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Bravery, as it is defined, is an act of courage in the face of fear.
You put one foot in front of the other, climbing one step after another when you know he can hear your heart thumping just a little faster than it normally does. He is standing at the foot of his bed when you reach the top of the stairs and you pause, because this is when the fear begins to own you. This is when sweat prickles on the back of your neck and your palm stings because you’ve dug your blunt nails into the skin too deeply.
His nostrils flare as he picks up the scent of your fear and maybe even reads your intentions. A stillness comes over him, turning him into the marble statue he probably is in another reality, right before your eyes.
You think of playgrounds and bullies and little girls you wanted to kiss. You think of how you dropped the ball and ran away to tug on your mother’s hand because you could hide behind her skirt and stuff your nose against her scented hair where it was safe and no little girl could wipe your kiss away from her cheek with that disgusted expression on her face.
If you touch him, will his skin go cold? Or maybe, as you hope, he might warm to you and become solid flesh once more.
“Jim,” you say. Then stop.
Where is your script? You’re sure you had one. You’ve spent hundreds of hours in restless daydreams imagining the things you would say to him if he gave you half the chance and you let yourself shut up about everything else for just a moment.
That moment is quickly passing.
You look at him, and his face is too taut to stare at directly, his muscles bunched like he knows. The way he stands, the way he seems to strain beneath his skin makes you wonder if he wants this as much as you do. But you’ve forgotten your fucking script. The lines are blurry and far away, and you feel like you’ve just walked naked into the SATs like you did in your high school nightmares.
He takes a step forward, the lines of him intense and vivid. His breath is suspended. Your heart slams against the rear of your ribs, pulling away from him. This is too important, and he’s spooked you.
You are not brave today.
“I, um, I was thinking. About a late snack. Figured you’d want something. Chinese or Thai?”
Jim’s face falls for an instant and becomes a crumbled mask of granite. You think of David and you think of Goliath. You wonder who you’ve just defeated. His muscles go lax with an emotion too complex to read, but almost immediately he has pieced himself back together. His resilience makes you ashamed.
“You choose, Chief. It’s up to you.”
‘As always,’ you think, and almost wish it wasn’t, because you cannot be brave about this.
Not even for Jim.
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