Flash Fiction Friday: Affected
They were sitting on the low brick wall outside the north wing. He was in a grey peacoat, and she was in a puffy tan jacket with a faux-fur-lined hood. Her boots didn’t touch the ground, she was too short, and whenever he made her laugh, her feet would kick up and then drop back down to bounce her heels against the bricks. She had wavy black hair pulled back by a shiny headband. I’d met her in my calc class this year. From where I stood, I couldn’t hear her laugh, but I knew it was perfect, so feminine. I’d tried to mold my own laughter to match hers but it always sounded like I was trying too hard, which I was. Perfection like Maria’s could only be natural.
I moved closer to them, still behind the tidy row of cypress trees. From here I could make out his face. He looked fresh, sharply defined in the bright yellow morning light. There was something distinctly European about him. I knew he was American, he’d lived in Hanover since birth, but his deep-set eyes and hatchet nose were unique. He had caught my eye last month after a history lecture and we’d shared notes and a few conversations. It was difficult for me to approach him, even for a simple hello. With each exchange, the mounting impossibility of his mutual interest became unbearable and so I’d asked for help.
Their voices were audible now but not discernable. I had the feeling the wind was blowing their words toward me, but like leaves in a zephyr they fell short and fluttered to the pavement in front of me, too far to reach. She was laughing now, again, and so was he. He said something and raised his eyebrows; she looked at her folded hands and replied; he shook his head and laughed again. There was a pause, and they looked in different directions, a little bit uncertain. She bit her lip, and opened her mouth, but he spoke first. Had she asked about me yet? I held my breath, but then his hand reached up and touched her cheek gently.
I knew it! She looked almost — God, but I knew this would happen. It was like the ugly sister had sent the princess to do her bidding. His hand dropped to his side and I hated it for never having touched my face. He said something — and why had she agreed with me so quickly? She’d said they had mutual friends, but of course they did, wasn’t that how every couple met? Between him and me, we had too many degrees of separation for it to work out. Maybe the math was just against us from the start. I grit my teeth together and watched her jump off the wall and make a gesture with her hand, but my eyes were blurring so badly that I couldn’t tell what it was. She hadn’t known I would watch. What would she tell me had happened? And how long would she wait to break the truth to me? I spat into the bushes and knew I would never do what Maria had just done to me. I swore I would never change the way I laughed.