I jumped as she sat down next to me. "Uh...yeah." Dolt.
"You seem kinda zoned out," she said, grinning. I rolled my eyes. "Just look at the snow!" The bench shook dangerously as she bounced up and down like a puppy. "It looks like Christmas!"
"In March? Yeah, right." I winced at my terse words, but she didn't seem to notice it. Kicking her feet back and forth, she said, "Are you sure you're really okay?"
"Why wouldn't I be okay?"
Like a duck, she pursed her lips at me. "Your only friend pretty much told you that he can't stand you, and that you're a schizophrenic jerk. Nobody should feel okay after having to hear that."
Just with her words, a unintentional replay began: Colt's blazing eyes, his choked shouting, his tears...I didn't want to relive any of that. I wanted to blot it out, to delete it forever. But instead, it played on a constant loop inside my head--over and over and over...
She placed a mittened hand on my jeans and looked me in the eyes. "Don't let the robot part of you take control again, okay? I'm here to listen, even if Colt's not." She squeezed my knee gently. "He's an idiot."
The back of my throat constricted, like a torture victim stretched out on a rack. I blinked furiously, trying to focus on the gently falling snowstorm, but the flakes kept turning blurry and melting before my eyes. All it took to undo me now was one simple action and three broken words. When had that happened?
I bit my lip until I thought the skin would break, then gathered my courage and looked her straight in the snowstorm of her eyes. I opened my mouth and--
She was crying.
"Wha--" I recoiled--I had not expected this. Had I done something wrong? "Umm...Sam? What-" Just shut up. Talking won't make anything better. Let her get control.
I guess Colt rubbed off on me more than I'd realized.
She swiped angrily at her face, avoiding looking at me like I had the plague. "Why are you the strong one?" she muttered. "Why can't I be this strong?"
I almost laughed
"Me? Strong?" I tried to smile at her. "I don't know what planet you're living on right now, but I'd like to come visit someday, alien girl."
"Don't be smart, Matt," she said, overwhelmingly serious. "You stand on your own. You take control. You don't lose it all when something terrible happens." The tears began to fall again. "I've never known anyone as strong as you."
I watched her wipe her tears away, embarrassed that I could see her emotions in such a raw and physical way...and yet, not embarrassed at the same time, because this was right. Things were slipping into place, gears began clicking together, and I knew that this was supposed to be happening, right here, right now. This was natural.
Hesitantly at first, then bravely as my courage bolstered, I wrapped an arm around her shaking shoulders and squeezed tightly, like I had seen Colt do to so many girls so many different times. "I used to think being weak was a bad thing," I said, my voice echoing across the empty parking lot. "But lately, I've realized that being too strong is the real weakness. Because--" here I took a deep breath "--because, when you're strong, you think you don't need anyone to stand by you. And that's the stupidest mistake I ever made."
The silent tears turned to heavy sobs. My throat tightened again.
"But you were wrong, earlier," I continued. "You said that I only had Colt as my friend." I swallowed the lump in my throat. "I also have you, you know."