There is that hour, just before dusk, when the world is purple and grey and hovers right on the edge of potential. That split second when everything collides and dissolves and leaves you hanging on the brink of an all consuming something.
I've always loved that time.
The graveyard is empty at this hour. People are home having dinner, watching TV, mowing the lawn, playing a round of basketball in an empty lot. Familiar sounds. I am sitting with my back to a headstone, the rough writing pressing into my spine, my sketchbook closed in my lap. I knew when I brought it I wouldn't open it, but it is the act of having it with me that is important. I might have used it. Still could use it, open it and draw a line of gravestones stretching away over the quiet hill. It is a new sketchbook, with only a few drawings in it. A half finished charcoal of one of the oak trees near the school where I had presumably received an education. After that is one of my hand. I scrapped it after several frustrating attempts to shape it the way I wanted, telling myself I would come back to it later. The pages are crisp, clean, white. The paper hasn't taken on that abused look yet that comes from being shoved into too many bags and carried too many places to be put on too many tables and smudged with the graphite that inevitably gets on one's hand.
There is another of a girl. She is sitting in a window seat looking at me. This one is not done yet either. I still need to draw her face, and I can't bring myself to make the final pencil strokes. I can see it so clearly in my mind that just thinking about it makes my fingers itch, and I remember I came here tonight, truth be told, to finish it. Something tells me I won't. It doesn't matter. I could.
Tonight I would just rather look at the grass.
The stone behind me is warm. Leaning into it puts something in me to rest, acts as an anchor, leans a small head against my shoulder and smells faintly of cheap shampoo; the kind I always bought when my mother forgot to restock the bathroom and I had to pay for it.
The air is cooling down now and I swat at a mosquito. Next to me, grey and stained with rain and moss, a pair of sad and well worn sneakers lie like two dead rabbits. No, I shall not finish this sketch tonight.
Two girls are walking at the base of the hill, down on the sidewalk. I know them, might have called out to them, but the stone whispers a quiet "no."
One of them, the smaller of the two, laughs. It occurs to me that I could draw her now, if I wanted to. Like I had wanted to, a long time ago, back before I knew her. Without meaning to I find myself remembering.
Chapter One: Sneakers
Some things should not happen
Some things push the limits
Break them and leave them shattered
Some things are absolute
Leaving nothing after.
Our town was dull. Excruciatingly, mind-numbingly boring. Forced to make our own entertainment, ignored by the rest of the more exciting world, we gossiped, screwed around, and did our best to get on everyone's nerves but our own. Smith was a backwater anything remotely alive struggled to escape the moment it was able. There were only two people, at least, that the rest of us found interesting enough to speculate over, who didn't follow the crowd.
We thought they were lovers for the longest time. It seemed inevitable, after all. They were always together. And by always, I mean always. Pocket friends. Inseparable. It came as a shock to discover that they lived in separate houses. For myself, I knew I wanted them to be that way. It would have meant that Bree and I weren't the only sexual deviants in the entire universe. The smaller the town, the larger the sense that it is your entire world. It wasn't just me though. People gave them weird looks when they passed in the hall or on the street hand in hand, or when Lilly combed Gwen's tousled hair back from her face. There was a seriousness, an intensity to them that wasn't like the casual constant physical contact of most high school girls. I remember I walked by them once, beneath an oak just off school grounds. They had just exchanged a gentle kiss that was far from platonic, and looked up at me without the sneer of defiance Bree and I had mastered or the sudden flash of panic, that fleeting moment of guilty discovery that comes from living in a world that hasn't quite accepted you. There is always a fifty-fifty chance that the passerby will look away in disgust, and I knew that look and knew what it felt like to dread receiving it. Their clear glances had shaken me. I admired them; they weren't trying to fight the world.
Lily was small, slender, and rather fey. She had the palest skin I had ever seen, but instead of looking sickly, she looked ethereal. Her hair fell past her shoulders in a dark curtain that hid half her face. It was black, real black, not the dead, semi-permanent dyed black look that was so common. Her eyes were a greenish amber, her nose straight and delicate, and the overall effect was of something that had stepped out of a fairy tale into a world that had no hope of understanding it. But if it was a fairy tale, it was a darker fairy tale, with bleak forests, paths tangled with briars, thorns as long as your fingers guarding roses the color of dried blood. I never saw her in any color other than black. Her clothes always had a simple grace to them that caught you off guard and flattered her slim form in a subtly provocative way. Bree was more than a little in love with her, but then Bree was more than a little in love with everyone. Lily was perfection. An artist's dream. Her face and figure suggested softly smeared charcoal or a mono-chromatic watercolor, her hands captured her speech in flowing gestures that played with light and shadow with the eye of a trained photographer.
Gwen was tall, and lithe. Her skin was darker than Lily's – it was hard not to have darker skin – and smooth, an olive brown color that was much more pleasing to the eyes than the manufactured, tanning bed look I so despised. She kept her hair short, and it fell across her eyes in a manner so undeniably sexy that it gave all of the guys and most of the girls shivers. I think her eyes were hazel, but I was never sure. They were a brilliant green one day, rather like Lily's, a grey-blue the next, and occasionally a sharp hazel. Chipped glass, splintered light. I spent a good number of hours that could have been put too much better use, like paying attention in class, trying to convince myself I only thought about Gwen's eyes out of a purely artistic perspective. She too wore black, but her wardrobe occasionally wandered into the exalted realm of colored cloth, products of some creative individual thousands of years ago in some distant, early culture. Her clothes were loose compared to the mass-produced scraps of skin tight clothing that hung on every rack in every store in America, but nonetheless always managed to find a way to cling to her, revealing her athletic form. The way she moved, her closet was hardly a sacrifice to her appearance. She swam, if you could call Smith's swim team a swim team, and it showed in the smooth muscle that flowed effortlessly over her.
There had been rumors about the two of them since middle school, but no one was sure, and it bothered us. We needed to know. It was a constant source of speculation, and when other topics ran dry, we would turn to them. I wanted them to be together, quite desperately. It would have made sense. What didn't make sense was a friendship that deep, that…unconditional.
Bree and I certainly didn't have that. We had been friends for a few months before she took a chance and kissed me. We were at a party and she was sitting on my lap in the only available chair with the music behind us and the faint smell of beer mingling with her shampoo in the dark. It was natural, inevitable, and sealed us into a relationship we had both seen coming.
The girl was contagious. I ended up needing her, no matter how much it hurt or how much I wanted to deny it. She cheated, I brooded, but in our own way we were loyal. We worked. Everything worked, then.
Bree was blonde, vivacious, charming, and bitchy. I loved her to death. I was dark, both physically and personality wise, quiet, and thoughtful. And I'll admit, a bit catty, but in a more subtle way. I plotted; she attacked on sight. We had met in our freshman year of high school, when I had had three consecutive classes with her, she got tired of seeing me again and again, and I got pissed off at the calculating looks she kept flashing my direction. I was in the wrong crowd, so to speak, and doing some stupid things. She didn't like the smell of cigarettes, so I quit. I know it isn't supposed to be that easy but Bree was most…persuasive. The first time she raided my closet she phoned her mother and the three of us went on an emergency shopping trip, which I couldn't pay for and never did reimburse her mother for covering. In several crash courses, she refined the black smears I applied to myself in the guise of makeup into something more presentable. My mother approved of my sudden conversion to "normalness" and approved of my friendship with Bree. She even approved of our relationship when she found out Bree had gotten me off drugs. Hell, in comparison to landing in jail, a little sexual deviancy is welcome in any parent's eyes. Not that her eyes ever fell on me and my sister very often.
Bree was bi, and I wasn't sure, but putting a label on my sexuality didn't matter to me in the way it haunts some. At least if it did I lied to myself and tried to believe otherwise. At any rate, it worked well enough.
Most things work well in retrospect.
My parents had never gotten along well, and as the years passed both my sister and I grew more distant from them, resigning ourselves to a life devoid of parental affection. Sure, they had their moments, like the time they planned a surprise trip to Disneyland when I was ten and Emily was eight. Since then my had father divorced my mother for reasons he never bothered to explain, especially to us. Emily took things quietly. In a way, she reminded me of Lily. Always small for here age, as she matured she developed a kind of timid grace, her petite figure filling out nicely. Then a year or so after dad finally left for good, she fell into a period of relative silence that lasted until she was 14 when she could take it no longer. The silences should have warned me, but I was too wrapped up in my own life to question the cause. I thought I knew, presuming she felt as I did about the divorce. Angry, hurt, and betrayed.
Emily was the quiet one, and I was the rebel; Emily the good girl, the perfect student, I the handful, and the failure. She drowned herself in books and her writing, spoke little to everyone but me, sharing her private, twilit world. I was flattered, jealous, and protective. I would have died for her. My clearest memory of that time in our lives is her curled up in our window seat, rain pouring down the glass beside her, lost in a book. I loved the feel of her hair, rather lank and dull to look at, running through my fingers. It was like silk, or water. Her eyes were a dreamy brown, her hair a mousy color I could never put a name to. She was perfect.
Perfection, however, is relative. No one else seemed to notice what was plain enough to me. I don't think she had many friends, and it pains me to realize I never really asked. I took her for granted; the same way I took the sound of her breathing in the bed next to me for granted. Having her small, warm body snuggled up into mine was a constant reminder that I had a purpose and meaning; to keep Emily safe, to love Emily, and to make sure Emily was happy.
Bree and I had been going steady, or if not steady than at least going, for a year and two months when I came home from school and found Emily crumpled on the floor on the bathroom, her veins open and empty, her life drying in a brownish stain across her thin wrists.