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Lake Conversation MAG
I woke up that morning with a pit in my stomach, one that felt like I’d been sucker punched in the gut by a professional boxer. It ached so much I felt nauseated. I could feel the bile rising in my throat, forcing its way to my lips and leaving an imaginary stain on my tongue. My phone buzzed, and I felt my heart plummet and my gut tighten.
But even when I saw it wasn’t from you, the pang in my stomach didn’t release. My heart remained where it had fallen, lodged somewhere between my ribs and my diaphragm.
I sat on the edge of my mattress, jaw clenched, phone in hand. My room was spacious, but I’d never felt more claustrophobic in my entire life. Every time I blinked, I felt the walls inching closer, the ceiling sliding downward. It was as if someone had begun to vacuum all the air from my lungs.
I have to get out of here.
I yanked on the nearest sweater, laced up my boots in record time, and rushed out the door, the frigid air hitting me like a speeding car. My worn leggings did little to keep out the cold, but my mind barely registered it. I muted you on my phone, just in case, then popped in my earbuds and opened a random playlist. I needed something, anything, to distract me from the anxious cacophony of voices buzzing in my head.
He already knows, stupid, just tell him. You can’t tell him! You already burden him too much with your problems. He’s probably not even your friend – anyway, who cares? How could anyone feel that way about you?
My finger slid over the volume button, cranking up the music until it hurt my ears. I began to walk, and the voices blurred into the background of violins. Maybe if I kept them quiet for long enough, they’d give up and give me some peace. That’s all I wanted: peace, and maybe some definitive answers.
But answers would require actually saying something to you. And even though I’d hinted at my feelings for months now, even though you’d probably already figured it all out, facing this situation head on made me feel awful, the mere thought of it made me start to cry. I knew why the pit was in my stomach, I just didn’t want to believe it.
I turned right at the end of my street and headed toward the lake. Maybe if I walked long enough, distanced myself far enough, played my music loud enough, everything would disappear.
Even though it was below freezing, the lake was busy. Children in their marshmallow coats played along the frozen waterfront. Runners and their dogs dotted the dirt path. Older couples sat beneath the snow-covered gazebos, their travel coffee mugs steaming. Normally, the bustle would be a welcome distraction. But right now, nothing seemed better than a lonely, uninterrupted walk. So I shut it all out and I walked briskly, my feet landing squarely with each beat of the music. I walked so precisely and urgently, it was almost a march. I walked like my life depended on it.
The path around the lake is divided into two halves: on one side, there’s nothing but county-protected open space, covered with prairie dog villages and the occasional herd of cows. The other side is residential, with row after row of cookie-cutter McMansions that look like they were pulled straight from an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I preferred the rodents and cattle to the suburbia, so normally I would walk halfway around the lake, then double back the same way I’d just come from.
But this time when I reached the halfway point, I stopped. The gnawing pit in my stomach was still there, prevalent as ever. My heart was still jammed between ribs. I had still done absolutely nothing. And the idea of going home, of sitting on my bed and just waiting for you to text or call, was unbearable. I was so sick of waiting and wishing. I had to do something.
I stepped toward the edge of the lake. The snow from a week ago had still not melted. The ice on the water was thick and opaque. I picked up a stick lying beneath a thin layer of brittle frost and began to write in the white around my feet.
I dropped the twig, and pulled out my phone. It felt like a burning weight in my hand. The pit in my gut throbbed in anticipation.
C’mon, just do it.
I pulled out my earphones in one swift jerk and dialed your number. The phone rang six times, and my muscles began to relax. Maybe you wouldn’t pick up. Maybe this would be just enough to appease the pit and move on. Maybe I wouldn’t have to—
Oh God, I’m gonna vomit.
“Hey.” My voice wavered like a novice tightrope walker.
“I—” I stopped. What the hell was I doing? What the hell was I doing?
“I’m going to say something that you’re not gonna like, that you’ve probably already guessed because you’re smart, but I – I like you.”
I paused, then clarified. “Like the romantic, love kinda like.”
You went silent. I felt my breath catch in the back of my throat. I knew what you were going to say before you even said it.
“Yeah, uh, yeah I knew.”
That’s not the kind of enthusiastic answer you hope for when you lay your feelings out for someone. But what was I expecting? You’d known how I felt and you’d ignored it because you didn’t feel the same way.
“I’m so sorry.” I could barely hear my own voice.
“It’s okay. I swear it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not.”
You were silent again. I felt my stomach flip, twisting itself into an even bigger knot.
“You – you’re gonna find someone better than me.”
And I almost laughed because, here’s the thing: I’d been in relationships before, some even long-term, some where I’d even said the big L, but never, never had I felt this strongly about someone.
“That’s the thing, I’ve never found someone as good as you. I don’t think I’ll ever find someone as good as you.”
My voice cracked as I said it, and I felt the tears begin to pool around my eyes, hot and stinging and unwelcome.
“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I’m sorry I’m so emotional. This is stupid.”
“No! No, it’s fine, I promise. Your emotions are part of why I love you so much.”
And even though I knew you meant love solely in the platonic sense, even though I knew you didn’t feel the same way I did and probably never would, my heart skipped a beat. And I hated it for doing that, almost as much as I hated you for saying “love” at all.
“I have to go.” I clicked off my phone without another word.
I picked up the stick and circled the “No” in the snow, then turned and began to walk back toward the prairie dogs. And even though the pit was gone, even though I’d finally done something, my heart was still pinned against my ribs, unmoving.