I sat still on the end of my bed after dinner, staring blankly at the Starry Night print on the wall. The piano crescendoed and filled the air, the sounds of it mixing with the dark of the room.
"Debussy?" Ephraim was standing like a silhouette in the doorway of my room, recognizing the music and gesturing toward the CD player on the corner of my desk. His face was skeptical.
"What's going on?"
I only listened to Debussy on three occasions: when I was really into my art, when I couldn't stop thinking, or when I was pissed and upset and trying desperately to calm down. The latter was for his sake. So much was for him.
Tonight, it was a combination of the three. Ephraim knew me well enough to know this, but he didn't understand why. We'd moved onto my porch to talk, and he laid next to me as the first stars appeared in the indigo sky. It was hot and humid, the kind of night that brought heat lightening to the horizon. I wanted to disappear into that big purple sky, to crawl into it and be one of the stars someone wished on, wondered if maybe there was a chance magic existed after all. But here I was, on a porch with a boy, my hair frizzing wildly and my temper as short as van Gogh's brushstrokes when he'd painted his version of a night sky like this one. I wasn't a star yet, I decided- I was more like the lightening, angry and always just past the horizon.
"You try so hard. You really do."
I didn't look up, but in my mind I could see Ephraim's eyes reflecting the sky, those eyes I knew so well. They were bright blue, the same color as the water at the mini-golf place where we watched families play from the window of our favorite ice cream shop. He didn't know I could tell when he was happy, when he was lying, when I'd let him down. He didn't know that his eyes told on him. But right now they were dark, and I knew without seeing that they were confused and wondering what came next. Because by now, we had arguing down to an art, and no matter what, below the surface, Ephraim's eyes always looked sad.
"But you handle things so wrong sometimes."
An argument, the worst one yet. It was the summer when he'd tried to fix me, sew me back together and make me into his idea of me. And after all his complaining of what I should and shouldn't do, all the promises that he'd love me forever and the constant accusations that I'd find someone else and be too afraid to tell him, he'd cheated on me.
"I don't know how it happened… I just felt sorry for her… I didn't want to be mean…"
Abbie had warned me not to lose my temper before I could speak, had hesitated to tell me just yet because she was afraid I'd act too impulsively and not bring it up at the right time. "It's not something you can keep to yourself," she'd said.
It hadn't gone out of control yet. Hadn't spiraled.
All summer I'd been trying to stay collected, to hold my temper. I laughed. He didn't' deserve it, my effort, my progress. Not now.
"Oh, okay, you didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Didn't want to crush anyone. That's why you did this to me."
"No, Rea, it wasn't like that…"
I ignored him. The spiral loomed, bigger than me, stronger, the lightening on the horizon…
"That's beautiful, Ephraim. You're so considerate. What'd you say, nice guys finish last and all that bullshit? I wish that was my reason for fucking everything up. Because I care so much, I'm going to go fuck this girl and hurt the one person who's supposed to mean the most to me."
I stared at the sky, arms at my sides, listening to him sobbing, feeling his body shake when our arms would brush. His actions mimicked mine, our chests rising and falling in time as the last stars appeared and the sky turned black.
Listening to him cry because of something I said was hard, but I wouldn't touch him. Instinct told me to hold him, comfort him, I loved him. It was what I always did when my emotions took over and I hurt him for no reason. But this time there was one, and it was Reagan, the real me, not the girl he'd tried to make me into- she was hard, tough, self-vindicating, and she said let him cry. He hurt you. He deserves it. He's not holding you, either.
"I don't know, Rea, I was falling apart. Trying to help you. And you just…"
The spiral. Out of control, into oblivion.
"No. This is not about me. You fucked up this time. For once I'm not the victim no matter how you try and look at it."
His tears came harder as my voice grew louder. By now we were standing and I was screaming, gesturing, all at the top of my lungs. A part of me wanted to hold him, tell him it would be okay. But I was crying, too, and he wasn't holding me.
I went back inside to my room and locked my door, shutting him out though he tried to follow me. Safely inside, I turned the volume up, Arabesque playing loud enough to cover his knocking at my door and his apologizing; loud enough to cover the sound of his crying that played over and over inside of my head. The music cast shadows into the darkened room, making me strong, willing me not to come to his rescue.