The Edge of Exploding
I am perfectly fine. I am perfectly fine when I wake up and am surprised to find myself in an armchair, in a room coated in purple, in an inn in a town I don’t know. I am perfectly fine despite the fact that my neck and back ache from the position I’d slept in on the chair, despite the fact that I scream into my fist as soon as I find myself in a standing position.
I am perfectly fine when I find someone else’s phone on the bed, still made, amongst articles of mostly-dry clothes from yesterday. I am perfectly fine as I kneel on the floor in the bathroom and cough involuntarily, feeling water in my throat even though it’s dry.
I do not know yesterday; it never existed. It is irrelevant. It is 5:23 am and I have not slept enough and that doesn’t matter because I do not want to return to the nightmares.
Instead, I put on an impractical outfit: a cream-colored silk dress and a lace corset and tall platform white tennis shoes. No one is in the Honorary Inn lobby when I pass through it, and the only person I see on the street is a tiny old man with a tiny brown dog, and both of them bare their teeth at me in a somewhat friendly way.
It’s still dark, and there are a million more stars out here than in California. I didn’t notice them yesterday, but now they’re following me through Windthrow Point like little fairies, guiding the way towards the water and winking mischievously. I’ve found a different route, and I probably passed through a few back yards I shouldn’t have, but now I’m on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river, and it’s so beautiful. The moon’s hidden behind a cloud, so it’s just the inky dark water rolling along, splashing lightly against the rocks.
Dangerous things shouldn’t be this enticing.
Everything is so still. I don’t think the trees have moved, and the air is stagnant. It makes me crazy, makes me want to join the only other thing that’s still alive: the water, blinking back white stars and asking me to do something. But instead of going any closer, I just shut my eyes and let myself remember.
Last night, everything had been easy. It was always the right thing to do, unmistakably, to join the handsome guy on the dock, to smile at him at all the right times, to let his hand brush mine when we walked over. Maybe part of me knew he’d jump in the water, and drag me in with him. Maybe I could’ve stopped it. Maybe I want to die.
My fingers have bunched into my silk skirt, and then I’m leaning over, knees bent, hands clamped over my own mouth to suppress a scream or a wave of nausea, I’m not sure. I’d told him I loved the water, at some point. I’d told him I loved the water. Didn’t I?
I don’t know, I can’t remember, I just know I got out again. I don’t know if he pulled me out or pushed me out or I was possessed and did it on my own. I don’t know, and hug myself as hard as I can and then stomp my feet and then I flail out my arms. I don’t make a sound because I want to hear the water, so I close my eyes again and rock back and forth on my feet. And listen.
When I wake up a second time I’m on the bed in the Violet room, staring at the ceiling. There’s a lilac flower painted up there with amateur strokes, and I wonder why anybody bothered, when there’s already so much dusty purple to look at already. I’d like to say that I thought those moments by the water were a dream, but I’m fully dressed, still wearing the silk dress and corset and tennis shoes. I decide not to change.
When I descend the stairs in the lobby I don’t see Mariana, but voices are coming from a door off to the right of the counter. It’s got a little window but it’s covered over with a flowery doily so I can’t quite see in. I suddenly realize I don’t have much of a plan. I’ve slept in too much and missed my flight, though I can’t find it in me to care, and I should probably eat and collect my actual phone and book a new flight and something about having that many options on what to do causes me to stand in the middle of the lobby and stare at the doily instead.
When Mariana emerges from the side room I try and pretend that I hadn’t been standing still for five minutes and give her a friendly greeting. She eyes me for a moment before saying, “There’s someone here to see you. Well, technically two people want to see you.” She looks back at the doily door, so I do too.
“Should I…?” I start saying, but don’t actually physically move a muscle.
She gives me a little smile, mostly visible in her brown eyes, and leans against the counter, her forearms holding most of her weight. “Listen, I don’t know why you’re here, but we don’t get a lot of visitors. Usually people are either running from or to something.” I laugh, but she just raises her eyebrows at me, and I stop as if scolded. “So I told them both they couldn’t see you until I asked you first. Walker came asking for you. And then there’s a Bram Shepard who just arrived. He’s in there.” She nods at the door, and I cross my arms and look at it.
I did use the old-timey handset phone on the front desk last night, but I hadn’t called Bram.
“Right.” I approach the door, then pause to look over at Mariana. I want to thank her but the words don’t come out, so I step inside the side room.
Bram is sitting with his shoulders squeezed unnaturally close to his ears on account of the stacks of books and boxes on either side of him. This room is clearly Mariana’s office, and though there’s a desk and a chair, Bram’s perched on a bench against the wall that is presumably used more for storage than sitting. A bookshelf against the opposite wall sags under the weight of various tomes, trinkets, and stacks of paper. A small collection of potted plants wilt in what little morning light filters through a small circular window behind the desk.
Bram’s wearing his regular button up and chinos. He reminds me of business; he is all at once both comfortingly familiar and desperately unwanted. He looks up at me with a strange, soft expression, and I stay in the doorway, not sure what kind of expression I’m making, judging the tiny room from quite a height, thanks to the platform shoes. “What are you doing here?” My voice is flat, and I’m actually surprised that I’m not surprised that he’s here.
He squeezes his way off the bench, careful not to knock anything over, though his body in the small office isn’t really any less obtrusive standing than sitting. “Listen, first of all, I’m sorry again.” I scoff, and when he shakes his head I notice that his hair’s more disheveled than usual, blonde curls out of place like he’s been sleeping or raking a hand through them. “Seriously. I didn’t know Darian was going to be here too. Now, are you alright?”
My lips curl into a familiar smile. “Of course I’m alright? Bored out of my mind, sure. But there’s no reason you need to be here.” I jut out a hip. “Why are you here?”
Bram’s expression flattens, which is something I’m familiar with. It’s like his face muscles just shut down, and right now all that’s left is the tiniest crease between his brows. “Your mom called me multiple times, telling me it was an emergency. She said you needed someone out here, but that she couldn’t go. She wouldn’t tell me what happened, just asked me to come. I didn’t know what to think.”
“And you took her word for it?” My tone is unnecessarily cruel, but I can’t help the simmering anger. It’s such a familiar feeling, to be pitied by my mother but never enough for her to actually do anything about it. My throat closes when I think of the manic state I’d been in last night, frantically praying that she’d pick up the home phone. And when she finally had I didn’t know how to explain what was wrong, and I know now that my greatest mistake was having the hope that she might understand anyway.
Bram just looks at me. “I did. Masie, if you tell me to leave I will. But…”
“But I’m trying to help.”
I tip back my head and bark out a laugh, then back out into the lobby. I’m sick of this shit. “Oh, that’s funny. I didn’t realize I was a princess waiting to be saved. Tell me, dear Knight, where is your trusty steed?” I’m back in the center of the lobby, arms raised, staring at Bram through the doorway of the office and aware that Mariana is also watching. Good, the more the merrier.
Bram exits the office, lips pinched. He’s never one for big emotions, but I can tell he’s holding back, reining it in. I don’t want him to; I want him to scream so I have an excuse to scream back. Instead, he says evenly, “Fine. Of course. You don’t have to tell me anything. But just so you know, I put up with your bullshit all the time. I know you so well, Masie, I know how you write and how you think and how you always want to be the loudest personality in the room. I know that you don’t do research before meeting people because then you don’t think it’s your fault if you don’t get along, I know that you wanted that movie deal so fucking bad, I know that you wear the absolute craziest outfits when you’re the saddest. Do you think I don’t know when you’re on the edge of exploding?”
We’re staring at each other, and Mariana is the only person in the room breathing. That was quite a grand monologue, so, in typical me fashion, I don’t think I surprise either of us when I stalk out of the Honorary Inn, both fists clenched.