If you look back far enough, you can see the shadow of what used to be. It looms over your present, ruining your day in the subtlest of ways. Because you carry a secret and you carry a torch.
"It's been a minute," he says.
The Redcoat is here and you didn't get so much as a warning. For shame.
"Cat got your tongue?" he asks. The memories you keep serve a purpose. Your vast knowledge of a shared past turns your silence into a weapon. It's all you have and he has never taken kindly to it. "Oh, come on," he insists, "I don't bite."
His smile is all teeth. He's a shark smelling blood in the water: if you don't play your cards right, you will be leaving this encounter without a heart. If only he was just after your legs.
"You really have nothing to say to me?"
The question gives you pause. Because you have so many nouns, verbs and adjectives you want to hurl at him. A part of you wants to get violent—verbally. Only, you've changed. You've evolved. He can't hurt you anymore.
You wet your lips. "Can I help you with something?" you hear yourself say. It's mechanical, impersonal and, from the look on his face, the most disarming combination of words in the English language. He's a stranger now and you're on the clock. He's just another customer and you are employee of the month for a reason.
He leans agaisnt the counter, closing the distance that separates you from each other. It's a sad attempt because you're worlds apart now. "I don't think you know what you're offering," he whispers.
You smirk. You feel triumphant. You ignore your better instincts and use the phrase "May I ask why that is?" instead of apologizing because his request is beyond what you're able to do for customers. You can't give him the pieces of you that survived the storm.
"Because you don't know what I might ask of you," he replies.
"I appreciate you bringing this to our attention," you respond, falling back on your training with a smile that makes your cheeks hurt. "Thank you for the feedback."
He laughs, but it sounds bitter. "This is how you want to do this, then?" he asks.
To be fair, you don't want to do any of this. He showed up out of the blue and messed with your vibe. He can either buy something or leave the store. Either way, you won't give him the satisfaction of calling the shots. So you just stare and wait him out. Problem is, he stares right back.
"You need to leave," you tell him. You're done being nice.
"And you need to be more curious," he fires back. "Ask yourself why I'm here."
"I don't care."
He blinks, surprised. You inhale sharply. The last time you spoke you made the mistake of begging him to stay. Things didn't end well for you, then.
"I'm back for good."
Things won't end well for you now either.
THOROUGHLY MODERN ME
All you have to do is pretend to look smart, pretend you fit the part, pretend you’re into pretentious jazz. And all you have to say is that you read The Great Gatsby and that you don’t much care for cinematic adaptions, but you suppose that, if you absolutely had to choose, you would take Redford over DiCaprio any day.
When you go out, always order salad because carbohydrates are the enemy. Drink coffee because you’re a serious person. You are legit, authentic, the real deal. You are a pseudointellectual with an inbuilt calorie calculator. You are worthy of the kale in your breakfast smoothie and the praise of your peers: repeat this mantra over and over when you’re stuck in traffic to avoid getting stuck IRL.
Wear sunglasses indoors. Show people you don’t care what they think. Besides, it’s cool to pretend that you are constantly hungover. It’s cool to pretend that you’re cool without trying. You are James Dean reincarnated. You don’t smoke because cancer is real – more so than you – but you vape because certain accessories are too fucking picture perfect to pass up and mastering the art of living life like you’re at a never-ending photo shoot is a must.
All you have to do is blow vanilla scented smoke into the night air because it gives you the perfect excuse to pout. Because you have to be “on” at all times. Because the truth is less interesting than a scripted documentary and you should be anything but boring. Because sugar gives you diabetes, but Splenda keeps you thin. It is artifice, after all, that makes you sweet and honey-you can draw them all in like honey bees, because you read all the dos and don’ts in a curated lifestyle blogazine.
You can be you without substance and yet have a commanding presence. You can be that seemingly obnoxious white painting hanging in a gallery. Minimalism sells for millions and you aren’t giving all your secrets away.
All you have to do is stay basic to raise the right number of eyebrows. There will always be more to you than meets the eye. You are nuanced and subtle and a construct. You’re a reflective surface that casts no shadow.
Or, at the very least, that’s what you tell yourself.
I have wanted to be that girl. At times, I have tried and almost succeeded. She is both carefree and careless, never comes down from a nice pair of heels and lives for weekend getaways. The wine in her glass sparkles and fizzes, her laughter is rarely sincere and she keeps her conversations light and simple. She is charming as fuck, but - spoiler alert! - it is impossible to keep up the illusion for long.
I have wanted to love that girl. Everybody does, you see. Love is fickle and she barely lives in the flicker anyway, so circumstance and shapely legs always conspire in her favor. I have tried and failed miserably because she's about as serious as a temporary tattoo; I can't hold her stare long enough to see if there's anything in her eyes worth getting attached to.
I have wanted to erase that girl. From photographs. From memories. From existence. She's my biggest competition and she's not even the real deal. She is programmed to do and say whatever circumstance demands. Once the contacts come out and the makeup comes off, she is gone. Her perfume, though, it lingers... Whenever I catch her scent, I smile into my pillowcase. She forever tempts me into the sweetest dreams.
Baby Car Heat
I don't understand how people keep forgetting their babies in cars. Primarily, because I don't understand why someone would decided to leave a four-month-old baby by itself, inside a locked vehicle. So many things could go wrong - have gone wrong, according to numerous press reports - that I just don't get how this is still a thing, how "I'll be right back" and "It will only take a second" are still in vogue.
For the record, it is dangerous to leave a defenseless, cooing infant unattended, period. If that place happens to be the backseat of a car parked in the sun... Do I even need to finish that sentence? It's not that difficult a concept to grasp, is it? Does anyone doubt that babies are fragile creatures and that it doesn't take much to jeopardize their survival?
Judging isn't really my thing, but I suppose I have to draw a line somewhere and, apparently, babies dying of heatstroke due to negligence - mindful, unmindful, I don't really care - is my sweet spot. I guess, all I'm asking for is a little common sense. I hate reading certain headlines because there's a brand of tragedy that always comes across as preventable. In the case of hot car deaths, one cannot help but feel that the figures of related statistics could definitely be lower. And by "one", I mean "me".
There are a lot of bad things going on in the world, things that regular people have no control over. Deciding to unstrap a four-month-old from his/her car seat and take him/her along to post your mail, buy bread, make a deposit, etc? That's called damage control and taking action is possible. So, please, do the right thing and save a life. Please spare us all the next dramatic headline.
She stared down at her shoes. There was danger in looking up.
"You're awfully quiet," he said to her, in that careless manner that suited him so damn well.
"You'd rather I be chatty?" she asked for the sake of asking. After all, goading him was easier and he did always complain about her inability to keep her mouth shut, so... Two birds, one stone.
He snorted. "I'd rather you act normal, that's what I'd rather."
She rolled her eyes. "I am acting perfectly normal, you jerk," she retorted, but there wasn't much fire to her words. She was treading on thin ice, after all; the last thing she needed was to get burned.
Gavin put his hands behind his head and leaned back. She was forcing him to think thoughts he wasn't ready to put into words just yet. There was too much at stake and he was far from a saint. Full disclosure? He could be best described as one of the things that went bump in the night, while she... she was doomed, wasn't she? From the very start, he had put her in harm's way. There was no chance in hell either one of them would come out of this unscathed, not anymore.
"You suck at lying," he said. "How you're gonna pull the wool over everyone's eyes beats the fuck out of me."
She frowned and set her jaw. "I'll manage," she bit out through gritted teeth. Gavin had a knack for bringing out the worst in her. Part of her was grateful for the diversion; anger could help reset her focus. As long as he kept pushing her buttons, there was a chance they would get through this after all.
The young man tutted and wagged his finger at her. "Temper, temper..." he teased, secretly delighting in the slight flush of her cheeks. She held her tongue, but he knew that, mentally, she was cursing him out.
In the beginning, he had tried to get her to hate him. It never stuck.
Though there was nothing much to getting under her skin, she wasn't the type to hold grudges. By nature, she was far too kind to do the right thing and follow the plan. Instead of looking down her nose at him like she was supposed to, she rarely greeted him without a smile. Even now, after everything, she had somehow managed to move past the hurt just enough to keep trusting him. Was it any wonder, then, that she had softened his every edge?
"Whatever you may think of me, I don't have to walk into that room and lie my way through,"she hissed. She faced both him and her fate head on, with shoulders pulled back and chin held high. So much for being cautious and looking down at her shoes... "When I go in there," she persisted, "I will be taking my rightful place."
Gavin's lips quirked. Someone like her would undoubtedly make a fine ruler. The thought alone filled him with an unfamiliar sense of pride, but it also made his chest hurt. The moment had come for him to learn to let her go, as promised.
"You're ready, then?" he asked, holding out his arm for her to take.
Her chin quivered. "Are you?" she threw back in his face. Her eyes - big, beautiful, brown - sought his for an honest answer, the kind he would never give because, of course he wasn't. No man is ever ready to die.
His fingers wound themselves in her hair, which was funny because he couldn't remember closing the distance between them, let alone raising his hand. The problem was that she had too much power over him. And his body? Simply put, it had a mind of its own.
With a light touch at the base of her neck, his wandering, treacherous fingers tilted her head up. Her throat... He could slit it in less than a heartbeat. He could put an end to everything and, in so doing, fulfill his own destiny. Except...
"I promised, didn't I?" he whispered, meeting her gaze without flinching.
She closed her eyes and performed a magic trick: she smiled without meaning it. Love was bitter as lemons, cruel and unkind.
In the smallest of voices, she recited an unholy incantation:
"You'd want to keep me. I'd want to be kept. What a disaster that would be."
Her words were a warning and they rung loudly in his ears, but all of a sudden he was past caring. Because fuck fate and fuck responsibilities and fuck the greater good! Because the moment was theirs and he would be damned if he let anything or anyone steal it away. Not this time, not anymore.
"Open your eyes, Violet," he commanded. He felt her shudder and heard her breath catch. "Please..." he insisted. His voice cracked and his courage wavered.
Her eyelashes fluttered, tears stubbornly clinging to them. "You can't keep me," she murmured, shaking her head in a final act of defiance.
"I know," he agreed, his easy acceptance making her flinch.
Startled, her eyes shot open. She looked at him as if seeing him for the first time."I can't keep you," she spat out and her voice shook, the truth making her come undone.
Wordlessly, he pulled her closer. He needed her so much closer.
"I can't..." she repeated. His breath ghosted across her face and her knees knocked together. "Gavin, we can't..."
He moved around and against her. He crowded her space. He filled up her mind and her heart. He pressed his lips to her ear and whispered secrets into it. "I know," he told her, "but I'm done caring. Are you?"
She could have stopped it. She could have pretended to misunderstand him and his intentions. She should have pushed him away, but she let him kiss her instead. She succumbed to personal tragedy willingly: the heir to the throne and the leader of the rebellion certainly couldn't fraternize, much less play for keeps. The trouble was, they couldn't keep their hands to themselves either. Besides, he had practically dared her, hadn't he? And she was not about to go down without a fight.
Despite all my rage...
The anger just won't go away. There are questions here, because there's definitely more to this than meets the eye:
- Am I mad at him for caring in a way that makes me feel small and unsteady?
- Am I mad at myself for caring about what other people think?
- Is it the complete loss of control that's given me a massive headache?
- Is my unhappiness pervading every single aspect of my life right now?
- Is every single aspect of my life raiding my happy place like a crew of pirates hitting a coastal town?
- Why can't I rise above my circumstances and be a proper adult?
- Why can't I quit my job?
- Why do I care and how do I make it stop?
Stop. Stop thinking and start living. Start being yourself.
Stop. Breathe. Remember.
Lather, rinse, repeat. I am so full of shit.
Advice is something I give without taking. Advice does not help me find the answers I am looking for. I don't know how to turn it off, the fear that drives me to all the wrong choices and places. Nothing I tell myself makes me less afraid of failure. It drives me up the wall, that I'm such a coward. In books, I am a hero on a noble quest; in real life I'm a bit of a character, but nothing about me screams "brave" - I've purposefully misplaced my megaphone.
I stand on a soapbox, but I whisper and mumble to myself. I am not anyone's voice, not even mine. I had bigger dreams of a bigger me. Then he yells and I crumble and do the walk of shame without reason. Because nothing I did today warrants guilt or takes away from every moment of every day that I have shown myself to be a responsible person.
Time and again I prove I am boring. Sometimes, I want to be the one in charge, because fuck fate! If I let go, I worry constantly. Something inside - something both childlike and ugly - dreads the prospect that I would dare to defy authority. I know rules were made to be broken, but I can never let myself be the one to go full-on punk rock chorus on my punk-ass schedule. I am such a fraud to the teenage skin I used to walk around in. I couldn't wait to shed it, what with the extra weight and the infinite sadness... So, now what?
I'm hungry for more. I want to be more, be better. I want nicer clothes, cooler hair and a life of my own. I want to move out. I want to dive in. I want to forgive and go forward and be unafraid. I want to be in charge and the fact that I'm not makes me see red. Everyone has dibs, wants a piece of me, but I'll be damned if I don't steal the pie away sooner or later. Hopefully sooner, because later isn't now and "now"isn't working anymore. The present is broken and I'm looking for a quick fix. The future can't get here fast enough for me to regret it.
I'm angry and I have questions. God never calls me back. Worst. Date. Ever.
Equal parts worn out and desperate, she sprinted towards her one chance at escape and jumped as high as she was able. She missed the target by inches, the tips of her fingers grazing the cool steel of a ladder. Defeated, she looked up at the fire escape mounted to the outside of a random building; she had genuinely thought she could latch on and climb away.
Over the violent pounding of her frazzled heart, she could hear booted footsteps growing nearer - the relentless march of executioners closing in on their prey. Gathering all of her remaining strength, she bent her knees and tried again, but from the moment her feet left the ground, she had known she was destined to fall. Instead, she flew.
Hauled up by her ridiculous fuchsia overskirt, she came face to face with a stranger who held her at arm’s length, her body dangling before him like a piece of meat as he made use of strength she hadn’t known ordinary men could possess. His tawny eyes gave nothing away; moreover, they glowed in the dark, same as an animal’s.
They - potential victim and questionable hero - stared at one another openly, perhaps longer than necessary, for it was in that pivotal moment, when beauty met beast, that silence laden with menace was broken by a simple question carelessly hurled into the howling wind: "Do you want to live?"
Her answer was immediate, her acquiescence to his offering, both their beginning and end.