Not To Me, Not If It’s You

By: Alyssa Detwiler

Clover was standing against the tree where they first met, her hip cocked out so she could lean with her upper body running parallel to the trunk. For once, the decision to meet up hadn’t been an easy one; Cricket was self-conscious of why he was absent all summer, and the nurses had taken his phone away, only allowing him weekly calls with his mother. They hadn’t spoken for two months, by far the longest time they had been separate. For the first time, meeting with Clover involved an hour long period where he psyched himself into leaving the house; this involved a ritual of combing his hair, jumping around his room until enough adrenaline coursed through his body to convince him that maybe anything was a good idea, combing his hair again because it had gotten messy and feeling less certain after taking the time to look at himself in the mirror. Repeat for an hour, until his mother came in and reminded him that Clover was waiting and would probably beat him up if he stood her up.

Probably because of the nerves preceding this, Cricket was overwhelmed with a strong, dizzying feeling. It had been too long, and she looked beautiful. He ran a self-conscious hand through his hair in a half-a**ed attempt to fix himself before her. As subtle as he could, he drank her in.

“How was your summer, dweeb?”

Her voice was harsh and pleasant and familiar and he almost broke out in tears of joy. Nothing had changed between them then. She would still treat him like she always did, a rarity now that he returned and explained to his other friends that he had been committed to a mental hospital after a major depressive episode that left him bedridden for a week and a half and contemplative in a bathtub before his mother found him holding an object too sharp for comfort. 

With enough sarcasm to plead plausible deniability were she to ask him about the honesty of his answer, he replied, “Horrible. Awful. Every moment away from you was a moment wasted.” She gagged. Her hair was pulled up into a messy ponytail that allowed for stray strands to frame her face. She had more freckles than she did when he had left, and she had lost some weight from whatever physical exertion camp counseling demanded. A few bracelets- the homemade kind, with beads with letters on them- were on her wrists. “Those are new.”

“Gifts from the kids.” She began to tug and pull at the yarn around her wrist in the way she usually did whenever he complimented her.

“Were you the favorite?”

She let out a gross snort, something only she could make cute. “Hell, no. But kids like making shit.”

Cricket gave an affirmative nod and closed the distance between them, conscious of his too-long limbs as he tried to gracefully lean beside her. “You look good,” she said, looking him up and down. He flushed. “Healthy. Calm.”

“Yeah.”

“Are you…?”

“Yeah. I don’t know. Don’t worry about it.” His heart started beating fast, faster than it normally did around her. 

“Hey-”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said evenly, doing his best to give her the impression he was fine.

Clover frowned, smacked her lips together, and blew a large bubble that popped with startling resonance. Cricket tried to ignore that she was chewing gum. If he was aware of her chewing gum, he’d be aware of her mouth and then he’d start focusing on her lips; and that’s generally when he felt he had crossed too far past the boundaries of friendship. “I’d feel better if you talked to me.”

“I talked too much,” he replied. She squinted, and her nose scrunched up in the way that made him want to kiss her more than anything. “I didn’t come home to talk more.”

“I want you to talk to me,” she said in a gentle tone that was unusual for her. She reached out and grabbed his arm, and his skin burned where she touched him. It didn’t seem fair, to him, that she could so easily exploit him without even realizing it.

He made a show of his concession, enough of one to get her to laugh at his dramatics. He groaned, looked up to the sky, sighed, ducked his head, crossed his arms, uncrossed his arms, huffed, recrossed his arms, and only stopped when she punched him, lightly, in the gut.

“I missed home,” he said, not sure where else to start or how to continue. It was beautiful weather. He had been let outside, but the mental hospital would never allow so much freedom for him to be in the middle of the woods. Their tree was in the middle of a forest clearing, so walls of trees surrounded and secluded them. Here they were cut off from the world. As far as he was concerned, just the two of them existed. “I missed my brothers, and my mom. And my bed. And my dog.”

“I missed her, too.”

“You could’ve visited my family,” he said, grinning at her.

She squirmed her shoulder and said to the ground, “Well, I prefer going when you’re there.”

Cricket looked away. He sat down on the soft grass that surrounded the roots of the tree. The strong sunlight and thick air enveloped him like a blanket. “I missed this. Everything was so… I don’t know.”

“Take your time.” Clover eased down next to him, sitting close enough for their legs to be pressed together. Did this mean anything?

“It was a constant reminder that I’m messed up. I get it, it probably helped me, but it sucked.”

“I hope it helped,” Clover said, and the look she gave him was so tender and honest he nearly melted. When she reached out to rub small circles into his back, he held back a contented sigh. That would probably be too weird. 

“At least here I can forget what’s in my head. There, it was, ‘You’re depressed, and we’re going to talk about why you’re depressed, and that’s all we’re doing.’ It was exhausting.” She nodded, and pressed more against him. He let himself lean into her. 

“I understand,” she said. He was a little impressed, because he wasn’t sure he did. He wasn’t sure what the empty feeling was, or why he still felt like he was broken. He wasn’t sure if words would explain it. She didn’t press him for more. They sat in silence, listening to the hum of insects and chirping birds.

“I missed you, Cricket.”

“I missed you, too,” he replied, not feeling brave enough to look at her.

“You know I mean it, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Because I do. I did miss you. I did. I…” It wasn’t often that Clover stumbled over her words. Generally, she was likely too confident whenever she spoke. Cricket looked at her, prompting her to continue, saying silently that he was listening. With her lips pursed, she said quietly, “You’re my only friend here.”

He mulled this over and ignored his own nerves long enough to wrap his arm around her shoulders. “You’re mine, too.” And he hoped she heard everything he wanted to say.



A version of this originally appeared in
“Healing”
The Teller December 2019 Issue #9

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