Your Ex-Lover Is Dead

JT Quips:

"When there is nothing left to burn,
You have to set yourself on fire."

It may have occurred to me, around the fourth drink, that her eyes are bluer now. I wonder what color they were seven years ago. Has it been that long? It's been that long. The light of the room is harsh and uninviting but I was invited, here, I was invited here, and that counteracts the uninvitingness of the light. Natalie sits in the corner and allows the man next to her to touch her arm as she laughs. I love her. I hate her. But she's not standing in front of me. Someone else is.

"This is the guy I was telling you about. The one from that band, you know, with that song, 'Blanket.'" The ignorant girl starts to hum the tune so her friend can come into a state of recognition. "'La la, you cover me with ferocity/you've stopped feeling like you did/it's your life that covers me in a cold blanket" she prompts. Her friend, my friend, the girl with the blue eyes, nods with recognition, genuine or faked for my benefit, I'm not sure.

Blue eyes, fuck what is her name, answers with a soft confidence, "Yes, I think we've met before."

"Anyways, so yea, I have to go tell Nat something. You two stay and chat." I don't know the girl's name but I'd but I'd bet any money it translates into Ignorant Girl With A Loud Mouth. I almost give her a message to relay to Natalie, but she's four skips away before I can open my mouth, so I don't even bother.

"Is she," Blue-eyed high school pal looks over towards where Nat is now completely surrounded by adoring fans, "I mean, are you two...?"

"Dating? Fucking? Married?" I laugh off the suggestion. "I've been trying to get in her pants for two straight years. She's a fucking movie star. I don't get the time of day. I'm her errand-boy, no more."

"Oh," she says, but she doesn't seemed overly disappointed. "How are the other three? Craig, Sully, and Paige's perfect boyfriend?"

I laugh; come on, I have to. "You never forget your first love, or in your case, your first grudge."

She flips her blonde hair back. "She made my life a living hell for seven straight years. I get a little grudge leeway, don't I?"

I turn my body slightly more away from Natalie. "I guess I can give you that."

She giggles and touches my arm slightly, and for the first time, I realize that the girl standing in front of me is mildly attractive. Jesus! What is her name? "I - uh - " she looks over at Natalie and her posse and back to me "did you want to get out of here? Grab a cup of coffee or something? Some - uh - pie? I could get us some pie."

I keep my head straight and look at her with the corner of my eyes. "Well, what kind of pie?"

She laughs and I follow her out of the trendy "NY" (I take care not to say New York - it is NY, one half of the most annoying abbreviation on the planet - "NYLA") loft. We both know that the kind of pie doesn't matter. It could be rat poison pie and I would follow her. I need out. We both need out; we both need to get home without leaving our lives.

"God that was strange to see you again
Introduced by a friend of a friend

Smiled and said 'yes I think we've met before'

In that instant, it started to pour."

We stand under a canopy, staring at the sheets of rain falling around us. She's holding on to my jacket sleeve for dear life, and I keep my gaze locked in the opposite direction from where she is. I take a step out into the murderous rain, and she follows obediently. I take a few more and, still clinging to my increasingly wet forest green jacket, she jogs the few steps and looks down off the curb into the puddles that are forming at our feet.

The first cab we see pulls over to the side of the road, causing a splash that nips our shoes. We slide across the seats, causing an awful noise comparable only to nails and chalkboards, and the cab driver gives us a raised eyebrow. After a few seconds of silence, he shifts in his seat and bellows "Where ya off to?" New Yorkers are always in a rush.

She shakes her hair to the opposite side of me. "Two blocks down on Cleveland Road, take a left at the light, and there's a small coffee bar three blocks or so down. I forget the name of it, but I'll holler when I see it."

"I haven't had coffee in hours," I mutter.

"It's not the coffee there that makes you want to die. It's the pie. And the fact that it has total night owl hours. I'm addicted."

"Addiction's painful."

"You think I don't know?" What the hell is this girl's name? I grasp my hands and squeeze them while names run through my mind, none of them matching her blonde hair, her blue eyes, her flawed beauty. "You seem down and out tonight."

"Oh, me? No, I'm just, no... I'm fine."

Sinclair! Heather mother-fucking Sinclair! How could I not remember it earlier? "Oh, I thought there might be some Natalie drama."

I sigh. "Well, Heather, there's always Natalie drama. Or there's never Natalie drama, depending on which way you look at it."

She, Heather, holds one manicured finger down on the window-operating button and a small, thankful breeze flows into the cramped car. "Can you please put the window up in the rain, Miss?" the driver asks. Heather does as she's asked, but we share a look and then a giggle.

"This is it," she says and the taxi stops dead in the middle of the abandoned street. We hurry out of the car, after I threw a few crumpled bills towards the driver's seat, and stand on the wet sidewalk. The rain has died down to a windy sprinkle, and Heather grabs my waist. "JT, you were always underrated, and I've always wanted to kiss in the rain."

Before a protest flies across my mind, her lips land upon mine. My eyes close and my hand moves to her back without my instruction, and we kiss. We kiss in the rain, like children, like teenagers, like students, like we do.

"Captured a taxi despite all the rain
We drove in silence across Pont Champlain

And all of that time you thought I was sad

I was trying to remember your name"

There was a certain way that you looked that night, your hair was wet and stringy and blonde, your eyes pierced me, your whole body invited me, there was a way you looked that you reinstated a few more times over the next eighteen months. I'd be on tour, I'd be sweaty and gross and girls would be screaming for Craig, and I thought about you and the way you looked. I can't lie right now and tell you that you were the only thing I thought about.

Because I still thought about Natalie. And, yes, your hair is exceptionally stringy and wet in my memory, forged in a way that water can never forge on anything tangible, but Natalie is still, hands down, the most beautiful girl I have ever met. And nothing, not even your body pressed against me and a tree in Washington Square, can dispute that. You were more than beautiful, though, even if you never were really beautiful. You were devious, smart, cunning, tactful, tasteless. I could thumb through Roget's for hours without finding half the words I'd need to describe you to a stranger.

And I never even knew you.

I guess, then, to say that I never loved you is to be redundant. Well, I am redundant. At least I'm not a liar.

I met you on the most disastrous night of my life. The most disastrous night of my life was the night I met you. My life became a disaster when I met you. Not like it was smooth sailing before I met you or anything, but you just threw the lifeboats out into the water without a care as to how I, nay we, would survive. The only comforting part about the entire ordeal is that we went down together. As cheesy as that is, as cliche as we became, it's the truth, the only truth I know.

I got told two days ago that I don't speak words anymore, I speak only in "crappy emo lyric verse." I asked if that was anything like iambic pentameter. I got a swirlie.

It's 3:00 AM and you're outside my window, in the pouring rain, and the act speaks volumes about your character. It speaks even louder for our relationship that I'm ignoring your calls, your yells, your rocks tapping my window. I'm done with it now. Your voice on my answering machine is my only reminder, and I just erased the message.

Natalie sips tentatively on the mug of coffee I gave her a few minutes ago and hugs her legs with her free hand. "I missed you, JT."

The rocks are still softly hitting the window, but I ignore them as I stare at the girl who sits so self-consciously on my ratty couch. "There isn't much to miss." I love to see her this self-conscious. She used to be so powerful; she used to have so much power over me.

"I was a fool. I let you leave with her. I should've stopped you. I should've said something. I probably should've said something a long time before that night. I didn't. That's my fault. But she's gone, and I'm here. I'm not that girl who snorted coke off of a compact mirror because I couldn't find anything else. I've changed. I want to be the friend I couldn't be back then."

Her words surround me as the tapping of the rocks against the window becomes harsher to my eardrums. A huge part of me just wants Natalie to leave. She always won guys over with her pretty words, but they were never the truth. The only thing she changes is her address. But I look at her, and Jesus is she beautiful, and she wants me. She was on People's Most Beautiful list, so I'm not the only one who sees it, either. It would be nice, for once, to have everyone on the planet envious of me. But I can't even look at her. It's like getting into Princeton, Harvard, Oxford... but knowing enough about the school that disgusts you. It doesn't change its image to the world, just to you. If you pick it, people everywhere will want to be you. But if you do, could you live with the disgust of your choice, could you live with yourself?

"Here's what I'm going to do," I say as I jump up onto the window ledge and let my feet dangle beneath me. "I'm going to write a song about you. I'll call it 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World' and I might put 'According to People Magazine' in parentheses. I'll tell the world how amazing and gorgeous you are. Or, rather, Craig will since he's the vocals. But, for right now, I'm going to walk out that door, walk into the rain, and I'm not going to stop until I can't breathe. Maybe I'll take Heather along with me, maybe I won't, but all you need to know is that I'm leaving you here. Thank you for having the strength to tell me what you told me and to open your heart up to me. I'm positive there's someone out there for you, but I know he's not me. So, good night, and lock up on your way out."

"This scar is a fleck on my porcelain skin.
You tried to reach deep but you couldn't get in.
And now you're outside me, you see all the beauty;
Repent all your sin."

"Why was she there so late?" Your hair is stringy, falling in your face in that way I picture you, and your eyes are demanding answers, although I don't have any. I look you up and down. I should take you somewhere, get you dry clothes, towel you off at least. But I don't. It's too late. Everything is over.

"Why are you here so late?"

You look up at me, and I can see the tears mixing with the rain that's falling from your hair onto your face. "I love you. Come back home."

"You lost me, Heather. I'm gone. I'm not coming back."

"I don't believe that. You came out here for a reason."

"You were throwing rocks at my window! I came out here to tell you to stop. I can't do this anymore."

"If that's what you want."

"I don't know what I want." I'm finally telling the truth, and that's a good feeling. I'm not doing anything for you, not anymore, and I'm not doing anything for the crack whore sitting in my apartment, either.

It's all about my truth.

You look pale and cold and I should ask you in, but she's still in there. Before I can walk away, turn around, leave, you speak a soft sentence that breaks my heart, "I know I hurt you."

"You didn't hurt me. You ruined me, Heather. There's a difference."

"It was never my intent."

As I run my fingers through your wet, tangled hair and embrace you, once more, in my arms and let your body sink into mine, I know you have just spoken your truth. And your truth is enough to win me over, again and again.

"It's nothing but time and a face that you'll lose.
I chose to feel it and you couldn't choose.

I'll write you a postcard, I'll send you the news.

From the house down the road, from real love."

Craig sits on the bed and looks over the scattered pages of lyrics that I tossed at him as soon as he walked in the door. "I can definitely work these into a single."

"I need her to know, you know? I need her to hear this and just know that she meant something to me. I feel like I did it. I feel like I caused it. I owe her something. I owe her more than this, but it's all I think I can give."

"You helped her out a lot when you were with her. You were a fantastic friend and everything. If it's any consolation, I don't think you could've done much else."

"Everything is over for her. Her life is over. I want to go back and change that."

He looks around my dirty room for a minute. "I, uh, you probably can't do that."

He feels awkward. I hate it when I do that to him. "I'm sorry. Let's talk about something else." I don't want to talk about anything else. "How's Ashley?"

"She's great. She's worried about you."

"She shouldn't be."

"She wants to fix you up with someone back home. She says that Ellie is very, very single."

The thought puts a smile on my face, but I know I could never do a relationship like that again. Even Ellie, as sweet as she seems, would find some way to make me want to jump off a bridge if I were in a relationship with her. "I couldn't do that."

"She'll be disappointed."

I shake my hair with my right hand and let it fall clumsily back onto the papers. "I'm still seeing Heather. Or, no, I'm seeing Heather again, I guess I should say."

His eyes widen and he rubs his palms rapidly against the patched fabric covering his knees. "I did not know that."

"I know you think it's a mistake."

"JT, it's your life." I don't say anything, and he shifts on the bed a little. "When, uh, did it happen?"

"The day Natalie came over. We talked, and I realized I could never be with her. It all seemed to make sense. And then Nat had her breakdown."

"Oh. Well, the guilt makes sense, then."

We're interrupted by a quiet knocking and the door creaking open. You stand in the small opening with her hair in a messy ponytail and a t-shirt hanging over old sweat pants. You look like hell. "I thought I heard voices. Hey, Craig. I'm just going to pop in the shower."

"'Kay. How was the workout?" I ask you without looking up

"Fine. I'll be out in about twenty minutes. Did you guys want lunch?"

"No, I'll be heading out before then," Craig says.

"Alright. The shower's calling me. I'll see you later, Craig."

"Bye," we both mumble in effortless unison.

As soon as I can hear the water in the hallway bathroom turn on, Craig says, "I didn't know it was that serious. You know, living together and all that."

"She just, she stays here sometimes..."

"No man, I get it," Craig answers in response to my lull. "I totally get it. Ash and I went through that stage a couple of times before I wrapped up a key for our two year anniversary. Turns out I wrapped up the ring two months later for Christmas."

I stare at the door where you disappeared a few minutes ago. I'm listening to Craig, but I can't bet a penny that I hear anything he's saying. I mumble and nod but I'm blindly folding up the same lyric-clad papers that I had thrown at him on the way in.

"I'll take that as my cue to leave," he says as he gently takes the papers from my grip.

"Oh, sorry, I didn't even realize..."

"It's fine. Spin and Sully are ready to start recording again in August, if you wanted to move back up to the T-dot for a few months around then."

"Yea," I let him take the pictures and we both stand. "That's fine. There's not much keeping me in the city."

He makes a noticeable glance towards the room where you're showering, but I choose to ignore it. "I'll see you in a few hours at the church, then?"

"Yea. I'll see you there."

"Live through this and you won't look back
Live through this and you won't look back

Live through this and you won't look back"

Her funeral was on a day that didn't mean much to anyone. The press came in droves, but none of them got into the church. Her mom looked distracted, and the priest seemed too holy to be doing the service of a suicide victim.

My mind replayed her bravery over and over again, her words, her passion, my apathy. I wish I could see more than her casket; I wish I could know more than the month I have to move away from the city. I wish I knew love; I wish I had loved her.

I'm not sure I ever really liked funerals, but I know hers is the worst I've ever been to. The church isn't Catholic although she told me once that she was. People look at me like they want to ask me questions, but Craig acts as my bodyguard and, for the most part, they stay away.

There's so much I want to get in to, but I sit still and let the priest's words wash over me. I wish I had the balls to do something, to feel something, to love someone. It gets old being this responsible with my emotions. It gets old fast.

We don't go to the burial, a paparazzi buffet we imagined, and I heard we didn't miss much.

We'll record the song, and maybe in a few years, you'll get your boxed up ring. But that's all I can guarantee for now. You take the life you're given. I'll give you mine as long as you promise to stand in the rain every once in awhile, get your hair stringy and wet, and let me enjoy the moment as best I can.

"There's one thing I want to say so I'll be brave,
You were what I wanted, I gave what I gave,
I'm not sorry I met you.
I'm not sorry it's over.
I'm not sorry there's nothing to save.
I'm not sorry there's nothing to save."