My mind sped on overdrive for the next week as summer came looming. Even with a cold, it was impossible to not think about Matt, or his words. Never had anyone's carefully spoken but callous sentences affected me the way his had, and it left me angry and frustrated with myself for taking them to heart. He was wrong. I knew that for certain. And yet every time I reminded Myself of it, it came back with a strong rebuttal that it was I who was wrong.
To add to the misery, my parents confined me to my room and told me that I wasn't going to be able to exit until I was better, which in my estimations would be when I had died.
To amuse my creative side, I wrote until my notebook was full, then found scrap paper to write some more. The words flowed off the tip of my brain to the tip of my pen and onto the lines so easily. And yet it seemed as soon as I was finished another poem, I still wasn't satisfied with the emotions penned down, and I would start a new one.
It was after two days of missing school that Alli phoned. I cringed as the phone rang, but picked it up anyway.
"Where have you been for two whole days?!" Alli's voice practically rang through the rest of my body. As if she didn't know.
I sighed. "I'm sick, remember? What took you so long to call anyway?"
"My parents got back from the cruise and started being totally nice! They said they're going to try harder to be better parents and better spouses to each other. So, to celebrate we went shopping and stuff. It's been kind of weird actually."
My eyebrow rose. "Waiting for it to fade?"
"Yeah. There's a nice aura – maybe even calming…but I saw them on the boat. They don't even yell at each other anymore, not even when my mom forgot to get the cream and then dropped the spoon for the sugar and then didn't bother to wipe it off!" She paused to talk to someone from her end before returning her attention to me, unfortunately. "So, how's Matt?"
Usually, the asking was in an innocent sort of way, like she didn't know anything, which was usually the case. However on this occasion her voice betrayed her. "You talked to him didn't you?"
She half-gasped, as though she had been accused of murder yet was so obviously innocent. "Of course not! I was just asking a simple question – since you two have been so close as of late."
I glared. "You did talk to him today, didn't you?"
"Matt and I don't talk, Brayden." She sounded as though I was stupid and should have known this, another sign.
"You're crossing your fingers right now, aren't you?"
"Drat!" I wasn't sure where she got her expletives, but they were slightly shallow, I thought with an amused smirk. "Am I that obvious? I thought I was good this time."
"La Cosa Nostra would've had bullet holes riddled through you by now."
She sighed over dramatically. "Fine, I talked to him today, but you can't blame me! He was walking around as though he'd died. You tore his heart apart, Brayden."
I glared. "I didn't do anything – he was the one that said he was in love with me!" My defensive behavior and raising of my voice only seemed to emphasis that it was I who had been wrong, but I wasn't giving into Myself.
"Before you bombard me with the U.S. armed forces, tell me what happened." It was the first time I'd heard her use big words when she wasn't drunk, and it scared me. Perhaps in my absence she was reading dictionaries.
I sighed and flopped onto my bed, sending my pen flying through the air and landing somewhere on top of the messy piles of clothing strewn across the floor. Somehow they had reappeared "There's nothing to say except that it wasn't my fault and I never want to talk to Matt again."
"Because I am right and he's wrong."
"Because there's no such thing as love, Alli, and even if there was, no one would know what it really is until they're too old to use it properly."
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Why – I mean what?"
I rolled my eyes and shook my head. "Why are you my best friend again?"
I could hear the grin in her voice. "Because we balance each other out. If I didn't have so much inner peace and you so much roiling turmoil, then we would probably hate each other."
It was almost too logical an explanation, but I had ingested one too many cold and sinus pills to care. "I suppose you're right."
There was a thoughtful pause before Alli spoke again. "You know what?"
"What?" I braced myself for something unintelligent.
"I think you don't like the fact that someone could ever be in love with you, and that's why you're afraid to admit that you love him too."
I blinked and my defenses went up again. "Like you would know."
"It's okay, Brayden," she was in her peaceful mode again. "I understand, and because I'm your friend, I'm going to let you and Matt work it out by yourselves."
There was a pause as though she was waiting for me to say something, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say. "What is that supposed to mean?" She had done something, was my immediate reaction.
"Nothing, I was just letting you know that it's in your hands to work it out – because you will work it out you know. You always do with Matt." Her voice reflected authenticity, but I was still suspicious.
When I thought about it, it was entirely true. Usually Matt had made up, or I had made up, or we both had made up. So whose turn was it? I shook that thought from my head. "Well then you'll be sadly disappointed because it's not happening this time."
She sighed as though dealing with a stubborn child. "Alright, dear, but seriously, don't say I didn't tell you so. And just so you know –" her voice was pulled from the phone as she spoke to someone else. The conversation was muffled, but she was back after a few minutes.
"You were saying?" I asked sarcastically.
"I have to go. My mom wants to watch a girly chick flick, but I'll talk to you tomorrow, alright? And don't go killing yourself on me or doing something equally suicidal."
I rolled my eyes. "I'll be sure to slit my wrists and drown myself in the bathtub for your viewing pleasure."
She laughed. "Bye!"
I was surprised she hadn't reprimanded me for being 'over dramatic' but I supposed that the prospects of a chick flick had distracted her.
I put the phone back onto the cradle and sighed. There were no answers in anything; not poetry, not friends, not even in thinking for myself. I let out another sigh and sat up, discarding my pieces of paper. Throwing on some pants, t-shirt, long-sleeved zip-up, and sneakers, I ran my fingers through my hair and opened my bedroom window. If I wasn't allowed to leave the house by means of doors, then I would leave by means of windows, and if that was breaking the rules, my parents could ground me forever and I wouldn't care.
Outside for the past two days had been reflecting my mood, which was wonderful for me because everyone else was probably feeling depressed due to all the rain. I reveled in the cold air that slapped against my skin and the deep grey clouds roiling riotously above. I shivered as I dropped down from the tree and pulled my hood over my head to ward off the chill. If the sickness got worse than it was, I would have to sue God for cursing me with a horrid excuse for an immune system.
With a sigh I began my trek down the road towards the only place that had ever just let me think in peace.
The sky was dark and cloudy, threatening rain and rumbling above my head. I had always thought that thunder storms were the sounds of God in a bowling tournament. The ball would roll down the tops of the clouds and strike the pins, creating lightening down below. A faint smile came to my face at the memory of me telling my Grandfather this. He hadn't really understood, but perhaps in some small way he had. Perhaps he was playing as well.
I turned down the road to the cemetery just as another lightening bolt struck the sky, lighting up the clouds in an odd artistic way. It etched across the darkened clouds like claws stretching to something they couldn't reach. Ten steps later thunder rumbled loudly. The delayed reaction between bowling ball and striking pins was always a technical glitch I wasn't able to explain.
The gate squeaked open and I breathed the damp air, soaking in the smell of wet earth and quiet. The tall oak trees creaked like they usually did, as though speaking to each other, but less creepy than that of Lord of the Rings. There was a calm in their creaking. Slowly I proceeded down the path and stopped dead in my tracks.
He had stood staring at his mother's grave, but instantly looked up and caught my gaze as soon as I'd come close. Something flashed in his eyes just as lightening lit up the sky. "I'm leaving." He turned and began walking away.
"Fine!" I shouted after him. "You're too much of a pussy to stay anyway!" The instant the sentence had exited my mouth I realized how childish I sounded.
He stopped and glanced at me before shaking his head and continuing down the path.
"Wait!" I took a few steps and called just as thunder jarred my senses, rumbling the earth below me it seemed. I wasn't sure if he'd heard me, but he stopped and turned around, staring at me.
We stood staring at each other, as though conveying unspoken messages. For some reason we glared at the same time as well, as though angered in some way for the other's intrusion. Somehow the fact that I'd been thinking about his words for two days straight only made it worse that we were thinking the same things. He remained in the same spot for a whole minute before I squirmed under his gaze and quickly took refuge under a large sprawling tree. It was thick with leaves and provided a haven to sit down without having to stand an unnerving gaze.
Matt followed after a short moment. I sat down and propped myself against one side of the tree, and he sat on the other so that we faced opposite sides of the cemetery, watching lightening light up the sky and listening as thunder rumbled once more. Grandpa must be winning, I thought with a faint smile. The thought of him was comforting, while the rest of me was in turmoil.
"What do you want, Brayden," Matt sounded tired of being angry.
I turned the upper half of my body to face him, and he did the same. For some reason we ended up staring at each other instead of my profound question.
"What?" he asked after a long moment.
I blinked and stared some more, tilting my head slightly. "Why – what – Why are you so damn frustrating!" I couldn't have gotten another sentence out if someone had taken a stick and dislodged whatever had been in my throat, and it only frustrated me.
His eyebrows went up in surprise and he smiled as though amused. I wished I had something to hit him with. How could he be smiling when I had asked a perfectly serious question? "I'm the one who's frustrating?"
"Oh and I suppose it's all my fault that we're fighting?"
"That has nothing to do with being frustrating, but since we're on the topic, yes, it is your fault." He was serious about everything he was saying, and it only sparked my anger more.
"What?! I'm not the one who claimed to be a flaming imbecile!"
"I believe I claimed to be in love with you, but since we're talking about flaming imbeciles…" I caught the insult and glared.
"Why can't we just have a normal relationship with normal conversations and forget the whole 'love' idiocy?" I shouted.
His eyebrow rose. "Oh, now the two of us are normal? How are we supposed to carry on any relationship when you don't even believe in the most important part of life?!"
"Because it's not the most important thing in life!"
Rain began pouring down and I stood, Matt following suit just after I'd finished my sentence. The oak tree offered little resistance to the large droplets and the two of us were soaked before we had a chance to think about it.
"Yes it is!" Matt came back. "Love is a choice, and I chose to love you."
"No, you didn't!" I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to hear what he was saying, Myself in turmoil with Me and I and unsure of what to say. "No!" I said finally. "No, this isn't supposed to be –"
"Why not?" I heard him take a step towards me.
"Because!" Lightening flashed.
"Why doesn't love exist?"
"Why do you keep avoiding everything that involves risks?"
"Because!" Thunder rumbled and I took a step back, attempting to calm myself slightly, but not enough to stop yelling. "Every time I try to risk myself, to try something different, Reality smacks me in the face. I'm not the person who does those kinds of things, and even if I were, it wouldn't change the fact that love doesn't exist – it can't! And I can't love you because I'll get hurt, and I can't –" I choked. "I don't want to be hurt anymore." There, I'd admitted it: the truth. A pang of regret filled me as soon as I'd said it and I stared at the ground, hoping that he wouldn't start laughing or something equally stupid.
Silence. We had reached an impasse. I wasn't willing to yield, and he wasn't willing to give up, yet we continued standing there while rain emptied onto the earth like a cracked bucket – a very large cracked bucket.
Finally he took a piece of paper from his back pocket. It had been carefully folded into a square-shaped note. With wet, but nimble fingers he unfolded it and stared at the words a moment before glancing at me.
"Don't hate me because I hate you back" he started, taking no notice of my half-blank stare, mixed with something like surprise and pain. He was reading my heart. "Don't love me because I scorn. If all you feel is pity for me, then just leave me here forlorn.
I love to hate those in my way,
Their glaring stares I mirror,
Yet lately something's changed inwardly
Twisting me with fear.
The girl I was has metamorphed
She's changed those darkened skies,
She loves to hate but ran into,
A rainbow full of lies.
They clashed and fought for freedom,
But that was never found
The truth they shared was buried deep,
Deep in the hallowed ground," he glanced up at me, probing, questioning, asking. I swallowed and watched him continue, my insides twisting.
"The hate she had,
The hate he didn't,
Their sparks flew,
How does she hate love?
When all she's shown is beauty?
How could he still want her?
When all his efforts are shown futility?" Again his head came up and he stared at me, not reading off the paper any longer. "So here she sits so pitifully, wondering where he is," he took a step towards me. "Does he still believe in what she doesn't? Why do these feelings persist?" Another step. "I hate to love, I'm afraid to be true," Another. "I hate to love," he stood not eight inches away from me, staring down into my eyes just as lightening lit the sky once more and the rain seemed to ease slightly. "Why did it have to be you?" he whispered.
Myself, Me, and I were still hashing it out inside, roiling my internal self, tears reflecting the storm inside. I didn't know if I could do it, could try it, could love. After so many years of thinking it was so wrong, why did Matt make it seem right?
He held the paper out to me and I took it numbly, my fingers like ice from the rain and cold. A minute passed by where we stood there, holding the paper as it became soggy with the large droplets of rain falling from the grey sky. Thunder bounced around us, breaking the spell.
Matt was the first to form words. "I can't guarantee that you won't get hurt." He said quietly. "My mom always said that even if you choose to love, it's like jumping off a cliff."
I glanced up at him briefly before looking down at the sheet of paper I had written. Did I really want to jump off such an unsteady cliff, even if I didn't think it existed, or didn't want it to? Everything in my life was somewhat stable, although it was debatable. Everything was consistent, routine, solid. I didn't want anything to be unpredictable, because that would mean that I would reach glitches, bumps in the road, hard times. I hated those.
"I don't know if I can do it," I said quietly after a long pause.
Matt swallowed and blinked, biting his lower lip for a moment. Finally he took the step and a half it took to reach me and kissed me without any hesitation. For some reason I had seen it coming, had half-wanted it to happen, just to make up my mind. The thought of loving someone scared me and I pulled back, pushing him away at the same time, breathing hard in half-shock and surprise at my own reaction.
He stared at me for a long time just as another flash of lightening lit up the sky. As soon as it was dark again, he turned and began walking away.
A sense of loneliness filled my being as I watched him walk away. If he left, he would leave for good, and any chance I had ever had with him would be thrown out the gate. You're a bloody fool, Myself mentioned rather rudely. I agreed.
Taking a deep breathe I made up my mind.
"Matt!" I yelled walking quickly from the cover of the tree into the rain that seemed to pound harder. Thunder clapped, drowning any other sentence that exited my mouth.
Matt had heard, however. He stopped and turned, waiting for me to say something utterly profound. I blinked in response as the words stuck in my throat.
For a full minute we stood staring at each other, me wanting to say something, but unable to do anything except for staring. I felt extremely stupid. "I can try!" I finally yelled amid the noise of rain pounding the earth.
I half-ran, half-stumbled through mud to reach him, while all he had to do was take large strides, but somehow we met in the middle and stopped, grinning at each other like complete moronic losers. At least you'll be moronic losers together, Myself reminded.
Just as he leaned down to kiss me, my foot slipped in the thick mud below and I ended up taking him down with me. We sat covered in mud, I wondering why I was such a clutz.
Matt leaned over and brushed some mud-covered hair out of my face with a small grin. "You look cute in mud."
I gave a small mischievous smile before leaning over as though to kiss him, instead smearing mud all over his cheek. I kissed his other cheek. "So do you."
Rain dripped down our faces and hair and clothes, but I didn't care. For once in my entire placid existence, perhaps I had found someone worth diving off a cliff for, even if I didn't quite believe it existed.
Matt smiled and enveloped me in a hug that lasted a lifetime. I smiled up at the cliff and held on tight. It was the first time that I felt safe, felt like falling wasn't failing, but something new, a step in the right direction. And maybe life would turn its ugly head and attempt to break the bond, but that was what life was for. Taking the risk was worth it in the end. I wasn't ending my life, but wrapping it up in one small sentence and offering it to another. My life in one sentence. Mud included, of course.
A/N: In the words of Strongbad: "It's oveeeer!" So sad, but good, because now you may get mad at me for making the ending cheesy. At least he didn't die from cancer, alright (that was never in the script, but seriously, it could have been)? Questions, comments, rants, raves? I didn't write this to appease the masses, I wrote it to give it an ending. I suppose Brayden is a little like me, inside. I'm definitely not as quick- witted as Brayden, but if I were quick-witted, I'd probably sound somewhat like her. If you liked this story then you'll probably like The Legend of the Laundromat Queen, due to begin rolling sometime before summer (vague? You bet). The first chapter of that one is already up, just to give you a taste. Go check it out! Also check out An Existentialist's Breakfast; it's a little deeper and interesting than this one, and Sophie and Theo are rather amusing.
A big thank you to everyone who supported me through writing this – the names are innumerable and I probably won't remember them, but thank you all the same. Without your encouragement I wouldn't have finished.
Dedicated to Oscar Porco
The grandfather I never got to know