did it. She pointed to the elephant in the room.
Before she twists her head back to her sketchbook she sees a look cross his face like a tremor. A sudden drop of bravado, confidence momentarily switched off…sheepish, even.
Two things it is definitely not are confused or surprised. So he does remember…
He turns his head away, burying the lower half of his face in his arms, eyes fixed on something either a million miles away or inside his own head. She sneaks a sidelong glance at him, watching his reaction. His eyelids shift as he looks down, and she wonders if he is looking for any more 'familiar' monsters. Once upon a time (what looks like a lifetime ago for him; what feels like a moment ago for her) he tried to share them all with her. Weren't best friends meant to share stuff like that?
She hopes against hope he doesn't go back to those eyes at the top of her page, give them a second look…see some strange familiarity in their shape. Long, perfect, even lidded almonds, just like his. She's suddenly thankful for her less than superior drawing skills.
He rises out of the crouch and runs a hand across his face.
"This stuff," he says, "it's all bull. You shouldn't fear things in your head when there's so much outside that's worth being scared of."
She turns to look up at him – take in a face so familiar yet so alien at the same time. Six years apart, and he comes back a stranger. She's not really surprised – just sad. Sad that it can never be the way it used to be between them. Sad that every time she sees him now, her heart starts to race for all the wrong reasons. Sad that he remembered her – remembered them – as clearly as she remembered him, yet let her shrink away from him, avert her eyes and hold her breath around him for sixth whole months before reaching out.
He holds her gaze, the expression that flickered across his face earlier back in place, but settled this time. For a moment, it makes her think that he might not be such a stranger after all – that underneath the brash bravado, the stories that make her stomach turn, the attitude that makes her skin crawl, he is still the boy who makes her smile, who tells her everything, who can help her say, do and think things that no one else ever could.
The classroom door bursts open, and two girls rush in, bearing food from the vending machines and attentions that are for him and him alone. They set up on the table where his own abandoned work lies, and he is quick to join them. As he eats and talks, she chants silently inside her head:
Don't come back; Don't come back; Don't come back.