Chapter 1: THE MOON IS DOWN

(Brittany, Tokyo, November 2012)

What was this now? Rum? Vodka? Something mixed with cherries? It was so sweet. Too sweet. It didn't matter. I took another swallow.

My arms hugged the table. Seated on the floor, the rest of me lay hidden under wood. No problems. Nothing to show that I didn't want to show. Everyone was laughing, but it seemed so hard to laugh, to look at all of these so-called friends and laugh as hard as I could at nothing funny.

For her it was easy to pretend, the burn of alcohol settling inside every vein and zooming up to her head like a sleeping pill. It must have been like breathing to drink so fast. Half a liter gone already.

She was seated across from me, her body melted against the sofa, fingers tugging at the sleeves of her leather jacket. I glanced at her eyes. They were dark as usual and painted on mine. All I could see in those dark eyes was the darkness of that night.

Where are you, Santana? I can't see you.

It was nothing that could have been said. Instead I brought the smeared glass to my lips and finished what I'd started. Ke$ha played in the background. My skull hammered bone into skin, cheeks hot and red and everything burning.

I didn't wanna laugh anymore. I only wanted to be like her. To forget.

No. I couldn't forget it. I could never forget.

Santana stretched, her foot grazing my calf. I took another sip of her and suddenly my belly couldn't hold it.

No one noticed as I fled the scene. I dashed to the bathroom, slamming the door behind me and locking it as I fell onto tile. The toilet had just been cleaned. Flowers, bleach and spring. But deep down it still smelled dirty, making my stomach swirl.

How long I sat there, who knew. I remembered blood. A bitten tongue. I remembered pink spit in the water, my face slowly cooling. And I remembered getting up and sneaking away, up to my bedroom, where no one followed.

I lay on the bed with the light glaring down. And then I heard a knock, her rough voice through the wood.

"Brit? You in there? What the fuck's going on?"

I didn't bother to answer. I swallowed back everything I wanted to say, the words clotting in my mouth.

"Brit? Can I come in?"

I spread my arms across the bedspread, closing my eyes on the forming tears. When they forced themselves back open, so was my door, her frame in the hollow between dark and light. She pressed her fingers to my wall. Her long black hair lay straight against her head, no halo.

"Brit?"

"What?"

"What what? Can I talk to you?"

I shrugged.

She took a step onto the tatami, sliding the door closed behind her. Her fingers crushed my One Tree Hill poster, hastily tacked to the fusuma. I didn't want her to see all of this. My sketch of a room. My outline of a life.

Yes, I did. She should notice this sadness rubbed into my skin. It was made of her. She was like a rock, like concrete, something you scratched yourself on as a child.

"What's wrong? Are you crying?" She clutched one arm across her stomach. Her eyes seemed so heavy and full of liquor.

"Why did you come tonight?"

"You wanted me to. Right? See your big life in Japan." She took a few steps forward, hovering near me like some sort of ghost. "I promised you I would."

"But you've barely said a word to me these past four months. You called like twice and sent me some emails. And now you've been here three days and you act like we're not even..."

"Not even what?"

"Not even friends," I whispered.

She bit her lip and bent her head, eyes plugged into the corner pocket of a wall. "Jesus,

Brit, what's the big deal?" she hissed. "We're still friends, okay? You want us to be something magical or something? It's not like that anymore."

"So everything's fine now?"

She gave me one of her patented smiles, crazy at both ends. "Yeah, I'm totally fine! Why aren't you? I mean, you're in fucking Japan! That's awesome! Fucking live a little, huh?"

Her face clouded over. Everything was getting erased.

"I miss you," I said, pausing to swallow her eyes.

"What are you talking about?" She blinked hard, rubbing her lashes with tiny balled fists. "You're the one who left Lima!"

It wasn't her in front of me anymore. My best friend. My girlfriend. My firework. How could four months feel so long? How could four months seem like another person's lifetime?

"You could have talked to me. I could have helped you," I said. "I've seen every episode of 'Oprah.'"

"Fuck you, Brittany." It was blunt, three pebbles thrust from her lips to my ears.

I said the only thing left I could say. "I love you, Santana."

"Fuck you."

"I never left you. You left yourself." I managed to spit it out before crying. And then I couldn't stop. I bent into the blue blanket, shoving my chin into its waves as my eyeliner melted.

She didn't say anything, only coming in beside me. And, for the first time in ages, I felt her hand on my shoulder. She pressed her cheek next to mine, her hair in my eyes, the sugary smell of it drifting into my nostrils. Her fingers slid towards my forehead. She stroked it gently and then, dipping lower, wiped at my tears.

The coolness of her skin was like a Big Gulp from the 7-Eleven we used to go to in high school. I didn't think anything else could make me feel so full.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. Her full lips brushed my ear. On her breath, the months of whiskey and soda. "Brit, it can't be like it was before." A sadness cut across her deep voice in lines. "It just can't."

She was kneeling in front of me, her fingers on top of mine. They curled around the skin, black nail polish that was starting to chip. It was mine. She'd taken it from me. We never outgrew that, the sharing. After all of this time we still matched.

I took a moment to gaze into her eyes. She looked back, falling slowly.

Then she stood up and pushed herself away from me, her legs shuffling across my tatami, in those skinny jeans, her familiar jacket just slightly more faded. She thrust the sleeves up and a line of inked stars exploded across her left wrist.

"Brit, I don't get so close to people. You know that. It's nothing to do with you, okay?"

"But you were my girlfriend. You were my best friend in the whole world. You were like my goldfish that I always kept catching at the state fair. And, when you died, I just caught you again."

She made a face, scratching her nose. "What are you talking about?" She sighed. "Fuck, I'll be back in Ohio by Sunday anyway. So come on. Just forget all this." On her face a weak smile leapt up to hit the light. She stood there, shaking her head.

I never thought that fire could move so slowly.

"Santana," I pleaded.

She burst and then disappeared.