Length: ~10,969 words, oneshot
Prompts: 31_days, September 21, 2012: the sky's as blue as a gunshot wound.
Summary: And it occurs to her that she may be going mad, if she's conjured up this sort of imaginary friend.
In which I replay those moments that many of you know over and over again, until it's like a broken record that breaks. With some candy-coated crazy sprinkled in. It didn't end up as schizophrenic as I'd thought it'd be...maybe more editing time was needed, I dunno, since I pounded this out in like...yeah, eight days.
Okay, yeah, I'll just be...editing this constantly over the next few days thanks yeah.
the shedding of leaves and other such things
It might have started when she thought to herself one day, I'm sick of being so fucking alone.
She met him after she got off the train from school.
She's taken aback; no one ever chats up strangers with small talk in a faceless city like this. "That obvious?"
He's memorable in a way that she can't explain. At first glance he could almost fit in with the brown-black-gray of the city, but then it becomes obvious the longer she focuses on him that he's out of place. As if she can see the color of his essence - bright, like vermillion, maybe chartreuse mint if she squints at the edges.
Mint, for relaxation.
"That's just only slightly creepy," she manages.
He laughs, and it's a rich, coppery sound - not the halfhearted hisses of the others, nothing sycophantic or mocking or snide. "All right, you got me there. I just happen to pass by here every day, same time as you, and you make quite the impression."
"Do I have that big of a scowl? Do I seem that angry or cold?"
"No." He shrugs. "You're just...you."
"Huh," she says.
"And I like your music." He gestures to her mp3 player - the playlist is paused, but a loud alt-rock band's name and album image are still visible.
"Now I really hope I'm not blasting that loud enough for others to hear, or else I'd be deaf."
"Nah." He grins at her. "I'm just observant."
"I guess so." She's perplexed. "I gotta go. See you around, then, since I guess we're both here every day?"
"Yeah, see you."
He smiles, and after he walks by, she feels...calmer.
She breathes in.
She closes the door softly, shaking off her shoes. Her apartment mates are here - she hears one of them in their bedroom, making a muffled phone call, and sees the other sitting on the couch right now with his back to her.
"Hey," she says.
Only silence responds. The TV's not even on that loud.
It's okay, she thinks. Some days she forgets her own name too, in this tense and wary quiet. Forgets that she has a name at all, an existence, a meaning.
In that moment where she is walking to her room and only has to turn her head a slight fraction to see the couch front, she sees him staring straight ahead, perfectly ahead - eyes too clear to be out of it or daydreaming, but otherwise too studied to be unaware of her presence.
Bye, she thinks, before stepping inside and closing the door with a sharp click.
It's not that big a deal, when she thinks about it. Her house is also just as quiet except for the radio silence, the buzzing background.
They just say hello and goodbye as well, is all. Just like the people in high school. Just like the people now at university. Hello, how's it going, bye, later, always, never.
(Just like high school, years ago. When something chemically compelled everyone to worry so much about fitting in and being okay and being all right, especially if there had only been a hundred or two of you.
She'd almost refused to let it bother her. And that had bothered everyone else.
There is something about retrospective recollection that could make one go, "So what, why did it matter? It didn't matter at all, and it doesn't now." Except that she still remembers how hard it had been to drag herself through each day, down the hallways, past the looks, through the glares.
She remembers a theater class where they'd formed still-portrait tableaus meant to show sadness or despair. Everyone picked a hospital scene at the bedside of a terminally ill relative. She chose one where she stood alone in the hallway as everyone went to and fro.
No one got it except for the teacher, who only gave a knowing nod.)
So it might have started when she looked up and just - wanted. Wanted something more.
She already sees him in the sea of faces at the end of the platform, and he's smiling like the cat that caught the canary.
"Hello, stranger," he says.
"Indeed." Did she even get his name last time?
"Yeah, I was thinking that I don't know what to call you," he says, smiling.
"Same for you. Shouldn't you introduce yourself first before asking for someone else's name?"
"A name, huh..." He looks amused. "Interesting things, aren't they?"
"Yep. They help us identify people so that we don't have to go around saying, 'Hi, person 384! Hi, blond no. 46! What's up?'"
His laugh sounds like running water. "Well, I don't know - what if I didn't have one?"
"Then you'd be lying," she responds flatly. "Or an amnesiac. Or...special."
He grins. "Call me Wes."
"Nice to finally and properly meet you." He smiles disarmingly.
Somehow, it just feels like -
safe reliable warm he'll listen you know he will just trust just this once it's okay it's okay -
"Walk with me for a bit?" she asks.
He smiles again, and she can't help but do so in kind.
"So why don't you tell me a little more about yourself?"
This is the plain, simple-truth summation.
She's normal, she has friends and family, she went abroad for high school, she came back for university, she does just fine for herself, everything is normal and life is good and nothing hurts and nothing's wrong.
If you ask everyone around her, this would be the truth.
(Well, she's a little dark sometimes, and when she's not smiling her expression is either cold or fierce - she used to be the ice queen, you know - but now - she's amazing, d'you know that? Amazing at whatever she chooses to do -
pressure, pressure, pressure -
- everything's beautiful and nothing hurts.)
If you ask her, she would tell you that this is the truth, too.
"...But you don't actually believe that, do you?" Wes asks.
She looks at him, and doesn't know what her expression is at that moment.
"I see," he says, nodding.
He shakes his head. "It's okay, you know."
His roundaboutness is grating. "To what?"
"To be honest."
"Funny." She gives a bark of a laugh. "That's what people always say I am. Brutally honest. Nothing else."
He looks at her with eyes that are too sharp -
mint for relaxation -
"Then they're not really noticing it," he concludes.
"They're good people," she sighs. "Friends and acquaintances and all of that."
"Hm. Why don't you tell me about them, then?"
The girls come and go, depending on exam schedules and boyfriends and other such things.
"We don't see each other enough. We need to be more social," one of them, Sherry, declares, after weeks of burying her nose in textbooks and talking to no one but her boyfriend, David. "Let's all go see a movie tonight!"
"Not up for it," Misa said. "Sorry, tired. Just not in the mood today." There had been more slamming of cabinets and unanswered hellos, and she's had exams and she's just...tired.
"But we haven't hung out in so long! Let's have a movie party!"
"And do you have anything you want to watch? That we could all watch together?" Last time, they'd argued over the merits of Dead Poets Society and the girl had been in a bit of a huff.
"Oh, c'mon, it'll be fun! I'm going to bring everyone over right now!"
Misa startles upright in her chair. "Wait, no, that's not - "
Her phone goes beep beep beep at her.
"Oh, holy hell."
The full troupe of them arrives several minutes later - Sherry, David, and their other friend, Liz.
"Sorry," Liz says. "We could hear you as she was talking and we tried to convince her maybe this wouldn't be a good idea - "
" - but you know how she is when she gets into this kind of mood," Misa finishes. "Yeah, I know. It's fine. Sorry, I should just cheer up and - whatever, right."
Liz frowns, but says nothing.
When they can't decide on a movie, Sherry wanders into her room, and David soon follows. It's only when Misa ducks in to grab her dinner plate and phone that she sees Sherry crying on Misa's bed and David sitting next to her.
She knows that asking what's wrong won't do anything because she knows why Sherry's upset, knows that Sherry will say oh it's nothing nothing's wrong like how she says she has no opinion before subtly trying to foist something upon everyone else, and just - not today, not today not today not today.
("I just thought we could all have fun," Sherry complained later on.
"What about when we asked you to hang out the week before, but you were too busy with exams, or too busy hanging out with David, or you were in a bad mood but just told us you were busy? What made my situation any different? I never pressed you when you didn't want to be pressed, but with me you just waltz through my back door."
"But I just thought we could all have fun," she says, dead on repeat, and Misa knows - there is no use.
"Always on your schedule, right?" she says.)
"That's a boring topic, I think." She shrugs her shoulders. "Maybe you should tell me about yourself instead."
"There's nothing to say." He spreads his arms out in front of him.
"Ha, ha? So are you, what, about my age?"
"Just like you," he says. "Student and all that."
"But not here. At my university."
"No," he says with a small smile. "Ah, this city's a big place."
It's funny, because it's dark outside and past dinnertime and normally she would be suspicious of people like him, but it simply doesn't feel - wrong, to talk to him. It's like the questions aren't needed, because it just feels right. Feels okay. Warm safe acceptance okay okay okay.
"I've gotta go," she says. "Things I have to get done and stuff." It's been hours. What the hell had they been talking about?
"Well, I guess I'll know where to find you," he says with a twinkle in his eyes. She snorts derisively.
"See you tomorrow," she says.
"Tomorrow, then - " and oh, how he smiles.
Back at the apartment the TV's cranked up to the max while his angry face looks like it's carved out of stone, their bedroom door is closed tightly, and she just -
"Hey," she says, and maybe he even nods a tiny bit this time in response.
The game's on. He doesn't need the sportscaster and the cheers to be this loud.
"Sorry, can you turn it down a bit?" she asks.
He doesn't respond, and all she can hear is, well can't you just put your headphones on?
Of course, of course, always of course.
(Back in high school, things hadn't been much fairer.
She'd turned, secretly wary, but sealed it inside with an outward smile. She knew there was a math test tomorrow, and with that tone of voice... "Hey guys, what's up?"
"You know that set painting we're supposed to do today?"
"Yeah, we're supposed to. Why, what's wrong?"
"Well, uhm...y'know, with the test tomorrow and all."
"Yeah, I know. We're in the same class," she says pointedly. Same class, same test.
"We really need the time to study, so...can you and Tina take care of it by yourselves?"
She tried to think about how to phrase this as subtly as possible. "We both have the same math test, you know."
"Yeah, but you two are good at math. So, okay, we're counting on you, thanks!"
"What - hey - "
Then they were gone.
Goddamnit all, she thought. The painting had to be done by tomorrow, too.
"Those fuckers," Tina said when she heard the news, and Misa could do nothing but agree.)
One of those girls went on to claim the highest scores. She'd always charmed everyone with her smiles, her talents, her skills.
"Oh, Emi, your art is so good! The student exhibit will be so great!"
But their friends squeal just as loudly over Tina's exhibit, and Misa sees the way the art teachers hold it in such high regard, and then there's her role in the play - larger than Emi's, and -
It might have started from those three things.
Her parents call - hello, what's wrong, what kind of child doesn't call home at least once a week, don't slip up at school don't study too much why can't you relax what's wrong no we don't want to talk about it, you chose this, you chose to live in that apartment and you chose the direction your life's going in - and after they hang up, she just - she's trapped in a room outside of a blaring TV and an angry stone-faced jackass and she just can't breathe.
She and Wes traded numbers a couple of weeks ago - early on, really. She calls him. Reflex.
"Misa?" he says.
"Hi," she replies.
"Want to go to the lake? I was just thinking about it."
Her eyes dart to the clock. Midnight.
"Yeah, that'd be good. See you there in fifteen?"
Misa throws on boots and a jacket and runs out the door. The angry apartment-mate has retreated to his room, probably working off all that angry stress by studying. Or throwing books at his roommate. his girlfriend. Who the hell knows.
She gets to the lake in only ten minutes, but he's already there, scarf rustling in the night breeze. "You live close by or something?" she asks.
"Something like that," he says. "And hey, can't keep a lady waiting and all."
She's not going to tell him how talking to him secretly makes her smile, how his presence is such a warm-red contrast to the cold and empty tones of the rest of her life. She is not.
He grins anyway as they walk closer to the shore.
"The last time I came here this late, I was with Lucas."
"Your apartment-mate? Wow, you were on good terms before?"
"I wouldn't have chosen to live with a jackass if I'd have known it'd be that bad," she mutters in irritation. "At the time, it was the easiest living arrangement for our whole group of friends." Except when half of them bailed on the lease and the other half dithered and dallied and all right, screw it, she'd said, I'll live with him and his girlfriend if you guys won't, so you all can live together instead.
There are sacrifices one makes for the greater good.
"I guess even you wouldn't be that masochistic," he says, laughing, as they sit on the rocks overlooking the shore.
"Ho, ho. I knew him from years back, actually...was a coincidence that we both ended up here and ran into each other. Not that I knew him really well, but - like I said, didn't think he'd be such a jackass."
She stares out at the lake. "It's kind of funny, because when we came here I told him the sob story about senior year of high school - stupid story, shouldn't be such a big deal - and he just sat and listened like a good listener does and said at the end, 'You're really strong to have gone through all of that.' ...You know, the one thing...I guess I wanted to hear and never believed. That I'm not..." She bites her lip. "That I'm not weak."
"Well, you're not," he says with a snort, like it's the world's most obvious thing.
"Whatever." She shakes her head. "Then he said he'd always be there if I needed someone to listen, said if he ever saw that - anything was going on, or if I ever - if I got really messed up, that he'd, you know."
Wes says nothing.
"Yeah, I know. He turned out a fake and a liar, just like the rest of them. I know." She digs her nails into her palms. "And maybe you'll end up that way, too. Just like everyone else."
"No, I won't," he says.
She shrugs. "Though I guess you're so weird compared to the rest. You're not really like everyone. You just...don't count, I guess."
"Ouch." He puts a hand to his chest. "That hurts."
"You're a big kid. You can deal with it." She smiles, and settles for watching the moonlight dance on the water.
Silence for a bit.
"So, what happened senior year?" he asks.
She shrugs. "Nothing. Nothing happened to me, anyway."
"Hm," he says, and manages to make it sound like right, sure, whatever, I know you're dodging.
"Friend tried to kill herself twice. Twice I was the one who stopped her."
"Oh." His voice is gentle. "How could you say that's nothing?"
"Because that's what everyone secretly says, and I know."
(Nothing to say. Life was pressure - a pressure cooker of several hundred high-achieving foreigners living in a foreign land. Only so many of them, so obviously they must be tight-knit, must be best friends, must be each other's everything.
Jokes that no one believed in.
The pressure had been increasing, exams at the end of their two-year program were just over the horizon - and Tina's problems at home were ready to barrel off the end of a cliff.
No, no one had those kinds of problems there. Someone like Tina - smiling, talented, nice, kind Tina - she would never.
"Do you know what it's like to listen to plates smashing at night and wondering whether an accident will happen - whether you, your parents, and your brother will be alive or not tomorrow, with the red gashes and the shards of glass?"
Their other friends had been Tina's confidantes first. But as exams approached and everyone's cultured friendships of social necessity started to break as the year came to an end, one by one they all turned their backs on her.
At the end, everyone remembered Misa and Tina, together, inseparable. Maybe even a wall that they couldn't breach - a wall that they helped put up.
But Misa remembers before then, too. Remembers all the things they wanted to forget.)
"It's not a big deal," is all she says, again.
Wes shakes his head. "You can be so stubborn, you know that?"
"So I've been told."
"It's okay," he says, calmly. "You can say whatever you want. I won't judge you and tell you you're living life wrong, I promise."
"Everyone promises," she says, rolling her eyes.
(Emi had come to school one day with a plastic Ziploc bag that she waved in their faces at lunchtime.
"I'm on antidepressants now!" she says, face too set into natural smiles and voice too full of hills and valleys for it to be fake.
The others are not impressed.
But she's angry, and so is Tina.
"The fucking idea was that," she'd hissed to Tina afterwards. Her friend had shrugged, almost perfectly noncommittal, but the curl of crimson at her sides showed off her true feelings.
"I don't know, what was it?"
And then the week afterwards, Tina's glassy facade had started to crack and their other friends had gone but Emi had tried, two times, tried crying perfect little tears in front of them and oh god, Tina, I feel so bad for you - I feel so bad for you and I don't know what I can do to help but can't you see how good I am, worrying about you, crying for you like -
"Walk," Misa said. "Start walking, right now. Don't turn back. She doesn't need this right now."
Emi's face looked as though as Misa had thrown a bucket of water and melted the witch. She could hear the hiss in the air, anyway. "I'm being a friend."
"You know that she's hurting right now, so what makes you think that adding this kind of pressure is going to help? 'Look at how much I'm crying over you, now please stop hurting' or something like that?"
"I...that's not what I'm doing."
Tina was five shades closer to white and two breaths away from a panic attack, Misa could tell. "If you really want to help, get the nurse. And don't do that again."
Emi walked away. Two weeks later, she'd forgotten.
But Misa hadn't.)
Sometimes she needs to recharge. Sometimes she likes to sit in a room with no one nearby, with nothing but her music and a good show or warm blankets.
"Why are you always so cooped up?" her mother would always say, almost accusatorily.
Sherry works on her own schedule, so whenever Misa's doesn't align, she more or less says the same thing.
Back then, it had been worse - people always thought her cold and aloof, an arrogant ice queen who could freeze you with a glance. She didn't have the heart to try correcting them - what was the point, in defending herself?
The second year abroad, more kids transferred into the school. People whom she could talk to a little bit more, breathe a bit more freely around. And she'd figured it out - to make people feel more reassured around her, to make them think she wasn't as cold-blooded as they assumed, she had to play the social game. Smile a lot. Smile disarmingly. Smile for the cameras.
A few months in, they said to her, "It's like you came out of some sort of dark little cave, a dark corner of the room or whatever."
"Gee, thanks?" she'd replied, because there wasn't really much more you could say to something like that.
They didn't get it, and kept on smiling at her - and now you're on the pedestal that we've always wanted you to be on -
- and something inside her began to rot.
It wasn't really that she felt lonely. How can you feel lonely when you never want to be around people?
(She ignores the fact that she's human, if only because for so many years people constantly reminded her she was - not. Despite her flesh and blood and bone and the tears that she never allowed to pool from the corners of her eyes.)
It wasn't that she felt lonely. Not that kind of lonely, the kind most people think of - where you're adrift at sea, perhaps; where you want to go out and have a good time but everyone's busy and the bars are all closed; where you wish everyone was back with you, there for you, at your side.
If it's loneliness, it's feeling adrift in a sea of people whose smiles and words only make her reach out to the crags instead of a shore. It's the strong desire of wanting them to see and really see her and understand understand understand -
It's not loneliness. It's falling into an ocean of expectations where you can't even see the bottom. It's looking in a mirror and wondering why every smile masks something more and every word is as untrue as it is honest, or even "honest" at all.
"You mean you don't feel any less lonely around me?" Wes says, all light and merry in his eyes.
"You don't count."
"What?" He feigns offense. "Why would you say that?"
"You can't possibly be real." She hopes she doesn't sound as crazy as she just thought she did.
He bursts out laughing. "Why would you say something like that!"
"Because," she says, iron in her voice, "No one here would come up and talk to me like this."
"Well, I did."
"And no one would say things like that, to me."
"And I do."
"So you're just...weird."
"Well, I can accept that one. But that I'm not real? That hurts, really it does."
She glares. "Deal with it."
She doesn't tell him, I thought I heard your voice when I was walking alone and I had to turn around to be sure that you weren't there - I thought I could hear it in the walls, just below the crescendo of his yells and the slam of the knife to the board - I thought I heard it when I sucked in a long, dry breath and told myself that everything will be okay in the end if it's not okay it's not the end the end the end -
She doesn't think, I thought I wished for you to exist when I allowed myself to cry once, alone, in the darkest corner of my room - when I wanted someone to hear me, someone, anyone, and to tell me so many things - you are not alone and it will be all right; you are so much more than the sum of your parts.
She doesn't, because one means she's crazy and the other means she's obsessed and she's not either of these things - she has always been herself, above all of that, above needing other people, always.
She is not lonely and she does have feelings, she does.
Misa had only had one best friend - years and years ago, at that age when thinking one was smart corresponded to being ridiculously stupid, when they thought they knew a lot but really it all meant nothing at all.
They'd been sitting on her trampoline when Misa talked about her regular insomnia.
"You should take antidepressants and sleeping pills," the friend had said.
"You trying to kill me?" she asked.
Her friend looked at her, eyes sharp and calculating - evaluating. Always evaluating, with her. Like they were playing pretend-shrink. Like pretend psychology, except not, because things that you pretend shouldn't affect your real life.
"It's always so interesting, psychoanalyzing you," was all that she said.
She curls up into a ball by the lakeside and just stares out at the water.
All she's ever wanted is to be free. Just her, herself, who she is, please don't look at me like that I'm not wrong I'm not a mistake I'm not insane I'm not chilled to the bone I promise you I'm not and -
("Then why don't you just go, their voices all say, and it feels so strange on her lips, her response - it doesn't work like that.)
(She was going back to her home country for university, oceans and leagues away.
"University will be better for you," the teachers had said. The students would be older, wiser, more mature, have the same interests - that sort of thing.
She doubted, but at the time, she had actually hoped. Believed.
That's the thing about hope. Promises, whispers, untruths, lies.)
Her apartment-mates slam counters and doors during fits of stress. She plugs in headphones and turns up the metal until the bass thuds in her ears-eyes-chest, and she waits for it to pass.
"I'm so fucking sick of them," she says, later, when she can't keep it inside any more and the emotion is begging to be let loose.
"It's okay." He smiles. "It's okay to feel what you actually feel."
"Is it, now?"
"Yes." How he manages to smile so serenely, she doesn't know. "You don't have to, and you don't have to want to or not want to or anything or nothing or whatever, whatever you want. It's just okay to, if you do. If you end up feeling like that."
She shakes her head. There are locks and doors and walls, heavy chains that swing dangerously with every twist of her neck. And she just - can't - accept.
"It's okay," he says, again.
"You can keep on saying it all you want, you know."
"And that's okay too."
His smile is sharp and gleaming - yet without the danger of a knife edge, so she allows herself to relax one tiny bit more.
(mint for relaxation - )
She needs to stop thinking about him.
It's just that it comes so naturally, when no one else matters or makes her feel loved -
"Who are you talking to?"
Misa turns and glares, waving at her phone.
"Ah, oops." Sherry laughs, like she didn't know what she was doing.
"Call you back in a sec," Misa mutters, and flips her phone closed. "Wes."
She shoots her a look - what do you mean by that?
"Eh, I'm just saying." The girl shrugs. "You've been talking to him a lot lately."
Because you guys are never around. "Yeah. He's a good friend."
"When did you even meet him? It just seems like you're always talking to him lately."
"You kind of only stop by when you have free time, which is when I have free time and I thus talk to my friends," she points out.
"Mmn," she nods, though she's really saying yeah but you're talking to him an awful lot, you and him, you and him - hm, what's going on there, I wonder -
Would it not have been easier if Wes had been a girl? It had always relieved her that Tina had been. This extra layer of complication - just not necessary.
But she knows it wouldn't be the same if Wes weren't Wes, exactly as he is.
"Yeah, I've just been hanging out with a new friend lately," MIsa says in a phone call to her mother.
She can hear her mother's frown quite audibly. "One of those friends again?"
"What, no, I didn't even meet him online." Her mother will never understand why she sought refuge with what she thinks of as faceless, dangerous strangers, all those years when the faces in front of her had only offered compassionless coldness. "Don't even start this, mom."
"You choose to live how you want to. I don't want anything to do with it."
Her mother hangs up.
Kind of like the last time this topic came up, when she'd called her mother close to tears after things weren't going well and she said, "We've already talked about this. This is how you choose to live, and I have nothing to say and don't want to talk to you about it."
Or the time when she only just made it to Tina in time but all her mother could say was, "She'd have died if it was for you."
And always, her mother hangs up or walks away or turns her back on her, always, always, always.
No, her mother is a good mother. She let her live her life freely, never put academic pressure on her. Never, ever -
( - days where her mother would stay in bed due to migraines, black seeping into the edges as her expression stayed so cold when she was a child and she made up imaginary friends to while away the time with instead - "well if you think you can cook by yourself then just go do it," she'd yelled, smashing a pan to the floor before she stalked away to nurse another black migraine, but all Misa had wanted was to just help, just once - "why are you two so bad at communicating?" her father says, a broken record on repeat -
- why are you so miserable, don't you see you're bringing the family down - )
Her mother was great. Brilliant, beautiful, and everything she could never be. A good mother.
Can't blame her mother for anything. Always her fault instead, always.
"Why does it even matter? Whether anyone's to blame or not, the important thing is how are you going to move on with your life, how are you going to get better and what does this mean for your future?"
"We're not talking about this any more," Misa says, coldly.
"I'm just saying - "
" - that we're not talking about this any more. It's over. It's done."
It's like a broken record, with the needle stuck at it's you it's you it's you why don't you just change -
She only hears angry voices and feels a weight that won't let go, and wonders why it's so crippling.
"It's okay. It's okay. It's okay."
She snaps one day, at Wes. "I don't understand why you just - keep - saying these things."
"What, Misa?" He looks genuinely worried, like that crinkle in his brow isn't prepared or practiced, like he actually doesn't understand.
"Why - it's - I don't even. I don't even know how to say it. It's like, all these years of - being told - 'it's not such a big deal, why can't you let go, why do you feel this way' and - you know, it wasn't like I was ever, like I ever - I mean, I was never hurt and nobody ever died."
In that instant, his expression grows so dark.
"Why do you keep believing those lies, Misa? You should stop."
"What do you mean, lies? It's the truth. I was never - it was never - none of anything that happened in my life or around me was ever a big deal, right? I'm just supposed to get over it, right? Smile a lot and be okay and - just - everything!" She shudders when she takes a breath. "Everything."
"Misa - "
"I can't believe," she says, slowly, "that for all these years, all of them were wrong and I was - not right, but - okay. That I was okay."
Silence, punctuated only by the turning of the moon.
"They tell you these things," he says, carefully, "because they can't handle it any other way. Because they were not strong enough to support you. Not because you're weak. Not because you're doing it wrong. Because all of them are doing it wrong."
"I don't have the self-esteem or trust in myself to believe that everyone's wrong while I'm right," she snaps in reply.
All he whispers back is, "I wish you would."
She is walking down the street with Wes, laughing, and he has just muttered a string of six or so syllables into her ear when she runs into another university friend.
"Lia. What's up?"
"Not much. You?"
"Yeah, no, I was just - " She turns around, but Wes is gone. "...Eh?"
Lia raises an eyebrow. "What's wrong?"
"No, I was just walking with a friend a sec ago, but I guess he ran off."
"Huh, is that so. And oh, speaking of running off. Class soon, gotta go, later!"
She waves, and it's not until Lia's gone from her line of sight that her brain regurgitates the last thing Wes had said to her - sorry, gotta go, see ya.
She shakes her head. He'll show up again, wanted or not.
The trick is - she wants him to. Because he genuinely listens and is a warm contrast to the gray of this city and he cares, she feels like he cares -
She feels like she knows nothing about him except that, that flimsy and dangerous belief that he cares and he's warm and everything's okay and nothing hurts and this is all she needs - and it's so very dangerous, this feeling. This.
"So when are we gonna get to meet your imaginary boyfriend?"
"He's not my boyfriend," she all but snarled at Sherry. "And stop acting like he's a figment of my imagination."
"Well, I'm just saying." And that's not smirking indignation shining in her eyes.
Hell, she doesn't even get it any more.
"You don't need to, they never said the right things - "
She closes her eyes and wills it all away, because she is not hearing his voice when he isn't around, she is not, it just - isn't like that, no.
(She'd left her phone in another room and didn't realize she missed several calls from Tina until past eleven. But they'd been spending several nights staying up late and talking - where she listened and Tina spoke and she interjected with indignation and how could you just be okay with our friends walking away right now, aren't friends supposed to be here for that kind of thing - and hours would go by.
There were also nights where she coaxed, cajoled, and forced Tina to sleep over so that she could actually get a few hours of rest, so that she wouldn't have to worry about breaking glass.
So she calls, but Tina's speech is sleep-drunk-slurred. "Mmnnn yeah? Misa...?"
"Yeah. I missed your call. Are you okay? Do you want to sleep over tonight?"
Several seconds go by. "Maybe...that'd be a good idea, huh."
"Okay. Are you okay? Do you need a ride?"
"No, don't worry about it. Don't want to force your parents to drive anywhere."
"Then take a taxi, okay? Will you be fine?" Misa bites her lip.
"Yeah, 'course I'll be!" A sound, like something in between a giggle of glee and despair. "See you in a few minutes, okay?"
"Okay," she says, and perches at the window, intently staring out into the black.)
You shouldn't be remembering it so vividly. It's over and it's past and it didn't even happen to you and you're supposed to move on - remembering like this only makes you some kind of broken, and it shouldn't be in present tense -
Yes, she says. Yes, mother. Yes, father. Yes, friends, yes, yes, I know, I know because you're always right, even when you say on the surface that I'm never wrong.
"You always just show up whenever the hell you feel like it, so randomly."
Wes grinned. "I'm good at that, aren't I?"
"Yes, you are." She shakes her head - mint for relaxation, brightness for warmth. "I'm starting to wonder whether you're even real."
He looks genuinely perplexed. "What makes you say that?"
"Don't think there's anyone quite like you out there. Like...that someone like you could exist."
"I think the same could be said, easily, for you."
"Stupid." She stares into the dark sky. "Well, probably not many more as pathetic as this."
"You're doing that thing again." He makes a move to jab her in the middle of the forehead, but she neatly dodges as usual. "You have to stop doing that thing."
"See, that's what it is," Misa says in a rush.
"You. Saying those things that - "
He knows what she means even though she has cut herself off. "So they are things you want to hear?"
"People can always want to hear things even if they're wrong or they know they'll never hear them," she mutters.
"Hey, I'm not going to let that stop me from saying what I want."
"Figures." It doesn't sound half as irritated as she meant for it to, though.
(Tina all but crumples against the ground after the taxi drives off, and she's forced to call her father down to help her up the stairs, slowly, agonizingly - then to the elevator, then to their apartment. The girl passes out on their living room couch and Misa stays up all night, making sure that -
It's not suicide watch, she tells herself. It's not.
In the morning, Tina's still not lucid and her mother yells at her and her father. "What are you two doing! Can't you tell she needs to be taken to the clinic!"
She finds out, from slurred speech and empty boxes in Tina's purse, just how many painkillers she'd downed that prior night. Sleeping pills. Alcohol. Tranquilizers. One Brompton cocktail to go.
And it's after calling the teachers while sitting on cold plastic chairs in a hallway, after gripping her hand and promising that she's still there and she's not going anywhere, after her family is safely alone in a car going back to their not-a-home that her mother says, clipped, like a knife, "She would have died, if it was up to you."
"Excuse me?" was all that Misa managed.
"You think you know how the world works and what's best for your friend and you're still a young, naive kid who doesn't know anything. You didn't know anything. You never do."
"And just what - how - I would not have let her die!"
"No," she says, as if she was double-checking the items on a grocery list, "You would have. You would have hidden it, you would have believed you could take care of it, you would have - "
The car stops at the apartment complex gates, and she simply opens the door and runs.
It's okay. She goes back eventually.)
"You did good," the teachers said. "You were strong, to stand by her during that."
"Right," she said, cold and unfeeling. "I'd like to think it was what anyone could have done."
No, the more vivid memory is the second time - hospital beds and oxygen saturation level monitors, withering cut flowers on the windowsill, and Tina strangling herself with the cords.
It's not like it could have worked.
It doesn't change anything, though. For some reason when she looks back and sees it again, she rubs at her wrist, as though she can feel something deep slicing red.
She keeps getting those looks from the girls whenever the topic of Wes comes up, and it's driving her insane. They still don't believe he's real, and at best she thinks he's insane.
"Why are you never there when anyone else is?" she asks one day.
"Why should I be?" he replies.
"They think I'm crazy. I think I'm crazy. Like you don't exist and I'm just talking to ghosts - to myself."
"Huh," he says, and takes one of her hands in his, starts tracing the hollows between her fingers with his thumb.
It distinctly occurs to her that though they'd always walked side by side and sat at the lake shoulder to shoulder, close enough to touch, they never had until now.
She looks around and sees no one.
"I could still be hallucinating," she remarks.
"So stubborn." He grins, wolf-like. "You must have one hell of an imagination, then."
"Yeah, a really fucking twisted one, eh?"
She shakes off his hand. He doesn't look affronted at all; if anything, his grin widens.
They go sit in a cafe and he flirts with the waitress while she stirs her drink with a spoon - it's the first time she's seen him interact with anyone else - and she's probably going crazy, she knows. Lord knows everyone already thinks so anyway, and when has she ever been right?
He snaps his fingers in front of her face to get her attention, and it's only then that she notices that the waitress is gone.
"Jealous?" he asks.
"Oh, come on, Misa. Charming as I may be, I still only think of you."
"God no. The dripping cheesiness and insincerity, it's killing me." She holds her arms up over her eyes like she's trying to block out a strong light.
"So as long as it was sincere, you'd be okay with it?"
"Please." She shakes her head and takes a sip of her drink.
Don't reach out for things you can't have.
She's on the phone with one of those childhood friends from years back. Children of her parents' friends and all that. There were many of them, but she'd always been the black sheep second cousin twice removed. Something about living a tiny bit further away, being freer and rebellious than the rest of them -
- being intimidating in that way that everyone else says she is, which never changes.
Most of them made her cry as a kid, ganged up on her and made her feel just plain wrong and all of those things. He hadn't as much, though, and he'd listened during some of the tougher things.
She's going back abroad for the summer. For some reason he called her and it feels like they're saying goodbye.
"I dunno," she says. "It's just like - with everyone saying I think wrong, maybe they're right."
"...Yeah, maybe they are."
"Maybe they are. Maybe you need to change how you think."
She feels so cold that she merely nods. "Right."
The conversation soon comes to an end.
"So just what's making you so depressed this time? Stop being so sad," another one of those friends says to her a few hours or days later, and she kind of wants to punch him in the face.
"She would have died, if it was up to you."
And somehow it became her fault, but when she went to apologize, crying at the breakfast table, her mother just...looked at her, eyes cold and careful, and walked back up the stairs.
"I didn't say that," her mother hisses. "I didn't do that. I never would have. How could you even - "
It's moments later after a deadly silence that she hears her father. "Why can't you just let go?"
"It's not that," Misa says, though she thinks she should be given some latitude, considering it was her mother who said something like that. "I'm showing you why I can't come to you when I 'need help' or 'need an ear'."
"...Fine," he says, tersely, and soon they hang up.
Maybe it is that she feels so alone. Maybe it is.
Maybe she's tired.
"It's okay," he says.
"Doesn't matter if it's okay or not," she mutters. "It is how I feel."
"But it's okay to feel like that."
"Oh, shut up."
He smiles magnanimously. "Why don't you go and just...tell them how you feel?"
"Won't go over well." She remembers. Of course she remembers.
"So? Let them get angry."
She shakes her head. "It's not that simple."
"But it could be," he says, voice such a tempting whisper, "if you let it be that simple. Just stop caring. Just let it be."
"It's who I am," she says, feeling the bitterness at the edges. "And it's okay when they don't care, but I have to. I have to."
"Then why don't you just stop adhering to this stupid double standard?" He looks genuinely concerned.
"Because I'm not going to lower myself to their level. Because that's really all I have left."
"Hm." He kicks at the dirt with his heel. "You know what they say - pride goeth before a fall, and then some."
She shrugs. She has nothing to say. But she is who she is - she was always told that she'd always known who she is, back when everyone had been lost trying to discover who they were - and out in the black, there's only so much that you have.
"Well, it's okay." She can hear the chartreuse smile in his voice. "I'll catch you, you know. I'll pick you up if you hit the ground."
Misa rolls her eyes. "So clichéd. Dear lord, stop. My ears."
"Just saying. I would."
She pretends not to notice his Cheshire-cat grin.
(Misa's four and ten and eleven and fifteen, watching her mother grow older throughout the years. Always a social butterfly, always beautiful, always so intelligent -
- always the good storyteller, telling people that Tina did what she did because she wanted the attention, because she was imagining it all in her head, because her parents couldn't possibly have treated her like - what kind of parents possibly treat their children like -
- and her mother is so intelligent, so beautiful, always that smile like from a movie star magazine as she greets everyone, shakes their hands, demures her head just so.
They always called her beautiful, but all they ever said of Misa was - "Such a smart kid. Your eyes, they're so piercing."
"The better to see things for what they are," she never said.)
"Sometimes you just have to accept some of the things that your mom says or does," her dad says briskly.
"Like, 'She would have died if it weren't for you,' right?"
She hears the sharp intake of breath. "You have to let go."
"I never told you I wished you guys weren't my parents, okay? And it's - we just don't apologize. We always pretend that everything's just fine - "
(we're not a family that says I love you - )
"You are supposed to know," he says, voice almost steady. "That we do everything for your sake. That that's what parents do."
"Just like I know that I could never come to you when I need someone to listen, right?"
"How could you - we're your parents, we're always here for you - "
"I remember the last conversation with mother," she says, voice blissfully light. "When all she said was, 'This is how you choose to live your life and I've said I don't want to talk to you about it,' and she hung up. It was a nice conversation. I felt a lot better afterwards."
"You're always asking me to communicate better. Like I'm the only one who's talking and messing things up. I just - I can't do this, dad."
She's met death before, except not really. (And Tina doesn't count, remember?)
He was an older boy down the street, back when they still lived in suburbia, back when she wished school could just drop into a dark hole and shrivel up and die. Their parents became pretty good neighborly friends, so sometimes she would crash in his backyard and ask him when the stupidities of school stopped.
(He'd only been two years older, but at the time it seemed like a decade.)
"Tough it out, kid." He tossed her something colored in crinkling cellophane.
"Candy?" She paused. "Wait, kid?"
"Seriously? You're not that much older!"
"It's okay." He ruffles his hair, which really gets on her nerves. "We both know you're probably the older of us two, anyway, but you can still be a kid."
"See? Total kid."
There is something in Wes's eyes that shifts when she tells this story, makes him look a tiny bit tenser, something almost - wary, watching, guarded. Don't come between what's me and mine.
She brushes it off.
(Even back then, Misa had always been the mature one, the sob shoulder for everyone else to lean on during their own personal moments of crisis or qualm.
They mistook maturity with careful words and a calm exterior, is all.
Last week, she'd tried to vent to one of her friends about something - a scuffle with her parents that isn't so important in retrospect, but really tears into you at the time - and she'd been strongly rebuffed.
The double standard was just so damn frustrating. (but remember that it's not a big deal you have no real problems why can't you stop caring just shrug it off and walk away just get some tougher skin stop caring what's wrong with you stop caring - listen to our problems help I need you to listen need you because you're the only one who can - )
He'd asked her why she was so wound up - she thought she'd hidden it enough, but maybe she was too relaxed about him - and she talked about it, a little.
He shrugged. "Then just get some new friends."
"Oh, stop being so - " She flailed. "Dumb."
"Dumb, huh." He stared at a point beyond the setting sun. "Yeah, I guess it is, isn't it. It's not fair to expect something like that."
He kept staring, like he was watching a far-off memory, and she shuffled uncomfortably. "Sorry."
"Hm?" He looked at her. "Don't be."
She took a step back. "Don't you dare ruffle my hair again."
They both laughed, and in that moment she thought, maybe this was what childhood really should have been like, for her. With a casual big-brother-best-friend and - acceptance. Warmth.)
So Tina failed at strangling herself into oxygen-deprivation-death, university came, they went, and though Misa had been comforting and coaxing her through the panic attacks at the start, they soon stopped talking regularly.
"One of my friends tried to commit suicide when we were in high school," one of her teachers had told her. "There were eight of us, but I was the only one to ever visit him in the hospital and try to check up on him, listen to him."
She'd nodded, numbly.
"And then the next time we'd really talked had been years and years later, when we'd both graduated from university and gotten careers. We weren't close friends any more. He'd told me over dinner that he had always been kind of resentful, in a way, that I saw him like that. In the hospital. Defeated, and...all of those things.
She knew what kind of warning he'd been trying to give her.
"No, we're connected for life," Tina reminds her. "You saved my life."
"Didn't do anything," Misa mumbles. "Probably made it worse."
"No," Tina says. "No."
Even as the years go by and the panic attacks slow down and Tina moves on and doesn't have to fake the smiles any more and gets good friends and a fiancée and breaks free. Generally free. Mostly free.
No, Misa had always known that this is how it always would be.
(She's going abroad. She still hasn't forgiven her father yet, though there's not much that she's leaving behind.
They sit together one last time in the backyard. She's a little older and he's a little taller and she lets him ruffle her hair for old time's sake. "I guess you'll have to find someone else to mess with, right," she jokes, and he makes some sort of noncommittal quip that's just so very them.
They don't need to say much to communicate everything, and using email and the like just won't be the same for them. But she gets his email address anyway, and he hers.
"I'll use it to tell you when I'm back. For university and stuff," she says.
"Take care, kid. It'll be a lot quieter here without you around."
"I'll take that as a compliment, thanks.")
They never use the emails.
Instead it's his mother sending her a message one day and she gets horribly confused, until she reads the words and - died, in a car accident - drunk driver -
And she doesn't know how to mourn, for someone so close yet such an unknown stranger.
Maybe she looks darker at the edges or hasn't been forcefully smiling as much lately, because a lot of people ask her what's wrong, and all that slips out of her mouth is - "Sorry, an old neighbor of mine died."
"Oh," they say. "Oh. I'm so sorry."
"Were you close?"
"...I mean," she says. "Yeah, you know."
All her mother says is, "You weren't that close anyway," because it's not like she saw them sitting together in the yard when she retreated to her own corner of the house. After a couple of weeks where Misa stares listlessly at the wall and doesn't cry - doesn't that mean she's not mourning if she doesn't cry - "Misa, stop being so depressed."
"Yes, mother, because it's just the death of some kid who wasn't that important anyway, right," falls out from the corner of her mouth, and she watches with morbid fascination as her mother balls up her fists and walks away, always away.
"Did you love him?" Wes asks.
"What kind of question is that?" Misa answers.
Sometimes she dreams of dying in his too-tight embrace, where the air simply stops going through her lungs and her chest is crushed to condensation, but without the pain, none of the pain, and she - just - stops.
Wouldn't be the worst possibility, she finds herself thinking.
She finds that she isn't too concerned about that lack of concern.
"People who consider suicide are weak. I hate people who can't stand on their own two feet and get over it. Life's tough. It's hard. You'll just go down in history as a big loser."
"Fuck you," she says. "This is why people hurting like that don't ever go for help, why they think their feelings can't be validated and they must simply fail that much more, because - just, fuck you."
Maybe he's right. Maybe she needs better friends.
She doesn't know whether it's been weeks or months, but there are many days where she sees no one else besides Wes. She may have to step around the angry TV and avoid the scattered phone calls, but she generally sees no one else.
("We don't know what happened to you," her friends would say.
"I don't think you ever really understood," would have been her unneeded response.)
He'd always been trying to breach the last of the distance between them, though, little as it was.
"Don't," she says, when they're sitting shoulder to shoulder on the rocks and his fingers trail up the side of her face, too close to her lips. "Don't."
God I just can't, I just -
Maybe he looks sad, she doesn't know, but he pulls his fingers back and just puts an arm around her, pressing their shoulders together, and all she can do is whisper-say apologies, over and over, I'm sorry I just can't despite your warmth and your smiles and you -
"It's okay," he says, lips moving somewhere over the top of her head. "It's okay. I'll still be here. It's okay, don't worry."
I'll always be here. You wanted me here, wished that I was so.
"Okay," she says, and does not bury herself into his chest, willing the sun and the stars to turn away.
(The last time she'd been kissed had been abroad.
Her parents went out for the day and told her that repairmen or builders or whatever would be coming by to take care of something, but she didn't need to know the details and she could just let them in and they'd deal with it. She didn't have to know anything.
You don't have to do anything, it's okay, said one of the builders, who'd come inside and then -
She was lucky he would be pushed away. She was lucky he walked out the door and that she could lock it.
It wasn't a big deal. It wasn't a big deal.
She scrubbed her face and neck until she lost track of time, and called her parents and asked them to be at home whenever such repairs were supposed to be done. She might have sounded vaguely hysterical, she doesn't know.
All she knows is that she couldn't tell them just what had happened - was so afraid of being belittled as she'd always been - it's just a kiss, get over it - or of being told that it was her fault - well then why did you let them in, why did you - that she just...couldn't say anything, and they got angry because why was she wasting their time and getting hysterical over nothing, and then they hung up.
She should have said something.
It's such a small thing, why are you making it such a big deal -
Just suck it up, nothing's wrong in your life, ever -
But she's constantly fearing the reactions of those around her, of the possibility that it could actually all be her fault.
That constancy is crippling - more crippling than the fear she'd felt in that moment prior, in a sad and twisted way.)
She passes by Sherry while out and about in the city, and they simply nod at each other. Like strangers who've known each other a little too long.
It's okay. She has Wes, and she doesn't -
- really need anyone else, oh god.
She still doesn't even know anything about him, except for how he makes her feel.
("Why can't you just be happier," her parents had repeated throughout the years. "Your misery makes everyone else miserable, is that what you want, and then - "
She'd always gritted her teeth until she was sure she could feel chips of bone and enamel in the back of her mouth. Yes, she chose this, all of this. Chose to feel down, because all emotion is a choice. Chose to be so negative, because people keep confusing cynicism with pessimistic fatalism and - oh, for fuck's sake.
"And I don't know, are you simply choosing to feel angry right now?" she asked her father.
In response, he punched the wall above the light switch in her room, and walked away.
"Thought so," she said. She needed to stop being such a wiseass.)
She kicks a pebble, watches it skid over the rocks and into the water."Is it sick of me to wonder if - what if there'd been actual tragedy in my life? Like I had a sibling or a friend or a lover die, or if I was an orphan, or if I'd been beaten as a child or caught in a car accident or...something."
She almost feels wretched just saying the words, but it's all truth. Some of that dark, twisted truth that hides in everyone's heart of hearts.
"Nobody really wants that, do they?" he says, nonchalantly.
"Well, maybe if - " it happened, maybe if something actual and substantial and real happened to me, then I'd have an excuse for why I'm so broken - all these jagged little pieces that will never quite be whole.
"Hey." She feels an arm snaking around her back, and then she's tucked firmly against his shoulder. "Don't let anyone give you that shit. You're strong, and you've been through more than you think you have."
"All I've done is listen or observe."
"Like that can't get to a person."
"It shouldn't. Not like this."
He sighed. "I wish you could just hear all the things people have been telling you - pressuring you with, all your life."
"Fuck off," she mutters. But it comes off as a term of endearment instead, she supposes, because he simply hugs her tighter until she punches his ribs.
"What was that for!"
"Couldn't breathe," she simply says.
No, she's breathing, she really is.
She hasn't talked to her parents in over two weeks and she sees the girls sometimes but really, school will be over soon and she'll leave them and never come back.
Wes is blending in with the ghosts in her head, a gallery of shadows held up by pillars of ice. She still loses herself in there, hours and weeks at a time - but he will always stand out. Fire-flickering red and mint for relaxation -
She kicks ripples into the water, and wonders when being not okay felt as okay as this.
"You're not going to just disappear, right? After graduation," Wes clarifies.
"Could say the same to you." He'd just do as he will, anyway.
"We could just run off somewhere. Far away."
"Nothing's far away enough. They'll all still be there, eventually. And no matter where you run, you'll always take yourself with you."
I just want - a bunch of unreasonable, unfair things - I swear to you I'm not too broken - I swear to you I can be okay and I can be whole -
"I think we could still run," he says.
They're standing on the bridge just before the lake. She leans her forearms against the metal and looks at where the water vanishes into moonlight on the horizon. The wind rustles her hair a little bit, and she thinks she can feel his fingers lacing through the strands but isn't going to turn around and find out.
She's weary and the water is beautiful.
You are so much more than the pieces that everyone pulls away from you, he'd said. And it'd just be - madness, to agree with him. To confidently believe. In herself, or in the notion that everything will one day be okay, that she'll finally find the right people and the right circumstances and be able to breathe, that it isn't because her brain is broken or her thoughts are wrong that -
She's weary, and the water is so beautiful, glass-steady and without a ripple. She wonders what it'd be like to break that picturesque stillness.
"So if I jump, you'll catch me?"
Wes grins - that grin that's not too sharp and gleaming, but is, but is - and suddenly she sees, knows exactly what has been going on all these last few weeks.
His wolf-grin widens, his eyes light up under the moon, and he says -
"Do you want to find out?"