Summertime gives no fucks.
The sun doesn't care if you're in the mood for it or not. It doesn't matter if you're all mixed up and made almost totally of countless, unanswered questions. It isn't concerned with your lack of sleep, blurred together days, or recently developed, wayward and quick-tempermentality. Ultraviolet warmth heats you from the outside-in, beating down on you in rays so hot, so strong, you can't feel anything but them soaking into you from millions of miles away. It sinks you in waves. You can actually feel it start to burn sometimes.
Here and now, with the Rabbit's top dropped and the miles rolling by, it feels good.
While impartial and unapologetic light slowly shines my skin end-of-August pink, short strands of red slip and fly from two twisted little knots behind each of my ears. They tickle my neck and cheeks, but they're not long enough to be bothersome. Late summer is thick all around me, but it's moving and welcome. The wind soothes tingling heat with ocean air, and I'm alone, but I'm so alright. I'm not one hundred percent well, but I can't remember the last time I was this close to comfortable.
I'm kind of, sort of, really okay.
A motorcycle passes me and the station wagon that's ahead of me, one lane over. Highway 101 is fairly empty save for myself and the wood paneled boat on wheels, and I'm grateful. It's why I wanted to leave in the morning, on my own, even though Renee was hellbent on driving me, like keeping me under outrageously stringent surveillance the last fourteen weeks hasn't been enough. Like breaking down every time I don't want to talk, and sanctimoniously stealing all the blame isn't enough. Like moving me to fucking Forks, Washington nine fucking years ago wasn't enough.
"Do you really think that there is one single person in this entire town who's not going to love you, Bliss?"
I roll my eyes behind new sunglasses. I'm not angry, not really. It's just crazy.
My dad was right. There wasn't just one someone; there wasn't even just one family. There were so many people. Even the ones I'd rather have chewed glass than sat next to wanted my company. They only had pieces and versions of who I was, but so many people still wanted to be my friend.
And all I wanted was him.
I have to laugh. Not out loud. Not happily, but there's this truth here and now, and a taste in my mouth that's so ironic.
Even after it all came out, and everybody knew about the two of us, even after maybe everything Victoria had ever wondered but never actually, legitimately suspected to be true, turned out to be totally right, she still had a smile for me.
She's maybe the only one.
On the Fourth of July, Mom needed two more eggs so she could finish something else that was going to fix all of our problems. I was still what my parents were calling "not grounded" to the same four walls I'd spent every day and night in since graduation. It was fine considering I wasn't really dying to go anywhere. Nowhere changed anything and nothing mattered. I wasn't surprised or affected at all when Mom took her apron off instead of asking me to run to the store for her like she would have before. And when Grandma spoke up, saying some fresh air and vitamin D would be good for the two us, I didn't think much of it. I just went along.
Not even a ghost anymore.
Going along wasn't only what I did; it's what I was. Aimless. Purposeless. Too heavy to even drift.
Grandma drove and I rode, every bit as silent as I'd been for however many hours had passed since I last saw him. I'd lost track. I didn't care.
At the store, she caught up with some friend she hadn't seen in some years in the parking lot, and I made my way inside, ambling toward what we came for. Egg carton in hand, I turned the corner of aisle six and almost walked right into the last person I ever expected to see again.
Victoria was surprised too, but she smiled, and the whole sight of her made everything rush right back. Bonfires and bathroom secrets and birthday sleepovers I never wanted. "You fucked Mixie? Seriously?" and "I know how it is, little sister," and "Whatever, because, who cares about Edward Cullen?"
The girl whose lighters and hair ties I was finding on Dusty's floor before I ever even knew what the fuck a blowy was, laughed a little. She still looked older than her age, but definitely better than the last time I'd seen her. Diamonds studded her ears and black was all gone from her green eyes. They shined confidence. She looked just like she did the first time I saw her six years ago at First Beach, under orange-glowing street lamps.
She was the most stunning girl I'd ever seen, all over again.
She'd ditched the cigarettes, holey jeans and black Chucks for white shorts, flip-flops and a pre-made package of hummus.
Victoria was standing in front of me holding what I was positive my mother got her hooked on, and I couldn't help it, I laughed for the first time since mid-May. It was small and mostly air, and nothing really, but I did it
And naturally, as cool as ever, so did she.
"Hey, little sister," she said, still smiling. "Long time no see."
I ignored the fleeting, random, ridiculously intense and intensely fucking ridiculous urge to hug her, and tell her to take me away from there, anywhere but there, and just said "Hey," instead. I tucked hair behind my ear and looked around, then back at her. "What are you doing here?"
She rolled crystal greens and ran her fingers through dark locks like she always had. It looked healthy, split-endless and full, nothing like mine. "My mom wants to cook for her new boyfriend or whatever, and I wanted to help."
I glanced at the sun dried tomato and basil chickpeas in her hands with lifted brows.
She rolled her eyes again. "I'm kind of addicted to it." She looked at me, up and down, but her smile stayed. "What are you up to? How are you?"
Checking my rear view mirror and refocusing on the road ahead, I nudge strawberry-blonde fl y aways away from my face.
Victoria and I are not the same. I've never rolled or flown or spun myself on anything, and she's never had parents who cared to put their feet down. I've only ever been with one boy, and she's been with... more. She's wild and free and completely honest no matter what anyone else thinks. Unlike myself, with Victoria, what you've always seen is what you've always got.
But, we are similar.
We've fucked in search of love, to get and guard our habits. We've both put obsession before well being, and we've both been chosen over and left behind.
Victoria doesn't look her age, but who the hell does? She's been to dark places, some I know, some I can imagine, some I'm sure I have no idea of―but she stands, and she walks with her shoulders back and her chin high. She owns who she is, broken pieces and all.
So when she asked how I was, instead of faking it like I always had before, instead of going along like I had for months, I told the truth.
"Shitty," I said, light and casual with my attempt at honesty. "Kind of... yeah, really shitty."
She laughed. Not at me, but the half-under-her-breath, half tell me about it kind. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." I nodded.
"That sucks," she said, lifting her left hand up curiously. "Pete said he's tried to call you."
I nodded again, looking at my feet. I had on flip-flops too, but the purple paint on my toes was chipped and the ends of my sweat pants were stepped-on and frayed.
"Yeah." I nodded some more, frustrated and bitter at myself, my mom and dad, him, the world. Everything. "They took my phone and watch me like fucking hawks." I shifted my weight, tapping my thumb against the carton of eggs in my right hand. "Not that anybody wants to see me anyway, but, yeah..."
There was a beat of quiet, and I thought maybe I should stop. Maybe I shouldn't say anything else, but the truth felt so good even though it was messed up. I wanted to keep talking. I wanted to say something about the worst part of all of it, about him, but I didn't know how to even begin putting that into words.
I sort of sighed and shifted my feet again, and just said "yeah," one more time.
It was all I had.
Victoria said it, too, like maybe she knew. Like maybe she understood.
"Hey," I restarted, my brain turning and working, just then registering what she said about Petey trying to call me. "How's Ben?"
This girl, the one who marked love up while I was teeth-chattering over hot chocolate, smiled. She really, truly smiled, the duck-your-head-and-peek-at-your-toes-while-your-cheeks-go-pink kind.
"He's good," she said, and I knew. I knew the sparkles in her ears and in her eyes are from him. None of us stayed any kind of together, but they did. They are.
She practically beamed. "He's coming home tonight."
My heart stung a little, jealous and hungry and still so sore, but it wasn't her fault. Or Ben's.
"That's good," I told her, because it was. It is.
Then, it was quiet for another beat, and another, and we were at the point in the conversation where there wasn't much left to be said. So, I pushed my unbrushed hair back again, and I made to get going, but she stopped me.
"Hey, wait," she spoke up. "Here," she said, handing me the hummus while she dug through her purse and pulled her phone out. "What's your number?"
"Oh..." I felt my eyebrows dig together over my nose and my cheeks heat a little. The cellphone my parents replaced my old phone with isn't the coolest one, and I literally never used it. I had no idea what my own number was without looking it up.
"Sorry," I said, turning my phone on and reading the numbers off to her.
"Cool." She smiled again. "See you, Bliss."
And for the first time in our whole lives, I didn't hate it.
While I was sunk at the bottom and too heavy to drift, I did a lot of packing, unpacking and repacking everything. I did a lot of leaving shit out all over the place and being unable to begin to care. I stared at my ceiling a lot.
I wondered where he was, a lot.
Instead of showering, or eating, or getting out of bed, I played out possibilities in my head. I imagined whole arguments sometimes, every twitch and every flinch, right down to the perfect shade of black. The first time I did it, I played out our make-up sex, too.
It did way more damage than the fight before it.
I was wreckage, anchored by a heart I hated for keeping me alive. Skinny, dingy, and indolent, I let the life I was left with go to waste, but that day, when I got home, I still hurt, but I felt somehow better. Not stronger necessarily, but at least like I wanted to be. I cleaned my room and made an appointment to get my hair cut. I went for a walk and kept walking until the stars came out. I cried when fireworks opened up above me, but what could I do?
The next morning, I stood up straighter. I shaved my legs and put on mascara, and I demanded my iPod back.
"You can keep me here, but you can't keep music from me. It's inhuman."
Music helps like maybe nothing else.
Maybe there's a reason for everything. Maybe it was good I didn't have access to it at first, because even when Renee gave it back to me almost two months after everything, there were still some songs I couldn't listen to.
Music is love.
Music touches when you can't feel anything else in the whole world.
It's crying yourself to sleep with Damien Rice and shouting along with Billy Talent in the shower. It's dance-walking down your street with Marcus Mumford because you know in your busted-up heart that even though it hurts like fuck, love will not betray you, dismay or enslave you.
It will set you free.
It's packing everything one last time with Face to Face, and demanding your Docs back. It's deciding which memories to take and which to put away forever with a little help from all the Followills. It's crying some more with Death Cab for Cutie on the way to Northwestern, because even though you've been on the floor and fearful, even though you're a single life, even if it's just you and Ben Gibbard, we're all one, and we are alive.
I keep the music up after the song ends, swiping drips of pure vitality from my cheeks. I let the sun caress me down, all the way to my bones.
When I was nine years old, my purpose introduced himself, and I have spent nearly every moment since trying my absolute hardest to let him kill me. I thought for so long, so deeply and truly that Anthony Edward Cullen was the reason I was born. I knew it. I was certain.
But then he left.
And my heart buckled.
It put all of me out of commission for a long time, but there's a lot that your favorite books and even your favorite songs don't tell you. There are some things you can only learn by surviving them, like even if it feels like a huge hole has been punched through your chest, eventually―whether you want to be or not, whether you like it or not―you'll realize you're still alive. In spite of all your not eating, in spite of waking up every day wishing you hadn't, in spite of half of itself tearing away, your heart keeps beating.
So when my reason and certainty left and stayed gone, how could I not question everything else? I dragged my heart around for months, hating it for working in my soul's absence, hating that I could exist without him.
But I could.
I did, and if my one absolute truth was false, what about the rest?
If love can live without love, maybe anything can happen and nothing ever has to make any sense.
Maybe Victoria really does understand.
Maybe nothing is anyone's fault.
Maybe we all just... do things, because we all want love.
It's still hard.
His birthday was really, really hard.
But what is there to do?
My heart doesn't say love like it used to. It says live now.
It's no more a choice than love ever was.
So I do.
I am finally, for the first time in my life, exactly who I am:
A strawberry-blonde with collarbones that show.
I have my mother's eyes, my father's nose, and a scar on my chest, right over my heart, from a boy that once loved me stronger than the ocean is deep and hotter than fire burns.
I crack my toes when I'm nervous, and my French accent is to die for.
I can double Ollie on a skateboard, drive a stick shift with my eyes closed, and I know the words to every Beatles song ever recorded. I can cuss you out in Italian, make 7-11 Slushee art like a champ, toast the perfect marshmallow, and I have one girl's number in my phone. I know how to tell real diamonds from fake, and I know who to find if I ever need a lawyer for anything. I've died alone in a bathroom stall, come back to life underneath the weight of truelove in a hotel bed, and died again in the shade of my favorite tree. I've blacked out in a ditch and looked up at heaven from a grocery cart.
My freckles come out when the sun shines. My favorite color is clear blue, and I can have exactly two shots of anything before I feel it.
I know it's okay not to know. I always eat the middle bite of peanut butter and jelly first, and I will never, not ever pierce my belly button.
I get really scared sometimes that I'll never feel the way I felt with trouble. And maybe I won't. Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe these worries and our deal and what is and what should never be is all enough for one lifetime. Maybe this story's old and it will just go on, and on until we all disappear. Maybe we're all just capsules of energy, and maybe love means giving your soft spot a white blank page even if it kills you.
Maybe I'm not lucky.
Maybe I'm blessed.
Maybe I'm a monster, too.
Maybe all my friends were vampires and it turns out I was a vampire myself, and we're all just looking for something to sink our teeth into without any crying.
Maybe we're all ornery, scandalous and evil.
Maybe that's how it's supposed to be.
Maybe all the boys, all the girls, and all that matters in the world are all doing time, or maybe all the world is ours like they say in Scarface, kid.
Maybe everything you get is everything that you wanted.
Maybe you can't choose what stays and what fades away.
Maybe our hearts are strong and our hands are weak, and maybe I brought this on us more than anyone could ignore.
Maybe now I'll be patient and fine and balanced and kind. Maybe I'll raise my hands, paint my spirit gold and bow my head.
Maybe here I am, and it's in my hands, and I'll savor every moment of this.
My lips are curved up into an easy and accepting smile when the phone in my middle console vibrates against hard plastic. I think maybe it's my mom ; so I turn the music down, ready to tell her I'm not even to the ferry yet, but it only vibrates once.
I flip the cover open to find one new message from Vic.
Good luck today, little sister.
It's her way of saying love.
Maybe it always was.
Glancing between the road and my phone, I type quick, grateful love back and close my phone, setting it back in the console just as I pass the first sign for Kirkland. The station wagon to my left stays steady ahead of me and my skin is all but humming with summer light. I'm definitely going to burn. It's probably going to hurt later tonight.
I can't bring myself to reach for lotion or thin long sleeves though. The heat feels way too good now. The breeze kisses my sun-blush and the miles keep rolling by.
I think about everything before now, and everything that could come after. I think maybe this is my moment. Maybe every moment is the one I've waited for my whole life, and I think I want to be right here.
Better or worse.
Shitty or perfect.
I think maybe to live doesn't mean you're alive, and it's a cruel and beautiful world, and I want to be alive through all of it.
Right hand on the wheel, I move my left hand with the wind and sing along to a song about dust and bones and darlings and falling. Just when the girl and boy and their echo-beats get to the best part, the station wagon ahead of me turn s and exits left.
And I pass another sign for Kirkland.
And my cell vibrates again in my middle console.
So I turn my new favorite song down, but before I reach for my phone, my heart sort of skips. My stomach kind of somersaults, and I don't recognize the number when I flip open the screen, but I think I know.
I feel like I know.
I'm not waiting anymore, but I waited so long for this.
Checking my mirrors, I turn on my signal to exit toward Northwestern. With blood that knows and skin that knows and a heart that knows, I accept the call. And because love is a great and and many things, because some promises are meant to be broken, I bring my phone to my ear and smile higher than I have since the first time I couldn't help it.
Present, honest, and alive, I part my lips and say out loud exactly what love means to me: