357. - Lucien
Her hair is short.
Stupidly, it's the first thing that I notice. It looks really good on her. She looks tired; her make-up has run a little below her eyes, like it used to do at the end of a long day, and I suppose this is one of the longer days she's ever made.
"Hey, Brie." Her smile is careful, and it doesn't make her eyes sparkle like it usually does. I'm feeling a thousand things at once with her standing her, where she is not a ghost in the mirror or a hallucination on the street. There's a little voice that screams at me to go up and hug her, to kiss her temple and hold her close to me, before I offer to go and buy Chinese for her while she's in there supporting her best friend. All the things I would have done if this was still September. "Actually... I was hoping to talk to Lucien for a little bit."
Her voice breaks when she says my name - just ever so slightly, barely a trip in the sentence, but she never used to trip over my name. She used to say my name like it was the most certain thing in her life.
Brie looks a little surprised, but nods. "Sure. I mean, you gotta ask Lucien in the end, but I'll give you two some privacy." He turns to me, his expression a mix of between encouragement and pity. "Let me know when you go home, okay?"
"Absolutely." My voice is rasp for no reason. Brie bumps his forearm to mine before hopping off and heading back towards the room. Passing Emma, he brushes a hand over her shoulder. Such a casual and friendly gesture, but it makes her lips twitch in an almost smile and my heart shatters a little bit more. The almost smile doesn't stick though, disappearing with Gabriel. I gesture for her to sit next to me, which she does with some hesitation. Nothing but tension is exchanged. Our eyes don't meet, there's an empty seat between us, but I swear I can hear her heart beating.
"I was just dropping off some things for Brie." I say quietly, feeling like I have to explain what the hell I am even doing here. "I had no intention of becoming a part of this, I swear."
"I know." She looks down on her hands, fumbling with the hem of her shirt. "Kenna send me out to talk to you."
"But she hates me." I blurt it out before I can even try and stop myself, but it gets a chortled laugh out of Emma; she quickly covers her mouth with her hand to hide it.
"Yeah. She does. And so do I."
I knew that, but hearing her actually say the words feels like acid on my skin. I nod. "That's fair."
I don't feel like I have any right to speak. She wanted to talk to me, no doubt to tell me exactly where we stand, but nothing comes from her. In the room next to the waiting area, a baby starts wailing. A nurse behind the counter hurries towards the room, and the feeling that I'm intruding by being here only intensifies.
"Listen, I know we're at a hospital right now, but I could really use a smoke right now." I say. I feel so fragile and small. I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't be interrupting this whole thing, I'm the last thing Emma should be worrying about right now. Emma looks at me for a second, still never quite meeting my eyes, but then she lets out a shaky sigh.
"Me too, actually."
As we head downstairs together - Emma clearly knows the way much better and in reality it takes just three minutes, instead of the fifteen it took me - I get a painful flashback to us smoking together outside the firm, where some insults were exchanged. Was that really just over a year ago? It feels like I've lived seven lifetimes between then and now.
I offer Emma one of my cigarettes once we're out, because she didn't take her purse when coming out to talk to me. Out of habit, I go to light it for her, and she actually leans in to let me, but we seem to realise it at the same time. She straigtens and I just hand her my lighter. After the first few inhalations, I feel my heartbeat slow just a little.
"Brie told me you're a professor now." I offer up, which feels even more awkward than this already is. This is Emma. It shouldn't be awkward. She was a part of me, we didn't do awkward, but now we seem to consist of it. Emma nods thoughtfully.
"Good for you."
More silence. I should just leave and let her go back to Kenna and Tom. For some reason, I don't. Despite all the painful memories it's raking up, I am glad to see Emma again. To know for certain that she is alive and well, which she truly seems to be.
"I like your hair."
She grabs a strand of it, like she had forgotten she'd cut it short. "Thanks. I thought it might be time for a change."
I'm about to make a comment about Eschieve once trying to explain me that girl deal with emotional distress by doing things to their hair, but I swallow it.
"How's life been for you? Any good parties lately?" Am I imagining things, or does she sound kind of begrudging? I'm not sure. I used to be able to read her so well, but now both of us have thrown up walls of several meters thick, and I don't think I'll ever get back on the other side of it.
I let out a soft laugh which sounds more sad than humorous, and shake my head. "No, I... took a break for a while."
"Oh yeah, I think Eschieve mentioned something like that."
I keep forgetten that everyone is on speaking terms with Emma except me and to prove that yet again, the conversation falls silent. I offer her a second cigarette, which she takes, but I'm pretty sure we both just want to get out of this. She keeps anxiously checking her phone, no doubt not to miss any updates from upstairs.
There are so many things I want to ask, like if she would have come out if Kenna hadn't forced her, or if she would have yelled at me if we hadn't been at a hospital. Emma was never the yelling type, but I think she would happily target me after all that I put her through. I don't know if she wants me to pretend we're okay, for Kenna's sake, or if she wants an opening to yell at me. I'm not sure what I want, either. So instead I ask about the safest subject I can think of.
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