Grief Counseling (flash fiction)
“Waaaaaaaaaahhhhh..!” Josie cried. “Waaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh..!”
She paused to draw new breath, the inspiration stuttered with small hiccups as impatient sadness and grief demanded expression, regardless of whether she had the breath to give it voice. Snot dripped from her nose, transparent and saline, extruded in time to the hiccuping.
Grant stood by, transfixed and helpless. He reached out, put a hand almost to her shoulder before pulling it partway back. It hung there, seemingly disconnected to his will, caught in a tiny maelstrom of emotional magnetism, both attracted and repelled, held in a kind of stasis by his desire to comfort and his inability to do so.
“Waaaaaaaaahhhh..!” Josie’s blubbering trailed off into silent shaking. Grant was amazed at how he still seemed able to hear it, as if the resonant frequency had shifted to the ultrasonic. Maybe this was what it was like when dogs heard a dog whistle.
No wonder they whined like that. He wanted to whine himself, to howl along with Josie at the full moon of her sadness and pain.
Her crying subsided, the shaking coming at further intervals.
Whatever was happening, it seemed to affect the balance of attraction and repulsion that had held his hand in stasis for the last few moments. He found he could move it again, and put it, finally, on her shoulder.
She looked up at him, the whites of her eyes bloodshot, more red than white and almost shimmering in the light, so thick was the lens of tears that clung to them. Her lower lip trembled, and he wanted to kiss it, an inappropriate thought that he tried to banish but that cropped up over and over the more he tried not to think it.
He had always wanted to kiss Josie’s lips. That was why she was here, now, crying over a heart broken by someone else, because he had feelings for her that he lacked the courage to act on.
Their eyes met, and Grant could feel her opening up to him. He could feel her vulnerability, feel the quivering in her chest, which made his own chest quiver in return. All he had to do was close the distance between her lips and his, and everything he wanted could be his.
But no, he couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be right. Wouldn’t be fair to take advantage of Josie like that. That was the kind of thing those other guys would do, the kind of guys that Josie dated, and who always broke her heart.
No, Grant would not be like that. He was better than that. Someday Josie would see that. She had to.
“Hey,” he said, trying to keep his voice soft. He was amazed she couldn’t feel the pounding of his heart in his throat.
She looked at him expectantly.
“What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t work?”
Vulnerability became confusion. Josie shook her head.
He smiled, weakly.
She looked at him, uncomprehending, for what seemed like forever. His heart deflated in his chest.
Then she laughed, more of a snort, really, followed by another, and another, until the cavalcade of sadness and heartbreak transformed into laughter, gales and gales of it, like the sobbing before only differently-flavored.
“Oh, Grant,” she said, when it had finally died down. “I knew I could count on you.”
She smiled at him, and he smiled back. Now he could kiss her.
“You’re such a good friend.”
And he knew that he’d blown it, that he’d regret this missed opportunity for the rest of his life.
And he was right.