I ignore the gnawing in my stomach. The hunger, and the ache. I ignore the way that I feel as if I am constantly teetering on the edge of caving, collapsing inward. Rotten at the core. I ignore it all, as I always do.
There are worse curses to fall under, than the one I am in. There are worse curses to feel than the bitter sting of adolescent solitude. But I am desperate and I am cold. I am young and afraid.
I am lonely.
But I ignore. Allow my ignorance to prop up the edges of myself with makeshift sticks and frames. Staying together, that will be enough.
As It happens, I’m so focused on not focusing that I don’t register the body moving in next to me. Fixated on the boundary of my own flesh, the inner workings of my own neuroses. I don’t notice the head tilt, or hair brush, or outstretched hand.
That is, until I do, and my spine snaps into place like a puppet on wire. I light my eyes and twist my face and I greet warmly, I hope. She’s warm too.
At first, it’s nothing. A conjugation induced groan - and a pluralised frustration. It’s a helping hand and traded answer. It’s a quick ear of minor inconvenience - a minute of soft exasperation. It’s light, and fun, and oh so bright. It is the highlight of my day - embarrassing as it may be - but my skin bristles with heat and my body relaxes.
Energy surges through my body from the point where our legs touch, scratching, irritating nylon cast aside for a moment. I wonder whether she feels it, the warmth. I wonder whether she knows that I do, so strongly.
Technical questions become personal and held. Distracting and disrupting and jagged and silly. We gossip in between comprehension and comfort before pre-recorded audio. Secret friendship scribbled on a greying whiteboard - in pen that won’t quite stick.
I take an image, holding it close when the silence of solitude grows thick.
As autumn sun filters through the branches, casting the world in a soft tint of warmth and a hazy golden glow, I feel her grab me from behind as I shuffle down the street, my head down and arms tucked behind.
One jerk, and we are in pace, footsteps synced and movement solid. An unbreakable team of two forged in a high heat of high pitched muffled giggles. I don’t have to look to know she is there, know the expression on her face. I know what she will say before she says it, her idiosyncrasies whirring in my head like lines on a script. This is my favourite part to play.
Why do you walk like that? It makes you look small.
Our newfound twin-step breaks as I find myself stationary and burning.
Sorry, I didn’t mean anything bad by it, just - keep your head up, like me. You’ll walk into something, otherwise.
She walks with purpose, forging the path ahead with certainty and drive. She knows where she is going and she’s proud of it. I copy, shoulders out and back, chin and head level with hers.
She glances at my intertwined hands nestled against my back, and places hers the same.
It’s actually quite relaxing.
We walk, shoulder to shoulder - mirror images. Heads forwards and hands pushed back - through the filtered, tinted, light of dropping trees to the end of the street, and on.
I don’t doubt the rush of joy at her voice, anymore.
I don’t doubt the happiness.
I don’t doubt the raising of my voice.
I don’t doubt the rush of footsteps to reach her.
I don’t doubt the tap on the shoulder, the greeting hug. The 3am text.
I don’t doubt anything anymore.
The stretched earphone wire, bridging the tiny gap between us, reminds me of the restless tug of war with dainty silver chains. Heart shaped pendants, tipped with magnets and cracked down the middle. Of the smooth surface of cool metal I could never quite grip. Of yearning and pining and fantasising in hazy childhood daydreams. Of imaginary friends and imaginary secrets and imaginary enemies. Of the soft ‘click’, the touch of cheeks as the ‘best’ slots down next to the ‘friend’, and everything - for a moment - is dazzlingly bright.
Girls were built for best friends. Have you noticed? The glances and interwoven fingers of preteen girls on the page, book, screen, mind. The commonality of devotion. Sleepovers and secrets and promises tucked under shirts, resting next to the beat. Boys are pack animals, roving in groups of imitating cheer, jostling and bustling and never looking. But girls? They mate for life. I no longer feel cleaved in two. It’s so nice to share this moment with you, partner.
Winter has never felt so warm. Biting winds, replaced by the soft fabric of our shared blanket. We pass the bowl of snacks (a medley of crisps with some vegan gummy worms chucked in) back and forth while we watch the same episode of the same show for god knows what time.
No-one else ever got this show, but I love it.
We know what’s coming, what lines will follow what, when to gasp, when to laugh, when to cry; and we do it every time - the feeling never blunting, never fading.
Soon, quotes and gags integrate their way into our speech. We incoherently babble back and forth, completely unintelligible to the ear pressed against the door outside. But we never notice.
Hey, hey, HEY! Hold the chair!
I am, you’re the one moving around, stay still!
Can you pass the Blu-Tack?
Okay, just please don’t fall.
The black edge of the too-big poster (that we both severely misjudged) pokes me in the eye as I attempt to wrestle it to her bedroom wall, Blu-Tack buckling with the slightest pressure, or kink.
Okay, if I could just reach this corner here…
My calves tighten, as I rise up onto the balls of my feet as I strain, fingers scratching the edge of the glossed paper. I inch it on the smooth surface of the plastered wall, reaching my feet to a part of the stool that doesn’t quite exist.
I fall slowly, and then all at once. Crashing into her with all the grace of a meteor and leaving us tangled together in the rubble of upturned chairs and toppled tables. My face stings and my arm throbs and I wince, until I it dawns on me, and I realise the situation I am in, that I have caused.
Shit, I’m so so sorry, I shouldn’t have-
I jump up, palms scraping across carpet until my back slams against the wall, as I try to put as much distance between our bodies as I possibly can. I’m scared to lift my head, I don't want to see the wince in her cheeks as she tries to pick herself up off the ground, know the cause (me) of it all. So, I jolt when I feel the soft warmth of a hand touch mine.
Hey, it’s fine!
And then she’s laughing. Full-bodied, shoulders heaving as her eyes crease. And I am too, laughing to the point of pain, even sickness as we fall back against the carpet, a half dangling band poster obscuring our view.
So, what do you think?
About him! What do you think he means?
Exasperated, she slumps her head into my lap as I squint at text conversation open on her phone. Instinctively I wrap her hair between my fingers, twirling it from side to side as I scroll.
Honestly, I have no idea.
Come on! Please help me out!
This is what you get for coming to me, utter confusion and bewilderment to the highest degree.
But I only ever want to come to you, and surely he wouldn’t like my message if he didn’t want to go out, right?
But if he wanted to go out, he would have actually responded.
So it’s nonsense! A total paradox!
With this, her palms fly and clamp on her face, over her eyes. She makes a hyperbolic wail of agony. It makes my insides wince.
Well, honestly. I think he probably does like you. I’m almost certain he wants to go out. I just think he doesn’t want you to know that. Doesn’t want you to know that he’s pining too. Probably emasculates him.
Well, that’s stupid. Why would he feel that?
I don’t know, I’m not a 15 year old boy. Just seems like something they do.
My stomach, characteristically, lurches as she sits bolt upright and turns to face me. Her hand smooths the back of her head as I see the cogs of her brain click and whirr.
No, you’re not. But you must like some of them. At least one of them…
We are not having this conversation again, I swear-
You should have seen him today! From where I was sitting, he was totally looking at your-
My skin buzzes with something, easily confused with something energising, electricity - but in reality is an instinct, a survival curse that tells you to run, move, flee until the buzzing is only drowned out by the feverish movements of a coward.
Please - stop. There’s nothing, I swear.
She doesn’t notice my body betray me, she only fakes pouts, head tilted on the side like a puppy, questioning me with heartbreak tainting her face.
You’re breaking my heart, don’t you love me enough to trust me? Just admit it, admit it.
I’m scared of chasms. Of breaking in the night. I fear the ground splitting open, my house crumbing. I fear the storms of misunderstanding that grow behind eyes and above hearts in the dark expanse of the skull.
So I lie, and admit it.
We all make sacrifices. Of that I’m sure. Or at least that’s what people say, isn’t it? And if this is mine, well, it’s a small price to pay.
Acting is a skill, best created deep within. Forge the lie so deep you begin to doubt yourself, live a fictitious life and never even know. So, I hone my skill.
When my heart should lift (I gauge this by the quick flutter of her eyes) I drag it up. When I should pine (this is evident from her questioning sighs) I let my mind go dark. When I should feel the bitter sting of jealousy (I can tell this from an exasperated eye roll and quick point) I imagine telling her of this lie that I am. Imagine the cloudiness, the sudden cliff.
But then, he sits with me, on the step outside. His foot outstretched, and mine caving in.
My body is curling, ripped apart by a sharp flame. I cannot hear him, cannot see him. I feel bile rise from the once empty pit deep within. Now brimming, uncontrollable. I hear him scoff, hear his disdain and I stop.
The act drops, along with my heart, I watch as a flame-tipped barb shoots from me, and pierces him in the eye. I feel relief. Honesty. But I sink once more, when I see - she saw me.
She tells me not to worry about it. In swooping niceties and gracious smiles.
Of course it doesn’t matter, silly! You just didn’t need to lie.
She brushes it off.
We keep moving like we always did, forward, twin-step, together. We still share earphones and laugh about lyrics, funny voices miming the words. She still smiles through it, the same way - lip-syncing dramatically, filming erratically. There’s nothing palpable. Nothing solid. But there’s bitterness in her throat when she hits the love songs, and when I reach for her hand - she pulls it back.
Grass is best when it’s dewy. When it's slick and cool against the skin, soothing the cracked surface of a tired night.
I sit with my disgusting cocktail of smuggled alcohol and feel like a shadow. Lurking slightly behind.
There’s some freedom in forgetting, I suppose. Nobody (except me) will remember the words buzzing from my phone in 10 years. Remember the embarrassment of running out, again.
It’s our playlist playing. Unintelligible noises creeping from cracked windows make me bounce my knee to the beat - slumping my back down.
I remember 3 hours ago, staring in the mirror - pulling and tucking and covering the wrong bits, highlighting, adorning and watching the right bits. Dashing round with bowls and glasses as we waited for the door to ring.
I wouldn’t be able to do this without you, you know. None of this. At least if everyone leaves thinking I’m a freak, I still have you.
That’s what she said. I can’t remember what my response was. Only the shock of her saying it, the fuzz in my vision and the heartbeat in the ears.
Nobody thought that of her, of course. Their muffled laughter and jeers punctuate each of my laboured breaths.
I may be a shadow. But at least she sees me.
She sees through me.
I like to think I have a nice tint. Sepia maybe. Something soft, warm, comforting. Something that’s worth looking for, so even if I can’t be what she wants me to be, I can still be of use.
Maybe I’ll ask (I won’t) what she sees when she looks through.
Or maybe I’m reflective. Maybe that’s why she keeps glancing away.
I didn’t notice it at first. But now, that's all I see. Her vacant look. Her darting eyes.
We don’t walk in twin-step, I’m falling behind.
Running on crooked streets, hand outstretched, but ultimately empty.
I didn’t notice until she didn’t tell me.
Stupid thing is, I was happy when I heard. She’d liked him for so long.
Hey! That’s great! Why didn’t you tell me?
I don’t have to tell you everything, are you fucking obsessed with me?
It got cold after that.
I didn’t tell her either, for what it matters, not about the way my heart closes for the right type of person and opens for the wrong. Not about the picture in my head that doesn’t seem right. About labels or fears or wants or desires. I didn’t tell her anything.
But she knew anyway.
My red raw knuckles sting under the red hot tap, but I can’t even bring myself to care. Did I ever?
I dry my hands. I think I’m changing.
I hate you. I hate you. I hate your hair and your face. I hate your voice and the way it never said my name. I hate to see you laugh and I loathe to see you cry. But I hate your ambivalence, most of all.
That's all I think. But I’ll never tell her. She doesn’t tell me anything anymore.
Friends go a long way, but a secret goes further, I suppose.
I dream of ripping, scratching, tearing my way out of this, out of this buzz of fear around me.
I want to be the best I’ve ever been. But am I?
Summer has never felt so cool.
The emptiness I was used to, the sting I was not.
Maybe I’m not as angry as I want to be. Maybe I’m just too soft.
I’ll send a happy birthday, when the time comes.
I want her to miss me. When the time comes. I want her to hear that stupid song and think of me. I’m still so unsatisfied. Still so hungry.
Slowly, I’m building. Adding structure from within. Fortifying my core. I still stand straight. Despite it all.
I’m lighter now. Hair cut and tether loose. My skin is softer, the air is calmer. The smiles are easy.
Some warmth filters in, when the leaves allow it. I’ve learnt, good company is not about mimicry. So I tell things, now.
I see her ahead. Hair still long, eyes still wide. She hums to a tune we remembered together. Hands intertwined behind her back.
And I realise.
She will leave. Yet, that piece of me remains, from that day, at that time. In that universe. Expressed only in the subtly of movement, the subconscious state.
And she will keep walking. On and on- holding that piece deep in her core as she goes. To know her now, is to know me then. The shadow still lives, cast by the blinding sun.
Yeah, I think.
That will be enough.