I don’t feel real unless someone is watching.

He was a writer.

“Are you happy?”

I tossed my curled tresses over my shoulder as my mouth curved with forced laughter, the red lipstick blazing a crimson streak across my pale, exhausted face. Winter’s breath tapped on my neck before I answered quickly, took a sip of coffee and excused myself to rush to my next class.

He was a writer and he knew.

He was a published writer, actually (you’d be surprised how important the clarification is). His wife works for a fashion designer in New York City and it was clear based on his cuffed grey-wash jeans, the striped socks and the black anorak jacket that they got along just fine and compromised often.

He was happy. But he was a writer and he knew what diction was.

I listened to him speak and I was reminded of the seductive power of words. 20 minutes later and I was blinking ferociously to keep his syntax from enticing me away from my textbooks and my lab goggles, from the hours of studying and self-loathing in the library, from the periodic table plastered on every surface I could find. The sound waves spun in my cochlea and I distracted myself from the interpretations of the frequencies by mindlessly listing off the anatomy of the ear.

He was a writer. He knew what diction was and he knew better than to ask a person with my eyes whether or not they were happy.

My answer was as bitter as the coffee that followed and swallowed out the retort that did not come quickly enough. Was I, the analyst of scientific articles, the cleaner of lab tables and fume hoods, the dissector of cadavers, happy?

The wind that ran his icy fingers over my neck poked me in the eye and I felt hot tears prick. How rude.

“Of course.”

He was a writer.

He knew.

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