The next morning, Mary went downstairs to stand in line outside one of the hotel meeting rooms with her friends, waiting to be herded in and served breakfast. Moments after she and her room mates arrived, Billy and his joined them. Mary greeted him with a smile, which he returned very briefly.
"You mind if I sit with Sam?" he asked her.
"Um.. no, I guess not." she said, frustrated by his obvious indifference toward her.
She sat with her friends a couple tables away, concerned by the constant serious expression she saw on Billy's face.. wondering what was going on. Her heart was heavy and she had little appetite as she picked and poked at her breakfast. She couldn't wait for breakfast to end so they could go out and board the buses and she could ask Billy what was going on.
As breakfast ended, Billy hurriedly got up with Sam and headed out the door. Mary hung back with her friends, half tempted to sit with someone else. She was starting to feel anxious and was tempted to just avoid Billy for the day. She stood in line to board the bus and hoped that Billy wouldn't notice her.
"Hey, mind if I sit with you?" Billy asked quietly from over her shoulder. Mary stiffened a little as he put his hand on her elbow and closed her eyes. Don't let him see how you feel.. Keep it together, Mary..
"Sure." She said, trying to sound cheerful and putting a smile on her face as she turned to answer him. The corners of his mouth twitched in a lame attempt at returning her greeting. She turned back and faced the bus, not wanting to look at him as he tried to make eye contact with her.
They boarded the bus and sat 3 or 4 rows behind the driver's seat. The sun was shining bright and the bus was already warm inside. Mary took off her sweatshirt and stuck it between her and the window, settling in for the ride to the Wild Animal Park. Mr. Owens was a couple rows farther back on the other side of the bus, and Keith sat a few rows behind Mary with his girlfriend, Kate. Mary stared silently out the window as everyone took their seats and the bus driver started the engine. As the bus began to roll forward, Mary shrugged off the cold shoulder she'd gotten from Billy throughout the morning.. rationalizing that it was no worse than any other time he'd done this. She had just hoped that something had changed last night and that perhaps he was going to be a bit more affectionate with her. Apparently, that was not the case. Mary decided she was just going to be okay with that.
"Hey, Mary?" Billy said softly. Mary turned and smiled at him.
"Yeah.. why do you ask?"
"You seem upset about something.."
"No, just tired. Sorry." She smiled at him again, trying to seem more pleasant.
"Oh... okay." Billy said, looking down at his knees. "Mary.. can we talk?"
Mary's stomach jumped into her throat, her heart pounded, her palms got clammy, and she felt short of breath. She looked at him, trying to conceal the panic in her eyes. Oh God.. no. Please, don't let him say what I think he's going to say.. Please, don't let this be the 'let's be friends' speech..
"Yeah?" she said, swallowing hard.
"Mary.. I've been thinking. And.. well.. I think we should just... be friends." Mary's eyes rolled back in her head and she turned away and looked out the window. "It's not that I don't like you." Billy continued. "I do. I like you a lot. But.. I just don't.. like you like that. You know? I mean, not that I don't think you're pretty, you are. You're beautiful. But.. there's just no.. no spark. I'm sorry."
Mary felt tears well up in her eyes. A flood of humiliation and sorrow swept over her and she longed to just dissolve into the bus seat and cease to exist. She'd never been so hurt from being dumped.. and she'd been dumped many, many times.
Billy tried to peer around the hair that was hanging in her face, shielding her from his view. She tried to avoid letting her tears escape the corners of her eyes as she turned to face him. His brow was furrowed and his eyes full of concern - she could see he didn't want to hurt her. She forced a smile.
"Okay." she said, her voice a weak whisper. He sat back a little in his seat, relaxing a bit.
"So we can still be friends?" he asked. "I really don't want to stop being friends with you.. I love hanging out with you."
"Sure" she said, nodding her head as she turned back to the window. The first few tears jiggled loose as she nodded her head and she wiped them away furiously, trying to keep it together.
"I'm fine, Billy." she lied. "Just.. just leave me be for a while, please." Her voice cracked, and more tears rolled defiantly over her cheeks. She squeezed her eyes shut and lowered her head, letting her hair fall like a curtain between them. Billy leaned back in his seat and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a tissue and handed it to Mary.
"I'm sorry." he said as she accepted the tissue. Me too, Mary thought. Me too...