**Content Warning:** This story contains depictions of and allusions to the abuse of vulnerable populations, such as those with disabilities, LGBTQA+, and children of abusive parents, and may contain content that some may find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.
Disclaimer: The following story is based on true events, but the names of people, places, dates, and other identifiers have been changed to ensure anonymity. The only name left unchanged is my own.
I stared at Bea’s lips as they moved, half-registering the words as they vibrated the air molecules between us. The kettle clicked off, and she turned to the teacup and licorice tea. Her soft pale skin and hazel eyes glowed beneath a halo of an artificial burgundy pixie cut. I’d never had a crush like this before.
“Here now, this will help.”
I smiled as Bea passed me the piping cup, my sleeves pulled up over my hands as I wrapped my palms around the vessel and felt the warmth through the porcelain. Sitting dazed on her dorm bed with my eyes fixed into the cup of tea, the back of her hand pressed gently against the side of my face and forehead.
“Have you been to the clinic?”
I tried to speak, but my voice, entirely shot, sputtered; no words came out. Defeated, I shook my head.
“You’re sick, Lo.” Her head tilted, and she let out a sigh, raising half of her mouth in a way that I found more bewitching than any other woman I’d met in my life.
I looked up at her, unaware of my facial expression that resulted in her busting out laughing. It must have changed because she sat next to me on the bed, her own face changing in a way that I couldn’t understand. It lost energy – the expression fell into that chasm my brain can never quite figure out. Above us loomed a framed black and white image of The Cure – a gift from her absent mother. It had been a fun past time to look at the poster and try to guess if one was her dad based on her chin and height. Raised by her aunt and grandmother, she knew her mother had been a roadie and had gotten pregnant on their 1992 US tour.
“I’m leaving at the end of this semester.”
Pain blossomed in my chest as I forced eye contact, staring into the peaks and valleys of her hazel eyes. Bea contained an internal sun only visible upon close examination of her irises. Around her pupils flecks of golds and greens radiated out and emerged from a stormy brown-grey sea. I memorized her eyes as I waited for her to continue. When she began to speak, I focused on the bridge of her nose to try and appear as though I maintained eye contact while my attention shifted to my ears.
“I need to go home to Lennoxburg. My grandmother is sick, and,” she paused, “I don’t know if college is for me anyway.” Turning her head away from me, she stared at her door and lowered her head. “I’m not smart enough for this. First person in my family to try – first person in my family to fail.”
Inside my head, I screamed at myself, DO SOMETHING. Instead, I sat there with Bea in silence as I sipped licorice tea next to the most beautiful woman in the world. Attempting to will my body to do anything to tell her, a panic rumbled beneath the surface. What if she doesn’t like you back?
“You look so rough. Here – I’ll grab some of these tea bags and walk you back.”
Walking through the cold December air of that Friday evening, the world disappeared. At the front of the building, she insisted on walking me up to my room. Outside that door, she faced me and lifted both corners of her mouth and tilted her head.
“Feel better, okay?” She hesitated, waiting. “I’m leaving Tuesday, so you probably won’t see me again.” And with that, she attempted to give me our first and last embrace before I retreated into the room, confused and hurt by it all.