“Aw, Jamie, I’m just going to go right out and say it,” Marecia decided with a sigh. They were alone in the pre-show room, until Sandra’s lessons started up again. It was tough work cleaning everything with barely enough water to take a sip of, but at least they were able to make an imprint on the dust. “I miss the bullheaded jerk. I hope he’s alright.”

Jamie grunted as he manoeuvered a cabinet back against a newly-dusted wall. “I still don’t understand why. He’s nothing but a charmer. He acts like he doesn’t even know which way is up. And isn’t he a little old for you?”

Marecia sighed and threw down her rag, falling back into the sofa. A cloud of dust puffed up around her like magic smoke. It smelled like rotten fruit. “I don’t know, Jamie. No, not about his age, we’re only two years apart. I mean, I don’t know why I feel this way either. There’s so much going on in that head of his, I don’t think he has any room to think about how other people feel about him. He reminds me so much of my father I feel like throwing up. I think I’m doomed, just like my mother.”

The cabinet thudded against the wall, and Jamie brushed off his blackened hands. Marecia noticed again how thin he was getting. She was probably beginning to resemble a scarecrow as well, but she could afford to lose a few pounds. Jamie had been nothing but skin and bones since they had met. It was hard to believe he could get any thinner without disappearing. Easily, she could tell that he wanted them to get back to work, but he wrung his skeletal hands again and settled onto the cushions beside her. They watched the sun poke tentatively at the dust motes floating above the bar.

“Doomed for what? We’ll make it out of here, I’m sure, Marecia. Things aren’t as bad here as they are in, say, Greece. Or Canada. We’ve still got electricity and – ”

“Jamie! I’m not talking about the war. I’m talking about my feelings!”

“Oh. Sorry. Go on, how do you feel about that prick Immer?”

She smacked him half-heartedly. “He’s not a prick to everyone. Every time I walk into a room he’s laughing it up with someone. He used to be so quiet, and he used to sit by me during the meetings every morning. But now, ever since what happened with Gracie…well, I’m not jealous or anything, I just miss…Oh, I don’t know!”

Jamie was quiet, playing with a fraying throw pillow. “You miss being able to just look over and see him there, whenever you want. You miss feeling comfortable just being quiet together.”

“How do you know?” Marecia asked in astonishment.

He blinked, like he was waking up. “Oh, nothing,” he said brightly. “I’ve just been reading too much of that crap Sandra assigns. You women take things too seriously. Stop jumping to conclusions, Marecia. If he’s tired of you, he’ll tell you. Come on, class starts in an hour and we’re barely halfway through.”

She worked alongside her friend, but she could feel the tremors coming on. It just wasn’t fair. She didn’t ask for things to become complicated. She was just glad that Gracie wanted to be her friend, happy that they were both interested in Immer for more than his good looks. Marecia was used to admiring guys from an emotional distance, flirting at arm’s length. And Immer was the first guy to show any sort of private interest in her. She missed his enthusiasm for hanging out with her. Or the random things he did, like doodle on her sketches or argue which brand of spaghetti was the most musically inspiring. She missed looking forward to seeing him. Now she was plagued by a sort of dread at the thought of running into him, along with a stifling sense of duty to smile nicely and pretend that everything was fine.

It was never like they were officially friends, anyway. And just because she felt special didn’t mean that she was special to him. He had his pick of girls, and though he was quiet, it was no secret that he took advantage of this. She was obviously just another girl, and maybe he noticed that she refused to fall all over him or let him be right for no reason. Other than that, though, there were no grounds for her feelings of betrayal.

He was just another guy she was wrong about.

And it was sad that in the face of this war and the sickness that the thoughts about her pathetic love life plagued her the most. She decided she would volunteer to cook tonight, since she had been weaseling out of it for so long. It was the only way she could think to help. She vowed that she wouldn’t let Immer get in the way anymore. Bari would be liberated soon, and then she would never see him again. It was pointless to do anything more than be pleasant.

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