On Your Porch
Our legs dangle over the side of the building. It's faded brown and abandoned and kind of beautiful. The city is a mess of junctions and intersections and too many lonely people. It's hard to realise just how insignificant you are until you look at the world from above.
A cigarette hangs between your fingers, half-smoked. The sun, low in the sky, illuminates the side of your face closest to me. I squint in the yellow light. I could trace the outline of your profile in my sleep. The curve of your nose, the proud shape of your cheekbones. The angle of your jaw. All of it.
I missed you when we weren't together.
An iPod lies in between us, like an unspoken link. It plays tinny versions of all your old favourite bands: Bright Eyes, Dashboard Confessional, Brand New. I hum along quietly to Lua because I've always loved that song. It's always sent a shiver up my spine and left me kind of breathless. If that's possible.
"What is simple in the moonlight by the morning never is," you say softly in time with the song. The sun has not yet set, is still beating down on us and turning the city into a sepia photograph. I'm not sure why you chose that line to sing. The song ends there, fading off with one last strum of the guitar. You sang this song to me once. Out on your porch. You were on the wooden chair. I was on the wicker couch. The sun was rising; we stayed up all night the night before. Your acoustic guitar was in your hand, your fingers tracing light paths up and down the strings as you played the song. I remember your voice was rough because you were tired, but you still played. Because I wanted to hear it. I remember smiling like it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Maybe it was. I don't know.
The gentle breeze tugs its way through your hair. You're staring out to the horizon line. Absently, you push your hair back into place and look at me. A smile rests on your lips as The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot begins to play through the iPod.
"This was your favourite song," you tell me, like it's new information. Secretly, I'm pleased you remembered. "You liked the last verse. You told me it was like poetry."
I nod. The strumming behind the singing is like a lullaby. I wore out the CD two months after I got it. It was one of those records that helped me keep a firm grasp on reality back then.
We sit in silence and listen to the song. Call me a safe bet, I'm betting I'm not. I smile slightly at the familiarity of that phrase. It's strange, the way you can listen to a song and remember the first time you heard it. What you were doing. How you were feeling. How it can be so familiar to you, like you know exactly why it was written and what it means.
The last verse begins to play and you sing along with it. Spring keeps you ever close. You are second hand smoke. I smile. You are the smell before rain. You are the blood in my veins. I join in with you for the last two lines. I don't like singing in front of people but it's okay when it's you. I don't really know why that is. There are people I've known for longer that I'll never sing a note in front of but when it's you I can manage a whole song. I don't really know.
You raise the cigarette to your lips and inhale. I watch the smoke pirouette from your lips, curling up into the air and disappearing. The particles are scattered in the air, lost forever. It's kind of a nice thought, however empty it makes me feel. That's something I've been feeling a lot. The emptiness. It overwhelms me. Leaves me wondering about things I do not wish to wonder about. It's almost scary how much one emotion can affect you. The things it can make you to.
Emptiness isn't half as scary as love though.
"What are you thinking about?" you ask, head tilted. "You've got that look in your eyes again. That one when you're so far away."
"Give me a cigarette," I reply. You pull one from the pack in your pocket and hand it to me. I notice your hand is shaking slightly. Why? I take it and place it between my lips, leaning forward as you bright your lighter out and light it for me. My fingers curl around it as I breathe in before holding it to the side. I haven't had one in so long. Not since you left. I think they reminded me too much of you so I refused to smoke them. It wasn't like I smoked much in the first place anyway.
I wet my lips before speaking again. Hesitating. I don't know what I'm trying to say. I do, though. It's easy. I just can't. You're still looking at me like something's wrong. I sigh, putting the cigarette to my lips again. It's another moment before I eventually say, "I missed you."
A smile curls around the corners of your lips. "Missed you, too."
I never seem to be able to stay away from you for very long. Maybe it's because you're so sincere in everything you do. Sometimes you do things that are questionable but the motives behind them are always oddly pure. I wish I could be like that. I take another drag. I'm probably just a bad person.
"Why did you leave?" The words almost fall out of my mouth. The minute they're out I want to take them back. I don't know why I said it.
But you just smile wryly. "You know why."
"If I did then I wouldn't have asked," I argue. I raise my eyebrows, challenging you.
You just shake your head. Your expression is indecipherable. I can tell you're not going to answer. It's not fair. You know my motives for everything, no matter how twisted or fucked up they are. And yet you won't tell me. It's probably because of some stupid reason that I'll understand later. I can't think of one now, though.
"I loved you," I say instead. Maybe I can guilt you into it. Probably not. You're not like that.
You're not looking at me now. I want to know why. But all you say is, "I know." And then I think I hear, "I loved you as well," but it was too quiet for me to be certain.
You drop your cigarette stub off the side of the building. It falls down to the pavement but I lose sight of it before then. It will become another meaningless cigarette end lying on another meaningless city street somewhere and nothing will mean anything after this is all gone. No one will remember the two kids who sat on a rooftop and pretended they still knew one another as well as they did. No one will remember all the late nights and early mornings we spent on your porch together. No one will remember you. No one will remember me.
I long to fight against that, to do something so crazy and outlandish that no one forgets my name, but there is a part of me that is okay with fading into nothing. Everyone does, in the end. It's only the special ones who get remembered. And even their names will be forgotten after a while. I guess you just can't really escape oblivion.
"Was there ever anyone—" I begin quietly. My eyes are fixed on the horizon.
"No," you say quickly, before I could even finish. "No. There wasn't anyone else. You?"
I shake my head. "No one."
On Your Porch begins to play from the iPod between us. I had almost forgotten it was still on. The opening chords leave a strange restriction in my throat. "God," I breathe, almost laughing. You're looking at me intensely. I remember that look. It was the look you had before you told me you loved me. "This song is—"
"I know," you say. You're almost laughing as well. "I know."
I bite my lip. My cigarette is no more than a stub now so I flick it away. It serves as a slight distraction. "This was like — This was our song. You know? It was just us. We talked all night about everything you could imagine, 'cause come the morning I'll be gone."
You look at me as the next line plays. I notice you don't sing it. I don't either. Maybe because it was always that line, the one that we listened to but never said aloud. I definitely can't say it aloud now. I don't know where you've been. What you've done. How drunk or high you've gotten. How many girls you've slept with. You said there wasn't anyone else but that only means romantically, right?
"Yeah," you agree after a moment of silence. "Yeah." It's quiet again as we listen to the rest of the song.
It finishes and suddenly I don't know where to look. You seem to be having the same problem. I feel very lonely all of a sudden. Empty. Someone once told me that artists and poets and writers are always lonelier than everyone else because they see the world a bit differently from everyone else. I wish it wasn't true. I ask for another cigarette and you crack some joke that we had a couple of years ago. It's not funny but I laugh anyway. You bite your lip and look away, handing me the lighter this time. I sigh and fiddle with it until it produces a flame.
"What now?" you say suddenly.
I don't say anything. How should I know? It's as much your decision as it is mine. I don't say this though. I just keep my mouth shut.
"They're knocking this place down, by the way," you tell me.
That gets me. "What?"
"Yeah. There was a sign on the way up," you explain. "Said it's dangerous. They want to put flats here or something. Just demolish the whole thing, you know?" You wave a hand to demonstrate your point. "Just like that. All of this. Gone."
I shake my head. "They can't do that."
"They can," you point out.
I sigh. "Well, okay, maybe they can. But there have been so many memories in this place." Blasting music. Jokes. Laughter. Weed and alcohol. Getting high listening to the Beatles. Getting drunk with all our friends and seeing who could go closest to the edge without falling. With youth comes invincibility.
"I know." You're thinking of all the same things I am.
"When are they knocking it down?" I ask.
You just shrug. "Didn't say. In a couple of months, maybe."
I just give a slight shake of my head before looking out to the horizon again, inhaling the sharp smoke of my cigarette. It would be so easy to fall right now. Just slip over the edge. I've come close to it before. So have you. There's something unforgettable about the way my heart lurches in my chest and I gasp for air like it'll save me. The way I stretch for someone to grab me as I stumble. It was always such an adrenaline rush. I could never get enough of my heart pounding like that.
"Can't we just be – you know, friends?" I ask slowly.
You consider this. "Friends. Yeah. I can do that, I think."
"It would be nice if we could just forget everything," I say. "But not really forget. Just ignore. Start again, yeah?"
"Ignore everything that's happened between us?" You smirk. "I can try. But maybe it's best if we just acknowledge the fact we were something once and we could be something again. Just acknowledge that we're stuck in this transition phase. How does that sound?"
"That sounds... good," I say, trying to play it out in my head like it's a movie scene or something. Something from one of those black and white foreign films you love so much. "Yeah. Let's give it a go." I flick my cigarette over the edge again and check my phone for the time. It's later than I thought. In the time we've been sitting the sun has almost completely set. I get to my feet.
"What are you doing?"
"I have to go," I say. "I arranged to meet a friend," I check my phone again, "ten minutes ago." I grin sheepishly. Time keeping has never really been my strong point. "We'll see each other again, right? Soon." I have to make sure that seeing each other again doesn't just mean passing each other in the street or being next to each other in the line at the corner shop. That's what it normally means when someone says they'll see you soon.
"Soon," you agree. "You haven't changed your number?"
"I never do."
"I know." You grin. "Just checking. I'll call you?"
I nod. I have to bite back the smile that threatens to spread across my face. "Tomorrow?"
"Promise," you say. Then you do something that surprises me. You lean forward and press a quick kiss to my cheek before grinning at me. I shake my head and laugh. I try not to smile like a lunatic as I climb down the ladder and then down the narrow stairs that lead up the side of the building.
Missed you, too, you said. I try not to skip as I walk down the darkening street. I don't even feel empty any more. I feel the complete opposite. This is new.
Love has always been scarier than emptiness.