by Rebecca Schaub

They had been on their way back from the grocery store when she had done it

again. The context didn’t matter. What she said didn’t matter. It didn’t even matter what

she had felt so terrible about this time. All that was of importance were the two ugly

words that moved past her lips once more. Her face tinted a familiar harsh red and her

eyes moved away from his. Hands gripped the steering wheel just a bit more tightly,

knuckles whitening under pressure, her dark gaze focusing on the road ahead.

She was in her last year of university. Another year of moments that felt like the

end of the world. Dark circles lived under her eyes. Sometimes they were puffy, evidence

of anxious tears that she couldn’t control. Her nails were stubby and red, often bleeding

at the cuticles from constant picking. She often lifted a hand to her collarbone, checking

her skin for what? She didn’t know. If she was thin enough, good enough, sane enough.

He was her first college boyfriend. Everything felt new, too fragile at times. It felt

so easy for her to wreck it all at a moment’s notice. To say the wrong thing, act the wrong

way, and completely ruin everything. Apologizing felt like a shield, a way to protect

herself against any wrongdoing she could do. Did.

If she felt she had come off as strange.

If she felt she had worn the wrong outfit.

If she felt she had been an embarrassment.

If she felt like she should be the one to blame.

Over and over again, it was “I’m sorry”.

“You know, I hate it when you do that.”

“What?” The color had drained from her face, leaving a ghoulish pale. Now she’d

done it. She had finally messed it all up. It was only a matter of time, of course. The time

flame of happiness that had been keeping her afloat for this past month had finally blown

out. She’d finally destroyed it. It suddenly felt difficult to keep tears at bay, to even

breathe at all.

“When you say you’re sorry all the time. It makes me feel like I should be angry

with you, but I’m just not. There’s nothing. It’s okay.”

His voice hadn’t been malicious. The words were not unkind. At first she had felt

like apologizing again. She even went so far as to part her lips briefly to speak before

shutting them once more. But instead of saying anything, bypassing even a quiet nod, she

reached across the armrest between them and gripped his hand, squeezing it just once.

Her gaze stayed trained on the road before her as they continued their drive home,

staying comfortable in the new silence between them. She wasn’t sure if he had realized

it himself, but something had changed. He had shifted something within her, made a

difference. She wasn’t sure where this difference lied, or even how the change had

happened, but it had. Her eyes didn’t stray from the road before her, from the endless

gray and yellow of the college town streets as dusk shifted to night. A thank you would

soon replace all of her apologies