You might have seen it in the way they noticed you fumble with your words as the redness welled up in your cheeks. Maybe in the way your loving devoted group of friends started to dwindle down, day by day, until he was all that was left. Maybe in the way you passed the playground every Friday afternoon to see him, instead of relishing in those sweet two days of freedom.
It didn't really matter to you. You didn't need them anyways. All you needed was someone who agreed to sit down and listen to the endless supply of half-true stories you had scraped up about those other kids you once called your friends.
You needed someone who'd protect you from the big, scary middle-scholars who threatened to knock the wind out of your ten-year-old self, someone who would make sure your soft ringlets were left kempt, someone who made sure the lunch money your mother tucked into your dress pocket every day didn't fall into the hands of children whose parents didn't care enough to give them their own. You needed him.
Your visits became more frequent. As you walked past the playground every day after school, on the familiar route to his house that you had engraved in your mind, the other kids would stop their games of tetherball and hide-and-seek to watch you in "disgust". You paid no attention to them. You were unafraid of the larger kids who stepped in your path and mocked you for hanging out with him. You were being mocked for having someone you needed, and you were unsure why.
You shied away from the world, for you were content with only him. You were in love with him.
No one had to explain to you what had happened. You knew something was wrong the day you desperately knocked on the door of his house, only to receive silence. The way you started to pay attention to the unknown soreness you experienced on the walk home everyday. The way your parents squeezed you in their arms, with tears welling up in their tired eyes, going on and on about how they leveled every mountain and sparred with every star searching for their little girl. The way the tall, scary men arrived to question you, when they pulled up in front of your parents' home in a show of sirens and flashing colors that made your head spin. You knew what happened. His disappearance left you almost immobile.
You told them nothing. You knew he was out there somewhere, waiting for you to find him and bring him home, waiting for the Fridays where the two of you would just sit on the floor of his living room and talk about your plans for the future, though he never did say much.
You wanted to keep him safe, wherever he was, from the onslaught of ridicule and rejection that would come his way-your way-if he returned. In doing so, you lied to the scary men, watching them shrug to each other before making an effort to comfort your trembling parents and driving away, colors muted. Back to whatever hellhole they crawled out of, you thought.
You started to pay less attention in school. You didn't care about how some dumb object in some dumb book carried an entire theme on its back, what the coefficient of x was, what the girls at the other side of the lunch table whispered as they stared at you. And yet, you couldn't help but think about him.
What could have caused him to run away? You might have seen it in the way he ran a hand through his dark hair as his glance shifted left and right. Maybe in the way the redness welled up in his cheeks as he fumbled around while making your drinks. Maybe when it seemed you two had been talking for so long that the hours had passed as fast as your eyes could meet.
When you were much younger, your parents had teased you about it. "Love," your parents would say, "is not for fools, nor a good man with his rules." You convinced yourself you were neither of those, as was he. You wanted him to return. He was not just some "friend", someone you'd drag along with you for a couple of months before spitting him out.
Your love for him endured, even when the middle-schoolers left you with bruises on your arms, even when you noticed his tone would become more frantic as your conversations grew longer, even when rumors floated around the school district like a cloud that rained the plague, even when your then-friends tried to convince you that he was twice your age, even on that fateful Friday night when you stumbled home with rope-marks on your wrists and the pungent taste of chloroform on your upper lip. You needed him, and he needed you.