Flash Fiction: Doubt in the Middle (189 words)

“I’m fine,” Ady promised when I found her crying. She had her arms tucked around her chest, shoulders curled forward as if she were cold in the shade of the garden wall. Taking two short breaths, she wiped her cheeks, fingers laid long and flat against her skin.

My feet faltered. I hadn’t intended to find her at all.

“Are you all right?” I murmured.

She nodded, quick and sure, or at least unwilling leave me with any question. She took two more breaths, and it occurred to me that it was meant to be just one, but it kept breaking in the middle.

“All right…” I said slowly, eloquently.

She laughed, and that was a little broken, too. But she almost grinned at me at the end. “No, it’s… Just, sometimes when something aches, and it gets hard to tell whether it’s damage… or growth.” She tilted her head, and her eyes looked past me for a moment, but her smile twisted a little higher. She let another tear run down her face without bothering to hide it.

And she managed one long breath.

I smiled back, gently.

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