Her eyes trace the lines of his cheekbones, noting the unusual prominence of them. He pushes his hair into his face, turns away from her, and says “Can you stop staring at me, Lyla? It’s…”
“Sorry.” She looks down at the oak table instead. A pause stretches out between the two. The sound of dripping water from the kitchen sink and the ticking of a black and white analog clock on the wall behind her fill the space. “It’s been too long,” she pauses, clearing an itch in her throat. “Since we last hung out, that is.”
“Mm.” He agrees softly, staring at a portrait on the wall. It’s one of Lyla’s family, complete with her mother, older brother, and late father. They smile at him though their blank eyes don’t meet his gaze.
“How’s homeschool been going?” She looks up at him without lifting her head. Her auburn hair spills over her slender shoulders.
“Is it better than regular school?”
A pause “Anything interesting happen lately?”
A long moment stretches out between them. The scent of magnolias sneaks into the room from the open window. It stings his nose. “I mean, my mom accidentally spilled orange juice on one of my textbooks. It was such a pain to clean up.”
“I can imagine.” she says with a small smile. She fingers the edge of the wood table, tracing a random shape with her index finger. “Which textbook?
“Algebra 2.” He readjusts his hair, pulling it down further. He crosses and uncrosses his legs, wiggling uncomfortably in the chair.
“You must be happy about that. Still hate math the most, right?” She looks at him, waiting for an answer that never comes. Another silent moment passes before she clears her throat and says, “Do you want something to drink?”
“Water’s fine.” he replies.
She leaves and returns a moment later, placing a cool glass of water in front of him. He doesn’t even glance at it.
“It’s really taking it’s toll on your hair…” she mumbles, staring at the pale white skin of his scalp, prominent beneath the thin, sporadic strands. He adjusts his hair, avoiding her eyes. “How is… it going?” she asks, biting her lower lip.
He waits a moment before saying, “I went to the supermarket and saw the weirdest thing: sprayable cheese.”
“Oh really?” her voice is lower, emanating from the back of her throat as though it cannot reach her mouth.
“I was tempted to buy some, just to see what it tastes like.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“How long?” she asks.
He tugs at his hair again. “I watched a really lousy horror movie the other day. You’d love it.”
“The main character was sooo stupid. I mean, who locks themselves in a bathroom when there’s a chainsaw killer chasing after them?” He tries to chuckle, but it comes out choked. “Right? That’s sooo dumb right?” He glances at Lyla, then returns his attention to the blank wall.
She just stares at him, silently.
He clears his throat, twice. “It’s allergy season you know. Lots of pollen in the air.” He clears his throat again and looks up at the ceiling. The arm resting on the table begins to shake. He curls his fingers into a fist.
“How long?” Lyla repeats. Her lower lip quivers as she bites down on it.
He clears his throat and tugs at his hair to hide his eyes. His phone buzzes loudly in his pocket. “That’s my mom.” he says, his voice lower. “I’d better go now.” he stands. The chair scrapes against the wooden floor. The glass of water sits untouched, a small drop of condensation rolling down the side like a tear.
He gets up and walks past the mahogany staircase and to the front door. His shoulders shake violently, sending tremors down his thin white arms. He fumbles with the brass doorknob, struggling to unlock it.
As he exits the house, he says, “Bye, Lyla,” never looking at her.
“Goodbye, Felix.” she whispers, lowering her head into her arms with a sob.