You said my name like it was some kind of secret. Every time it seemed to hang in front of me so that I walked into its invisible threads that trapped me like a spider web. Your voice was soft, but I can’t remember what was said; it is possible we weren’t talking at all. I was wandering through my mind, planning the future, wondering if you would have some part it. I was completely satisfied that you were thinking of something else. You were never one to share your feelings, leaving others to guess your needs. We were not in a hurry, so I let my feet shuffle across the floor, unconsciously dreading the moment you turned the other way to algebra class.
“Don’t you get sick of learning about wars in history?” I offered, looking to instigate one of your classic rants. I always trapped you so easily into a debate. We countered conclusions with laughter.
I wanted to see you smile, but you snapped, “You don’t have any idea what you are talking about.”
I stopped dead, startled by your words. I had never heard you shout. You never raised your voice. My blood drained, and I felt like a paper doll, left to drop from a child’s hand in favor of something more entertaining. I noted how your eyes seemed to turn black with rage, making it impossible to read your expression.
“I’m sorry.” I slurred each letter, stuttering, and searching for the right words. You raised your right hand, your sign of acceptance, of defeat. You turned to walk on.
“Hey,” I demanded, unwilling to dismiss it. The word stopped you abruptly.
“Hey,” I repeated softer. “What’s wrong?”
You turned to the window. The faces around us blurred, their voices evaporating along with their importance. You chewed your lips, but words were failing.
“My brother, Jeff,” you began, “He’s on his way to Iraq.”
Unconsciously, my hand rose. I wanted to show you some form of compassion, but I didn’t, unsure of how you would react, what you would want. I didn’t know you had a brother. I didn’t know he was in the service. I stared dumbly. I didn’t know his name was Jeff. You were my best friend. You knew everything about me. You were everything to me, and I felt like the worst friend in the world.
“I’m sorry,” I said lamely, wishing I had thought of the perfect thing to say. I wanted more than anything to tell you how much I cared for you.
Suddenly, your hand clapped on my shoulder, your gaze, finally, falling on mine. A smile smeared across your face.
“Thanks,” you uttered, quietly.
With another nod, you turned the other way towards your class. I stood motionless for a moment, watching you walk away. I was amazed. Somehow, you knew I cared, and that was all you needed.