I do not own Twilight.
This is for everyone that donated to Kansas Special Olympics. I cannot even begin to thank you enough. Dusty brought in just over three hundred dollars of the more than fifty thousand dollar record this year. You guys are *amazing*. Thank you.
kklove, thank you more than i'll ever be able to say for everything you've done for these characters, this story, and me. you're my love, my safe place, and all my stars. thank you is way too small for how I feel, but from the bottom of my cup and with my whole heart, thank you.
All rights and respect to Jack White and Bono, Bayside, Live, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Nirvana, Tom and Mark, William Fitzsimmons, Cudder, Conor Oberst, Jimmy Eat World, and to Bishop, for love and for being my hero, and for six words that mean so much to me. Thank you.
In the months that following B's seventeenth birthday, Dusty and Bliss are mostly silent while their hearts and hands hold on. That April, her acceptance letter and a housing packet for Northwestern make her mother cry, and her delinquent secret boy sink his teeth deeper into her than ever. This outtake lies in the hours that stretch into days that drag into weeks that blur together after a heart-mark baby will always carry, just before her graduation.
Bayside - Just Enough to Love You: The hardest words to say are the words that mean the most. So, I'll bite my tongue until it bleeds and I doubt you'll even know. The easiest things to fake are feelings to fool someone else, and I've been tricked for so long by you. I've spent these last few months in my own hell.
The sun comes up but it stays behind clouds.
Darkness is gray light for a while.
I stay in and sink.
I breathe white - first left, then right.
Four lines don't even lift me from the floor.
I want a cigarette.
The motel room desk can't be five feet away. I can see my pack from where I'm leaning against the bed.
It's late afternoon, maybe. Maybe mid-morning.
I know it's May.
I sniff and look around. There's no clock in this room, and my phone is next to my cigarettes, and off.
I use, but I don't really move.
Night's lit by the 7-Eleven across the street. It's neon green and orange, bright fluorescent and mostly dead.
I try to remember where I am.
I know I'm not far.
I won't go too far.
I'll never go too far.
I'm at the Best Western, just outside Port Angeles, I think.
I feel like I've been here before.
I glance to the desk. My pack is still there, next to my equally untouched phone, wallet and keys. I look to the window across from me. Through the glass, between the bars of the railing outside my room, no one really comes or goes anywhere.
They do, but it doesn't matter.
I sniff and pull my habit into my lap. I cut lines without urgency or haste into the hard back of Gideon's Bible.
I take my time.
I'm not going anywhere.
The sun is up, but it's covered with gray clouds.
There's a couple in the room to my right. I can hear them talking. I couldn't before, and I'm not sure how long I've been here.
The couple through the wall laughs. My chest tightens.
I try to shut my senses down and my brain off. I don't want to think or feel. I don't want to remember. I stare at the cobwebs in the bottom left corner of the window across from me. They're old. They hold only dust and dirt.
There are a few seconds of silence before the couple laughs again.
My chest hurts.
I grit my teeth and switch my focus to a tear in the screen, but they keep laughing. I try to concentrate on the fingerprint smudges on the glass. I strain for the sounds of birds or cars, anything else, but all I can hear is her laugh like she can't help herself, and I feel like my heart is going to fucking shatter, and I wish it would. I wish everything would just stop already.
It's dark again save for the gas station, and they're together now, the couple.
She's feeling everything. He's making sure, and I've got my face buried in my kneecaps.
I hate them.
I hate myself for what I've done, for what I'm doing, and everything hurts. I'm so tired and I can't do this anymore.
I can't fucking do this.
My clothes are soaked and stuck to me.
I'm cold, but it's from inside not out. I'm curled around myself on a floor, listening to rain and wind and thunder. I don't part my lids because last time I did, I didn't recognize the room around me. It's a motel, but I don't know where. I don't remember.
I pull my knees closer to my chest and seal my eyes.
I don't want to see.
I don't want to know.
I'm on my back, and in the dark behind my lids, I'm remembering when B was twelve and I was fifteen.
It was Alice's thirteenth birthday. Bliss had stayed the night before and all day. She used to stay over all the time. Her and my sister were almost inseparable.
I push current truth away and keep my eyes closed.
It was late, half past midnight. Her braid from earlier was undone and she was fidgeting with wavy strawberry-yellow, leaning against my door frame, bending her left toes into the hallway behind her.
We'd just been outside hours before. Me, Petey and Ben, Ally and B and all their little friends, they were hidden and making Alice seek. I'd acted like I didn't know where princess kid was, but I could see the edge of her dress under the flowers. I could hear her trying to cover her laugh with her hands. I could feel her pulse thumping like crazy while I crossed the back yard.
I chased her out of the bushes and caught her, and after her best friend was fast asleep, she snuck down to me.
I was hoping for it. I always was. It had been months and I didn't know if she ever would again. Every night she stayed I thought about going to her. Us all getting iPhones for her birthday six months later was my fucking idea, but every night and day after that first time? And forever before that even? What could I say or do?
I wanted. I wished. I felt.
But I knew that just because I felt it didn't mean she did too. I thought maybe one night was all I would ever get.
Maybe that's how it should have been. Maybe to feel that loved by another person for a single night is enough for one lifetime -
I cross my arms over my stomach and concentrate on remembering.
I'd smoked in my bathroom after Pete and Ben left. I'd only been out of the shower maybe five minutes when I heard B's fingertip-knocks. I was high, but I was clean, and I went from grabbing my iPod off my dresser to totally caught off guard when she opened my door. I looked and there was my heart, fidgeting in sleep cotton and shy courage, totally pure, ready and waiting to tear me apart.
The floor underneath me now rolls, and I feel sick. I try to ignore it, but it's too much. I sit up, bending my knees to put my feet flat on the carpet. I lift my lids just enough to find my cigarettes next to me, and close them again as I light one, leaning back against the side of the bed.
"Hi," she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
I didn't ask if she wanted me to get my mother.
I didn't hesitate for a single second.
I was in love and there she was. I was dead where I stood. So, I stepped forward to bring her in and locked the door behind us. I looked down into blue-green eyes so bright and tugged on red-blonde she'd just tucked into place.
"Hey," I said.
Kid baby smiled, looking up at me with can we do this? all over her expression. Sun freckles speckled her nose, and there was excitement in her eyes. There were questions, too, and nervousness; she was a little unsure.
But she was so fucking sure.
One time was one time. Twice was the start of something, and we both stood still in knowing for a second before she smiled higher.
"Trouble," she said.
I smiled too.
I laugh. It hurts my whole body. I sound poor and weak. The air around me is stale and the intake of it feels like bruises opening behind my ribs. I rub my closed eyes and hold my temples in my hands, pressing. Pushing.
Everything was so easy then.
We've always hidden truth, but those first few weeks where it was just us, safe and sound in my room, nothing has ever been as simple as that. Sure, we were a habit in the making. We were lying, but not to each other. Our situation was complicated, but we were easy. We were just kids, but Bella was really a kid, and we weren't doing anything wrong. The lines were so clear. She snuggled underneath the blankets while I drifted in and out of sleep on top of them. We talked. We slept. We dreamed, and that was it. We just wanted to be near.
Why wasn't that enough?
I pull smoke and breathe out.
Because even then we were on this track.
I pull smoke deeper.
I need her.
I'm shit, and I need her, and I can't even fucking -
I rub my eyes and sniff. My sinuses feel like flames. My chest feels excruciatingly tender, carved out and raw like a flayed open nerve at the thought of the last time I laid my eyes on love.
So fucking little.
I'm killing her.
I'm fucking killing her.
I pull my hair and push at my skull. I hit my head with open hands, but I don't feel anything but guilt.
I remember I was picking B up from our spot. Her blue-greens were faded and hollow, and her skin was colorless. When we were alone in my room, I pulled at her shirt, desperate eyes following my pleading fingers in search of goose bumps, blush, warmth - any sign of life inside love.
Her sallow skin was the same temperature as my sheets, though. There were no little tingle-chills or rush of blood to the surface, and her too-weak heartbeat was entirely too easy to feel between ribs I hated being able count.
"You can't be mad," was all she said to me all night, but her heart cried oceans. It still knew me. It still trusted and wanted and loved me.
I clench my hands and my eyelids tighter around the emptiness of knowing.
Bliss and I have been hopeless from square one, not in the hallway on her first day, but nine years before that. On an afternoon in late October, Charlie and Renee Swan finally became parents to a precious baby miracle. I was a toddler on my mom's hip, dragging her down a thousand miles away from that blissful little wonder, but she stole her first breath straight from my lungs.
I haven't let Bella go since we found each other, and I've been trying to steal my air back ever since.
That's why it wasn't enough.
That's why it's never enough.
I need to breathe, too.
I want to scream. I feel it in my throat.
Maybe I do.
I don't know.
The sharpness of what's coming, of so many plans that don't include me when this girl's plans were always supposed to be ours, digs mercilessly into my deprived stomach. I struggle and choke around a cough. Every emaciated and desiccating atom I'm made of shrinks in on itself and tenses up like even though I'm down, I'm reflexively bracing for a fall or hit, a crash.
Breathing hurts like burning inside. I try to stop. I know I need to stop.
I don't want to do this anymore.
I don't want to be alone.
I choke again.
My chest throbs. My head spins screeching tires and laughter and gasps, heaven-shakes and dry-heaves, sex, drugs, smoke, and the sound of snow boots falling to the carpet, and I scream.
I know I do; it hurts.
Five years ago, love would have gone anywhere with me. She'd have given me her hand, heart and soul with her eyes closed if I'd have asked. She'd have let me lead and she'd have followed me anywhere in the whole world, straight into the ocean if I'd have said let's go. Her faith was secure. Her trust was steadfast and so was mine. Our innocence made us unshakable.
I strike out with both hands, knocking over the bedside table to the right of myself. The lamp breaks, and its dusty shade tears. Empty drawers fall open.
It doesn't matter, I tell myself over and over.
It doesn't matter anymore.
It doesn't fucking matter.
I fucked it up.
I'll always fuck it up.
My intestines twist and and beg, making my sides sting like open wounds. My eyes are on fire and my heart feels like a fucking hole, like this endless, unfillable rift inside myself, like Bliss could pour and pour and pour all her love inside, and it wouldn't matter. She could dive in and let my bottomless gutter of a heart swallow her whole, and it still wouldn't be enough.
My blood cuts like frozen razor wire through my veins.
I'm starving; I can feel it. I'm sick. I'm deteriorating from the inside. I'm nineteen. I'm homeless, and I have no idea what's going to happen to me. All I can do in the world is take one life or two, and I'm so fucking scared, and nobody's even looking for me.
I close my hands again. My screams are wavering, but I can't stop. I press my fists against my head, and my forehead into my knees.
It's not fair.
It's not fair.
She thinks I'm selfish. Everyone does, and I am. I demand more than I need. I always want more, especially with Bliss. I always have. That's who I am. I know. I'm fucking greedy; I know, but love -
It doesn't matter that her intention isn't to hurt me or anyone else. She's fully aware that what she's doing and preparing to do is a death sentence. She knows I can't take four more years and she's going to make me anyway, and what's more selfish than that?
She'll never have to let her soul go to save it. She'll never know the weight of having to be the one who leaves. No one in my life, least of all Isabella Bliss, knows how unbearable it is to have to save your reason from yourself.
Like you're fire.
Like you're poison.
Like you're fucking cancer to love.
The hole in my chest wails and struggles against how weak I've worn it. It streams shallow-skinny beats just as aimless as the tears down my cheeks:
I'm screaming again.
I'm kicking and screaming and breaking.
I blind and deafen myself in control-lost while the pressure of having to go alone bears down on my back. It's worse than plans that don't include me and knowing I'm not being looked for. It's heavier than a bunch of orange flowers that lift me up just to knock me down, and it hurts more than being kept hidden ever did.
I cry as I crumble into ruins. I cower and crawl, and curl up in chemical shelter. I cry until I'm cutting tears like sharpened edges down my face and choking on switchblades in my throat. I cry until I black out and even then, even in the pitch dark, the truth doesn't ease up.
I know, and I can't get out from under knowing.
Everything's dim and out of focus when I blink.
I'm in a bathroom; I think.
I'm physically disoriented. I'm confused. I'm standing, and that in itself is jarring and scary: coming-to on my feet. I'm shaking, and I have my left hand pressed desperately tightly over my chest.
There's no sound.
No rain or wind or thunder.
No footsteps or doors or conversation.
I blink and look down. I line up what's left of my life with instinctual swiftness, but I'm wrecked. I can't stop shaking.
Swallowing panic and holding it down, I dig my grip into porcelain while I breathe in and sink.
I lean up and blink.
Still no beat.
I split two more lines and snort, and swallow, and listen.
I can hear the electric hum of the overhead light and the whir of the air conditioner. I hear a car go by outside, but that's it.
My marrow hums in my limbs and my nerves are lit incandescent, but my pulse is totally absent. I can't feel it in my chest or my hands or my veins. I can't even hear it.
I don't want to die alone.
I don't want to die alone.
I want to go home.
I want to go home.
I want to go home and bind Bella to me with chains and weights and fucking locks.
Straight to the fucking bottom.
I cut wider and dig deeper, faster. I scrape my nose without shame or mercy across porcelain, and press my hand tighter over my chest.
It's supposed to fight back. It's supposed to fight me. It's supposed to at least try to defend itself.
Panic clams my skin and coils in my stomach while I search silence in vain.
Where the fuck is it?
I snort and I choke and spit. I run water and breathe drops off my thumb to clear my useless sinuses. I cut line after unforgiving line and snort more, harder and harder, and when I raise my head, my meager, feeble fucking heart finally cracks.
It cries out loud, as loudly as it can for compassion.
I keep going.
I cut up all that's left and make the darkness in me scream. I use without reluctance or ease until its fight feels like thunder inside me, and when I raise my head this time and open my eyes, nothing is blurry anymore.
I'm not unbalanced and I'm not confused, and I'm not scared.
My so-alive pulse is the only thing I feel, and I can see everything.
Dirty green grout and gross grey mildew are built up between cheap, off-white tiles. Lime and calcium cake the motel faucet, but there's no soap anywhere to be found. There's a shower to my left, but no curtain, no window, just me, and something wet soaking my top lip.
I look at the mirror in front of me. Some pieces are missing, but I see myself.
My nose bleeds black.
It makes me laugh.
I blink, and I'm pacing.
The curtains are closed. It's still raining.
Or raining again.
I don't know.
I breathe out through parted lips, concentrating on the haste coursing through my veins. My phone is in my right hand and my right hand is far from still against the side of my leg.
It's coming, the comedown.
I know. I can feel it creeping. I'm high now, but it's going to be bad.
I should delete her number. I should throw my phone into the North Pacific and just drive, just keep going south until I disappear completely.
I'll have to if she doesn't give me her hand when the time comes.
I'll have to anyway.
It's already May.
I clench my fists so tightly I feel it in my shoulders.
It doesn't matter.
Even if she walks straight to me and gets in the car, even if we actually, really do it, I'll still have to leave her someday.
Tension burrows around underneath my skin, feeding like a parasite off my fear and wasted capability. I close my eyes, walking back and forth, trying to keep my focus on my heart rate. I hold to it with all that I am and can, but the hole in my chest is buried under white and shaking so hard it's breaking into splinters.
I try to keep them all together, all the pieces, but I can't. There are so many and they just keep cracking with every effort. I'm losing track and they just keep breaking into smaller and smaller bits, lost, unfindable and irreplaceable.
I can't find my phone.
I just had it. I know I did.
I know, because I fucking called Bella.
Tearing the blankets from the bed, I kick its frame when my phone doesn't fall from the wreckage.
It doesn't matter. It shouldn't. She didn't answer. She sent me to her voicemail. I knew she would.
Just like I know she'll come anyway.
I kick the bed harder. The mattress skids and falls, and the rickety metal frame bends. I turn around, scanning the ripped apart pieces of the room for anywhere my phone could be, but the coke-widened clarity in my eyes is skewed. I blink and my perception swims. I clench my eyes closed. I press into them with the heels of my hands until the black on the backs of my lids burns, and I see distorted spots like phantom shadows.
I blink. I breathe. My heart races.
Somewhere inside myself, I know I should stand still. I should just breathe. I should think, and try to focus on remembering, but my fear is running miles ahead of my brain, keeping me moving. And behind my fear, my brain is a step ahead of my hands and feet, and my eyes and ears are another two steps behind my brain.
I shake my head.
I'm dizzy, but it's not physical. It's inside me.
I don't know how long it's been or what day it is. I'm half-spun, half-craving, and underneath the drugs, I'm drunk. Not just a few to dull the edge, I'm tanked under the fucking table. I can't remember leaving the motel, but I had to have. I can feel a fifth of Jameson muddling my balance and coordination. I can smell it in the air and all over me.
I tear apart the bathroom and the closet. I shove the cheap bedside dresser over, and kick empty drawers across the room. Dingy yellow wallpaper splits and the plaster behind it chips. I throw the base of the already broken lamp at the same spot, busting the rip wider.
My chest heaves. I'm breathing too fast, but the action won't come to me naturally. I have to remember to breathe. I can't forget.
Why did I do this?
Why do I fucking do this?
I turn the already upside down room inside out while panic swallows me by the second. It fills my throat and lungs, and I'm remembering to breathe, but I can't. Everything's wrong, and there's nothing but dread and confusion everywhere, suffocating me with this terrible, all-consuming sense of urgency, and then it hits me. Why I called Bella in the first place slams into my chest like a fucking car crash.
I dig my fingers into my skin through my clothes. I press against my sternum, terrified I've lost my pulse again, but I haven't. It's there, pounding way too hard and hazardously fast against my ribs like a warning, and it's not fear that constricts my throat and lungs now; it's knowing.
I'm going to die.
I'm going to die in this room.
I'm out the door before I can think to move toward it. I'm rushing down metal stairs and onto parking lot pavement, shaking, choking, clutching. Cool, outside air covers me like a wave of calm and it helps, but the relief is fleeting and not enough. I keep moving.
Breathing takes every other aching effort. So, I hold my inhale for a second and stand still.
I look around, searching for the 7-Eleven.
There was one.
The parking lot around me is dark, though, and I can't remember.
I can't remember anything, and my pulse has gone wherever everything else suddenly has. The only thing I feel now is lost.
Not my heart. Not my regret. Not knowing.
It's a physically and painfully distinct sensation. It's the difference between terror and horror. It's knowing you don't get what you deserve, you become it, and it's all I can do to keep from collapsing to the concrete.
I let my breath go, and gasp for another, swallowing wholly unsettling fear like jagged ice cubes to my sore stomach. I drag my hands down my face and leave them over my mouth as I take a step forward. Salty cold wind blows light rain across my fingers and cheeks as I start to walk. Save for the clink of keys against the back of my hip and the slick-sick sound I swear I hear my pupils make as they stretch wider so I can better see through the dark, the world is silent for miles in every direction.
I don't know where I am, where I've been, or where I'm going. I don't even know down from the ground at this point, but my feet seem to. So, drunk as they may be, I let them lead.
My direction is far from a straight line, but the Lincoln eventually comes into view. Another wave of calm immediately comes with it, and I can hear my pulse like a muffled drum in my ears again. It's erratic and way too accelerated, but it's there.
Heading toward my car, I drop my hands from my mouth and push them into my hoodie pockets. My phone is there, in my right, and another thin wave of relief rolls through me.
I remember now, knowing that I shouldn't have called her, and doing it anyway.
I remember it's May, and our day's coming, and sudden lucidity is flimsy and too thin to last too long, but for a moment, even though I'm moving getting in my car and driving everything is clear.
I remember "You can't be mad," and solid college plans.
I remember pulling her from the snow on New Year's Eve, that ditch, and how frozen cold she was. I remember bringing her back.
I remember before that, in the parking lot, when Pete helped me fix her headlights. I remember "Open your eyes!" and the purple circles under hers, and collarbones I'd never seen before. I remember her turned back and her curtains closing, and why I busted her fucking lights in the first place.
I remember months and months ago, "Please, don't leave me. Please, not now," and at the same time, in the same crushing beat, "Go to the store. Go get candles."
Gripping the steering wheel tightly with my left hand, I push my hair back with my right and pull at my roots.
She did this.
Love sent me straight to my death.
I clench my eyes closed to passing trees and the highway guardrail. I press harder on the gas pedal and clench the wheel like it's her wrist, and I don't care if I fly right off a fucking cliff, because how could she do this?
Like father and mother of the century really forgot their little miracle's birthday candles? They were probably inside on Betty Crocker's countertop all along. Bella just couldn't take it. She dug us into this secret and she couldn't see through consequences she fucking chose, that I was barely hanging on? That I couldn't even hang on? That I needed her more than ever? That when I said "I should probably go," what I really needed was for her to make me stay? To keep me close and not let me leave when I needed it the very most, just like I've always done for her?
Anger burns from red to white inside me. I open my eyes to keep from going blind, and barely right the wheel just in time.
I drive with lids open, but every embankment calls to me.
I rub the corners of my eyes. I don't want to see so straight.
Animosity seethes at a temperature so hot and a volume so loud it shakes my veins with every violent beat of a split-apart-heart that I wish so hard would just fucking stop.
I hit the wheel, but my right foot is like a millstone.
All Bella has to fucking do in the whole world is save herself. That's it. That's all she has to do, and I hate her for it because it's not fucking fair.
She won't even fucking do it, and I hate her for that, too.
I hate her for letting me use and misuse and abuse her, inside and out. I hate myself for doing it, but I hate her for making me. I hate myself for hating myself just enough to love her, but not enough to have sent her back to my sister's room five years ago.
I hate her for coming to Seattle with me and for laying on my bathroom floor when I couldn't pick myself up. I hate her for kissing me where all eyes could see on her birthday, and knockout smiles and for fucking saying yes. I hate her for asking me to ask her again and still not answering, and I hate her for showing me what love is.
I hate knowing
I'm going to miss.
I don't realize I'm crying until tears slide along my chapped lips, and they sting, and I fucking hate that too.
So, I scream.
Like a child.
I scream like a bus full of children, engulfed.
I scream and cry, and I curse God's name in vain with hers at the tops of my dying lungs, because I hate them both, one and the same for this. Because I'm lost and neither of them are here or even looking. I'm sinking and I'm alone. I'm going to die all alone, and how can that be what love is?
My foot slips from the gas, and I hit the wheel over and over again with my right hand. The car turns and turns, and when it finally stops moving, I scream again.
I scream until the bleached shards of my heart feel like an emptied out fire.
I don't know how I make it to La Push.
My anger, my craving and my pulse are all gone as I navigate the the so-familiar curves toward First Beach. I'm not sure if I'm dead or alive, or somewhere between. I'm aware of my weight and my limbs and my sins, and of surely-waiting love around the bend, but I'm disconnected, and I can't overcome the feeling inside and all around me like falling.
Exiting off onto Ocean Front Drive, I spot the Rabbit in the distance, and it intensifies the falling-feeling to a disorienting, almost blinding extent.
I sniff and rub my eyes as I slow down. My hands shake around the wheel and down my face. I'm further past panic than I've ever been. I know where in the world I am, but I don't know where I am.
I sniff again and try to remember, but the effort it takes only makes me dizzier. My entire body feels dizzy. My perception is blurred, and my heart is dying. My thoughts are a circle of impossibility chasing inevitability, and my fear is miles ahead of my brain at this point. A strung-out break stretches between it and my senses, and underneath my high, underneath my drunk, I'm hopeless.
That's what the falling feeling I can't shake is.
There's no bottom at the bottom of everything, just more falling, and I can't stop.
I'd give anything to stop.
Kick-bent bed frames and my nose bleeding black, trying to ignore the couple next door and crawling, cowering all alone into coke, forcing my heart to cry out and fight me back all of however long I've been gone loops and loops around me too fast to be real, but I know it is. All of it is. I remember the drugs were gone and I couldn't find my heart, and I shouldn't have called her, but I did.
And it's May.
And she's here now, just like I need her to be.
Just like she shouldn't be.
But what am I going to fucking do?
Turn around and drive the other way?
I need her.
My consciousness spins as I pull up to the dock.
But I'm killing her.
And I should go.
I should just fucking go.
I park and kill the engine. I sit back. I remember to breathe.
I'm always fucking late.
The tremble in my hands hurts. I open and close my fingers along my jeans, trying so hard to get a grip and steady myself, but my consciousness just tilts and slips and spins.
This is our place.
I'm killing her.
I need her.
I can't breathe.
I turn and tip and twist inside, slipping and spinning and sinking deeper. I'm still hopeless without a pulse and disconnected, and still just as aware of everything. The wind. The tide. The time running out. I know, but I can't hold onto any of it, and I'm scared, and this is all wrong.
I don't realize I'm shaking my head until I feel the unsteady heels of my hands touch my temples. I press trembles to shakes, and try to still everything, but not knowing how long I've been sitting here just makes me more anxious.
I open my eyes to the sound of a car door opening and slamming shut, and when I look through the windshield to see the smallest stronghold ever, looking right back at me, suddenly, falling isn't so bad.
I wish I could fall forever.
This girl's jeans are at least two sizes too big, and a gray sweater that used to hold little curves so closely, hangs. Faded auburn hair is pulled carelessly up into an slipshod ponytail and her cheeks are pale. Her arms are crossed and colorless eyes are spiteful, but she's here, and she's my whole world.
She's everything, ever, and every reason for it:
Fear and anger, and regret.
Euphoria and withdrawal.
Secret and truth. Weakness and strength.
Why and wherefore and refuge.
She's the only thing I need and exactly why I'm the one who has to leave. She's looking right at me with hatefully cried out eyes, and it's wrong. This is all wrong. It's not fair or right or okay, but seeing her, even like this, is a comfort incomparable to any other.
But then I open my door.
And I drop my keys.
I didn't mean to, but that's all it takes. It's just like that. Acrimony emanates from love in waves, and I feel it. Her anger pierces and shreds through me, but doesn't change the fact that she's everything:
Effortless breathing and proof of God.
Loss of control.
Balance and direction and knowing.
I laugh. I can't help it. She's all of it. She's all that I am and have and know, and she's my favorite.
Instinct and insurmountable need and lost.
"Baby..." I don't know if I say it out loud, but I feel it. I feel everything.
All the black and white shards of my hole-shaped heart.
"Baby..." I rub my eyes. I know I do. I see dark and I feel shifting pressure, and when I open them, she's still right there.
"Baby..." I know I'm talking out loud now because I'm coughing. The wind blows and makes me choke. I stumble and I feel the Lincoln at my back and the sand under my feet, and Bella is all of it: solid metal, unsteady ground and the breeze I can't breathe.
"I'm fucked up, Bliss," I hear myself say. "I'm so fucked up."
Everything slants. I want to reach out. I'm stumbling and I need help, but she has to save herself and I know it. I know I should go. I know I should have stayed gone. I know. I have to fall.
"Stop doing this to me!" She screams like I've never heard. "Why isn't this enough?" She yells, skinny arms outstretched and pleading.
My chest aches and I cough harder in an attempt to clear it.
I don't know.
I don't know.
I remember summertime-dirty toes, and sparklers, and a little green lizard. I remember stolen contact under the breakfast table, and the first time I kissed her, and the last time she let me in. I remember her white eyelet dress on the first day of high school and never-redder hair than the night of her birthday, right here on this beach. I remember blissful blue-green looks and sticky yellow sugar, pink jadeite and purple bruises. I remember every step of this girl becoming everything to me, and why none of it was ever enough.
I need air, too.
You know, I want to shout back.
You know, I want to yell, because she does. She knows better than anyone, but I can't stop coughing and sniffing, and I'm laughing again and I don't know even why.
Go, my conscience pushes. Fucking go, and I feel tears so hot their falls burn my skin while helpless, hysterical resentment I thought I thought I screamed out on the freeway, brims in my throat.
Bliss presses both her hands over her chest, flaying me with washed out eyes while she advances in the sand and screams over the wind.
"Why am I never enough for you?" Love screams.
My legs shake and my knees nearly buckle. I burn and burn, and blink and blink, and I can't breathe. I search past her, all around.
But I'm surrounded.
What I've done.
What we've done.
What we've become.
"I tried," I manage, because I did. I remember that. I left. I stayed. I was clean. I was good.
It's too late.
She did this.
I let her.
It doesn't matter.
It doesn't fucking matter.
Just fucking go already.
"I tried -" my voice splits and disintegrates.
My soul steps closer, ripping bitter burning from my throat just to spit it through her teeth at me.
"You didn't!" She screams and cries and points. "I begged you. I needed you and you fucking left me."
Red-white hate is all there is, all over both of us. It's everywhere.
It's the wind and the waves and every grain of sand. It's the dock and La Push. It's May. It's Bella. It's me. It's coke and Northwestern, and our parents and our friends. It's God and the Devil, and knowing. It's all that's fucking left, and it's her fault. She fucking did this.
"You left me!" She screams louder. "You chose!"
"They were your fucking candles!" I yell back, pointing too, swallowing her shot of fire down and spitting what's left of it right back at her. "I just wanted to go home!"
My heart stumbles as she steps closer, right up to me, and I feel like I'm going to fall. I think she's going to say something else, but I reach before she speaks. I take hold of her without thought, and my hands fit terribly easily around her arms, and she hits me.
Right across my cheek.
Bliss hits me as hard as she can with her open hand.
She hits me, and the seared, stinging rift in my chest that knows only her name cracks wider, overflowing with helpless, mournful shame.
All the hate inside and all around us is mine.
It's only for me.
I did this.
Go, my heart and conscience push together, but my fear is a hundred times stronger and a thousand years ahead of every part of me now.
She hits me again, and again. She scratches and screams her loudest, and closes her hands into fists. She fights with all that she is.
I wrap around and pull her close, closer, closest. I take everything and then some, and more, and more. I take all of her until we're as fastened as we can be, heaving and hating and holding onto nothing but bones on the cold shore.
"I'm sorry." I don't know if it comes out or not, but it's on loop inside me. It's all I am. It's all that I have.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I cry inside, and maybe out, wrapping arms and legs around burning and brittle love, burying my face along the side of her crown while she sobs against my chest. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I swear and reswear, and hold so tightly.
She cries harder.
"What about me?" I cry back, securing her closer to myself. "Why isn't this enough?"
Love pushes and pulls, and hits, and wails.
I wish for chains.
"Why can't you love me?" I cry.
I wish for weights.
"I'll change for you."
I wish for fucking locks.
"I'll be anybody for you."
And it's true, I would. I'd be anything and anyone for her, but her cries drown mine out. She can't even hear me over how deep I've pulled us.
So, I fold.
I bottle up and quiet down, and bend to how we work.
I ease my grip enough to rub her back instead of clutching bruises into it. I swallow my hurt and my fear, and am the strong one.
"I'm sorry," I whisper, sniffing and kissing and wishing for a life jacket. "I don't hate you. I could never hate you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Killer, my instincts warn.
You're still pulling her straight down.
Straight to the fucking bottom.
I shake my head and cradle hers, gathering and holding her carefully, kissing and rocking and carrying her through her cries without lifting either of us from the sand.
"I'm sorry," I tell her softly, closing my eyes.
"I'm sorry," but not for this.
Not for holding her or keeping her, or for anything here or now, but because this is it, and I know it.
It has to be.
This is what I can't keep doing.
"I'm sorry." I kiss her crown and her temple and the soft skin of her forehead. "I'm sorry."
We're still for nowhere near long enough when Bella shivers in my arms.
When I open my eyes, the sky is still dark, but blue dawn is starting to glow behind clouds. I can't have slept with all the chemicals I'm carrying inside, but I must have blacked out somewhere between blinks.
I hate myself for it.
She shifts, taking contact away little by little as she opens her eyes, too. The sand underneath us gives and we sink a little, and I try to gather her back to myself, but she shakes her head.
She's quaking with cold and her nerves are waking her too fast. She's bending her knees and elbows to sit up.
I sit up with her when I can't hold her down anymore.
"I have a sweater in the car," I say, my voice scratched like a croak. I clear my throat and take hold of her through clothes that aren't warm enough. "It's clean. I'll turn the heat on."
I'll do anything.
Just please don't go yet.
She shakes her head. My temples throb and my eyes ache. I grip oversized grey cotton layers tighter, but she slips her skinny arm free.
"I'll give you mine," I try, the sweater I'm wearing, all the clothes off my back, my heat, anything.
Just, don't leave me.
I'll get clean again.
Just please don't leave me.
But she does.
Without a word, without even looking at me, love bends frozen fingers under my own and looses the remaining bit of her sleeve from my grip. She leaves me in the sand with nothing but fault and longing and regret.
All alone with only knowing.
Both of my parents are home; I know because Alice's Jeep is parked in the driveway instead of the garage.
It takes me almost as long to get from behind the wheel to the porch as it did to get here. I don't want to go in. I don't want to face the disappointment and disgrace in their eyes. I don't know if I can carry it, too.
When I try my key, it works. Mom hasn't let Dad change the locks, but when I open the door, neither of them says a word. He doesn't look up from the newspaper he's reading on the couch and she doesn't even glance from the television as I step inside. Alice isn't around, but she'd probably avoid me too if she was, and I know circumvention is the least of what I deserve, but knowing doesn't lessen the sting.
The house I grew up in isn't a mess like the first few times I left. Despite my absence, everything is in its right place. My arrival causes no disruption. My addiction and everything it entails is standard. I am exactly what they expect, and it only makes the wound stretching open between my heart and stomach hurt worse.
My shoulders bow and my back stoops lower with every step up the stairs. By the time my bedroom door is closed behind me, I'm bent almost in half and crying again, but it's without a sound.
Tiny little grains of First Beach shake loose from my jacket and jeans, falling to the carpet as I lean against my door and slide down.
I don't scream. I don't curse. I don't kick or push, or pull, or break anything. I just close my eyes and cry, because I know what day it is, and the rest of mine are numbered.
In three more, love is not going to choose me.
And she shouldn't.
And I know.
This is it.
I curl in around myself. My fight is gone and my soul is a white flag, and I try with everything I have and am and have ever been, so hard to finally do it.
To open up and let go.
But my heart beats.
And all I can do is cry.
I open my eyes to find myself picking all the impossibly small pieces of sand from my carpet with shaking hands. I cling to the particles with fists pressed to my chest and cry harder, and harder still, because I don't know how to do this.
I can't learn this.
There is no aptitude inside me for this.
Goodbye isn't a word or an action. It isn't a consequence. It's not a means or a step, or a solution; it's a circumstance. Goodbye is a living condition. It's a situation and a state, and a slow unsoundness. It's where we've been for months, and the only place left I can go, and it's long. It's the rest of forever, but nowhere near time enough.
It's not a choice, not even a little bit.
It is what it is and that's it. It's all that there is, and I am addled and incompetent and terminal with it, and I know.
And still, my heart beats, and all I can do is cry and cling to little rocks so tightly. I press and scrape at pebbles of La Push until I'm digging them under my nails and forcing them into my palms, thinking maybe if I can get them under my skin, maybe they'll help weigh me down.
Maybe I'll sink faster.
And maybe when I have nothing else, maybe when I'm too far gone to reach even memories of love, maybe at least I'll have a few fragments of it somewhere within me.
They'll be there, somewhere inside.
Even if I can't see them.
Even if I can't feel them anymore, they'll be there always.
I woke with sore everything.
I don't remember making it to the shower, but I stood under the stream until it started to run cold. I pulled clean clothes on and smoked, and smoked until my bag was empty. I drank half of one of Alice's Vitamin Waters from the fridge, but couldn't keep it down. I spent the rest of the Wednesday between dry-heaves and black-outs after that.
Somewhere between room-spins and half-blindness, death-wishes and pitch darkness, I texted Pete. He wasn't home, but said he would be later.
I'm on his couch now, on my back with my hood up and sunglasses on even though there are no lights on and it's almost midnight.
I don't want to see anyone and I don't need anyone to see this. I'm only here because I'm dry and I don't want to call Dimitri.
Goodbye is what it is, but my heart, my wasted, worthless, foolish fucking heart refuses to give all the way up. My hands, my arms, my eyes all let Bella go when she pulled away on the beach. My fear, my mind and my soul couldn't hold onto even pebbles after that, but the bottomless, bloodless, black and burned up hole in my chest that can't even hold enough love to save itself, refuses to let go of maybe.
It's not substantial enough to be hope.
I close my eyes behind my shades and turn from my back to my side. I shake inside. I'm starving, but just the thought of eating makes me feel sicker than I already am. My skin crawls hot, cold, hot, cold under my clothes. I remember the light I used to see in her eyes and I sweat. I think about her so-visible clavicle and I freeze. My intestines feel barbwire-cinched and my muscles ache with the slightest movement. My bones crack and splinter like scrawny, frostbitten twigs, and my eyes burn like open brands behind sandpaper lids.
I'd give anything for a line.
I'd give love for gram without a fucking blink.
I don't want to, but I would.
I'd give up she for her in one stupid, just maybe-carrying heartbeat, just to get out from under this sickness for just a second.
I half-cough, half-cry out, and am stumbling in a rush to the bathroom before my eyes are completely open.
Crouched around my friend's grimy fucking toilet, I clench my lids tightly shut until my eyes sting just like the acid in my throat. My empty stomach heaves, and I spit the taste of blood and bile out. I press the heel of my hand over my mouth when nothing else comes up, but my stomach keeps constricting. My whole body convulses in waves. I hold onto the seat with one hand and wrap my free arm around my myself, retching and spitting again, but there's nothing left for my lining to scrape out.
Keeping my eyes closed and my right arm around my waist, I search for the handle with my left hand and duck my head away, down toward my chest as I press it. Everything slants and spins, and my pulse slow-motion-pounds too loudly in my ears. I'm burning up. I sway forward again, and lean my forehead on cool porcelain, squeezing my eyes even tighter closed. Chills chase goose bumps, and a shudder rips so deeply through me I wince.
Between blinks, I hear a car pull up outside. I shift, but I don't move, not really.
I know I should get up and wash my face. I should gargle some water and at least attempt to pretend to get myself some fraction of together, but I just close my eyes again. It hurts, everything does, and my lashes feel so heavy. Everything is so fucking heavy.
I hear the front door open and footsteps stepping, and I tilt my head a little, letting my pulse-pounding temple rest on the cool, unclean surface.
Seconds drift, maybe a minute.
"Edward?" Rachel's knocking on the door. Her voice and the sound of knuckles on plywood pierce my momentary solace, echoing and blurring together with aching and dizziness. I'm cold again. I'm shivering.
"Edward, hey, hey, listen. Can you do me a favor?"
My stomach coils tighter and my blood boils in my veins, crack-shattering them all through my limbs, spreading clammy fever all through me instantly. I turn my face over the bowl and spit, and I don't want to be fucking sick again. I just want Pete to get here with some pot so I can fucking sleep. I just want everything and everyone to stop, just for a little bit.
Just for a few more days.
"Edward, hey, look, are you holding?"
I flush the toilet, hoping she'll get the hint and leave me alone, because I can't believe what I'm hearing.
But I know I'm hearing it.
"I just need a little something to take the edge off. You know how it is."
I close my eyes. The floor tilts and turns underneath me. It's quiet for some seconds.
Fingertips tap, tap, tap. My chest clenches up and my lungs burn.
"C'mon," she drawls, pausing for another second before starting again. "I can do something for you..."
I close my eyes tighter and cover my ears. Curving my arm under my head, I bury my face into my sleeve and press the handle again, blocking out everything else she says as best as I can.
Through my clothes, I dig my fingers into my aching sides as moments pass. My half-atrophied muscles twitch and tense, and stay contracted. I breathe and breathe, and her knocking finally stops, but my muscles stay braced. I try to tell my brain to tell my body to ease up, to relax after some more moments, but everything stays strained and shaking and sore.
I'm still falling.
Whatever bottom is, if there is one, it's further than this. It's worse than curling face down in Pete's toilet while his mom pleads like a fiend outside the door. It's somehow, somewhere lower than this.
My stomach jerks and I retch again. The back of my throat burns for mercy, but fear is unaffected and relentless.
I try to hang out with my friend when he gets home, but I can't be still.
The sun isn't up yet, but my fear and my heart and my mind all know it's Thursday morning.
Pete offers to smoke me out, to let me sleep on the couch, anything's cool, but I just want to be back in my room. I want to be buried and forgotten. I want love's bed, love's arms, love's safe place, but I don't let myself think of her.
I don't remember or wish or wonder. I just, don't.
It's nearing three a.m. when I get back to my parents' house. I'm dazed. I don't remember steps even right after I take them. I'm senseless in survival mode, stuck on auto-pilot, and I feel like I'm disappearing.
I shower. I clean my room. Packing crosses my mind, but I don't. Nothing I own matters. It never has. I'm only picking up because I don't want what's left to be a burden after Saturday.
I burn a joint. I pick up and pile laundry into a basket. I put away books and CDs that are my own and make a pile of things that aren't: Ben's white hoodie that's been to Seattle and back, Pete's copy of Spoon's Soft Effects EP, Pete's copy of Invisible Monsters, Pete's one-hitter, Al's navy blue left Chuck Taylor from eighth grade, Vic's black ponytail holder...
I dust off and throw out and organize. I bury the rolled up twenty in my bathroom at the bottom of the trash bag and roll the rest of the half ounce Pete gave me into eleven joints. I empty my cigarettes out into the trash, too, and use the pack for the joints and toss out empty bottles, older packs, and broken lighters. I tie every piece of evidence that I'm no good into the garbage and take it outside.
I shower again. I smoke again. I can hear my mother and my father and my sister moving around, making breakfast, getting ready.
I tighten the wheels on my desk chair and fix what I can of broken parts. I Windex windows and vacuum the carpet, and make my bed. My body is sore to fall into it, but my mind is still so awake.
When the people who are supposed to love me most are gone, I place my sister's stuff outside her door and head downstairs with laundry. Graduation gifts and plans spread out across the dining room table greet me like arrows. I walk past and head to the back room and start the washing machine, trying to keep my thoughts blank, but it doesn't work.
As much as I am exactly my parents' fault, I'm not. This, what I am, today, this is not, and I want to jump in the Lincoln and go find my mom, and tell her that. It's not her fault, this hole in me. My reasons. My falling. It's not their fault. It's just me.
"How could you be so fucking stupid?" my dad's voice from years ago echoes through me, pushing blinding, deafening, wholly-numbing fear deeper inside. "What would I have done if you had been killed?"
Been better off, I know.
I'd have saved you.
I'd have saved her.
I'd have saved everyone, all of this.
I don't realize I'm gripping the washing machine until it pulls me out of my head when it starts. I swallow down what would have been so much easier and make coffee, and drink two cups while I clean up what's mine from every room downstairs. When it's all put away too, and my clothes are in the dryer, I head back upstairs and gather what's not mine. Placing it all in the passenger seat of the Continental, I finish my coffee and wash my cup, and the pot, and the countertop just in case, all clean.
I pat my pockets as I walk from the front door to the driver's seat. Everything I am is on my person: wallet, phone, keys, pack.
And that's it.
The sun isn't shining when I head out, but even gray light stings my eyes. I glance at the pile in the seat next to me as I pull my glasses from the glove compartment. It doesn't escape me anymore now than it did when I was cleaning that I possess no tangible evidence whatsoever of love.
The hat she gave me for my birthday six years ago is somewhere in her possession again. I have nothing to link me to her.
I have nothing.
That's my deal.
Ben's in town for the weekend and Victoria is with him when I get to his mom's house. The rest of his family is out and about, so he rolls a blunt and we get high in his backyard.
It's good to see him. It's good to be around him. He got out of here and he's happy, and it doesn't hurt to know this. I'm as happy as I can be for him and I'm glad that he's here.
He's wearing his white sweater I kept too long now, unzipped over a blue on darker blue raglan. He has the hood up and shiny aviators on. Vic has shades on too; we all do, but I feel like the only one that's using them to hide.
She's happy, too, easygoing and it's good to be around her too, in a way I can't really explain.
Seated at the patio table, the two of them closer and me across, we laugh and pull twice each, and pass the Philly back and forth. I'm uneasy inside, still falling, and I'm still physically, mentally and emotionally incinerated, but it's the best I've felt since La Push, and lighter, and I'm thankful. I'm moved and kind of relieved, even though Vic keeps giving me looks.
Not that kind.
Not lustful or guilty or seeking or sorry, but conscious. I can't see her eyes behind her shades, but I can feel her awareness. She looks at me between passes and past-times, and she looks like she knows exactly what I'm doing, why I'm here. She looks like she sees right through my front, just like she always could.
Her hair tie from the first time she was in my room is in my jacket pocket. I brought it to give back to her, but now that I'm here and she sees me, I can't. I don't love Victoria the way Ben loves her, or the way I love Bliss, but she's not the devil. We're not for one other, but she's a part of me. She's the first person that ever let me inside and she's inside me in a way, just like Ben and Pete are.
Just like Mixie is.
Al and my parents, and Kim, and Brady Fuller, and the fucking sweater-giver, everyone.
None of them run as deeply though me as Bella, but they're there, under my skin, somewhere between blood and gray matter. You can't interact with another person and pull away the same as you were before, and you definitely can't move together in the natural shape love makes and stand up unaltered. You can't. Even if you're trying, especially if you're trying, you just can't.
My heart can't hold on to anything, but everyone I've ever known is somewhere within me like I wish beach pebbles could be.
My phone vibrates in my denim pocket and a text from Pete asking what's up reminds me I have things to return to him, too.
It's already late afternoon.
We keep goodbye simple, casual and smiling. I'll tell them I'll see them Saturday, and I try not to think about how much I'm going to miss them in the end.
Head and chest full of smoke, I drown new knowledge and fresh dejection out with Just What I am all the way up, and drive toward the edge of town.
Petey's black and white is parked outside the batting cages when I pull up. Bat by his side, he's leaned against the trunk smoking a cigarette with his hat backwards and black lenses reflecting the already ready to set sun.
The gutter between my lungs swells and aches like a flooded, busted and broken dam.
We're not like we used to be.
We've been less than honest in our own way.
We've changed a lot, but not really, not too much.
I'm going to die without sway - I know that, but I know too, that I'll miss this person most of all.
She's deepest inside me, but Pete's never, not ever asked me to change or imagined I'm something other than exactly what I am. He's my oldest and most similar friend. So many of our darkest places and parts are shared, and I wouldn't, but if I told him I had to leave, he'd hop shotgun without thinking twice.
Knowing pricks the backs of my eyes like pins, but I blink through it and grab my bat from the backseat and his stuff from next to me.
He laughs when I hand all of it over. I've had that Spoon CD since sophomore year. We both thought it was lost forever.
Falling into step with him is more effortless than it was with Ben, even more familiar and easing on the falling sensation I can't shake. We take our places in side-by-side cages and drop quarters into pitching machines over common conversation.
The sun shifts slowly behind, in front of, and behind clouds again. We're quiet save for hits of metal to leather-bound rubber, and this is good, too, just being like this, in this place with him. Baseball is simple and familiar. I love it, too, and I'm going to miss it, too.
Next to me, my friend swings and hits, and inside me, my frayed and wasted consciousness swims with recollection I hope so hard I can always keep.
I remember kindergarten and first grade, and when Ben moved to town and we became three instead of two.
I remember bikes and boards, and summer sun, up-all-night games and running amok without a fuck for years.
I remember that infinite, untouchable, unspoken freedom that only genuine friendship grants. I remember sneaking and laughing so hard my sides hurt, and so many firsts.
I swing and hit.
There's nowhere to run here.
"Remember that bottle of Blue Label?" I ask, the right side of my mouth curved up a little.
Pete laughs, swinging and hitting, too, and I know he's remembering our first shots just like I am, the ones we took from Ben's Dad.
"And Ben spit his out everywhere," my friend finishes. "Remember the first time he tried to smoke a cigarette?"
I laugh now, remembering it was one of his sisters' birthday parties and he'd stolen a pack from his cousin.
"Remember her?" I ask, swinging and hitting. "His cousin, Marie?"
Pete swings and misses, but he laughs, and I know we're on the exact same page.
"Marie," he nods, shaking his head with the same stupid grin I'm wearing. "That white sweater, yeah, I remember."
And I do, too. Of course I do. It was the fist time I ever remember noticing tits through a shirt, and later that summer, she was the first girl any of us ever saw topless when Pete ran by and untied her swimsuit.
We back and forth between swings and hits, laughing and easy, and it's good. It's better than this afternoon, and for a while time sort of goes away.
I almost forget I'm still falling.
But then he swings, and he hits, and we're talking about Halloween four years ago, when Kim beat some private school chick up for looking at her boy all wrong, and I don't realize we're stepping around my soul until I circle right back to it.
"Remember those contests they used to have in grade school?" It comes out without even thinking.
I can't run.
"And we were painted up like zombies and shit," Pete continues the story, hitting too. "And Alice was still scarier than all of us."
"In her dreams," I say back, shaking my head. I wait for another pitch, but the machine's stopped and I can't loose myself from the memory I know we're both in now.
Bliss was a princess, and we made her cry. At least I thought we did.
I'd felt like a disappointment before, to my parents. I'd felt guilty and remorseful for breaking things in my carelessness and not making better grades, and for Alice busting her eye on that bed knob, but I'd never felt the weight of my conscience so much as when I thought we made princess pie cry. I was familiar with blameworthiness and regret, but that was the first time I ever actually felt low.
Pete's machine's stopped, too. We're out of hits and there's still nowhere to run. I've got my bat at my right side and my left hand is on the back of my neck, trying like hell to keep all my pieces together.
B wasn't really crying that day, just getting us back for being rotten, but her tears fucked me up, and they were the first of so many. I remember feeling so low to the ground in that moment, like dirt for what I'd done, but I was nowhere near it. I know because I made her cut tears I knew were mine so many times over the last eight years, and I still can't find the ground.
My friend sniffs and I hear his phone go off in his pocket. He ignores it. I hear him take two steps closer to the chain links that separate us and I feel his look.
I glance up at him through the fence. His sunglasses are tucked into his collar and his blue is clean.
I look down at the ground.
Everything about right now is fucked up, and it's all just as understood as every other untellable tale we share.
So, I say "I'll see you Saturday," before I turn away, and Peter doesn't say a word.
He doesn't need to.
Our parents aren't home, but Alice is asleep on the couch when I get in.
There's an empty Gatorade bottle on the coffee table and the TV is on, but turned down. Her Vans are kicked off onto the carpet, and she has on one turquoise sock and one black and white striped one, brown corduroys and a Coheed hoodie I don't recognize. The rainbow colors are all out of her hair. She's just blonde again, and I don't even know for how long.
Sort of stuck in place, I try and try, but I can't remember the last time I saw her.
I do know she'd walk away if she were awake, though. She'd go intentionally out of her way to not look at me, just like mom and dad, and there's so much I don't know about what's going on, and I should. I'm her brother. I'm her big brother, and I'm failing.
Sunglasses still on, even though that star has long since set, I swallow shame and hold it down long enough to collect my laundry from the dryer. With the basket under my left arm, I walk back through the kitchen and into the living room again. I step toward the stairs, but then I hear it.
It's not loud or gross or obnoxious; my little sister's just a heavy fucking sleeper and she can't help it.
Alice is snoring.
And I've taken advantage and exploited it behind her back for years.
Shame I'm barely holding down swells in my throat and makes breathing a task. My composure and coordination are unsteady with dopesickness, anxiety and constant falling, and my legs are so ready to give out from under me. Hurt and horror are restless behind my eyes, and I'm dizzy, and lost-feeling again, and scared, but Al snores sniffle-snorts in her sleep, and more than anything else, I'm sorry.
Setting the laundry basket down, I make my way to the hall closet and grab my great-grandma's quilt from the top shelf. Nothing feels real: not the patchwork in my hands, not the moment around me, not my shaking or my pulse or my steps, but I take them anyway. I open the blanket and lay it carefully over Alice, and turn to climb the stairs before I crumble.
Being behind my closed door helps, and opening my window for air helps, too. I fold clean clothes and put them away, and slowly but surely I don't feel dizzy anymore, but the lost feeling stays put inside me.
I've returned all that I was able to rightful owners.
I've cleaned and repaired, and made the best amends I could.
I've abided and remained, and taken care to ensure my absence will be less of a burden this time.
Dropping my sunglasses to my desk, I grab the only notebook I kept and climb out onto the roof.
The May breeze is cool on my face and hands, refreshing in a sharp way. The difference in temperature between me and it when it touches my skin means the coke left in my system is wearing thin.
I set the notebook next to me and take a joint from my pack. I lean back and light up, and pull with measured breaths, working my shakes to occasional slow-motion quavers.
I lie back.
I watch clouds move across stars.
I give all the dimmest ones names for what's inside me and what awaits:
I name the all ones that look like they backslid and bowed in on themselves, and burned out slowly:
I squint hard and find the ones that are barely visible, and name them for what I am and have always been:
I light another joint and smoke with my eyes closed.
The cave in my ribcage cracks breaking sounds, and I can feel it splintering into ever-smaller shards.
Sitting up, I tilt my head and narrow my hazy eyes as far into the distance as I can see. I search and finally find a star so faded, so close to gone I'm not even sure it's real:
I toss the roach and reach for my notebook.
The only one I've ever really written anything in, I left in the hotel room in Seattle. Just like the things in my bedroom, it didn't and doesn't matter. It's just a thing I had and used for what it was. The one in my lap now was originally supposed to be for school, but it ended up not being good for much more than a place to tap my pencil while I tolerated time away from love.
Pulling the pen from the spiral loop, I steady the back cover of the notebook on my knees, and open up to the first page.
I stare at blank blue lines. I stare at my hand's shadow on the paper. I stare at my thumb and my knuckles, and the way my fingers are bent to hold the pen. I think my hands look and feel older than any part of me. They remind me of my dad's. They're different, my own, but adult.
They're the conduits for everything, for all that I'll never tell and things I wish the whole world knew. Habits and impulses, sins, sex, secrets, poison, love, everything I've taken from life and into myself, and everything I've allowed out of myself and into life, my hands have relayed. They've brought blood to the surface and wiped it away. They've kept hate inside and carried it out. They've broken and kept together. They've drawn close, and held down, and set fire.
They've dug clear sandals out of mud and lifted a princess onto my back. They've stolen white milk and stripped precious defenses and covered cries. They've opened innocence up to let myself in and constricted air flow to prevent escape.
They've bruised and forced, and tried so hard to bind, but they've never, ever lied.
They can't, and they don't.
My hands slip and the pen leaves an unstraight mark down the margin of the page. I close my eyes and choke around a breath, and I'm so tired of crying. I'm so fucking tired.
I write without sight.
I grabbed this notebook with the intention of getting out what love means to me, what everyone does, so I can let everyone go. I came out here to write thank you, and I'm sorry, and it isn't her fault. It isn't anyone's fault.
But none of that comes out. The breadth of sadness is suddenly and completely crippling. I get four words down before I'm all tears, coughing and climbing and crawling. Fully clothed, shoes still on and hood up, I curl fetal under my blankets and wish with desperation beyond language that my bed would swallow me whole. I cry until I can't breathe, and black myself out with the truth, with the only sentence my right hand could manage.
It's better this way.
I wake in spite of not wanting to.
My temples throb so hard my eyelids pulse, and in the next second, there's knocking on the other side of my door and I realize it's what woke me.
I blink. I haven't even lifted my head, but I can feel all that I am, ache. The morning light coming in hurts.
Knocking softer and opening my door, my mom leans against the frame. Her hair's pulled back and she's unmade-up in jeans and a sweatshirt. She smiles small. It makes the worry in her eyes glint.
"I made breakfast," she says simply.
My stomach twists and pleads, and turns. I'm starving, but the unbelonging within me is stronger than hunger.
I shouldn't be here.
I should go.
"C'mon," she says with intentionally careful gentleness. She stands up straight. I can smell cinnamon and vanilla as she opens my door a little more. "Alice and your father are already gone," she continues, her forlorn eyes kind and warily hopeful. "Come down when you're ready."
The sound of my door closing behind her clicks me back into automated endurance just like that.
Love isn't going to choose me tomorrow, but even if she does -
It doesn't matter.
Whatever happens, however I leave, I still leave.
This is it.
These are my last chances to make things something like right.
So, I get out of bed.
I change from the hoodie and the shirts I slept in, to a clean white tee. I leave my same jeans on, but take my shoes and socks off. I wash my face and brush my teeth, and leave my pack, my phone and my wallet on my desk. Clearing my head and chest as best as I can with a deep breath, I open my door and leave it that way as I head downstairs barefoot.
I'm only bones, and I feel like a hundred thousand stones.
Mom's pouring coffee when I make it to the kitchen. She hands me the cup, but doesn't say much. Regardless of why, I'm grateful for her silence. I want to do this, to be here in this way with her, but I don't know how my voice will hold up if I try to speak.
I sit at the table and bring the cup to my lips. I sip slowly, and it's equal parts soothing and nauseating. I drink it, though, because it's not all terrible. I can feel it immediately tending to the parts of myself that can still be cared for by simple sustenance.
Mom sets a plate with scrambled eggs and French toast down in front of me. The smell alone is the same as the coffee, half-so-welcome and half-so-sickening. The sight of the eggs and the memory they're connected to make my heart weep like a weakling, but I keep my hurt down.
I don't touch the eggs.
There are three pieces of French toast. It takes me forever to eat half of one. Every cut and bite, and chew, and swallow is just as needed as it is laborious, like each one takes as much energy as it provides.
My mother doesn't leave the kitchen, and I can feel her unease. I can feel the too-sensitive frailty of the present and how much she wants to hold onto it. I can feel her nervousness and her longing, and love. I can tell she wants to sit down at the table too, but she's afraid if she does she'll somehow ruin this, my being here. So, she washes pans and cups and bowls by hand instead of filling the dishwasher. She rearranges magnets and pictures on the fridge and flips through the calendar.
When I can't stomach the other half of the toast, I sniff. Food and drink churn slowly inside me, refusing to settle no matter how still I sit. I take a small sip of coffee, but it's no longer hot. It's warm and putrid, and nothing about any of this is halved anymore. It's all awful.
I want to run away.
I want to give in.
"You're still my son, you know," my mom speaks in the thinnest voice somewhere behind me. I can hear her swallowing tears and I don't have to turn around to see the look on her face. I know she's closing her lips together too tightly and pressing her right hand between her eyebrows like it's going to somehow keep at bay everything that's tearing at her. I don't look, but I see her absolutely clearly.
"I love you, Dusty," she says, and I can hear her composure splitting at the seams, and my stomach feels like it's shredding. My sides burn and gray blindness creeps around the edges of my vision.
I try to sit still, but I can't. I shake my head. I can't do this.
I can't fucking do this.
"You're not too big to ask for help. It's never too late -"
I stand up too quickly, too rough. I knock the chair over without meaning to and walk away without a word, without turning to face her, because too late is exactly what this is.
I spent my whole life screaming for help.
What the fuck did she think I was doing?
I barely make it to my bathroom before I throw French toast and Italian roast up so hard it hurts.
It's not the drugs. It's not withdrawal. It's just too late.
I know I can't blame my mother. Food, like love, is nourishment, and nourishment is good. My body can't hold goodness any more than my heart can hold love.
And what else is there?
Cold toes and soft safety, and my favorite sound echo and implore and blur through fading semi-mindfulness. I don't try to hold onto them. I won't let myself think of love.
Half because after tomorrow, I'll have the rest of my life to do nothing but that.
And half because if I do now, while I'm this bated, I'll never get up off the floor.
So, I let all the parts of myself that have let her go, lead.
My heart can do whatever it wants. It's going to anyway, and there is no wherewithal left in me. I don't have the capacity or the adequacy to fight it anymore.
Just twenty four more hours.
Maybe less even.
And then forever.
After washing my face, dressing and re-cleaning, I pocketed my only possessions that matter. Cap down low and hood pulled over it, sunglasses on under both, I head out.
I stopped for coffee.
I turned my iPod onto Sixteen Stone and skipped to track seven.
I breathed in, breathed out, and drove west toward the Quileute Marina.
My stomach felt a little more accepting. So, I bought another coffee and took a chance with some skim milk, because why not?
If I get sick again, I'm sick again. I'm sick anyway.
I switched from Bush to Box Car Racer, parked the car and wished I was brave. I opened the glove compartment and pulled out a brochure that hadn't seen daylight in over a year, and I wished I was stronger. I tossed it to the dash and pulled my phone out. I scrolled to the D's and wished I could feel no pain.
That's where I am now. It's what I am, back and forth, wishing I was young, wishing I'd done so much differently, wishing I was anyone but myself. Revision in my left hand, reversion in my right, I back and forth for hours, and eventually they both feel as pointless as everything else.
The end is still the same.
My head spins. My hands shake. My heart suffers.
I trade my phone and paperwork for my pack. I light up and watch ships roll out and in, and I know.
Whether I get clean or get dirty, I can't change anything from before, and sooner or later, we just die. And that's it. Me, love, Pete and Ben, Vic, Alice, my parents, everyone. No matter what anyone does, it's all just an end. Nothing lasts forever.
But coke takes that away, that knowledge and abhorrence that we're not infinite. Coke makes that not matter, not even a little bit.
And so does Bliss.
Coke makes death inconsequential, and love makes it reasonable and acceptable. It's okay if death comes while you're in love, with love, because even though you go alone, you don't leave alone. You've lived some portion of your life unalone, and somehow, some unexplainable way, that makes dying not so terrible.
But I don't know how to live.
I'm not special. I'm not talented. I don't have anything to offer or contribute to the world. So why?
Going to college, getting a job, it all just delays the one unavoidable similarity we all share. None of it matters.
I flick the joint out my window and press the heels of my hands to my eyes.
Who knew being useless could be so hard?
Who knew being ultimately unimportant could be so fucking heavy?
I reach for the brochure again and stare at the steps and stages and promises about what I'm missing, what could be. I stare, but my sight is unfocused. I'm lost in thought and hopeless with knowing, and still falling.
I get clean.
I burn out.
I run away.
I marry this girl.
It all ends with both of us in the ground someday.
So what's the fucking point?
I trade the brochure for my phone and scroll through missed calls from Dim and texts about what I'm missing, what could be.
It doesn't matter.
There is no point.
This is too much.
And death -
There is nothing as lucky or as easy or free -
My phone vibrates in my hand, pulling me to the present. I blink. I make my eyes focus.
There's still no point. I still don't have an answer or a reason, or anything to offer. I still don't know what to do, but it's her. Love is breaking the silence.
It's simple. It's one word. It's everything.
It's boy, like I'm the only one in the whole world.
Longing and regret constrict my throat. My hands shake again and I feel so empty. I feel low and indecent and worthless.
I'm nothing. I have nothing to give. I'm only bones. There's nothing left of me but the part that won't let go, and it's that part of myself that's bleeding out around the last thread of maybe, just maybe, that she appeals to. With one word, my heart swells and spills guilt and requirement and love through my limbs.
I should have thought of her.
I always should.
I'm hers. I'm for her, and there is no part of me broken, weak, made of connections to others that's not hers.
God, I love so much.
And that is it.
If she'll see me, if she'll let me hold her through tonight, I'll face tomorrow like I should. If she'll share her heart one last time, I won't cry. I won't fight. I won't grip her too tightly. I won't ask her to stay or try to change her mind. I'll undo chains and weights and locks, and I'll take only one life.
I won't lie.
I won't sin.
I'll let her go.
I want to do this right.
I've never wanted to do anything more right than this.
So, I came home.
It's a little before five o'clock. Alice's graduation presents are gone from the front table, and so is her car and both my parents'. There's no note and none of them called or texted me. Wherever my family went, they've gone without offering a single ounce of care my way.
I swallow the hurt and blow the truth out.
It's for the better.
This is how it should be.
I cut my hair. I shower. I shave. I dress. I steady myself and look around my room. It's clean. I'm clean. There's no sign of delinquency anywhere, no coke left in me, and it's May.
It's Friday night, and tomorrow is it.
Tomorrow is sum. It's entirety. It's commencement and completion and final circumstance.
And it's all for the best.
Measuring my exhale evenly and slowly, I pocket my wallet and my keys. I pull my sweater on, but leave it unzipped. I keep the hood down and leave my hat on my desk with my sunglasses. I have nothing left to hide and I'm not going to try to, not from her.
Grabbing my phone, I leave my door open as I head downstairs. I scroll through my contacts, past family and dealers and friends, all the way down to the S's, and dial sunny side as I step outside.
It rings and rings, and rings, but I don't worry. I don't fear or doubt, because everything is just what it is, and that's all that there is, but I don't trust my voice when her message picks up either.
I hang up and sit down in the driver's seat, measuring out slow breaths.
The early evening air is chilly for late springtime. It smells like rain and grass. The sky's gray and white and darker gray, and the wind is ungentle. It could storm, but I hope it doesn't. I want all night. One last all-night.
Pushing my free hand through shorter hair than I've had in months, I type come out with me, and send it to Bella. I don't wait for a reply before starting the Lincoln. I can't. I don't have it in me to wait. I'm running solely on maybe-harboring beats from a star-crossed heart that loves blindly and without limit. It's all that I have. So when it pulses faith and hope and just go thought my otherwise expendable veins, I do.
I drive where my heart leads and park where I told Bliss we should go years ago, where we just were three days before now.
She's not here, though. I'm alone, but the ever-splintering never-surrendering hole in my chest says wait.
I swallow hard and concentrate on breathing. It takes more than a few minutes for my balance to settle and I think maybe more air will help. Dragging my hand down my face, I get out of the car and walk slowly around to the back of it.
Somewhere behind all the clouds, the sun is starting to set, but the light it radiates through all the gray still hurts my eyes. I squint a little as I lean against the trunk and take my pack from my pockets. There are two joints left. Placing one between my lips, I cup my hand around the end of it and light a little fire for my nerves.
As I smoke, seagulls call and the salty wind sort of whistles under the surface. Water laps over and over itself in waves behind me. I pull heavy hits into my chest without any hurry, and watch clouds slowly roll. The gulls swoop and sound off, and circle back, and sky light dims gradually grayer and grayer.
I keep my eyes on the winding road in the distance, but it stays empty. I slide my right hand into my habitless pocket and inhale deeper. Grey clouds dim darker. Gulls start to disperse.
This is it, I think.
I don't get one last time.
And that's for the best, too.
I'm trying to blow the sharpness and the sting I can't help feeling out into the breeze when my phone vibrates in my left pocket, but I know before I look that it's not her.
I'm a little surprised it took him this long to acknowledge what's happening, but that's our deal. We don't talk about his mom or my sister, or Bliss. Even though he knows, and I know, even though it's all known, we don't talk about how it feels.
My sore eyes linger over his words.
You don't have to do anything, his message reads.
In my desperation, just for a second my mind joins my heart and I think, he could be right.
Maybe I don't have to do anything.
Maybe no one does.
And there's a little sort of freedom there.
But then I hear a car.
And then I see the Rabbit.
And I know.
I do have to do this.
It's the heaviest weight, and it hurts so much, but it's mine to bear. I do have to leave, because love has to live. I hate that I'm hurting my friend, worrying and probably scaring him, and I'm going to miss him so much, but he knows who I am.
I pocket my phone and watch everything-to-me come around in the almost-dark. I watch her car disappear and reappear around curves, and with every second my heart beats the smallest bit stronger.
My hands steady and my legs stand with more certainty. Clean blood warms and hunger-weakened muscles flex with determination underneath skin I swear I feel some small hint of color returning to. My cheeks heat with the refound force behind my heart's rhythm and the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. My nerves open like fingers waiting for a hand to hold and my pupils dilate with natural attraction, affection and adoration.
Love does this. Love gets me this way. Standing in the presence of love makes falling and shards and hopelessness all feel worth it, and right.
Good, even, in a way.
Because she's what it's all for.
She's what's best.
She's what matters.
She's the point.
When she parks her car and opens her door, and lays her eyes on mine, every cell I'm made of recognizes this truth. Bella's diminished too, fragile and thin compared to who we used to be, but this moment has slipped a shot of life into her bloodstream. There's the faintest hint of pink in sallow cheeks and a softness around green-blue irises.
I feel like I'm seeing her for the first time. Comprehensively, bottom to top, end to end, I see this girl for all that she is.
Strawberry blonde. Collarbones. Eyes like her mother's, but infinitely deeper. Father's nose, but straighter, cleaner. Her toes are covered in hot pink shoes, but they know my touch. They curl for my fingers, and when she's nervous. I can't see any freckles, but I know they're there too, under the surface, waiting for the sun.
I look at her and I think about her bellybutton, and her first curse words, and the way she giggles when fireworks light up the sky. I smell tea-trees and taste powdered sugar and hear French whispers that go straight through me. I think about skin like apple butter, and tears like razors, and the first sound she makes when I push inside. I think about how completely woven together and tangled up our lives are with each other. I look at princess baby Bliss in her little lace shorts and light gray sweater, and I see every mark I've ever made on her, and I think maybe she doesn't know herself as well as I know me, but that's okay. She will. That's why I have to leave, so she can.
We're not eleven and nine anymore. We're not fifteen and twelve. We're nineteen and seventeen. We're young, sure, but we're a thousand years old, and I finally know better.
I shift my shoes in the sand as she moves toward me. Every lift of her feet brings us closer to what's coming. Every fall closes the end of all things tighter and tighter around me. It's dizzying and it hurts, and I'm scared, but it's right, and my heart, along with every other part of myself, welcomes it.
When we're almost toe to toe, pink to black with only a few grains of sand between us, I offer her a hit because sometimes she likes to feel it, too. She shakes her head though and it's every bit as alright as if she had taken it. Anything she does or doesn't do is okay here, and I can feel that sentiment like knowledge. I'll accept and belove her any way she'll let me, for any amount of time, even if this is it. I don't want it to be. I want to gather her as close to my heart as I can more than I want my next breath, but if this is all I get, just this looking up and some succinct words for goodbye, she'll still be everything to me. I'll still do what I have to do with a heart made of the most grateful shards, because no matter how many words goodbye is, it will never be long enough, and I'm still going to do right by her.
Bella doesn't say goodbye, though. She doesn't hate me with her eyes or raise her hands in anger. She just kind of... lets me see, and I do. I see her. I see that she's here to give me the night and inside my chest, I go from splintered solids to a melting state. I see her, and I love her. With everything that brought us here and no matter what comes next, I love her here and now. I love this person more selflessly than I have ever loved or ever thought was even possible.
My legs stand steady and my eyes see with the perfect amount of clarity. My blood warms and my muscles relax. My heart beats knowing.
Flicking the joint with calm, unshaking hands, I step away to open the passenger door of the Continental for her. Baby gets in and I close the door behind her. I walk around and open the driver's side door, and bend to get in too. Every step is so familiar it's second nature.
I reach out and so does she, and this is warmer, softer and more special than anything that's come before. This is greater than. This is what grace has to be. The sight and sound and feel of Bliss reaching for me -
For me, this is Heaven.
And when she curls her fingers and grips to get closer, it's the best part of Heaven.
Everything is Heaven.
And nothing aches.
This feeling, this joy, this pure, unmitigated, unearthly feeling joy cures all and bestows not only strength, but ability and validation.
We gather together in the front seat, arms around, lungs pressed as closely as they can be through muscle and bone and flesh and cotton. We grant little to no air between us. No words, no space, just a single, integrated faith-filled heart rate. We look and see, and hold, and when our limbs tingle pins and needles, I say, "C'mon," and we shift to the back seat and fold together twice as closely.
I lie on my back and baby covers me. I bend my knees and wrap my arms, enfolding her while she rests her head on my chest and her hands on my shoulders. I hold her whole weight and I can feel her heart pulsing in time with mine, joyfully thankful through her ribs, against my stomach.
We just... fit.
Not like puzzle pieces, but so much more susceptibly, solvently. Like a yawn into a hum, we dissolve into each other. Love into love, every touch, every breath, every love-made beat is love-soluble.
When our tired eyes grow too weary, we let our lids fall. When sleep covers us like a cool sheet in the middle of July, we surrender. My rest isn't nearly as deep as hers, but it's real sleep, finally. It's as natural and as welcome as every other aspect of this moment, and I don't regret the minutes given to it.
Bliss shifts in her sleep, and I open my eyes slowly.
We've moved more than a few times throughout the course of the night, and I wake this time to find us on our sides. Her back is against the seat and her leg is around my hip. One of my arms is bent and curved under our heads like a makeshift pillow, and both of love's hands are resting over my sternum. My other arm, my free one is around her shoulders, keeping her so close, and my fingers are in her hair. I brush my thumb along her temple gently as I blink again, making my eyes focus on this closeness.
I love that she's given me this. I love having her right here. I love belonging.
She takes a deeper breath in her sleep, and her chest expands against mine. I worry for a second that I'm stifling her between my weight and the seat, but when I ease back a little, the precious fingers on my chest curve unconsciously with effort to keep me me so near. She loves me this close, I know. She loves me un-held back. She always has.
Remaining entirely pressed, I kiss her forehead and her hair. I let my thumb stroke her cheek and my eyes linger on her dark blue dawn-lit face.
I could wake her, so that she could be here-here with me, but I've wasted so many mornings doing that waking her from sleeping where we should be, so that we could both go pretend like anywhere else is where matters.
So, I don't wake her. I cherish and venerate in the way we fit, and name her freckles instead.
I couldn't see them from the distance, when she got out of her car, but we're close enough now that I can. Dusted across her pale cheeks and nose, countless little freckles make my glad heart even more grateful, and I name each one for what's in store:
I find the newest, lightest ones that blend right into her skin:
It was kind of her to come here, to give me this...
I blink slowly and exhale belly-deep trembling, and name all the freckles that stand out a little more than others, the ones she's always carried:
I press my lips together and breathe measured inhales and exhales through my nose. I kiss her forehead again and brush her temple with my thumb, and I love the way my hand looks on her head.
Of all the things I've done, all the things I've carried, and broken, and fixed, this girl...
This girl -
My heart beats rightness.
This is right.
I look down at her hands on my chest. They're so like mine, not in size or shape or how they look, but they've carried so much. They've not only carried everything she's done. They've carried me and all of my weight.
Drugs, lies, selfishness, they're just as heavy as chains and locks, if not even more so.
Bliss is deeply stronger than me. She always has been, but she'll never let go on her own. She'll never save herself and I know it.
Love inhales as deep a breath as she can with me pressed so closely.
I don't try to ease back.
Not this time.
He fingers slide and curl along my shirt and her eyelids flutter, and when she lifts them, my favorite green has never looked so blue.
I soften the set of my jaw and offer the start of a smile. It's nearly all I can manage.
I don't ever want to look away. I don't ever want to move from right here.
She blinks and we look, and I see her. Our eyes stay, and I wish so much that we could. Just like this. Just forever.
"What time is it?" She asks, her voice sweet in my ears even as it's rough with hours of silent rest.
I want to tell her it doesn't matter. She can sleep. It's alright, but I promised myself: I wouldn't lie.
Keeping our eyes together, I unbury my voice. "I don't know."
Baby blinks and lifts her hands from my chest to rub her lids. The spot she left is instantly too-cool with missing and wanting. I'm sore for love to return her touch, but I accept its absence with strength she's granted and knowing, knowing, knowing.
It's better this way.
She pushes her hair back and stretches her legs, and I can feel her becoming awake against me. I watch energy and awareness slowly enliven her, and more than missing, and wanting, and hurting, and fearing, I just love. I love her yawn and her stretch. I love the sleep she rubs from her eyes and the lick and press together of her lips before her first intentional breath of the day. I love the slow lift and fall and lift again of her lashes. I love the uncertainty and hesitation I can feel creeping into her, because it's part of her too. Even if she doesn't realize it, she's not going to choose me, and I love her still.
Love is yielding.
Love is enduring.
Love is going alone.
I swallow hard and let my lungs hold quietly onto hurt while our eyes linger in seeing. I concentrate on the warmth between us, the sound and feel of her heart with mine, the way she won't lay her hands on my chest again, but she hasn't moved away yet either, and I think fleetingly, longingly for a second that maybe this could last. Maybe this doesn't have to end -
But a seagull swoops and squawks somewhere above us outside, and love looks away.
"I have to go," she tells me, nudging my hand gently from her head as she tucks loose auburn behind her ear.
I lift my arm and push my fingers back through my own hair.
"I know," I say, because even though my pulse is holding on strong again, I do know.
She looks up once more, and I wasn't going to ask for anything. That's not why we're here, but there's an openness and a lack of misunderstanding in this time and place. I look at her and I can still see and hear and breathe all that she is - junior prom and flower crowns, and my favorite, favorite sound and maybe they're there because she's afraid, or nervous, or maybe she knows, but whatever their reason, I swear I can still feel uncountable butterflies shaking inside her.
All familiar, wholly known, this girl, this love is home to me.
Digging deeper for my voice, for strength to give it, I drop my lashes for a second and just as I do, I feel love's hand. Warm and so light, she rests her fingers on my cheek and brushes her thumb under my eye. I haven't found my voice, but I lift my lids for her and her touch brushes my hesitation away.
"Tell me?" I ask, barely able to hear myself over our pulse.
Blue-greens soften and shine just a little, and made-for-kissing lips curve the smallest bit. I miss them. I miss her already.
"I love you," Bliss whispers, running her thumb across my cheekbone. Her touch seals warmth where she leaves it and the hole in my chest opens all the way.
She shifts, and we sit up, but we don't stay. She opens the door and takes her eyes, and she goes.
And I let her.
My heart holds on. I'd make it let her go if I could, but I'm without that capacity. It won't be undone. Maybe it never will. Maybe it can't. Maybe it will always hold hope for love and to be loved.
But the end of all else is finally here.
And I'm as ready as a sinking ship can be.
My family is rushing around the house like crazy when I get inside.
Alice has curlers in her hair and is grabbing a beer from the fridge even though it's only a little after nine in the morning. She says nothing as she heads back to the bathroom where Say It Ain't So is blaring and she closes the door behind herself. Dad's making coffee, and my mom's heels clack across the kitchen floor while she paces back and forth, cleaning things that don't need to be cleaned, repeating "yeah," "mhmm," and "I know," over and over into the phone. She's here, but she's not. Her movements are mechanic and her eyes don't focus. There's no wine open anywhere, but she looks like she's popped enough Xanax to zone out the entire graduating class.
None of them acknowledge me.
Well, except my dad.
Leaving the coffee pot half-ready, he walks out of the room when I step inside it.
I head upstairs.
I feel... off.
Off should be nothing new because I've spent the majority of my life some kind of fucked up, but this is different.
I'm not moving automatically anymore. Every step and breath and action is taken with consciousness. My eyes are clear. My system is clean. I'm lucid. I'm still falling, but it's not that. I know that feeling through and through, and this is not that feeling. This is... new.
I shower and dress, and try to feel it out while I get ready.
It's not fear or anger or hurt. It's not bitterness or disappointment or shame. It's not impossibility or desperation or lowness. It's not bad; it's just... not quite right, like looking through a clean window. What you can see on the other side is perfectly clear, but there's still glass between it and you. What's on the other side is other, because regardless of how completely transparent the division separating you is, you are divided from it, and it from you.
It's familiar for a second, like a drunk drive to the beach, but it's not really the same as before. Queasy foreboding follows the unconnection, and I think this is probably just how the beginning of what I have to do feels like, but I'm suddenly uneasy to the point that I'd rather be ignored than alone.
So, I go downstairs and finish making coffee. I lean back against the counter while it brews, and just like I was sure everyone would, they turn blind eyes and show me cold shoulders. I pour a cup while they rush around looking for this earring, changing that tie, passing right by me one after the other, time after time without even so much as a blink in my direction.
Anxiousness consumes me slowly. My nerves wrap like scrawny hot vines around my veins and squeeze. Everything behind my eyes winces and writhes, and I can feel cold sweat spreading out under the surface of my skin. A chill crawls from the back of my neck down my spine like a spider and everything that I am, inside and out, itches.
I grip my cup with my right hand and the countertop ledge behind me with my left, rolling through this new kind of fearful offness like I would a craving or a wave of falling.
But it's persistent and permanent feeling, and not understanding it scares me.
I take a drink as the phone rings, and my mom walks in to answer it.
I wish she was sober.
I wish she'd try again.
I wish so hard she'd just look at me.
But she doesn't.
Phone pressed between her ear and her shoulder, she fidgets with a bow. She glances over as I lift my cup for another drink, and I want to drop everything and ask her what's wrong with me.
What is this?
What's happening to me?
But she looks back down at her hands almost as soon as she sees me, and her pupils are like pinholes anyway. Serene-sky blue irises are chemical shined. She's smiling and polite to whoever's on the phone, but she's not here, and I know.
She'll fake her way through being seen today, just like my dad. She'll say and do everything she has to, including speak to and look at me in front of people if the situation calls for it, but it's not real. I missed my chance. I burned it yesterday.
It's too late.
I know it takes more than a blink and the rest of my coffee, but when I look up from the bottom of it, all three of them have left. I'm alone in the house.
I exhale with practiced measure and wash my cup. The slinking disquiet of unconnection stays with me and cools my blood half a degree more with every step.
Sobriety doesn't alleviate or assuage it any more than smoking my last joint does.
Tossing the roach out my window, I look around my room and know this is it.
This is the last time.
Whatever comes next, I won't be back here.
Apprehension knots my stomach and gives my skin goose bumps like a cold breath right over my ear.
With my wallet and phone already in my back pockets, I grab my sunglasses and keys from my desk, and go.
I've imagined this day more times than there are numbers.
I've thought about spring rain and May sunshine, cool clouds and sweet heat. I've played out congratulations and celebrations and confrontations. I've wanted and needed, and wished, and hoped, and dreaded it. I've let myself dream of the best it could be and made myself see all that it probably will. I've considered countless interactions and outcomes, but I've imagined the shape of her shoulders under golden graduation silk and the contrast of red-blonde curls against it, and the sight of bare feet freed from high heels, walking in the opposite direction of where I'm standing, more than any other.
And it really is all for the best.
The Forks High football stadium is packed with proud families. It's not too warm out, but the crowd itself is stifling. I undo the top two buttons on my white dress shirt and loosen my tie a little, but breathing still isn't easy.
I glance up at the stands and spot Pete first. He's sitting alone behind my parents, but doesn't look uncomfortable. They've all three got sunglasses on, just like me and almost everyone else. Any hint of any truth that anyone's eyes might give away is kept behind dark lenses and cordial conversation.
Charlie and Renee Swan are a few benches down and to the left. She has shades on too, but he doesn't, and when they see me, she waves. The Chief nods, and both gestures are courteous without pretense because they're simple. They don't invite me over or make any fake conversation as I pass. They just acknowledge me, and it's more than anyone in my own family has offered all day.
I make my way to my friend and we talk a little, but my parents stay facing forward and speak only to each other once I sit down behind them.
Minutes pass. More and more people fill up the bleachers and there's not enough air. My lungs are uncomfortable and my skin is too tight. I'm concentrating on breathing right, but my heart is all over the place and I still can't shake the feeling like I'm looking through a window.
Ben sits down on the other side of Pete, and Vic sits down on the other side of Ben.
Teachers take their places.
Seniors line up, yellow-gold caps over eager laughs, over yellow-gold gowns, and my pulse is so loud it's fucking with my vision.
I press my fingers up under my sunglasses and rub my eyes.
Everyone stands for the national anthem and I do too, but the bench under my feet shakes and tilts, and the noise and proximity of everything borders on suffocating.
We sit back down. The principal and superintendent and whoever else reads speech after speech. Everything's going so fast, but it's all taking forever. I rub my eyes again. I sniff. I swallow and breathe out and clasp my hands together like a prayer just to keep them fucking still.
I can't see Bella from where I'm sitting, but my sister's close to the front of the line. She has the bow my mom was carrying earlier sticking out from under the side of her cap and white Honors cords hanging around her neck.
She was right.
Who knows how long she'll walk those streets before they chew her up, but she's doing it.
She's going to California.
When the administrator calls the first name and the line behind the stage starts moving, everything speeds up and slows down even further. The sun comes out from behind the clouds and the breeze blows, and families cheer, and I feel like the whole world is turning itself inside out.
No one looks up.
No one has any idea.
I clap with my parents and my friends while they whistle and shout love when Alice walks across the stage. My dad stands up and my mom puts her hand over her chest like it hurts.
Like she can even fucking feel it.
Color fades in and out from my sight. My right leg is unstill and my mouth is dry. I swallow and press my lips together and try to breathe through my nose. My hands don't tremble, but they're restless and clammy, and the hole behind my ribs throbs so unsteadily.
I blink in an attempt to bring color and calm to my consciousness. I try to concentrate on the validity and assurance that blanketed me last night, on knowing this is for her, and that that makes everything about it easy and right and good, but it's so hard. Knowing is intangible and elusive, and it's getting completely drowned out by maybe-beats.
With every name closer to hers, I can feel the rawboned, simpleminded muscle in my chest more clearly than I have in months.
More than last night, when it opened all the way up.
More than days ago, when I made it scream.
More than eight months ago, when I buried us both in the front seat of my car instead of delivering seventeen birthday candles.
It doesn't matter.
My pulse is pouring down like brimstone in my ears now, and when I spot the source of its beats three students back from the front of the line, it breaks loose inside me.
It's not a warning drum. Armageddon isn't coming.
The boy in front of the girl in front of love walks forward, and I blink. Every one of my senses swims and I brace my hands on the bench on both sides of myself.
The girl in front of love walks forward next, and the storm inside and all around me turns into a vacuum.
Ben cups his hands and cheers everything forward with a glad voice.
My mother lays her head on my father's shoulder.
My oldest friend glances at me.
My home, my joy, my whole life lifts her right foot to walk and I'm frozen where I sit.
Everyone all around me goes wild when they hear her name and she takes her diploma and shakes the man's hand, and all I can do is sit.
I see, but there's no color, because there's no light.
I hear, but there's no sound, because there's no air.
And then it's over.
The rest of the ceremony is done in a breath my brain makes my lungs take for me, and we're on the field. Everyone is.
I hang back with my boy. I don't know when Kim or her other friends got here, but he's giving them half his focus. The other half is on me. I can't feel anything but my pulse, but I don't have to feel his attention to know I've got it whether I want it or not.
The offness that's surrounded me all day is everywhere now, lingering and sinking into the earth, the trees, the air, everyone.
I scan the consistently shifting crowd. I pat my pockets out of habit. I want a cigarette. I want coke. I want to find Bliss and grab her and run from this place.
My eyes dart. My feet shift. My head spins.
It doesn't matter.
I fucked up.
I'll always fuck up.
It's better this way.
But my heart pounds.
I push my hand through my hair and rest it on the back of my head, scratching, waiting, dying.
Go, knowing chants over and over inside me.
Greedy, endful, unable, go.
Pete offers me a cigarette and I light it while Alice waves us over to where she is. We walk, and I smoke, and I wish it was any small help to my nerves, but I know despite everything that's happened before today, wherever my sister is, Bella won't be far behind.
But knowing has never made actuality any easier or less painful.
When I see her, my heart pulses in waves that bring color back.
Love's all peachy-pink silk-satin under unzipped ceremonial gold, and she's kicking shiny stilettos off just like I knew she would. Tired blue-greens light up like she's alive for the first time when Alice takes off toward her. She drops her cap and strawberry-blonde curls fall free while she runs toward the girl who used to be her best friend.
The two of them slam into each other like there's no pain. But then they cry.
And hold so tightly.
I flick the cigarette and immediately want another one. I bury my hands in my pockets. I try to look away. I want to. I feel like I should, but I can't. Not for anything.
Renee snaps picture after picture and my mom cries, and everyone gets all caught up in the once inseparable duo's too-little, too-late reunion. They're both caught up in it too, like maybe it could be real, but then she looks past my sister, right at me.
It's just for a second, but it goes right through, straight to the eye of the storm inside me.
So fucking little.
Why and wherefore and refuge.
She's back and forth between everybody after that. Everyone takes turns either hugging her close or picking her up, spinning her around and kissing her crown, beaming congratulations before they put her back down. Her mom's insistent about getting pictures of all of it, but even if she wasn't, my family and hers, our friends, everyone would still treat her just like this.
I'm so ready to push through them and grab her by the time it's my dad's turn to wrap love around my girl, because that's just it.
She's my girl.
And I thought I was ready. I thought I could do this. I'm trying so fucking hard to do this, but the endless rift in me will have no part of it, and it's taking over every other part of me.
Go, what's left of my knowing urges me. Go.
But my dad steps away.
And there's only her and me.
And she looks up, and she's all I see.
Love, my heart insists.
But I don't see this girl like I did last night and this morning. I lift my sunglasses to look harder, but it's not my sight. It's her.
My reason isn't made of just herself right now. She's what her parents want and what my heart is hoping for. She's dressed up and pared down, and hiding, and nervous and every meaning of the word devastating.
The hesitation in her eyes breathes fresh strength into my conscience. Knowing matches my heart beat for beat. I'm halved in a quaking crooked line right down the middle of myself as I step toward her.
She doesn't move, and her stillness gives knowing more ground over my heart.
I'm going to have to do this alone.
Just like I'm going to leave alone.
Blowing the sting out through barely parted lips, I make my feet keep moving and when I'm close enough, I reach out and tug a red-blonde curl. It makes the apocalyptic ground we're standing on tilt and dip.
"Congratulations, sunny side," I hear myself say while I force a smile.
She watches my eyes and I watch hers, tired and cold and unforthcoming, and I hate everything about this bullshit pretense so fucking much.
Maybe, my heart whispers stupidly.
But love herself swats my hand away and renounces me so indisputably with her look, I stumble a step backwards.
It's so familiar.
And so expected.
And so fucking ruinous.
I drop my shades to hide the consequences of her sucker punch and take two steps forward. I lean close enough to breathe princess air and I smile when it hits my lungs.
I can't help it.
"Don't look at me like that, Bliss," I say with a smirk, my voice found from wherever it's been all this time while I take my girl by the wrist.
But I don't lie.
"You're breaking my fucking heart," I tell her.
She searches my face, but her eyes are full of refusal. So, with my hand still around her pulse, I pull her near and make it look like some big-brother-kid-sister display of platonic love and pride, because that's what she wants.
That's what she's choosing instead of me.
She hugs me like everyone expects her to and I tighten my hold. I grip love's wrist to feel her heart because she's silencing mine. I tighten my grip because I can feel myself dying and I'm so fucking scared -
It's not fair.
I don't want to die alone
I want to go home.
"I love you," she whispers, weak and small and so low it turns my stomach.
This isn't love.
This is the end of life.
I secure my left arm around her.
Straight to the fucking bottom.
"Tell me," she says, my same words from this morning on her lips now, but they're all wrong. I asked because we were safe. Because I knew the answer. Because love was real.
"Say it, Edward," she urges.
My barely beating heart turns my head into her neck.
"I love you," I whisper, because I do.
I still do.
And she stays wrapped around me for another beat, and my heart clings to hope even though the last of its shards are splitting, but then she drops her arms.
And the show is over.
And I'm just this boy, holding onto a girl that's already let go.
I thought I could brace myself.
I thought I could do this and leave, and die on my own, alone, but I could never have imagined this.
There is nothing like this.
This is so much worse than anything.
My eyes burn behind my glasses.
I need to breathe, too.
"We can leave, Bliss," I whisper.
She returns her hands, but they're on my sides, trying to push me away.
I grip her tighter.
"The car's right there, baby," I hear myself plead. "Just get in."
Her hands are the only parts of her that move though. They push me harder and survival instinct kicks in over my heart and over knowing, and I bend my head, taking her skin between my teeth in one last attempt to bring her with me.
She pulls me close for half a second, a tenuous and insubstantial fragment of time that's just long enough to feed the bottomlessness in me a shred of hope before she shoves me with both hands.
I laugh as I step back, love's pull-closer when I bit her coursing strong through my veins.
But she laughs.
And I don't love that sound.
"You're such a jerk," she says, playing everything that just happened completely off, and I see the glass I've been looking through all day for exactly what it is.
What's on the other side doesn't matter.
I'm what's windowed.
I'm unattachable, unrelatable and other.
I'm on the opposite side of the glass and it's on every side of me. I'm set apart and kept separate for a reason.
An absolutely, all-encompassing woefully enfolding feeling immediately follows this realization. It's menacing and mournful at the same time, this... malevolent melancholy. It's this limitless, elemental, no-catch, no-fine-print, no-fucking-hope, no-strings-were-ever-attached forsakenness that is so cogent and so conclusive I almost cry out.
And then, right there in front of everyone, it finally happens.
I'm not falling anymore.
I fall all the way down.
And the bottom?
The bottom is just dark.
Just alone, with chains and weights and locks you had every chance to shrug off and never did.
The bottom is keeping up appearances through a group picture with eight people who have no idea you just died so that the mother of your murderer can have a pretty picture to hang in her living room.
The bottom is feeling the person you thought for so long was love and home and heart and soul to you, looking right at you without any hint of an idea what she's just done.
The bottom is knowing she doesn't see you.
And if it's better this way, it doesn't even matter, because she never did.
If she had, I'd be walking to the Continental next to her instead of Petey.
I'd have her hand in mine instead of my phone.
I'd be kissing the pulse point I squeezed too tightly, instead of deleting her number and dialing his.