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Comfort Hug #6: Used To Be More

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It's hot and sticky and you feel like this place is draining the life from you. But that isn't fair; it isn't this small town's fault or the sun beating down overhead. It's you, your homesickness, the way you feel like you aren't you here. It's an entirely stupid notion, you think - a place can't take away who you are - but it's not one that you can shake, no matter what. So you kick a rock and keep kicking until you're well past your intended destination, caught up in this haze of almost-crying. There's sweat beading on the back of your neck and you blink up at the building. Some old factory, brick that looks as worn as the rest of the town and a lot that looks more used than the building. You step far enough into the lot to scuff your shoe against one of the tire marks.

You sigh.

Blinking sweat out of your eyes (at least the heat gives you this excuse; it's sweat and not tears, not bubbling frustration at how new this place is and how it makes you feel), you look around one last time and, finding nothing of interest, turn to go when something catches your eye. It's a boy, shoulders hunched, leaning against some construct of wood and cinder blocks with an unknown purpose, watching you like a rabbit might watch a dog. Without thinking, you look behind you. The way he's staring silently almost makes you think he's not looking at you but there's no one else around and he hasn't said anything. 

So neither do you, not yet. There's a dandelion growing in the crack of the pavement and you bend down, pinching the stem between your fingers. You can feel the boy watching you and somehow it feels colder now even though no clouds have covered the sun. You look back - he's still staring. You look away. You do it again with the same outcome.

The third time, you're pretty sure there's a ghost of a smile on his face so you give a tentative one in return.

"Hi."

"You're trespassing."

"Oh." He might be joking but even if he is, something about the words hit you. Trespassing. Not just on this place, but on the whole town. Your fingers clench around the dandelion as you try to fight the tears. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

You turn to leave so quickly that rocks kick up under your shoes.

"Wait. Waitwait."

When you turn back, he's standing and closer and you wonder how you didn't hear him get up. 

"That was a stupid joke."

"Oh. Right."

"I mean, you are trespassing but..." He trails off.

"Is this whole town this confusing?" It's less of a question than an expression of your misery. You just want a place to belong, to stop feeling like coming here has made you less than what you were before, and he's not exactly helping. 

"Sometimes. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make it worse."

You press the heel of your palm against your cheek, superstitiously wiping at the tears. "It's alright. It's not you. The move has been-- not a lot of fun." 

That's selling it short and something about the look on his face makes you think he might know it. You look at him, trying to determine what seems so off about his face. The slightly crooked nose, the strange smudge on his cheek. He slouches more, frowning, hooded eyes intent on you. 

"You're new here?"

"Yeah, at the start of summer."

"You don't like it?" He moves to sit (looking at it again, you think the haphazard pile of wood might be some sort of ramp) and you close the distance between you until you're just a few feet away. 

"It doesn't feel right."

His head tilts just barely and you hesitate before continuing, trying to put your feelings into words. 

"I used to have friends, people I knew. I knew the roads and the stores. Down here, I don't know anything. It feels like there's a piece of me missing. Like now that I'm here, I'm not as..." Now it's your turn to trail off, hating the hitch in your voice.

"Not as much as you used to be."

"Yeah," you agree, more like a sigh of relief that someone else gets it. "Yeah, exactly. I don't know how to get it back, either."

"I know what you mean."

"Sorry, that sucks."

He laughs, an odd almost soundless thing, and you smile, dropping to sit on the cracked ground of the lot. Tears still threaten, you still feel empty, but it's not as bad as it could've been. 

"Does it get better?"

"I don't know. Some days but it never feels exactly like it used to. I don't think it can."

You nod, mimicking the way his head is buried in his shoulders. You're doing it to hide the fact you're crying in front of some abandoned building (perhaps - it feels like it's hiding something), sitting on the ground with some strange boy whose name you don't even know. This might be the most embarrassing moment of your life if it weren't for the fact that he at least seems to understand what you're feeling. 

"Sorry. Sorry, it's just hot."

Once again, you're not aware that he's moved until he's next to you, crouched. You can feel his hesitation before you feel his hand on the back of your neck. The stark coldness of the touch makes you jump. There's that quiet laugh again as he withdraws his hand.

"You're cold."

"You said it was hot."

"Jerk."

"Yeah." 

"Do it again."

He obliges and you have to stop yourself from pulling away but it's just as good as a wet towel or ice cubes, at least in this heat. 

"You're really cold."

"I'm dead. You stopped crying."

"I did. Sorry about that."

"It's okay."

"I'm sure you're used to strange people crying in front of your... factory-thing."

"Happens all the time," he says, pulling his hand away and for a moment you think that you can see through it. You shake that thought away.

"I didn't used to be like this." 

"Me either."

You fall quiet, both of you taking a sudden interest in the pebbles littering the ground. He might be right - you might never be the same - and it still hurts, like a piece has been ripped away from you but there's a sad comfort in knowing you're not the only one who is stuck being less than what they were. 

"I should go. I was supposed to go to the store instead of loitering."

"Delinquent." 

Instead of dignifying that with answer, you stand, shaking your head as he stands too. No, that's not right. There's something about the way he moves that's wrong, that I--

"Anyway." You need to cut your train of thought off before it goes somewhere you're not ready for. "Thanks for not calling the cops on me."

"I wouldn't dream of it."

For a moment, you stare at him. Something about him reminds you of a piece of paper that's been crumpled up and then smoothed back out and something else reminds you of what it's like to be awkward and shy, not able to completely meet another's gaze. You don't hesitate before putting your arms around him and hugging him, unsurprised that the rest of him was as cold as his hands, surprised that he didn't feel as substantial as a person should. He makes a noise - the hug obviously caught him off-guard - but relaxes and presses his hands against your back.

"I'm sorry you can't get back whatever you lost," you say, chin on his shoulder. You can feel him nod and you tighten your grip just slightly. 

"I'm sorry, too." 

Without saying it, you know that he means he's sorry for both of you.