Her face in the mirror was pale and peaky, desperate golden-brown eyes like a roiling, storm-clouded sky basked in sun staring back at her from beneath dark brows creased with worry and hair dyed a deep, cherry red only days before. Her mouth, soft and pink and only an afterthought on her face in that moment, mouthed the lyrics to the song that twisted in her mind, her belly, like the curve of a wave. It made her entire body shake, this fierce longing that kept her awake and working for school at an hour and a half past midnight, and the music was little comfort, but was all she had to hold onto as she turned out the bathroom light and made her way back to the computer in darkness, shivering from heartbreak, hunger, and exhaustion.
Sitting down again to her assignment, she smiled bitterly as she thought that the one good thing that had come of this ridiculousness – 'You can't lose someone you never had, can you?' – was that she was actually doing her schoolwork on time. She pressed a cold fist to her heated forehead as she bowed her head, and realized she probably had a fever, too, but that she just didn't care enough to do anything about it. She had lost several pounds, and she had been unusually quiet, but she hadn't told anyone, so no one noticed. She knew it wasn't that they didn't care; she was just prone to odd mood swings, and long periods of distance and silence were not uncommon, especially with people she hadn't known as long as her friends from Before.
It wasn't as if she had been any happier or any less happy Before she had moved there, to that shadowy, shining city that had hovered in her dreams as long as she could remember, since she been taken away to a Better Place where people would Take Care of the small child she had been Properly. She had just never counted on his work bringing him to her city of imagination-hope-future. As much as she had thought about a Future and how he, her friend, would be involved in it Before, she had never considered him being in her city.
Painfully aware of the chronology and capitalization of her thoughts in the high piano that echoed down her spine as if their were bony keys along her vertebral column, she rose from the chair at her desk again, not having completed a single additional problem of math. Her concentration was fractured-shattered-broken, she thought, her mind automatically listing synonyms in its over-stimulated state. Her hand had closed around the chilled column of an energy drink before she had finished processing that she had opened the refrigerator through thoughts of how bad her recent habits were for her body.
Sipping the yellow-green fluid – it smelled good; it smelled like life; it smelled like being awake and not cursing upon waking because dammit, that wasn't real – slowly, she padded back towards her bedroom across the black carpet, shuddering from lack of proper heat and clad only in thin boxer shorts and a black tank. Then she was at her, she sighed and went back to her work, headphones bringing the violins and thunder of rock to wipe away the sparkling, taunting notes of soft and dire pop. Steady percussion rose in her veins on a tide of caffeine, and a voice screamed in her mind as it sang in her ears about relationships that were not perfect but were all a person had left, all a person really wanted because perfection was for fairytales and bland stories that somehow sold to editors even though they were truly terrible.
Every stroke of fingers against the strings of a guitar wrenched painfully in a stomach that would soon be too thin if she kept her behavior up, and her already angular hands clenched as someone promised that everything would be okay, everything would be all right, and she rocked forward and back over C: Index Laws as someone else's words told her exactly how fragile she felt.
She leaned back in her chair to rub at her dry, tired eyes with two tightly clamped fingers, and listened to the song about amber eyes as she thought about his – they way they looked when he sat down to lunch with her and finally was on her level in a way he never was when they walked together as they had for years, off and on as they lost contact once or twice and found their way back to each other through accidents and coincidences; they way they crinkled at the corners when he smiled a real smile and creased when he smiled a fake one; the deep line between them when he was upset and the finer, lighter one that was barely there when he was bitter; the way they had always seemed so open-friendly-gentle when they looked at her, unless they were thoughtful-benign-considering; how empty they had seemed the single night when he had stayed in her apartment and she had seen him cry for the first time in the six years she'd known-adored-been conscious of him.
How must they look when he looks at her?
Then it was seven AM and there was a crick in her neck and a hand that pounded on her door, demanding she wake from a miserable dream and face the world, and, for just one moment, she confused her dream with the past week. Light didn't stream in from the window facing her bed, and she was immediately glad she had had the presence of mind to rent an apartment that pointed north for the sake of heart-broken days.
Running fingers through her hair, running to dress in something that covered all the appropriate areas, she ran to answer the door, but stopped with her fingers on the knob, and, instead of looking out the tiny peephole to see who had disturbed her, she looked into herself to find the part of her whoever it was would expect her to be. Smiling bravely at the wood, she pulled it toward her to find someone she suddenly wished worked for the United States Postal Service and therefore would have an excuse for being where he should not.
"Whose ass am I kicking?" he asked, saying what he'd always said since she had mentioned that she'd always wanted a guy to ask that instead of the inane is something wrong? when he knew perfectly something was wrong.
"I'm getting a cat," she told him, and he knew she was referring to the way her brother joked that she'd be the elderly spinster with a million cats.
On any other day, after any other night spent mouthing words and promises with eyes full of tears, she would have grinned like the innocent without a single scar inside her who fueled her infuriating idealism, and invited him in for tea.
That day, she shut him out, slammed the door in his face, knowing they'd never speak of it again because that was just the way things were between them, and slid down the door, sobbing like a baby.