"You're ... endearing."
"Endearing?" His head protruded out of his neck like that of a senile pigeon. "What does that mean?"
Her head snapped back, chin into neck, mouth pulled downward in a combination of confusion and embarrassment. "It, well, it was intended as a complement. But, well ... "
Swarmed with self-doubt and lost in the ever-impossible arena of the spoken word, she stopped. Seeking relief, she looked at her hands, her feet, back to her hands, then to the man across the road awkwardly getting balloons out of a blue hatchback.
He stared at the side of her head, his mouth gaping slightly. He resembled a freshly killed deer: Silent. Ugly.
"Endearing makes me sound like a child." The dead deer spoke.
Finding her words again, her eyes shot up and over, taking her head with her to face him square-on.
"A child? Yes, I suppose that would be a better description of you after all." Her face began to warm. "Endearing implies adoration, desire — love, even." Her voice began to rise. "Endearing implies kindness. Child-like, well, that can imply an array of things, from the best to the most base. And you —you — you are ..."
She could not say it. She wanted to hate him, to be rid of him, at this moment more than any other, but something was lodged in her chest. It tugged as he walked with her. Tore when he walked away. And kept her, always, from escaping that inexplicable aura that seeped out of his skin and encapsulated the surrounding space.
With her silence came his victory. He shut his mouth, retracted his frame and with a smug chuckle slid his hands into his pockets. "You get so defensive over the silliest things. So I'm a child. I've been called worse."
They began to walk again, he invisibly tugging her along. A rebuttal grew, filling the area behind her eyes and nose. The words pounded inside her face, punching and scratching to be let out. She could not allow it, for if she did, the words would tumble out, jumbled and pathetic.
When she said the original word, he heard a set of nine letters meaning naivety. What she meant was something quite different.
Ah, because it was not just a word.
It was a being. One she sought. Not unlike a soulmate, but not the same. It was what she had hoped he would be. But labeling him as such did not make it so.
It was not just a word, and he was neither the word nor the embodiment of it. He was just a man. A man strapped with self-made blinders to what his world could be. He had once been endearing because of a mysterious intrigue that piqued her interest. He was now a repulsive, maggot-ridden carcass of arrogance and self-righteous delusions.
Turning abruptly, she dislodged the metaphor from her chest. A gasp wisped past her lips as she walked away. He didn't stop, he didn't notice. And although she pretended not to care, she did.
But it was better this way.