by Jessica Fritsche
It only took one word to punch him in the gut, hard and blunt like a tackle on the field, right between his ribs in the tender spots where his organs lay dormant and still, his body in shock. He tried to make his mouth form a smile, something comforting, anything better than the tremulous ring of surprise (an unattractive moue on an attractive face) but it eluded him and formed words instead, tumbling out like acrobats. When, he asked, how long and how did she know, how did she feel and what would they do and did she still love him, was she sorry? He was sorry, both on the surface and deep down, sorry for the loss of everything he liked to do on his own, sorry for wrong turns and time wasted and the reek of his own fear, clammy and sharp, sorry that he would never know if he could be something else for someone else, that he would only be this for her. "I hate you," she said without venom, with the first bloom of bitterness, "I hate you." He shrugged, he nodded, he tried to smile and took her hand in his, tugging her towards him to walk down the hall, to take the lead for the last time.
Jessica Fritsche is a writer from Dallas, TX. When she isn't wrangling cats or cowboys, she serves as Associate Editor for So New Publishing and Assistant Fiction Editor at 42opus.