long-term

You open the door and she’s there, her ratty grey backpack slung under one shoulder. She smiles like nothing ever happened. “They kicked me out,” she says. “You’ll let me stay, right?”

You want to ask her how she got here, how she found you, but you don’t. You step aside and she walks into your kitchen. You want to tell her to go to hell, but you don’t do that, either. You press the button on the electric kettle and grab the box of Earl Grey off the top shelf. The tea is probably long stale by now. No one’s had any in months.

She takes a large blue mug out of the cupboard and smiles at you. “I knew I could count on you,” she says, but her pale green eyes say something entirely different. The kettle clicks off and you want to empty the boiling water over her head, watch her skin blister and her smile peel off at the corners.

“You can sleep on the floor,” you say to her. You pour hot water into her mug, and watch the steam rise for a long while.

She isn’t always there, and sometimes you wonder if she’s left just as suddenly as she came, and other times you hope it, but then she glides in silent as a ghost. She doesn’t talk to you, not often, but you can feel her there at your back, and you can see her in the corner of your eye.

You hear her rustle through your books, flip through a couple of pages and then put them back on the shelf, bored. You try to concentrate on your work, but your stomach hurts too much. All you can think about is her, and the faint rustle she makes behind you. You think she’s looking through your books, flipping through a couple pages and then putting them back on the shelf, bored, but you can’t know know for sure unless you look at her.

Your heart is thudding in your chest and you feel like throwing up. You turn around.

Your boyfriend stops by your apartment to bring you flowers. You seem sad lately, he says. She’s gone right now, so you invite him in. You take the blue vase out of your cupboard and fill it with water, and he carefully cuts the stems for you. You glance over at him and he smiles. Your heart is beating loudly in your chest, and you’ve forgotten about everything else.

He hands you the bouquet, and you put it in the vase and bring it to your small kitchen table. He sits down, still smiling at you, and you’re smiling back despite everything. Then, his eyes fall on the mug on the table, filled with cold Early Grey tea. Your heart falls. He looks at you, questioningly. He knows you never use that cup.

You don’t know where she goes during the day, though sometimes you watch her walk across the parking lot from your window. Don’t come back, you want to scream at her, but you can’t. Today she turns around, and looks at you. She holds her hands in the shape of a heart, and you want to cry.

When you come home she’s sitting on your couch. She barely glances at you as you stand in the doorway. You want to scream at her. You want to ask her why, you want to ask her if she cares about what she did you, and is still doing to you. You want to say so many things, but there’s no point, there’s no satisfying answer, there’s nothing she could possibly say that would fix anything.

You want to scream at her, but instead you close the door, and you go to your room, and you don’t wonder about her.

When you wake up she’s gone, and her things are, like she was never there. You go into the kitchen, and you see broken pieces of a blue mug all over the floor, and a half-dry puddle of Earl Grey tea.

You carefully pick up the larger pieces, and sweep up the rest. You wrap the whole thing in thick brown paper before you throw it into the trash. You look at the old box of tea on the shelf, and you throw that out, too. Then you take out your cellphone, and you call your boyfriend, and you tell him that you love him for the first time.

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