Chilled to the Bone

Jesus, I don’t want to. Someone else can fucking sweep; why me? It’s like I’m a fucking doormat, I swear. I seriously hope the heat gets turned on tomorrow. Or someone replaces me tonight, maybe I can coax Angel, or Peter. I can go home and — fuck, I hope he’s home. If he’s out, he’ll be stressed and — he never texted me back did he? That’s okay. It’s fine. Mona said he just needed time. Yeah, time. Time I spend at work. I haven’t felt warm since the fucking sun’s been out — and, now it’s all clouds. Victor would say “You’re such a cat, always looking for sunshine rays.”

At least he’s not here, telling me I should’ve waited till next week, taken the week off and focused on the damn assignment, focused on school. He’ll be okay, though. “Just taking some time.” Probably miserable as hell and totally denying it, but it’s fine. It’s cool. It’s not like texting him will solve it. If he’s home, he’s probably listening to music and cooking. Fuck, I’m so hungry. I hope he makes something warm. Something soup-y.

 

Jesus, watch it! I’m sweeping for Christ’s sake. I know you’re holding fucking boxes of food but if you weren’t wearing headphones, or I dunno, yelled “Comin’ through!” I’d have seen you, you imp.
Where the fuck’s my pile at? I hope you didn’t fuck it up. Well, I guess the longer sweep the less time I’ll have to spend serving customers. “This meat too well done, do you think I could get another sandwich?” No, you can’t. “This isn’t what I wanted” Well, you pointed instead of telling me, so my bad, “This isn’t warm enough” I burned myself on the pan, you asshole, eat it. “Why is there tax on bread?” I have to count the fucking change without a cash, alright. Relax, sit your ass down and wait for your sandwich.

I should’ve brought an extra pair of socks. But at least it’s warm at home. I’ll have a nice tea and keep Victor company while he does his work. Maybe I’ll eat – maybe sleep on the couch so he can have his privacy. I don’t know, man. How should I handle his stress? His stress is stressing me. Mona said – yeah, yeah I know – I can’t fucking help much but it would be damn nice. I hate being a fucking rat, doormat, whatever, tip-toeing around his stress, worrying about him. If he’d tell me a bit more maybe that could – no, no you have to give him time. And space, if he needs, yeah. It’s perfectly human. He knows that. You know that.

 

This is the shittiest fucking broom. Doesn’t get the small crumbs. Maybe it’s advocating for the fucking ants and rats.

If someone else fucking runs through my pile one more time I’ll have a cow. Squat right here and have a fit. Like those fucking children who’re making their parents crazy — touching everything and bickering loudly — impatiently ordering as if I can make the food come any faster. Just get your kid under control if it’s that embarrassing — even though it’s not like anyone actually cares.

I just want a smoke, some time with Victor and a fucking tea. Something warm and cozy and shit; not all these strangers and stray co-workers. At least Allan hasn’t busted my ass because I’m “Still sweeping! What the hell, man?” And Victor hasn’t said “What about that assignment?” for a little while now — probably because he’s so miserable. Fuck I wish I could just hug him and force him on the couch with like fifty blankets and a tea and Ripley.  


Ripley’s probably sleeping happily in his corner at home. It’s so cute when he curls up so tightly taking as little room as possible, a warm ball of fluff.

If Victor knew what he was stressed about, if he knew he could go for a walk and let it all out in one steamy breath. He’d be fine. Oh, shut up, get over it, he’s busy with his own thoughts. He probably — stop assuming — maybe he thinks — I’m so out of it, so clingy or — whatever. Dude, that’s ridiculous. Stop worrying about him. Christ; this isn’t good for you.

 

I’m gonna go check on Angel, maybe she needs help. Fuck sweeping. Let the ants have a party. Customers need their “fresher than fresh” sandwich and Ansel probably needs help. Victor’s at home where he needs to be. I’ll be out of here in no time if I keep with Ansel and Angel. They’re probably desperate for interactions that don’t include “What can I get you?” and “That’ll be…” and “Here you go, sir.”

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atlas and i

helplessness is the feeling i get when you don’t reply with more than one word answers for an hour. when your eyes don’t shine, when you won’t even look at me eyes cast down and brows creased. helplessness is like when i want to teleport from my bed into yours because it’s midnight and you feel as far away as the moon in the fucking sky and i can’t do anything about it. from my bed i stare at my screen in the darkness and i hope, fuck, i hope you’re not hyperventilating i hope you aren’t trying to isolate yourself. disconnect plays like a broken recorder in my head. god can you not, can we not, i’m right here i love you. i can’t help you though, not unless you allow me, and even then it’s still mostly on you. how i wish it weren’t

 

helplessness is feeling like a fish in a fishbowl like you can’t even swim you might drown but you’re a fish so you live on. as a human you need air but you have too much as you hyperventilate and fuck no don’t cry. don’t try to make yourself feel better though, no, don’t count to 5 don’t feel 4 things, don’t smell 3, don’t hear 2, don’t. or do, you’ll still be miserable.

 

helplessness is the feeling i get when i feel like shit but i want to feel better. helplessness feeds on boredom and my headache. it’s letting everyone down because you hate it, i can’t fix it when i feel like shit, and everyone else expects more of me. helplessness is when i know i’m not letting myself feel better, when all my worries and all his worries play in my mind like a black and white movie. helplessness is knowing i can feel better but not knowing when i’ll get the energy to finally do it. it’s knowing i’ve spent all this energy feeling like shit. where’s a fucking wall i can smash my hand against when i need one?

helplessness is knowing he cares and it makes you feel guilty but that is so wrong, you know how fucked up it is. but you still cry and you still wish to be shot out into the sky because you don’t deserve this — but yes you do. worse he doesn’t deserve this but he couldn’t care less because it’s not about that — of course it’s not.

 

and helplessness is when you want to crawl in bed, but what good would that do because the thoughts are still in your head and your headache is so strong you’re far past just needing sleep. you also don’t want to be alone, but being with others especially some takes so much fucking effort you might as well give me a paper cut in the worst spot.

helplessness is after an entire day you’ve stirred those thoughts in your head and you just want them dead, you don’t even care if they end up in heaven or hell as long as they’re gone. and long as you can smile and you try to feel something other than tired, and, oh so fucking helpless. as long as when we talk i don’t feel like crying, i don’t feel like teleporting into your bed, i don’t feel like i’m living the same thing over and over and over again and i can’t stop it, or worse i can’t bring myself to stop it.

 

sometimes i try to prevent helplessness. i know it’ll happen soon and so i put my foot down and i make some plans. i build a fort and get some armour and i’m ready. but as soon as the adversary comes, i’m crashing, burning the bridge to hell with all my thoughts. my armour was just leather not diamond. you never believed you could fix it but, god did i want to; maybe i built that bridge just so i could feel like i did something, as if i’d prepared myself. but you prepared yourself for disappointment even though you didn’t mean to. it made you want to punch a wall and you didn’t want to fix it, didn’t know how not to set yourself up for more disappointment. it’s not inevitable unless you make it.

instead build bridges so that together we can fix it and even though it’s still mainly on me that little bit of support might make the world fall off atlas’s shoulder. instead of being atlas, you carry me and the world and i am the one who makes it weightless as we work together.

 

helplessness is when you know you’ll need someone’s help but you don’t seek it because it’s on you. but that phrase has been playing like a broken telephone in your mind so now it means you’re all alone. you don’t remember it meant you can do this but you need to work on yourself before i can help you. how could you remember, how could you forget. you see his face and you know you’re not alone, but god, do you want to because then he couldn’t see you like this, because then he wouldn’t be so frustrated by your misery and by the fact that you let it be.

let it be is how i’m supposed to let misery be, but he means let it be like a chair you fix when it’s broken — let it be a problem you can fix. something you try to change and you have confidence, you know that he knows that you know that it’ll be helpful. not like a balloon you blow till it pops and fuck here come the burning bridge. i’m not helpful to myself even though i want to be. i let it be till he’s the one pulling me to a mirror – look at you, acting like atlas. you don’t need to, you can fix that broken recorder.

 

a couple days pass and rain comes and you feel the way others feel when the sun is out. you’re not seeing the burning bridge and you don’t feel like atlas anymore – instead you see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s beautiful like his face as he drives you home in the dim lighting of the streets. you see clear as if your glasses hadn’t been scratched and the colours reflecting his face in the streets are distinctly alluring.

it reminds you of the stars as you two sit in a field together and feel the wind. suddenly the stars seem farway because you feel like your feet are set down and you can move steadily. there’s no repetition in your mind, no need to count 5 down, no need to feel guilty. let it be.

a message in a bottle shattering a concrete reservoir

if i wasn’t clumsy with my words

if they didn’t tumble out of my mouth,

forced out after constant; constant rehearsal

constant repetition

 

if you weren’t the opposite

if you could tell me things

without the need of the dark

without pretending there was a chance

i didn’t hear you    

if you could tell me things

that didn’t tumble out of your mouth rushed

would we be any different?

 

i can never manage

much more than a mumble; a whisper

my words get stuck on the way out     

and you’re left there wondering

what that was all about        

 

i stifle my thoughts      

like a message in a bottle thrown at sea

and yours tidal down like water  

shattering a concrete reservoir         

as much as you can guess my thoughts

as much as yours are a surprise to me

it doesn’t change that in its chaos

we understand each other

loud and clear

 

so when the time comes, you have said your words

and finally i have said mine

in slow and in fast, we will unite as one

Girl in the Uniform : Chapter Six

Jelly

Walking back to the porch, it took a lot of effort to keep a neutral expression.

We’d agreed hours ago to keep it platonic, and I’d just broken that. Then again, his response was more than agreeably telling off the rule. First, we met up, and it was odd. When Jasper took the call, I tried not to let my thoughts overwhelm my sense of judgment, but when he took too long, I went to see. His transfer meant our relationship could further, and I didn’t know what to make of that.

Now, upon breaking the tension by intimacy, I was certain things would get better.

 

I spent the next hour searching the web and setting up things for the next few weeks. I wanted to spend at least one day with the lot of friends, and one with the family. Of course, I had tomorrow to be with Dad and all the meets to be with Percy, but what about Ed? while I was the middle of an article Jasper called through Skype.

I answered, sighing slightly. “Ah, hi.” I muttered.

He chuckled. “Hello.”

“Have you talked to your Mum yet?” I asked.

He shook his head. “I’ll be up when Dad comes, so I’ll do it then.”

“Jasper, that’s preposterous. On weekends, he works nights. His shift ends at six. I’d bet he’s not even gone yet.” I told him. Jasper’s father worked as a chef and bartender at a pub. It was well known, so he had a good pay. He liked it, as far as I knew.

Jasper sighed, scowling slightly. “Alright, I’ll go now. Call you when I’m back.”

Nodding, I waved. The line clicked dead and I was back to the article.

 

When he called again, I was read a book on the edge of my bed. Head snapping up, I shifted on the bed to answer.

“Hi, again.” He muttered.

I frowned. “Not good?”

He shrugged, “Dad wasn’t surprised. Mum thinks it’s a good opportunity.”

“So, both?” I said. “I mean, did it go more than an irritated sigh?”

Jasper chuckled. “Of course, it’s just that he thinks I’m rushing it. I assured him, it was solely my boss. Though I do think he’d like I did some research, and I thinks the place is cool. Plus, it’s super close to the Military base.”

I sighed. “That’s only a bonus, not an incentive. But, I see your point.” I said, as he gave me a link to the information. He was being transferred to Craigflower Manor and Schoolhouse.

It was a place with huge grounds and interesting history. They were still doing research on the grounds and the geographic significance, and it would be one of the many things Jasper would do there.

 

We spent the next two hours talking and researching. Jasper was busy trying to find a cheap flat, and I was distracting myself from the possibilities of the future. I worried about Jasper and I, how things would turn out. Of course, I knew I was outdoing myself in dramatic worries, so I focused on the Internet and house hunting.

When we hung up, I went back to my book. I fell asleep at three.

 

Dad

I woke at ten, blinking rapidly. The sun shone brightly, disorienting me as shuffled about in my room.

Downstairs, Angie cooked. Two eggs we set in a plate with fried sausage and ketchup. She was turning two more eggs when I entered the kitchen.

“Hi, Dad.” She said, facing me when she finished.

I smiled, “Morning, Angie.” She grinned. “Sleep well?”

Angie shrugged. “Alright.” When I went to sit, she pointed at the dish. “That plate is for you.”

“Thank you.” I muttered. I ate as she finished off. She set the pan in the sink and sat.

We ate silently. The eggs were good, as always. Angie had started cooking at young age, so the dishes she now made were always tasty.

“What’s the plan today, Dad?” She wondered.

I shrugged, “Depends. The weather is supposed to be good. I say we do whatever in here for a while, and catch a movie at the theatre. Maybe we can go for a bike ride, as well.”

Angie nodded, “Sounds good to me.”

 

Jelly

After I was ready to go, I waited by surfing the web on the couch. It took Dad half an hour more to be ready. We sat, reading for a while before Dad turned on the TV. There wasn’t anything on. Dad sighed and turned on his computer. He set up a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, smiling slightly at my sudden enthusiasm.

Roughly an hour later, we sat in the car, Dad’s favorite band on the stereo.

At the theatre, Dad bought tickets. After the movie, we went home to cook. We set up a simple diner, cooking together in the kitchen. We watched TV while eating, the clatter of dishes filling the room at every muted set of adverts.

 

I spent the next day alone. I read and played video games until a couple hours before dinner. Then, I settled for inviting Orlando over. We played board games for the first two hours, and Dad got home. I helped him cook a bit before Percy came. She’d been working all day as well. She caught up with Orlando while I helped Dad.

 

Percy had been working extensively since grade ten, saving up for when she moved out of the house. She’d worked most of the week and all week during school breaks. Her hours were good, and she got a decent pay. She also worked for an online company, working at home when she wasn’t out for her other jobs. She still worked for the online business and three days a week during her first few years of Uni. It was only when she was more confident she could balance school and work that she added hours and work days to get more experience and save up.

I knew what I wanted to do what might be called early; I saved up for the future flat search and to investments. I started working with kids at a young age, and I got my first job in grade nine. I worked at a local bike shop. I worked often, getting good money.

The next year, I continued at the shop, but also worked at a theatre. The years during high school, I saved up a lot of money. I worked full days six days a week on every summer, and kept a babysitting position for a couple hours on the day I was free.

 

Now, Percy had a permanent career job as a chemist. She worked in a lab, researching chemicals and creating compounds. She’d found the job after only two months’ searching. She still worked online, and at a local bookshop on weekends. She planned to move out as soon as she found a decent flat. We hadn’t really spoken, so I wasn’t sure what she’d decided.

She was telling Orlando how she’d presumably need a flatmate, and how she’s originally planned to ask her boyfriend, a couple months ago. That didn’t turn out well, I’d guessed. They’d apparently broken up because she was confident in taking the next step; a flat or something of the sort. He’d declined, and implied a break up.

Dad wasn’t paying attention, running about from the kitchen to the backyard for the grilling he’d been busy with. I’d assured him I was good with the kitchen, but he’d always come and check for himself.

 

We wind up eating under an hour later. Orlando, it turned out, had been offered a few jobs while we went on with his studies. He’d declined, determined to get his degree.

Now, he was looking around, trying to find a job in the video game designing industry. He said it shouldn’t take too long because of the increasing demand in workers. Apparently, he was quite close and he had an interview coming up within the week. Dad was surprised by this. He told us about how he hadn’t spent that much time either, but the interviews had been limited.

 

When Orlando left, Percy went to drop him off at the station. I went back upstairs, connecting to Black Ops. Jasper was online. We played together for two hours before switching to playing TF2. I wasn’t as good at Team Fortress, but I had fun by any case.

Jasper •

Once we finished with the video games, I proceeded to calling her on Skype.

“Hi.” I said, busying myself with Internet comics and some flat researching.

She waved. “Hey.” Typing on her end was disrupted, “How goes the flat hunt?”

“Alright. I’ve found a couple. I’m still not sure whether I should be a two bedroom or not.” I replied.

“Decisions. Well, you can always make a list.” She said.

I laughed. “I did. In favour of a two bedroom,

“It’s larger, not that that matters much.

“I’ve got a potential flatmate.

“It’d be good for not moving out later on.” I muttered.

Angie raised an eyebrow. “We never spoke on sharing a flat.”

I smiled. “Yeah, but I figured. Since you’re going to be at a base, with the job rather than the schooling to do.”

Angie nodded, “Logical. I’ll help you look, then. But, no worries, I’m not picky.”

“I know. Alright, here are the ones I’ve got.” I said. “There’s one in Hillside, listed for 1150 a month.” As I spoke I gave her a link to the website. “There’s another in Colwood listed for 1100 a month. Oh, and,” I searched it up, having just found it, “One on Royal Roads, listed at 1150.”

She laughed. “That’s fifteen minutes’ walk to the base!” she frowned, looking focused for a second. “Wait, these are all in the opposite direction from the museum.” She said, glancing my way.

“I’m aware. But there’s something called transit.” I said, raising an eyebrow teasingly.

Angie sighed, nodding. “Yeah, yeah. You’re so cocky sometimes.” She said with a grin.

 

Eventually, we settled for the one on Royal Roads. Angie had made me promise that I wasn’t rooting for it under her convenience. She seemed happy, and I was glad.

We hung up several hours later. We spoke about many things, but mostly how much we’d changed and how much it would still change. By this logic, Angie had figured things would always change, but that this one was both exciting and quite scary.

With that, I decided not to over think the fact that we’d only really been together for two days. Then again, when we were in high school, those years back, we’d said something along the lines of sharing a flat, and though it had assured that we were four people rather than two, I was fine with this. In those years, Angie, Percy and I had said we wanted a flat together, possibly with Orlando.

Now, as Angie had said, Percy and Orlando most likely had plans of sharing a flat as well, only here in Toronto. She’d said they had gotten along more that well when he was over. They seemed to have up unspoken feelings, but Angie was keen on not interfering. She said they’d possibly get to it while looking for a flat.

 

As far as Percy And I had been concerned, we’d hung out twice a month since Angie departure four years ago. Sometimes, given the finals, we’d only see each other once a month. She’d gotten along fine without Angie. I think they were both at least a little relieved not to be in the same household for all that time. When they were much younger they shared a room. The other had been their father’s office of sorts.

 

When they turned ten, he settled for a change and the office became Angie’s room. She hadn’t made much of a fuss about it, but there was this one week where they didn’t get along at all, so Angie settled on the couch every night, as a habit of not wanting to be in the same room as Percy. When their father had enough, he agreed to make the office into a bedroom for her sake. She’d told him she was fine with the couch, in all honesty, but he’d refused.

Their rooms were quite different. When they’d shared it, they had two separate beds. Angie had a top bunk bed and Percy had a separate single bed underneath. They’d agreed not to get a bunk bed because their father had seen the chance of separating them.

When Angie moved into the office, her bed went in the corner, much like it had in the old room. Under the bed, she had a beanbag and a few shelves for books. There were shelves all over and a storage compact for papers and clothes.

The floors were often covered in stacks of paper and books. She claimed it was organized, but it didn’t seem like it. Upon knowing we’d share a room, she assured me she’d keep the cluttering to a low amount.

Jelly •

I woke the next day, and it was early enough that Dad was still at home. I packed his lunch, getting breakfast ready afterward. He checked his laptop, sitting across the table.

I glanced at him. “So, Dad, I just wanted to update you on my job. I dunno if you care much. I’m getting transferred to a base. I’m getting a flat, as well.”

He smiled. “I’d assumed so.” Frowning, he glance my way. “What’s the flat like? Any roommates?”

“It’s good. Unfurnished, though. It’s in the second storey, pretty low price for a two-bedroom. Yeah, one flatmate.” He nodded. “I know you’re curious. Jasper is the guy.”

“Oh. Interesting.” He said blankly. I snorted.

He left shortly afterward, and I was alone. Percy had left earlier, wanting to get more done at the lab.

I called Jasper a couple hours later. We settled for later in the afternoon.

I spent a couple hours at home on the Internet, and went to the library. I was close to a cemetery, so after staying at the library for a while, I walked over. I’d always enjoyed cemeteries, even when I was younger.

Graveyards aren’t popular, so I’d usually gone alone. When I was in high school, one of our friends shared my fascination for cemeteries. We’d go together and spend the afternoon.

I liked how peaceful and silent they were. Often, it was empty, allowing me to roam the grounds. I liked to imagine the fallen. People die twice. Once, when they are buried, but again when their memory fades off, forgotten. The headstones are there to remind us, and that had always seemed so symbolic to me.

 

I spent two hours, walking the grounds and sitting around. I climbed a couple trees to look into the distance and stay in the shade for a while.

As I sat, reading in a more private section with more bland headstones, I heard rustling nearby.

After finishing my page, I looked up. I saw Jasper, eyeing me a few headstones away.

I frowned as he got closer. “I thought you’d never look up.” He muttered, a couple feet away.

“I wasn’t sure whether you were a random pedestrian or not. And I had to finish my new page, once I decided you not might be.” I explained, smiling slightly.

Jasper grinned and I patted the ground beside me. Nodding, he sat. I could feel my twisted gut, wrenching as he got closer. I wondered how he knew, what he was doing here. “I wasn’t sure where you’d be.” He said, as if knowing what I’d say. “I remember you telling me you were going to the library. I got your text half an hour later, so I still wasn’t sure.

“I didn’t know whether you’d left.” He looked at me. Taking my hand, he went on, “I tried to think as you would, what would you do? It didn’t take me much time to realize you were probably at a graveyard. I wasn’t sure which.” He chuckled. “But then, I remembered you looking up and smiling widely when we passed by this one while on the tube. I remembered how your eyes lit up, with fondness and wonder whenever we came nearby.”

“And how did you find me in this section?” I whispered.

He smiled. “I knew you’d like some place in the maze of headstones, away from the gravel. Maybe some place with trees. I checked in the trees, wondering if I could see you in the distance. I didn’t.”

I chuckled, looking down. Before I could say anything, though he sighed. “I know why you like cemeteries. I figured it out on the way here. It’s quite simple, really. You find it reassuring. It’s very peaceful and quiet, but it’s also quite mysterious and lonely. It’s bittersweet. You like to imagine the people who are buried, to picture them in life, to imagine a death; tragic or not. You like the mysterious history and all the probabilities that life has. But, also how death has steps, how people go from human to matter. How they’re forgotten as time passes. You find all those ideas intriguing, especially when put together so well. And as it happens, that’s exactly what graveyards are for, in a sense.”

“Didn’t you hear? Life’s a game we’re meant to lose.” I said, smiling widely.

Jasper snickered. “Good one.”

I sighed, “In all seriousness, um.” I swore, sighing, I closed my eyes as to try to focus in between stuttering.

 

“I’m here because I wanted to spent time with you. I wanted to see whether graveyards were honestly intriguing. I wanted to explain things to you.” He said. “I wanted to keep you company.” I opened my mouth, but he cut me off again. “I went in early. The manager dismissed me earlier, noting my fidgeting as a distraction for what was actually on my mind.” He fiddled with my hand. “I kept thinking about how much I care about you. How much pain and stress and loneliness you’ve been through. I wanted, I want you to be happy. I couldn’t bare to think of you that way again.” He kissed my temple. “You don’t know how little self-control I had when you broke down in 2002. It pained me so much to see you that way. To hear you through the phone, with the smallest amount of rope left.” He leaned closer, fiddling with my shirt hem. “It took me so long to realize it was so much more than fondness. Even then, I denied it. You were in a different province, probably staying there. Every time we would plan to Skype, I could barely think about anything else that day. I was so nervous and so relieved and so confused, but I knew I’d talk to you and that made me feel better. Whenever we saw each other in person, I could barely contain myself.” He whispered. The lump in my roast grew more pronounced, then. I waited for him to finish. “I missed you so much. I always thought about you. I worried that you weren’t happy. I wondered how stressed out you became. It took so much effort to not think about the worst scenarios. I would picture you curled up in a ball, tears shining off your face, shaking uncontrollably as you tried to calm down. I knew you had a method to contain yourself, but I was never sure whether you’d use it often. I hoped with everything, you wouldn’t try to shake it off and ignore it until it got terribly uncontrolled.” I could feel my chin shaking, my vision blurred by tears threatening to come. “It helped so much when I saw your face, often at least slightly happy. I couldn’t trust myself to keep it in, especially not if I received a message indicating a panic attack, or a breakdown. I spent the days on your worst weeks hoping not receive a Skype call and see you in tears, curled up in blanket as you shook, stuttering when you tried to speak to me.”

I swallowed, blinking. A tear shed, unbidden. “I’m sorry.” I whispered, almost inaudibly.

Jasper looked my way, and his eyes grew wide. “Oh god, Angie. Sorry. I shouldn’t have. I’m so sorry.” He whispered, kissing me where the tears had fallen.

“No, no, I needed that.” I said, shaking my head. “I worry about myself a lot as well. I never knew whether I was happy or not. I just hoped the pit in my stomach never got huge, worsening my state. I always thought about you when it happened. Whether you’d be bothered if I talked to you. Whether it would worry you sick, like I worried when you warned me of a dilemma. I hated myself for being insufferably uncontrolled, sometimes I still do. All I wanted was to be at least slightly happier. I wonder how long the feeling would last. The way you described me is so accurate, I don’t even know how you could picture that. I always hoped you never saw me the way I see myself. But, I suppose you can guess. That sort of counts, in a way. I hoped it wouldn’t turn you away. God, how I worried about that. It took so many distractions.

“Thinking of you, of how happy you were, of how well you were doing with your studies helped. I never thought you’d be miserable, not after seeing how passionate you were about it. I envied that, the certainty. I knew I’d never be able to think that of my job. Not when so many people disapproved. I missed you so much, and everytime I heard your voice, or saw your emails, I was always instantly happy. Worried and missing you, but happy.”

 

Jasper gazed at me as I spoke. My voice was low, a soft murmur as I tried to control the shakiness in my voice. I glanced at the ground, fiddling with my laces as I spoke. I could feel his gaze on me and it worried me a bit, but I couldn’t look up. Eventually, he placed a finger under my chin, guiding my face toward his. His lips quirked up slightly as our eyes met. His hand moved to my neck, thumb tracing my jaw. I watched him, breath evening as I controlled myself. When my heartbeat steadied and I sighed, I smiled. He chuckled, biting his lip. Our eyes met again briefly. His eyes unmistakably flicked to my lips. I snickered, closing the distance after a moment.

I laughed quietly, head lowering to rest my forehead against his shoulder. He chuckled, hand rubbing my back.

 

Afterward, he suggested we take a stroll. We walked hand in hand around the field. It was beautiful.

We walked some more, and went to his house. There, we went to his room. We watched TV for a bit. During the commercials to the next TV show, Jasper muted it, smiling. I frowned. I wasn’t sure whether to say anything but before I could think anything through, we were kissing again.

I called Dad, telling him I’d been offered a diner at Jasper’s. He said it was fine.

Diner was mostly silent, but we did talk about work a bit. Lydia wanted to know how things were. I told her about my departure and she seemed impressed.

Back in Jasper’s room, we played PS3. Jasper drove me home roughly an hour later. We held hands, and it felt much more natural. Jasper came to my side again. We kissed, my back pressed against the door. I hugged him, and he kissed my temple. I turned to leave, but at the steps, I turned around. “Oh, and Jasper?” I called. He raised an eyebrow. I ran back down, threading my figured through his. “I am happy.” I squeezed his fingers, and he returned the favor. I didn’t need to expand.

 

When I shut the door to my room, I received a text. [And that makes me happy.]

Moments to Remember While Losing Hope: Part I

20h13 – Six Hours Into Gathering  

I get up, unsure of what to do with myself. My palms are sweaty, my head hurts and my mind racks. I feel very selfish. I should be happy to be surrounded by talkative, enthusiastic friends, but instead I worry about being in the background. About the impression this freak out gives them. I excuse myself for the fourth time in the last half hour, sighing as my mumbling is only acknowledged by one person.

In the next room over, I lean on the wall, closing my eyes to calm my thoughts and my breathing. Panting, I run my hands through my hair. I don’t need this. My battery may be drained, and I may feel invisible, but I have to ride it out for the next hour or so. After my breathing regulates a bit, and the tears have dried, I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water and some yogurt.  

When I come back into the muggy space, my eyes dart from person to person. On one couch, Lily, Ryan and Colin sit, playing video games and trash-talking each other over what appears to be the sound-effects of the game, though it only sounds like vibrations to me. On the other side, Ellen, Rose and Dean sit. Rose and Ellen take the entire couch and Dean eyes me from his seat on top of Ellen. I avert my eyes, sitting on the edge of the couch beside Colin. As I look down, twiddling my fingers and fiddling with the hem of my shirt, Ellen squirms loudly enough that the ground shakes and I know it’s Dean’s way of getting my attention. I try to resist his determination to get me to follow his gaze, but am awarded a huge grin when my eyes meet his.

He waves me over, and I take a seat on the edge of the couch as I had before. Ellen glances my way with a concerned frown, but I shake my head, smiling reassuringly. She nods, turning back to Rose. They continue to read and laugh at stuff on Rose’s phone, and Dean looks at me, smiling and making funny faces in an attempt to make me smile.  

Eventually, I offer a shy quirk of the lips. He laughs, taking my hands in his. I shift to face him completely, and his smile widens. I watch him as he brings my hands to his face, kissing my knuckles briefly. I chuckle as my fingers run against his jaw and his hold on my hands loosens even more. Dean smiles as I bring one hand to his neck, running my fingers through the hair there. My other hand stays at his face, brushing his sideburns as we watch each other.

He gets up and I follow, shifting with him as he brings us to a stance that suggests we dance to the background vibrations that are music coming from the stereo. I scoff, smiling slightly as he starts to sway. I hug him, hand coming to his neck again and he laughs, squeezing me to him. Used to to his closeness and crushing hug, I only shake my head and chuckle as he sways more widely. The music is not slow dancing music, or music either of us particularly enjoy, not that I can make out many of the vibrations, but I move with him either way. Dean laughs when he feels my fingers draw a pattern on his neck. Force of habit. The swaying stops a bit as we stare at each other. He pulls a face as my eyes narrow and he chuckles.

I sigh as my confidence is brought back slowly. He notices the freed tension and rubs my back, squeezing my shoulders. I laugh as he abruptly turns, and we dance some more. I twirl as he watches me, and he laughs as my elbow pops loudly when my arm extends. I wince, smiling when he gets concerned. I hum quietly and he sways and twirls as our roles are reversed. I laugh as Dean almost slides and trips because of his socks, and he pretends to wrestle me back into a dancing stance. He raises an eyebrow as my expression falters a bit, and I sigh. He nods to himself, rubbing my back again. My eyes shift under his gaze, and he sighs. Our eyes meet again as he hugs me closer, and I chuckle. Dean bites his lip as my smile falters again. He rests his forehead on mine, swaying wide and quick until a laugh bubbles its way up and I grin at him. He smirks in his satisfaction and I rest my forehead on his, sighing as he laughs quietly.

Dean stays at my side for the rest of time, holding my hand and sharing his food as I watch the video games from my comfy stop on his lap, and my thoughts stay on the memory of his smile as his forehead touches mine.

What Now, Fear?

In the car after a conversation I’d been dreading all summer, I stared out the window in an attempt to calm myself. Papa cleared his throat, staring into the road quietly as if to give me time for myself.

Papa’s attempt at casual conversation had ensured that all my worries regarding school came to the surface. School was something I worried about, and the future was something I tired ignoring with near success. University was not something I wanted to talk about, certainly not when I still had at least two years left.

In my vulnerability, my worries about this school year flooded my mind. Left with only a sense of panic, I tried to calm down as quietly as possible. Papa was still focused on the road, and I hoped I would be able to clear my head without making things worse.

My eyes watered as my frustration got the best of me. Clenching my jaw, I let some of the worries surface, keeping a steady hold on my emotions. I figured I could get past these thoughts if I processed them a bit, hoping my irritation wouldn’t make it harder. I fished through the pile of unanswered questions in my head, sighing as I attempted to focus. I was worried that even with the added experience of working for a mark, my Maths grade would plummet. I was worried that I’d be too stressed to do anything other than schoolwork. That path would only lead to more stress and isolation, and I didn’t need that either. I was worried my father wouldn’t trust me to do my work, even if he’d seen my potential last year. I was worried I would have the same time of anxiety every weekend as I had the last two years.

These things – scholar anxiety, isolation, stress – didn’t help me much, but there was something worse. Worse than stress and isolation, you ask? Yes. Fear of boredom, fear of feeling alone. Every weekend, I get up, and I feel like I have nothing useful to do. I sit around, stuck on how useless I feel. Being bored only makes the thoughts in my head grow louder, makes the anxiety get the best of me. Boredom comes if I don’t feel useful, or if I can’t seem to stimulate myself. It’s a cycle of sorts I’ve been attempting to avoid for a long time now.

Every summer, I become panicked over the simple idea of having two months off. It’s like one big, giant, horrible weekend. I have to find something to do, or else the anxiety will creep up, control me. At the beginning of the summer, I’m too busy wondering what the hell I’ll do with myself to worry about anything else. Most of the time, the only other ay these thoughts are introduced is if the summer’s ending. Then it’s no longer summer I have to worry about; it’s every weekend from then on.

I think about how vulnerable I get, and one simple sentence explains it all. It’s sad really. Sad that I’d rather be tired and drained and unsocial because of school, than have nothing to do around family. It’s sad that I cower behind school and books and TV shows to cover the fact that I can’t handle boredom and mystery.

Yes, this – all this crap – came flowing through because of casual discussion about the future, but that was the thing; the future is never a casual thing.  I had no reason to be angry with Papa; it wasn’t like he would have known. I could only be thankful for the fact that when I tuned back into reality, he was still staring ahead. For once, instead of wondering – making me more anxious and embarrassed – he pretended not to notice, trusted I could handle it. Took a leap of faith to hope that someone so scared could indeed console themselves.

In the Forest Alone with You

As we walk, Cam kicks pebbles around, chasing after them every once in a while. “Look, I know you’re really confused that the moment, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.” She tells me.

I sigh as she looks at me expectantly. “Baby steps, I know.” Scowling, I pick up a twig and snap it in quarters. “Sometimes I just wish I wasn’t known as Riley’s sister.”

“I keep telling you, you’re not,” Cam argues, jogging back to my side from where she had kicked a pebble into a tree.

I roll my eyes. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like I am,” I mutter. “I just wish I could move away. Get away from the people that know us both. Make an identity as someone who isn’t under the constraint of siblings. You know, where I’m Ash and people treat me for me.”

Cam chuckles. “You’re not alone on that thought, trust me. And like I said, you just need to figure out who treats you best. Who treats you regularly and shows full respect or attention.”

I roll my shoulders back, sighing again. “Yeah, well it would be much less complicated if people treated everyone the same way. You know, same level of emotions, thought, and personality for everyone. But nobody works that way – hell, sometimes I don’t.”

 

We reach a rocky path, and Cam stops kicking pebbles. She picks up a stick, uses it as a staff. “Riley doesn’t get that different of treatment,” Cam murmurs unconvincingly.

I laugh, “From you, maybe. It’s funny how I feel like I know the whole lot so much better, but I really don’t.” Cam stays quiet as if to know I’m in the middle of a thought. “You know how I always said I wished I was Dumbledore in that end scene of Order of The Phoenix, and other were Harry?”

Cam smiles, “I do recall that, yes.” She chuckles, twisting the staff in her hand as I stop walking to wipe my hands on my pants.

“I seemed to have forgotten that most often, I’m Harry and they are Dumbledore.” I mutter, kicking a piece of wood and watching fly off the path.

Cam grins again. “Why’s that?”

I shrug. “Because talking to most people reminds me of yelling nonsensically, where I feel like I’m sort of getting my point across, and they refuse to make theirs if and when I ask for it.” I laugh humorlessly. “It’s like everyone I know refuses to show me the side of them that they show everyone else.”

“I thought Dumbledore did make his point across,” Cam says with a frown.

I smile, shoving her playfully. “Yeah, but it’s manipulative, not really that explanatory. Plus, Harry’s satisfied with it for the time being, but he spends most of the summer wondering what the hell was happening, so.”

“You say you related to that temporary satisfaction?” Cam repeats.

I nod, “Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of the same thing. They give me stuff every once in a while so that I stop wondering why I’m the only one left in the dark, and then they don’t talk about if for ages. Refuse to, even.”

 

Cam sighs, “Look, this idea that they give you a slice of their true personality might be realistic, but I don’t really know why it would have anything to do with Riley. You just need to figure out who out of the lot of them actually helps you think through your stuff, who makes you feel better.

“I got that. And for the record, it has everything to do with Riley. He’s the reason they think I’m some uptight dramatic weirdo, self-centered enough to constantly talk about themselves and think everything is personal. They find him trustworthy and logical enough that he gets what I ask for.” I say, running a hand through my hair in irritation.

“But why does it matter that much?” Cam wonders, wincing at the insensitivity of the question. We’re almost at the end of the trail. The trees are looking more climbable than ever.

I shrug, sighing again. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because it’s Riley and I. Everything about the two of us makes me question everything else. It’s like some endless competition that I know I’m going to loose. I’m a pushover, remember? I let everything get under my skin.”

Cam laughs. “You might be a pushover, and they might take advantage of you, but nobody does it as much as Riley.”

I nod. “I know that. You’d think I didn’t, though, by the way I go about it.” I stop to look around, smiling. “I’m going to climb that,” I say, pointing to a tree with low branches.

 

Cam nods, considering whether to join me as I grab onto the nearest branch. The tree isn’t that big, and the view is a bit obscured by branches and leaves, but it’s nice. Not that many bugs either. “I’m just sick of feeling liked the failed copy – or like the shitty alternate universe.” I tell Cam as she grabs onto the branch that I’d used.

“Well,” She says with a huff as she joins me, “you aren’t. You know, Riley’s confused about being in the position he stands in as well.”

I snort. “Not that I would know. Not that I care that much. I mean, in this type of situation, I welcome his confusion. I deserve better than the way he treats me, the way our friends treat me. I hope he realizes he’s somewhat of a dick.”

Cam nods. “You do deserve better, and yeah, he should see that you do those things genuinely, until he tries to take advantage of it. They all should.”

I laugh, shifting positions to avoid the branches from digging into my back. “I almost put Em to the test yesterday. They made plans, and I was wondering if she’d accept my offer over Riley’s if I made plans for the same day. Last month, I’d made plans with her and she made up a story and an excuse so that she could run off with him instead.”

“So did you wind up testing it?” Cam wonders with a smile. When I shake my head, she glares. “Why not,” she exclaims. A leaf falls into my lap, and I stare at it.

“Cause I’m not a manipulative asshole. I’m not one of them.” I reply, tearing the leaf apart.

Cam laughs, smiling. She takes my hand, stares at it. “I know.” I sigh, and she looks past the leaves into the trees around us.

“If you ever leave, remember that certain people treat the two of you differently.” She mutters.

I laugh. “I’d never lose contact with you. I have a list, but it needs to be narrowed down.”

Cam smiles. “I’ll help you get that done.”

“I know. People like us stick together.” I say, ruffling her hair.

Cam leans into the playful touch, and I laugh. “You’re such a cat.”

She laughs, “Sue me, your hands are soft.”

I chuckle, fiddling with her fingers. “Thanks for bringing me here.”

“Anytime, Ash.”

I look into the forest, hoping to stay here for as long as possible.