It was nearing midnight, and I knew it was going to be another sleepless night. I was wide awake staring at my blank, white ceiling, a Panic! song blaring through my headphones. I stood up on my bed and traced my fingers across the ceiling. Smooth. It would make a great canvas. I put on my art playlist, a mixture of some of my songs and an assortment of my favourite songs and artists. I let a few songs pass, letting myself be absorbed into the music. Polaroid came on, and my lips curled into a smile. I felt my heart sync with the beat. I squeezed some paint into a bowl, as many colours as I could find strewn about my room. My mood improved with every brush stroke that led me closer to a finished piece of work. A glob of paint detached itself from the ceiling to land smack in the middle of my forehead. I wiped it away with my sleeve and kept painting. I didn’t know what my finished creation was going to look like, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was my brush against the ceiling, and the few hours of peace it was giving me. My playlist looped twice before I set my brush in water and gazed up at my handiwork. It was a galaxy stretching tendrils past the corners of my bed and inching down my wall on one side. I looked out the window and saw the same night sky meet my eyes. I knew I would come to hate what I did, but for now it was all I needed. I fell onto my bed, exhausted and let the darkness overtake me.
* * *
I woke up a couple of hours later to my mum yelling through the door, "Lonan, you're going to be late! Get up!"
I rolled out of bed, feeling my motivation sink to the carpet beneath my feet. It was already seven. I was going to have to skip a shower if I wanted to be able to get to school on time. When I walked into the kitchen, there was already toast and a steaming mug of tea on the table. I grabbed a piece, worming my arm into a jacket sleeve.
"Thanks mum," I mumbled through a mouthful of toast.
"You look exhausted. Did you get enough sleep?" She looked at me worriedly.
I nodded, hoping my tired eyes didn't give me away too much.
"Alright, honey, if you say so."
She trusted me a little too much sometimes.
I quickly ate my breakfast and gathered up my books. They were scattered about my room like everything else I owned.
On my way out the door my mum stopped me, "You still have paint on your face, sweetie."
"I'll clean it off when I get to school. I don't want to be late."
"See you after school, then. Love you."
I mumbled an I love you before hopping on my bike and pedalling as fast as I possibly could.
* * *
School passed in a flash, probably due to the fact that I was asleep for half of it. At least it was Friday. With a jaw popping yawn, I wheeled my bike down the sidewalk, relishing the autumn air.
I heard someone call out after me, "Lonan!"
I turned around to find Lia running after me. I laughed at the way she flailed about in her quirky signature style. Everything about her was quirky, from the way she ran to the crooked smile she would always flash at me. I had always suspected it was an act, but when you pretend to be something long enough, you become the role.
"Loni!" Lia tackled me with a hug, "I missed you at school today. Where were you?"
I hugged her back, steadying my bike with one hand, "Sorry, I didn't really sleep last night, so I was kinda comatose today."
She huffed, "You know, you could've called me. Were you just painting all night?"
I absentmindedly rubbed at my face.
"There's a bit of blue under your ear," she licked her jacket sleeve and rubbed behind my jaw.
"Hey," I laughed, "I can get it myself."
"Too late," she said, flicking her tongue out at me.
She showed me her sleeve where a blue smudge joined the other canvas of colours and doodles that swam across the surface of her green army jacket. I smirked.
"Can I add something to it?" I asked, pulling out a marker from my pocket.
She held out her sleeve and held my bike for me with her other hand. I drew a little lopsided cat on her sleeve, and she gasped.
I nodded in reply.
"Aw, he's beautiful. Thank you," she wrapped me in another embrace.
I folded into her. Her hugs were always so spectacular. I could write an entire song about her hugs.
"Thanks, dinglehead," she let go of me.
My arms suddenly felt cold, "Dinglehead?"
"Yeah," she said, "Imma add that to the terms of endearment list."
"How is that endearing?"
"Simple, I say it is. Therefore, it is. You can't be nice to everyone," she said with a shrug.
"You could be nice to somebody," I said, starting to walk again to my house.
She followed me, "If I'm nice to one person, then everyone else will want me to be nice to them too. If I'm nice to a few people, everyone else will think I don't like them or something. You can't be nice to someone without being nice to everyone."
I thought about this for a moment. The logic was sound.
"What if you were just nice to one person in secret?" I asked, thinking I had got her.
"Then that one person might think I love them," she shot back.
I scoffed at this, "What's so wrong with loving someone?"
"When you let that one person in, what happens when they're gone? What happens if I stop loving them?"
I looked over at her. She wasn't looking at me, rather at the ground.
I reached out for her hand, "Then you love that person for as long as you can. And never forget."
She looked at me now, a sad half smile playing on her lips, "What? Do you want to be that one person?"
"Nah," I said, "You're my best friend, Lia."
She looked away, mumbling, "You could be the one person, though."
"What?" I was confused now.
"Lonan, have you never thought about being more?" She still wouldn't look at me, "I hadn't thought about it before, but it could make sense."
I stopped dead in my tracks, "What are you talking about?"
She kept walking, "You know what, nevermind. I'll see you later, Lonan."
She started jogging in the direction of her house. She broke into a run and was gone, leaving me to wonder what happened to her quirky run and what it was I did to change it.
* * *
Dammit. I was going to have to do something about my sleeping routine. I was once again wide awake, this time thinking about Lia. It was strange the way she looked at me like she had never before seen me. My head hurt thinking about what she was talking about. Be the one person? I thought about putting my headphones in to block out all the noise, but I’d have to find them first. I peered over the side of my bed at the floor. It was a lumpy mess of blurred grey and black. Alright, no headphones tonight. What about some pieces of my own? I looked over next to my desk where my guitar lay. I grabbed it and sat back down. Strumming a few chords, I felt myself at a loss for what I should sing. I fiddled around with it for a few more minutes before setting it down. Now what? I thought about calling Lia. She did say I could, but I didn’t know if she was still feeling weird from earlier. I picked my phone up just as it started to ring. Lia? No, just a random number. I might have to change it again if this keeps happening. I set it back down and stared at my ceiling. There was something wrong about the painted on stars there. My phone rang again, and I groaned rolling out of bed. I looked at it with disgust and my heart leapt. It was Lia this time. My hands shook as I picked it up and steadied myself.
“Lonan? Why are you still up?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“Really? You sound kinda tired.”
“I am. I just couldn’t stop thinking.”
“About what?” I hoped my voice didn’t shake at this.
“Nothing important,” I could hear the lie in her voice.
“What did you mean earlier?”
“Don’t worry about it, Lonan.”
“It’s not that easy.”
She sighed, “I know.”
“Talk to me. We’ve always trusted each other. What changed? Is it me?”
“No,” she blurted, “Well, sort of.”
I heard a noise from her side of the phone.
“Hold on a minute, Lonan.”
I heard her step away, then silence. I fiddled with the corner of my blanket, trying to distract myself. She came back after a few minutes with a hardly concealed huff.
“Sorry,” she said, “My mum just got home.”
I winced inwardly. I wanted to ask how wasted she was, but I didn’t want to upset Lia any more than she already was.
“Why the fuck are you sorry?”
I was taken aback at this. Her normally soft tone was overtaken by a cold steel.
“Uh, sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
She sighed again, “No, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you like that. It’s not your fault.”
At a loss for words, I wracked my brain for something to say to lighten the mood.
“Uh, hey, do you want to hear a joke?”
“Dishes the police. Open up.”
I heard a snort followed by a burst of laughter.
“That was so stupid.”
“You laughed though, didn’t you?”
“No,” she said, sobering up, “That was my cat.”
This made me laugh, “Oh really? Prove it.”
I heard a shuffling and a faint meow.
“Here he is,” I heard another, louder meow.
“Now listen carefully.”
She made the exact same sound but in a higher pitch.
"See? It was obviously Mr snuggles."
"Alright, you're right I suppose."
"Thank you for conceding defeat. How mature of you."
"One of us has to be mature here."
"Hey," she laughed, "Rude."
"It's true," I teased.
She laughed again, lighter and more at ease.
"Thank you, Lonan."
I smiled, "Anytime, Lia. I love making fun of you."
"No," she said more forcefully, "I mean it. Thank you for everything. You've always been there when I needed someone to talk to."
"That's what friends are for isn't it?"
"Actually," she said hesitantly, "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Lonan, are you busy tomorrow?"
"No, of course not," I said without hesitation.
I knew there was probably something I needed to do, even if it was just homework, but it could wait. Lia comes first.
"Want to meet up somewhere?"
"Did you have anywhere in mind?"
"No, I was hoping you did."
I thought for a moment, "What kind of place are you looking for?"
"Somewhere we can be alone."
"Then I might know a place. Are you afraid of cemeteries?"
* * *
I sat by the old oak tree, it’s fiery red and gold leaves drifting down around me. An errant breeze blew by, ruffling my hair and the sketchbook papers in my lap. I looked around for Lia, wondering faintly if she was going to bail on me. My fingers clenched tighter around the pencil in my hand. I took a slow breath in and released it. As I was considering going home, I saw Lia coming towards me, picking her way around the tombstones. She was nervously fiddling with the sleeve of her jacket, and I stopped breathing. She was beautiful. If I had more time, I would draw her. Her short brown hair drawn up into a ponytail. Her shirt and skirt combined always with her army jacket. Her hazelnut eyes under dark lashes. And her smile. Her crooked smile that always made me blush. I felt my heart start to race. I always knew she was pretty, but something's changed.
"Hey, Lonan. You look nice today," she smiled at me.
"T-thanks, you do too," I managed to stutter out.
She eyed me curiously, "Are you okay?"
I nodded, "Yeah, just a bit tired."
It wasn't exactly a lie. I didn’t fall back asleep after we had hung up. I simply stared at my galaxy painted ceiling wondering about the fragmentation of the universe. I wanted to melt, to seep into the ground and let the cool earth embrace me. I was scared of the change that was bound to hitchhike its way to me with this coming conversation. Now here I was, still nervous but now with my best friend by my side. My best friend who was staring at me, trying to piece my thoughts together. I smiled a nervous smile, swallowing down my anxiety. I patted the ground beside me, and she plopped down next to me, her skirt ploofing out around her. She leaned against the tree and, closing her eyes, sighed. I tried not to watch her. What is wrong with me? I set aside my sketchpad and looked over at her, ignoring the way my heart beat against its cage.
“What did you want to talk about?" I asked, flailing inwardly.
She sighed again, her fingers tightening in her lap.
“Listen, Lonan,” she said, still not opening her eyes, “I think I may love you.”
My heart stopped rustling for a moment before beating against its cage even harder.
She went on, fluttering her eyes open, "You're pretty amazing. You care about everyone, not thinking about how it might affect you. I've always wondered how you manage to do it. Me, I'm nothing great. I could never be half of what you are. I'm just a star compared to the galaxy that you are."
"Don't talk about yourself like that. You're great how you are," I said.
"This is what I'm talking about. You always make me smile when I need it."
"That's what a good friend does, isn't it?"
She leaned her head against the tree again, a grimace plastered on her face, "Is that your way of turning me down?"
I looked at her, trying to understand, "Why would you want this to change?"
"Can you not just answer my question?"
"How do you know you want a relationship?"
"Lonan!" she blurted, "Do you like me?"
I looked at her with pleading eyes, "It's not that simple."
"It's not that hard."
"Please," I begged.
"You could just say you don't like me," she said, obviously hurt.
She sighed, long and slow.
Did I like her? I definitely felt different with her compared to everyone else.
What makes it love though?
"I don't know why I thought this would be a good idea," She started to get up, looking everywhere but me.
“No, wait,” I reached out for her, trying to stand.
“No, Lonan, I think you made your point,” she shrugged, “It’s no big deal.”
I wanted to tell her how I felt, but the words caught in my throat.
“Do you remember what you said about being afraid to love?” I asked her.
“Do you remember what you said?” she asked, her eyes wavering between misty fountains and hellfire, "About loving people despite the fact that they will leave you. Don't you think I was taking a risk here?"
She took in a shuddering breath and continued, "All everyone ever does is leave me. I thought you'd be different."
"I don't want to ruin what we have," I whispered, pleading with her once again, "Lia."
She looked up at the mention of her name.
"Lia," I said again, "I don't know if I can love you."
She seemed taken aback at this. I quickly realized my mistake and searched around for a better word choice.
"I mean, I don't really know if I'm able to love someone in general. I don't see the line between friends and something more."
"Don't you think you could try though?" she asked, dejectedly.
I shook my head. I knew that when this went wrong and we left each other torn, I could never get her back. You can't salvage a mangled relationship, so where was the point in trying.
"Please, can't we stay friends?" I asked, reaching for her.
She veered away from me, slowly shaking her head as if coming out of a daze, "I don't think I can do that."
Tears started slip-sliding down her face. I wanted so badly to wrap her in a hug and tell her it would be okay. I wanted so badly for it to be okay.
I wanted to cry.
It can't end like this.
She started slowly walking backwards, "Goodbye Lonan."
"I'm sorry," I said, "You don't deserve this."
I tasted the tears that gathered at the corners of my mouth and dropped to the unforgiving ground.
She turned around and walked out of that place of the dead, leaving me nothing to cling to as I crumpled to the earth.
* * *
That night as I lay awake with no one to call, I put on Lia's favourite song.
I'll figure out tonight what it is I need to do
Fabricate a lie and relay it back to you
As I stared at the stars on my ceiling I realised why they looked wrong. They were too cold. Emotionless and empty.
Suits you, doesn't it?