mean anything; it was just a small, round piece of cheap pretty metal-- one of those vending machine rings that children wear.
I didn't expect her to take it, but she did-- reaching out her small brown hand and holding it between her fingertips.
She turned the ring around and around, her head bowed over it, the ring shining in the gaps between her fingers. My eyes caught on the metal, then lingered over her skin-- smooth and young, yet not soft;
tough from working,
brown from sunshine,
used to life.
My fingers wondered what her hands felt like.
In a moment she had examined the ring, and she was handing it back. I felt
disappointed; with surprise, I found I'd wanted her to keep it, and discovered I'd hoped she'd put it on her finger.
"Too small," she explained, as if she could read my mind. I smiled and slipped the ring back into my pocket as she matched my smile
and sank back into her chair. She looked relaxed, tired, happy-- her body melting into her sweatshirt and the cushion of the chair around her. She curled up sideways in the chair,
her hair falling over one side of her face, her ankles crossed, her feet dangling over the arm of the chair. Pushing her hair back behind her ear, she glanced at me with warm eyes.
I didn't have any words to say; I just enjoyed watching her.
I felt like a biologist, sitting silent in the forest, watching the creature he's devoted his life to studying slip through its natural habitat.
"You know, if you had taken it," I said, referencing the ring, "You'd have had to marry me."
Her mouth and eyes opened in small circles, then her eyes crinkled and she laughed.
"It's a very good thing it didn't fit, then," she replied, her voice light. I glanced in her eyes, feeling the heat of embarrassment cover me, and saw a flash of something,
an emotion that didn't match her tone. Dropping her eyes, she shifted her body and the subject, asking about homework and family and life. Automatically, I answered her, and we talked for what felt like
just a few minutes.
But when I finally looked at the clock, hours had passed.
I didn't think much about the ring-- or her-- in the next few days; I saw her infrequently, at meals, or in the hallways on her way to class.
She always smiled.
But hen, today, she passed me, her arms empty for once, and her eyes crinkled the way they had that night.
I glanced at her hands.
They met each other, the fingers of her right hand twisting the ring from her father that she always wore on her left hand.
I felt my mouth and eyes open in small circles, and I, startled, jerked my gaze to her face.
Her lips curved and she dropped her eyes, her feet never slowing.
Before I recovered, she had disappeared around the corner, down the next hallway.
I was almost late for class.
But now, now, burning inside me, is the urgent question demanding an answer.And I have no defense or reply to it.