In the most ideal scenario of what would happen when I met Ethan, I would shove Raphael in his face and say, "There. There's your proof that I didn't plagiarize, you awful, awful man." Then I would quote something, preferable from Bysshe Shelley, and storm out of the room.
The reality happened to be quite different. First of all, I barged in on him right in the middle of class. In all my mental scenarios, I'd never quite factored in other people when I went to confront Ethan.
Second of all, Ethan didn't even acknowledge my presence. He was snoring under his cowboy hat again.
The only thing that any of my fantasies and this precise moment had in common were that Ethan and Raphael were both there. But that was all.
Chelsea looked up when I slammed the door shut, and her eyes flickered between Raphael and me before she turned back to her work. I noticed she'd moved to a corner of the room instead of the center, and that faint pang of guilt shot through me again, followed by an even larger burn of shame. Chelsea wouldn't want me to pity her.
I'd left Iowa with tons of kisses and my mother stuffing numerous cookies into my palm even though there was no way I'd eat them all. Then she'd changed tracks and tried stuffing them into Raphael's palm.
"Come back and visit soon," she'd said. "Both of you." Then she leveled a glare at Raphael so harsh that even he'd trembled. "Take good care of her. She hasn't got family in that giant city."
Dad had, of course, withdrawn quickly. But he'd kissed me on the forehead and squeezed my hand, which was more than I could have ever asked for from him.
"Arissa would be glad to see you like this," he said. And then he went to make sure no more kids got lost in the corn maze.
I'd gone to the room we'd shared one last time, looked at that closet and not felt the bone-deep dread anymore. Obviously closed rooms still made me a little sweaty and uncomfortable, but it wasn't something that I felt ashamed of anymore.
On impulse, I grabbed the Meg Cabot book dangling off the bookshelf, running my hands over the familiar handwriting. I finished reading the entire thing on the plane. And now here we were.
It was the last class for this creative writing course, and I realized I hadn't even attended half of them. While I wouldn't miss being under Ethan's tutelage (or lack thereof), I would miss not having a chance to better know Jasmine, Uriah, maybe even Bryan and Chelsea. We were a group of strange people, and it would've been nice to pass that into familiarity.
Ethan tipped up his hat and peered at us all. His eyes skipped over me, came back and settled on my face, then slipped away again. Nothing passed through his expression.
"Time for you dimwits to show me what you've got." He waved at Chelsea. "You first. Read."
Chelsea glanced towards Raphael and me, clearing her throat. She looked nervous.
"What You Are." She cleared her throat again and began to read.
"You: I am
the planes upon the clouds
the artist taking his last bow,
the actor reading his script,
the cadaver from life half-flipped.
Me: In short, you are
what I want most
the end of a book,
my connection to words,
and the measure of self-worth.
You: I am so easily changed,
My heart so quickly chained.
Me: You are so difficultly replaced,
I don't know if I care enough to try.
You: People change and so must you,
Forget so you aren't made the fool.
Me: Without the muse, what am I?
A broken sentence that can only die."
Ethan clapped slowly. "Very nice use of anaphora and a screenplay format, although some people might find it superfluous. I'd use something less melodramatic for the final stanza, but this speaks of you, Chelsea. Bravo."
Slowly, the rest of us joined him, and Chelsea snapped her gum once before saying, "Thank you."
"Jasmine? Why don't you do the honors next?"
Jasmine sighed softly. "It's a song," she said. "I can't sing it, but I'll just read you the lyrics.
"Found your heart on the highway,
bleeding purples, greens, and blues
but all I saw was that red,
drowning in the truth.
Don't you know what I'd do?
I'd go back and give it up,
Everything for you."
"Colors. Perfect." Ethan grinned. "Good way to take advantage of your abilities." Jasmine smiled softly, and I saw her hand go to the place on her desk that I'd seen that carving. All these people… there writing was inspired by their own pasts, and despite the fact that we felt so like a family, there was still so much unknown about them.
Uriah went next, and I was surprised by how much stronger his voice sounded as he read us a poem that went from choppy to smoother, a demonstration of his progress in writing.
Ethan surprised me further by holding his hand out to Uriah. "My boy, you have become a man," he boomed, clapping his other hand on Uriah's. "Now you know why I was so hard on you. Coddling has never gotten a person anywhere, and now look how far you've come."
Uriah blushed, the tips of his ears turning red. "Thanks," he muttered, but he flattened his paper on the table, letting us all see the words running across it.
Brian went last, but I noticed that there were still ten minutes of class left.
"Miss Plath?" Ethan asked. "What about you? What magnificent creation have you managed to come up with on your own?"
His attachment of on your own to the end of his sentence told me all that I needed to know. That if I was able to give him something that truly showed my skill, that would be better than a testimony from Raphael. Besides, did it matter that I didn't plagiarize if I couldn't give him anything good anyway? I needed to do this, to prove that I hadn't gotten lazy with my writing.
I looked at the expectant faces around me, saw Uriah flash me a thumbs up.
Taking out the paper I'd scribbled on that night in Iowa, I took a breath before beginning.
"Everything I need. You left me
Insomniatic with doubt,
Drowning in unrequited grief.
You tainted my self-worth—
No, toppled it
Left before I could capture an eyelash
Or remember you.
That dark room,
The ashes from your memory,
I'm sinking in and coughing shame,
But for once I don't shrink at your name—
For once I don't think we're both the same,
And I realize everything I need is not what
you couldn't give.
It's what you left and what you'll leave."
My gaze immediately went to Ethan when I finished. He looked thoughtful and took off his cowboy hat.
"My condolences, Miss Platt." His usage of my actual name didn't go past my notice. "You've lost someone, and I feel it to the very essence of my being. And so I can apologize to you and completely mean it." He leaned back, putting his hat on again, back in lazy teacher mode. "I enjoy the way you combine your words. You have a gift with them, Miss Platt, and I hope you'll continue refining the technique. Whereas I can say that you were a robot before, you've become much more human. I can actually believe that you breathe oxygen instead of car fumes, and I'm very sorry for accusing you of stealing Mr. Lazarus's work." He then rewarded me with a smile that curled around his giant mustache. "While we haven't had the most auspicious of starts, it would be a pleasure if you'd stop by and tell me how you're progressing on your writing."
I stared at him. "Just like that?"
Ethan clasped his hands together serenely. "Just like what?"
"You're just going to forgive me and take back everything you said?"
"I'm not taking back anything, and I hardly think you care about my forgiveness. I'm saying you have promise, and that when you aren't feeling particularly resentful towards the creative writing teacher who shot down all your ideas, you'll come here and visit."
I opened and closed my mouth.
"Take it before he does," Jasmine advised softly from behind me.
"Alright," I said, shaking my head. "I'll… come visit. But you're still a horrible person."
Ethan grinned. "I know. And on that note, it's been a pleasure having all you dimwits and attempting to teach you the science of literature. It's my sincerest hope that you're a little brighter and less dimmer because of this class, but an old man like me can only dream."
"Come on," Raphael whispered in my ear, tugging me outside even as I was still shaking my head at Ethan's words in baffled wonderment.
"It's over," I said, unbelieving.
Chelsea came to us, still snapping her gum. "Did you deliver my message?" she asked Raphael curtly, glancing at me. It didn't seem as if much had changed since the first day I saw her.
His response was to gather her in for a giant hug, and she stayed in it before slapping him in the shoulder. "Put me down, you buffoon." This time, she looked straight at me. "Jasmine and I are going to a movie. It's supposed to be a film noir presentation of Junkie by Burroughs, although I have no idea how they're going to make a movie out of him shooting up on heroin the entire time. You two should come too."
"Junkie?" Brian popped up from behind us, his sleepy eyes holding a glimmer of interest. "I'm in."
Chelsea took his unwelcome presence with a great degree of poise. "Shut the hell up, Brian. It's at six, in front of the old high school theater."
"Why don't we invite Uriah too?" I suggested.
Chelsea raised an eyebrow. "Why can't Ethan go too?"
I shrugged. "Why can't he?"
In the end, we all gathered in front of the dilapidated theater to watch a dirty version of Burroughs meander through the dirty streets of New York, and when it was over, we split in different directions with no promises made about whether we would ever see each other again. But I knew their stories would continue, just like mine would. And that maybe, just maybe, we'd all run into each other in this crowded city again.
Raphael and I sat down next to the train tracks and listened to the beeping of horns in the distance, and I laid my head on his chest as he clasped my hands in his.
"You never read what you'd written for Ethan,"Ｉsaid into his shirt.
He chuckled. "I didn't have anything prepared."
"Liar,"Ｉsaid playfully. "You always have something ready."
"You're right. I do. But this wasn't meant to be read in public." He gently nudged me onto the sidewalk before getting in front of me on one knee. "Byron said, 'she walks in beauty, like the night.' 'How do I love thee？ Let me count the ways,' explained Barrett Browning. 'in your most frail gesture are things that enclose me-'"
"e.e. cummings," I interrupted, but he placed a finger on my lips.
"Beautiful words for beautiful women, yet I find
I can't find words for you.
I can only say you stole my breath,
You made me take a second glance,
Quiver in the loins-"
"I will spend my life
Heaping you in cliches,
Pressing kisses to hidden places,
Until of all the faces,
Yours is the one that stays."
"Remember when you said you didn't ask for me, but the universe gave me to you anyway?" he whispered, and I didn't know if this was part of what he'd written．But he was still kneeling, so I wound my arms around his neck and pulled him to me.
"I remember," I said.
"Well," he murmured, the barest smugness gracing his features as he kissed me on the lips. "Every day after that, I asked for you."
A/N: Thus concludes Ariadne's and Raphael's story. I can't argue that this is that great of a story and that I did my best, but I'm proud of it. I've learned so much through the process, and I have to thank whoever's read it for giving me the encouragement I needed to continue. It's always difficult for me to finish something, but I did it with this one. Thank you all for sticking with me! This couldn't have happened without you all.