Intermittent Signals

Elizabeth sat on a grassy patch near her dorm building, a book balanced on her lap, her head against the seat of one of the benches. Her eyes were closed and her face tilted towards the sun in an attempt to make the most of the rapidly declining warmth, before brisk winds and grey skies took their place. Several minutes passed before she finally willed herself to open her eyes and continue reading, but she found that any attempt to understand what was on the page was futile — her thoughts were elsewhere.

She had never thought of herself as the type to let something as trivial as a boy consume her thoughts, but she couldn’t get through a sentence of her book without remembering the look of focus on Zach’s face as he tried to solve a problem with her the night before or the warmth of his touch when he squeezed her hand before saying good night. Realizing she had been staring at the same page for five minutes, she shook her head in a futile attempt to clear it.

It seemed like hours had passed before she finally made it through her reading — the warm breeze she had first felt when she sat down to work was quickly becoming cooler, and she could see streaks of pink and orange in the sky. She took out the elastic in her hair, letting her unruly curls fall down her back, and put her jacket on before finally standing up to go back to her dorm. She was barely paying attention to her surroundings on her walk back — kicking around stones she encountered along the way, pausing to admire the sunset, scrolling through her phone aimlessly — when she looked ahead and stopped in her tracks. She could see Zach standing several feet in front of her, his arm wrapped around the waist of a girl she vaguely recognized from her English class.

Elizabeth felt suddenly nauseous. Knots tightened in her stomach, and though her expression remained unchanged, she knew if she looked in the mirror, her face would be a deep, flushed red. The sound of their laughter from where she stood frozen was paralyzing. She stood completely still, hating herself instantly for making something out of nothing, for caring so easily without caution. As the sound of their laughter finally disappeared, and the two of them became nothing more than a small speck ahead of her, she forced herself to walk the rest of the small distance to her room.

Elizabeth reminded herself that Zach was just a boy, that she was overreacting, that she had other, more important things to worry about. She was mortified that her feelings were so clearly unrequited, and the knots in her stomach were refusing to budge, but she was determined not to let it show — she waited until she was in the comfort of her room with the door locked before hastily dialing a number on her phone and holding it to her ear.

“Hello, darling! I was waiting for your call today.”

“I was caught up in some work. But mom, you won’t believe what just happened.” Elizabeth began to recount the events of the past hour, trying to paint the story as a humorous misunderstanding on her part and not the blow to her confidence that it actually was. She could tell how fake her voice sounded on the phone — there was no way her mom wouldn’t pick up on it too — but she refused to play the victim and admit to how genuinely she was hurt.

Her mom, immediately aware she was more distressed than she was letting on, spent the rest of the conversation reminding her that it was okay to feel upset. Just listening to her steady, reassuring voice brought comfort, and she began to open up about the shock she felt having suddenly seen them together, the sting from having completely misread her own situation. Her mother listened, validated her feelings and truly made her realize she didn’t need to feel as humiliated as she did.

Elizabeth hung up the phone in better spirits than before. It was barely nine in the evening, but she changed into her pajamas, curled up in bed and shut her eyes tightly, taking her mother’s repeated promise to heart that “tomorrow will be better”.

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