By JD Miller
He gave her a hug that knocked the sunglasses off the top of her head. It wasn’t unfriendly in any way. But that was just the problem, wasn’t it? Not unfriendly, but not…more.
Sitting on the bus, that’s all she could think about. Not more.
Not more could be the slogan for her whole year. Her life motto. She could practically see it on her gravestone. This, and this, yes—but not more.
Not unfriendly. And at least she’d gotten a hug. She hadn’t always. He wasn’t always a hugger. He was a smiler, a back-of-crowd stander, the kind that you had to separate from the rest to ever get to know. And she’d done that. That’s what today was for, to be with him alone, to say goodbye. That’s the first thing he said this morning, the muscles in his hands twitching.
“I hate goodbyes.”
“Are they any worse than just letting people slip away, without saying anything?” She asked.
“Yes,” he said.
Which brought her almost immediately to his last words. “So long,” he said, arms around her neck, her chin against his taller shoulder. So long.
The sunglasses interrupted their hug. If she’d have known they would, she would’ve thrown them in the river. She wanted that hug to go on forever, his uncomfortably stiff body closer to hers than it had ever been, still further than she imagined it.
“Goodbye,” she said the words he hated, sunglasses in her hand, hair in her face. She squeezed his hand for a nanosecond. The bus pulled up, and pulled away with her on it.
Why did I get on it? She thought. I could have said, while I had the chance, well if you hate goodbyes so much, tell me not to go, and I’ll stay. She would have, if he asked. But he hadn’t. What kind of a goodbye was ‘so long’, anyway? That was his last chance. Why didn’t he at least try?
Why didn’t I? She thought. I didn’t reach up and kiss him, when I could have. I could have tried. All I did was squeeze his hand. Not less, at least. But not more, either.
The old man beside her on the bus wheezed and coughed into his hand. The bus rumbled on a pothole. She looked out of the window with more determination, as though she’d see him running alongside it, waving frantically at her. She imagined climbing off the bus in a desperate rush, his now sweatier, now more comfortable arms around her again, imagined him saying,
“I hate goodbyes because I can’t stand the thought of losing you!” Imagined her sunglasses coming off a second time, falling to the sidewalk, being forgotten there (the little troublemakers). Imagined walking all the way back to the bus-station and beyond, into endless possibility. What would that summer be like?
But all she saw was a blue sedan, with a toddler screaming in the back seat, and beyond that, the wooded hills swallowing the city and the sun.