Twenty Six

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The stairwell is empty, and my sobs echo from the walls

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The stairwell is empty, and my sobs echo from the walls. They sound like screams to my ears. I fold my arms around my knees and hide my face in the cage of limbs. My chest constricts and I wonder if this is what it feels like when a heart shatters. It's hard to catch my breath—no matter how hard I try, I can't get enough air into my lungs.

The distinct sound of heels on the pavement brings my breathing to a halt. Until her voice pierces the air. I've heard it enough to make the distinction. Madeline.

The clicking of the heels stop and even though I haven't raised my head from its prison, I know she's standing directly in front of me.

"Lola?"

Pull it together, I tell myself. I raise my eyes to hers and know immediately trying to pretend everything is okay is a useless endeavour. I don't say hi. I don't say I'm fine. I don't say anything at all. I'm pathetic.

Madeline drops her bag from her shoulder and begins to root through it, to retrieve tissues. Uninvited, she sits down next to me, hands me some kleenex and rests her hand on my knee.

This simple gesture unleashes waterworks so fierce, I scare myself. Madeline doesn't utter a word and that is just as scary.

I don't know how long I cry but it's long enough to feel like I've expelled my soul.

When I have no tears left Madeline puts her hand on my back. "Come with me," she says. "I have just the thing to make you feel better."

Unless she has Madame Zena's crystal fucking ball, there's no way she's going to make me feel better. Regardless, I stand and wait for her to lead the way. I follow her up the stairs, past Xavier's floor and up two more.

Madeline fishes keys out of her bag and inserts them into the door of apartment 4320. "My father owns this apartment. Normally we'd have renters but he lets me stay here rent free as long as I keep my grades up."

I want to reply to her but I cannot summon any words. They left with my tears.

I follow her inside. It's smaller than X's apartment but the door opens to a living room. Two small sized black couches decorated with white pillows flank either side of a cherry wood coffee table. A pint sized kitchen is to the left and a hallway which I assume leads to bedroom and bathroom on the right.

Madeline sweeps her arm across the space. "Sit. Make yourself comfortable."

I slip my shoes off and pad across the plush carpet to the couch.

She heads to the kitchen and begins to fill a kettle. "My Oma always said a good cup of tea can turn any problem into a situation." She grabs two teacups from one of the cupboards and a tin of loose tea leaves which she sets into two mesh balls before dropping them into the cups.

I search through my brain for something, anything to say. "I didn't know you lived in the same building as Xavier."

"Yeah," she said. "Me neither until last semester when I ran into him hauling groceries up the stairs."

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