XXI:Waste of Paint
Thank you so much to the wonderful Leader of the Nargles and the lovely death-note-rules for their reviews! It means a lot to me that you took the time to read and review my story! This chapter title comes from a song by Bright Eyes.
Each time I blink, I see the flashing lights of that night. Feel the ground shift under my feet; the room, my body, distorting. A blacklight whirlpool, spinning and sinking at the same time. My skin nerveless and not-mine, my thoughts not mine; the full-being dizzyness which is alcohol-spiked punch on an empty stomach. And to a person who lives for control, an out-of-mind, out-of-life experience.
I assumed that when I came here, the hardest part would be over. That because I'd decided to apologize, the words would fall from my mouth. Instead, I cough them up like rocks, my throat too small to hold what I'm trying to say. "Imsorry."
He stands in the doorway, blinks.
"I mean –" I inhale. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt anyone. At least, not you. When I lose control, I'm so sure everyone is out to get me, and really, if they were, I couldn't blame them. But they're not – you're not. I mean, you're a good person, is what I'm saying. And I'm sorry, that when it really mattered, I couldn't make myself believe that... make myself believe in good people."
He says, "Okay."
I wait for him to say more, but it doesn't come. I feel my face going red. "Yuki gave me your address," I say.
He says, "Do you want to come in?"
Kureno's house has the colour and smell of flour. I wonder if everything is neatly put away, or if his family just doesn't own many things. We sit down in dark wooden chairs and listen to the gargle of the dishwasher.
"Do you want cake?" he says, in the same toneless voice he says everything in.
It takes me a moment to realize he's not mocking me. "No thanks."
"It was my dad's birthday yesterday."
"You can have cake if you want."
There's a small bird, a robin, made of soft paper and hanging from the ceiling in front of the window. It's eyes are shakily drawn, one bigger than the other. I wonder if he made it when he was a kid. I watch the robin swing back and forth on its string.
Kureno says, "Did you believe it?" When I don't answer he clarifies, "What you said that night, I mean."
I knew what he meant. "Yeah," I say.
Another long silence.
I say, "But I don't believe it anymore."
"That I gave you the impression that I would... hurt you. Like that. Or at all. I... you know I wouldn't do that, right?"
"I know. You're not the one who has to apologize."
"I'm still sorry."
"I just get... scared, sometimes. Not because of anything outside me, just... scared. And when it happens, I can't think straight. And then I do things that scare me even more."
"Is it getting any better?"
"No." I look down at my hands, see I'm wringing them. "I mean, I want it to get better. I'm just not sure how. But maybe wanting it is a start?"
"Maybe," he says. I look up at his face, but his dark eyes are as unreadable as ever.
"Am I a bad person?" I hear myself say.
"No," he says, without hesitation.
"I'm just... designed to mess things up."
"That doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you a person."
"Why are you being kind to me?"
"I think that's pretty obvious."
"It was brave of you to come here."
I don't say anything.
"I want us to be friends, if that's still... possible."
"Why do you forgive me?"
"I never blamed you."
"But what I said about you was horrible. I ruined your reputation, I hurt you!"
He looks past the bird, out the window. A blue spruce sways in the wind. "That's what people do. We accidentally hurt each other. What we do after is what counts."
I say, "I'm not sure I can think that way."
He shrugs. "That's okay."
"Is there anything you're not okay with?"
"I don't like when you're sad."
"You barely know me."
"I don't like seeing anyone sad."
He says, "I know we haven't talked very much. But in a way, I feel connected to you. I think... you're a better person than you think you are."
"Thanks," I say, not knowing how else to reply.
"Do you think maybe we used to know each other? In some other form?"
"I don't know. I don't really believe in stuff like that."
"Fair enough. I'm glad you came to visit. It was kind of you."
"Thanks. I'm... trying to be kinder." I laugh, not wanting him to believe me. The same way I laugh when I talk about how messed up my family is, how ugly my face is. Not because anything is funny, but so I can soften hating myself from a terrifying void into a shallow joke, because I definitely can't completely rid myself of something so central to my thought process.
"Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?"
I suddenly feel like I'm gong to cry if I open my mouth, so I shake my head no.
He says, "Sorry. I get it from my mom – my family shows caring with food."
I laugh, for real this time. The wave of emotion has passed as quickly as it appeared. "It's okay. Thanks, but I need to get going. Happy birthday to your dad."
"Thanks. I'll tell him," says Kureno. He stands to walk me to the door. "Akito?"
"Are we friends now?"
"I don't know. Something like that."
The next few weeks, I spend most of my time with Tohru. The undecorated walls of my apartment have become constrictive, and the radio fails to fill the empty space. Tohru and I go over to her house, study and watch movies in her house. I explain ionic bonds to her, and though I'm not exactly the type to ask for help, she asks if she can read my essays, seeming genuinely interested, and she asks me about my ideas while occasionally pointing out missed commas.
"Your thoughts are so fast, " she says, "in your writing."
"Sorry," I say, for some reason.
"It's not a bad thing. But it can be a bit hard to follow for people who don't think like you. See, if you break this sentence into two, and then explain the examples, it's easier to see how they connect. But the idea's really cool."
I make a few keystrokes on her computer, shift the letters around. At first I didn't want to do my homework here, as my typing is laughably slow. But she never points this out, and coming here is definitely better that typing all my essays at the library.
She leans in towards the screen, then rests her head back on my shoulder, her arms around me as we share the only chair in the room. "Yeah, that sounds really good."
The first few days, Taro continually barges into Tohru's room to "check up on us." Eventually he catches up kissing while Stardust plays forgotten on Tohru's laptop, and although I freeze, Tohru either doesn't notice him or doesn't care. Taro's face turns bright red and he backs out, closing the door loudly. For several moments, Tohru and I stare in silence at the empty space where he had been. Then, simultaneously, we laugh.
Taro's check-ins stop after that.
Tohru's grandpa invites me for dinner most nights, for which I am both thankful and annoyed. Being around so much good food makes me want to binge, but being around other people makes me want to not eat at all, for fear I'll do something wrong, eat too much or too little and make it clear I'm not like them.
When Tohru smiles at me I feel like I'm betraying her, because even as I smile back a part of me is obsessing over calories. Knowing Tohru cares about me makes me want to be healthy, but also terrifies me because not obsessing control could mean losing it completely. And if I fall into excesses and show her the worst sides of me I'll be left utterly alone again, this time with a clear idea of everything I've lost. And food is about the easiest way of losing control. If I gain weight, there's no way I can hide it, not with us touching all the time.
But if I go too far the other way and end up in the hospital, she'll know how fucked up I am. That even in our closest moments, when there should be nothing on my mind but her, a part of me is thinking about food. That even if I'm able to get my body healthy, these thoughts have been in my mind too long to ever go away, and I'm not sure I even want them too - they've been a part of me so long I can't picture living without them. A cruel friend you keep in your life because you're afraid to be alone.
But Tohru and her grandpa are kind to me, and gradually, I get used to the spot at their table. I carefully fill my plate with the same amount as Tohru, deciding that will ensure I eat the appropriate amount. I cut everything into as small pieces as I can, eat them one at a time so I won't look like I'm stuffing my face. Tohru and her grandfather ask each other about their days and their plans. They do their best to include me in the conversation and I do my best not to add translate each spoonful into calories.
One day over mashed potatoes, Tohru says, "Kyo really likes the Christmas present you made him."
"Oh," I say, "that's good." I'd given him a framed photograph of the three of us, inside a frame I'd decorated with fake gold foil and fragments of fall leaves. I'd been simultaneously proud and embarrassed of my creation, as I usually am with artwork – even a simple design puts a part of you, some of your thoughts and abilities, on display to be judged.
I add, "I liked his, too."
In reality, I'm not quite sure what to make of Kyo's gift. He'd sketched a portrait of me, in detail I had to admit was amazing, though, I think, inaccurate. Through the window of paper, the face that looks out at me is thin, eyes bright and hair shiny, and my first thought was that he'd drawn me more attractive than I really am in order to mock my imperfections. More than once, I took the drawing into the bathroom with me and held it up to the mirror beside my face, unable to see exactly what was wrong with it, except that I knew I didn't look that good. Eventually I dumped a pile of polaroids on top of the portrait and had almost forgotten about it by the time Tohru brought it up.
For Tohru, I got a white scarf which I'd dyed with bright streams of colour, thinking it would look good with her black clothes. She made me a small blue-beaded bracelet and a ticket to the play she's working on, the school's production of The Wizard of Oz.
When Tohru's not home, usually she's at school, painting sets and helping the Wicked Witch of the West get over her stage fright by practicing lines with her for hours on end. I help out with the painting occasionally, brushing green onto the outline of a tree because I want to be around Tohru and I don't want to feel useless.
One time, when a particularly long rehearsal keeps us at school until 9:00 p.m., while we crunch through the snow on our way to the bus stop, I ask Tohru why she doesn't want to be in a play.
She says, "I am in it."
"I meant acting."
She shrugs. "It's not really my interest. I love listening to the plays. I love how they change and fit into place to become ready to present. Meeting the actors, and decorating sets, and being part of something. But writing makes me more alive."
It's a clear night, something rare in the city. The stars shine like fragments of glass.
I say, "Can I read one of the things you've written, sometime?"
She says, "Of course. But not yet."
"I haven't finished anything. But when I do, you can read it."
"Promise?" I say, gently squeezing her hand through her mitten.
"Of course," she says. "It's only fair. You are a part of my writing."
"What do you mean?"
She smiles. "You're a part of my life." She kisses me, then puts her arms around me in a hug. I hold her close to me. The yellow headlights of the bus split the night, and I kiss her one last time before turning to walk back home.