Taylor looked up at me from her cup of coffee, her chestnut brown eyes seemingly reflecting the steaming hot pool of liquid that she held between her hands. She sighed deeply, staring into me in a way I’d never seen. It felt penetrating, like she was exploring the thoughts that were bouncing around inside my head.
We were sitting next to the windows in a small, sunlit café. It was the early afternoon and the only people there were a few old Italian men, the two baristas and us. It may as well have been just her though, because I was starting to feel like she could see right through me.
She was absently circling the rim of the white coffee mug with her pinky finger, her eyes still burning holes in my cheeks. I didn’t know what she had to say, but I was hoping against all odds that it wasn’t anything serious.
“I’m not well,” she finally said, her voice barely a whisper. She looked out the window to her right as she continued, “the pills aren’t helping anymore and I feel like I’m falling apart.”
All I could do was stare. I felt a lump in my throat, then the tears started to well up. I just barely managed to hold them back, but I still felt them stinging the backs of my eyes.
Taylor was my whole world; she was my best friend, the person with whom I shared every part of myself. I had loved her with every ounce of what I had for so long, and to hear her say that she was sick again made me feel empty. I knew I had to wear a brave face for her, but I also knew that she’d see through the mask. She could always read me, like an open book.
“I’m sorry. Was it me?” I asked, wondering what I could do to help.
“No, of course not. You’ve been so good to me, none of this is your fault. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
I could see the mist starting to form along her eyelids and I knew she was going to get upset. She hated crying, especially in public. I took her hand in mine, trying my best to comfort her when I had no idea how to make her feel better.
She sniffed, wiping her eyes and said, “I think you might be better off without me, you know. I’m not okay, and I’ll only make things harder for you.”
It angered me when she said things like this. She always made it sound like she was a burden on me, like I had to put up with her. I didn’t blame her, because I knew she was sick and that it wasn’t her that was saying those things. It just frustrated me to no end to know that she couldn’t see how beautiful and loving she was, how happy she made me. She didn’t realize that I was with her because she filled in the parts of me that were once empty, that she made me feel like a better person.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I affirmed, looking right into her eyes, “I’ve told you this already. I’m here because I want to be.”
“Well you shouldn’t want to be here. I’m a trainwreck, you shouldn’t love me,” she snapped angrily, her emotions overcoming her. She pulled her hand away, her curly brown hair falling in front of her left eye. It was hard not to take it personally when she got like this, but I couldn’t let her think that it was true.
“It’s not about whether I should or should not, Tay. I do, and I always will. There’s no reasoning behind it: I’m here because I love you and I love you because you’re you.”
She looked up at me, pushing her hair away from her face to reveal that a single, solitary tear had started rolling down her cheek. I reached over and wiped it away with my thumb, carressing her cheek with my open palm. The slightest implication of a smile turned one corner of her mouth up, as if her lips were trying to brush away my fingertips.
“I’ll never understand what you see in me,” she said, her glassy eyes almost orange in the sunlight.
I see you, I thought to myself. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen…
…and in that moment I realized that I needed to be a mirror, not a window.