Chapter Eight: Something Else
if I ask you to kiss me, will you?
curious, lost and desperate
me and you at fifteen
how much will we remember?
I thought of Nathan's hands as I stared at the drawer across the room, the way his thumb smeared the paper with practiced precision, and the tiny wrinkles in his forehead as he squinted at the his pencil found on the paper.
That was me, once.
Tears were building up again. Not that they ever weren't.
"Rae, the phone." My mother knocked once and dropped the handheld onto the floor in front of my door. I heard it hit the wood and listened briefly to the static humming across the room in palpable tension.
The brass knob burned into the back of my eyelids faded slightly, Emily smiling sweetly up at me in its reflection.
Her voice sounded small and tinny and far away.
"So, how's life?"
"Alright, I guess. You?"
"Fucking awesome, of course. They let Jay come visit yesterday. He has a day left before he leaves, so we were going to go to that party at Mariah's. And you of course are coming."
"Mariah's having a party?"
"Mariah is always having a party."
Mariah was a wild girl with pale blond hair and a body to die for. Nathan hung out with her crowd when he wasn't with me; she was in his band, and covered every other page of his sketchbook. I think I had spoken a total of three words to her in my entire life.
"Who else will be there?"
"Everyone, as usual. Her parents are gone for the weekend and its just her and her brother, so her friends, his friends, their friend's friends, c'mon, you know how it goes. It'll be fun. We'll pick you up at eight, then?"
It was six fifteen.
"Brilliant. See you then!"
There was a click and then silence.
I hated parties.
"You're wearing that?"
"Why, what's wrong with it?"
Chrissy eyed my hoodie disapprovingly.
"Cleavage. Where're the cleaveage? You need skin, honey. This is a sack." She plucked at the baggy material disdainfully. "You look like a drug dealer. No offense, Jay." She turned to Jay and Sam. "We'll be right back. Don't changed the radio station."
She pushed me away from the car and back upstairs, shouting a hello to my mother. It elicited no response.
"Alright," she said, making a menacing beeline for my closet. "Put on that and that and some of that, and you'll be good."
I stared at the pile of clothes on the bed.
"Chrissy, I am not wearing a mini skirt. I didn't even know I owned one."
"You also own these really trippy tights. Put them on too, and those boots we got that one time."
I stared at her.
"We're gonna be late, Rae."
I felt small and naked in the clothes Chrissy had found me, with the swooping neckline and my pale, exposed shoulders.
"Whoa, Rae." Sam whistled approvingly. Jay gave me a once over and a crooked smile.
I folded myself into a tight ball next to Chrissy, and Jay started the engine.
"You look good, love. Promise me you won't hide in a corner?" Chrissy said as she leaned her head against my shoulder, looking up at me beseechingly.
"Of course." The tears were still building.
Smith bled by in a neon smear, Jay's jerky driving so very different from Gwen's.
Please don't let her be there.
Up front, Jay and Sam were having an argument over who would win in a hypothetical match between Batman and Spiderman.
"Spiderman, of course," Chrissy intoned. "All Batman has is that stupid car. Spiderman can shoot web out of his hands. That is so much cooler, I don't think you even understand. Besides. He's part spider."
If I were Batman I'd take the Batmobile far, far away, and I'd avoid Spiderman; its too easy to get entangled in your own webs, let alone someone else's.
Chrissy stepped coolly out of the car, her elfin features sharply etched against a pair of approaching headlights.
"I'd forgotten she lived next to Blenkin," I murmured to myself as I looked up at the concrete rectangle with the shattered eyes. Mariah's house was just like all the other houses in Smith: run down and in need of a new paint job, with a leaning porch complete with a broken light. The grass was slippery with dew when I got out of the car, and the blast of music coming from behind the blue-grey walls startled me into a crouch.
"Come on," Chrissy said, grabbing my hand. Sam and Jay piled out behind us, and ascended the stairs to the door and pushed our way through without bothering to knock.
I had always felt out of place at these sorts of parties; lots of people gathered in dark room with loud music and smoke hanging over everything in a sort of nauseating haze. I followed Chrissy blindly as she said her hello's and snagged us two beers. The shock of the cold can in my palm woke me up a little. Nathan would be here somewhere, but I hadn't seen him yet, and I kept looking around expecting to see Gwen laughing at me from a corner.
Its amazing how alone you can feel in a house full of noisy people. The louder it gets and the more that appear, the thicker the glass wall that separates you. Then we found the room with the stero, and smoke and sweat and dust clogged my nose as Chrissy grabbed my hand and lit up with the music. I felt the rapid base beat like a staccato of gunshots to my chest and head, and danced to disguise my body's recoil.
The beer hit my bladder with an excuse to leave. I went upstairs, tripping in the dark hallway. The door was partly open and inside someone was puking. My own stomach flipped in sympathy. I slumped down against the wall.
Whoever was in the bathroom had started crying. I listened for a couple of minutes, the tears a drab and fitting backdrop to the grey web I was painting on the wall in front of me. A web that could catch my ghosts.
The crying was familiar; I had heard it many times before over the phone, from the muffled depths of my shoulder, or across the room in frustrated hiccups. But I had never heard her crying like this. I was always the one in the bathroom, puking off another stupid mistake.
When the wall began to bruise my back I got up and pushed the door open, shuddering as the tile touched my shoes.
Blood. Blood everywhere, blood in a lake around her blue skin, soaked into her sleeves. Blood in an ocean, a waterfall, a late spring rain and a tap left on and on and on with an apathetic mother cautioning "there won't be any left for the fishes."
Bree was bent over a porcelain god, her shoulders shaking spasmodically. The room was white. The tiles were white. The fishes still had water. When I pulled her hair back out of her way she gave me a vague, dazed look and vomited again, this time more violently. Her neck was slick with sweat where my hand rested, and she had gotten puke in her hair. It clung to my fingers amongst the gold strands, a blemish on the hair she had been so proud of, and the hand she held so often when I was kneeling in her place, praying.
"Dear god," I murmured, "take this offering and cleanse me."
She didn't smile, and for that matter probably hadn't heard our old joke.
It took her a few more dry heaves before she pulled back and collapsed on the floor, which gave me a chance to wet some toilet paper to wipe her mouth and face. There was a sick sort of rhythm to my life. Love always ended here, with a girl on the ground before a toilet.
Bree's eyes were clouded and her cheeks were gray.
"Is this what I used to look like?" I asked her, expecting and receiving no answer. Bree had once told me she thought it was tragic, beautiful even, to see someone like this: empty and sitting in a state of absolute exhaustion at rock bottom. She said she thought it was like seeing the back side of their soul. It was the deepest thing she'd ever said to me, which is probably why it stuck.
She looked up, trying to focus on my face.
"Rae? Rae, oh my god. I've never felt this shitty in my life."
"You'll feel better in a few days," I said too coldly.
"No, you don't understand quite how awful I feel."
"No, I'm afraid I don't." Every time I looked at her I saw my mother.
I had gotten up off the floor, left this particular altar, and vowed never to leave an offering at its feet again.
And yet back and back and back I came, as the people I had once told I loved sacrificed themselves to its stained basin.
"Didn't this used to be you?" Bree slurred out eventually.
"I've missed you," she said after another long silence. I looked at my reflection in the mirror behind her.
"Bye, Bree," said the girl in the mirror, and I walked away.
I saw Gwen in town a few days later. She was leaning against the railing of the bridge spanning Smith's boiling, brown, river, fiddling with her cell phone when I rounded the corner a few feet away. A claw wrenched my intestines and drained all the moisture from my mouth, leaving me out of breath and suddenly feverish.
"Shit," I whispered to the empty air. I didn't want to talk to her. Not now, not ever again. The pavement jarred my sneakers with each slowed step, and I stopped, staring at her back.
Silence can take hours to pass, or it can stretch itself into the space between the inevitable moment of discovery in painful, over-loud heartbeats. Gwen stiffened and looked over her shoulder, meeting my eyes and smiling.
Digging my nails into my palms, I walked over and leaned out over the water, carefully avoiding further eye contact.
"Hey," she said her voice low and husky.
"Haven't seen you in a while."
I shrugged. "I've been busy." The water writhed and frothed and reeked of mud and imagined ecoli, rising, rising, rising.
"What've you been up to, then, that's kept you so busy?"
"I went to a party last night."
"You?" She asked only half jokingly. With who?"
"Chrissy and Nathan. Well, I went with Chrissy and Sam and met up with Nathan when I got there."
"I forgot you were tight with Nathan."
"Yeah." He was right about you, I thought as ice laced the easy ebb and flow of her voice. "How's Lily?"
Her knuckles whitened on the railing, and her voice cracked slightly when she said "She's fine." I was quiet for a little while.
"So what have you been doing?" I broke the silence with a feeling like stone in my stomach, the river filling up my eyes.
"Running, basically." I had a sudden image of Gwen pounding the early morning streets, her face intent and closed in the rain.
"Do you wanna go for a run now?" I asked. I had never wanted to run more, and if I couldn't run away from her I would run next to her. She was already dressed in sneakers and shorts. I wondered if that had been her plan all along.
"Sure." She didn't ask if I wanted to get changed. I looked at my jeans and hightops and winced.
Gwen pocketed her phone and took off without looking at me, her legs two coiled springs. I jogged after her, my footsteps echoing on the bridge.
this chapter obviously isn't done, but i thought i'd post it anyway since i cant figure out where i'm gonna go with it.