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I loved you in the days when those two awful words meant nothing.
My father muttered, “She’s gone,” in a grief-laced voice I’d never heard before. I didn’t understand. He stood by the casket, scuffed dress shoes planted in the grass, watching me. You darted forward, whisking me away from the shroud of my father’s coffee-scented grief. We ran among the trees, my hand clutched in yours, playing games where mothers didn’t die.
It’s different now. Instead of coffeecake, you are black coffee. Bitterness lingers about you, wafting through the air. I stay the same; I am the pale glass of milk, unneeded and always watching. No one likes milk anymore.
You handed me a steaming mug, your dark hands clasped tight around its center.
“Try it. It’s good.” I took a tentative sip. The bitterness tasted almost rancid. You burst out laughing, your teeth shining like diamonds.
“What’s the matter?” Your coal-colored eyes glinted with mischief.
“You drink this stuff?” Words spewed from my mouth as fast as the coffee-scented caffeine rushing through my veins.
“Yeah, you don’t?” You gave me a cool half-smile. I flipped my chocolate hair back, waiting for a real answer.
You glanced at me. “Hey, Gia, it’s not about the taste. It’s a cup of black pride.”
I smirked at your suddenly serious demeanor. “Are you sure it’s legal?”
Your smile returned. “Well . . . drink up.” You held out my mug, waiting. I wrinkled my nose.
You set the mug down reverently. You were solemn as you raised your steaming cup to your lips.
“So, what do you think?” I leaned back, waiting for the answer.
You took a slow sip, as if testing its strength. I smiled.
“It tastes like pride. It tastes like holidays and waking up early in the mornings and anger and love and family so close it’s like they’re always with you.” It felt as if you were taunting me with the family I’d never have. “It’s how I grew up, you know?” Hollowly, I remembered my mother.
“Yeah.” My words were empty and filled with longing.
We leaned against my linoleum countertop. You still held my coffee, feebly proffering it, while sipping your own. I watched you, amazed by the person you were, or rather, the person I was not.
As I walk down the halls, I hear cool whispers ahead of me. You murmur something into a girl’s ear. She, a striking beauty accented with strawberry lip-gloss, leans back against the lockers and you kiss her. I walk past you, feeling invisible. Once I was your best friend. Now, I am only a reminder of childhoods past, a girl beneath notice. I feel a light tap on my shoulder.
I turn around, feeling overdressed in a frilly jacket and dress. “Yes?” My voice is achingly high. You watch me, eyebrows raised in concern.
“Are you all right?” I notice faintly how deep your voice is.
“Shouldn’t you be with your girlfriend or something?”
“Andrea will be all right for a minute.”
“Do you even like her?” I purse my lips, trying not to seem needy. When did you change?
“She’s a good girl.”
“Oh, well, in that case. I don’t think you’re the best judge of character.”
“ Are you okay, Georgia?” Your dark eyes gaze at me, but I refuse to let you know my feelings. Not after you didn’t care for so long.
“Yes, I’m fine.” What did you think I’d say?
“I’m here for you, you know. I heard from your dad that you weren’t doing so well.” I watch the people flowing past us.
“Great. Does my dad give you the weather every morning too?”
“Georgia, I know how you feel.”
“I’m sure you do, yeah.” I keep my gaze trained on the wall, my face impassive.
“Stop it.” You scrutinize me. I clasp my books to my chest, feeling inadequate.
“Come on, can you at least give me a chance? I’d listen if you want.” You plead, but I am stronger than you think.
“I’ve got to get to class.”
“Just give me a chance, okay?” You glare at me, your short hair and steady eyes defined in the harsh fluorescent lights.
“Okay,” I whisper.
“Which way are you going?”
“The cafeteria.” As we walk down the hallway, you talk to me in hushed whispers. As we reach the cafeteria, you rest your arm across my shoulders. In the lunchroom, I’m jostled by seniors pushing past me, bearing cheesy pizza and golden fries, but I barely notice. At the cash register, I take a Styrofoam cup and fill it to the top with black pride.