He pushed a slice of pizza on a napkin toward her.
“Eat!” He smiled, encouragingly.
She shook her head no, silently, feeling herself shriveling up inside.
Hunger had been tearing at her insides before… she hadn’t eaten all day… but her appetite had left the moment he had only purchased the one all you could eat buffet instead of two. He had answered the cashier’s quizzical look by saying she was not hungry. At that point, it had not been a lie. Once they reached the table he explained he would share with her off of his own plate.
Maybe he just didn’t have the money?
She sure didn’t and she didn’t want to make him feel bad if that were the case.
They were just a couple of college students, after all. Poor college students without parental funding. Her meal plan, the only one she could afford on her scholarship, allowed for five meals a week at the cafeteria. She had used them up earlier. This, right now, was supposed to be her meal for the day. She had been counting on it, counting on him, but she would never tell him this.
She was too embarrassed.
The Freshman fifteen had not been a problem.
“Go on. Eat.” He gave her a sharp look of warning, demanding with his eyes that she comply. He was getting angry with her.
He pushed the pizza closer.
She was afraid to say anything, worried he would leave her. She had changed everything, defying her parents and convention, because she loved that he had noticed her. She loved him for seeing more in her than she saw in herself. No one had paid a lick of attention to her before. Now she was terrified that she would not be exciting enough, pretty enough, daring enough, or smart enough to hold his attention.
That was why she had given him her virginity but doing so had only upped the stakes. If he left her now, what would she have left? Nothing. Nothing of value, anyway.
Her fear of being alone eventually overcame her fear of getting caught. Glancing around first to see if anyone was watching, she took a furtive bite, chewing the tasteless mass slowly. She swallowed carefully around the lump in her throat.
In a matter of seconds the manager was there, glaring down at her. How had he seen?
“You need to leave.”
She looked back across the table for guidance but there was none. He just stared at her, shock playing on his face.
“Now,” the manager said, his voice rising. “What you did is stealing. I could have you arrested.”
She could not find her voice so she grabbed her purse instead, starting to scoot her way out of the booth.
Other patrons turned to stare.
“Wait. What if I go ahead and pay for her?” He pulled out his wallet and took out some bills, handing them over.
Mollified, the manager took the money and left, shooting her one final dirty look over his shoulder. She could feel his and everyone else’s eyes on her, judging her to be something she was not.
Then again. She had been the one to eat without paying. Not him.
“You may as well eat now, get our money’s worth,” he said, gesturing dismissively to the salad bar and the line of pizzas laid out on the warmers.
Her head swam.
He’d had the money.
She just hadn’t rated the price of a pizza buffet.
She watched his face as he ate, anger and shame rising up like acid in her chest, burning a hole through her rib cage.
There were times he could make her feel so cherished, so loved. Then in a flash, in the blink of an eye, he could wipe it all away and make her feel tiny and worthless. It hurt so much more because of all of the opinions in the world, his was the one that mattered the most to her.
This was not her fairytale.
She stood up from the table.
“I want to go home.”
He didn’t move.
“I want to go home. Now,” she said, more firmly.
He looked up at her with new eyes.
No words were spoken in the car. He tried to lean in for a kiss as she exited at her dorm but she turned away, slamming the door as hard as she could, hoping it would send the message she was not brave enough to speak with words.
I do not ever want to speak to you again.
That was the first time she left him.