quintessence.

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Authors: Sarah Buhl
pay attention to it.”
    “Once you realize it, come back and let me know what you noticed,” he said with a wink and scratch of his bearded chin.
    My phone rang from the other room, and I jumped down to answer it. I walked into the living room and my foot dropped more than usual from the alcohol. It made my foot even lazier and more stubborn. My brain gave up on raising its demands.
    “Hello,” I said as I answered the unrecognized number.
    “Hey, Maggie!” Toby said.
    “Toby?” I asked.
    “Yes, it’s me. How are you?” he asked.
    “I’m good,” I said and knew I didn’t sound convincing.
    Gabe gave me an annoyed glance. He told me over and again that I needed to be honest with Toby, and tell him what was going on with me. But, I didn’t want to tell him. I still loved Toby, and I wanted him to have this time.
    “How is your trip going? Where are you anyway?” I asked, walking back into the kitchen and taking a seat at the table.
    “I’m in Minnesota. I’m getting ready to go back to this cabin I’ve been staying at. I can’t get any reception up there, and there’s no landline. So I had to call from down here at the gas station. It’s been kind of cool being up here all alone and just being. It is quite a change from being in Boston and Detroit. But I needed the decompression after those two cities. I get why Karl does it now,” he said and the mention of Karl made me look over at him sitting with our friends and laughing.
    “Yeah, it sounds like it. Karl does a lot of things that make sense,” I said.
    Toby laughed. “Well, that’s a change of tune. I didn’t think you liked Karl.”
    “I’m learning to move outside my personal space.”
    He laughed again. “What does that mean?”
    “You know how we have our personal space? I’m trying to move outside that and look at the world around me outside that space. I’ve focused too much on myself.”
    “Aren’t we something?” Toby asked. “Here you are trying not to focus on yourself as much and I’m trying to focus more on myself. See, this time apart is helping us. I’ll come home in a month and we’ll be renewed.”
    “I think you’re right,” I said. “That makes me happy, Toby. And I needed to feel happy.”
    “I’m glad Maggie. I’ve been thinking about you a lot and us. I’ve been searching for answers, and I’ve found some that I look forward to sharing with you someday,” he said with a light laugh.
    “I look forward to it. But, I have to let you go now. I’m at Gabe’s with everyone.”
    “Oh, let me talk to Gabe,” he said.
    I walked into the living room and handed the phone to Gabe, “Toby wants to talk to you,” I said and sat on Gabe’s lap as he hugged me. I’ve always loved Gabe hugs. I rested my head on his shoulder and listened to his laugh through his chest. It reminded me of when I was a little girl and I’d sit on my dad’s lap. Gabe made me feel safe like that. He made everyone feel safe.
    That’s what the warmth I kept feeling was—safety and surety. There was a surety in knowing they weren’t going anywhere. There weren’t any ulterior motives with my friends, and there was safety in that.
    I laughed and threw a pillow at Blake.
    “What was that for?” Blake asked.
    “Just because. As much of a turd as you are, you’re still a good friend, Blake.”
    “You’re crazy, Maggie,” he said with his brow raised and a crooked grin. “Crazy for not admitting that sooner.”
    Brecken backhanded his shoulder and shook her head before kissing his chin.
    “It’s true. I love all of you,” I said. “Even my new friends.” I smiled at Brecken and Karl.

8
Karl
Fall
    Maggie took two more shots after the first few. She kept her nerves to herself and let her laughter take over. I saw the shadow of fear in her eyes and knew she didn’t want to let anyone approach the subject of her health issues. She just wanted to be herself again.
    “I want to go for a walk. Karl, will you join me?”

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