“Hey, though, do you know about the new episode next week?” His voice was loud and heavy. Amid the delicate calm of their conversation, it felt like it was smashing down on them. Charlotte bit her lip so that she wouldn’t say anything. He kept talking, telling the others about whatever it was that was so important it had to come in the middle of her sentence.

Right in the center of her chest, the irritation was pressing hot and thick on her. She took a breath, trying to exhale the edge of anger. If he weren’t there for the fourth time when none of them wanted him there, if he would just even say something relevant to their conversation – but that wasn’t helping. He probably couldn’t figure out what they might have wanted them to say, nor realize that somebody else talking was a good enough reason for him to hold his tongue. She told herself that, and concentrated on the spot of pain that her teeth were pressing into her lip instead.

It didn’t work. Charlotte still felt the knot in her chest, so she told herself again that he didn’t mean it. More than that, he probably wasn’t aware at all of how he was affecting anybody else. With her eyes closed, she could imagine that he felt that. It was almost easier to feel it.

His voice was still braying across the table, so she imagined that it was coming from her lips. She saw the group, mostly clustered across from him with their gaze fallen to the crumpled napkins instead of his face. This was important right now, and it had to be said. Even something so small as that, but after all it was interesting and maybe the others would want to hear it. Maybe they would be glad that he’d said it. They could have a whole conversation and he could tell them what he thought. She said this to herself, and she saw his hands clenched under the table as if they were resting on her knees instead. The words were dropping from him, and it was a relief to be talking to somebody, as though his mouth had been filled and now it could move. She saw herself, across the table. She was sitting curled over her lap, her eyes closed and her lips fighting a frown. He just wanted to say something, that was all.

She drew in another breath and felt the knot in her chest loosen. He was still talking, and his voice still grated. Still, Charlotte straightened. Maybe she could see all of those things in his face as he talked. They might just be imagined. Even so, with a flare of effort she pushed a smile onto her face and told herself to be patient as he talked.



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